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Where to begin planning for a Safari? Lots of questions…

Where to begin planning for a Safari? Lots of questions…

Old Apr 11th, 2008, 01:14 PM
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Where to begin planning for a Safari? Lots of questions…

My husband and I have always wanted to go on Safari. We’ve traveled all over (30+ countries in Europe, Asia, Australia/NZ, and Central America), but never anywhere in Africa.
I am a die-hard planner but when it comes to planning a Safari-type trip I find myself stumped with where to even begin.
If this helps, we will probably need to travel in July or August (looking at a trip for 2009 or 2010), hopefully for 2 weeks. We’re both almost 40 (now).

Tour Operators:
We’re not typically “tour” people but prefer independent travel. I’m used to booking everything myself directly, but when I looked at the posts here it looks like most people use tour agencies to book their safaris. When I look at some of the Lodge websites it looks like they have to be booked through a tour operator.
Is it even possible to do this without going through a middle man or is that just a bad idea?

Budget:
I don’t think we could afford any of the super luxury type trips, but want something comfortable and nice with an emphasis on game viewing and photography. Good food is a bonus and I’m always on the hunt for the best “bang for the buck” (yet I know that’s entirely subjective). At this point I don’t even know what my budget is because I don’t know what one can get for various prices. I know we can’t afford any of the $1000 per person per day places though. ;-)
How can I figure out a realistic budget?

Location:
I hear good and bad things about each country/location. How can I narrow it down? We definitely want to see big game, specifically elephants and big cats. Someday I’d love to see the gorillas, but I think that’s a different trip.
How can I narrow down my location by time of year (July/August) and what we want to see?

Any advice on where to begin for a first timer would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks!

Kristina is offline  
Old Apr 11th, 2008, 01:40 PM
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Tour operators: It's possible to booking directly but it also depends on where you want to go. In East Africa, you commonly find driving safaris (or at least partially drive). On a driving safari, the tour operator is the one providing the vehicle and guide so that's partly why so many posters here book through TOs. And just because you book through a TO doesn't mean you're on a "tour". Most here opt for private, custom arrangements which aren't that much more expensive and are often less expensive than group tours offered through A&K, Micato and such. All 4 of my East Africa safaris were booked through a TO. For my South Africa/Namibia trip, I booked everything (rental car, accommodations, etc.) myself which I found very easy to do. Also I found credit card acceptance seemed to be higher in SA/Namibia than East Africa making it easy to book direct by email and fax my credit card info for deposits whereas if credit card acceptance is low, you'd be looking at multiple wire transfers (each one possibly costing you a fee).

Budget: Realistic will depend on country/location so you might want to narrow that down first. Self drives in Namibia and South Africa can be very inexpensive (relatively speaking). A guided safari traveling by road in Kenya or Tanzania (the latter is more expensive than the former) is probably somewhere in the middle. Fly-in safaris (in any country) tend to be at the top of the price bracket. Zimbabwe camps might be considered a "bargain" due to the political situation but traveling between camps can be expensive due partially to (I believe) shortage of fuel and lack of reliable scheduled services. This is all very much just a generalization to give you some idea.

Location: That's the tough question. I believe Jul/Aug is good almost everywhere. It would be easier to narrow down if you wanted to travel some other time

I would start by looking through the trip report indexes on East and Southern Africa:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=34860283

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=34858382

Have fun planning!
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Old Apr 11th, 2008, 01:43 PM
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Africa Adventure Company has a handy chart of best times for each country:

http://www.africa-adventure.com/best_time_to_go

July/August is generally going to be good for both East Africa and Southern Africa.

I've only been to East Africa so far. Those lodges do need to be booked through an operator or agent, but you don't have to be stuck on a "tour", so to speak. While you can't really do it independently, you can do it privately. By that I mean, you can arrange for your own driver/guide and vehicle to take you out on safari.

So, basically, you would work through an operator who would book all the lodges for you, make any transportation arrangements you may need (e.g. internal flights), and provide a vehicle and a driver/guide who would take you from lodge to lodge and out on game drives. It would be your own private safari, and you get to make your own schedule and itinerary.

Alternatively, you could fly from lodge to lodge, and make use of the lodge's vehicles and guides. This is how it's generally done in Southern Africa. In this scenario, you would be sharing the vehicle with other people from the lodge/camp and would have to adhere to the game drive schedule the lodge put together.

Another way to do this is with a "tour" - i.e. group safari. A tour operator, like Micato, puts together a safari itinerary and gets a bunch of people together who all go off on safari together. The tour operator calls the shots on schedule and itinerary.

