Hi everyone. As a regular "lurker" of this forum, I wanted to take a few minutes to give a report of my recent travels.
I started the vacation in traveled to Cape Town in late March with my 11 yr old daughter and our 18 yr old family friend. After three days in Cape Town, we flew to Livingstone, Zambia. We stayed at the Kingdom Hotel on the Zimbabwe side. (I didn’t do enough research before buying my plan tickets to find out that there was an airport in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.)
I booked our tours in advance with Boo Peel on www.victoriafalls-guide.net. Boo was extremely helpful and responsive and answered all questions on email. I was glad that we booked them in advance so we had it planned out. It is possible to book tours when you get to the hotel. There was a different tour company with an office in our hotel. We stayed at the Kingdom Hotel, and I have a separate review posted for that, as well as some of the activities that we participated in. All of our activities were through Shearwater Adventures, and I would also recommend them for the activities that we took.
Our first night, we took a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River. This was a nice, relaxing cruise with free drinks and a few appetizers. I think that it was about 60-90 minutes for the boat ride. On our trip, we didn’t see any crocs, but we saw one hippo from a distance. I would rate the trip as 3 or 3 ½ stars. It was ok, but if I didn’t do it, I probably would not have felt deprived.
Our second day, we took at day trip to Chobe National Park in Botswana. I highly recommend this if you are going to the falls. The day started with a boat cruise on the Chobe River for about 1 ½ - 2 hours. Here we saw some crocs, and lots and lots of hippos. We also saw elephants bathing in the water, and some elephants on the land. This cruise was much better for seeing animals than the cruise on the Zambezi River. After the cruise, we had a nice buffet lunch (included) at the hotel. After lunch, we took a jeep safari tour. It was my first safari ever. In the first five minutes, I was anxious, because we didn’t see anything. But very soon, we saw a herd of elephants, and then the animals just kept on coming. We had lots and lots of sightings in the short time that we were there. We saw about 30+ elephants, about 10+ giraffes, some warthogs, some wild monkeys/baboons, and a gazillion impala! One of my favorites was seeing a dung beetle in action! One our way back from Botswana, we saw a giraffe crossing the “highway” in the middle of nowhere. How cool is that?!?!
That evening was Easter Saturday. Since we had an early tour on Sunday morning, I drug my daughter and friend to a Catholic mass at 7pm that night. I had forgotten that the Easter Vigil is always the longest mass of the year, and I told our cab driver to come back in an hour. Unfortunately, we had to leave after just a few readings and songs because I didn’t want to make our cab driver come back again. (Plus, we were all hungry and exhausted.) The church was very nice and quaint in the middle of a town. The mass also included baptism and I think first communion, so I felt bad that we were intruding on a special event for the families. We found an usher who made us feel welcome for the short time that we were there. We were obviously tourists on holiday. I only wish that we could’ve seen an entire mass. The service was not in English, and unfortunately, we could not follow along. But just to be able to celebrate God with fellow Catholics on Easter weekend was a blessing.
On Easter Sunday, the Easter Bunny found us in the hotel and left some candy for us. We woke up at 5:30 to catch a 6:00 tour to ride the elephants. This was a nice experience to ride on an elephant, but we didn’t see any animals in the one hour ride (so didn’t expect this going in). You also get about 5 minutes at the end to sit with and feed your elephant.
After the elephant back safari, we took the 15 minute helicopter ride over the falls. I highly recommend this as this was the best view of the falls during the wet season. 15 minutes was enough time to get some great photographs and video from the sky from both sides of the helicopter.
After the helicopter ride, we took the guided walking tour of the falls. Since this was our first time, we wanted to go with a guide, because we had no idea what to expect. (As a woman traveling with two other girls, I was glad to have the tour guide. I’m sure that we would’ve been fine on our own, and it’s definitely do-able on your own. I would just have been looking over my shoulder every second, as I would in any city or national park in the United States if traveling without another adult.) One major benefit to taking the walking tour…they provide rain ponchos, which we definitely needed! Because the falls are so close, there are only a few areas where one can stay dry without a poncho. Since we knew that we’d be wet, I left the DSLR camera at the hotel and just used our waterproof camera. The photographs from the ground were not nearly as good as the photographs form the sky, but I was still glad that we experienced the falls from both viewpoints!
After the falls, we went to the craft village. I could not believe how huge it is! The sellers there are assertive because they want your business, badly. But, they are not scary or threatening. My recommendations if you go:
1) Be ready to haggle. The first price that they offer will be extremely high and you can talk them after that. You should be able to settle on a fair price. Depending on how good of a haggler you are, you might be able to get a great deal. I saw items at shops for similar prices to what I had “haggled” for.
2) Try your best to walk around and see everything without buying first. This did not work well for me, and I ended up buying early. My only regret was that I did not bring more cash or any clothes to trade, and we had to leave before seeing the second half of the market.
3) Bring clothes to trade. I had seen this advice before, and now had wish that I had heeded it. The sellers were willing to trade anything…they wanted my baseball hat, my bandana, a hair band, my shoes! If I could do it over, I would take a big suitcase FULL of clothes that we didn’t wear anymore and use these to trade with (or give away what we couldn’t trade). I would then have an empty suitcase to bring home lots of treasures!
4) Bring cash in US dollars only, and bring smaller bills. If you negotiate a price smaller than a $20, and all you have are $20 dollar bills, they will try to sell you more, and if you’re like me, you’ll get sweet-talked into buying more.
Overall, we had a fantastic experience, and I’m so glad that I went. While Zimbabwe has had political issues, we did not experience any negativity at the tourist areas. We only saw people who were happy to have tourists and our business. I never felt that my personal safety was at risk. (Of course, we did travel most everywhere with a tour guide.) And we took taxis at night to the town area for “Fast Food” and ice cream.
My last trip report (in a few days) will be on the Sabi Sands forum ((stayed at Elephant Plains). All in all, I absolutely loved my trip to Africa, and would encourage anyone considering it to just do it and go. The only time I felt unsafe was on safari when a female elephant started to “charge” our jeep!