Overseas Travel Adventure - Africa

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bartbill
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Overseas Travel Adventure - Africa

Post by bartbill » Fri Oct 18, 2013 4:34 pm

We're planning a trip to Africa next year. We want to go in the dry season and the "Big Five" are a must see. I'm thinking 15 to 20 days is long enough. We've been getting lots of information the various tour operators and I want to make some decisions soon.
I'd love to hear some opinions and advice from Bogleheads who have made the trip to Africa on what to see, what to avoid, what not to pack etc. It will be our first trip there.
I'm looking at "Overseas Adventure Travel" for scheduling this. They are based in Cambridge MA. Anyone have experience with them, good or bad. Recommend other tour operators?

Regards

2stepsbehind
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Re: Overseas Travel Adventure - Africa

Post by 2stepsbehind » Fri Oct 18, 2013 6:20 pm

Where in "Africa"? It is a vast continent bigger than China (9,6 million km²), the US (9,4 million km²), Western Europe (4,9 million km²), India (3,2 million km²) and Argentina (2,8 million km²), three Scandinavian countries and the British Isles combined so I sincerely doubt 15 to 20 days is long enough. Which regions' "dry season"? Different topography around the continent.

If you want to see the "Big Five" why not go to your local zoo or Disneyworld Animal Kingdom? It will save you time and money.

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Igglesman
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Re: Overseas Travel Adventure - Africa

Post by Igglesman » Fri Oct 18, 2013 6:33 pm

OAT is terrific. Little bit on the pricey side...but small groups and excellent guides. We have Galapagos / Machu Picchu booked for the spring. Another group recently did Turkey and are booked for Morocco...nothing but excellent reviews.

Tip -- try to book as early as possible, if you can do a year in advance, I think it is 10% off. Better yet...do referrals.

For travel insurance, I did not take OATs offer (lot of advantage to take theirs) and went with AMEX travel services at half the price.

Travel Bug
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Re: Overseas Travel Adventure - Africa

Post by Travel Bug » Fri Oct 18, 2013 7:09 pm

A friend of mine asked about a trip I took to South Africa last April. Here's what I told him...hopefully you find something helpful in it.

My wife and I love to travel. It's probably our favorite thing to do. However, we dislike tours. When it comes to travel, we are do-it-yourselfers. That's why we went on our safari in South Africa.

For many African safaris, you need to go as part of a tour or a package deal at a private game reserve, which can be very expensive (and not as fun, in my opinion). This is not true in South Africa, particularly Kruger National Park. Kruger is a large national park that is nearly all wilderness. The park has a series of small to medium-sized fenced camps for overnight stays in the park. They are all very nice and have accommodations ranging from tent camping to private bungalows with everything that you would expect in a nice hotel (hot water, kitchen, clean beds, etc.). The good thing is that even the nice bungalows are not very expensive - the most we paid was about $90 a night for a unit that had three beds.

We planned the entire trip on our own and booked everything in advance online, which included:

1. Rental car: we rented a small compact car from Europcar for about $30/day. You don't need a big SUV or jeep in Kruger as roads are either paved or dirt paths (no major "off-roading").

2. Accommodations: We stayed at four different camps in the week we were there to see more of the park. We booked very easily and securely using the official South African National Parks website, which is excellent and easy to use.

3. Park entry: We purchased our "Wildcard" national park admission passes using the same national parks website.

For food, we did a combination of stocking up on groceries at a town outside of the park and eating at the restaurant found in each campground. Every place we stayed had a stove and microwave so we cooked a lot.

Safety in South Africa was never an issue. I've heard many concerns about safety in Johannesburg so I decided to skip that city entirely. We did spend time in other towns and everything was great -- very friendly people!

We flew into Johannesburg, picked up our rental car at the airport, and within a few minutes were on the highway. The airport is on the outskirts of the city so we didn't even drive through Johannesburg. In hindsight, I would actually like to spend time in Johannesburg on a return trip in the future, based on the great experience we had elsewhere in South Africa.

The drive to Kruger was a very easy and scenic 5 hours.

