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Need Help with African Adventure

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My husband and I are just beginning to plan a trip to Africa in late November, 2016. We have travelled extensively in Europe, but we are African "newbies." A the top of my bucket list is sighting giraffes. We are not looking at "luxury" safaris, but we would like to be comfortable and safe, and we would appreciate any suggestions for area to visit and safari companies. Sorry I can't be more specific about our needs; all advice is welcome.

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    Depending on your budget you could either self drive in the Kruger National Park staying in park accommodations or stay at one of the private lodges in or around Kruger where you get all meals, 2 daily game drives etc.
    Not sure how long you want to travel but you could stay at different lodges or maybe combine with Kwazulu Natal.
    Sandy. - Love Africa Travel

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    look at my trip report by clicking on my name... we had an amazing trip at a really great price. after much research here, i just let our tour company know my budget and our "musts" and then we negotiated back and forth until it was perfect. we also travel europe a lot... i found that in africa, you don't have to book 'luxury' to feel like it is 'luxury.' they really know how to treat their guests!!

    i am just sure you will see lots and lots of giraffes... the whole list thing was a non-issue for us because the animals all just presented themselves!

    i would try to do a water area if possible.. we did chobe because it was easier to get to. (and i just saw that chobe is in the 2016 top 10 list in the NY Times).

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    How long do you plan to visit? Do you want to go to Cape Town? General budget - they vary widely. I've done very high end (over $1000 per person per night) and inexpensive (as little as $150 per person per night). November is hot and can be rainy in most of S Africa.

    Most newbies, in a two week trip go to Cape Town for four-five nights and the private reserves near Kruger, possibly two lodges for three nights each. Or add the winelands near Cape Town and only do one lodge. Just fly from CPT to Kruger. It's a very nice experience.

    If Cape Town is not high on your list, I'd head to KwaZulu Natal. Just fly into Durban or Richards Bay, rent a car and do the beaches, every water activity possible, excellent game reserves at all prices, St Lucia (the most fun town I've ever visited) for every activity imaginable. See for all the fun. History and scenery in the Drakenberg Mtns. Durban is becoming a big city - new airport, huge mall, excellent restaurants. My favorite game reserve is Zululand Rhino Reserve. They were created with help from WWF to expand the black rhino territory. They do great conservation and community work. We stay at Rhino River Lodge - we like the personal service and friendly staff. Tembe Elephant Park is a community owned reserve that provides jobs in an area with very few jobs available. It's a nice reserve - we had a top three game drive there. Excellent.

    If mostly safari is your wish, I did a really nice all safari a few years back. It was in three very different ecosystems and great variety. Can be a self drive (much less expensive) or a fly/driver trip. We spent three nights everywhere, but mix and match is easy. Start in Mashatu in SE Botswana - easy flight or drive. We stayed in tented camp and it was excellent! It looks a little rustic when you first get there, but the reserve is great. You might choose main camp because you might need air conditioning. Then an easy drive/driver east to northern Kruger and stay at The Outpost. Then a longish drive to a private reserve in southern Kruger - we chose Arathusa, but there are many great lodges. Then fly to Johannesburg for your flight home. Do Cape Town first, and do safari last as it's the highlight if you want Cape Town.

    Chobe is best combined with Victoria Falls. Unfortunately in November the animals don't congregate around the river (lots of other water sources) making them harder to see. It's best May-September during the dry season, Vic Falls is hit or miss with water levels but May-August seems to be better than most.

    There are no guarantees for any animals, but your chances of seeing giraffe is very high at most game reserves. They are beautiful. My first elephant was wow! But rhino are my passion. Make sure you choose a reserve/reserves that have them - they really are in trouble. Still trying to see wild dog and brown hyena, and of course the very rarely seen pangolin!

    No matter what you choose, you are going to love it. If you're anything like most of us here, you'll be planning your return before you land back home. Have fun planning. Get back to us with budget and time, and feedback on the info given.

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    How exciting.

    My first safari sighting was a giraffe, so it is a special animal for me.

