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Early Planning for Spring/Summer 2016 - Wild Dogs, Leopards and Cheetahs

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I've already got my trips for 2015 lined up, and I am starting to think about where I most want to go in 2016, likely my last free year to take longer trips geared totally to my interests (marriage and children on horizon). I went on a 10 night trip to South Africa a few years ago, and spent 3 at Elephant Plains. While Cape Town was probably the highlight of my whole trip, seeing incredible animals in the wild was a complete thrill that I will never forget.

I'm thinking about returning to the region in spring or summer of 2016. My main focus would be to see the two animals I am most interested in, and that I did not see on my safari: wild dog leopard (saw for just a second in the very wet bush) and cheetah. My secondary focus would be fantastic landscapes: I'm an amateur but enthusiastic photographer and landscapes and scenery are quickly becoming my favorite to photograph.

Thinking about these aims, it sounds like Namibia and Botswana are the two countries to zoom in on. A few questions:

-will spring/summer represent the best time for classic African sunsets? I previously went to South Africa in January: great for Cape Town, but pretty rainy in Sabi Sand.

-for wild dogs, sounds like the best viewing area is the Kwando-Linyati area in one of those reserves. Is there a particular time in spring/summer that would be best? The dogs den at some point in the summer, are they much harder to spot once denning?

-for leopards, sounds like the private reserves near Kwando-Linyati, but Namibia's leopard population is also high: Etosha or adjoining reserves as best bet?

-for cheetahs, sounds like there may be some luck in Kwando-Linyati, but Etosha and reserves have higher populations. Do you recommend staying on a private guest farm, and is this similar to a private game reserve or something different?

-for landscapes: I can find great natural surroundings in all these areas. If I can stretch the trip duration, which is not set in stone yet, I would probably add either Victoria Falls or the Sossusvlei/NamibRand Nature Reserve or both for a wider variety of scenic areas.

-how much time would you recommend allotting if I was looking to do all of the above areas? NamibRand Nature Reserve, Etosha, Kwando-Linyati, and Victoria Falls. I'm initially thinking 3 nights in the desert, 4 nights each for Etosha and Kwando-Linyanti, and 2 nights for Victoria Falls, 13 nights total

-I'm skipping the Okavango area right now, and I'm torn about it. While I'm far more focused on these African predators and this is not the best area for them, the Okavango sounds like a one of a kind ecosystem and experience. I am though pretty wary of hippos and crocodiles - the hippos we encountered on our game drive in South Africa were very loud, ornery, and scary - so I don't know that a mokoro experience would be in the cards for me anyway, which seems like a major factor in why people experience the Okavango. And while I enjoyed seeing some hawks and vultures on the game drives at Elephant Plains, birdwatching is not very interesting in and of itself for me.

I very much appreciate any and all advice as I start getting a plan together (and hopefully stacking airline miles for a roundtrip ticket to Johannesburg). Thank you!!

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    Sounds like an exciting plan!

    During my 3 weeks in Namibia in May 2014 there were no sightings of wild cheetah, wild dogs or leopards, however that could have just been my timing. The most leopard sightings for me was in Sabi Sands and I've yet to see wild dogs.

    Sossusvlei & the coast line south of Walvis Bay where the dunes meet the Atlantic are spectacular and not to be missed.

    Have a look at Turnstone Tours out of Swakopmund and their day tour to Sandwich Harbour - amazing! That day's photos are the ones I go back to the most often.

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    Thanks, KathBC! That tour to Sandwich Harbor looks pretty incredible.

    With further research, it appears its likely better to focus on either Namibia OR Botswana, and not both, especially if I am looking at a 2-3 week timeline. I had really only thought to visit Sossusvlei, but after looking a Sandwich Harbor, Damaraland and the Skeleton Coast, and Etosha, there's actually a lot more I'd ant to see in Namibia than I thought.

    So it's probably a matter of giving myself the best possible chance to see the animals I'm most desperate to see (Botswana) or getting fantastic scenery and some interesting desert/salt pans animal sightings (Namibia).