Lastly, if you really wanted to do it independently, you could hire your own vehicle and self-drive through the parks, staying at camps and lodges along the way. This is bigger in Southern Africa than in East Africa.

I did the first choice - a private safari with my family. I put together an itinerary, choosing which lodges I wanted, and sent it out to various operators asking for quotes. I picked the one I was most comfortable with and worked out the final itinerary with them.

For a 12-day safari doing the Northern Tanzanian safari circuit at end of June/beginning of July for 4 people, the cost came out to $3500 per person. This was land cost plus internal flights. We stayed at high-end to mid-level lodges and camps. This was a private safari with our own vehicle and guide, and we booked with Roy Safaris.

This was a couple of years ago, so I imagine that the prices have gone up since then.
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Old Apr 11th, 2008, 01:52 PM
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Kristina, at least in Kenya you can book most lodges and camps directly and I usually don’t use travel operators. I do it that way because I prefer longer stays in fewer places and to do game drives in camp vehicles (and because I can't afford being driven around Kenya as a solo traveller), but if you’re going on a regular road itinerary it’s easier to book vehicle, driver and everything else with an operator in the country where you’re going. If you’re also going to visit towns and beaches, you can do that independently just as you have done on other continents.
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Old Apr 11th, 2008, 02:07 PM
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Oh and elephants and big cats are actually relatively easy to see. If you'd said Rothschild giraffe or black rhino, I'd have more specific suggestions

If you want actual $ figures, my Sep 2007 Namibia trip cost an average of less than $200pppn including rental car, accommodations (mid-range, no Wilderness Safaris camps), meals, and excursions. This doesn't include the SA portion of the same trip. I break it down toward the end of my trip report http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=35072993

My Feb 2008 Kenya trip averaged $300pppn including private vehicle, guide, full board accommodations (mid to mid-high range places), and park fees. My itinerary and trip report are here http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=35112503

Both trips were taken during high season in their respective countries and I'd say I spend less than the average Fodorite on my safaris.

You'll have to factor in price increases for 1-2 years forward.
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Old Apr 11th, 2008, 02:19 PM
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A lot of the posts on this forum speak of the expensive lodges where you are pretty sure the guides can take you up close to all the game you want to see. I'm sure that's the best experience money can buy. Like you, we can't afford the sort of prices they ask, but want to see the wildlife. Our first safari experience was a self-drive to the Kruger National Park, South Africa, which is easy to book yourself. A lot of people dismiss it as a huge zoo but the game is there to see. But it is true you can't go off-road, which you can do in a private concession area. There are private concessions around the Kruger so you could mix the self-drive with a posh lodge, so you get the best of both worlds on a smaller budget. Other people could give you an idea of the private lodges I'm sure, but we stayed in the National Park camps in comfortable cottages, you can self-cater or eat in the restaurants. If you are outdoor types then the walks in the Kruger with guides are marvellous. There are shorter 2-3hr day walks and three-day widerness trails. You don't have to be super-fit either, we are in our late 40s and did a wilderness trail with a couple in their 60s. You stay in a little hut or tent and the camp chef cooks the meals, and a guide takes you out in the day. I don't think a private lodge could offer any more than the experience of sitting on a hilltop on the rocks ('koppie') surrounded by browsing elephants with their trunks sticking up like telescopes trying to find out where that aroma of the trail snack was coming from! Then watching from your hilltop as a pack of wild dogs run down an impala. Too many great experiences to name them here, but it will stay in my memory for ever!
We enjoyed that so much our next safari was to Namibia and Etosha National Park. The lodges there are more resonably priced so again you could do a mix of national park and private lodge, again all booked directly, lots of information available through the tourst board. (though Etosha got very expensive this year after a refurbishment).
By this time we were hooked on the safari experience and returned to South Africa and a detour into Botswana for the first time - we found an affordable lodge at Mashatu in the Tuli area - still expensive but not compared with many, and we booked directly. We had fantastic wildlife watching experiences - most notably watching a female leopard drag a warthog up a tree and her 2 adolescent cubs waiting below for scraps along with a hyaena which wasn't going to miss out on the scraps either. The trips out with the researchers are very worthwhile (elephant and predator researchers). The rest of the trip we spent in South African national parks again, so a mix of luxury and self-catering.
Next trip was Namibia again to see all the bits we missed the first time!
This year it's Botswana and it's where we've come up against most problems for the DIY traveller. Lodges have to be booked through a tour operator and the quotes from agents have been WAY out of our price range, and they won't book just a portion of the trip in, for example, one lodge because they say it's not worth their while, so our 'mix & match' approach won't work here. We're just going to take the 4x4 camper and rough it through the National park and forego the private concessions, but stay in more comfortable places in Chobe which are not fly-in.
Our focus is game-viewing, wilderness experience and photography, and food tends to come low down on the list! We have travelled in May and August and have found both months good for weather and viewing.
I have no experience of Kenya, Zambia, Tanzania and East Africa so maybe someone else could tell you if there is a possible option there.
Hope this has been of some use.
OOPs - the time it has taken me to write this and then preview it I see many other replies, hope they are not overlapping!!
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Old Apr 11th, 2008, 06:45 PM
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Thanks so much for all the replies. This is why I love Fodor's so much-everyone is so helpful.
It's a lot of food for thought, and I'm not in a hurry, so I will look at it all and come back with more questions later.
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Old Apr 11th, 2008, 06:54 PM
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Another option is to do a self-drive through Kruger Park in South Africa. The lodgings are nice, food in the restaurants good or you can cook yourself. One of the pluses besides the low cost ($200-$300 per day for the both of you not per person, including rental car, lodging and meals) is that you can stay out all day game viewing and set your own schedule. Check out www.sanparks.org for trip reports and pictures. I really enjoyed my time there and the animal sightings were awesome!
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Old Apr 15th, 2008, 12:27 AM
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Hi Kristina

