Safari - importance of accommodations & drivers

Aug 13th, 2003, 05:34 PM
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Safari - importance of accommodations & drivers

How important are accommodations to a safari trip? Other than personal preference of course? After all, isn't everyone seeing the same view regardless of what they've paid?

And on a potentially related note, when we book through a tour operator, will they give us the same driver for the entire week? Or are game drivers provided by the lodges, and thus change every time we pack up and move?
hlphillips2 is offline  
Aug 13th, 2003, 06:22 PM
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The difference in accomodations may also mean sitting through 8 hours worth of game drives with well-travelled, mostly well-behaved and hopefully interesting fellow guests and/or sitting through 8 hours worth of game drives with obnoxious children and their parents who for some reason refuse to throw them to the lions when they are ruining the game drives for the other paying passengers!

However, price does not determine everything. My two favorite game lodges were Singita and Kafunta. Singita is the most expensive lodge at which I have yet stayed (currently about $1,800 USD per night per couple sharing) and Kafunta is the LEAST expensive lodge at which I have yet stayed (currently about $400 USD per couple sharing but offering last minute specials as low as $250 USD per night per couple sharing).

While the lodging was a lot more basic at Kafunta, the atmosphere more than made up for it. The only way I would ever pay Singita type rates again would be at a game lodge like Mombo or Little Mombo and that is only because all of the neighboring game lodges are about $1,000 USD per night anyway.

I do think with the lower priced lodges that you will find a lot more families (CHILDREN) unless you are in some far off place like South Luangwa, Zambia (home of Kafunta). At Kafunta we passed Robin Pope's vehicles everyday and it made me feel like I was so cool for picking Kafunta for half the price when the lodging at Kafunta looked superior, the game drives were equivalent and I was paying about 40% less than the people that were over at Robin Pope's camps.
Roccco is offline  
Aug 14th, 2003, 03:38 AM
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All depends on the safari company. We had the same driver for the entire trip. Accommodations for safari much like going to a ballgame-same game but where one sits may make a difference. On our trip to Tanzania all I wanted was a clean, quiet room, opportunity to wash up,food that would be agreeable and a sense of security for my wife and daughter. All our accommodations and certainly the eats consistently exceeded our expectations. And, we went with the budget safari company. As to younger travelers we had no problems with that at the lodges as most companies have an age restriction. If anything some adults in other vehicles on game drives were the "offensive" ones in regards to loud conversation when parked and observing game.

Personal accommodation may be important to some travelers depending on what they enjoy when away from home. Having a lounge/fireplace for "kicking back" or very ample table settings for meals were less important to us. Having game literally underneath the balcony was a big plus for us. All depends on the traveler.
The start of this thread is another great reason why this board is of such interest to me. hlphillips2, if you are considering a particular operator or two contributors of this board may be able to provide specific comments. I have learned quite a bit about traveling this way.
rsnyder is offline  
Aug 14th, 2003, 04:36 AM
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Accommodations run the gamut from hotels, lodges, permanent tented camps and mobile tented camps, even backpacker camping sights - which covers all budgets. So the choice is yours.

As to your driver/guide, or ranger/driver/trackers - this can depend on country you are visiting and whether you are doing all safari stops or a combination safari and city.

On our first trip to Kenya, our driver/guide picked us up at the airport and was with us our entire two week stay, except our last day. Though our first day after arrival was also to be on our own where we hoped to pick up a half day tour in/around NBO, our driver/guide took us wherever we wanted to go (for a fee which we arranged direct with him). And since the first day was a Saturday, when we mentioned we wanted to go to synagogue service, the synagogue being around the corner from the Norfolk Hotel, so he drove us, and waited outside with other drivers till we were through with the service.

From the next day on, Andrew was with us till we boarded our plane in the Mara back to Nairobi. During the two weeks, we made our own schedule as when we went out on drives, what we wanted to see; we were his only clients, and we rarely came across other vehicles (Amboseli, Mt.Kenya, Samburu, Lake Nakuru, Masai Mara) during that time.

On our next trip, we were picked up by a driver at the airport for 1-day in NBO before heading to Tanzania. We negoiated with the driver while on way to hotel for activities the 1-day. Then upon arriving in Tanzania, we were met by our driver/guide Carlos who was with us for the next 8-days thru Tanzania (Tarangire, Ngorongoro, Serengeti, Lake Manyara) and return to Arusha and the Namaga border. Again, we were his only clients, and rarely met other vehicles while out on safari or heading to our next location.

Since we've always traveled "off-season", generally, there weren't many tourists - certainly not any children.

When it came to Southern Africa - South Africa, Zimbabwe & Botswana - in Capetown we had our own driver/guide (one day a stretch limo with driver and our guide sat in the back with us - he couldn't drive and talk from that distance - so this was a kind of bonus, but an outstanding day); the day we went Shark Cage Diving we were picked-up by one of the boats' crew and driven to Gaansbai and return.