    I'm going to see if I can find a way to make both work logistically; if not, I'll have some time to start deciding what's really most important. I have a feeling I will lean towards animals/Botswana since most of my trips for 2015 - Iceland, Patagonia & the Atacama - are very scenery/landscape oriented.

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    I think it sounds like a better idea to concentrate on only one country.

    If you are leaning towards Botswana, you should reconsider the Okavango. Yes there are "wet" camps that concentrate on water activities but there are also concessions that are mainly dry land and offer mainly game drives, or a combination of land and water activities and you can choose whichever you want. Game viewing on land is just as good as Kwando-Linyanti. Areas like Kwara, Duba Plains, Vumbura, Chitabe are all in the delta but are mainly land based or mixed activities. I don't know where you got the idea that the delta is not the best place for predator viewing as these are some of the best game viewing concessions in Botswana.

    If you are interested in cheetah and wild dogs, then Kwando safaris also has a delta concession, Kwara, which is excellent for cheetah and offers mainly land based safari, although they also do some water activities. A combination of Lagoon and/or Lebala with Kwara should give you a good chance for all the animals you want, probably with leopard being the most elusive.

    Wild dogs den usually around early June, although some areas don't let vehicles go near the den for the first month. During denning time the dogs stick around that area so in Botswana where many dens are in accessible areas near camps, this is one of the best times to go (not so in some other parks in Africa where dogs disappear in denning season). The Kwando concession reliably has a den, as has Kwara for the last few years. In the Kwando concession, it always used to be in the Lagoon end of the concession but last year was near Lebala. The other areas in the Linyanti also often have dens.

    Are you travelling solo? If so, then peak season in Botswana will be very expensive- it's already an expensive destination, but single supplements in peak season make it even more so for the solo traveler- be prepared for prices well over $1000pppn if you want to get into the private concessions such as those in the Kwando-Linyanti area. If you are travelling solo, shoulder season would be more affordable as prices are lower and there are some camps which don't charge a single supplement in shoulder season. The cut off date varies- for some camps it is 1 June, for others 1 July, and others mid June. Kwando is shoulder season until 1 July but they do charge single supplements. Happy to elaborate if you are indeed travelling solo.

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    stokeygirl, thank you so much for the wealth of information! You've definitely got me searching for more information and considering new things.

    I am definitely traveling solo. I am fine with $1000 pppn, but probably not looking to exceed that. With a Botswana only focus, I'd probably look at 6-8 nights in the bush, and add Vic Falls before returning home. And I could likely focus on going for two weeks in late May or early June to have a better chance of avoiding high season pricing, and hopefully close enough to the denning time of wild dogs to have a decent shot of seeing them. I know that no sightings are ever guaranteed, but if this is my last trip to Africa for awhile, I'd like to give myself the best shot possible to see them.

    And I like the sound of splitting between the Chobe area concessions and Okavango area to maximize more chances and diversifying the experience a bit. Looks like Kwando, Wilderness Safaris, and African Bush Camps all have options in the Delta and in Kwando-Linyanti area. Do you have a recommended operator or safari outfitter to start with? Any one of these least likely to charge a single supplement?

    I'm also looking at the Kwando-Linyanti + Delta options on ExpertAfrica's safari options to get a sense of what is feasible in terms of combinations, timing, and pricing.

    Thank you so much!

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    Two pretty good lists of scheduled safaris. There are mobile and set itinerary options. Some great value options if you are more adventurous than I am and could do participatory camping. The full service camping usually includes "en-suite" tents and no sleeping on the ground. Most of them have reasonable single supplements - and you may be able to be paired with a buddy to cut costs. If you are not interested in a group trip, you could get some great ideas from them to customize your own. I am currently trying to figure out where to go to see wild dogs and brown hyena. But I don't want to miss out on ellies and rhino (and so many others) that it makes it so much more difficult. I have been on more game drives than I can count and have only seen dogs once, sleeping in the dark. Never a brown hyena.

