25 June 2009

Planning For Africa

So I finally did it... we pulled the trigger this morning and have booked our trip to Africa this Fall. Late-September cannot come soon enough! We haven't taken a vacation in a couple of years, and after all of the medical drama this is truly needed. For anyone thinking of going to Africa for their honeymoon, I have a few planning secrets to share!

Our trip is going to be 4 full weeks (Sept. 20-Oct. 17) which also just so happens to coincide with our slow time of year. I wanted to start in Cape Town as it's an easy city to get to, and from everything I've read, it's a great way to ease yourself into Africa. We'll be flying via Amsterdam or Dubai depending on pricing (I'm trying to finagle a business class flight for the longest leg on Emirates Airline.) I've been using http://www.kayak.com/ to compare rates over the last couple of months. They're a great resource, and you can then book your flights directly with the airlines. From Boston, the trip should take about 20 hours. Not too bad ... our last trip to Asia wound up taking 43 hours each way. I just keep reminding myself of that.

I started mapping out the route we're going to take about 4 months ago (6+ months before the trip.) Safaris book up early at the best camps even in a slow economy, and there are many people who book more than a year in advance. I decided the best route for us would be:

Cape Town, South Africa
Franschhoek, South Africa (wine country)
Kruger National Park, South Africa (safari)
Livingstone, Zambia (Victoria Falls)
Day trip to the Zimbabwe side of the Falls
Johannesburg, South Africa (transiting for one night)
Nairobi, Kenya
Masai Mara, Kenya (to see the great migration)
Zanzibar, Tanzania

This route allows us to fly directly back home from Zanzibar rather than having to head back to Cape Town first. It also limits the amount of days we'll spend traveling from place to place, and it allowed us to wind up at Victoria Falls for the full moon. You're supposed to be able to see a lunar rainbow at night.

The other reason for the route is that it allowed us to take advantage of package deals. How do you find the deals? I subscribe to Travel and Leisure and Conde Naste Traveler. I started by sitting down one day and tearing out every single article I could find on South or Eastern Africa, as well as every "top 100" or "top 50" list for the last couple of years. I wrote down the hotels, resorts and tour companies that made multiple appearances. Never assume that just because a property is in one of those magazines that it's out of your budget. For instance, I found that the Westin Hotel in Cape Town is on multiple top 10 lists, but is $144 a night for a deluxe room. Le Grande Roche (right outside of Cape Town) is ranked the 2nd best hotel in the world! It's $245 a night. Not bad!

I got online in search of luxury safari companies running sales. http://www.luxurylink.com/ gave me a lot of clues. If you hit their site (they also have travel packages and info for other regions of the world,) you'll see which hotels and companies are offering specials. My thought was, you don't offer up packages for auction on a website unless you're a little flexible on price! That's how I decided our best bet was a company called AndBeyond.

A little time spent searching http://www.andbeyond.com/ surfaced all kinds of discount offers, but the key is the time of year. For instance, they are running a Stay for 3 nights / pay for 2 nights special in their South African lodges, but the special ends Oct. 1. I planned the trip so that we would be checking into their Ngala Lodge Sept 29 and out Oct 2 so that we would qualify. I can't imagine the game viewing is that much better Oct 1st than it is Sept 30th. We also signed on for a package in Masai Mara, Kenya at Kichwa Tembo where they were able to throw in free flights to and from the safari camp, and they were able to give us off season rates on 2 nights at their higher-end camp because they did not have availability at the camp we'd originally requested. These little discounts added up to saving us thousands of dollars in the end. Safaris are all priced per person, so costs rise very, very fast. However, we did say when we decided to do this that it's probably a once in a lifetime opportunity and a place to splurge. Doesn't everyone want to have the Out of Africa experience at some point in life.

The other place we saved money was in all the little extras. By using the forums of Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree I was able to find the best way to rent cars, book airport transfers, and find low cost airlines that the sites like Expedia don't search for our shorter flights between countries. I was also able to find little gems like where to book a Malay cooking class in Cape Town, or where to book a "Jazz Safari" where you go to the townships at night, have dinner at a local musicians home and then go out on the town to dance till 2AM. Those are the experiences I can't wait to have! I'm in search of the local medicine man!

Where are you going on your next trip? Any suggestions for finding deals? Any South African or Kenyan brides out there with "must do" ideas for us? We're game for anything!


Terese said...

rebecca, i hope this is a sign! my fiance and i have been talking about doing 2 weeks in south africa for our june 2010 honeymoon. i've been completely intimidated by the idea of planning it myself, so i'm impressed by what you've put together. we'd be going during the world cup, which would be awesome, but it's also making booking things very difficult and expensive (i almost cried & gave up when i saw the 1st travel agent's proposal)! do you mind if i ask how much your 4 week trip is costing just to get a comparison? feel free to email me. thanks!

Rebecca said...

Hi Terese,

Don't give up! I'm happy to email you a breakdown of the costs. I can also give you the email contacts I have with agents in Africa. What's your email address?

Roxie said...

"Never assume that just because a property is in one of those magazines that it's out of your budget."

So true! Lonely Planet recommends this 5 star $400 a night hotel in Prague - because of going in the off season, staying Monday through Thursday and frankly, the economy, we are staying there for a little over $100 a night, and we were even able to upgrade to the nicer room!

This past weekend we stayed in a two bedroom suite at The Signature at MGM Grand for less than it would have cost to book 3 regular rooms at MGM Grand - and we got the VIP treatment from check in to check out!