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Southern Africa safari choices in April - May?

Southern Africa safari choices in April - May?

Old Jan 4, 19, 5:33 pm
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Southern Africa safari choices in April - May?

Hi all, we're considering Southern Africa again for April or May....

We don't want to spend too much money on safari on this trip. Cheap safari may be an oxymoron, I know. After a stellar safari experience in Tanzania with a private guide, I'm perhaps a little snobby about safari quality. Doing a safari where you're forced to stick to the paths (Kruger) or a Disneyland-esque experience with 20 vehicles surrounding a pack of lions will be disappointing. But we don't want to spend the Tanzania safari kind of money on this trip.

Vic Falls is a must. CPT might be nice. (Garden Route no longer seems so interesting.) Those can be done for cheaply enough. Beyond that, we'd like to see what we can in about two weeks in Southern Africa (RSA, Zim/Zambia, Botswana, Namibia). I'm afraid day trip safari to Chobe from Vic Falls will be disappointing. Okavango seems prohibitively expensive, as does much of Botswana and Namibia. I did a lot of initial research, and I didn't turn up any hidden gems or ways to do a "budget" safari besides things like Kruger or a day trip to Cobe.

I'd appreciate any honest input on any routes to do Southern Africa relatively cheaply, or if it's better just not to bother unless we're prepared to do it properly.
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Old Jan 5, 19, 10:25 am
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Originally Posted by LAX_Esq View Post
or a Disneyland-esque experience with 20 vehicles surrounding a pack of lions will be disappointing.
This really only happens in free-for-all national parks like the Masai Mara or the Serengeti (the remoter or exclusive sections excepted). In private game reserves the number of vehicles at a sighting is strictly limited. The downside is that you may spend a lot of time "taking a standby" and that your time at a sighting of interest may be restricted to ten minutes or so. Almost just as bad.

There are still a few rather affordable private lodges in full B5 reserves in SA. Mosetlha in Madikwe is one, but that reserve is notorious for crowded sightings. That can be avoided if you get the right guide, or even better, sole use of vehicle, and bumble off to the remoter corners of the reserve, which you may well have to yourself.

In the Greater Kruger area there are a few affordable lodges in the Timbavati and the Klaserie. Baobab Ridge, Gomo Gomo, Nthambo, Xanatseni, Shindzela. The latter has exclusive traversing on a large property and shares the rest with only one other lodge, so you often go a whole game drive without seeing any other vehicle.

Originally Posted by LAX_Esq View Post
I'm afraid day trip safari to Chobe from Vic Falls will be disappointing.
Given that the Chobe River attracts most game at the peak of the dry season, April or May could well disappoint, all depending on your expectations.

Johan
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Old Jan 5, 19, 12:56 pm
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I agree that this recently-posted topic deserves its own thread, as the discussion could be affected by weather and issues unique to the April-May period. That new thread is now open. Ocn Vw 1K, Senior Moderator.
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Old Jan 6, 19, 10:06 am
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Thanks johan rebel very much for the message. Looks like Mosetlha is about $200pppn for a couple, as is Shindzela. Didn't look up all the prices one by one, but I suppose this is as low as we'll get in SA.

What about in Botswana or Namibia? Is anything really affordable there (including the Okavango), or is it much more expensive than SA?

Also, having already seen plenty of B5 in the Serengeti, what would you consider the most unique things to see in Southern Africa? Maybe we've seen too many nature documentaries, but the Okavango seems very unique and has long been on the list.

At any of these reserves, do you have to pay extra for solo use of the jeep? It was so nice to be alone with the guide in the Serengeti and stay for as long or as little time watching something, without dealing with other random tourists with different interests. I understand that the Southern Africa safaris are totally different, where the each lodge gives out the guides, but I really liked in Tanzania that I was able to find a great guide on the internet before the trip, interview him, check his references, and be with him the whole time.
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Old Jan 6, 19, 12:48 pm
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Originally Posted by LAX_Esq View Post
Looks like Mosetlha is about $200pppn for a couple, as is Shindzela. Didn't look up all the prices one by one, but I suppose this is as low as we'll get in SA.
You are right.

You may well find cheaper lodges out there, but they will either lack a full complement of game, be more of a resort than a lodge, or have a tiny traversing area.

There may also be specials from time to time (e.g. pay X days, stay for Y), and some lodges offer lower rates for SA residents at certain times.