Once we got to Vic Falls, we had a driver/guide for ourselves, who after time there drove us to the Botswana border, where we transfered to another vehicle to our camp at Chilwero. Here we had the same ranger/driver for our stay - again few guests because of time of year and all were adults, whom we only saw at meals.

Finally, at Kruger in SA - first at Honeyguide, the same ranger/driver/tracker for our time there, going out with four friends from Scandinavia who were great fun. We shared our meals with these four and a family of five with 3-teens who were well behaved and the camp managers. We were a total of only 11 guests. Once the family and four friends departed our second day, we were joined by a single guest, so it was just three of us at the camp. At Honeyguide we never saw another vehicle, especially since Manyaletti Reserve has only three camps, there's lots of room so you rarely if ever come upon another vehicle.

And finally at Singita - the only place that was fully occupied w/18 people, we shared our ranger/driver/tracker with four other adult guests. First night we had dinner with one of the couples and our ranger; next night we had dinner only with our ranger and, need I say, we closed the bar. It was a fun night. Other meals were taken alone or with other guests we chose to share meals with.

Since we've always gone on private tours, we had options of all sorts and only if we chose to be with other guests, did we.

Our accommodations ranged from Lodges mostly in Tanzania, though did stay at Kirawira perm tented camp in Western Serengeti. In Kenya, most were luxury perm tented camps, though one tented camp was rustic w/o electricity, but we were served by waiters in tuxedos nightly. And in Southern Africa for safaris, we stayed in luxury in Chilwero, hotel in Victoria Falls, and a basic tented camp at Honeyguide and the most expensive luxurious Singita.

Our fourth trip in Africa was to Egypt (w/few days in Jordan), but that's another animal altogether.

So you can get a combination of everything. And these all worked very well for us. All were booked through a tour operator stateside who, in turn, works with in-country tour operators.

There are some situations, where game drives are not included and you pay for those directly to a camp using their vehicles and guides, but rarely does this occur when you book a full tour - an example would be if someone had been in Nairobi on business and wanted a few days safari, they might be offered a price for transport to/from, the accommodation and with or without game drives, all depending on what the guest wishes, as a women we met in the Mara arranged having added 2-days safari to the end of a business trip.

Hope this gives you an idea of what's available.

Aug 14th, 2003, 05:34 AM
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Hi H!

It is, as you say, really a matter of personal preference but here are my thoughts on it.

For the best game viewing experiences an experienced and knowledgable guide/ driver is of paramount importance.

A guide we had at Little Mombo (who, sadly, no longer works for WS) was so good at interpreting the cries of small birds that he could home in on the leopards in the area incredibly accurately.

A good guide should also know how close to the animals he can safely position you without compromising your safety or gameviewing experience but still respecting the welfare of the animal - taking care not to cause anxiety or anger or to interfere with a hunt or other behaviour.

We also found our game drives came alive as our guides shared their extensive knowledge of animal behaviour, plants and all sorts. Field guides were provided in the vehicules but, with good guides, we didn't refer to them.

Also important is how well a guide can respond to your individual interests. Whilst this is harder when sharing the guide with others, a guide should still be able to balance the interests of his customers. We found ourselves more interested in bird life than we expected, I longed to spend more time with elephants and we loved the scenery. Other guests seemed more interested in ticking off the big cats and spending as much time as possible with them to the exclusion of all else. Yet the Mombo guide balanced the drives for both desires.

Accommodation wise we were not so caught up on luxury though we did want relatively high comfort and attractive environments.

For various reasons we need to have good quality beds as well as ensuite bathrooms. This was standard in all the properties we chose. On top of that, we do enjoy nice meals. We found food in WS properties just right - not too gourmet yet delicious and very welcome indeed. Mombo is much more luxurious in accommodation, and although we did love that, we certainly didn't feel the other camps were a let down in comparison at all.

