New here, need help choosing operator

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Aug 11th, 2005, 04:50 AM
  #1
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New here, need help choosing operator

Hi!
I've been lurking for a bit here.. I've only been researching our Tanzania trip for about a month, but I've really got to motor now, because we are planning to go this coming winter.
I've read the Lonely Planet guide to Tanzania, but definitely want to read others.
I've done a bit of research online, read various reviews, and am still so confused!
I am desperate for help choosing a tour operator.
I looked into Big Five, Good Earth, ATR, and Thomson. I ruled out Big Five. I would love to go with Thomson, but they are at least 4K, if not more, than the others, and it's way over our budget.
So that leaves me with ATR and Good Earth. I haven't heard many reviews about ATR, but I've heard so many great things about Good Earth. The thing is, I've gotten unbelievable response from ATR, and very little customer service from Good Earth. So you see my confusion!

My husband and I want to do the following:
Hike Kilimanjaro (choosing a route alone is stressing me out haha!)
Serengeti
Ngorongoro Crater
Possibly Arusha NP
Possibly Zanzibar extension (maybe 2-3 nights)

I would love to hear more comments about ATR vs Good Earth, or any other suggestions for that matter. I figure I've got to nail down dates and put a deposit down in the next week or 2, as I imagine Dec-Feb is quickly filling up..

Any input is greatly appreciated.

Thanks for all of you posting trip reviews, I've been captivated by all of them! And I am even more anxious than before to head on my way!
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Aug 11th, 2005, 05:14 AM
  #2
sandi
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Unless you travel before December 15, the balance of December, January and February in Tanzania is very busy with higher prices. Besides the Christmas/New Years - January and February are the "calving" season in the Southeast and Central Serengeti. At this point you may even find many lodges/camps fully booked. Besides, as of January 1, '06 park entrance fees are going up, as is the fee for the Ngorongoro Crater tour which is limited to 6-hrs.

The Kili portion of your trip, depending on route and number of days, can easily run $1500-$2000, so that's almost half of the $4K you mentioned was too high. Your option then may be mobile camping in the mid-range with domed tents.

Both ATR & Good Earth have gotten good reviews here on Fodor's. What I'd do at this late date is email both of these companies - outline the number of days you have, your budget, the places you'd like to visit, the number of days at each and whether you want lodges or camps. Once they come back with an itinerary and price - you'll know whether what you would like to do is doable and within your budget.

Do you already have your flights to Tanzania? If not, that's also something you're going to have to get moving on.

Let us know what response you get; if further questions once you get numbers or type of lodging, come back here.
 
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Aug 11th, 2005, 06:00 AM
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Hi BostonGal
I know what you are going through. We decided to use ATR for our trip in January 2006 based on the service and their advice. I did get excellent feedback from references they provided - not as good as getting unsolicted feedback from this forum but I was impressed by the fact that two of them were from people who had been to Africa before and both said ATR was the best operator they had had.
You will have to get going very quickly tho for those dates.
Good Luck
Sarvo
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Aug 11th, 2005, 06:12 AM
  #4
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Thanks to both of you. Sandy, I meant that Thomson was 4K MORE than the others. We realize this is a trip of a lifetime, and we don't want to skimp, or go with budget operators, but we can't afford to do 4K more than what we had originally thought.

I already have a quote and itin from ATR, but I can barely get an email out of Good Earth. I will try once more, but if I still don't get any luck this time, my confidence in them will be diminished, and I'll choose ATR.

Thanks for the quick responses!
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Aug 11th, 2005, 06:29 AM
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BostonGal,

I just booked my Tanzania safari last month. I contacted about six different operators but only two of them were seriously considered.

The two companies that it came down to were Africa Travel Resource and a little company out of New York called Africa Serendipity.

You already have the address for ATR but here is the address for AS.

http://www.africaserendipity.com/

I had very good telephone conversations with both companies and the pricing was actually a little bit better from AS. Furthermore I received a beautiful package in the mail from AS with beautiful brochures from the properties that were to be included in my itinerary.

In the end, however, in what was a very difficult decision, I went with ATR. Part of the reason for this is because I am a wanna-be marathon runner, despite being a couch potato, and the agent from ATR was also a marathon runner and he pointed out the Kiliminjaro Marathon to me and setup my itinerary perfectly around it.

But, AS was able to offer the Nomad camps that ATR did, but was also able to offer Kusini which ATR did not wish to quote. However, I did not allow Kusini to influence my decision since I believe the Nomad camps will be excellent.

So, anyway, for a nice option to ATR, I would suggest you contact Africa Serendipity to see what they are able to come up with for you. You will find that AS is very prompt with their responses and very easy to work with. With you, I suppose, from Boston and AS in New York, you may just choose to pick up the phone and call them.

Good luck.
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Aug 11th, 2005, 06:33 AM
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BostonGal

I am not sure if the extra 4K from Thompsons includes the Kili portion?

