Round 1 of East Africa Safari Planning Questions

Feb 23rd, 2009, 07:58 AM
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Round 1 of East Africa Safari Planning Questions

I am working on planning a surprise 40th Birthday trip of a lifetime for my wife to Africa and just started to plan it now. Her birthday is in March but it is not necessarily when we need to go because I want to end up in country when it is better for animal viewing. I have a series of questions I started to ask myself and would like some assistance to help lay the ground work of my trip planning. I already spent about 6 hrs reading trip reports on the forum as I get the planning itch for our next trip.

We have 2 young kids right now 3 and 1 and probably 2 weeks with the grandparents is about as much as I can squeeze out of them although they will be 5 and 3 respectively during the time of our trip.

We are not the young (obviously) back packing kids anymore but we are not on the 5 star high end folks either. Probably require a private bathroom and can do the mid to high end tenting for a few days with a lodge sprinkled into the mix of accommodations as a point of reference for those with advice.

Some of the things I plan to do for sure are as follows:

1. Hire a safari company to help with bookings because I view Africa as way to challenging although I am a market research professional and have totally planned some amazing trips on my own to Hawaii, Alaska, Australia and just back from 2 weeks in Costa Rica.
2. Purchase travel insurance – way to many variables with this trip that I don’t want to chance because of wars, interruption, health concerns, etc. First and maybe my only time I buy this coverage.
3. Use up my acquired United Frequent Flyer miles to get to Africa.
4. Would like to go to East Africa during the migrations so right now targeting doing both Kenya and Tanzania.
5. Want to see the big 5 and tons of other interesting animals.
6. I just purchased Fodor's The Complete African Safari Planner, 1st Edition: With Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa & and plan to read cover to cover. I am inpatient so trying to get a start with your opinions to questions below.

So here are some of my initial questions.
A. When to go? - Looking at March as an option on when her birthday is and also considering Aug or Sept as well. Want to stay away from the rainy season. She turns 40 in March and I will be 40 in Dec 2011 so that is the target year.
B. How long is a good number of days in country? - I see that many safari itineraries include the inbound and outbound days towards their 12 day safari’s? I think I would like about 12-14 days in country and then tack on travel dates to both ends should be a good target goal. Depending on the park I would plan on spending 2-3 days at each with none picked out yet as a secondary goal.
C. Private vs. Tour, how much more can it really cost us? - I am leaning towards the private side because we can go when and where we want and since this is so much money why not have it the way you want it. It also allows us the flexibility to wrap around flights in and out of Africa?
D. What country should we start/end with – Kenya or Tanzania?
E. How far out in advance should I be booking this trip? I prefer further out but understand those times, flights, etc change so the headaches mount up the further out you go while avoiding not getting what you really want if you book to close.
F. Fly in vs. Drive Safari – My goal is to maximize the time with the animals and do tons of game drives and would like to balance seeing Africa by truck in some capacity while maximizing our time.
G. Whom should start talking to as far as companies? I see Africa Serendipity, Good Earth, Roy’s, Eastern and Southern Safaris, and Green Footprints get a lot of good recommendations from past Fodorites
TucanCosta2009 is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2009, 08:00 AM
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Just wanted to clarify and bring this out to top of list this is a trip planned for the year 2011.
TucanCosta2009 is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2009, 11:40 AM
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I'm far from an expert, but perhaps I can help a bit, as we did a similar Tanzania only trip about a year ago and are planning a Kenya only trip for this September.

We used CC Africa (now known as And Beyond) for both trips, and thus far have loved them, but I have no doubt that there are many other companies that are just as good. We chose not to do both countries in one trip since getting from the Serengeti to the Mara takes a full day of travel, due to the need to go to Arusha, fly or drive to Nairobi and get to the Mara (or vice versa, depending on which way you go).

Not sure what you mean by "private" - we booked a private trip in the sense that we did not go on a pre-packaged tour, but rather had a custom made itinerary. However, once at a particular lodge/camp, we joined with others (usually one couple) who happened to also be staying there for game drives. As noted, we stayed at CC Africa facilities in Tanzania, and thought they were superb. They are at the high end of the market, and the total cost, including internal airfare (we flew between camps rather than driving), but excluding international airfare, amounted to approx. US$1,000 per person per day. You can certainly do it for less, though.

We, too, stayed for about 12 nights in country, and I thought that was perfect for us. I began planning nearly two years in advance, although CC Africa would not commit to a final price that early as pricing that far out had not been completed. Keep in mind that you can't plan international flights more than about 11 months in advance, but we had the land portion settled long before then. Don't need to do it so soon, though.

