Best African tour groups??

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Jun 12th, 2011, 10:28 AM
  #1
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Best African tour groups??

I've been lurking for a while - what great input from everyone! Hoping you all can help. I am planning an African trip in Spring. Don't know exactly where, but hoping for lots of game watching. I'm looking for guidance as to the best tour group outfits you all have used, and feel free to say what specific tours you were on. We're not looking for luxury accomodations, but don't want a sleeping bag on the ground with a hole in the dirt, either. Thanks for your help!
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Jun 12th, 2011, 11:12 AM
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TC
 
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Farm girl, You might want to start by reading through the excellent Africa Trip Report Index put together by LyndaS. There are also trip index for South Africa, etc. Just put "Africa index" in the search box to find them all. As for "lots of game watching", we loved Tanzania. You will find my second trip report and reasoning by clicking my screen name above. Good Luck!

http://www.fodors.com/community/afri...port-index.cfm
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Jun 12th, 2011, 11:48 AM
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Do you have an idea of how much you'd like to spend? About how much time were you considering? How many people is "we"?

Custom trips for 2 people are common in Africa and very economical for 4.

To help you decide where, here are some questions.

Are you trying to see the wildebeest and zebra migration? Do you want to see the mountain gorillas? Do you want to combine safari with a city such as Cape Town? Are there certain animals that you really wish to see? Are you planning on viewing mostly from a vehicle or are does something more adventurous such as walking safaris and canoeing appeal to you?
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Jun 12th, 2011, 01:38 PM
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Great info - thanks! "We" is two people. Probably a 13 day tour. Probably for the big 5. I'm not very interested in seeing the city, though we haven't had much of a chance to discuss it all yet - early planning stages. For the most part - by vehicle for this trip.
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Jun 12th, 2011, 03:18 PM
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When I see Big 5, the first place I think of is South Africa. The Sabi Sands, which is the area made up of private concessions around Kruger, is the easiest place in the world to see the Big 5, all at one location.

You could split your time between a couple of Sabi Sands lodges and add one in neighboring Timbavati. Or perhaps go to Sabi Sands and Phinda, which is in another part of South Africa and also has the Big 5, but the terrain is very different from Sabi Sands. In fact Phinda boasts 7 different habitats and they are easy for the lay person to distinguish. It is not as easy to see leopard in Phinda as in Sabi Sands, but Phinda is a cheetah sanctuary so that species is far more likely in Phinda than Sabi Sands.

I did an 11-day itinerary, spending 4 nts at Mala Mala (a Sabi Sands Lodge) and a week at Phinda. There are all sorts of other activities you can do at Phinda besides view animals from a vehicle. I did a kayak trip, rhino tracking, and some cultural visits. The cultural activities did not interfere with the game drives. There are a lot more things, or you can just do game viewing from a vehicle, as you indicated was your preference.

A fantastic trip--I went in June, so a little later in the season than North America's Spring, but I'd go in April or May too.

You would fly from Johannesburg to Sabi Sands and back, overnighting in Johannesburg at a nice, safe hotel very near the airport. Same thing for Phinda, fly out of Joburg.

Eyes on Africa in Chicago arranged that trip. One of the owners is South African. You could also easily book direct with Phinda and Mala Mala, but there was no price advantage when I investigated. Most African specialists could book such a trip. There are many Sabi Sands lodge options. Phinda is a reserve owned by AndBeyond and there are 4 places to stay. I loved award winning Forest Lodge in the unique sand forest, one of the 7 habitats.

I went alone but joined others in the vehicle, which is likely what you would do. Check on the current max in the vehicles, but it is usually about 6. I had 5 total guests at the most.

Less expensive than the Mala Mala-Phinda combo would be a private trip for 2 in East Africa. The hard animals to see out of the Big 5 in East Africa are leopard and rhino. Probably the best place in Africa to see rhino is Lewa Downs in Kenya. Rhino are also commonly seen at Lake Nakuru and Sweetwater, along with other private ranches in the Laikipia area of Kenya. In Tanzania the best shot at rhino is the Ngorongoro Crater.