    Consider Mashatu in SE Botswana for leopard and Zululand Rhino Reserve in KZN for cheetah - there were 9 sub adults in two families last summer. Just remember there are no guarantees, no matter how much we plan. There are surprises around every corner. Enjoy your planning!

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    Thank you, Christabir! There are a couple of options on both lists and on the expertafrica lists that I will investigate further. I'm not opposed to sharing with a fellow female traveler or doing something more value oriented and sleeping on the ground if it gets me to those key areas with the highest probabilities to see the specific game I'm after.

    It's definitely all luck with sightings, and I'm sure that, even I don't see the dogs or cheetah or leopard, I won't be disappointed by the game viewing in Botswana.

    Thank you for your links and ideas!

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    For what it's worth, here's my input as a solo traveller who has put a lot of research into single supplements and how to avoid them.

    As a solo traveler I would say forget high season Botswana in fixed camps. The single supplements are so high on top of already high prices that I don't think it's worth the premium to travel in high season- I would rather consider low or shoulder season or another destination. The only option I would consider in high season would be a mobile. I did one in 2009 (October) with Letaka safaris, and I've seen some good reports from one run by AndBeyond.

    Shoulder season- here's a run down of some of the camps I've considered-

    Wilderness Safaris- they go to peak season on 1 June, and they still charge a single supplement in shoulder season which would still put them over your $1000 a night threshold even in shoulder season. I've been to their camps in low season, but wouldn't consider them even in shoulder.

    Kwando- shoulder ends on 30 June which is good, but they still have a single supplement. I am actually doing a 10 night trip using their camps in late June this year, and managed to get this for about $7000, BUT that was including long stay discounts (I think 10% for 8+ nights), repeat client discounts (5%) and I booked it early enough to get 2014 rates held, so I don't think you'd be able to match this for 2016 and without the repeat client discount. I followed their sightings reports last year and I think the wild dog puppies made their first appearance at the dens in late June. I think for a trip at that time using the Kwando camps you'd be phenomenally unlucky not to see dogs. If it works out affordable for you I think this would be your best chance of seeing your "target animals".

    Great Plains- no single supplements in shoulder season (until 14 June). Their camps are mostly quite pricey, but Selinda Explorers is definitely worth considering at about $600 pppn in shoulder with no single supplement.

    Ker Downey- shoulder until the end of June and no single supplement. Of their camps, my pick would be Shinde. I've booked a combination of Shinde and Selinda Explorers in shoulder season 2016 which has worked out pretty reasonable (less than my 10 day Kwando trip this year).

    Desert & Delta- also shoulder until the end of June and no single supplement. Their camps are mainly in the national parks rather than private concessions but I would consider them mixed with one or two camps in private concessions.

    I think African Bush Camps and also Sanctuary don't charge single supplements in shoulder season but I haven't investigated them in that much detail. I stayed at a Sanctuary camp in Zambia last year and they do separate dining rather than communal, which as a solo traveler I'm not a fan of. Same for AndBeyond (who are also pretty pricey and start peak season on 1 June).

    Hope that helps. I have booked all my Botswana trips through Safari Specialists, a tour operator based in Maun.

    I'd be interested to hear about the Mashatu option mentioned above- christabir, do you have any idea what the options are for getting there for a solo traveler? One issue I have often found is flights requiring minimum bookings of 2 PAX or expensive road transfers. Often this can make inexpensive destinations pricey for the solo traveler, and I suspect this might be the case for Mashatu. One of the nice things about the Northern Botswana region is that being solo isn't an issue for air transfers- you just pay a seat rate. Occasionally I have come across a 50% supplement on air transfers for solo travelers but only in low season and for short hops around the north this rarely amounts to much and is offset by no single supplements on accommodation, and can be minimised by longer stays in each camp. I don't believe this applies in shoulder season.

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    stokeygirl, thank you so much for that incredibly detailed breakdown. I feel really prepared to have an informed conversation with any safari outfitter at this point, and very clearly suggest what I'm after in terms of budget and location. Thank you SO MUCH for the time and work in putting this together.

    I'm going to dig into each of the groups you profiled and see if I can land on an ideal itinerary for each, and then start reaching out.