If so, then there may be good explanation!

The budget guys you're talking to is just that - budget. Should something go wrong on the mountain (and recent deaths proof that the mountain is very dangerous)- well, then you may be in trouble.

You just cannot compare a Thompsons Kili climb with ATR or Good Earth.

Please visit www.go-kilimanjaro.com and download the outfitter checklist. Then you'll understand what I mean!
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Aug 11th, 2005, 07:06 AM
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Roccco - thanks so much for the info! I will definitely check out that other company asap.

climbhighsleeplow - yes, the quote from Thomson was Serengeti and Kili, but not Zanzibar. It was at least 4K more than the others.. I'll go to that site in a bit to see what you are referring to.

Thanks so much, I really appreciate the responses.
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Aug 11th, 2005, 07:16 AM
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I forgot to mention the famous saying:

"To be safe, splurge on the mountain then save money on safari!"
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Aug 13th, 2005, 09:35 PM
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rocco, when are you finding the time to visit tanzania between zambia this fall and botswana next year????
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Aug 14th, 2005, 01:02 AM
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Lin,

I don't really understand how Tanzania happened, as I devote 95% of my attention to Southern Africa.

I don't know...last month I just started doing some research on Tanzania and Zanzibar. A major contributing factor was also that I was looking for somewhere strong in wildlife to visit for March or April.
I just wasn't ready to visit Botswana yet and other than South Luangwa for Wild Dog Season, there was nowhere else I wanted to go in Southern Africa.

So, after studying Tanzania, the Great Migration and Zanzibar, it just all fell into place. I started talking to a couple really good tour operators (www.africatravelresource.com and www.africaserendipity.com) and they sold me (they were both excellent but I went with ATR and promptly paid a 25% deposit.

It will really be my biggest and best holiday yet. One thing that really attracted me to East Africa was the fact that I will, for the first time, enjoy a private guide and vehicle. Also, the plentitude of wildlife also sold me, as well as the chance to finish up with Zanzibar.

I am hopeful that other than Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyar that I will have selected camps that are in exclusive enough areas to avoid the reputed crowds of East Africa.

My exact itinerary is as follows:

Moivaro Coffee Lodge, Arusha (3) I have 3 nights here so that I may run the Kiliminjaro Marathon or Half Marathon. At the rate I am going (or not going) it will be the half marathon, but whatever.

Manyara Tree Camp, Lake Manyara (2) I believe this park has the highest concentration of elephants in all of Africa. The lodge appears to be fantastic and if I do end up doing the full marathon, the luxury of the lodge will be a nice way to recuperate.

Ngorongoro Crater Lodge (2) Although I believe it is overpriced, I did not want to settle for the Serena or Sopa.

Olduvai Camp, Southern Serengeti (1) This place is so that I may do a half day walk with a Masai guide.

Nomad Masek Camp, Southern Serengeti (2) Nomad is the operator who also owns Sands River in Selous and Greystoke Camp in Mahale. This is a very exclusive camp with a maximum of eight guests at any given time. This and the next camp should put me right in the thick of the Great Migration.

Nomad Piaya Camp, South Central Serengeti (2)

Mbuzi Mawe, Central Serengeti (2) This is the Serena's newest luxury camp, supposedly at the same level of luxury as Kirawira, their other luxury offering in another part of the Serengeti. The Migration will probably not be this far north, but there are supposed to be plenty of resident lion prides in this area, as well as plenty of lion snacks, whatever mammals those happen to be.

Emerson & Green Hotel, Zanzibar (2) This is in Stone Town and will provide a nice cultural experience.

Palms Zanzibar, Zanzibar (3) This is on the other side of the island in a secluded oceanfront location. This place will hopefully prove to be an appropriate grande finale as it is pure luxury. The air conditioned rooms are about 1,400 sq. ft. and each feature their own private plunge pool. The food looks amazing as well as the interior design. It is an all-inclusive resort, but only has six rooms, I believe, so Club Med it is not!

Then, later in 2006, I am certain that I will visit Botswana. I am now thinking of waiting until early November for low season pricing, as well as an opportunity to combine high season Australia and as an excuse to escape Thanksgiving (when else is a four day weekend guaranteed and when combined with Veterans Day, November allows three weekdays that would otherwise be working days). I really, really like the itinerary that I posted above in this thread.

I have even found a way to improve on the schedule. By doing the Great Barrier Reef at the start of the trip, I will be able to cut one night from the trip (the 1 night I had in Sydney prior to the Great Barrier Reef), making it an 18 night itinerary on two different continents, all within 12 working days.

Great Barrier Reef (4)
Joburg (1)
Botswana (9)
Sydney (4)

This itinerary, besides getting me to Botswana for the first time, it will also get me to my 6th continent (with only Antarctica remaining).

