Why Botswana?

Jul 1st, 2011, 09:53 AM
  #1  
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Why Botswana?

My husband says he thinks he has "one last trip to Africa" in him. We have done safaris in Kenya and Tanzania seeing lots of game; we self drove through South Africa for three weeks and are now mulling a trip to Botswana and/or Namibia.

(We are experienced travelers, but my husband is 71 years old and has difficulty with strenuous walking.)

I have read numerous threads on this site and am looking for some opinions as to what Botswana offers that might be different from what we've already experienced. I have checked numerous safari links that posters have helpfully shared and have reached a state of confusion about how next to research trip prospects.

In addition to my request for opinions on Botswana/Namibia specifically, I would also appreciate any thoughts/clarification as to the following:
1. We are not interested in self-drive this time, and would probably be working with some sort of pre-set itinerary in the 3-week range for 2012.
2. My understanding is that US-based agents off-load the safari portion to South African companies so that contacting the safari companies directly might be considerably cheaper. (Is this true?)
3. Any ideas on South-African based companies that are NOT solely luxury class?
4. Lastly, does anyone have current experience with the Star Alliance African Airpass that utilizes South African Air?(last thread was in 2008.)

I apologize if this feels like too many questions...any suggestions would be gratefully accepted. Thanks!
Diane
OregonMaiden is offline  
Jul 1st, 2011, 10:10 AM
  #2  
 
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Hello from a fellow Oregonian! Most Botswana outfitters won't work directly with clients, so you have to go through a safari planner/agent. The exception might be a mobile safari company, but that doesn't sound like a good fit for you guys. There are less expensive alternatives to the luxury camps of Wilderness Safaris, et al. I'd suggest using Bill Given of "The Wild Source" in Colorado. He knows Botswana well and uses alternative camps that aren't as expensive and have good wildlife viewing (he's a wildlife biologist, too.) I don't think it would be any less expensive to use a South African agent.

I haven't used the African Airpass, but have gotten tickets to South Africa using my Mileage Plus miles. I don't know that the Africa Airpass would help you on a Bots trip. I think it would only be helpful if you're traveling all over the continent. For instance, you can't use it to get to Maun, which is where most Bots safaris start.
ShayTay is offline  
Jul 1st, 2011, 10:15 AM
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Hi Diane, we went to Botswana in 2005 and I'm now planning a trip to Tanzania. Seems like there's quite a few differences between the two areas.

The number of camps in Botswana are fewer, and all are operated by a handful of companies (Wilderness, Kwando, CCAfrica/andBeyond, Sanctuary, etc). Because the distance between camps and very few roads, most people fly from camp to camp. So you don't have a single guide/vehicle driving you around the whole trip. I'm also not aware of any seasonal camps, since unlike east africa, the animals don't migrate around so much.

Most these companies do not allow you to book directly, so you have to go through an agent. However, I did find huge variance in price quotes among different agents for the exact same camps, so it pays to look around.

Most of the camps are pretty luxurious. Not sure if there are cheaper options. Seasonal variance on price can be quite high. We went during June, which is considered shoulder season, and it was about $500 pps/day. All of my experience applies only the the Okavango Delta area, as it's the only place we went. Not sure about rest of the country.

We went with with all Wilderness permanent camps, and everything was very first class. Their website is quite comprehensive and worth a look. Only thing about it is it's perhaps "too" luxurious. Now with Tanzania, I'm hoping for a more authentic bush experience.
linjudy is offline  
Jul 1st, 2011, 10:26 AM
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There are some nice alternatives, such as Mapula Camp. We stayed there last year and loved it. There are some new, less expensive camps coming soon, from what I've heard.
ShayTay is offline  
Jul 1st, 2011, 10:34 AM
  #5  
 
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Bookings are off, even in high season. There are plenty of empty beds and deals around. Although there are a few of the camps with lots of hype, may have a bit more occupancy and do not feel the need to discount. If it continues like this, I suggest shopping around.
luangwablondes is offline  
Jul 1st, 2011, 11:59 AM
  #6  
 
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We heard the same as luangwablondes last month in S Africa. People are just skipping Bots as it is so expensive. They've priced me out. But Banoka recently opened and ShayTay mentioned Mapula. The water levels in the Okavango Delta are also unpredictable (high) lately, so the experience is different.