As far as the safari itself goes, it was a lot of fun, especially if you like road trips. Each day, we would get up and be at the camp gate at 6 a.m. (you cannot be outside of the camps from 6 p.m. through 6 a.m. the following morning). We would spend the first half of the day driving throughout a region of the park on a network of paved and dirt roads looking for wildlife. The driving is very easy as there are very few cars on the road. You also drive very slowly, about 20 miles per hour. We would then find the nearest camp and eat lunch there before heading out again until we made it back to our camp for the night before the gates closed at 6 p.m. It was very easy, relaxing, and fun! It's amazing how close you get to the wildlife (always staying in your car, of course).

While we were there, we decided to take two day trips outside of the national park. One was to a beautiful canyon area and the other was to an amazing wildlife sanctuary where we got hands-on experiences with elephants, cheetahs, and other animals. We also got to see some of the local towns and do great shopping. I would highly recommend going outside of the park at least a couple of times.

There is a good article online (http://travel4wildlife.com/how-to-afric ... fe-safari/) that breaks down a do-it-yourself Kruger safari in detail.

Jeff Albertson
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Re: Overseas Travel Adventure - Africa

Post by Jeff Albertson » Fri Oct 18, 2013 9:28 pm

Travel Bug - thanks for the valuable info.

What has been your experience independently travelling in less developed parts of the world? How hard are places like India, China & Vietnam to navigate independently?

tonythered
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Re: Overseas Travel Adventure - Africa

Post by tonythered » Sat Oct 19, 2013 7:34 am

Hi,
I used Wild Dog Safaris to camp through Namibia and Botswana, ending in Zambia/Zimbabwe (just for Victoria Falls, which is very, very worth seeing). I wanted to see wildlife as well as spend time in the desert, spend time with tribes, and see canyons and such. I also went in the "dry" season, July. It was perfect, comfortable weather throughout, with a minimum of mosquitoes.

I thought Wild Dog's prices were reasonable and the groups not too large (~10 people in my groups). 2 of my 3 guides were excellent. The other was decent, just not as fun/informative as the others.

Cheetah and leopards, I only got to see in basically captivity. They are not so easy to spot in the wild.

I saw an enormous amount of wildlife just in Etosha (Namibia) and Chobe (Botswana). Yes, they are considered parks, but they are GIGANTIC. If you go to just those two places, you will definitely see quite a lot. Chobe felt like Jurassic Park to me... there was an island full of elephants and as we approached in our small boat, I was surrounded by giants. It was amazing. Also got uncomfortably (for me) close to hippos and crocodiles.

I will echo the earlier sentiment about using a tour group/guide. Some places, you can only go through with guides (Chobe required a guide for the overland tour, and I think the boat operator was also employed by the park when I went on the river... in Namibia, I went to an abandoned diamond mining town, and that is considered to be the "restricted" zone, so special permits/guides were apparently needed). Also, Namibia has the highest rate of road fatalities in the world. Almost all gravel roads outside of the main cities, and between drunks and tourists, it can get quite dangerous. You shouldn't exceed 40MPH and you should really slow it down around turns. Best to travel with someone already familiar, in my opinion.

globalexpat
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Re: Overseas Travel Adventure - Africa

Post by globalexpat » Sat Oct 19, 2013 11:41 am

I tend to self-plan all of my trips, and thus I don't have any experience with OATS. However, my parents have used them on at least four occasions and have absolutely loved each of the tours. In particular, they really liked the small group sizes and the guides in each of the locales were truly extraordinary. I'll certainly consider them in the future when I don't feel like doing all of the legwork.

DJB
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Re: Overseas Travel Adventure - Africa

Post by DJB » Sat Oct 19, 2013 12:54 pm

I lived in Kenya for 6 months and have spent some time in Tanzania as well. I'm guessing I'm younger than you are (29), so take this with a grain of salt.

My parents have done a couple OAT trips and have always had great experiences - everything taken care of, and a nice group of relatable travelers who my parents got along well with. Personally, especially the tours to Africa I have seen, I think these tours are incredibly overpriced. I would suggest going with a local tour company. Safaris leaving from Nairobi are surprisingly affordable. Nairobi there will be hundreds of local companies to choose from, and they will drop everything on a dime to accommodate your needs. There is a huge range of options from camping to luxury. Lots of these you can book in advance online.