You'll find lots of info on times to go by searching through this site, and on others as well. Let me know if I can help with anything else.
Numbers is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2009, 12:14 PM
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Hi Tucan!

What an incredible surprise for your wife! You guys will love East Africa, and you'll find a lot of great advice on this board as you get farther into the planning stage.

As far as any advice I can give, you might want to check out my trip report from my September/October trip to Kenya & Tanzania in 2007. (Click on my name and you'll see it.) My husband and I fit a similar "profile" to you guys, in terms of age, travel experience, type of lodging it sounds like you're looking for, etc. We spent 10 days in each country and had a wonderful trip. We booked a private safari with 2 different companies (Eastern & Southern for Kenya and Green Footprint for Tanzania), for reasons I explain in my report, and found that that strategy worked really well for us.

I loved both countries, but if I had to choose for a shorter-length trip, I would probably choose to spend more time in Kenya because the landscapes were so varied. Of course, we traveled to a lot of different regions in Kenya and stuck to the northern circuit in TZ, so my opinion is limited -- but I think with a 2-week window you'd be just looking at northern TZ anyway if you wanted to visit both countries.

A major factor will be what time of year you decide to go, and that will help you choose between the Masai Mara and the Serengeti (for Sept. we chose the Mara and were not disappointed). Some people might tell you to go to both places, but for a 12-14 day trip I'd choose one or the other and try to see some different parts of the countries, too. There are others who would want to spend the whole 12 days in the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, so that's a matter of personal preference.

I think a private safari is the way to go if you can swing it (we swung it by mixing in some less expensive lodges and hotels with some pricer camps instead of going high-end all the way), because you will get to decide each day how you want to spend your time, and you'll probably have better photo opportunities (if that's important to you). I say this having just returned from my second safari, which was with a group of 20 volunteers and conservationists. A wonderful trip too, but a totally different dynamic.

I'm one of the folks on this board who loves driving safaris, because you get to see more of the countryside and people and towns, and what these places are like outside of the national parks and game reserves. Also, this is the easiest way to do a private safari, where it's just you and your guide and your own vehicle the whole time. But with limited time, it would make a lot of sense to consider a fly-in safari -- you can see a greater variety of places in a shorter amount of time. Be aware that if you do a fly-in safari from lodge to lodge, you will probably be sharing a vehicle for game drives, unless you pay extra to have a private vehicle.

If there's one piece of advice I can give, it's this: try to stay in a tented camp at least once during your trip. Our favorites were Elephant Bedroom in Samburu (Kenya) and Oliver's Camp in Tarangire (TZ), but there are lots of choices. It's such a fun, romantic experience, but they do cost more than the lodges. We balanced these out by staying in less expensive hotels in town (Nairobi and Arusha), and staying at some of the bigger lodges in other parks.

Have fun planning, and keep us posted! Your wife's a lucky girl.
MyDogKyle is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2009, 01:08 PM
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Numbers - What I meant as private was a custom trip for just the two of us. The more I read the more I want us to be the only 2 in the game trucks, etc to have a more personalized experience and I think it is worth the extra money. I appreciate the willingness to assist this African rookie in his planning.

MyDogKyle, thanks so much, I will read your report and would like to ask more questions of you since it appears to be a lot of the same thoughts I am having about when to splurge and when to cut back to save some $. Can I ask you what your trip cost were if you don't mind? Of course ours will most likely be more based on what changes we have and inflation, etc for 2011.
TucanCosta2009 is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2009, 02:39 PM
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For 14 days incl. travelling time I would definitely focus on to Kenya. Month of travel: September. Then you can witness the wildebeest migration in the Massai Mara, visit Tsavo National Park (huge elephant population), Amboseli from where you can see Kilimanjaro - here Tortilis camp is particularly nice.

I would stay in each camp/location for 4 nights in order to get a thorough safari experience. And i would rather fly-in instead of driving.

I personally hire a car/guide in a camp because of photography as we do wildlife photos and we don't want to be restricted to 2 game drives a day.
Governors camps in the Massai Mara do 3 game drives/day. So that might also be an option.

www.andbeyond has only 2 camps in Kenya: Bateleur and Kichwa Tembo - the latter more cost favourable.

If it weren't for the wildlife photography I would rather enjoy the company of others in order to share also their experiences.

You can contact or

Ragarding increase - not to mention deflation of currency - you can add at least 15-20% per annum.