Leopards are very unpredictable in East Africa (but are commonly seen in the Sabi Sands in SA and some other Southern Africa destinations). Samburu in Kenya is good place for them and they are sometimes around in Kenya's Maasai Mara. In Tanzania, Central Serengeti, especially along the river is a good spot. I've seen leopards in many other places too, but you can never count on it. Or, on the other hand, they'll pop up where you least expect them.


I've done East Africa trips with The Africa Adventure Company in Ft. Lauderdale. You can check their website for sample itineraries and prices. Also have used Adventure Travel Desk in Massachusetts. In Nairobi I've gone with Eastern and Southern Safaris. E&S's website also has sample trips and prices. But you can create any itinerary you want, which is what I've always done. For 2 people, a private trip is economical and very typical in East Africa. That's not the case in other parts of the world or even in Southern Africa, but private trips for 2 are standard in East Africa. Everything worked great with those companies I mentioned. There are hundreds of good companies to choose from.

In the spring (assuming you mean North America's March-early June), the wildebeest and zebra migration is in the Serengeti in Tanzania, not Kenya. That might sway where you go or where you'll do the bulk of your travels. No wilde migration in South Africa.

If you are actively engaged in farming you might get a kick out of talking to any of the many local subsistence farmers. If your farm includes cows, you'll be a huge hit with the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania!
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Jun 17th, 2011, 06:59 PM
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I believe safarikenya is advertising their services which is not permitted on Fodor's Forum. I would suggest you not use a firm that abuses the strict guidelines Fodor's has established. There are so many excellent other firms to choose from.
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Jun 18th, 2011, 05:53 AM
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Besides advertising their services, and depending on time of year, either the Masai Mara or Serengeti deserve minimum 3/days.

As safarikenya shows, you're spending more time in transit, mostly on nasty roads (bumpy, pot-holed, dusty) than game viewing.

Where one visits also depends on time of year as different areas can be better or less during a particular month.

Suggest you pick-up a guidebook and if not familiar or sure which country, try "Fodor's Complete Safari Planning Guide" which covers the "safari" countries.
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Jun 19th, 2011, 04:50 PM
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I have picked up the latest Fodor's guide, and while it's a fantastic reference book and does show some tour agencies, I was hoping for specific suggestions from those here on those they have actually used, and specific tours.
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Jun 19th, 2011, 06:43 PM
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"specific tours"
Although I've been on safari seven times since 2005 to five different countries, I've never used a "specific tour". For each safari, even the first one, I've chosen safari countries and safari camps and had a travel agent make the camp reservations and transfers between camps. I always do my own air (from/to USA). This way is I feel rather typical of posters here.

The hard part, as you realize, is getting started. Atravelynn above gives you lot of good suggestions. Take some of those that sound good to a travel agent such as two that post here and are well respected. Sandi - http://www.africaserendipity.com/ and/or Craig - http://travelbeyond.com/ . Or just contact either of those and tell them basically what you want. I'm sure they will ask you many questions and do their best to work up something for you. Have I ever used them?? No, like I say I pick my own safari camps and have a local TA, whom I know well, who specializes in Africa, set it all up for me.

You probably are already familiar with the offerings of Micato and A&K. They are also at least a place to start to get safari tour ideas. Have fun planning, and there is no other travel experience I've had in my 50 years of world travel that matches an African safari!!!

regards - tom
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Jun 19th, 2011, 08:25 PM
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Just occurred to me, maybe you do want a specific tour itinerary!! I've down this one below and would repeat it tomorrow if I could.