Hope this helps in some small way.
Kavey is offline  
Aug 14th, 2003, 08:17 AM
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I seem to recall that you were looking or inquiring about East Africa at one point. With that in mind, I can offer the following. Accommodations are as important as you want them to be. If you are more comfortable in a larger lodge/hotel setting, then that is what you should get. But IMO, you miss out on a safari experience by staying your duration in lodges/hotels. A blend of lodges and permanent tented camps is nice. Permanent camps are more intimate and provide a plethora of wildlife experiences unto themselves. In Tarangire we had impalas grazing at night outside our tent and in the Mara we had hippos no more than 10 feet happily munching on grass. The tents do not mean sacrificing comfort or luxury. But again, it is a matter of your personal preference. As far as guides, they can make or break a trip. Kavey was extremely articulate on that point. But I would also point out that having the same guide depends on what kind of tour you are on. If you opt for a private safari (meaning just you and your spouse/partner in the vehicle) with a tour operator, you more than likely will have the same guide accompanying you from park to park. If you opt for a fly-in safari (which can be booked with a tour operator), you will get a camp guide - but it is usually more expensive to do it that way. You just need to make sure you ask all the questions you want and that you get answers to your satisfaction. Our trip last year, for example, we booked with a tour operator. For the Kenya portion of our trip, we had the same guide for the Mara and Amboseli parks. When we crossed into Tanzania, we had another guide for our visits to the Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire. When we flew from Arusha to Selous, we used a Sand Rivers guide. I am happy to say that all our guides on that Kenya/Tanzania trip were excellent. Despite having seen it all numerous times, they were all enthusiastic, willing to fulfill all our needs or desires, but, perhaps most important, respectful of the wildlife. You can't ask for better than that.
SusanLynne is offline  
Aug 14th, 2003, 08:38 AM
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I have traveled on a super luxury safari with Robin Pope Safaris (South Luangwa) and traveled on a participation camping safari with Wilderness Safaris (Botswana), and the Botswana trip was much better. The trick is finding less expensive safari accomodations with well-trained guides--which is what Wilderness has. I think having the same guide throughout the trip is of utmost importance. That way the person knows what you've seen, what you're hoping to see, etc. and you don't have to go through the same introductory battery of questions: where are you from? have you been to Africa before? etc. By the end of our trip we were exhausted by this set of questions. Also, when staying in a lodge everyone comes back from different outings and shares their daily sightings. This is VERY DEPRESSING if you've missed the big kill or the amazing this or that. When you're with a group camping you don't know what you've missed or what you could've seen and the group is all in the same boat. We found it immensely more enjoyable as a result.
owl is offline  
Aug 14th, 2003, 10:00 AM
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This is such a difficult question to answer...when you plan a safari you are trying to control for quality of accomodation, food, location, what you hope to see and of course the quality of the guides.

I've been on a variety of different kinds of safaris and so far I haven't found a correlation between cost and the quality of the guiding experience.
I stayed at two of Robyn Pope's camps Tena Tena and Nsefu...the guides were alright but nothing like as personable as the Canadian biologist we met at Sausage Tree or the guides I've had in Zimbabwe, where the training is very rigourous.

The difficulty is that these guides all move around so you're picking a place based on reputation and that's a very nefarious thing...I've found that for us one of the major factors is who else ends up in the vehicle with you...perhaps we loved the guide at Sausage Tree because we were the only people in the vehicle? Perhaps we didn't like Robin Pope's camps because we were stuck with a group of travel agents out on a junket?

The quality of the accomodation can make a difference...the room at Sausage Tree was immense and looked right out onto the Zambezi. At Tongabezi on the Zambian side of Vic Falls..the room was so beautiful (also on the river) that I didn't want to leave. I think it's certainly worth asking if they will set up a special dinner for you on your own, or whether you're always expected to eat with a group...this gives you an idea of whether they are orientated towards the group or individuals.

Hope that helps.
welltraveledbrit is offline  
Aug 14th, 2003, 01:50 PM
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Thanks for confirming what I felt in my gut -- that a guide can make or break a trip. We're definitely going to spend a few nights (at least) in a tented camp, but right now we're debating whether it's worth the expense for the private safari and first class accommodations.
hlphillips2 is offline  
Aug 14th, 2003, 03:27 PM
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Thank you for posting about Sausage Tree Camp and Tongabezi. I thought those would be the two places I would like to stay in Zambia. Tongabezi looks too good to be true. It must have been heaven on earth, right? To me that is really all of Zambia I really want for just allowing 3 or 4 days in the country along with Botswana and Namibia. Anymore to add on that part? Liz
Aug 14th, 2003, 09:24 PM
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One more note to add to my posting: now that I've experienced 6 safari guides (at least), the best so far is Pilot Magna for Wilderness Safaris. So if you're heading to Botswana, he's a sure bet.
owl is offline  
Aug 15th, 2003, 01:35 AM
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I was really interested by owl's comment above. He said:

...when staying in a lodge everyone comes back from different outings and shares their daily sightings. This is VERY DEPRESSING if you've missed the big kill or the amazing this or that. When you're with a group camping you don't know what you've missed or what you could've seen and the group is all in the same boat. We found it immensely more enjoyable as a result.

I like the way that this highlights how all of these issues are very much about personal preference.

Pete and I really loved being able to chat to fellow guests around the table and discuss what everyone had seen, both that day, during the longer trips (which lodges had they come from, what had they thought/ seen at each) and on previous trips also.

I can also understand that some might find it disappointing if what the others had seen was more exciting that what they had seen, for us this aspect really underlined the unpredictability of game viewing.

