Sunworld Safari in Kenya

Aug 6th, 2018, 01:47 AM
  #1  
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Sunworld Safari in Kenya

I've bitten the bullet and have decided to go with Sunworld Safaris in my forthcoming trip to Kenya. Reviews on TripAdvisor looked good and a thread dating back to 2010/2011 on here suggested the same too. I'm struggling to find any newer information discussing about them and I'm due to make the final payment before the trip later this week. Just wanted to check if anyone's used them recently or have anything to say about them? Just for the peace of mind of parting with so much money before actually seeing them.

Thanks!
hiki08 is offline  
Aug 6th, 2018, 04:47 AM
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I've heard of them but have absolutely no personal knowledge either way on how good they are. I did a search on Safaritalk.net, and there are some recent mentions of them there, for the most part things seem ok, but they do seem to have a rather dubious approach to respecting the animals in their own environment, which has been reported by a couple of the regular posters there. I'd read up there yourself to see how comfortable you are with their practices. I'm not sure I would be. In any event, I strongly recommend using a credit card to pay AND getting trip insurance that includes coverage if your operator goes bankrupt, out of business or missing.
amyb is online now  
Aug 7th, 2018, 09:11 AM
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Thanks Amyb - I'll need to read a bit more on that forum to have a better sense of what they're doing, but I suppose we could tell them there's no need to drive right up in front of an animal (?) as we'd also probably feel much safer and comfortable observing the animals at some distance. It's our first safari so I'm not sure what to expect.

As to credit card payment, they've given a bank account in Nairobi. I've already transferred/paid the deposit to them that way and am due to pay the remainder tomorrow. Is it common for providers to offer a credit card option? True it'll be safer if they went bankrupt but it might also mean a source of inappropriate charging if they have my credit card details?

Whats troubling me a bit is the lack of details I'm getting for the trip in a month's time. I would've hoped they had a list of things to be aware of, to pack, where to meet the guide at the airport, name and details of the guide, etc. Am I expecting too much?

Cheers
hiki08 is offline  
Aug 7th, 2018, 11:32 AM
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Sunworld's disregard for animal safety and doing things that they are specifically told not to do as an operator in a national park is very concerning to me. That you have any concerns at all the eve before you make final payment is an even greater concern to me. Before I pay anyone anything, I want 100% of my questions and concerns answered; I've never had to ask that my questions get answered before I pay. The operators I've worked with deluge me with details so I know what I'm getting and how it will work. You could ask now when you can expect all that (perhaps not the specific guide yet, but the rest of that should already be in a standard document that they give all clients). You should also absolutely get trip insurance especially if you are being required to pay cash. You have no protection (which is why I first suggested credit card, the card company would be your first line of defense). I've always had the option of cash or credit card but I know some don't accept credit cards. I would push really hard to get your questions answered before you give them another penny. And then I'd hit www.insuremytrip.com and insure your trip!
amyb is online now  
Aug 11th, 2018, 04:57 PM
  #5  
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Thanks again amyb, I've shot over a few more questions including about payment by credit card (amongst other things) and received a few successive fast responses. Not sure if it's because moneys involved. Turns out there's a sizeable fee for credit card so I've paid in cash/transfer instead. They've also mentioned that the guide would have a sign for pick up at the airport (that's expected, but I wanted to hear it from the company), and the guide would help picking up a SIM card at the airport (I presume it means these can be gotten outside of immigration).

Hopefully we'll get a respecting (to the animals and local place) and respectable (fun, going that extra mile) kind of guide I could happily report back on.

Now it's back to packing and figuring out how much (cash) to bring.

A little off topic, but wonder if you or anyone would know whether it's better to go all inclusive with petrol or to pay for it ourselves? Sunworld offers this unique option which I'd imagine rare for normal tour companies (since they technically rent out the car, and you choose to add on a guide/driver). For 15 days with a bit of driving North to Shaba NR, West to Mara and East to Amboseli, they estimate petrol of US$600, or to pay them an all inclusive fee of US$800 for the land cruiser. Wouldn't have minded the the all inclusive but also don't want it to limit the driver to minimise their petrol costs.