Happy planning.

spassvogel is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2009, 04:09 PM
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I thought I should hear a bell go ding when I opened your post to signify Round 1.

You’ve really got a good plan going. I know you’ll end up with a wonderful trip.

A. When to go?

Below shows the “perfect’ safari for each month in East Africa

If you concentrated on the Southern Serengeti, then March would be good to keep the trip in your wife’s birthday month. But I wouldn’t go past mid-March due to rains. Jan-Mar is when the migrating wildebeest herds concentrate in the Ndutu area of the Serengeti. You could stay at Ndutu Lodge or a more expensive and secluded mobile tented camp.

Aug or Sept are much better for a variety of parks because it is into the dry season, which means the grass is lower and the water is more highly concentrated.

If you look at this index (thanks to LyndaS) and type in the various months in your browser’s find feature, you can see the different trips in the different months, including trips during the rainiest times.

B. How long?

12-14 days and 2-3 days per park is good. That many days is enough to hit highlights of Kenya and Tanzania or to concentrate on either country. I’d even suggest 4 nights in Kenya’s Maasai Mara in Aug or Sept or 4 nights in the Southern Serengeti in early March, since your goal is to maximize wildlife.

C. Private? This link has only private trips. This is a reputable company that specializes in private trips all over the world. I’ve never traveled with them but have corresponded with them and was impressed. It gives you a ballpark figure of private safari cost--for 2.

You can compare the prices to other sites that publish group rates, such as GoodEarth, Go2Africa, Africa Adventure, which also do private trips.

D. What country should we start/end with – Kenya or Tanzania?

Depends on when you travel. You can match the best wildlife with the timing, again assuming you decide to do both.

You could easily spend the entire time in just one country and see the same animals (though the central parks in Kenya have unique species not found elsewhere), and save the transport time and costs.

E. How far out in advance should I be booking this trip?
You can certainly make inquiries 18 months out to get the ball rolling and give yourself a further education by working with agents and finding those you are most comfortable with. Some may have newsletters or mailings that you can start receiving for more info. How far out to book is hard to say in these times. I don't think you need to hurry right now. Let's see as 2011 approaches.

F. Fly in vs. Drive Safari
Once you know what parks you want, you can decide where you want to drive and where you want to fly. It is easy to combine flying and driving. Ask for specific drive times between parks to help you decide. Also post those times here for others to check for accuracy based on their recent experiences.

G. Companies? You listed some good ones. Page 25 of the most recent Fodors book has a list you may wish to consult. I’ll comment on my own plans and companies in general. For the only two trips I am taking in 2009, I opted for established, sizable, long-standing companies over smaller niche agents due to the bad economic times. I probably paid a little more in one case and I know I paid 3.8% more in the other. For some options I am looking at in 2010 where I may use less formidable providers, I will pay by credit card even at premium. I am normally not as cautious about that but these things and I hate paying a premium for credit card use, but these are not normal times.

Please continue to post on this thread as your plans develop.
atravelynn is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2009, 05:12 PM
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Okay been looking at the Kill Warrior information as suggest above and now considering June, July, Aug or Sept. Any preference by the folks here on the months listed?
TucanCosta2009 is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2009, 05:19 PM
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Here is what the owner of that company wrote a while back.

"The famous images of thousands of wildebeests and zebras swimming across croc-invested rivers are filmed in the Masai Mara in Kenya during August, September and October. The Mara River is deep and fast-flowing - a dangerous obstacle for the herds and many will drown during the crossing stampedes.

Crossings occur several times a month; to be at the right place at the right time is a matter of luck and persistence. I recommend a stay of at least 5 -7 days in the Mara Triangle area to experience a crossing.

The Grumeti River in the Western Serengeti is also home to huge crocodiles but it is not deep enough to be much of an obstacle. In June and July the herds gather in the Western Serengeti but the water levels are often very low due to the lack of rains. They don't have to swim across the river - in many places they can walk across and barely get wet! The biggest action is when the crocodiles ambush the herds when they come to drink. To get the best footage, one often has to wait for hours at the river waiting for the herds to quench their thirst!

In the Northern Serengeti, the Mara River offers yet another opportunity to see wildebeest vs. crocodile but river access is restricted due to the lack of access roads. It takes a fair amount of luck to see a large crossing with crocodile action - late July or early November is recommended. But several smaller crossings occur from August to November!

Where and when to see the biggest herds on the open plains?

For a few months each year, the plains of the Mara-Serengeti region are dotted with animals as far as the eyes can see.

