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Trip Report Just back from 2 weeks in Botswana & Zambia 6/6/2010

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My husband and I just returned from safari and I wanted to report back on my impressions.

We did the San Francisco-Wash DC-Dakar-Johannesburg, overnight at Peermont Metcourt Suites then up to Maun & out to Chitabe Lediba for 3 nights, 3 nights Little Vumbura, 3 nights Duma Tau and 2 nights Toka Leya. Here is what I said on the Flood levels topic:

Little Vumbura was our favorite and the heli ride in and out (as well as the boat ride to camp) was fantastic. We spent our game drive time on Vumbura Plains and had excellent sightings. A couple of times we went through deep water (driver got his socks wet) or had to go around but not a huge problem. We were following 3 male lions but missed the actual buff kill because we were going around the deep water part. OK by me as we watched them eat it.

Chitabe Lediba was our 2nd favorite and the water didn't seem an issue except that the monthly dry truck was stuck in the mud for 3 days and never came in while we were there. 2 wonderful leopard sightings.

Duma Tau was our least favorite for a couple of reasons. It turned bitterly cold and it is a much larger camp which makes a difference. Also because of cold there were several drives where we saw next to nothing. On the other hand, we had a wonderful sighting of mama and baby leopard and watched for probably an hour while mama came out of her tree and tried to talked baby down too. The hyenas were on guard at the base of the tree. Again there are more watering holes so how much does that change things and the channel is of course full and beautiful.

Toka Leya in Zambia was a delight. (I never thought I'd be so happy to see a heater and hair dryer.) The Zambezi is very high and full and the water level was no problem. You do get wet touring the falls but it warmed up to dry us off. It was actually quite warm during the days.

lbj2 asked about comparison of Botswana to Tanzania and I do want to respond. They are different. Overall, I feel like Botswana had higher highs and lower lows for us in May/June. I felt that probably every 1 out of 3 game drives was a bust but when we found something it was outstanding.

I feel like I am comparing apples to oranges and then maybe a perfect orange with a slightly unripe apple. I have 2 safari experiences in Tanzania in the prime season with a private vehicle and a personalized schedule. Botswana (Wilderness) was a shared vehicle, with a set schedule and some REALLY cold weather for 2-3 nights at Duma Tau. May/early June is considered (priced) shoulder season entering high season in Bots but I would never consider going again if the temps were to be this cold. I don't do cold! Sleeping is fine with hot water bottles and down comforters, they bring out blankets for dinner and breakfast, but you do have to get out of bed at 5:30am and off for game drive at 6:30. We had the ponchos and hot water bottles in the trucks but we both had brain freeze headaches on 2 morning drives. Also the wildlife tends to stays in bed until it warms up so it wasn't always productive. Tanzania weather in Feb is perfect in my opinion. Is there a perfect time for weather and wildlife in Bots?

Botswana makes you feel very special. The flying in and out of camps, there to greet you every time you arrive in camp, fabulous food, friendly staff and guides, and beautiful camps make for a wonderful holiday experience. I felt like the camps were half empty on a lot of nights. We had a guide and vehicle to ourselves probably 1/3 of the time, never more than 1 other couple with us and we asked and were granted 2 all day drives in Vumbura and Duma Tau. Off roading is so exciting. Some of the guests expect too much, cue the lions...

Tanzania has a broad range of properties but I personally want to stay as close as possible to the middle of the action. Sometimes these lodges/camps can be a little funky and are probably not right for a lot of guests. I LOVE Ndutu Lodge but it is not for everyone and a large part of the attraction for me is the fellow photographer guests and interactions around the charging stations.

Tanzania was cheaper for us but then I didn't pick the Crater Lodge. I had to book Ndutu Lodge 12/13 months in advance for prime season (2008 & 2009) whereas Botswana was booked 9 months out for May 2010. Botswana had a lot of empty beds so I think I could have worked it out with a lot less lead time. I put my reservation in for Tanzania in Feb. 2010 for next Feb 2011 but I don't know if that was necessary in this economy.

I felt like my life may have been in danger on a few occasions in Botswana. We hit and kind of bounced off a hippo going back to Little Vumbura by boat after dark. I wasn't afraid at the moment but what is the back up plan if you tip over? Other hippos were all around. We were watching 3 large male lions eat a baby buff from about 6-8 feet away. One lion took off with the remains and someone in our rover was moving around. Both remaining lions locked eyes on us (and shifted from person to person) for several moments within one leap of our open sided vehicle. I was afraid this time! And then there were 2 occasions when elephants were too close for comfort. A bear banger (noise flare) is not much protection if things were to go badly. On the other hand, a staff member was badly injured and had to be evacuated from Little Vumbura. Sean, the camp manager, and the whole Wilderness operation were impressive to see in action. We were leaving at the time so were part of the boat ride to the dock, helicopter to the airstrip and then the medivac plane arrived and took him from there. They kept 3 planes grounded until the medivac left so as not to dust the injured man. Very impressive and quite fast.

I prefer flying KLM to Africa. SAA was OK but they gave away our window seats going and gave us middle seats that were not together. We were able to move so we were together in the middle section. Both of our bags were opened coming home. Nothing was missing but there was nothing of value either (dirty clothes, chargers, etc.). I was worried about the tighter weight limit and 1 carryon bag policy on SAA but it was not an issue. KLM allows 2 with a higher weight limit. It took 36 hours from airport departure in Zambia to arrival in SFO. Tanzania is 26 hours. The new airport in Johannesburg is a dream. No delays anywhere.

I don't want to come across as negative on Botswana. We had some really fantastic sightings and I am overwhelmed with the photos and videos we captured (I'm hoping as I haven't seen them yet). But we also had some cold bumpy drives. I think I have to give it a month to put it all into perspective. Again, this is my impression of 1 visit to Botswana and 2 visits to Tanzania. Yours will vary.

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