If money is not a driving factor, I'd go. Wilderness' classic camps are lovely and they have a couple of Adventure camps now. I am not familiar with the other operators. Wilderness has a few scheduled safaris, and can be a good value - for Botswana. But through a TA you can create any trip you want.

It's disappointing we won't be able to go for a while (but we'll try! 2016 is calling us!).

Try this. Maybe it'll be helpful for a start:
http://www.eyesonafrica.net/scheduled-safaris.htm
christabir is offline  
Jul 1st, 2011, 12:13 PM
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Diane,

The great appeal and advantage of Botswana is its remoteness. At most camps in the Okavango Delta or Linyati areas, you will never see a private vehicle during your drives, never see a paved road. Because most camps are in private reserves (except for National Parks like Chobe or Nxai Pan), you'll almost never have more than one or two other vehicles at a sighting. Compare that to, say, the Masai Mara, where it's not uncommon for 5 or more vehicles to be at an important sighting, or for 20 or 30 vehicles to be at a river crossing during the migration. (Though, to be fair, the Mara has a denser concentration of game, and a good driver can usually avoid the more crowded scenes.)

And then there's the pervasive smell of sage throughout many areas of Botswana, the gorgeous landscapes, and the welcoming people. (OK, I haven't been anywhere in subsaharan Africa where you don't find welcoming people.)

As for the "Star Alliance Air pass," are you speaking of a round-the-world ticket, or a ticket that allows you to fly throughout Africa on Star Alliance partners? If it's the latter, that would be of extremely limited use to you for Botswana. If you're speaking of a round-the-world ticket, that is certainly very much still available and still a good option for people wanting to combine a trip to southern Africa with one or more other destinations. Costs for that ticket have risen dramatically in the past few years, though -- from Portland, RTW prices start at $4040 (plus taxes/fees) for economy and $11,850 for business cl.
DonTopaz is offline  
Jul 1st, 2011, 01:24 PM
  #8  
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Thanks to those of you who have responded thus far.

In answer to a couple of replies:
1. Shay--what itinerary did you use for Mileage + to South Africa? That's our plan as well.

When I did a preliminary check of the African airpass(Don---that's what I was exploring--not a "Round-the-World" ticket), it did include Maun in addition to Namibia and even Mauritius where we hoped to end up (Where are you in Oregon? We're in the hills South of Salem)
2. Linjudy, I well remember that the camps in Tanzania and Kenya were all pretty much high end--no mid-range at all unless you consider bush camping...I will indeed do some comparison shopping once I figure out how many stops make sense.

Are any of you familiar with http://www.jenmansafaris.com/?

Diane
OregonMaiden is offline  
Jul 1st, 2011, 03:10 PM
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SAA does not fly to either Maun or Kasane, which is why the airpass is not terribly useful for Botswana. They do fly to Gabarone, but that's not especially useful for safari.

Using MP miles, you have many theoretical choices: SAA flights via JFK or Dulles is the most direct, but it's often difficult to get the JFK flights as an award. The other route is via Europe: take United, CO, US, Lufthansa, or Swiss to Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich, or London, then SAA, LH, or LX to Joburg. Obviously, such award tickets are not always easy to score, especially with United's draconian award ticket policies (see Starnet.)
DonTopaz is offline  
Jul 1st, 2011, 06:09 PM
  #10  
 
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Good advice and comments given.

I have not used Jenman, but know of several people who have used them for Africa and were happy.

You have already looked into what I was going to suggest--a mobile safari to reduce costs. I noted Jenman was particpatory, which is fine, if that's what you wanted. There are also non-participating safaris through Wilderness, AndBeyond, Masson, Capricorn, plus many others. I did a Wilderness mobile that was outstanding.
atravelynn is offline  
Jul 1st, 2011, 06:37 PM
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"And then there's the pervasive smell of sage throughout many areas of Botswana, the gorgeous landscapes, and the welcoming people. (OK, I haven't been anywhere in subsaharan Africa where you don't find welcoming people.)"