Going through an experienced tour operator means that you can have a tailormade tour that suits your pocket as well as your need to be independant.

Booking your hotel through a tour operator can often be cheaper than booking your hotel directly because tour operators have contracted rates with the hotels. Certainly you should never pay more to book through an operator than to book direct, and the bonus is that you will have someone on the ground in South Africa when you are here.
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Old Apr 15th, 2008, 01:28 AM
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Its really quite simple to do a selfdrive in Africa if you have the right tools. I've done this many times up and down East and Southern Africa.

Not pushing Zambia, but I have a website that is for the selfdrive in Zambia, www.luangwablondes.com It is typical of what can be done if you want to camp or stay in chalets,lodges and even bush camps along the way in most East and Southern African countries. I would suggest you pick some places/parks that interest you, and then piece it together if selfdrive is something that interests you. 2 weeks goes by quickly.

Countries like Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia have the wildlife and photo ops that you are looking for, and most importantly to me, you can feel you are in a remote part of Africa while doing this, and not spend a fortune at some upmarket lodges to experience this.

You also get the opportunity to experience the real Africa. Not the tours to some village that sees a new group of tourists everyday and gets paid for it.
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Old Apr 15th, 2008, 10:39 AM
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South Africa is great for a first-time safarigoer and you can book almost everyplace yourself.

They have a great national park system with a variety of accommodations, and a great website at www.sanparks.org. There is an excellent forum there as well to get advice.

Kruger NP is wonderful. Also just outside of Kruger is Sabi Sands which is a private game reserve with lots of accommodations at various price levels (many pricey, some less so).

I think South Africa offers great value for money. We loved Tanzania (especially Serengeti) and Botswana too, but Bots is really spendy.
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Old Apr 15th, 2008, 11:20 AM
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Thanks for all the ongoing information and opinions.
I still find this daunting.

In my initial internet wanderings Zambia and Botswana (probably too much $$) seem to hold the most appeal. For some reason South Africa is not right now. I think it's because on this first trip I want it to be all about safari and when we go to SA, I want to have the time to go to Capetown and the wine region. I won't have time to do both on this trip so SA will have to wait.

Also, I'm not so sure about self drive for this trip. I have no doubt we could do it, but I'm thinking that maybe for the first time it would be best to let someone else do the driving so we can concentrate on the animals.
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Old Apr 15th, 2008, 12:46 PM
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You can also mix self drive with guided excursions in many places. I'm not sure about the park run accommodations but most privately run lodges offer guided drives and/or other activities. Just an idea before you eliminate the self drive option completely.
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Old Apr 15th, 2008, 12:59 PM
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Well, at least you've narrowed it down. No self-drive, no South Africa, no group tours. Trip in July/August for 2 weeks.

If you can tell us what the budget is, what animals you want to see (and if there's anything special, like the Wildebeest Migration), and what type of safari you're looking for, this group on safari-fanatics can probably narrow it down even further.

In terms of type, are you comfortable with camping? What sort of camping? Or, do you need doors that lock and 24 hour electricity? Something in between? Vehicle-based, water activities, walking safaris?

What's your romantic ideal of a safari?
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