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Eastern/Southern African National Parks entry and reservations
Hi. I'm planning a 4x4 overlanding trip next summer from Tanzania to Cape Town. I obviously want to visit some of the best national parks in the various countries along the way, but after reading about them I'm daunted by the prospect of having to book entry/accommodation months in advance (or, by the sounds of it, a year in advance for Chobe...)
I want to keep as much flexibility in my itinerary as possible, so was hoping not to have to make reservations months in advance which I may not be able to stick to (particularly if you need to pre pay for them which I assume you do.). Does anyone have any tips for planning entry to the national parks, or any views on how far in advance I need to book? I'm thinking mainly of the big parks like Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Chobe etc.
Probably not so exciting as camping in the park but you are able to arrive and pitch up at camp sites in Kasane which is just outside the Chobe gate without prior booking and horrendous costs. From these sites you can easily get into the park either in your own vehicle or by joining a group.
One thing you must not miss (and cannot logistically achieve when staying at Ihaha) is a sunset boat trip on the chobe river. This too can be organised from the town.
Gnerally speaking the month you are visiting will make a big difference to the volumes of other visitors and therefore space. Booking is really only an issue in Botswana (particularly), RSA and Namibia (ie Etosha). And even having said that there are often reasonable alternatives ie staying outside the park.
You don't need to worry about booking in Tanzania or Kenya if you are heading for the public campsites- they don't actually take bookings as far as I could tell. If you want to book "special" ie exclusive sites (which are pretty special) in Serengeti or Masai Mara then you do need to get sorted in advance. There are lots of options at the gate for the Mara.
Botswana is slightly different in that there are restricted camping slots in the parks and there are also relatively few options outside the parks (with the exception of Kasane for Chobe - NB Senyati is the place to try and get into to - it has it's own waterhole. Outside of the peak period ie June - September you can usually get something - even if it isn't your first pick.
Etosha the campsites may fill up but there are options at the gates.
In RSA you will almost always get something in Kruger (as they have such a huge volume) but KTP - a personal favourite of mine - does require advance booking for most of the year as visitor numbers are heavily restricted. Other parks not a problem. If you are planning on spending more than 5 or 6 nights in parks get a Wild Card and you'll get a years admission. We sent 2 months in the parks and saved a fortune.
Zambia isn't a problem. Kafue is pretty sparsely visited and South Luangwa has lots of good options at the gate.
If you can provide more detail in terms of your expected months of travel and intended destinations I can give you a more detailed answer.
We travelled through Namibia/Zambia/Botswana in Jan to March this year and had not problems with parks. Easter would be a problem what with school holidays. We can recommend Chobe Safari lodge for camping, its just a few Km from Chobe park. Track and Trail in the Lower Zambezi is well worth the long drive (the road is being rebuilt but won't be finished any time soon. Etosha,Waterberg Plateau,Krugar were also visited by us on a turn up and see basis. Sossusvlei was busy but they found a space.
Thanks Vengamos. We won't be in Africa around the Easter period, so will at least miss that peak season.
Very loosely, our route (commencing July until January) will be across Tanzania from Dar to Uganda (via ARUSHA/NGORONGORO/SERENGETI), into Kenya (MASAI MARA) towards TURKANA NATIONAL RESERVE and SIBILOI (we're aware of the security issues in that whole region, so we'll just see how things look nearer the time) and on to Ethiopia (OMO N.P., SIMIEN MOUNTAINS N.P., Lalibela) before turning around and heading back through Kenya and Tanzania and on to Malawi (Itchyfeet - thanks for the info you posted on Oerg's thread re Malawian N.P.s), Mozambique (GORONGOSA N.P.), Zambia (ZAMBEZI N.P., LUANGWA N.P., KAFUE), Botswana (CHOBE, CENTRAL KALAHARI GAME RESERVE), Namibia (ETOSHA, SKELETON COAST, DOROB N.P.) and S Africa (Northern Cape and finishing in Cape Town).
I appreciate any one of those parks could merit a whole guidebook, but my query is really whether I should expect any problems getting into them/getting a place in a campsite without a reservation. Based on other information that has been posted I'm feeling fairly encouraged, perhaps with the exception of Chobe? We have a pretty flexible itinerary, so can afford to wait a day or two to get into places. I've heard that gorilla treks in Rwanda sell out ages in advance though - do you know if it's any easier in Uganda?
