Hi there Shah,
This is a good question, and quite a debated one!
In all reality, it really is easy to book your own trip through South Africa, including the safari portion :). One simply needs to contact the lodge via email or phone, inquire about availability, and book.
The benefits of using an agent however, are that they can do the work for you; contacting various lodges in your price range or that suit your needs/wants, and can do all bookings from your transfer to the actual lodge, additional activities etc. You also only have one point of contact, which some prefer. The benefit of using a local agent is also that the agent will never be more than a phone call away, generally able to physically help should you require anything.
But of course, this may seem biased as I am a safari specialist myself, so I will let some other TA members also explain the pros and cons too :-).
In terms of better prices; To be honest, all agents can get a discount for you, as each have a certain amount of commission to play around with when booking for you. If you don't use an agent, I definitely would recommend asking the lodge too, as you may find they are also easily able to give you a good discount on the room price :-).
Agents (if they are good) will have also been to the majority, if not all, of the lodges they represent, so will be able to personally recommend ones that suit your needs and budget,a nd help you with any questions etc. But I guess the lodge can also do this :-).
So, in short, it is 110% possible to book lodges and your trip on your own, and many many people do this indeed! But, if you prefer to just tell one person your wants, needs, likes, dislikes and budget, they can contact the various lodges (and there are many!) that would suit you, and you can move forward from there.
Now, regarding your other questions;
The lodges in the Sabi Sands all generally include the following in your rate:
- Dawn game drive daily
- Dusk game drive daily
- Optional bush walk daily
- Breakfast daily
- Lunch daily
- Dinner daily
- Refreshments on game drives
- Depending on the lodge, the transfers, all beverages and laundry may also be included.
Thus, unless you perhaps mean outside activities such as tours of the other local attractions (such as the Panorama route etc) there is no need to pre-book the activities at the lodge. And, even if you would like to do external activities, the lodge can generally book this for you too.
So, in short (again!) I guess an agent just takes the hassle out of it all?