The affordable SA lodges are in great demand, Shindzela for example is fully booked almost every single day. $200 is a steal, you can't even do a self-drive for that money.

Originally Posted by LAX_Esq View Post
What about in Botswana or Namibia? Is anything really affordable there (including the Okavango), or is it much more expensive than SA?
There are public rest camps and campsites in various national parks, but they are for the self-drive crowd.

I do not think there are any really affordable (by your <$200 pppn definition) in those countries, but I must confess that I've never really looked for any.

Originally Posted by LAX_Esq View Post
Also, having already seen plenty of B5 in the Serengeti, what would you consider the most unique things to see in Southern Africa?
Are you referring to mammals?

Certain SA lodges and reserves will offer a much better chance of seeing Wild Dogs, and some have outstanding leopard viewing. Most also offer night drives, which afford an opportunity to see species rarely encountered in daylight, as well as to view large predators at a time when they are more likely to be active.

Certain antelope species found in SA (e.g. Sable, Roan, Greater Kudu, Nyala, Grey Duiker, etc.) do not occur in the Serengeti. Then again, the Serengeti has species (gazelles etc.) you don't get in SA.

If you are into birds, then SA has far more to offer than the Serengeti, simply because the country is so diverse. If you go to just one game lodge, however, then the diversity will be lower, and you will most likely find yourself in a rather similar savanna biome.

Originally Posted by LAX_Esq View Post
but the Okavango seems very unique
Yes, it is really very cool. Apart from being an inland delta, it also has a wild feel to it that is singularly lacking in SA. On the other hand, there is nothing really special about the Okavango's mammal complement. All the species occuring there can be found elsewhere, often in abundance. I guess that Red Lechwe and Sitatunga (if you are in the right place) can be described as Okavango specials.

Originally Posted by LAX_Esq View Post
At any of these reserves, do you have to pay extra for solo use of the jeep?
Yes, you do. As far as I know, they have no published rates, you will get a quote upon application.

Bear in mind that these affordable lodges are small, they run two vehicles at most. Although there's always a spare vehicle, there may not always be a spare guide available.

Originally Posted by LAX_Esq View Post
I understand that the Southern Africa safaris are totally different, where the each lodge gives out the guides
Guests are assigned to a vehicle for the duration of their stay, and will thus have the same guide and tracker for that time. Occasionally guests may be asked to change vehicle or get a new guide, but that only happens when staff go on leave. As guides usually work six or eight weeks straight, the chance of that happening is not high.

Your Serengeti experience differs in many other ways as well. If I understand you correctly, you hired a guide who drove you around in those parts of the NP which are accessible to the general public. You can do that in SA too, there are operators who offer private safaris in the Kruger, Kgalagadi and any and every other NP. Staying at a private game lodge is a completely different cup of tea.

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Old Jan 9, 19, 12:20 pm
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should I get vaccinated?
I can't think of any reason why you should.

Some may recommend malaria prophylactics, but I see no reason to take those either.

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Old Jan 10, 19, 3:37 am
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LAX_Esq, it is obvious from the discussion that you want a guided safari. But it goes without saying that the most affordable way to safari is the self-drive. It can also help to limit the number of other vehicles you see, as you have much more freedom in where you go. In my very limited experience (4 safaris totalling less than 30 days) we have had sightings of leopard and wild dogs being the only car, for about 20 minutes, self driving in Kruger National Park. As Johan has pointed out, you could hire a guide for a Kruger trip much more cheaply than a private lodge. They are all very different experiences. To hire a NP Ranger to guide you for a full day within the National Park (which you can arrange with the rest camps) costs about $500 per day. Budget safaris operate more cheaply than that, but of course you have to share the vehicle and they will always focus on the "Big 5" because they think that's what people want to see, so you don't get to dictate the focus of the day.

I note "you're forced to stick to the paths" in many places, particularly within the National Park boundaries for the good of the ecosystem - tyre tracks everywhere cause damage to the vegetation and is generally a bad thing. However, please note that in the greater Kruger area (the unfenced private lodges), they know and 'manage' their traversing areas and do drive off-road (and at night) to get close to sightings.

If you are focused on Vic Falls, could you look at guided drives into Hwange as well as Chobe?