Day 1 fly into Johannesburg, JNB, stay overnight.
Day 2 get a rental/hire car from Avis at JNB and drive to Kruger National Park, 6 hours. http://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/
Day 3-6 Kruger on your own.
Day 7 drive to camp MalaMala in Sabi Sand reserve (2 hours). Turn in (leave it with an Avis agent) rental car at MalaMala.
Day 8-12 MalaMala http://www.malamala.com/
Day 13 MalaMala, fly to JNB, overnight JNB
Day 14 fly JNB to Nairobi Kenya, fly to Little Governors camp, Maasai Mara http://www.governorscamp.com/propert...overnors-camp/
Day 15-19 Little Governors camp
Day 20 fly to Nairobi, fly home

If you're from USA, you want minimum 14 days in Africa to justify the flights over and time changes. Three weeks, 21 days is better!!

Take this to one of the agents above and they will work the details for you to make it happen.

regards - tom
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Jun 19th, 2011, 08:41 PM
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All internal transport and lodging arranged by Eyes on Africa in Chicago. The specific tour* in June was:

1 Arrive Joburg in am and visit Rhino and Lion Park
2 Fly to Mala Mala for pm game drive
3-5 Mala Mala
6 Fly back to Joburg for o/nt
7 Fly to Phinda for pm game drive
8-13 Phinda
Mornings 1-3 were rhino tracking. One afternoon was canoeing. Cultural activities occured midday and in the evening.
14 Fly back to Joburg and connect to international flight home.

The above would be great and I saw Big 5 (a stated interest of yours) in one or two drives. You might reduce Phinda by 3 nts and add them to another Sabi Sands Lodge of which there are many or go to neighboring Timbavati.

My first trip to Africa was with The Africa Adventure Company in Ft. Lauderdale. They arranged lodging and all transport, which was driving, except for one internal flight and of course the international flights. The specific tour* to Tanzania and Kenya in Aug was:

Nairobi, Kenya Boulevard Hotel 2
Tarangire Safari Lodge, TZ 2
Lake Manyara Wildlife Lodge, TZ 1
Seronera Wildlife Lodge, Serengeti, TZ 2
Lobo Lodge, Serengeti, TZ 2
Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge, TZ 2
Boulevard Hotel, Kenya 1
Samburu Serena Lodge, Kenya 2
The Ark in Aberdare, Kenya 1
Lake Nakuru Lodge, Kenya 1
Mara Serena, in Maasai Mara, Kenya 3
Little Governor’s in Maasai Mara, Kenya 3
Fly back to NBO to depart on international flight

Since I went in Aug and you are going in Spring, I'd reduce the Mara days by 2 or 3 and spend 3 or 4 in one lodging, not split. I'd remove Lobo Lodge in the Serengeti.

If going in March, I'd add 3 days in the Ndutu (southern) section of the Serengeti.

If going in late May to June, I'd add 2-3 days in Grumeti (western) section of Serengeti or just increase the # of days in Seronera Lodge or a similar nearby lodge.

If going in April, check out the Tanzania trip report at the end, which includes a specific itinerary.

This Kenya and Tanzania trip started my love affair with Africa. I saw the Big 5 (a stated interest of yours) on this trip.

*The nice thing about these specific tours is that they are not set in stone. You design them the way you want, with input from your agent. The first one I flew place to place and joined camp activities. The second one I had a private vehicle, which is common and typical for a couple.

Note the first itinerary to SA has very little moving around and the second one covers way more ground with a lot more moving.

http://www.fodors.com/community/afri...t-tanzania.cfm

Should you be interested in the detailed reports of my two example trips, I can post links. I loved both trips.
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Jun 19th, 2011, 08:46 PM
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Look at this wpfarmgirl! You've got several tours listed and as a bonus, a good hostel in Israel!

If the post between Tom's and mine gets deleted for advertising, my first sentence will make me appear unstable.

