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Kenya-Tanzania safari & guides

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I have appreciated the help I have received from so many posters at Fodor's forums, especially in planning my 4 weeks in Kenya and Tanzania during our June, 2007 trip.

As a payback I am going to write this report on my safari. My goal is not to be redundant but to add suggestions and information that I did not find on this east Africa forum.

I will tell you my favorite tent camps in Kenya and Tanzania and why you must stay there.

As many on this board have commented 90% or more of the vehicles used in safari in Kenya are mini-van type vehicles.

I went with a new company in Kenya that is operating Toyota Land Cruisers (not the small Land Cruisers operated by most users in Kenya and Tanzania, but the stretch version.

Until I went on safari I did not understand the importance of the large Toyota Land Cruisers over the typical minivans used in Kenya. These Toyota Land Cruisers are heavier giving a more comfortable ride. Also, the top that opens is larger than the opening on the minivans. So you get more space to move around for those all important pictures.

My wife and I went on a private safari for the two of us. I received quotes from all of the familiar names mentioned on this board for the various safari companies.

Because of the amount of time on safari - 22 days, I was influenced somewhat by price quotes.

One safari company was outstanding and had the best price in Kenya for a Toyota Landcruiser stretch version (largest private vehicle available). The price was better than the next two prices quoted that used minivans.

The company we used in Kenya was BELLAFRIC EXPEDITIONS. They can be reached at info@bellafric-expeditions.com and www.bellafricexpeditions.com. The website is nothing to speak about, but I had the best vehicle and guide you could ask for.

Our guide in Kenya was Andrew Shikaya and he has been guiding for more than a decade. When we came upon a leopard sleeping in a tree and waited with 6 other vehicles, "Shikaya" said let's wait, I think the leopard will come down after the other vehicles leave. Sure enough the other vehicles left after watching the sleeping leopard for 15-20 minutes, and the leopard stood up and walked down the tree. We were the only ones who saw the action and we were 30 feet away. A few days later we came upon a sleeping male and female lion. Shikaya said if you are willing to wait for about 30 minutes the lions will probably wake up and mate again and then go back to sleep. Again, he was right on. He knows his stuff.

If any readers on this board want one of the best and nicest guides in east Africa, I suggest you email or call Bellafric and tell them Richard Leeds suggested them and he says Andrew Shikaya is the guide "we want and must have". We are two of Andrew's favorite safari clients so if invoking our name gets you Shikaya, use it.

Shikaya's English is perfect which is not the case with the company we used in Tanzania.

In Tanzania we used Sunny Safaris of Arusha. This company dissapointed us on many accounts. Six months before our safari commenced, I paid the 30% requested deposit. They did not bother to confirm receipt of the funds or to send me an invoice showing payment and the balance due.

During the intervening months before our trip I sent 3 emails to them and was ignored on all of them. Finally, I called the Tanzania embassy in Washington and asked them to intervene. The embassy finally pushed the safair company to respond.

Twice in 2007 Sunny Safaris confirmed our lodge and tented camp itinerary and bookings. They never said that modifications had to be made because they did not have the bookings they represented they had. We were supposed to stay for 3 nights at the Serena Serengeti, 1 night at the Serena Lake Manyara and 2 nights at the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge among other places. When we actually ended up in Tanzania with our guide, who we had trouble understanding, it turned out we were only staying at the Serena Seregeti for 1 night, no nights at the Ngorongora Sopa and two nights at the Serena Lake Manyara. In addition we were supposed to have a deluxe suite in Stone Town in Zanzibar and the actual booking made with the hotel, which the hotel manager showed us was a request by Sunny Safari for a standard double room. They also said a safari walk was included one day and the hotel said that had not been paid for. I paid for the walk and sent the bill to Sunny Safari for the $70 and they failed to reimburse me. So they quoted fees based on certain hotels which they do not book and certain inclusions such as a suite when they pay for a standard room and safari walks which they do not pay for. Also, they said in Arusha that all meals were included at the River Lodge but the voucher the hotel was sent included only half board. I think you get the picture.