I can only see two real downsides to going with a local company. It requires a little bit more work. Also, your travel group is likely to be smaller (good or bad) and less American (good or bad).

If you want to see the big 5, I definitely recommend departing from Kenya vs. Tanzania (same park, much cheaper fees). 3 weeks on safari seems too long for me. 10 days should be more than enough. In Kenya, Lake Nakuru was a must-see spot, with their millions of flamingos. There is lots to do in Kenya or Tanzania post-safari if you want - islands (Lamu in Kenya, Zanzibar in TZ, city life, other scenery (Ngorongoro Crater in TZ is amazing)....

stan1
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Re: Overseas Travel Adventure - Africa

Post by stan1 » Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:00 pm

My aunt has been traveling with OAT for many years and heartily endorses. She uses their single traveller room share program. She is an active 77 year old retired school teacher, which I think matches the OAT demographic fairly well.

bartbill
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Re: Overseas Travel Adventure - Africa

Post by bartbill » Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:30 pm

Thanks all for the constructive advice.

We did price travel insurance with OAT and it was quite expensive. Will try the American Express route. I also have "Travel Assist" with Good Sams. They assure me that if we have a medical emergency that requires evacuation we are covered. We are both age 64.

Travel bug: I like the idea of the "do-it-yourself" trip. We too are not really group tour folks but first time in Africa! Dunno, Think I will follow your lead and see what I can find.

So much to see, I cant wait to get started. I'm a bit of a romantic and this preparation conjures up images Robert Ruark and Peter Capstick Hathaway and "Death in the Long Grass" and ---well, you see.

Regards

gerrym51
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Re: Overseas Travel Adventure - Africa

Post by gerrym51 » Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:36 pm

I think cut-throat went on an african safari-or is it he's going on one. you might message him.

JerLon
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Re: Overseas Travel Adventure - Africa

Post by JerLon » Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:36 pm

I would recommend Kenya/Tanzania. The Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania is a must along with the nearby views from the edge of the great rift. I can't think of the name of the hotel but there is a great hotel probably an hour from Ngorongoro that has a pool on the edge of the great rift. One of the most amazing places I have ever been.

stan1
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Re: Overseas Travel Adventure - Africa

Post by stan1 » Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:42 pm

You'll have to do a lot of research up front, but the way to go is a private tour with a local company. Cost could be very competitive with OAT or similar plus a private guide will let you go off the beaten path in search of animals.

metacritic
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Re: Overseas Travel Adventure - Africa

Post by metacritic » Sun Oct 20, 2013 8:09 am

I'm responding frm Zanzibar right now. The answer will depend on what to want from your trip. Kenya is best known for mass tourism, Tanzania is more elite and pricier but you can add Zanzibar or great diving/snorkeling. Don't bother combining Kenya and Tanzania, if your real interest is the animals, as they are identical habitats. Do one and add beach (meaning also Stone Town) or gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda - though that will mean local planes. And I guess I think you needn't be too anxious about travel to Nairobi. It is a fascinating city with lots to do. Much more than in Dar es Salaam, certainly.

Southern Africa is largely easier. South Africa is great and you can/should see Cape Town, one of the two most beautiful cities in the world). I like Joburg a lot but many don't, I gather, though I think they are missing a thriving and cosmopolitan center of culture and industry. It is going through a Brooklyn moment right now. There also is astonishing richness in how South Africa has memorialized its recent history. Don't skip that for a narrow focus on animals. Do both.

I would love to see Namibia and Botswana . That would be my choice only because I know the other countries already mentioned pretty well. Namibia looks haunting. Zambia really is great too and the "easiest" African country for first timers in many ways after South Africa.
Last edited by metacritic on Sun Oct 20, 2013 12:47 pm, edited 2 times in total.

metacritic
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Re: Overseas Travel Adventure - Africa

Post by metacritic » Sun Oct 20, 2013 8:17 am

Ps choice of Tanzania vs Kenya is best dictated by timing, not price. Migration is in Kenya in August/sept. And in Tazania in Jan.

