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Safari/African Tour Companies - Looking for Recommendations

Hi - We’ve traveled around Europe independently quite a bit but are looking for a possible first trip to Africa and am feeling overwhelmed. There are so many companies out there and sorting out the good from the bad and the ugly is a challenge. I really trust the advice on this board and am hoping for some guidance. Here’s what we’re looking at/for:

  • Family of four (kids aged 12 &13 at time of travel)
  • June 2021
  • Approximately three weeks *I’d like to do about three days in Cape Town, a few days at Victoria Falls and the rest on safari
  • We’re not into luxury necessarily but do want safety and security and a company that is socially and conservationally responsible.

I would love to go to the Thula Thula reserve but am not sure how that would work incorporated into the other destinations and doing them all as a package.

Any recommendations for travel companies/tour operators would be greatly appreciated. Tips etc also always welcome.

Posted by
6950 posts

The owners of Vacations to Go are also the largest travel agent for African Safari's. Go on VacationstoGo.com and you can often see their link to that part of their company.
My sister took a trip there where every group of people had their self piloted Cessna 210 airplane assigned to them. The group flew in formation from luxurious bush camp to bush camp. They went to Victoria Falls, and there was no water coming over it. They obviously went in the dry season.

Posted by
8293 posts

Twiga Tours, based in Nairobi, Kenya, would be worth investigating. I have recommended them before. Our Safari was in Kenya and Tanzania and every minute of every day was exciting and fascinating. The lodges and hotels were excellent. I have vivid memories of all the animals we saw, especially the gnu, being pursued by a lion, and ran into the side of our vehicle with a great thump.

Posted by
1401 posts

Have you considered that 3 weeks just on safari may be a little too much.

Something that we did about 6-7 years ago - our kids were slightly older than yours. We did a 20 day "overland" trip - we started in Cape Town and ended in Vic Falls. We traveled up the western cape for a few days, then traveled through Namibia (including Sossusvlei, Etosha NP, Swapokmund and some other places), then traveled through Botswana including visiting the San folks, a fly into the Okavango Delta on 5 seater planes (this was more of a luxury accommodation), and Chobe NP before finally ending in Vic Falls (Zimbabwe). If you go to Vic Falls, I'd recommend seeing it from both sides (Zimbabwe, Zambia).

The company we used was Nomad Africa and we did the "accommodated" trip as we didn't want to go the cheap route and do "tenting". They and other companies have similar trips that you can check out.

What I liked about this trip was that you weren't just limited to safaris but traveled a good bit through the southern part of Africa and included meeting the locals - for us this was the Himba tribe in Namibia, and the Bushmen of the Kalahari and experiencing the desert and also getting to visit some of the towns/cities (Windhoek, Swakopmund, Maun).

We also spent 3 days in Cape Town before starting this trip which was well worth it.

Posted by
5630 posts

I have recently booked a great safari for 9 days for Kenya and Tanzania. It is next July/August during the great migration.

The best safaris are in Kenya/Tanzania and the Great Migration is the best time to go.

I did lots of research and found a great safari/tour with Good Earth Tours.
We have a private safari for four persons for $4500 per person in premier accommodations.

Some of the other companies that I priced wanted double or triple this price (even though their safaris were a few days longer).

Posted by
2 posts

We used RhinoAfrica in 2018. They booked 2 weeks of travel for us, Cape Town to Victoria Falls. The Safari portion was 4 nights in Sabi Sands reserve at the Idube Safari Lodge. It was our first (hopefully not last) safari. Beautiful grounds and very spacious, well appointed stone cabins, good food, great rangers. Three days (6 game drives) was plenty to see the animals at that specific location.

In Cape Town we were 5 nights at the Lawhill Apartments. Lovely modern fully furnished 1 bedroom apartment with full kitchen, washer and dryer. Easy walk to the Victoria and Alfred (not Albert) shopping area. Very reasonably priced.

We spent 4 nights at the Victoria Falls park, and that was too much. 2 nights would have done it, and we should have picked the higher end hotel, the Royal Livingston. The other hotel in the park (where we stayed) is kind of cheesy. However, there is wildlife (zebras, warthogs, little monkeys) wandering all around the grounds of both hotels (you can walk from one to the other), which is a lot of fun for kids.

Posted by
18 posts

Hi dmacario77! I am based in South Africa, and spent many years working for a luxury tour operator, planning holidays for predominately American travellers to South Africa. So many destinations (I think) are best planned independently - South Africa (I feel) is not one of them. You want and often need the expertise and guidance of preferably a local company. June is winter in South Africa which means your time in the Cape will be cool (not cold by northern hemisphere standards) but it is a fantastic time of year for safari. I would suggest 3 to 4 nights in Cape Town, 2 nights in the Winelands (I will explain why), followed up 3 to 4 nights on safari, and end off with 2 or 3 nights at Vic Falls. Why the Winelands, even if you are not interested in wine, it is a beautiful area that is good for families (there are so many non-wine related activities that will suit children). Thula Thula is a reserve in northern KwaZulu Natal. It is a bit off track if you are wanting to go to Vic Falls because you will need to catch extra flights. Whereas if you pick a safari lodge in Mpumalanga (close to Nelspruit area, so Sabi Sand, Kruger etc.) then there is a direct flight to Vic Falls. I have a dear friend who still works in tour operating, and will definitely be able to help you plan this trip. If you would like her details let me know.