We'll look into travel insurance, which we usually do get but unaware it'd cover a bankrupting your company. Is the AMREF flying doctors/ ambulance service usually still necessary with travel insurance? I've checked it covers transport between facilities where a physician says there is a need to - but which may be a problem if I don't have a physician readily available on safari, the first port of call might be the AMREF.


Cheers.

Last edited by hiki08; Aug 11th, 2018 at 05:01 PM.
hiki08 is offline  
Aug 12th, 2018, 07:48 AM
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I’ve never actually heard of any safari operator charging separately for fuel, to be honest. Everyone I know who’s gone on safari has the guide and vehicle factored into the price of their accommodations. Even when we did our first driving safari in Tanzania, it was never even mentioned about fuel. Can’t help you there, but unless you’re doing self-drive it seems odd to me.

On the Flying Doctors, that too is usually included in my safari itineraries, I’ve never paid extra for that either. But that only gets you to the nearest hospital in Kenya or whatever country where you are. The evacuation insurance needed to get you home to America or wherever is what your trip insurance includes if you choose that. If you use InsureMyTrip.com, you can compare plans and see what’s covered and what is not, and what the coverage limits are on each covered item (like insolvency of your operator, medical evacuation, trip delay, cancellation, etc.)
amyb is online now  
Aug 13th, 2018, 07:48 AM
  #7  
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I did a bit more reading up of posts by twaffle dating back to 2010/2011 on this forum and safari talk. If I'm not wrong, she paid $335 per day for her vehicle inclusive of petrol, park fees for the vehicle and guide, which is actually a noticeable extra to the rate we have been quoted for the vehicle before park fees and petrol, so I feel a bit more comfortable now that they've split it up not just to take extra money from customers (though this is yet to be confirmed). Still a little concerned the all-inclusive petrol might do us more harm than good though if they try to save up on petrol and refuse full day game drives (hopefully that won't happen). Sunworld appears to allow self-drive car rentals of their Landcruisers, and lets you optionally add a driver/guide to drive their vehicle - so in this sense, breaking up the vehicle rate (which is the same regardless whether you want the driver) and extras for each additional item would seem make sense.

I tried the InsureMyTrip.com website but was not able to locate any comprehensive insurance plans applicable. Anyway, we have searched and purchased travel insurance from our local providers (went with Chubb this time).

Guides can vary though - so I'm anxious to learn whether the guide they assign will be one who easily gets bored or not.
hiki08 is offline  
Aug 14th, 2018, 05:08 AM
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hiki, I hope it all works out for you. I will tell you the same thing I've told other people going on their first (and maybe only) safari. You are the client. You are paying to have your expectations met. If you end up with a guide who is disinterested, is putting animals in danger (not following the park's rules of safety) or you in danger, won't get up early for game drives or whatever. If they are not responding to your requests for village visits, to stay on a sighting, whatever...you need to speak up. They cannot guess what you're thinking and what you want. I've had one occasion where I've had to fire the guides after 2 days and get new guides assigned. I couldn't stand to spend 5 days with them for their lack of work ethic. It is up to you to speak up and correct the course of your safari if it's not delivering. I always lay the groundwork with my guides when I meet them: I love cats, want to see tons of cats, I'll wait hours if we think a cat is going to hunt, I want them to teach me everything they know about cats, I want excellent photo opps (which tells them to align the car properly for light and shadow). I don't care about reptiles or birds. That helps them cater to my expectations. If you're clear from the beginning, it helps them deliver what you're expecting. If you do get the disinterested guide, speak up to a camp manager or call your local contact at Sunworld. Do not suffer through it, it won't get better on its own.

Re: the petrol...do not let that dictate any game drives. I'd spend whatever I could to maximize the time I spend seeing game. Don't look back a year from now and wish you'd done differently and spent more time looking for animals. In many cases if you're not on game drives, you're just sitting at camp, which can be boring and not the way you want to spend an expensive vacation.
amyb is online now  
Aug 14th, 2018, 06:15 AM
  #9  
 
