Best Safari tour operator

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Jun 5th, 2005, 12:08 PM
  #1
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Best Safari tour operator

Looking for a good safari tour operator for Kenya and possible Tanzania. Would like to stay in nice lodges, a small group is ok. Can anyone recommend a reliable tour operator who will respond to my inquiries and handle all the plans?
Thanks,
Annie
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Jun 5th, 2005, 02:53 PM
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Here are some, but certainly not all, that have been mentioned in the forum.

You could search for the specific comments.

The ones marked small group travel specialists are not solely Africa agents. Most of the Africa specialists can do either custom trips or small group trips. I believe Roys told me they just do custom trips.

If two or more of you are traveling you can do a custom trip quite reasonably.

If you prefer the comraderie of a group, I think 8-10, maybe 12 is the maximum I would want for group travel in Africa.

LIST:
Africa Adventure
Africa Dream Safaris
Eastern & Southern Safaris
Fish Eagle
Gametrackers
Go2Africa
Good Earth
Interntational Expeditions—small group travel specialists
Natural Habitat—small group travel specialists
Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT)-small group travel specialists
Roys
Thomsons
Wild Trek Safaris
Wilderness Travel (in California)—small group travel specialists

If "handling all the plans" includes having an in-house agent for your international air, then check with the agents first. I know Natural Habitat, International Expeditions, OAT, Thomsons, and Africa Adventure do air and other agents probably do as well--but they don't all.

You mentioned "nice lodges." Maybe you meant both tented camps and lodges by the general term "lodges." If not, I would encourage you--and so would many others who have been to Africa--to include some tented camps.

Please email for additional info. if you wish.

Happy planning and eventual travels.
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Jun 5th, 2005, 03:49 PM
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Did you know that you can click on your name and all of your threads will appear in the left column (in case you didn't know this and couldn't find your previous thread)? I'll top it for you too.

I posted some recommendations there last week. Any of the ones listed and also Jan's recommendation will respond to your inquiries promptly and can handle all of your ground services. I think you mentioned previously that you were doing the air yourself.

Are you traveling by yourself or are there at least two of you? Unless you're traveling solo, you'll find that the cost of a private, custom safari isn't much more (if any more) than a group safari. Also agree with atravelynn that it's nice to include some tented camps in your itinerary. The experiece/atmosphere is quite different than a lodge.
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Jun 6th, 2005, 04:39 PM
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Sorry, I didn't realize I could find my thread so easily.
Thanks for all the info. I am looking into eastern/southern safaris and also wildtrek, which has offices in the US.
I just want to be sure I have a reliable operator who will be on top of safety and everything else and who won't cancel on me.
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Jun 6th, 2005, 09:35 PM
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Both of those are very reputable and reliable tour operators and I don't think you have to worry about them cancelling on you. I've only heard of that happening on group departure bookings where 1 or 2 passengers might be bumped due to over or underbooking. I would say that for either of those 2 operators to cancel would only be done under very extreme circumstances.
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Jun 7th, 2005, 05:28 AM
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Thanks Patty. I was wondering about Sweetwaters and the proximity to the watering hole. Is there a possibility the animals could come up to the camp.(I'm a little worried about the safety issue).
Also, would you say it would be noisy, as opposed to staying in a lodge?
Do you think I need to include Tanzania, or would a 7-10 day Kenya be adequate?
Any info greatly appreciated.
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Jun 7th, 2005, 07:24 AM
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I'd look at 2afrika (www.2afrika.com) - they are not top of the line if that's what you are looking for, but I got a great deal on an air - inclusive trip to Kenya last year that I thought was great. Lots of reviews on 2afrika on these boards if you do a search.
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Jun 7th, 2005, 08:32 AM
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We are about to leave on a trip to Southern Africa that we planned with the help of Rikke Williams at go2africa.com and she was very helpful. You mentioned specifically Kenya and Tanzania. Some friends of our used Smartours a few years back for a Kenya/Tanzania trip and loved it. If we had been planning to do that area I would have used them. Their South Africa itinerary was not exactly what we were looking for and they didn't have any dates in June which was when we wanted to travel. Their costs were certainly very good. I think they may have slightly larger groups that OAT (maybe 20 or so) so that could be a downside.
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Jun 7th, 2005, 09:50 AM
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I would say that the tents are maybe 50 yards(?) from the watering hole at Sweetwaters. Some tents are closer than others. The tents on the end toward the main lodge/dining area are closer than the tents further along the row. There are also 2 rows of tents. The tents in the back row are on stilts. I prefer the front row tents for an unobstructed view (we had tent #4 which was one of the closer tents). There's an electric fence separating the waterhole and tents, so I don't think you need to be very concerned. Some camps are unfenced (we actually prefer these) and you're escorted to/from your tent in the evening but Sweetwaters is not one of them.

