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Which Private Lodge for Safari-Too many choices - Need help!

Washington State...
Level Contributor
110 posts
9 reviews
Which Private Lodge for Safari-Too many choices - Need help!

Hi! Since posting my last questions - I have spent HOURS trying to figure out what to do for the safari portion of our trip. Everything sounds WONDERFUL. Have 6-7 days end of March, Early April 2010 planned for game viewing. Will depart for the safari adventure from Knysna (or George) and then need to head back to Cape Town afterwards as I want to get as much of beautiful South Africa in as possible.

From my readings, it appears there is a lot of "down time" at safari camps during the day for pure relaxation so I'm not worried about overloading. It seems like some people think it is better to stay at the same camp for 6-7 days, others think it is best to change to another in the same region and even others who feel going to various regions is best. So.. here are my many questions...

First - About us: We are married, in our 40's, love being around fun people, adventure is good (I tend to like to be busy) and we just want our best chance at a spectacular game experience to photograph and share amazing stories wtih our friends and family. (And keep in our heads for a lifetime)

1) How many days of game views is plenty? Will 6-7 be too much?

2) If you were only going game viewing once in your life, which 2 lodges would make you feel you got the best experience?

3) In Sabi Sand area - I think I have narrowed it down to a decision between 4 places.. or maybe more if you have other recommendations! They are... Singita (Not sure if Ebony or Boulders), Londolozi (Confused totally between Granite, Varty, Tree) , Mala Mala Rattrays (comments?) and then I was also advised Inyati (Cheapest, but can't seem to find as much info on it)

4) In Timbavati - Kings Camp was recommended but what do I gain by changing to a second lodge so close by? Shoudl I do this?

5) I even had someone recommend, Africa on Foot, if I want a TRUE experience. And.. I do. But, no electricity makes me a little leary but sometimes sacfrice of our daily privileges make us appreciate everything beyond what we thought possible. Physically we are fine with a lot of walking but I do no understand how you can cover much area this way...

6) Some even say that we'd be best to go to Phinda and then up to Kruger and others say that nothing compares to Kruger.

7) I worry about the time in travel between all of the various lodges, regions, so if you know how to get from Point A to Point B and the time involved, that would help me in my research.

Since we can't make it to everything in the 6-7 days we have for Safari, I am going to rely on wonderful Trip Advisor people's information to narrow things down for me before I lose my mind.

Oh.. One more thing.. Should I be using a Tour Operator? I have always used TA as my planning guide and booked my trips to places like Australia and New Zealand myself, but if I will better service/ maybe nicer accomodations or possibly better pricing using an Agent for my South African Safari, I don't mind at all. If so, who do you recommend? I see Rhino Africa, Go2Africa(Mia) and also have a friend of a friend who recommended Jenman African Safaris. Plus.. There are ton of SA Experts on TA that I believe are tour operators.

Please help me figure out my best safari options as far as location and private lodges before I lose my mind completely.. Feel free to send me a private email on TA if you are more comfortable with that than replying on line.

THANK YOU SO MUCH - I promise to check my account daily now!

Level Contributor
1,951 posts
25 reviews
11. Re: Which Private Lodge for Safari-Too many choices - Need help!

as far as the Phinda Lodges go, Mountain is the largest and welcomes children, the rooms are a delight and the exclusive rim flow swimming pools wonderful.