What's interesting is that Tom's intinerary includes elements of the two I posted. He drove to Mala Mala and I flew.
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Jun 20th, 2011, 03:26 PM
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cary999
Hi it has been several years since I have posted on this site as we have done different trips since our African Safari. We are now looking to go back in 2012 and have several friends that are interested in going with us. for our first trip we used Nicky at Eyes on Africa and were absolutely delighted. I am interested in your iteniary you just posted and wondered when you did this and what it cost. On the self drive part where do you stay. We stayed on our first trip at Mala Mala, Kwesanti, Duma Tau, Chitabe, and with only 2 nights at each it was not enough. How do you do the self drive portion?
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Jun 20th, 2011, 05:29 PM
  #14
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Israel..Africa. Close! Atravelynn, saw the post before it got deleted, so you are still stable in my book! Thanks, everyone! Those suggestions really help! If I could just go NOW instead of waiting for Spring! Wonder if it's too early to start packing for April...
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Jun 20th, 2011, 11:12 PM
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spiegelcjs - the itinerary I put up we did in 2006. But not exactly like that, in 2006 we also included two safari camps in Zambia, Robin Pope camps Nsefu and Tena Tena. Zambia was between MalaMala and Kenya.

Anyway, to look at some cost detail doing Kruger then MalaMala then Kenya, below. Does not consider international air to/from Africa. For Sep 2011.

Kruger
Kruger - rent Avis car at JNB, about $70 per day. Gas another $20 per day. Hut in Kruger $110 for 2 persons. Park fees $20 day per person. Meals at camp restaurants $20 day per person. That totals to $280 per day for two persons, or, make $150 per day per person. Leaving Kruger you pick up an Avis agent at Skukuza and drive to MalaMala. The Avis agent takes the car back. Cost for this drop off will be about $50 including tip to agent.

MalaMala
So now you're at MalaMala. Cost is easy, per their web site, $625 per day per person. Add in another $20 or more per day for tips and drinks.

After MalaMala- Air from MalaMala to JNB on Fed Air will cost about $400 per person.

Kenya
You may have to overnight at JNB? Air cost from JNB to Nairobi (NBO) on Kenya Airways is $700 per person. You will likely have to overnight Nairobi. Nairobi Norfolk Hotel, $400 night for 2 persons.

Little Governors camp Kenya. Cost of shuttle flight from NBO, Kenya Airways, should be around $300 per person. Little Governors camp rate per web site is $500 per night person. Not clear to me if this includes Masai Mara park fees but think it does? Add in another $20 a day for tips.

Fly back Lil Governors camp to Nairobi, $300 person.

That should cover 95% of it I hope. Add in air to/from Africa. Add up number of days you wish each camp and air transfers. Add up dollars and weep. Happy to answer any questions. My Fodors trip report for that 2006 safari is at -
http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=34881694
And I have about 70 photos from that safari up at -
http://tomgraham.smugmug.com/SAFARI-2006

Since that safari in 2006 I have spent most of my safari time in South Africa. But do indeed want to get back to Kenya. This last Feb 2011 I safaried in Tanzania for three weeks. My photos from it on same web site at -
http://tomgraham.smugmug.com/SAFARI2011TANZANIA
Also Fodors trip report at-
http://www.fodors.com/community/afri...-tanzania-.cfm

regards - tom
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Jun 21st, 2011, 01:33 AM
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Porini.com ecocamps

Friendlyplanet.com

5 star hotel game drives air from $1799

Through travelzoo.com great deals thre

Tucantravel.com budget groups will not be much cheaper

After u pay your own air.

Happy Hnting Kenya better for big 5 for me.
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Feb 16th, 2013, 11:52 AM
  #17
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Just wanted to update this. We went with Gate One to South Africa and Swaziland. The first stamps in my passport. Very good trip - all but one were fabulous hotels. Still cannot believe how close those animals were. We are planning on booking a Gate One Greece trip for April. Highly recommend Gate One if, like me, you are brand new to international travel and are not brave enough to book your trip wihtout someone who knows what they're doing!
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