Posted by
51 posts

I went with G Adventures to South Africa/Namibia/Botswana and Zambia. Loved Cape Town and you would want extra days there.
I also went to Kenya/Zanzibar independently and that was easy to arrange. I then went to Uganda and Rwanda with Churchill Safaris. Absolutely loved that company. They were easy to work with and was able to tailor make my trip to suit my budget. Uganda is my favourite of all the African countries I have been to. Amazing country and saw so much. Zanzibar was a great side trip to take and the beaches are amazing.

Posted by
4698 posts

You really don’t want to do 2 weeks on Safari. No one does that.

Posted by
3789 posts

Emily, perhaps you can explain why?
Personally, I think it depends on the country and your interests. I know several people who have done 2 week tour group safaris. Myself included. Then I did a one week privately guided...because I was incountry and couldn't take more time. Last Tanzania visit was a month private bespoke including addition of Uganda for safari and gorilla trekking. As I am also a birdwatcher, it was a mix of animal safari and birds.

Posted by
51 posts

I have done 2 week safaris twice and loved it. What is your reasoning to not do it? if you are referring to staying in one park for two weeks I can see your point, but there are so many different parks and areas to see that easily fill up 2 weeks!

Posted by
5630 posts

My Son and some of his friends did a safari for about 3-4 days in S. Africa (Kruger) as well as visiting Capetown and other places.

They loved it and wanted to do another safari. They were told that the best safaris are in Kenya/Tanzania.
Now we are going with My Son and a friend for a 9 day tour that includes 8 day safari.

Safaris are expensive. I did a lot of research and found a great safari company with high ratings and reasonable prices. We are paying $4500 each for the 8 day safari during the best time (July-August), Great Migration. We stay in premier lodges.

I found safaris for a week for $850 per person, but you camp and you had to bring your own sleeping bag. NOT

We have done four tours with Vantage World Travel that were great, but their safari/tour is almost $9000. It is 15 days (3 days are not safari).

I found more expensive safaris, some up to $15000 for 12-14 days.

Posted by
16 posts

We are booked on a tour this April with OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel) to Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. We have traveled with OAT to South America and with Rick Steve (Paris). Both Tour Groups fit our independent-travel nature as they are small groups (about 14 people), off the beaten path, using smaller accommodations & means of transportation, and immersive to local culture. Check out O.A.T. as they have several different tour itineraries.

Posted by
43 posts

If you are going to visit the parks in South Africa you do not need to hire a tour company. It is very easy to make all arrangements yourself through the South African Parks website, www.sanparks.org/tourism/bookings/. I have done it perhaps a half dozen times. The website[s] has all the information you need and you will save the cost of hiring someone to do it for the four of you. You can pay for game drives while in the park or drive yourself. There are many excellent books readily available in South Africa that will help you find and identify the animals. You will need to rent a vehicle, also easy to do in South Africa. The infrastructure in the parks is excellent. I would advise you to avoid school holidays as facilities can be booked out. Don't be confused by look-a-like tour and reservation websites that seem to try to represent themselves as being SanParks.

Posted by
16 posts

Our O. A. T. tour is 17 days with 12 nights in tented camps and wilderness lodges, and up to 27 small group activities (including up to 19 game-viewing excursions). Price with international airfare ranges around $7,000.

Posted by
3 posts

Hi!! Good choice heading to Africa. My husband and I spent 24 days there this past May and had an amazing time. We used Mark Hathaway with Gondwanda Tours & Safaris based out of Maun Botswana. I basically knew what I wanted to see and reached out to about 10 different operators (some of which are listed above) and they all told me they couldn't arrange our trip within our budget. I found Gondwanda online thru TA and over many emails and WhatsApp calls, Mark not only put together a great trip - he was able to do it under our budget. Everywhere we stayed (most suggested by Mark and a couple by me) was awesome...all great places with wonderful staff and we also met a lot of great people. I told him we couldn't afford 5* properties but that we did want as nice as he could manage within our budget. Also by traveling May to early June we were able to book everything at the low(er) season rates. Also, we spent 2 nights in Vic Falls and if I had it to do over again, I would have flown there in the morning, gone to the falls and then traveled on to Botswana later that day. We arranged our trip breaking up the safaris with other sites which worked out well. We also self drove 10 days in Namibia which was cool but I would also change if doing it again My main objective there was Sossusvlei - amazing, amazing, amazing - which was my bucket list location and I would not change that! Ps. we did have kids on some of our safaris and they were enthralled.

Posted by
13716 posts

When I went South Africa, what amazed me was how easy and efficiently they handled my gun. Well done and much appreciated. Great Safari too.

Posted by
103 posts

We also will be on a family safari trip during June/July, 2021. We have been to Africa 7 times and feel blessed that we'll get to share the experience with our kids and grand kids.

We have traveled with OAT to Africa three times. They are great. Unfortunately their minimum age for children is 13, no exceptions. You may want to contact Kibo Guides for safaris in East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania) and Wilderness Travel for safaris in Southern Africa (Botswana, Zim, Zambia, South Africa). These are the two outfitters OAT uses for their African safaris.

Three weeks sounds wonderful. You are traveling far, preparing well and will want to maximize your time and experiences there.
By the way, a few days at Vic Falls is sufficent but I'd add a day or two more in Cape Town.

Good luck with your planning. You will LOVE Africa.