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East Africa for 6 weeks next December/January...looking for help :)

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Hi there,
I'm trying to plan a trip for my husband and I (both Canadian) to East Africa over December and January, and was wondering if anyone had any pearls of wisdom to help. I've read through a number of postings on here, and I'm getting the idea that I should try and book through a safari company that is based within East Africa? Is that the best way to go? I mostly want to be in the wilderness, taking photographs, etc. I think I would like to visit Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, which should be do-able in 6 weeks (I imagine). I don't want to be with a large group of people, and would be happy to pay extra for a dedicated guide at certain times for photography.
I'm also curious about the best places to see birds in these countries. If anyone has any thoughts, please let me know. What is "not to be missed"? Is it worth spending some time on the coast?
If anyone out there can recommend someone that can help me plan an itinerary, I would very much appreciate it!
Thank-you!!

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