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mofarmerchick Mar 23rd, 2011 10:11 AM

Any advice on which tour to choose would be appreciated
I am planning my first vacation in 6 years - my dream vacation to Kenya. I have wanted to go to Kenya as long as I cam remember.
I am 50 and will be traveling alone (my first solo vacation) so I am planning on a guided tour - looks like GAP Adventures is the leading contender right now.
My biggest limitation - very limited budget - $3500 total to spend including airfare
14 days is the absolute maximum length I can book.
I'm trying to decided between Kenya Wildlife Adventure (DKWA)
Kenya and Tanzania Overland (DKWO)
Kenya and Uganda Gorilla Adventure (DKKU)
Suggestions outside these will also be welcome.

mazatExplore Mar 23rd, 2011 02:56 PM

Your budget does sound a little tight if you plan to include airfare and taxes. It would help if you traveled during shoulder or low season to get a better price on flights.

Check the extras on these tours...Are the gorilla permits included or extra? How much will you have to pay locally for food or activities not included in the price? The optionals, which many times aren't, can inflate the cost of your trip. If all is still within budget then book and have a great time!
I work for an adventure travel company and as a comparison our 13 day East African Explorer trip is prices at $2920

Maz at Explore Worldwide

ShayTay Mar 23rd, 2011 03:13 PM

Your link for the Kenya trip appeared to be in April, a very wet time of year. Given that it's a budget camping trip, I don't know how comfortable that would be. Overseas Adventure Travel is offering their "Safari Serengeti" trips to Tanzania at $4095 ($3995 in May), which includes air. Any chance you could increase your budget?

mofarmerchick Mar 23rd, 2011 04:29 PM

Thank you both for your speedy replies.

I have not checked on gorilla permits - did not know you needed one :-) Park permit fees are all included if that would include the gorilla permit.

ShayTay - that trip is actually offered all year not just in April. No chance of increasing the budget - this is my first vacation since my divorce and I've been saving for 6 years to be able to afford it. Plus I live far away from any major airport which means I'd have to add additional airfare to get to one of their 3 departure cities.

Once again, thank you both for your input - it really is appreciated.

atravelynn Mar 23rd, 2011 08:41 PM

You’ve been waiting and saving a long time!

With any trip, check that everyone gets a window seat.

GAP Kenya Wildlife Adventure:

Check temps/rainfall and best time to view wildlife in the links below and you’ll the cost of the trip varies with the conditions.

This is the only option of the 3 Gap trips without participation camping, where you erect the tents and help prepare the food. I'd be wary of participation camping in the rainiest months.

You visit 3 distinct regions: Samburu is more desert-like with some unique species. Lake Nakuru has the flamingos and a good chance of seeing rhino. Mara is Kenya’s best known park with a variety of wildlife.

Approx drive times: NBO-Samburu = 6 hours. Samburu-Nakuru = 6 hours. Nakuru-Mara = 6-7 hours. Mara to NBO = 5 hours.

That is quite a bit of driving for 2 night stays. You usually do not see wildlife on the drives, with the exception of the first few hours of the Mara to NBO drive.

Many flights depart Nairobi late at night to head back to the US, so I am wondering if this makes the best use of your time. Day 9 you may be hanging around all day for a flight at 10 or 11 at night.

Kenya and Tanzania Overland:

Here’s Tanzania weather.

This trip has 7 nights of participation camping. There seem to be a lot of 1-nighters here, half of your stays. To me that is too much rushing around.

Approx drive times: NBO to Nakuru = 2.5. Nakuru to Naivasha = 1.5. Naivash-Mara = 5-6 hours. Ask about drive times to Lake Victoria, then to your Serengeti accommodation. Serengeti-Ngorongoro = 2-4 hours, depending on where you are in the Serengeti. Ngorongoro-Arusha = 4 hours. Arusha–NBO = 6 hours.