"it's better just not to bother unless we're prepared to do it properly"
"Properly" is to self-drive ;-) Honestly, if you've got an itch to scratch, adding on 34 days self-driving in Kruger NP to a Cape Town and Vic Falls trip would be cost-effective given your air fare. Also, the wider Western Cape is fabulous, absolutely gorgeous scenery with great diversity, don't discount it just because there is a strip of the 'Garden Route' aimed at activities for tourists - you can avoid that bit.
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Old Jan 10, 19, 11:22 am
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Originally Posted by konagirl2 View Post
But it goes without saying that the most affordable way to safari is the self-drive.
Whether that's so, will depend on a number of factors.

In my case, staying at one of the affordable private lodges in the Timbavati or the Klaserie is substantially cheaper than a self-drive in the KNP. The lodges don't charge me a single supplement, but even if they did a self-drive would still be more expensive. The equation would change a bit if I did not rent a top-of-the-range SUV, but not enough to tip the scales. SANParks accommodation is not getting any cheaper, nor are the night drives, and SA gas prices have been very high recently.

What really does matter is the number of people traveling together. Lodges charge per person, whereas the self-drive cost is not that much higher for up to four persons, compared to one.

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Old Jan 10, 19, 7:43 pm
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Originally Posted by johan rebel View Post
The affordable SA lodges are in great demand, Shindzela for example is fully booked almost every single day. $200 is a steal, you can't even do a self-drive for that money.
Originally Posted by johan rebel View Post
In my case, staying at one of the affordable private lodges in the Timbavati or the Klaserie is substantially cheaper than a self-drive in the KNP. The lodges don't charge me a single supplement, but even if they did a self-drive would still be more expensive.
Johan, and OP - would be useful to know what exactly 'affordable/cheap' is according to your definition and what that would include.

For two people staying inside the Kruger, a bungalow at Skukuza would come up around R1600. Add park fees for two and it is ZAR 2300 or $165. That's for two people. With a lodge and 'steal $200 per person that $400 per day - 2.5x of the Kruger price.

And self drive costs in Kruger can be further reduced by getting AirBnB next to the entrance and doing day visit self-drives. That was the reason why I got 3br house at Marloth Park for $80/night. If you sum accommodation costs and park entrance fees it was coming like $57 per person per day drive. I don't know if one can go lower that, even if you stay in your own tent inside Kruger.

Or I might be missing something in the conversation.

P.S. But I do agree with OP that 'cheap safari' in Africa is oxymoron. And done it once, I see no reason to do it again.
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Last edited by invisible; Jan 10, 19 at 7:56 pm
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Old Jan 11, 19, 12:02 pm
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Originally Posted by invisible View Post
For two people staying inside the Kruger, a bungalow at Skukuza would come up around R1600. Add park fees for two and it is ZAR 2300 or $165. That's for two people.
Well, for starters, you will need to rent a car, unless you are bringing your own. The latter is really only an option if you live in SA or neighboring countries.

A decent SUV will set you back about R1000 a day, plus fuel (let's say about R250 a day if you use a quarter tank).

Then most people need to eat and drink. Unless you want to self-cater, two restaurant meals a day + snacks and drinks will set you back say R250 per person per day.

Want to go on a night drive? About R300 per person. Walks and morning drives are more expensive.

Sure, you can save plenty by renting a group A vehicle, and view the park at the eye level of a grey duiker. You can subsist on a diet of apples, crackers and tap water for a few days without becoming malnourished. You can save on fuel by staring at the camp waterhole all day instead of going on a game drive. But comparing the experience to a private lodge then becomes pretty pointless.

As I said in my previous post, "What really does matter is the number of people traveling together. Lodges charge per person, whereas the self-drive cost is not that much higher for up to four persons, compared to one".

I often travel alone, and then it is a no-brainer. When there are two or three of us, the equation changes.

There are probably as many opinions on what can be described as affordable as there are people.

$200, in many places, is about the price of a decent hotel room. For that money you basically get a bed to sleep in, plus a bathroom.

For the same amount, an affordable lodge provides not only an en suite room, but also three meals a day, as well as a guide, a tracker and a vehicle to take you game viewing twice a day. They will serve coffee, tea and snacks on the drives as well.

In my opinion, that's a steal. And hey, I don't even pay $200, I get a discount!

To look at it from a different angle: you will have no trouble finding lodges in the (Greater) KNP that charge well over $2,000 per night. For that money, you basically get to see the same animals that you can view for less that a tenth of the price. And viewing animals is what a safari is all about, right?

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Old Jan 16, 19, 5:16 pm
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you may find this trip report useful
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