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Question regarding vechiles used by private tour operators in East Africa...

Question regarding vechiles used by private tour operators in East Africa...

Dec 6th, 2003, 01:05 PM
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Question regarding vechiles used by private tour operators in East Africa...

I have been advised by a couple people that I should make sure that the tour operator that I ultimately choose has quality vehicles.

Are the tour companies vehicles used even while you are staying at lodges such as Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, Kirawira in the Western Serengeti and Sand Rivers in Selous???

I would think that these places all have their own vehicles and that the tour company vehicles would only come into play if one was booking a mobile safari.

Clarification on this matter will be appreciated.
Roccco is offline  
Dec 6th, 2003, 03:17 PM
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There are a few ways you can do this. I would guess that if you have booked with a tour operator that has its own vehicles that you will be using their vehicles at the camps you are staying at. You will probably be using the tour operators guides as well. Having local guides can be nice because they really know the area and where to go for animals.

You should ask your tour operator this question. You can request to use the local vehicles and guides but the price will probably go up.

While on safari a few months ago the quality of the vehicle really only seemed to matter when doing the long transfer drives between camps (Ngorongoro to Serengeti...). Of course you don't want the vehicles to break down, but other than that it's not that big of a deal. A good view of the animals is what you're looking for.

I know certain people on this board won't agree with this, but if you are going to Tanzania durring the dry season then pretty much any vehicle will do.

In Kenya, since you can drive off road, I do think that a good 4x4 is better than a cheap mini-bus, but I think you're sticking with Tanzania on your safari.
roderick is offline  
Dec 6th, 2003, 04:38 PM
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Thanks for the feedback. Your question does raise a very big concern for me and that is the issue of driving offroad. While I did not expect this at the Ngorongoro Crater, I am surprised that at Kirawira (Western Serengeti) and Sand Rivers (Selous Game Reserve) that this is not allowed.

Thinking back, I guess there was no offroading in South Luangwa (different country but almost entirely within a national park). It does make it more difficult to get quality photographs, but then again, in the Sabi Sand, where offroading is the norm, the animals are SO TAME, that it almost takes the thrill out of being a few meters away from lions and leopards.

So is this a confirmed thing that no offroading is allowed in the Western Serengeti and Selous? Also, where in the Masai Mara in Kenya can the vehicles follow the animals offroad?

Roccco is offline  
Dec 6th, 2003, 06:53 PM
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In addition to a good quality vehicle, you'll also want to ensure that is has a working, shortwave radio with enough power to reach the tour operators office & that the radio at the office is staffed. As even a well maintained vehicle with an excellant driver can still run into problems.

And if the tour operator has ensured that care was taken to have a good-working shortwave radio there is a greater change that they taken good care of the vehicle too.

TravelMaster is offline  
Dec 9th, 2003, 10:51 AM
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It was explained to us in Tanzania that the Tanzanian parks authority does not allow off-road driving in any of their national parks. Private reserves may do what they like. Kenya Wildlife Service however WILL allow off-road driving in their parks. Not sure if this is the rule or a generalization for parks, but in the Mara we drove off-road throughout the Mara Triangle...

As for vehicles, in the Crater all vehicles must be enclosed (pop-top). As you mentioned, from what we could tell if you go through a tour company and are driving from place to place, you will have the same tour company vehicle all the time (except in the case of the rare lodge which for some reason insist their own vehicles be used). On the other hand, if you're using the guides at each lodge, you will use the vehicle for that lodge. Many of the web sites for the lodges mention which type of vehicles they have. The Crater vehicles are brand-spanking new, so no worries there.
hlphillips2 is offline  
Dec 9th, 2003, 05:31 PM
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Roccco: You are looking to book a private safari, meaning the vehicle you are in will be - more than likely - the tour operators vehicle. That is why it is so important for you to make sure the company you select has good vehicles. The only time you would use an accommodation vehicle is, for example, when you are in Selous - obviously too far and out of the way for tour companies to get their vehicles to and fro. Some tour operators will use a minibus, others Range Rovers or Toyota Landcruisers. This is something you need to clarify with the company you decide to use. The quality - or should I say maintenance? - of a vehicle is extremely important. We saw numerous vehicles stopped on the side of roads for one reason or another - and there were no animals to be seen nearby. Vehicle problems! Who said off-road driving is not allowed in Selous? There are practically no roads in Selous, so virtually every game drive is "off-roading." Also, Selous is a reserve, not a national park. Our animal viewing was in no way impeded in Selous, either off or on the road. Also, remember, in Selous, you can do a lot of walking rather than sitting. You can arrange walks with an armed park ranger or with the camp manager (Alex) at Sand Rivers. As far as "off-roading" in the Mara, you need to be in the farthest north of the park, in the area of Governor's Camp, Kichwa Tembo. It is forbidden to do off-roading in other areas of the Mara, which are more frequently visited by people who drive from Nairobi, subsequently more vehicles, rather than flying into the park.
SusanLynne is offline  
Dec 9th, 2003, 09:29 PM
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Okay, so are there any tour companies that use the open-air Range Rover Defenders or Toyota Land Cruisers, vehicles that I know and love?