    Agree that "your chances of seeing giraffe is very high at most game reserves." So you picked an easy animal. Also, let the driver/ranger know of your interest in giraffes.

    Depending on how close and personal you'd like to get with giraffes, you might consider Giraffe Manor in Nairobi where giraffes stick their head in your room for their morning breakfast or Giraffe Center where those same giraffes roam around during the day and you can feed them from a platform. Their tongues are purply-gray.

    Check out this chart that shows good wildlife destinations in Africa by month:

    As weather becomes less predictable, so does this chart or any chart.

    You can couple the when to go chart with what animals are most likely seen where:

    You may notice giraffe is not on the list. That's because they are easy to see most places. You don't have to choose special locations to see giraffe.

    Some questions to help direct you to where and what:

    How long?

    Approximate budget?

    Do you think you'd be comfortable self driving which saves $, which would probably mean South Africa or Namibia?

    If you'd like a privately guided trip, that is very common for couples to do in Kenya and Tanzania. I've even had good luck with it in Namibia. The costs can be equal to or less than the high end group trips.

    Or maybe you'd prefer a group trip. There are many types of group departures but one of my fav group trips is a mobile safari in Botswana, which makes that impressive destination more affordable.

    You mention giraffes, anything else such as Victoria Falls, Cape Town, gorillas, the wildebeest migration? Those items on the wish list will likely dictate which countries you'd visit.

    "Not luxury, comfortable, and safe"

    Any reputable safari provider will provide you with safety.

    You can get into the specifics of your definition of comfortable such as:
    I don't want a sleeping bag and a pup tent ~or~ To save money I'd like the group participation camping trip with a sleeping bag and a pup tent.

    I must have brick and mortar walls of a lodge to sleep comfortably ~or~ I don't want a lodge with lots of people and would be more comfortable in a luxury tent.

    Now for not luxury. The term luxury tent is used above. Most tents that have a quality cot or a bed and ensuite facilities are referred to as luxury tents. That is the standard for most tented camps that are safe and a typical accommodation in the bush.

    Putting luxury and lodging in perspective, in general the tented accommodations are more expensive than the lodges because they are more secluded, remote, and the staff serves fewer people.

    Finally, if late November was the time frame and I wanted to see lots of animals, giraffe in particular, for a first trip here's what I'd consider, each increasing in # of days:

    Kenya, private safari
    Start in Nairobi for a day of activities including either Giraffe Manor (more intimate but pricier) or Giraffe Center (less intimate, less expensive).

    Drive 2-ish hours to Lake Nakuru where there are flamingos on the lake. Stay at least 1 night, perhaps 2 at a lodge which could allow stopping at Lake Naivasha too. Drive another 5-6 hours to to Maasai Mara and stay at least 2 tented camps, at least one of them a conservancy. Spend a week in the Mara because it is all happening there. Then drive 5-ish hours or fly back to Nairobi and home.


    Tanzania, private safari
    Start in Arusha and do a day in Arusha Nat Park, staying at a lodge or hotel.
    Drive 2-ish hours to Tarangire for 2 nights at Tarangire Safari Lodge.
    Drive 4.5-ish hours to the Ngorongoro crater for 2 nights at Sopa Lodge.
    Drive 4-ish hours to Central or Western Serengeti for 2 nights at a lodge or tented camp.
    Drive or fly to Northern Serengeti for 3-4 days at a tented camp.
    Fly back to Kilimanjaro and home.


    South Africa, not self-driving since I don't do that, but maybe it is appealing to you. It is common to self drive. I'd do flying to 2 safari areas with safari activities in a shared vehicle + Cape Town + Vic Falls if you wanted.