Kenya and Uganda Gorilla Adventure:

Here’s Uganda weather

If gorillas are the goal, you could consider this one. I read that the permits were included. Just be aware they are $500 for a one hour visit, so you are devoting 1/7th of your $3500 total trip budget to this single activity. It will likely be one of the most memorable hours of your life, but costly nonetheless, especially if seeing gorillas is more of an afterthought than a major goal of your trip.

I see 3 nights are spent in the area where you’d track gorillas. It appears you get one permit and the other day you would do an alternate activity.

While Queen Elizabeth is a park I really like and the Kazinga Channel boat cruise is fantastic, the wildlife here is not as abundant as what you’d see in the other itineraries. This itinerary is not as traditionally safari-oriented as the other two.

This one is all participation camping.

Some additional budget considerations. It is a good idea to consult your doctor or travel clinic for shots, malaria prevention, etc. Check with your insurance for those costs. Most group trips tip the guide around $10/day. I noted pre- and post-trip hotels and transfers were around $250 through GAP. Visas range from $25 to $100 for the countries in the itineraries.

You may want to look at this trip, which includes international air from DC. My friend did this trip and loved it.

Good luck!

sangeeta Mar 23rd, 2011 10:02 PM

Wow - that's the first time I've ever seen airfare inclusive prices like that! Great suggestion, Lynn. With a base trip like that, OP may even be able to tack on some days at the beginning or end of her trip & make it a 14 day affair.

On another note, good to hear that your Flycat trip has been finalized. How many trips are you planning for next year??

mofarmerchick Mar 24th, 2011 06:51 AM

atravelynn - great name by the way - WOW!!! Your post has just about everything I could ask for including what I believe to be the trip I will be purchasing - the lionworldtour trip sounds fantastic!! And one of the best parts for me is no single supplement! I love that the flights from and to DC are already arranged - no worring about finding a flight that will arrive at the correct time.

Your were spot on about the gorilla part being an afterthought - when I saw that trip I thought since this might be my only visit to Africa why not try to make it as memorable as possible. But I had no idea the extra $500 was for ONE HOUR - as you say it would be a memorable hour but I think that $500 might be more well spent elsewhere. If I got to hang out with the gorillas for a day or something maybe.

Also, 14 days is a LONG time for me to be gone from home - gotta find someone to take care of all the critters. So a 9-day trip would be easier for me to swing.

I am thinking September seems like the best month for me -
checking airfare to Washington but I'm fairly certain with this trip I can get in under budget and still have enough to tip generously for a great safari experience.

I really can't thank you enough for all the info - there are SO many tour companies out there a recommendation from someone as knowledgeable as yourself is invaluable.

mofarmerchick Mar 24th, 2011 06:52 AM

Well, just found the departure dates for the lionworldtour trip and there are no September dates but I will work around the dates available - that is too good of a bargain to pass up!

ShayTay Mar 24th, 2011 07:25 AM

That Lion World tour is a MUCH better choice than GAP, I'd say... real safari camps, not dome tents and "bring your own sleeping bag." Of the dates listed, I'd probably choose November (short rains) vs. April-May (long rains.)

mofarmerchick Mar 24th, 2011 08:02 AM

Thanks ShayTay! I agree I much prefer lodges to tents.

Just trying to decide if my family would kill me if I missed Thanksgiving this year as that would be logistically the best week for me. The one I am interested in would return the day after Thanksgiving so maybe I can convince them that Thanksgiving falls on Saturday this year? :-)

sandi Mar 24th, 2011 09:29 AM

My vote is for the Lion itinerary. Covers the right stops, real lodging, good price and no single supplement... WOW!

As to Thanksgiving... believe me, I have often and found over the years, regardless destination, more and more people travel during this period so as not to have to deal with family over the dinner table! :) They'll still love you (or not), but hey... it's your vacation! You go girl!

atravelynn Mar 24th, 2011 06:19 PM

You are welcome Mofarmerchick. Glad you like my name. From <u>your</u> name it appears the critters could be plentiful, maybe a whole farm full?