I am still not sold on the virtues of pop-tops and I cannot imagine the animals of Tanzania being any more wild than in South Luangwa.

Another question...if I am the only one booked with whichever safari operator at a certain lodge whether I choose, be it Roy Safaris or another operator, doest that mean that I will have the vehicle to myself, or will other operators contract with each other to ensure that the vehicles are rarely devoted to only a single couple?

It is really an odd concept, still, that tour operators would be in charge of game drives instead of the individual game lodges.

Anyway, besides that, I am thinking of other ways that I can improve on this trip. Currently, my trip is based on arriving home on a Saturday and including my final night of my Globus Italy tour which is just mostly a travel day and a final single night in Milan. If I do choose to go AWOL on my Globus tour a day early AND arrive home beat up on a Sunday, then that would allow for two extra nights, going from 13 nights to 15 nights! This would allow for even tremendous flexibility, but would also really add to the price of the trip.

With 15 nights, the following could be possible if I didn't need to spend a night in Arusha or Dar Es Salaam:

Ngorongoro Crater Lodge (2)
Swala, Tarangire (3) OR Lake Manyara Tree Lodge (3)
Kirawira (4)
Emerson & Green (2)
Sand Rivers (4)

I don't know if 3 nights in Tarangire or Lake Manyara is overkill or not but when I see Swala's website, it is as if I am looking at Heaven on Earth, and Lake Manyara looks equally beautiful. I would love to get an opportunity to see and photograph tree-climbing lions and to hear all the sounds at night that hlphillips described she heard in her recent posts.

I did fid an amazing rate of $275 per person per night through June 30th on www.safarinow.com for Swala, and I would think that I could find similar rates for Lake Manyara Tree Lodge.

Nine consecutive nights will be the most that I have spent on safari but I am hoping that with the great looking places that I am staying that I will not go stir-crazy.

Even with the additional nights, with some shopping around, I think I can get this trip for $5,000 USD per person.
Roccco is offline  
Dec 9th, 2003, 10:43 PM
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I screwed up. I only have 14 nights available, meaning that I must split up Tarangire (or Lake Manyara) with the Serengeti over six nights total. I could either go 3/3 or 2/4 (more time in Serengeti).

Alternately, I could always skip Lake Manyara/Tarangire altogether and spend five full nights in the Serengeti and five full nights in Selous. Both are very big areas situated right on major rivers, and should offer a lot of variety. Still, five nights in one camp is a long time.

Other option is to ride out the Italy trip until the end and cut Tanzania to 13 nights. Ngorongoro (2), Serengeti (4), Zanzibar (3), Selous (4).

I just want to make the right choice, but I know that really there is no right or wrong answer.
Roccco is offline  
Dec 10th, 2003, 03:50 AM
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Roccco: Roy Safaris - yes, we are back to them - has specially designed Toyota LandCruisers and Rovers, down to cup holders in the vehicle. They don't use minibuses. I think their website shows the vehicles. I don't remember which make of vehicle Sand Rivers uses, however, they are open sided with canvas tops, and have three rows, one higher than the other. Wherever you end up going, you will have a wonderful time.
SusanLynne is offline  
Dec 10th, 2003, 04:39 AM
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Roccco - It's nice to be back since fodors.com has been offline these past few days - and hope my ability to post replies has been corrected.

It's been a few years since I've been in Eastern Africa, but wheher Land Cruisers or Range Rovers - these are different that when you found in Southern Africa where vehicles were completely open.

If you have your own driver from the tour operator for the major part of the trip, you will be going on your game drives with their vehicle. On the otherside, if some by air and transfered to the lodge, you will be using the camp vehicles. Lots of camp vehicles are open sides with canvas top and roll-down sides and game viewing is easy enough.

The other tour operator vehicles are mostly closed with pop-top, or flip-top roofs and we found these fine for photo taking as you can rest your arms/elbows on the top of vehicle; likewise, they have windows and you can steady yourself on the window edges.

Another good thing about the closed vehicles is that the Mara and Serengeti are rather flat open plan and driving kicks up a lot do dust, so you're glad to be able to close those windows and pull down the pop-top - not being coated with a layer of dust on and in everything. And while the temps are relatively moderate year-round, the mornings and evenings can be quite chilly - you'll be thankful to be in a vehicle where you can close the windows and top for warmth.

On two trips, we've been lucky not to have had tire problems, though all vehicles have spare tires. While the Mara is smaller, there are gas stations in and around the Mara. As to the Serengeti, "you bring your own" - in fact you're probably sitting atop the gas cans under the seat. Though I believe there is a gas station somewhere near Seronera (middle of the Serengeti).

Our one instance of "being stuck" was on some wet grass on a slope watching lions finish off a kill - the vechile kept slipping as we tried backing out. So we waiting till the lions were very involved in their meal - our driver exited the vehicle, put two mats under the rear wheels and my partner backed out the vehicles with no trouble - the lions never picked up their faces from their food! And off we went.

Whether you have a two-way radio (in Kenya we didn't, in Tanzania, we did) - the camps/lodges know whom them are expecting and if you don't show up on time - they send someone out to find you.