The second biggest lodge is Forest Lodge set in the sand forest, a world phenomenon as there are so few sand forests in the world and Phinda has a large portion of that (can't remember the exact ha, so won't comment), very ethereal beautiful lodge , the Rock Lodge is the baby sister to mountain, only 6 rooms very ethnic Morocco feel (not child friendly), The Vlei lodge also small 6 rooms very personal, hands on service, Zuka and The Homestead are booked out per villa not per room. For photos and commentary on the lodge and animal sightings look at the blog www.kimssouthafrica.blogspot.com

Gold Coast...
Level Contributor
5,580 posts
35 reviews
12. Re: Which Private Lodge for Safari-Too many choices - Need help!

hi RandyandKat, We also are a couple like yourselves planning our first s/a trip [sep2010] so first up I am no expert ! Just want to point out some things we have considered in our planning. We are staying 6 nts in Sabi, 3 Exeter Dulini and 3 Rattrays, these both traverse different areas and we look forward to experiencing 2 different lodges. Exeter rates are off peak at this time,which make a difference to us of aud $500 per night which helps with a splurge at Rattrays, which we found a lot more reasonable priced tham Singita. Other issue is Dulini has max 6 guests in game vehicles and Rattrays only 4, and no one under 16. After extensive research on t/a we realise this can make a big difference, especially if you are in the middle of a row of 3 people on a drive. We contacted the ldoges direct about this as obviously the ones with more crowded vehicles do not mention this on their websites. Not sure if this is something that bothers you or not, but as you say this could be a once in a lifetime trip so we want it t be great. The other thing we have decided is to hire a car, we are well travelled and quite confident with this. We realise that some hire time will be wasted while at the lodges but the $ and time saving on flights and transfers means there is very little overall difference in costs. Though it is a long drive from j/b we will not have to wait around for connecting flights/transfers as some have done, we get to see more of the country, and in the middle will simply drive from one lodge to the next, then have the convenience of heading straight off on our last day. We will head to Durban via Swaziland and St Lucia where we hope to experience some more wildlife. Then fly to c/t for a few days and drive back along garden route to p/e for flight home. Even planning to have the last couple of days at Addo of Shamwari for a final game 'fix' ! I realise you may not have as long there, but the time you put into planning will really pay off, took us weeks just getting the itinerary right, and the advise on this site has been invaluable. We have only picked out and booked accomodation in Kruger at this stage because thats a priority. Good luck.

Wayzata, Minnesota
Level Contributor
2,929 posts
31 reviews
13. Re: Which Private Lodge for Safari-Too many choices - Need help!

It looks like you've already gotten a lot of good advice to help you choose your safari experience. I will try to fill in the gaps with some of the missing logistical details. It would be helpful to know your exact flight arrival and departure dates from South Africa as I could possibly suggest an alternative way to route your trip to minimize time in airports (and Johannesburg) and maximize your time having fun.

Just assuming you have the six or seven days for your safari, and that is all you need help on, here are my thoughts. I'm also assuming that you start your first day on safari by waking up in Knysna. As you know, Knysna is 30 minutes from the George Airport. You will have to get to George pretty early in the morning to catch a flight no matter where you decide to go. I think you are on the right track when you realized that spending the entire time at one safari lodges in South Africa was too long. I find the vast majority of our clients do not enjoy this much safari in one location. You are also on the right track, in my opinion, to not combine the Timbavati or another lodge in the Sabi Sands with the first lodge. I think you should head to a second destination, and my first choice would be Phinda or Mashatu.

So, how do you put all this together? I would save the best for last – the Sabi Sands. Go to Phinda first. Last week, Phinda was voted the number two safari lodge in the world by Condé Nast but I think the Sabi Sands is a better wildlife experience. I was at Phinda in May 2009 and we saw 31 rhino (1 black 30 white) along with five cheetah (all with cubs) in one game drive. This reserve is known for its prolific rhino and cheetah population I would spend three days at Phinda.