You do hear more sounds sleeping in a tent versus a room. I should mention that we like hearing the animal sounds and having them in close proximity, but as I recall it was not too noisy at Sweetwaters as the animals can't come really close (except for very small animals). I think we only saw some type of mongoose family creature near the tents at night. It was dark so hard to make out clearly.

Are you saying you only have 7-10 days total or can you stay longer if you decided to visit both Kenya and Tanzania? If you can only go for 7-10 days, I personally would stay in one country. When are you planning to go? I'll be in Kenya for 2 weeks and Tanzania for 5 days in late Nov/early Dec. My first trip to Kenya was 9 days. I wanted to stay longer this time, plus since we're flying all the way from LAX, I wanted to make it worth the travel time and miles spent. Hope this helps.
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Jun 7th, 2005, 04:24 PM
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I was planning on anything from 8-14 days. I thought maybe it would simplify things to stay in one country since its our first time, but if you think it would be important to include Tanzania, we would consider it.
I'm not sure of a date yet, was thinking of anywhere from July to Sept. '06. I need to plan way ahead because of the frequent flier mileage thing. Do you think these would be ok months for Kenya?
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Jun 7th, 2005, 06:24 PM
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skiamoeba

8 days-I'd do just one country, such as Kenya.
14 days-You could have a wonderful itinerary in just Kenya, but adding Tanzania would now make sense.

Kenya is great from July to Sept and a nice time to be in the Mara to see the migration. The herds start coming into the Mara around late June or July. By September the numbers in the Mara swell.

This is also a good time to visit Tanzania. The northern part of the Serengeti, and even the central Serengeti, would be better than the southern part for animals this time of year. July would likely have more animals in these regions than September.

If you did chose to add Tanzania, the Ngorongoro Crater, a world wonder, cannot be duplicated elsewhere. Although the animal species you see here are also found in Kenya.

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Jun 7th, 2005, 07:07 PM
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If you have 14 days, then you could consider including Tanzania though as atravelynn mentioned you could also have a very nice trip in Kenya alone. I was originally planning a 2 week trip all in Kenya but couldn't find any ff seats back from Nairobi, only Kilimanjaro or Dar es Salam so started looking at options in Tanzania. It's not too complicated to include both, just involves getting another visa and you'll also switch drivers and vehicles when you change countries. One tour operator can coordinate your trip in both countries. Many visitors combine Kenya and Tanzania so the tour operators frequently handle this combination and the transfer should be fairly seemless.

July to September is migration season in the Mara (and high season in general elsewhere) so it's a good idea to book your accomodations early. Which carrier's ff miles will you be redeeming?
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Jun 9th, 2005, 02:57 PM
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I will be using mileage on American, so I will mostly be on their affiliate, British Air. I will need to reserve 11 months ahead.
Do you think September would be a good time for animal viewing as well as weather?
I would rather it not be really hot.
Also, if one wanted to stay in nice lodges in Kenya are there certain ones you would recommend?
Thanks again
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Jun 9th, 2005, 04:03 PM
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Other AA partners that fly to Nairobi are SWISS (via Zurich) and SN Brussels (via Brussels) in case you have problems finding award seats on BA. BA is the only one of the 3 that flies daily though.

September should be a very good time of year before the start of the short rains. Weather will also be cooler at this time of year. The hottest months are Jan/Feb although I went at this time and didn't find it too bad. It just depends on what parks you visit and their elevation. Even in Jan, it was cool enough at night at Sweetwaters (approx 6000' elevation) that I was very glad they tucked a hot water bottle in my bed.

If you prefer to stay in lodges, my understanding is that the Serena chain is highly regarded in terms of service and facilities. I haven't stayed at any of them myself.
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Jun 14th, 2005, 05:15 AM
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I have finally received the catalog from Wildtrek. The cost seems a little higher, however it would only be the two of us rather than a small group. Do you think it would be more enjoyable to be in a small group?
Also, what is your opinion on flying to the different reserves in Kenya, rather than driving? I wasn't sure if this would be preferable or not.
Thanks for all the help with this.
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Jun 14th, 2005, 05:39 AM
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Hi:

In Oct '02 we used Sun Trek Safaris (www.suntreksafaris.com) - they offered great service at a good price.

We drove between the game parks and actually preferred that approach to flying, as you got to see the towns and meet more people.

And we also flew British Airways from Toronto to Nairobi, via London, in economy and found their service to be excellant (better than I found American to be when I traveled with them regularly in '99-'00).

BTW - my travelogue is at http://travel.masterpiece-cs.com

Hope this helps,

Z
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Jun 14th, 2005, 01:16 PM
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Annie,
Our preference is for a private safari over a small group as it allows us more flexibility. We can stay at a sighting as long as we want or move on when we feel like it without group consensus. We can also schedule our game drives when it suits us rather than having to adhere to a set schedule.

Any of the safari operators based in Kenya/Tanzania can provide you with a private, custom itinerary. Usually that's automatically the case unless you specify otherwise when you contact one of these operators. Some of the US/UK based operators will do private itineraries, others only offer small group set departures. If you're using ff miles for your ticket, it might be difficult for you to coordinate your arrival/departure dates with a group.