    3 nights Cape Town
    4 nights fly to Johannesburg and on to Phinda (some of my best giraffe photos are taken here) Do activities in a shared vehicle. There are numerous non-drive activities such as canoeing, boating, flying safaris. There are 4 lodges, cottages to choose from at Phinda but I would consider them to be luxury. This is the most managed area of any mentioned. It has 23,000 hectares that are fenced. If not Phinda, then maybe 3-4 nts at Timbavati, near Kruger.
    1 night probably need an o/nt back in Joburg
    4-7 nights in one or two of the many private reserves bordering Kruger. Lodges, cottages, or rondavels are usually the options. Fly from Joburg.
    1-2 nights Fly to Vic Falls, if you wanted. You could probably stick this on the front too.

    Since your time frame matches so perfectly with the largest mammal migration on earth and the 4th largest mammal migration in Africa I'll mention an unusual

    You generally start in South Luangwa Zambia where there are the Thornecroft's Giraffe. Next is Kasanka Zambia for the amazing 8-10 million straw colored fruit bat migration (largest on earth) then on to Liuwa Plains Zambia, a very remote, stunning and prolific park for the wildebeest migrating through pink lilies (4th largest). I arranged this trip through Robin Pope Safaris. It might now be done through Norman Carr Safaris. Then I tacked on Phinda after Zambia, all done late Nov and early Dec.

    Have fun planning your adventure.

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    The tome above is insufficient. It must be amended with a couple more thoughts. It could take you through 2016 to digest all this.

    For that unusual itinerary mentioned, it was even more unusual than stated above. In Zambia between the bats and the Liuwa lilies with wildes was beautiful Bangweulu Swamps teaming with black lechwe and the prehistoric shoebill stork. Then in Phinda, along with the animals traditionally seen on safari, at that time of year you can watch Loggerheads and Leatherbacks drag themselves onto the beach at night and lay 100+ eggs. This trip is unique and head-turning even for those well traveled in Africa, offering the standard classics and the truly remote and undiscovered. Again, I mention such a different trip because your timing would be perfect.

    The other thought I had was a giraffe-a-palooza safari that would have the advantage of not compromising any other animals in order to maximize giraffes--3 different species of giraffes.

    In Kenya, private safari.

    1 Arrive NBO and o/nt, maybe Giraffe Manor to keep things simple or to save money at a less expensive spot in NBO.

    2 Day in NBO, activities to include Giraffe Center or Giraffe Manor, perhaps o/nting at Giraffe Manor.

    (If you visit Giraffe Center, you do not have to stay at Giraffe Manor.)

    3 Head north to maybe Serena Mountain Lodge in Mt Kenya or The Ark in Aberdare, which is a little more circus-like, but can be fun early in a trip. Both have floodlit water holes. About 3.0-4.0 hours' drive depending where you go.

    4-5 Samburu, drive 3.5 - 4.5 hours, depending on departure. Many places to stay both lodges and tented camps. This is where you'll likely see the Reticulated Giraffe, along with other species unique to the north. Very good for elephant, though less so out of the dry season in late Nov. (I actually prefer 3 nts Samburu, but that is not common.)

    6 Drive 3.5 - 4 hours to Sweetwater with lots of activities and a floodlit waterhole. (To save a day, you could do a 7-8 hour drive from Samburu to Lake Nakuru and skip this stop.)

    7-8 Drive 3-ish hours to Lake Nakuru. This area has what many people consider to be the prettiest giraffe, the Rothschild's. Many itineraries spend 1 night here, but to increase your odds of quality Rothschild's giraffe sightings and to maybe also go to Lake Naivasha, about an hour away, you could spend 2 nights.

    9-12 or longer if you have it. Drive 5-6 hours to Maasai Mara. The Masai Giraffe are here. Stay in lodging (less costly) or tented camps (more costly, more secluded). If staying 4 nts, I'd pick one conservancy*. If staying more than 4 nights, then a couple of locations would be good.

    *conservancies explained

    13 Drive back to NBO in time for night flight out.

    Lots of exciting options for you to consider, whether mentioned here or those not yet discussed.

    How to arrange whatever itinerary you decide upon? Use an Africa specialist travel agent. Even for people who book all their own trips, most people use an agent for Africa, unless they are self-driving.