From George, you can take a morning flight to Johannesburg. The daily shuttle flight to Phinda leaves Johannesburg at 11:30 AM. This means you have to catch the 7:00 a.m. flight from George to Johannesburg. You could also fly from George to Johannesburg and catch a commercial flight to Richard's Bay (RCB). From Richards Bay to Phinda is a 1.5 hour road transfer. This may be ever so slightly cheaper than taking the charter flight, but, it will be much less convenient. After three days at Phinda, you can take the daily shuttle from Phinda to Skekuza. Skekuza is a commercial airstrip in the Kruger National Park directly adjacent to the Sabi Sands. The north end of the runway fence is the southern boundary of the Sabi Sands. From Skekuza, you can road transfer to the lodge of your choice in the Sabi Sands. It sounds like you've already made up your mind and selected Singita. I've been to Singita, Londolozi, and MalaMala. All are fantastic and all are different. The one places on most people's considerations set that you did not mention is Lion Sands Ivory Lodge. You should perhaps consider this one as well. With the way the dollar has performed over the past six months (with the exception of the last three days), Rattrays may be attractive on price alone. It is a fantastic colonial style chalet and the cost will be $875 per person per night. At the current exchange rate, as you know, Singita will be around $1300 per person per night. The same river that flows through Singita continues through Londolozi and all the way through MalaMala. This river eventually flows through the Kruger National Park meeting the Sabi river and flowing to the Indian Ocean from there.

After your lodge in the Sabi Sands you have two choices for conveniently getting back to Johannesburg. If you are at MalaMala or Lion Sands, you can take a direct commercial flight from the MalaMala air strip (AAM) to Johannesburg. This flight is every day at 1230 and very convenient. By property laws, you cannot access this airstrip from Londolozi or Singita. If you choose those two lodges you’re best served by taking a charter flight to Johannesburg. But, you mentioned you wanted to go to Cape Town after your safari. If starting at Londolozi or Singita, it may be more convenient to take a short air charter flight on FEDAIR to Nelspruit (MQP) and take the 1:30 PM direct flight to Cape Town on SAA from there. By more odd property rules, FEDAIR cannot fly from the MalaMala air strip. If you want to take the charter flight from MalaMala or Lion Sands to Nelspruit, I would book you on General Aviation. If you are able to stay at Rattray’s and use the commercial flight from MalaMala airstrip to Johannesburg you can connect you Cape Town from there quite easily.

You asked about agents. There are many good agents. Several really good ones (Dave and Tanya) have participated on this thread. Go2Africa is probably the biggest competitor the US-based safari companies. They do a really good job and Mia is their top agent. I'm not sure where you live in Washington State, but Ian Proctor is the owner of Ultimate Africa and he is based in Washington. If you want a walk-in appointment then consider him. I don;t think the price will be much different with any of these options.

I do recommend you do the Cape Town portion of your trip and the Garden Route in the beginning or the end instead of breaking it up. In fact, it would be my recommendation to actually do this safari for three days in the beginning and three days at the end and break up the safari experience with Cape Town on the Garden Route. For an entirely new twist, you should also consider a seven or eight day safari in Botswana instead of any safari in South Africa. The rates right now are so fantastic with some of the discounts that still linger from the recession that you can get a pretty good value for your travel dollar in Botswana. I've been to all theses places in all seasons and you really you can't go wrong. When the game viewing is more challenging in Botswana, the prices are better.

Andbeyond has a massive discounting scheme for next year that's very difficult to understand. I just got a new spreadsheet from them today to summarize the discounts at every camp for 2010. Each camp has its own rate. And each camp has its own discount scheme. Some are stay4pay3, some are stay3pay2, some have children stay free, and all of them have rates that even change midmonth on several occasions. Sometimes the stayXpayY is only good Sunday through Thursday. I tell you this information because it may be possible to time your visit to Phinda to coincide with a better rate. Good luck. Let me know if you have any further questions

Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond

Washington State...
Level Contributor
110 posts
9 reviews
14. Re: Which Private Lodge for Safari-Too many choices - Need help!

I absolutely think every single one of you are the best! I promise to post my review on everything when I get back from this trip. I actually have almost 3 weeks in SA so I'm going to do everything I can. THANK YOU SO MUCH.. Oh.. And note.. I will have more questions on my next thread!

Again.. TA is wondering.. I love having your support! Kat

15. Re: Which Private Lodge for Safari-Too many choices - Need help!

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