Our guide at Sunnys was not great in communication in English because we were spoiled by our Kenya guide, but he was a good game guide.

In Zanzibar Sunny Safari said dinner was included at Emerson and Green (now operating under a new name after the split up of Emerson and Green). The hotel said they did not receive a voucher from Sunny Safaris saying that the dinner was prepaid and the hotel said we would be responsible.

So, readers now should have a good perspective on two safair company's. One where everything was perfect as represented and the other where there was one problem after another.

We stayed at many of the Serena Lodges and we felt that dinner with 100 people in a large dining room takes away from the feeling of being in Africa. Our personal preference was for the tented camps.

We stayed at Larsens Camp, Tortilis Camp, Mbalageti Serengeti Tented Camp Chalets (in the western corridor of the Serengeti) and Kikoti Tented Camp.

If you go to East Africa only once in your life do not miss the experience of staying in the permanent tented camps. They are so different from staying in the lodges. The lodges run by Serena and Sopa actually feel like most hotels. They are big with lots of employees and lots of guests.

At Larsens Camp in Kenya in June there were only 5-8 tents occupied when we were there. Sleeping on the river a few yards away and eating at the riverside outdoors is quite special.

At the Mbalageti Serengeti in the western corridor there are less animals than in the central part of the Serengeti, but both my wife and I felt that the Mbalageti tented chalets were the best accommodations of our trip for $500.00 a night. In fact they were the largest and the location diningroom had the best views of our month in Africa. Also, we saw 7 lions here and five of the cubs walked across a field and climbed a tree right in front of us.

So, for the best views and best tented camp go for two nights and stay in the western corridor at Mbalageti Serengeti. Free bottled water at all meals here instead of paying $4-5 a bottle.

Tortilis Camp in Amboseli is a lovely camp with the best food of our trip. We enjoyed our two days here.

Kikoti Camp was a disappointment after staying at the three camps mentioned above. I would avoid this camp in Tarangire area and instead stay at the Sopa Lodge which is actually in the park instead of requiring a 30 minute drive every day to enter the camp.

I hope this informaiton is helpful.

One last point. Our Toyota Land Cruiser in Keneya even had rubber mats on the floor. Remember, vehicles typically have steel floors with no carpeting and rubber mats. When your feet are on steel 4-8 hours in a day it is not as comfortable as the rubber mats. The Land Cruisers I looked into that Rangers and Roys operated usually had no padding on the floors of their vehicles.

We found more animals in Tanzania than Kenya but more is not always better. Too many zebras or wildebeasts overburdens many photographs.

We found less vehicles in Samburu and Amboseli in June than we did in the parks in Tanzania. We preferred seeing only a couple of other vehicles in these parks in Kenya than the 10-20-30 vehicles in Tanzania. When you get ten vehicles with people talking while looking at the animals it takes away from the experience. In Kenya in June, we were usually the lone vehicle or one of one or two other vehicles. This was much more appreciated than the congestion in Tanzania where vehicles would run past you every few minutes kicking up dirt and dust.

My wife and I have travelled extensively over the last 30 years (4 months in Australia/New Zealand, 5 months in Italy, 1 month in Switzerland, 2 months France, 2 months Canada, 1 month Asia, 1 month England, 1 month Central America, 1 month Hawaii, many months in the U.S.), I think you get the picture ---- this was the best trip of all the many one month trips we have taken in spite of having one excellent safari company and one very average safari company.

Be sure to spend two days in the western corridor of the Serengeti. We loved our two days there. Even if you do not see the 7 lions and 5 of them climb up a tree in front of you, the views from Mbalageti and the tented chalets are worth going to this area.

We saw 17 lions in two days in the Serengeti. Spend one-two days in the central part and two days in the western part.

good luck in planning your safari.

P.S. We went to Lake Eyasi and spent two nights at Kisimi Ngeda Tented Camp. We loved the location and the time we spent with the Hadze, the last hunter-gatherer tribe in Tanzania.

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