Choosing Safaris

Beyond doubt the highlight of a trip to Africa is going out into the wilderness. Until you have seen giraffes in their natural environment grazing trees, had a lion stare at you from a few feet away or had a hippo swim towards you – you’ve not had the full experience.

I was very lucky with the four places I went to. They were all great, but also all different enough that each was special. Below I blog a comparison between the four places I stayed at. I had an excellent time all four of them – the differences are minor, so don’t sweat the choices too much.

I did find &Beyond consistently great, and many fellow travelers said they swear by them, and only stay with them. However the first place I stayed at, Tintswalo, was easily equally superb.

I stayed at four places, with stays ranging from two nights to four nights. With the benefit of hindsight I would make all my stays three nights each. Two nights is too short as it only gives you one full day in camp, and traveling every second day is exhausting. Four nights on the other hand can drag on slightly on the final day. That means eight safari drives in the same area.

What I intend to do in future, and would recommend, is three stays of three nights each. That’s nine nights in total and 18 drives.

Now to the four I stayed at:

Host Tintswalo Safari Lodge @ Beyond Chobe under Canvas Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge Nxabega Okavango Tented Camp
Location Manyeleti Reserve, Kruger National Park, South Africa Chobe National Park, Botswana Okavango Delta, Botswana Okavango Delta, Botswana
Accommodation Suites Mobile Tents Villas Fixed Tents
Cooling Air Conditioning None Roof Fan Mobile Fan
Wildlife Density High Very High Medium Medium
Human Density Low Medium Very Low Very very low
Terrain Bush Plains, some bush Bush, Plains, Swamp Bush, Plains, Swamp
Routes On and off road. Will go deep into bush. On road only. Also river by motorboat. On and off road, but water limits options.  Also go by motorboat on the delta On and off road, but water limits options.  Also go by motorboat and mokoro (canoe) on the delta
Wake Up Time 5.00 am 5.30 am 5.30 am 5.30 am
Wake Up Method Phone Turn light on Drums Voice
Morning Drive 5.20 am – 9.00 am 6 am – 10.30 am 6.30 am – 11 am 6.15 am – 10 am
Afternoon Drive 4 pm – 8 pm 4 pm – 7 pm 4 pm – 8.30 pm 4 pm – 8 pm
Guides Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent
Trackers Excellent N/A N/A Excellent
Hospitality Excellent Excellent Excellent Extra Excellent
Meals Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent
Trip Advisor Ranking 24/76 13/21 13/40 1/40
Trip Advisor Reviews 17 excellent, 2 very good 4 excellent, 1 very good, 1 average 25 excellent, 4 very good, 1 average, 1 poor 25 excellent, 3 very good, 1 poor

With the location important to note three of the four sites were in private concession areas. That means there are few other people about, and the guides are allowed to go off the main routes, can drive with spotlights after sunset etc. Chobe National Park is more restricted with what you can do, but the quantity and diversity of wild life there is higher than other places – so it is a trade off. I recommend rather than one or the other, you include Chobe but also include some private concession areas.

All the accommodation was luxury. Where-ever you go, you should be comfortable. Tintswalo was the most luxurious, and Ngabexa my personal favourite as being under canvas fits the environment.

The amount of time you spend out on each drive varies. I think four hours is a good maximum as Tintswalo did. You get a bit tired beyond that. Nice to have a bit more siesta time during the day also.

Tintswalo and Chobe had pretty well formed dirt roads to drive on, and would often go at reasonable speeds. With Tintswalo you would often go off road and literally push your way through and over trees and bushes. The two Okavango locations tended to be less well developed roads – sometimes just slightly worn tracks through fields. These would be very bumpy, but that is part of the fun. Normally driving around 15 km/hr or so (which is good for spotting things). I did discover that even on those roads, they can do around 60 km/hr as when we had to drop some water off to a broken down jeep on the way to catching my flight. I was almost bouncing out of the jeep, but loving every minute of it.

The hospitality was impossible to criticise. Everyone is so friendly and helpful. I give Nxabega slightly extra points for the fun we had on New Years Eve, with great hospitality from Megan and Dave – the co-managers.

With meals, you will also have nothing to complain about. Each place has a chef or chefs who will even make meals on demand. The challenge is to not eat too much.

I’ve included the trip advisor rankings and reviews. Again I would stress they are all excellent places to stay. Some of the reviews are years old, so I suggest anyone interested focus on more recent reviews.

It is worth noting that Nxabega was ranked 1st out of 40 in the Okavango Delta, and I’m not surprised by that. It was the perfect end to my trip. I’ll definitely be going back there. I’m keen to return to some of the other places also, but have to weigh that up against exploring new locations in Kenya and Namibia also.

The trips are costly. If it were not for the cost, I’d go there annually.

In terms of other things to do, outside the safaris – I would put Cape Town and Victoria Falls into the must see categories. Sun City was fun, but not a must do or see.

When will I return? I hope to do Latin or Central America in the next two years as have never been there, and that will cost a bit also. So realistically probably won’t get back until 2017, but will be something to look forward to.

Comments (7)

Login to comment or vote

Add a Comment