Another question I had was about maps. Are good quality maps generally available for each country in the bigger towns, or is it better to get them all in the UK before I leave? If so, any tips on who to get them from? We are taking Tracks4Africa on a garmin GPS. We haven't bought the gps yet, so do you have recommendations for which is most suitable? I was thinking either the Garmin 60 or 62s...
Hi Itchyfeet - sorry I'd forgotten that in your previous reply you'd already dealt with availability at quite of few of the parks I mention. If you do have any particular recommendations for lesser known places to visit along the route I mention though, I'd be interested to hear them. Thanks. John
John, my wife and I rode motorbikes thru Africa finishing in Dec. 2012
We hired a 4x4 to do Moremi & Chobe. We booked all our sites the day before we left. But I really do not think this is even necessary if you are there off peak
as each camp site is allowed up to 8 people & are very large in area, so if they say they are full when you arrive just approach someone that is there & ask if you can share there site.....they will be more than willing as it is a safety in numbers as lions seem to be frequent visitors in the night. Make sure you take ample fuel in this area as there is no where to get fuel between Kisane & Muan.
Yes Chobe Safari Lodge is certainly a great place to camp, but make sure you do the river cruise as well from here. If you go to the Masai Mare I suggest you take a Masai guide from a village nearby (I have a number if you need it) we were in the Masai for a couple of days & didn't really see a lot then we employed Patrick to accompany us & he ask us what we wanted to see & then took us straight to whatever (Cheetah Family, Leopards, Lions & a great spot to watch the wildebeest/zebra migration. Sth Luangwa well we have stayed at both Trak n Trail & Croc Vally Camp, and Croc Valley is by far the better of the 2 as at Trak n Trail you are stuck out the back & Croc Valley you camp right on the river so you can lay in your tent & round your camp & watch the animals in front of you (it's awesome) As for Omo Valley (I could spend days telling you about that, but go to Debark in the Simien Mountains & camp at Chenek it to is unbelievable. If you need specific info (I have lots obviously) just ask & have a look at our web site.
Cheers & You are in for a great time.
Hi Paul. Thanks for the reply - that all sounds amazing. We'll definitely pick your brains over some of the details once we have fine tuned the itinerary. Did you go the Lake Turkana route into Kenya, or via Marsabit? John
Serengeti/Ngorongoro - No booking required for public campsites - you pay for the campsite at the gate when you enter. If you want a private or "special" campsite then stop off at the TANAPA headquarters in Arusha and sort it out there.
MM - There are actually two parts to the MM - the reserve proper and the Mara Triangle. I much prefer the latter - it is run by a conservation trust (google will tell you more) and it much better looked after, less crowded and better policed than the main reserve - entrance fees actually cover both areas. There are three public campsites in the Triangle the best of which is Eluai - (on a hill top zero facilities but only a few km from the Serena Lodge for toilets if you want). There are also public campsites in the main part of the reserve. Again there are also private camps on both sides but these don't work out very economically for a couple. I very much doubt you'll have a problem getting what you want inside the park - unless it's migration season - July - September/October) but if you do just camp outside Talek gate at Aruba. Whether you get a guide is a matter of preference but it's hard if you plan to sleep inside the park for some days. We had loads of luck on our own (plenty of lion, a couple of leopard, lots of cheetah including seeing one make a kill, crocs taking zebra and lots more) but this was in the Triangle - we saw less in the reserve.
Sibiloy - I'd be amazed if you meet another car - most people wild camp - the game is long gone.
Ethiopia- There are almost no campsites in Ethiopia (except in the Simiens NP). You usually end up in a hotel car park and they charge you the same price as for a room - so you may as well take a room. Accommodation and food is cheap and most people don't bother cooking for themselves. If you get no other guide books get the Bradt one for Ethiopia - it will massively increase your enjoyment and reduce your stress.
Malawi - see the other thread.
Moz/Gorongoza - Have never been past in the right season but I'd guess you'd better at least enquire if not book as there are limited accommodation options.
Zambia - loads of choice just outside the gate at South Luangwa - no need to book - all the campsites are pretty good IMO and have their own game on the premises (ie watch out for elephant). They are so close to each other just take a look when you arrive.
