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Picking a travel outfitter/agency for month-long trip to East Africa

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May 6th, 2005, 09:45 AM
  #1
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Join Date: May 2005
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Picking a travel outfitter/agency for month-long trip to East Africa

What an amazing board! I'm so glad someone on Lonely Planet pointed me in this direction.

I'm starting to plan a trip-for-a-lifetime for my husband, whose employer offers paid sabbaticals every seven years (yeah I wish I had one too). He's planning on going for one month around Spring or Summer of 06. I confess to being completely overwhelmed by the scope and number of agencies and outfitters out there (both US and Africa-based) and was hoping for some suggestions on which way to turn.

My husband is relatively fit and likes active vacations in remote areas. I'm struggling to figure out the best provider because budget is not a concern - this is a pretty rare opportunity, so we'll spend more if we have to - but we do not need or want the superposh lodges featured in Vogue. He likes tents (so long as its relatively clean) and does not need plush lodgings at all. I think the ideal situation would be a private guide (or one or two other travelers), deluxe tents, some walking/trekking, and lots of animals. He does not want to do Kilimanjaro - he's not a "suffer because its there" kind of person - but would consider trekking elsewhere.

Now... who should we turn to? A budget provider like Good Earth (do they do more deluxe tents as well)? A higher-end outfitter like CCA (ask them to dial down the luxury part)? A travel agent (I have a few name from Conde Nast but worry they may be on the luxury lodge end of things)?

All ideas/thoughts appreciated. Thanks!
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May 6th, 2005, 01:43 PM
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Join Date: Apr 2005
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I'm having the same concern. How to pick a reputable outfitter/agency. My #1 interest is seeing wildlife. The luxury lodging is not something I'm interested in but it seems to be a major part of many safaris. I'd be completely happy in mobile tents or permanent tents. I hope we get some good feed back about this topic. I'm also planning to travel summer of 2006 so I have a little time to plan. I'd like to fly over using frequent flyer miles so I may have to pick a safari and book air sometime this summer.
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May 6th, 2005, 03:29 PM
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I think it's not so much how to pick a reputable operator but how to choose from amongst the many reputable operators.

If you read some of the past trip reports here, I think you'll find that, with few minor exceptions, people are overwhelmingly positive about their experience with their particular safari operator. From these trip reports, you should be able to put together a list to contact.

I (and many others here) also prefer to work directly with in country safari operators. In other words, the actual ground handler who will be providing the services rather than an out of country agent. That's not to say there's anything wrong with working with a US agent if that's your preference. You asked for direction, so I'm giving my (obviously biased) opinion

The things you're looking for - private guide, deluxe tents, some walking/trekking, lots of animals - are all fairly standard so almost any of the operators mentioned here can provide you with this. The exception being a few camps in Tanzania which can only be booked by certain operators. And if you're set on staying at one of these camps, then you don't have much choice as far as operators anyway. I haven't come across this situation (yet) in Kenya.

I think the key is to find an operator who listens to you and is responsive to your needs, and also one doesn't try to push you toward a certain set itinerary or their preferred lodging contractors. And that you'll sort of have to discover on your own during the process of contacting each one. Ultimately, you have to go with the one you feel most comfortable with and not necessarily someone else's specific recommendation.

There, Safari Operator Selection Philosophy 101 by Patty
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May 6th, 2005, 06:13 PM
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Patty, Enjoyed the philosophy course!

Shwang, I am quite jealous. With your advance planning you'll have a great trip. I actually have a refundable deposit down on 2006!

Tulip44, The irony of being willing to stay in a mobile tented camp or a permanent tent is that these accommodations are often more expensive than luxury lodges. But I agree with you completely. It is all about what's out there and not the lodge.

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May 6th, 2005, 09:34 PM
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Shwang,

I will offer up a trip report about my wife and my Kilimanjaro trek. I know you said that's not on your list, but the report also has some general info and has a link to our outfitter: tanzania-adventure.com. They customized an excellent trip for my wife and I that included Kili, both luxury lodges and semi-deluxe tented camping on safari, and a Zanzibar extension. They have assorted options for walking besides Kili. We felt the cost for all this was very reasonable. It sounds like this fits in with everyting you are looking for.

As mentioned there are dozens of good agencies out there and the problem is not finding one, its choosing from the many. Good luck!

Here's the report if you care to have a look:
http://www.summitpost.org/mountains/...mountain_id=17

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May 7th, 2005, 05:33 AM
  #6
sandi
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shwang - Patty's philosphy 101 is right-on!

As to those outfitters regularly listed in Conde Nast and the like - whether US-based or in-country, most tend to work by requesting a "preparation fee" which will be deducted from final invoice if you book with them. And the "name" companies - A&K, Micato, CCA [CCA tends to push you to the properties they own - most high-end] costs run on the expensive side; whereas, the in-country outfitters can usually do the same itinerary for much less.

As Patty mentioned, some of the in-country outfitters can only get you into certain properties, those with whom they have contracts and are their "preferred" accommodation - Good Earth, ATR (Africa Travel Resources); whereas, other's can get you any place you wish - Roys.

Since you have a month for travel, you can certainly do a comprehensive itinerary. Spring - Mar-May, not so good, as April/May is the Wet season and some parks/reserves and camps are actually closed. You'd probably be better with August or September. In these months you can consider the Southern Circuit of Tanzania - Selous, Ruaha, Mkumi or Katave and Mahale; you can take a brief (3-day beach holiday on the Tanzanian coast or off-shore islands) before heading the Northern Circuit; here Tarangire and the Ngorongoro Crater are good stops; at the latter trekking can be arrange in the vicinity. Then head into Kenya and visit the highlands in Laikipia with lovely lodges/camps on private ranches, or to Samburu, before heading south to the Masai Mara to enjoy the amazing Wildebeest Migration; again ending with beach holiday on the coast of Kenya with some lovely small islands.

All kinds of itineraries can be designed, based on your interests, and number of days at each. Put together you "wish list" and let us go from there.
 
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May 7th, 2005, 06:06 AM
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Sandi -- Just curious why you said that Good Earth can only get you into their preferred accommodations or places they have contracts with -- that was not our experience with them at all -- on the contrary, we found that Good Earth, Roy's, and Tanzania Serengeti Adventures were all able to book us into any accommodation we requested (others such as Africa Dream Safaris were not able to do this).
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May 9th, 2005, 10:50 AM
  #8
 
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Sorry to hijack this thread a bit - I just wanted to say that I checked out Nelsons trip report and it ws really remarkable.

Nelson - your wife should be an inspiration to us all - I've never even broken a bone and still I have not achieved as much as she has (I guess I better get cracking).

Your photos were fantastic - my husband will want to know what kind of camera/film/digital you used.

Thanks for sharing with us.

csuss
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May 9th, 2005, 06:49 PM
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csuss, Thanks very much. I'll let my wife know what you said. Glad you liked the photos. I'll send you an E-mail in case your husband wants more info.

Don't forget to bring Lady Godiva chocolate and Downy Fresh fabric softener on your next trip!

shwang, Good luck with your decision, a good one to have to make.
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