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Im in Tanzania now. We just finished a 10 day safari and were in Zanzibar. We paid nothing extra for anything on our safari. Everything was included, including alcoholic drinks at the lodges and camps. I would be very suspect about being charged for petrol or anything else. We booked through Extraordinary Journeys, who are based in NYC (as am I) and they use Cheli & Peacock in East Africa. I wish you luck with Sunworld and hope you have a great experience.
laurieco is online now  
Apr 8th, 2019, 07:37 AM
  #10  
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To give a little closure to this thread, Sunworld did not charge me for petrol or water in the end. Driver didn't know anything about it when we asked. Had a generally pleasant experience with Sunworld. In the end, I think it just really depends on the driver you get. Vehicle was great and they do have a noticeable presence when I was in Masai Mara and Amboseli. Mara Bush Camp which is somehow related to Sunworld was professionally run and one of the best managed of the places we stayed. The driver did not appear to be expecting any tips in the end and was pretty surprised when we gave it to him. One big disappointment was the driver "forgot" to bring along binoculars from HQ before departing on the journey despite we having asked for these via email before the trip. I guess he really did forget, but it was a pretty important thing to forget imo. All in all, I would recommend consideration of this company.
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Apr 9th, 2019, 06:03 PM
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Thanks for the update, hiki08. I was looking around for info on Sunworld over the weekend and wondered why you didn't come back with an update.

Sorry about the binos. Did the driver find lots of lions and leopards and cheetahs for you?
sundowner is online now  
Apr 10th, 2019, 07:15 PM
  #12  
 
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Hiki, Ditto above from Sunworld.
Thank you for returning to the thread to share your experience! Not always done, but much appreciated when it is
CaliNurse is offline  
Apr 12th, 2019, 09:11 AM
  #13  
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I was actually hoping to write something more substantive after the trip but as with usual, other things in life keep you busy. If there's anything anyone wanted to ask, please feel free to post. Below are some fond memories of the trip shared in an ad hoc order.

The driver did find some lions, leopards and cheetahs.. wouldn't say a lot and I don't think finding animals was his strong point. He'd sometimes stop and ask me to use my 500mm camera lens as 'binoculars'. Funny how a number of times the suspects turned out to be rocks and tree stumps. He was a great chap who had many friends around (met his English teacher en route between parks as well as his dad where he'd pass some goodies to them), he'd make friends with the receptionist at a restaurant we stopped by unplanned for food, etc. But because he was so good to everyone, I think it detracted from the animal viewing experience a bit (people might argue for or against this understandably - depends on how you see it). For example, the safari roads are often one lane. We'd stop for an animal. We take photos. A car comes along and stops behind us. He decides that we need to keep on moving because the car behind can't pass. First, not entirely true as they can loop next to us, most of the time it was very flat grass. Second, where I wanted a few more photos and voice it out, he wouldn't listen and would move anyway. Angle of view has changed, no good photo. Very frustrating. Problem is, I'd then see the car behind remaining stationary as the passengers behind were also watching the said animal. FML! He moved out of good heart, I know, but it was often unnecessary and he could've at least checked (hand gestures or radio?). The driver was also a little lazy with cleaning the windows, which is crucial sometimes when you take a few impromptu shots with the window closed. Other Sunworld vehicles we came across I saw their drivers cleaning the vehicle at night - not for ours. A bit of a cringe but we did have a generally good experience overall hence I do recommend consideration of the company. You might find a better company, but you might very well find others worse. I wouldn't mind the same company if I go again, but I might try my luck on a different driver. I liked how the itinerary was completely flexible and I was given the freedom to plan the whole route/parks we went to (I'm sure they could've suggested the whole trip to you, but I wanted something customised by myself. The agent did help give helpful feedback many times during trip planning stage via email.

Proudly, I led the spotting/chase for a leopard (which was hunting) on one of the earlier safaris. With the help of the driver knowing the roads available around us, we were the lead vehicle in tracking the leopard around the area (of maybe 5-8 other vehicles). That was probably the only time we were the lead vehicle and probably the driver's proudest day on the trip.

Meanwhile - particularly memorable was a "Private Safaris" minivan vehicle (I googled it afterwards and they seem to be a tour company) which looked very run down. Poor tourist guy only person in the car with the driver. Car was probably trying to reverse to make a u-turn but backed into a ditch. Another vehicle helped them out and left. As that Private Safaris car started again with the u-turn it backed into and got stuck in pretty much the same spot AGAIN. Inexperienced/silly driver and vehicle didn't look up for the job either. And after having had seen those minivans in person, I can't agree more that you really MUST go with a Landcruiser. It probably wouldn't feel very safari and I could almost feel those people looking at the Landcruisers with envy. Okay.. it's a budget thing as well but if you're going all the way there.. perhaps save the money elsewhere? Pack lunch for the year maybe?