I just want to see as much as I can as soon as I can. While my wife and I are not planning on having children (and if we did have children down the line we would likely adopt a young child from Africa, rather than an infant), I still prefer to live as if I may be hit by a bus or a train tomorrow.

Yes, these trips are very expensive, and I am not wealthy, but just having the knowledge of these wondruous places is already winning half the battle. In business I come across far too many people that are, in fact, wealthy, but other than their timeshares in Maui or in Palm Springs and an occasional trip to Europe, that is all they will ever experience. Really sad.

Anyway, have itineraries, will travel!



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Aug 14th, 2005, 11:00 AM
  #11
 
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Good for you Roccco! I agree wholeheartedly that traveling is the best education for us all and don't let children stop you. We took our 14yr old son to Cape Town, Botswana and Zambia and it was a wondrous, life changing experience for all of us, even though my husband and myself have been before(though too many years before). We've also taken him on many other trips and they have been a great education for him. A destination like Africa really opens your eyes to our small place in the world and seeing cultures that are vastly different from ours is such an opporutunity to understand our world better.
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Aug 16th, 2005, 05:43 AM
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dear bostongal,
my husband and i just returned from kilimanjaro/safari and had a fantastic experience because of our tour operator--F&S KILIWARRIORS; you will be the envy of all other campers--these operators value their porters and create a 'family/cultural' atmosphere that surpasses all others; they use top of line equipment(which is a must with sub-zero temps); the food is outstanding and the setup will leave you in awe; everything was so clean and well prepared; they are the only outfitter to carry aed devices/ as well as chambers for altitude; this is one trip where you don't want to skimp on saftety as well as your own comfort. my husband and i are both marathoners and this is a tough climb!! we did the western breach--9 days for acclimatization and it was still very difficult; a vacation of a lifetime with memories to treasure of success at summit--ALL DUE TO F&S KILILWARRIORS. you really should check them out--we even had portable toilets(which you will appreciate more than you know) and showers!!!!
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Aug 16th, 2005, 05:50 AM
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look forward to a full trip report Mindy - welcome to the forum
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Aug 16th, 2005, 06:27 AM
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Mindy,

Welcome to the board.

How did you and your husband do in the marathon?

I am planning on doing the Kiliminjaro Marathon next February 26th to kick off my Lake Manyara / Ngorongoro Crater / Serengeti marathon. As a 5 hour marthon runner, however, I am planning on toughing it out for over 6 hours on this course. How much extra time did it take you and your husband for this marathon compared to others?
Also, how much of the marathon was on pavement and how much was on trails?

Last thing, did you travel with Kathy Loper events or with another tour operator?

Thanks.
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Aug 18th, 2005, 05:47 AM
  #15
 
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hi rocco,
we did not run the kili-marathon; we run marathons in the USA and are in shape for climbing; that is what i meant; we run 3:30-3:45 time for marathons and the climb was still difficult although doable. you will have an advantage because of your level of fitness. good luck, i would love to that one someday!!!
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Aug 19th, 2005, 12:38 AM
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Hello Boston Gal.

I don't want to stress you out, but time is a critical factor here. 2006 is booked for the first quarter already. I had a heck of a time booking for February 2006; I started in June of this year. You could try contacting A-Way-to Africa Safaris (www.awaytoafricasafaris.com). They operate out of your neck of the woods and have had some luck with clients being "wait listed". After shopping around, I found their rates were very good too, (one of the best), extremely prompted with e-mail returns, they are very helpful and knowledgeable as well. Make sure you have accommodations before booking your airline tickets. Good luck with your endeavors, keep us posted.

Michael

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Aug 19th, 2005, 04:29 AM
  #17
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Hi everyone - I've been at off-site work events this week so haven't been able to check in much. Thanks for all your responses.
We booked this week with ATR for January. We are ecstatic!!!!!
I can't wait to share the planning and experience with you all, you've been so helpful.
Thanks again!
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Aug 22nd, 2005, 07:13 AM
  #18
 
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BostonGal,
My husband and I used Good Earth tours--we just returned three days ago!--and it was a bit disappointing. The guide and cook we had were not competent, and the guide in particular was untrustworthy. he tried to shorten our scheduled multi-day walk (not Kili), for example, to better convenience him, and told us things that other guides confirmed to be untrue. It was a budget trip, and in the end we wish we had spent a little more for a better quality company.

Hope this helps!
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Aug 22nd, 2005, 07:35 AM
  #19
 
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hi bostongal

we were in EXACTLY the same spot - trying to decide between ATR and GE. In the end we went with ATR as they were more communicative and honest. We found it very hard to get any info or opinions from GE. We're off on our trip in 6 weeks (its our honeymoon so we're getting married in 5 weeks - eeek!!! so will fill you in on ATR when I get back
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Aug 22nd, 2005, 08:38 AM
  #20
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mmcv - I am so sorry to hear it was not up to your expectations.

amfs - wow, congrats!! Definitely post a trip review when you get back!
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