Assessing Botswana lodgings

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My husband and I traveled throughout Botswana, then to Victoria Falls, in September and October 2006. We flew into Gaborone, Botswana, and stayed at the Gaborone Sun International Hotel (phone 09267-3951111 or visit www.sun-international.com). Bed and breakfast can be booked at $147 per night for two.

This was the best hotel in town.

Its rooms were Western and very comfortable. They had a lovely pool, a helpful staff and very good food. Every evening, hundreds of yellow birds were in the trees outside of our room building incredible hanging nests.

There is a business center at the hotel for e-mails, plus a tasteful gift shop and a taxi service to get around town. While there, we visited the National Museum and Botswana Craft.

We then were picked up by Tony Ballentine of Lentswe Lodge (P.O. Box 32057, Serowe, Botswana; phone 267 4634333/4 or e-mail alb@lentswe.com). We chose this place because we wanted to visit the Khama Rhino Sanctuary. The accommodations at the lodge were rustic but comfortable. It’s family-run, so the atmosphere is very casual.

I feel this sanctuary is a “must see” while visiting Botswana. Rhinos are incredibly hard to find, but in the expansive wild setting of Khama Rhino Sanctuary we saw four or five within a few hours.

The total cost of transfers, food, rhino sanctuary tour and lodging for our three nights here was $1,684 for two people.

The next portion of our trip was booked through a local South African company called IslandSafari.com (Suite 16a, Chartwell Centre, Chartwell Drive, Umhlanga, South Africa; phone 1/866 254-1428 or visit www.island-safari.com).

One thing I have learned after years of travel experience is the cheapest way to book any trip is usually through local travel companies. I compared the same exact safari I booked with IslandSafari.com with those of other South African companies and U.S. companies. The U.S. companies’ were about $2,000 more, whereas the South African companies’ were about $1,000 more.

On their website, IslandSafari.com guarantees to have the best price for any safari. In my case, they definitely lived up to their assertion. For 10 nights in Botswana during the peak season, we stayed in 5-star, fully inclusive camps and lodges and the total cost for two people, including air transfers, was $11,240. All travel arrangements were perfectly made, and everything went off without a hitch.

Our first stop was Magkadigkadi Camp, located on the Magkadigkadi Pans in the Kalahari Desert; we were transferred to this camp by Tony Ballentine.

Elegant and locally constructed, this camp has Setswana buildings with Persian rugs and pillows on mud-packed floors. The tents were very comfortable, with open-air showers and toilets.

Included were excellent food and outings. We spent one day on the pans riding quads — an amazing experience. One night we sat on the expansive salt pans with our evening drinks while watching a dramatic thunderstorm in the distance.

We then were flown to Deception Valley Lodge, a gorgeous, well-appointed lodge in the heart of the Kalahari Desert. Each room is a suite with living room, bathroom and bedroom. Both the management and food were stellar.

The game drives were amazing, as we saw lions, oryx, giraffes, and kudu. In front of the lodge is a watering hole which provides hours of entertainment as warthogs and kudu stop by for a drink. The program of bushman-guided walks offered at this lodge was authentic and very interesting. I highly recommend this lodge to anyone visiting Botswana.

We then flew to Camp Okavango. I was very disappointed by this camp. The condition of the public areas and tents as well as the cleanliness were not up to my 5-star expectations. If you are booking a safari in the Okavango with IslandSafari.com, I would suggest choosing a different camp to experience this amazing place. I specifically requested this camp, so there is no fault with Island-Safari.

We were taken by boat to Camp Moremi, a clean, well-organized camp on beautiful grounds and with comfortable rooms. They served excellent food in a stylish dining area and bar, and the staff sang nightly before serving dinner.

The game drives here were the best of all the camps, as we saw three different leopards plus lions, zebras, red lechwe, impalas and hippos, to name a few. The various birds here were spectacular also. Even I was impressed, and I’m not a birder. In Moremi Game Reserve, this is a great place to stay.

Next we flew to world-famous Chobe Game Lodge. Elegantly styled in sand-colored stucco, it seems to rise out of the sand as though it were part of the landscape. The rooms have balconies with amazing views of the Chobe River. This is the only lodge within the park, so I consider it the only place to stay while visiting this unique area.

We went on a night cruise and saw hundreds of elephants on the banks along with thousands of Cape buffalo. The food was excellent, service was personable and the surroundings were amazing.

Leaving Botswana, we were transferred by road to Zimbabwe and the Victoria Falls Hotel (phone [263 13] 44751/60, www.victoriafallshotel.com), where bed and breakfast can be booked at $161 per night for two through Island-Safari.com.

This old Victorian-style hotel has very well appointed public spaces. Its rooms are also very comfortable and stylish. On the grounds are warthogs, monkeys and baboons.

This hotel has the best access to the falls. Given the fact that the falls were completely dry on the Zambia side because it was the dry season, this was pretty important. A security guard is on the path leading to the falls, which makes the environment safe.

This trip was my fourth to Africa, but I felt it was the best. The accommodations, the perfect travel arrangements and the number of amazing animals we saw will never be forgotten.