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    I "like" Great Plains on Facebook and they currently seem to have a lot of dogs around. Great Plains is involved with Rhinos Without Borders - fundraising for some rhinos to be moved to Botswana. Currently very important to me to save this incredible species AGAIN. This is the third time humans have tried to wipe them out. (Sorry, I'll stop now).

    Mashatu is great. It is just a really fun reserve. It's a bit out of our price range these days, so we might visit one of the smaller camps in Tuli Circle. Getting there is tough, though. If you combine it with Mala Mala (both Rattrays Reserves) there is a flight between them. We got a transfer from northern Kruger - less than a three hour drive - a few years back. We then flew to Plokwane and got a commercial flight to JNB from there. You can fly to Polokwane and get a road transfer from there. I think the pricing info is on the Mashatu website and there are combo packages on there, too. If I was to do it again, I would like to combine it with Mopane Lodge across the river in SA or drive over from Gaborone. No buffalo or rhino in Tuli Circle, but we loved it. Bike and horse safaris are available, as well as research drives. We stayed at tented camp - perfect for us. We did Arathusa, Pafuri (in northern Kruger, no longer available) and Mashatu that trip. Close to perfect combination for a short trip.

    stokeygirl- please save that post! Really great info for anyone interested in Botswana.

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    We were in Botswana (Okavanga Delta) in Nov/Dec for the Wilderness Safari Six Country green season special pricing. We saw an amazing number of leopard, cheetah and wild dogs. Best camps were Tubu Tree and Chitabe. Personally, I would (and did) skip Vic Falls. I go just for the wildlife and photography. Before spending a lot of your prescious time and money on Vic Falls be sure you know what the water flow will be (high or low) and how many other tourists will be bouncing around in your line of sight.

    Trip report on Safari Talk:

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    Hi there - I'd agree with stokeygirl and advise that you stick to one country - other places to consider would be Zimbabwe or Zambia. Zim as a single traveller is quite challenging at present (because some of the best operators in Mana and Gonaerzhou require a minimum booking of 4 guests to guarantee the trip) but the Wild Dog in the Save conservancy are arguably as good as anywhere - certainly in Southern Africa - the East African population which is darker and so possibly less attractive is currently probably the most reliable place to see them - particularly on the Laikipia plateau where they can be tracked and approached on foot which is great fun - they are my favourite species on foot. Wild Dog occur in Zambia and this is an excellent place to see leopard - particularly the Luangwa and Lower Zambezi Valleys. Cheetah only really occur in the Kafue NP (and Liuwa NP) but your chances of seeing them are pretty good. For variety of landscapes and a chance of seeing Leopard, Wild Dog and Cheetah I would be tempted at looking at a Luangwa & Kafue NP combination (with the possibility of 3 days in the Lower Zambezi en-route if your budget stretched to it). The Kafue particularly is excellent value at present and some of the Luangwa operators do not charge single supplement. I hope that helps rather than confuses things! Good luck and happy planning -

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    Rod- one of the issues I have had with Kafue (or specifically, the Busanga Plains area), as a solo traveller, is getting there. I understand Proflight has just started scheduled flights, but still at double fare for a single seat.

    Some of the options further South might be more accessible by a road transfer but even road transfers get pricey when they aren't shared.

    South Luangwa is an awesome option for a solo safari I agree, but no cheetah.

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    Yes it is true that getting to the Kafue as a single traveller remains expensive with the minimum 2 seat requirement (by air or road), however it is great news that Proflight are putting in a scheduled flight several days of the week, and if this works - and there is no reason that it should not - it will grow and you will in time be able to buy a single seat fare (as to Mfuwe, Lower Zambezi or Livingstone) - here's hoping...

    The Busanga used to be the most assured place for cheetah in Zambia but the most regular sightings now appear to be further south around Mukambi. That's not to say that the Busanga are not worth visiting, IMO they certainly are - but both getting there and staying there is more expensive than the "central belt" of the Park and if finding cheetah is youth aim then including the Busanga is no longer a pre-requisite

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