My 2nd favorite - From August to October, the big herds can be seen in the Masai Mara in Kenya. The Masai Mara is largely open plains with several ridges and high points from where to witness the herds in all directions. In addition, there are also large herds of buffalo and even more wildebeests coming from areas outside the Mara.

Thanks to controlled burning by park authorities and fresh green growth, large herds of wildebeest will often move back and forth between the Masai Mara and the far northern Serengeti area (near the Mara River). Our clients in the camps near the Mara River continue to report river crossings, large herds and very few other vehicles in this area! During these months we often combine the Masai Mara and the northern Serengeti in a single itinerary!

My favorite - In February and March, the southern Serengeti and NCA are home to the large herds and thousands of their new-born young. This area is huge and the herds can be spread out over tens of miles. For the predators (large and small) this is a time of plenty and each day brings several exciting interaction between the hunters and the hunted, including the elusive wild dogs in our secret areas!

My 3rd favorite - In April and May, long lines start to form as the young are strong enough to travel and the food resources on the plains diminish. The herds move NW towards the western Serengeti. Some lines are so long it appears never-ending. Big herds can still be seen but they move quickly - more than 20 miles in a night! The rains make traveling difficult but the rewards are incredible - fewer people and beautiful green landscapes.

What about June, July, November, December and January?

During June, July and November the migrating herds generally favor the more woody areas to the west.

The plains have dried up and the herds are looking for water from perennial rivers. Most of these rivers are near Seronera and surroundings and in the western corridor. The animals assemble in smaller herds and can often be found in forest areas where tsetse flies are bothersome and viewing is restricted. The western corridor has limited game routes and the hilly terrain will often obscure the true scope of the migration. A few special places such as the Grumeti Reserves, the areas near Lobo and north near the Mara River are open and with great viewing with no obstructions - timing is everything and you need a specialist to book you in the right places for optimal viewing during these months.

December and January are hybrid months - if November and December were blessed with good rains the woodlands will have large tsetse concentrations and zebras in particular prefer the safety of the open plains so they will lead the way to the plains where they will reduce the grass much to the liking of the wildebeest and eventually the Tommies. During rainy periods, the herds may well move quickly to the Ndutu area in the south. From there they will move great distances in all directions until they drop their young (have to stay put for a few weeks).

During dry periods in November, December and January (as in 2005/06), the Serengeti plains (with no surface water) will be void of water-dependent wildlife and you will find the herds in smaller groups in the woods in the western areas and elsewhere."

atravelynn is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2009, 09:26 PM
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To answer your question about pricing, our 2007 trip ended up being around $6800 per person, including all internal flights, a hot air balloon flight and all activities (but not including international airfare). If I remember correctly, it was right around $3000 pp for the 10 days in Kenya (where we did the balloon ride) and $3800 pp for Tanzania/Zanzibar. (FYI: we did a mostly driving safari, but flew from the Mara back to Nairobi, from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro, and then RT to/from Zanzibar and back to Nairobi.)

Eastern & Southern posts different itineraries and prices on their website to give you a good idea of what things cost... but you can customize any of those itineraries however you like. If you haven't already had a look at their site that might be helpful.

I feel like I should warn you that my trip report is probably one of the longest in history! I also feel the need to warn you that our "once-in-a-lifetime" trip actually ended up spawning a second Africa trip (to Uganda & Rwanda), and possibly even a third... So be careful!

MyDogKyle is offline  
Feb 24th, 2009, 07:33 AM
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Thanks MyDogKyle for the info. I do plan to customize the trip and loved your report so far. I think I am up to early Jan 2008 posts or like part 7 so far. You truly are a gifted writer as so many have said before me. There are certain parts of your safari I like so far and will use that as a basis for my custom trip I plan to shop. Looking at going now anywhere from June - Mid Sept although my daughter's bday is Aug 27th and I made a promise that every year I would be around to celebrate it and the year of 2011 would be her starting 1st grade so not sure if early Sept is now out based on my thoughts around that but most likely. So it seems I am targeting early Aug or 2nd week of Sept as my start dates based on all the helpful tips I am getting.

It also appears to me that the Northern Tanzania trip is where we are headed with Kenya's Masai Mara being high on the list of sights to see.