If you have been saving for 6 years and this is the one trip that works for you, I am sure your family can alter the date of the feast for one year. Or you can opt out just this once.

When you return with your tales and photos, you might be able to recruit some family members for a return trip someday.

Here is the Lion World report from my friend.

Sangeeta, if you read this, an email is coming your way.

atravelynn Mar 24th, 2011 06:28 PM

A few comments about a couple of the Lion World locations.

Serena Mountain Lodge in Mt. Kenya—this lodge currently has the rep of best night time viewing at a waterhole. Be on the lookout for unusual forest species here (which was not a stop in your GAP trip) such as the beautiful black and white colobus monkey.

Sarova Shaba—Here are some excerpts from my Sept. visit to this lodge--
Shaba means copper, so named for the towering red cliffs. I wanted to spend a day here to see those cliffs and the scenery the park is known for. Near the Uaso Nyiro River it is quite lovely with expansive views, but otherwise the terrain seemed similar to Samburu or Buffalo Springs. <i>(That’s where you’ll do your game drives to see the animals.)</i>

However, one cannot fully appreciate the splendor of the copper color cliffs from way over in Buffalo Springs. While it is only 30-40 minutes between Buffalo Springs and Shaba, the best time to view and photograph the cliffs is near sunset so an overnight in Shaba is needed to capture the rocky backdrop at its best.

Most people who stay in Shaba do the majority of their game drives over in Buffalo Springs or Samburu, which has a lot more wildlife, and of course more visitors. To get from Shaba Sarova to the Samburu entrance gate takes just over half an hour, with a mile or so on the highway. It is possible spend most of the day in Samburu/Buffalo Springs and arrive back in Shaba for sunset views with ample time to get to the lodge before dark and closing time.

The animal action around Sarova and in the river in front of the lodge was abundant--water monitors scooting across the lawn, troops of baboons and vervets, flocks of Marabou Storks, a few sunning cros, Sacred Ibis, Yellow Billed Storks.

I was so intrigued with the winding paths of Sarova and the birds and animals I encountered that I walked right through several operating sprinklers, covering my camera for protection of course. I ended up a little drippy—but cool and refreshed.

At night the staff tossed some vittles over the fence along the river bank. Not only did two crocs haul out to feed, but so did a turtle! They were a congenial trio as they dined. The crowd that gathered to watch was small enough so that views were unobstructed.

Shaba Sarova offered a beautiful setting during the day and it had an enchanting feel when it was all lit up at night. It has a stunning location along the Uaso Nyiro River.

At dinner someone (not me) was having a birthday and the Jambo Bwana song and dance line was followed by cake for everyone. I was going to skip dessert that night but when a piece of cake was plunked down in front of me, I decided to partake. While an establishment should not be judged solely by the birthday cake it serves, Sarova would come out with flying colors if that were the criteria. This was not just a square of cake for celebration sake. It was a delicious chocolate trifle that could rival that of any fine pastry chef!

The Sarova rooms included a couple of suites near the lobby, then rooms 7-10 were labeled non-smoking (I was in 8), located not far from the croc feeding site. One side of the property had rooms through #46 and the other side had #47-92, with 46 and 92 being farthest away from the lobby and dining area. The configuration of the rooms offered upper balconies and garden level rooms. An upper level would be more desirable than a lower if you can manage stairs well, but all rooms had unobstructed river views, and my lower garden level 8 was great.

When I went in search of the sunrise the next morning, I found that in September the best location to view and photograph it was around Room 74. It’s not like a crowd gathered there though, disrupting the guests of rooms in the 70s; I was the only one out there.

There was a lot of animal activity in the morning at Sarova, including close views of Marabou Storks who picked morsels from the banks where the croc feeding had taken place the night before. Our departure at 7:30, instead of the earlier and customary 6:30 allowed time to observe the goings on.

I thought Shaba Sarova had a real wow factor to it. The general consensus on luxury (and usually pricing) goes: Serena, followed by Sopa, then Sarova. It would be too bad if anyone shunned Shaba Sarova, fearing the facility would fall short in comparison.

