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Shopping local operators for private Kenya safari: my experience

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Nov 21st, 2005, 04:34 PM
  #1
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Shopping local operators for private Kenya safari: my experience

I'm planning my first safari and I wanted to share my experience pricing the Kenya portion of the trip. My wife and I were looking for a private trip with one night in Lake Nakuru and four in the Mara. I sent the following itinerary to seven operators:

Day 1: Fly into NBO around noon and drive to Lake Nakuru. Afternoon game drive and dinner at Mbweha lodge. Night drive and overnight at Mbweha lodge.

Day 2: Drive to Masai Mara. Afternoon game drive and overnight at Mara Serena.

Day 3: Full day game. O/N Mara Serena.

Day 4: Transfer to Ilkeliani tented camp. Afternoon game walk and O/N Ilkeliani.

Day 5: Morning and afternoon game drives. O/N Ilkeliani.

Day 6: Return to Nairobi by one of two means:
-Option 1: Drive back with our safari guide and vehicle
-Option 2: Fly back. In this case we would switch to an all-inclusive plan at Ilkeliani on day 4 and send our guide and vehicle back to Nairobi that day.

Below I'll outline the responses I got from the various operators. I was hoping to keep things below 1200 USD per person, and four of the companies came back very close to that for the all-drive option. In general, flying back added about 200 dollars to the per person cost. In terms of choosing among the four, I'm sure that all would have been fine but I chose ESS because of Patty's strong recommendation of her guide Julius. They also happened to be the cheapest but I had been worried about getting an average guide so Julius's availability clinched it.

Eastern & Southern Safaris ([email protected]): Replied with price quote and fleshed out itinerary two days after my email. The itinerary they sent back really stood out because of attention to small details. For example, they recommended have lunch on day 2 at Mara Sarova to break up the drive to Serena. I exchanged several emails modifying the initial itinerary and they were extremely responsive.

Good Earth Tours ([email protected]): Replied the same day as ESS. Price was about 10% higher for the land only but the cost of flying back was closer (Good Earth's air upgrade was only $120). As my plan evolved and I switched from Ilkeliani to Basecamp their all-drive price became almost identical to ESS. Unlike ESS, they didn't flesh out my itinerary and one excursion was left a bit in the air as to whether it was included in the quote. Nevertheless, I felt positive about my interactions with this company.

Naked Wilderness ([email protected]): Acknowledged my email the next day and sent detailed itineraries with quotes the following day. The itineraries came as a nice attachment and had all the info I'd want (though I still give a slight edge to ESS). The price came back between ESS and Good Earth for the all drive, but just over Good Earth for the drive/fly. They probably would have been my second choice.

Southern Cross ([email protected]): Acknowledgement was even quicker than Naked, but actual quotes arrived in my inbox five days after ESS, Naked, and Good Earth (still good, but suffered from the comparison). All-land price was just a hair over Naked Wilderness, but their drive/fly combo was second only to ESS. I had a few of my email messages bounce back, but all in all a good experience.

Wildtrek ([email protected]): Emailed their US representative and he was the first to email me a quote (perhaps helped by the time difference). The all-drive price was almost 50% more than the other companies, and the flying option carried a premium of almost $500 per person. I emailed back with a proposal of 2n in Nakuru and one lodge in Mara and asked to compare costs of a range of Mara lodges. The reply I got back had no more figures but rather asked how much I was comfortable spending. I understand that it's reasonable to want a sense of the client's budget but I felt a bit like I was negotiating with a car dealer. In any case, the replies to my emails were very quick.

Eco-resorts ([email protected]): The first email address I tried got bounced back twice, so I called the toll free number on their website. I received an email from the listed address a day or two later and re-sent my itinerary, which by that time had the Basecamp switch. The quote came back six days later and the price for the all-drive was similar to Wildtrek's. In this case, however, the additional cost for the fly-drive was less than $200 per person.

Suntrek ([email protected]): Almost two weeks after my initial inquiry, I received an email asking if I had received a reply from them the day after my email. I told them no and they resent the email. Although I acknowledged receiving it, they sent the same email three more times over the next several days, including one final time two days after I emailed to say I had booked with another operator. In their itinerary they switched me to Sarova Lion Hill for the Nakuru night without any explanation. Since I was about to book with ESS I didn't ask for one. Their prices for this modified version were about in the middle between the expensive two and the more competitive group of four.

Sorry to be long-winded but I noticed a dearth of information on Kenyan operators compared to the wealth of posts about Tanzanian companies. This board has been a tremendous help to me and I hope that this post will help someone a bit, if only to reinforce the oft-cited lesson that you better shop around.

-Matt
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Nov 21st, 2005, 04:49 PM
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Thank you for the detailed information. When are you going?
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Nov 21st, 2005, 05:56 PM
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Thanks so much for the information. I would like to take a similar trip in the not-too-distant future. Please post your trip experiences afterwards, too! And I also am curious about when you are going.
Bon voyage.
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Nov 22nd, 2005, 04:11 AM
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Thanks. This is a very useful post.
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Nov 22nd, 2005, 08:05 AM
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We're arrving in Uganda on Aug 22 and doing a hectic swing to see all manner of primates (thanks for your advice, Lynn!) and taking the morning flight from Entebbe to Nairobi on Aug 29. Hopefully we'll have good migration viewing in the Mara.

-Matt
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Nov 23rd, 2005, 10:23 AM
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We had Naked Wilderness as our local op in Kenya in Feb this year. Our total trip was booked through 2Afrika. I thought Naked Wilderness were wonderful they were nothing but professional and totally concerned that we were happy every step of the way whilst we were with them. I would not hesitate to contact them if we were looking for another Kenyan trip.
Just our experience.
J
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Feb 14th, 2006, 03:07 PM
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We just got back from Kenya. We booked directly with Eastern & Southern Safaris in Nairobi after reading some positive posts on Fodors. We found Serah very responsive to our e-mails and planning went smoothly. In Kenya our driver/guide was wonderful. Knowledgeable, courteous and genuinely concerned that our visit was all we expected. We had a great experience with E&S Safaris.
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Feb 14th, 2006, 04:02 PM
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Thanks for the excellent info. Please post after your safari experience.
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Feb 14th, 2006, 04:49 PM
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Hello,

Thanks a lot for this -- it's very helpful. Maybe we can create an index for reviews of operators?

Cheers,
Julian
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Feb 15th, 2006, 05:39 AM
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Thank you Matt - very interesting.

Julian
It's a good idea but I wonder if it's not better to let people be guinea pigs for a bit longer so that we get reviews of an even wider range of operators

There's a serious point in there somewhere, but my mind is on "slow" and I can't quite work out what it is.
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