For our first safari in Kenya, we drove from park to park. It gave us a chance to see the scenery along the way and we had many nice conversations with our guide. For our next trip we were planning to do another all drive itinerary but are now thinking of adding a few flights where some of the drives are very long.

I should add here that if you do an all drive itinerary, you'll have the same vehicle and driver/guide throughout who handles both your transportation between parks and your game drives. If you fly from park to park, then you'll utilize the lodge or camps vehicles and guides for your game drives, usually on a shared basis with other guests unless you pay extra for a private vehicle. You can also do a combination fly/drive safari and the logistics vary depending on where you add your flights. For example, you can add a one way flight back at the end of your driving safari. In that case, you would still have the same driver/guide throughout and you would just fly back while he drives back. Flying adds to the cost but saves time. I actually don't have a particular preference. It depends on the parks I'm visiting, the distances involved, and what works best for my specific itinerary.

If you'd like to post a sample itinerary, some of us may be able to advise the approx. drive times in between. Hope this helps.
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Jun 14th, 2005, 07:11 PM
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Patty gave some great pros and cons of driving and flying. Having done both, I find either option is fine. I think flying has the edge over driving as far as transport safety goes. But I'd hop in a jeep/van of any responsible Africa agent without hesitation, and I don't have stats to back up my assertion.

As for private vs. group, I personally prefer private and opt for group when it is financially necessary. Even with a private safari you can still interact with other guests around the campfire, at meals (although you'll likely have your own table in Kenya and Tanzania) and before the evening meal during social time.

I have enjoyed the comraderie on small group trips and have made some lifelong friends that way. You could ask about who has already signed up to find out if you would be going with other couples or families or whatever. That could help make the decision of a group or not.

I'd check out a few other companies in addition to Wildtrek so you get exactly the trip you want.
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Jun 15th, 2005, 01:31 PM
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Thanks everyone. Right now I am considering Eastern/Southern Safaris, Wildtrek and African Serendipity, although I don't have any prices from Serendipity yet. Not exactly sure of itinerary yet, but one suggested by Serenedipity is as follows:
Day 1: leave USA
Day 2: arrive Nairobi-o/n Intercontinental Hotel
Day 3: Drive to Amboseli Park-o/n Serena Lodge
Day 4: Amboseli-o/n Serena
Day 5: Drive or Fly to Nairobi-lunch at Carnivore; continue north to Mt. Kenya-o/n Serena Mountain Lodge.
Day 6: Drive to Samburu- o/n Samburu Intrepids Camp (or Serena Lodge)
Day 7: Samburu
Day 8: Fly to Masai Mara -o/n Serena Lodge
Day 9: Masai Mara
Day 10: Masai Mara
Day 11: Fly to Nairobi
Not sure whether to fly or drive on day 4, but if we fly we can also visit Sheldrik Elephant Orphanage which sounds very appealing
Also, will probably opt for Intrepids Camp for days6/7.
One point you bring up about having different drivers if we fly a lot makes me think I should cut down the flying a bit on this itinerary. Also, I guess this would keep the tour private. If we fly and hook up with a different driver in the Reserves, how big are the groups usually? Maybe it would be better to skip the Orphanage and drive the first 7 days and then fly on days 8 and 11.
Also, if anyone knows anything about African Serendipity please let me know. They are based in NYC.
Thanks,
Annie


Davy
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Jun 15th, 2005, 03:19 PM
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The drive from Amboseli back to Nairobi took us about 4.5 hours. If flying back from Amboseli, I think you could do this (check with your tour operator b/c I'm not certain) - have another driver arranged to pick you up at Wilson airport, take you to visit the Sheldrick Orphanage between 11-12, have lunch and then meet up with your original driver/guide to continue on to Mt Kenya (about 2.5 hours). See if that would work. I don't like the idea of changing driver/guide mid-trip just as we're starting to get used to each other and he understands our likes/dislikes. I just confirmed with E&S that we're able to have the same guide as last time for our November trip and I'm so thrilled! Do others feel this way too or is it just me?

The only place that you would be using the lodge vehicle/guide is in the Mara, but you do have to fly here as it's too far to drive from Samburu. I'm not sure about the number of passengers in shared vehicles but I think it's usually no more than 6. It also depends on the occupancy levels and sometimes you may end up with your own vehicle, but anytime Jul-Sep is very busy in the Mara so I wouldn't count on the latter.

You'd mentioned Sweetwaters earlier and just so you know, this could also be a logical stop on your way north to Samburu. You could stay here on Day 5 if it's some place that interests you. You can go on a night game drive at Sweetwaters because it's a private reserve, which I don't think you can do at any of your other locations. At Mountain Lodge, you watch the game at the waterhole from the lodge, but you don't go on any game drives. I believe they do offer a guided walk around the area.

Sorry, I don't know anything about African Serendipity.
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