As to whether the tour operator guides or the camp guides are better - both are, but like anything else sometimes you find a rotten apple (though rare). Just because a camp guide is familiar with his immediate area, these guides do more around from camp/lodge to others. As to the tour operator guides, they're out regularly and know the areas as well as a camp specific guide. The guides have to go thru an intense training program, learning the terrain, ability to spot animals, especailly birds, learn the road systems, take tests, go out on a trip of the route with an experienced guide, before they get their license.

Now to the itinerary - whether to spend 3-days at either Tarangire or Manyara; Manyara is very small, and though "hlphillips" was lucky to see tree climbing lions, this is an more unusual than not. Our time at Manyara was 1/2 day and was sufficientl; and Tarangire was 1-full day. So more than 2-days at either might be overkill. I'd schedule more time in the Serengeti - it's very large and different environments to see, and, of course, the Selous is massive.

Dec 10th, 2003, 06:11 AM
Join Date: Mar 2003
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Agree with Sandi that more than 2 days in Manyara (and from what I've heard of Tarangire) would be overkill. I would spend your extra time in the Serengeti. Because of the size of Manyara we were able to see the whole park in a 4 hour game drive (granted, with no bird watching), which worked out well that we didn't feel we missed anything versus the Serengeti where we saw so very little.

I personally wouldn't skip Sand River, Zanzibar or Kirawira. I'd skip the day in Milan (personal preference!) because our time there a year ago was not very different than almost any other large, industrial European city... almost any other Italian city would get my vote but not this one.

But you are very correct that there is no wrong or best answer. Whatever you choose will be a fantastic trip.

hlphillips2 is offline  
Dec 10th, 2003, 05:08 PM
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I forgive you for not responding about the fly camp experience in Tanzania. I understand that there have been problems posting. Other then that maybe, you were just not interested? No problem. I would kill that last night on Milano.
Does anyone know where at this point the migration is? Has it begun to rain?
Have checked wildwatch and others, but no new news. Looking forward to hearing from others!
lflower is offline  
Dec 10th, 2003, 06:30 PM
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Just as a reminder: guides share information with one another, or at least they do in Kenya and Tanzania. Whether you are using a lodge/camp guide or a tour operator guide, they exchange information about interesting sitings, etc. This frequently happens on game drives themselves. So when your driver stops to talk to another driver in another vehicle, please do not think they are just shooting the breeze. They all have the goal of ensuring their clients/passengers have wonderful game drives. When talking in Swahili, they do not use words we would recognize such as "simba" or "tembo," but rather talk in code. Quite interesting and it took me a long time to confirm that information, but I finally ran into someone in Kenya who fessed up!
SusanLynne is offline  
Dec 10th, 2003, 07:04 PM
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Thanks for sharing the info about the fly camps. While that is something that I may like to do on my own, perhaps when I have my mid-life crisis, I don't think it would go over well with my wife. Trust me, the finest lodges are barely good enough to keep my wife from going crazy, not because she is a snob, but rather because if she is going to be in the bush, there better be some basic creature comforts or else she wouldn't tolerate it.

I, on the other hand, think that if I should ever travel to Africa on my own or with a group one day for an extended time period, that I would be a lot more flexible and would not need to stay at the very best lodges, so long as I was travelling throughout the finest national parks and game reserves that Africa has to offer.

Trust me, I would love to travel through Africa for like three months with no cell phone, only occasional access to the internet and basically no clue what is going on in the "real world." As it is, I go out of my way to be as apathetic as possible, not giving in to what the media tells me is supposedly important, be it politics, entertainment news and often even sports, except for boxing, one of my only passions besides Africa.

With three months I can completely imagine spending an entire month in Tanzania, working my way down and spending perhaps three weeks in Zambia, a couple weeks in Zimbabwe, a couple weeks in Botswana and finishing off with a well deserved two weeks of relative luxury in the Western Cape and along the Garden Route, where I know that my wife would be waiting for me on pins and needles and rolling out the red carpet.
Roccco is offline  
Dec 11th, 2003, 07:04 AM
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As of four days ago the migration was STILL in the Mara. Whether it has rained since then I don't know...

SusanLynne, I did find out that "Kichwa" (head) is the code for "lion" in the Mara, at least used by Kichwa Tembo and Gov's Camp guides. "Sheeba" is another code word that's used a lot - I think perhaps for leopard though no confirming it. I thought I quite clever learning all of the Kiswahili translations for animals, only to discover after the second day that my master plan had been foiled.

I did see a show last night highlighting Tarangire versus several other parks, and they is a big difference between that and the Serengeti (though some loose similarities to the Mara River area). I'm constantly amazed at the diversity in Africa, although I suppose the same could be said about Europe, New Zealand or the U.S.
hlphillips2 is offline  
Dec 11th, 2003, 05:28 PM
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hlphillips2: Yes, Tarangire and the Serengeti are quite different, but all the more reason to include Tarangire during your next trip!!!! And I would put in a plug for some of the southern circuit parks/reserves such as Selous, Ruaha (I can't wait to get there!), Mikumi and Katavi. You have been bitten by the Africa bug, for which there is no cure ... Join the Club!
SusanLynne is offline  

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