Don, that put a smile on my face right away........



Hari
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Jul 2nd, 2011, 08:11 AM
  #12  
 
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And one more thing I forgot -- good Lord, how could I have forgotten the deafening silence?

I've never been anywhere else on the planet outside of Botswana where you can be so completely away from human-generated sounds. One of the things I most enjoy doing on a game drive (and this is much easier if you have the vehicle to yourself) is to ask the driver to stop in a nice spot, turn off the engine, and make no sound. 99% of the time there will be no noise, no matter how faint, from cars or trains or planes or factories or anything but animals and the wind. And the longer the "quiet" period lasts, the more detail your ears pick up from all over the landscape, until the silence becomes a din.

That's a very special experience, I can assure you.

Don
DonTopaz is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2011, 09:51 AM
  #13  
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Merci encore,
Don-I expect I was confusing my 400+ page download of the Star Alliance timetable where I must have seen Maun flights...or maybe I imagined the whole thing

One of the reasons I downloaded the mammoth PDF was trying to include a European stopover before tackling the next long leg of the journey. Draconian is an apt description for United's award policies---typically we try to use miles for an upgrade after purchasing the laughably expensive "upgradable" fare only to run smack into Star Alliance protocol...yikes!

Before I immerse myself in travel books (I saw high recommendations for Chris McIntyre's books on both Botswana & Namibia which I plan to order---any others you all like?)

I'd appreciate clarification of some terminology before I further check out links to safari planners:
1. atravelynn: Not positive what "participatory" means in the safari context and better clarify "mobile safari" which seems to pop up from time to time on this forum.

2. I understand from earlier comments that the transportation involved to-ing/fro-ing in Botswana is significantly different from the road transport we used in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. Am I correct that most of the camp-to-camp travel is often done by plane? (Perhaps that is the contrast to a "mobile" safari which sounds like it employs the turtle concept of taking your home with you/self-contained...not sure what other type of driving is even possible given this thread's allusions to l-o-n-g distances.)

3. As I enter the serious planning phase, it would be helpful to get your various thoughts on how many camps are realistic to see in a 2-3 week period given the fact that we have seen a lot of game in our previous trips. I guess what prompted my original "Why Botswana?" enquiry was simply not knowing which camps are unique or special that would provide a different perspective for us.

In answer to someone's musing about our cost considerations---I understand that safaris are extremely expensive---while we are not looking to travel on the cheap---I was wondering what mid-range places were like. We've always preferred charm and character to plush and luxurious in the middle of Africa.

Thanks for your advice thus far and in advance for even more help!
Diane
OregonMaiden is offline  
Jul 2nd, 2011, 10:09 AM
  #14  
 
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Why Botswana? Because it is the one place in Africa that will change your life, as well as what you think remote wilderness is. The people, the smells and the privacy (if you are going to private concessions) all add up to an amazing experience.
andybiggs is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2011, 08:12 AM
  #15  
 
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The responses to your question rightfully take on an almost mystical tone.

Participatory means you help with cooking and setting/taking down the tents. The operator can give you a more complete description of exactly what your duties would be.

Mobile safari means your group (usually about 6 but I'd clarify the number and type of vehicle to be sure you have ample room) drives together from place to place for the duration of the safari. If it is NON-participatory, the tents are set up for you before you arrive or the tents may be erected on that site for the entire season to accommodate the mobiles that come through. The tents with nice cots, ensuite bathrooms, often a wee bit of furniture, sometimes they are even raised on platforms, are usually away from everything and everyone. So it is not always a case of taking the tent with you, the tents can be there already for the designated purpose of hosting the mobile travelers.

You really enjoy a remote experience. The food I've had on mobiles is prepared by a chef and staff and is outstanding. The guiding is top notch. The Botswana luxury mobile is not similar to the budget large group camping safaris by truck.

Feeding into your question #2, the mobile can include some group charter flights from one area to the next and then you pick up a new vehicle. You are right that there is more flying typically in Botswana because you cannot drive through the Okavango Delta.