SARA KRAS

Glendale, CA

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My husband and I traveled throughout Botswana, then to Victoria Falls, in September and October 2006. We flew into Gaborone, Botswana, and stayed at the Gaborone Sun International Hotel (phone 09267-3951111 or visit www.sun-international.com). Bed and breakfast can be booked at $147 per night for two.

This was the best hotel in town.

Its rooms were Western and very comfortable. They had a lovely pool, a helpful staff and very good food. Every evening, hundreds of yellow birds were in the trees outside of our room building incredible hanging nests.

There is a business center at the hotel for e-mails, plus a tasteful gift shop and a taxi service to get around town. While there, we visited the National Museum and Botswana Craft.

We then were picked up by Tony Ballentine of Lentswe Lodge (P.O. Box 32057, Serowe, Botswana; phone 267 4634333/4 or e-mail alb@lentswe.com). We chose this place because we wanted to visit the Khama Rhino Sanctuary. The accommodations at the lodge were rustic but comfortable. It’s family-run, so the atmosphere is very casual.

I feel this sanctuary is a “must see” while visiting Botswana. Rhinos are incredibly hard to find, but in the expansive wild setting of Khama Rhino Sanctuary we saw four or five within a few hours.

The total cost of transfers, food, rhino sanctuary tour and lodging for our three nights here was $1,684 for two people.

The next portion of our trip was booked through a local South African company called IslandSafari.com (Suite 16a, Chartwell Centre, Chartwell Drive, Umhlanga, South Africa; phone 1/866 254-1428 or visit www.island-safari.com).

One thing I have learned after years of travel experience is the cheapest way to book any trip is usually through local travel companies. I compared the same exact safari I booked with IslandSafari.com with those of other South African companies and U.S. companies. The U.S. companies’ were about $2,000 more, whereas the South African companies’ were about $1,000 more.

On their website, IslandSafari.com guarantees to have the best price for any safari. In my case, they definitely lived up to their assertion. For 10 nights in Botswana during the peak season, we stayed in 5-star, fully inclusive camps and lodges and the total cost for two people, including air transfers, was $11,240. All travel arrangements were perfectly made, and everything went off without a hitch.

Our first stop was Magkadigkadi Camp, located on the Magkadigkadi Pans in the Kalahari Desert; we were transferred to this camp by Tony Ballentine.

Elegant and locally constructed, this camp has Setswana buildings with Persian rugs and pillows on mud-packed floors. The tents were very comfortable, with open-air showers and toilets.

Included were excellent food and outings. We spent one day on the pans riding quads — an amazing experience. One night we sat on the expansive salt pans with our evening drinks while watching a dramatic thunderstorm in the distance.

We then were flown to Deception Valley Lodge, a gorgeous, well-appointed lodge in the heart of the Kalahari Desert. Each room is a suite with living room, bathroom and bedroom. Both the management and food were stellar.

The game drives were amazing, as we saw lions, oryx, giraffes, and kudu. In front of the lodge is a watering hole which provides hours of entertainment as warthogs and kudu stop by for a drink. The program of bushman-guided walks offered at this lodge was authentic and very interesting. I highly recommend this lodge to anyone visiting Botswana.

We then flew to Camp Okavango. I was very disappointed by this camp. The condition of the public areas and tents as well as the cleanliness were not up to my 5-star expectations. If you are booking a safari in the Okavango with IslandSafari.com, I would suggest choosing a different camp to experience this amazing place. I specifically requested this camp, so there is no fault with Island-Safari.

We were taken by boat to Camp Moremi, a clean, well-organized camp on beautiful grounds and with comfortable rooms. They served excellent food in a stylish dining area and bar, and the staff sang nightly before serving dinner.

The game drives here were the best of all the camps, as we saw three different leopards plus lions, zebras, red lechwe, impalas and hippos, to name a few. The various birds here were spectacular also. Even I was impressed, and I’m not a birder. In Moremi Game Reserve, this is a great place to stay.

Next we flew to world-famous Chobe Game Lodge. Elegantly styled in sand-colored stucco, it seems to rise out of the sand as though it were part of the landscape. The rooms have balconies with amazing views of the Chobe River. This is the only lodge within the park, so I consider it the only place to stay while visiting this unique area.

We went on a night cruise and saw hundreds of elephants on the banks along with thousands of Cape buffalo. The food was excellent, service was personable and the surroundings were amazing.

Leaving Botswana, we were transferred by road to Zimbabwe and the Victoria Falls Hotel (phone [263 13] 44751/60, www.victoriafallshotel.com), where bed and breakfast can be booked at $161 per night for two through Island-Safari.com.

This old Victorian-style hotel has very well appointed public spaces. Its rooms are also very comfortable and stylish. On the grounds are warthogs, monkeys and baboons.

This hotel has the best access to the falls. Given the fact that the falls were completely dry on the Zambia side because it was the dry season, this was pretty important. A security guard is on the path leading to the falls, which makes the environment safe.

This trip was my fourth to Africa, but I felt it was the best. The accommodations, the perfect travel arrangements and the number of amazing animals we saw will never be forgotten.

SARA KRAS

Glendale, CA