    When you hone in on countries, activities, there are lots of agent suggestions that can be given.

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    Thanks to EACH OF YOU for the extensive advice and suggestions!
    It is going to take awhile for us to digest all of this information, but obviously we need to "hone in" on exactly where and what we want to see (other than giraffes!). I know of Giraffe Manor, and my husband really wants to splurge on a night or two there, but I think it is out of our budget - I'm a fiscal conservative! My husband has driven us all over Europe, but he really wants to let someone else do the driving in Africa, and I'm with him on that, though I know that self-drive is more cost effective. I'll be back with some specific questions. Thanks again - and Happy New Year to all!

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    "I'm a fiscal conservative!"

    Don't be too conservative with once in a lifetime opportunities, though.

    There are often workarounds. With the giraffes, feed 'em on the platform and skip the expensive Giraffe Manor is a possibility.

    Happy New Year to you too!

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    Happy New Year Hlroamer!

    There's certainly a lot of info here in this thread for you to review. Posters are super helpful!

    In your process of "honing" in where you want to go and what you want to see, you should take a close look at South Africa which has never been better for those who are interested in maximizing their travel dollars. The Rand is converting at a historic low and it's a great time to take advantage of the rates.

    The Private Reserves of Sabi Sand and Timbavati, which share an unfenced border with Kruger National Park, have lodges to fit all budgets and travel styles. You could do 3 nights in one area and transfer to another lodge/camp for another 3 nights. There are also long stay discounts for certain lodges.

    Lodge rangers are exceptional and so well-versed in animal behavior and, unlike National Parks, your ranger can drive the jeep off-road in Private Reserves so that you can track an animal or stay with an animal to learn more about them. Night drives are allowed as well.

    Happy to help!

    Africa Direct USA

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    Giraffe Manor is well worth the splurge, especially for someone who loves giraffes. It really is wonderful!!

    You only need one night to experience it all. I made sure I arrived as early as possible in order to optimize my time there. Flew in from Tanzania and because of flight arrival times spent a night down the road so I could check in as early as possible.

    Book one of the rooms on the second floor of the main manor, they've since added on another building, that faces the front. Set your alarm for 6:15am so you're awake when the giraffe come up to your window looking for pellets.

    Sit on the front lawn in the afternoon enjoying a glass of wine as the giraffe come right up to you.

    And the giraffe sticking their head thru the windows at breakfast can only be described as magical.

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    If I "broke the bank" every time I went to S Africa, I would only have been there twice. It's no longer a once in a lifetime trip - ask everyone here. I'm not into high end luxury and gourmet food, spas, etc. Just give me great game viewing and personal service and I'm good. I'd rather return again and again, so my budget is about the same as any domestic vacation. Stay within your budget if that makes you more comfortable - you can combine splurges with more basic lodging and have a perfect trip without the budget concerns. Another way to keep costs down is to stay longer at each location so your transfer costs are less - getting from lodge to lodge can be surprisingly costly. I try for three nights minimum and try to do each trip in a reasonable small area (like not combining Kilimanjaro with Vic Falls or Botswana with Rwanda). Stick to East or Southern Africa, and easy to combine locations.

    There are lots of lodges that are difficult to find for US travelers. Sometimes using a local agent opens up opportunities we aren't aware of. Although I can't afford a splurge at Phinda in KwaZulu Natal, I can afford Tembe Elephant Park and Rhino River Lodge nearby, still have a great time, great service and also add a conservation project, help the rural local community and stay more nights for much less.

    To continue Dianne's point, if going to S Africa the U.S. Dollar is worth twice what it was the first time I went just ten years ago. Everything is half price! So in your research, look for lodges that quote in Rand for the best deal - great deal! Unfortunately a few quote in USD, so are at a premium right now.

    I don't do animal/human interactions. Lots of bad human behavior in those operations leading to terrible animal outcomes. I prefer nature for nature's sake and conservation activities.

    No matter what you do and where you go you are going to love it. If you are like so many of us, you will be planning your return before you get home.

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