Haven't personally been to LZNP but hear good things about Zambezi Breezer.
Kafue - You can drive in down the (tar) Mongu road and visit McBrides or Mukambi and then head back to Lusaka. Unfortunately there's no way to get up near Busanga now unless you splash out big bucks. If you want to transit southern Kafue then you'll need a couple of overnight stops on the way through - probably Mukambi to Kaingu to Nanzhilla then you pop out on the Livingstone road. Realistically you do need to book all this as they are such small camps but last time we did it we arranged perhaps a couple of weeks in advance and got what we wanted. This trip requires some very careful planning for fuel too.
Botswana - Chobe may be difficult. Savuti in particular because of it's strategic position. I don't agree with Paul D I'm afraid - you'll get pretty short shrift from most Ihaha campers if you ask to share the site that they sweated blood and tears to secure months before and the staff are unlikely to let you through the gate to ask. If it doesn't pan out Senyati in Kasane is a really good alternative -your own personal ablutions and a great waterhole full of game - but again it gets booked out. Chobe Safari Lodge you will usually get into as it won't take bookings but for me it is a 4/10 as opposed to Senyati being an 8/10 (and Ihaha 10/10). CKGR is enormous but if it is a busy time the much more popular northern section will fill up. Try and get the sites at Kori and Sunday 1 (Leopard Pan) these are still run by DNPW and are much cheaper. All other sites run by Bigfoot.
Namibia - Etosha does fill up but if full try the options outside the gates (esp Onguma in the east). The Skeleton Coast sounds much better than it is. The vast majority of it is a private concession you can't get into. It's bleak, often very windy and there's not much to see. Dorob doesn't really exist as an NP - it is basically the whole coastline.
South Africa - no need to book except for KTP (year round) and possibly Kruger (if it's peak season).
Gorilla trekking - We rolled up in Kigali in April (which is supposed to be mid season) and asked for availability over the next 10 days - they had availability of 9 out of the 10. Of course that may not work in peak season. Bear in mind Rwanda is now $750 whereas Uganda is still $500. I'd head straight for the booking office when you arrive in country and base the rest of your itinerary round it.
Off the beaten track places we really enjoyed? There were loads.
As Paul D says Omo is amazing - make sure you know when all the market days are in the individual towns (Bradt will tell you).
Harar - try and get a homestay in a Harari house. Feed the hyena if you dare.
Gheralta/Tigrai was stunning. If you can go to/from Lalibela north via Sekota - an incredible drive on dirt roads instead of dodging lorries on the tar.
Lakes Bogoria (Fig Tree campsite) and Baringo (Roberts Camp), Hell's Gate NP.
Ruaha, Udzungwa (Hondo Hondo), Mafia Island for diving.
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary - for tracking rhino on foot
Vwaza NP, Makusi Beach, Cape Mclear
Kasanka (if it's Oct - Dec) for the bats.
Nxai Pan, Kubu Island, Tsodillo Hills
Caprivi - esp Mudumu, Nambwa. There is stunning camping in Namibia - just a few that spring to mind are Spitzkoppe, Namib Naukluft eg Blutekopje, Tschuab River, Koimasiis, Klein Aus Vista. You should also see Sossusvlei.
KTP (if you can get in), Drakensberg, Tankwa Karoo, Namaqualand (Caracal Trail down the coast to Groenrivier), a meal at Muissbosskerm in Lamberts Bay, the Wild Coast.
I think I'd better stop now or I'll be here all night ...
Itchyfeet - that is an amazing reply. Thanks so much. Really informative, and I feel motivated afresh now! That's a lot of information to process, so I'll hit the maps and work on my route again. If I think of anything else I'll def be in touch. Thanks again, John
We are taking Tracks4Africa on a garmin GPS. We haven't bought the gps yet, so do you have recommendations for which is most suitable? I was thinking either the Garmin 60 or 62s...
John, we are following all the useful info here with great interest as we are leaving UK in a few weeks for similar trip.
Re satnav etc, I bought a Garmin Montana 4 months ago and it's been excellent. Big screen, robust, waterproof, looks like it will stand up to most punishment. Bit pricy and chunky but think its best option. Also have an old Nuvi which we will take as backup. T4A sd cards fit into both and from what I've seen are excellent.
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