Bear in mind with my responses I've never actually gone on Safari!
metacritic wrote:I'm responding frm Zanzbar right now. The answer will depend on what to want from your trip. Kenya is best known for mass tourism, Tanzania is more elite and pricier but you can add Zanzibar or great diving/snorkeling. Don't bother combining Kenya and Tanzaia. Do one and add beach or gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda.

Southern Africa is largel easier. South Africa is great and you can should see Cape Town. I like Joburg a lot but many don't I gather.

I would love to see Namibia and Botswana . That would be my choice only because I know the other countries well. Zambia really is great too.

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Peculiar_Investor
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Re: Overseas Travel Adventure - Africa

Post by Peculiar_Investor » Sun Oct 20, 2013 8:43 am

We did a South Africa (Cape Town) and Botswana trip this past March and had a fabulous time. The Cape Town portion was an organized group wine estate trip and the Botswana portion was individually organized. I'd highly recommend Botswana, from what we saw they've essentially turned the country into wilderness safari tourism location.

We used Wilderness Safaris (website can be slow) for our trip and I'd recommend them without hesitation. The trip wasn't cheap, but the memories will definitely last a lifetime -- priceless! The one downside that I'd caution for safari's is you spend significant amounts of time sitting in a vehicle. We did two game drives a day, each about four hours. There is free time between the drives, but because the camps are located in the wilderness, there isn't much opportunity to taking long walks or going for a run. We were in Botswana at two different camps for a total of seven days and by the end we'd probably reached our limit of time we'd want to spend in a vehicle on a game drive.
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coalcracker
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Re: Overseas Travel Adventure - Africa

Post by coalcracker » Sun Oct 20, 2013 8:44 am

I would agree with the idea to use a local company if you are comfortable with it. Last year we did a guided hike around the Annapurna Sanctuary in Nepal using a Kathmandu-based company. In the end it was only my wife and I, plus our guide and porter, due to the dates we wanted to travel. We really got to know them well over the course of 2 weeks. It was an amazing trip and everything was very professionally done, plus the price was about 1/3 of what most US or European based companies charge for a similar trip. I used tripadvisor and lonely planet guides to vet the local companies as much as I could, but in the end you just have to fax your credit card info and hope for the best.

I spend a summer in South Africa about 10 years ago, and had a great time there. If you are at all interested in mixing up your safari time with a little city time, I would highly recommend spending some time around Cape town and the western cape winelands. Many people told me the garden route is also a beautiful drive, although I haven't made it there myself. One of the towns on the garden route, Knysa, claims to have the most temperate climate in the world.

bartbill
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Re: Overseas Travel Adventure - Africa

Post by bartbill » Sun Oct 20, 2013 5:09 pm

Igglesman wrote:OAT is terrific. Little bit on the pricey side...but small groups and excellent guides. We have Galapagos / Machu Picchu booked for the spring. Another group recently did Turkey and are booked for Morocco...nothing but excellent reviews.

Tip -- try to book as early as possible, if you can do a year in advance, I think it is 10% off. Better yet...do referrals.

For travel insurance, I did not take OATs offer (lot of advantage to take theirs) and went with AMEX travel services at half the price.

Did you book the Galapagos trip with OAT?

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Igglesman
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Re: Overseas Travel Adventure - Africa

Post by Igglesman » Sun Oct 20, 2013 5:17 pm

bartbill wrote:
Igglesman wrote:OAT is terrific. Little bit on the pricey side...but small groups and excellent guides. We have Galapagos / Machu Picchu booked for the spring. Another group recently did Turkey and are booked for Morocco...nothing but excellent reviews.

Tip -- try to book as early as possible, if you can do a year in advance, I think it is 10% off. Better yet...do referrals.

For travel insurance, I did not take OATs offer (lot of advantage to take theirs) and went with AMEX travel services at half the price.

Did you book the Galapagos trip with OAT?
Yes -- for May. Did it 12 months in advance. Many other friends have also used them for multiple trips. There is one group of 8 which travel together...because the way the referrals work, if you book 7, the 8th is free.

They have been very good with the trip itinerary, all the pre-trip preparations and answer all our questions.

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