It also excited us because it meant that those experiences were out there and that we might be luckier tomorrow. Even if we didn't see them we felt a share in the excitement. And we felt we got a broader picture of animal behaviour by hearing what else was going on in the same area. Sometimes it was us who had had the incredible experience and other guests hadn't. This happened notably with our search for desert elephants in Damaraland.

I understand exactly what you're saying there Owl, but am interested in the way we can all have such different outlooks on these things.

Kavey is offline  
Aug 15th, 2003, 08:02 PM
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For our safari in Kenya we arranged everything through Suntrek Safaris.

Our driver/guide for the entire trip was Lawrence. He picked us up at the airport and dropped us back there 8 days later. In between he provided an experience of a lifetime filled with daily adventures.

While Lawrence had been in the safari/tours industry for 25 years, prior to that he was a teacher - so what we quickly discovered was that not only could he provide the 'text book' descriptions of what we were seeing, when we asked direct questions his answers were always insightful and when he didn't know the answer would indicate so & would get back to us later once he had a chance to do further research (we really appreciated that).

Lawrence was good friends with key people at all of the lodges where we stayed, which resulted in superb treatment.

Additionally, the tour that Suntrek provided was customized to our needs and it was just the 2 of us with Lawrence for the entire trip, so everything was based upon when we wanted to travel - while we always deferred to Lawrence's recommendation it was nice to have that option.

So how important is the accommodations & driver - well, given how much you are going to spend for airfare, park entries & local transit. So in my opinion spending a little extra for a good meal, nice bed, spacious vehicle & a driver/guide that 'finds the wildlife' (rather than looks for the other vans that have found it) is money well spent.

Just my opinion though.

TravelMaster is offline  
Aug 16th, 2003, 04:36 AM
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Sounds like you had the 'dream' of a safari. How wonderful to have everything so ideal.
I notice your stay was for 8 days. I was worried we would feel deprived to only be staying 7 days on our next trip, although we will only be visiting one camp. The other times I have gone to East Africa were for 30 days. Other than the first time when I thought I wanted to stay for years, . First trip and all. The rest of the trips seemed too long and I'm thinking for one or two camps that a week is plenty. Its usually the first camps you visit that seem the best later. After a few I get used to the routine and some of the glow wears off. Thanks for the post. Liz
Aug 17th, 2003, 03:16 AM
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30 days? WOW Liz!!!
Kavey is offline  
Aug 17th, 2003, 08:19 AM
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Thats how it was 15 years ago. You drove everywhere, and by the time you visited the main reserves, it took 30 days. The last two trips there, were 2 weeks in Kenya, 2 weeks in Tanzania. Never have done a flying safari there. Just the trip back from the Mara one time. Other than that, bump, bump, bumping along. We won't do it again though. But in all honesty, that is because of our age. For first timers to East Africa, I would recommend driving. Otherwise you miss half of the experience. The first trip had great people in the group, everything brand new, opening of a different world. It cost $3495 including international airfare.
Now private, flying, 7-10 days seems good to us. I think that is part of what made us fall in love so much with Botswana. It was really different. Totally! 2 totally different experiences. But then, when we went, Botswana was brand new to us. As were flying safaris and private safaris. Thats probably the reason. Liz
Aug 18th, 2003, 11:39 AM
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30 days! How marvellous!
The 2 month trip is going to cost us more than the new consveratory we have _just_ had put in (we've been saving for it since we moved in 9 years ago) but it's going to be worth it...

We know it's a little reckless blowing so much of our savings on this one trip but... I feel so strongly about it and Pete's such a doll when it comes to supporting my dreams...
Kavey is offline  
Aug 18th, 2003, 12:22 PM
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I can't imagine a consveratory. What is a consveratory?
I'm sure 2 months would cost a lot, but I wasn't asking. I mentioned the price of my first trip, because I think it is so cheap by todays standards that it seemed unbelievable. I didn't have much to compare it to then as we had no internet.
Okay, please tell me about the consveratory. Liz
Aug 18th, 2003, 12:39 PM
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Dear Liz
You're so funny...
A conservatory is like a glass sided room added to the back of the house - it's usually two or three sided and the other one or two walls are the house walls.
Ours is to the side of our kitchen and at the back of the house, half will be a utility room and half will be somewhere to eat breakfast or weekend lunches in the sun when it's too cool to do so outdoors!
Kavey is offline  
Aug 18th, 2003, 01:44 PM
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At first I thought you meant a conservatory, but a conservatory here is a place to watch the heavens, with large telescopes, etc. Quite elaborate and very few homes have them.
So I noticed you had mispelled and put consveratory, and I thought perhaps that might mean something else. Now I believe a glassed in patio is what you have. Those are very nice and let in a lot of light. I thought that London would be a bit foggy to watch the heavens, but that would explain your love of Namibia with the millions of stars. Sigh. Liz

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