From a cost perspective I think the balloon trip is out simply cause that would be like $1k USD but I am sure so magnificent as well. Looks like I will have 1-2 domestic flights as well in our custom trip besides a few internal rides to get a favor for the African road massage (similar to the rocky Costa Rica one I thoroughly enjoyed earlier this month). Seems I can have it all etched on paper up until like 330 days out for airfare to be nailed down so like yourself I will plan the heck out of it working out all the very microscopic details and then pull the trigger once we have the airfare be a go.

I will need to start stocking away my tax refunds to pay for this trip as well. I have a target goal of around $5K each outside of our international airfare for 12 days in country and then 2-3 days travel back out and into Africa. Somehow I have to also keep this well under wraps from the Mrs so I will have to put on my embezzlement hat and plan Enron executive for a while with our household budget.
TucanCosta2009 is offline  
Feb 24th, 2009, 07:39 AM
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By the way Ding - Just for you atravelynn. I laughed when I read that. I suppose I am already on like round 3 but I do plan to go the distance in this fight for a perfect vacation.

TucanCosta2009 is offline  
Feb 24th, 2009, 09:57 AM
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I planned my first Safari last August. I got almost all my information here on Fodors. It was absolutely amazing. Other friends went on the Abercrombie and Kent Safari the previous year and another friend went with Thomson this past January. I planned a private tour for 3 people. You will get tons of expert advice on this forum. Here's my input to your questions. Sorry if I am repeating everyone else.

A. When to go? - Anytime can be good, just depends on where. I would plan when you want to go, then pick the parks that are best on the chart. When I went in August, it was a little cooler than when my friend went in January.

B. I think you have the right idea on how much time to spend.

C. Private vs. Tour, I highly recommend the private tour. My friend who went with Thomson was with a group of serious birders. While he didn't mind, I would have been a little frustrated to have to stop to look at every type of bird. Other people might have been upset that we always stopped for lions or baboons. My Dad also has a bird phobia and he would have been very upset. You can also set your own wake up schedule, if you want to get up early or sleep in sometime.

D. What country should we start/end with – Kenya or Tanzania?

This depends more on when you go.

E. How far out in advance should I be booking this trip?

Book your frequent flier miles ASAP. I had my tentative dates set, then got my flights 330 days before, then confirmed my Safari to match. Later adjustments had to be made when the airline changed their schedule.

F. Fly in vs. Drive Safari

I would say fly when you can. We had some long dusty bumpy rides. We flew most places, but drove (with stops) from Arusha to the Serengeti. One memorable quote from the message boards about this "driving is time you are NOT game viewing, you are NOT relaxing, you are NOT enjoying the amenities of your camp"

G. Everyone seems to have their own favorite company. I used Premier Tours in Philadelphia. You can get the best deals from an in-country operator if you feel comfortable doing this. All these companies seem to have their own local sub-contractors.

Have fun! It is an incredible adventure.

carl170 is offline  
Feb 24th, 2009, 10:02 AM
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I just noticed that you asked about United miles. My friend used his United miles on a Swiss Air flight from Zurich. He flew from Zurich, stopped in Nairobi, then continued on to Dar Es Salaam. From there he had to get a charter flight to Arusha. This might make a difference if you decide to go to Kenya or Tanzania.

carl170 is offline  
Feb 24th, 2009, 10:10 AM
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Thanks Carl. I hear you on the frequent flyer miles. I plan to button down my itinerary well in advance and be ready to fire off frequent flyer tickets right at the 330 day mark. Got to love limited seats and flight routes that are crazy with airlines but can't afford the Safari and the international flight out of pocket so it will have to be fine.

I think the safari outline from Kilwarriors for Aug/Sept for 14-16days looks good so I am looking at how that one would play out for design modifications, pricing as we speak based on the camps, parks and flow of the trip. Of course like everything I do, I totally shop out the package for competitive bids, after all I do contracts, request for proposals and negotiations for a living when not on vacation.
TucanCosta2009 is offline  
Feb 25th, 2009, 09:30 AM
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I just called United to get an idea if I could catch a flight this August from Chicago to Kenya to see what my options would be in the future with their partners. They said I would go from Chicago to Istanbaul (Turkey) onto Kenya for total flight time of 17hrs to 20min. I am glad I could have used my miles to get there. However they would use Turkish airlines. When I google them here is what the headlines were from 4 hrs ago -

At least nine killed as Turkish Airlines plane crashes near Amsterdam

Does not instill confidence on first glance with me right now. Sad to see this happen to any airline passengers but how ironic that they have plenty of super saver seats and just happened to be the airline they were recommending which I had zero opinion of until now. I pray for the family of those that lost loved ones in this tragedy.
TucanCosta2009 is offline  

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