The album contains 15 Shaba photos. The wildlife seen on Shaba Sarova grounds is labeled.

But you’ll be doing your wildlife viewing in neighboring Samburu and Shaba with loads more wildlife, such as that shown in the next album of 112 photos. That’s a lot for one location, but I was there 3 nights, and 10 photos are devoted to the unique gerenuk in various poses (#18-#28), 25 shots are of elephants. Photo #9 gives a perspective of how tiny the dik dik antelope is.

Do be aware of the gerenuk prior to your departure. On my first trip I did not realize how unique the browsing technique of this antelope was and what a treat it is to see these creatures in abundance in Samburu/Buffalo Springs because they are non-existent or very uncommon elsewhere.

Though I never stayed there, I stopped at Mara Sarova and it was lovely and even had a fishing pond. You could spend half an hour strolling the grounds safely.

ShayTay Mar 25th, 2011 07:13 AM

I'd agree that lodges would be better than THOSE tents, although my preference is usually a tented camp (permanent or semi-permanent.) Atravelynn is a wealth of informaton, as usual. As for Thanksgiving, yeah, the family can wait!

mofarmerchick Mar 25th, 2011 07:42 AM

WOW - I am so glad I found this forum - all the wonderful knowledgeable people on here will truly make this a vacation of a lifetime! I tend to be one of those people who researchs everything to death before I finally make a decision and all the advice I have gotten on here has made decision making SO much easier!

Lynn - your trip report was invaluable and your pictures are incredible - thanks so much for sharing.

As for critters, the only reason this trip is even possible this year is that I currently don't have any cattle - just 2 horses, 5 dogs and 4 cats so this is the year to take my vacation before I get more cows. Finding a dog/cat sitter is challenging enough, trying to find a cow sitter is next to impossible :-)

My family is really pretty laid back and I don't think they will mind celebrating on Saturday this year so I'm not too worried about that. I just feel guilty asking everyone to rearrange their schedules to accommodate me.

mofarmerchick Mar 25th, 2011 09:57 AM

Lynn - one more question about your pictures - how powerful is the zoom on your lens? Right now my most powerful is a 28-200 - should I invest in a more powerful one? The reason I ask is that another post on here said in Kenya you can't get off the roads in the parks and so sometimes the animals are far far away.

ShayTay Mar 25th, 2011 12:29 PM

If you're using a camera with interchangeable lenses, you could use a teleconverter (1.4 or 2.0) to lengthen your zoom. I've used a Canon SX10 (now up to SX30, I believe) superzoom "point and shoot" camera on my last two safaris. The 20x optical zoom is the equivalent of a 560mm zoom lens. After hauling multiple cameras and lenses on a lot of safaris, I'm enjoying the freedom of this camera. It also takes videos, which I consider a "must" on safari. On safari, you'll have action and sounds that you'll want to remember when you get home.

mofarmerchick Mar 25th, 2011 12:57 PM

Thanks ShayTay - I have a Canon Rebel XT that I guess I better get the manual out and find out exactly what it can and can't do. I think it can take videos but I never thought about checking until you mentioned it - what an awesome idea!

Never thought of a teleconverter - I think one maybe came with my camera package but I've never used it.

Better do my homework!

sandi Mar 25th, 2011 02:31 PM

Fuji just came out with a 30X Optical point-n-shoot at a very reasonable price... about $300 and it appears to do everything, including video. Inquire at your local photo shop or any other the major companies you can find online.

I've used earlier Fuji models with 10X (in 2005) and 18X (as 2008) and have had excellent results. I may be tempted to upgrade, but then... do I really need another camera? :) Nope!

ShayTay Mar 25th, 2011 03:43 PM

Teleconverters are relatively inexpensive. I don't think the Rebel XT does video (a have a couple). You can pick up a video camera on Amazon with image stabilization and at least a 10x zoom for $100 - $150. If you look for used video cameras, you might find a better, albeit older, model in good shape.

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