How many camps? I'd spend at least 3 nights per camp.

Unique camps: Really, every camp I've stayed at in Botswana has been unique, special, memorable and lovely in and of itself, not just for the habitat around it. That even includes the simple 9 x 12 tents on the mobile.

Unique of the unique would include San Camp Makgadikgadi Pans of the Kalahari, just a stunning location with a variety of activities from culture to quad bikes to hanging out with meerkats.

Duba Plains allows you to see lion and buffalo interactions. As the water levels rise in the delta, this is getting more iffy. I'd spend no less than 4 nts at Duba in case the buffalo head to inaccessible areas, the lions follow, and you are left behind. This was the only Botswana camp where I had a private vehicle so we could stay out all day with the lions and buffalo. At Duba you pay a premium anyway. A private vehicle adds way more.

At Chitabe I stayed a night at walking trails camp, which was a mattress and mosquito netting on a raised platform about an hour's walk from camp. You can walk or drive to it. Outstanding.

Here is an account of that from an old report:

"In the afternoon I set off with Newman, the walking guide (and superb all around guide), and Luke, a guide in training (who will make a superb guide and as far as I could tell already was) for the hour walk to the Walking Trails camp. On the way to Walking Trails, we saw elephants at a distance and did our best not to alarm them.

When I got settled into the Walking Camp, the Chitabe Main Camp manager stopped by for a chat and sundowners, a very nice touch. Then Newman, Luke and I had a lovely lantern lit dinner with salad, main course, and dessert. Really a lot of staff effort is put into this memorable night in the bush.

The Walking Trails hide itself is a raised platform of two stories above the ground level with stairs. A comfortable mattress with mosquito netting was set up on the first level, about 15 feet above the ground. The second level is for observation and with a lagoon right there, at least one elephant was usually present.

Many lanterns were provided and could be left on all night. The path to a drop toilet with “sand flush” and a bucket shower was lit by lanterns. It was suggested that during the night, a bedpan be used. I did not take advantage of either the bedpan or the bucket shower.

Before retiring, the three of us went on a night drive. The hyena den was not far and I got my last view of the two frisky hyena cubs and one adult hyena nearby. The highlight of the night drive occurred within sight of our lantern-lit Walking Trails hide. Spotter Luke saw a relaxed leopard that proceeded to lounge around the vehicle at a distance of about five feet, then took a drink out of the lagoon and returned to visit with us. Eventually she walked off into the moonlight to hunt.

Time for bed about 9:00 p.m. Two days short of a full moon meant the lagoon was well lit throughout the cloudless night and the elephants that wandered into the lagoon could be easily viewed and even more easily heard as they shook the nearby palms for the fruit. Besides the elephants, I could hear lechwe leaping, hippos grunting, hyenas, and lions calling in the distance, plus I had my own personal fruit bat chirping all through the night from its home in the tree above.

It was a beautiful and peaceful experience and I got to sleep in until 6:30 the next morning. Newman and Luke slept within view in a tent on the ground and were up first to prepare cereal, fruit, and toast for breakfast. Sleeping in the open air in the bush was a magical experience and a highlight of a wonderful trip!

I stayed at the OLD Walking Trails, which accommodates up to four, and is only an hour’s walk from camp. There is a NEW Walking Trails that sleeps up to eight with platforms adjoined by hanging bridges and is a three or four hour walk from camp. The immediate area of the lagoon-less new camp did not seem as interesting as the old camp, but the new camp is closer to the Moremi border with its abundant, diverse wildlife.

You can walk between the new and old camp in several hours and spend two consecutive nights in the open-air bush. You also can be driven to and from either of these walking camps (despite the name indicating otherwise) in case you wanted to sleep on the open platform but did not want to give up the more game-intense drives."


The Botswana mobile I did with Wilderness produced the most animals and variety per dollar spent for me in that country.

If not doing the mobile, I think you can plan on at least $600 per person per night, on up to $1000.

