Well, after a few days of research and some detailed planning, we’re going to Africa! Late July and early August, 10 days on the continent plus another two days on each side for travel. A solid 14 days door to door.
A lot of tradeoffs had to be made – time, money, sights to see or not. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of tours available. My vetting process was progressive – I first just wandered around the Internet looking at tour and operators that looked interesting, then I got some recommendations (thanks, cousin Donnie!), then I looked at high-end reviewers (e.g. Forbes magazine) and their recommendations for tours and operators. The more I thought about it, the tour operator’s brand and reputation became just as important as the tour itself. I wanted a company that has a long track record and has a solid, well-known reputation. In the end, I went with National Geographic tours.
We’re focusing on the areas around Johannesburg and Victoria Falls, with an emphasis on Kruger and Chobe National Parks. We also get a private game reserve trip or two – those are good because you don’t have to stick to the roads. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on airplanes to cover more geography – Africa is a *big* place. Our wishlist is/was (1) Lots of time on animal viewing opportunities, (2) chance to see Victoria Falls, (3) at least one river cruise through an animal-heavy area, and (4) as I mentioned, minimal time spent on cities and airplane rides. The tour we selected (and then customized a bit) does all that.
Africa trips certainly aren’t cheap, and I think we hit the right balance among luxury, time and opportunity on this trip. We selected midrange accommodations – top-shelf Africa lodges can be crazy expensive, at $1000-1500 per night per person. Don’t really need to stay in a five-star on a wildlife trip, so we asked our operator to find us more reasonable accommodations. However, I draw the line at plumbing. Hot and cold fresh water are a must. And we didn’t try to do everything on one trip. If it’s as good as advertised, we’ll be back for another sample.
I’m pretty excited about it, as excited as I’ve been about a trip in many years. Looking forward to seeing our long-necked friend below in his (her? their?) natural habitat, with many other four-legged friends.