Here is another site with some pricing.

http://www.africaodyssey.com/botswana

Two less expensive Botswana destinations are Chobe and Mashatu. I've been to Chobe and the wildlife river cruise is one of Africa's best offerings. True, the reserve has more guests but you can drive away from the crowds. Have not been to Mashatu yet but would love to go. Crowds not a problem there from what I know.

Good luck!
atravelynn is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2011, 09:10 AM
  #16  
 
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Best value for money in terms of Botswana lodge safaris, would be Green Season Kwando - December thru March. Ask your travel agent for the 5 Rivers specials ....... camps include Kwara, Lagoon, Lebala, Nxai Pan, Tau Pan.
HariS is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2011, 01:06 PM
  #17  
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Mystical indeed!

Thanks for the very complete & helpful information---looks like it's time for me to get cracking on serious research.

If you all can stand a couple more questions...here goes...
1. I just ran into interesting references for 2-3 night boat trips on the Chobe. Upscale option was the "Zambezi Queen" and the other possibility---"Ichobezi" run apparently by the Ichingo Chobe River Lodge---was described as a "houseboat." I did follow a short thread on the latter but wondered if anyone has first-hand experience.

2. As you can tell, I am just starting the planning process so pardon my naivete for the next queries.
~~If we focused on the Okavango Delta area plus one other Botswana camp, is it feasible to consider adding a stop or two in Namibia as well as viewing Victoria Falls or does that toss me into spending w-a-y too much time getting from here to there? (I noticed that the "Zambezi Queen" had a launch point that LOOKED near the Falls

~~I can already hear you chuckling, but I have been very curious about whether swimming is possible/available in Botswana/Namibia? (with penguins and seals in Namibia, I suspect the ocean temp is much like the frigid Pacific off Oregon but I have seen a picture with someone wading in the surf...)

3. Lastly, animals notwithstanding, does the Delta terrain in any way resemble the Pantanal/Wetlands in Brazil or South Africa?

Thanks again for your patience with my information-gathering---what on earth did we do before the Internet??!
Cheers,
Diane
OregonMaiden is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2011, 07:50 PM
  #18  
 
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1. Others can help you.

2. Chobe and Vic Falls works well together. You can do a day trip to the falls from Chobe. The Caprivi Strip in Namibia works well logistically with Botswana, but I have heard there is not a lot of wildlife there. No personal experience.

I've wanted to do a couple nights in Chobe then a couple at Savannah Lodge in Namibia, also near the Chobe River. Very do-able. But you are not seeing the dunes or waterholes that Namibia is famous for if you just hop to the other side of the river.

This itinerary has Botswana and Namibia.
http://www.africa-adventure.com/safa...na_wing_safari

Swimming with seals and penguins off of Namibia? I'm only chuckling because it never occured to me. Don't know if it is possible.

3. There are similarities. The vibrant blues and greens are similar. Both have abundant dry land on which to drive and see wildlife. The Pantanal had more flowering trees when I was there than the Okavango. Big, tall trees were more common in the Pantanal than the delta.

I found mosquitoes much more abundant and annoying in the Pantanal. If going in the wet season to the Pantanal, I'd take netting.

There was more infrastructure in the Pantanal and I did not feel as remote as in the delta. The delta gave a more intense feeling of vastness.

The boating/canoeing in the Pantanal was on lakes or in rivers not in the wetlands; the boating/mekoring in the Okavango Delta was in the actual delta.

I did not get to swim with seals in either location.
atravelynn is offline  
Jul 4th, 2011, 12:16 AM
  #19  
 
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This dialogue was great! We had hoped to go this year but something has come up and so we may have to put off until 2012. But no later than that!

I'll keep checking in here to see how it develops, but an excellent discussion. Thanks.
tinydancer is offline  
Jul 4th, 2011, 03:10 AM
  #20  
 
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Atravalynn - I was delighted to read your account of sleeping outdoors at Chitabe. I'll be there at the end of Aug/early Sept and have requested to sleep outdoors 1 night. They do not guarantee it, even if requested far in advance as I did.... I'll be disappointed if for some reason I don't get to experience it.
Cateyes555 is offline  

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