We did get stuck twice - once I agree was unforeseen and we all got out the vehicle with the shovel, car jack, machette and gathered rocks to get out. Quite a celebration when we did. The other time was again purely due to our driver being a little too righteous... the track was clearly very muddy and he could've taken a loop around the mud. He decided to go straight into the mud so as not to go off the track. Needless to say, we got stuck. Well, plenty of other vehicles came and went (this was in the Maasai so it's pretty busy there) with a wide berth (I'm talking like a 40-50 metre berth, the area was that muddy) around us as we waited for a friendly vehicle to help (which two vehicles did and very kindly helped us out with a risk of them getting stuck as well - we were thankful).

ps. forgot to say, but we were in a Landcruiser pop top with 6 seats (driver/front passenger row, then 2 rows plus a fridge at the back). Vehicle condition was good. Managed to pack 4 reasonably large luggages all in the boot.

Last edited by hiki08; Apr 12th, 2019 at 09:21 AM.
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Apr 14th, 2019, 06:47 AM
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Hiki08, I sincerely hope you share that feedback with Sunworld. For anyone else contemplating a safari and specifically Sunworld, your impressions are extremely valuable. I’m sad for you by your first statement about your guide, “I don’t think finding animals was his strong point”. Oh my. That’s not good and not at all how it’s supposed to be. Everything you itemize as a problem should not happen with any guide. They’re supposed to find you as many animals as possible and have the expertise and experience to do so. They’re supposed to line you up for perfect photos (most guides are photographers themselves so they know how to do it), get you in the best position to enjoy the sighting, and, unless there is a rule against it (like in conservancies that limit numbers of vehicles at sightings), let you enjoy the sighting until YOU are satisfied with it, not the vehicle who is waiting behind you. If you are fortunate enough to go on another safari, please look to another company with more experienced guides. But please let Sunworld know of all the problems you had, it may help them offer a far better service than you got.
amyb is online now  
Apr 15th, 2019, 07:52 AM
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Thank you amyb for the encouraging words. I had been thinking I might have been too harsh on the driver but it's comforting to hear that my feelings aren't as one-sided as I had feared (especially from you - who as far as I can tell being a veteran in safaris and avid contributor on here and safaritalk). The driver was a good man, and though it certainly detracted from the experience, and my inaction of sending the experience to the company might harm other tourists who go with this driver, I secretly hope he would learn. I've intentionally logged in using my 'other' account (which I had inadvertently created a while back forgetting my login to the other account) to make this post. This one's linked to an email which I use a little more frequently - anyone seriously considering Sunworld Safaris could message me on this account and I'd more likely to be able to respond.

Side story - I had tried searching him before I went. He appeared to be a silver guide who previously worked as a driver/guide at a specific accommodation in the Maasai Mara before joining Sunworld not long ago. He was not listed on the list of guides on the Sunworld website. Perhaps (maybe) the veteran Sunworld guides are a safer bet for anyone considering Sunworld. The condition of the vehicle I felt was very good, as was the pre-trip advice from the customer service representative, and it goes to say a bit about the company itself.
hiki is offline  
Apr 15th, 2019, 12:04 PM
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Hiki, I hesitated saying anything at all, but I do feel strongly that Sunworld and other providers like them ought to know about experiences like this. I've had upwards of 20 different guides at various camps now and once I had to "fire" a guide/driver team when two days in I saw that things were really going awry as compared to prior experiences (that whole story is on Safaritalk). I made a call to the safari planner and asked that she rectify the situation. It is far too expensive a journey to have a less than perfect experience. That you knew something(s) just wasn't right on your very first safari really speaks volumes.

At first I thought maybe we ought to cut your driver/guide some slack since maybe he was "just" a driver and not a trained guide, but now that you mention that he is a silver guide it is even more egregious. Having had experience in the Mara previously and having passed the silver level qualification, he really ought to have been able to deliver a far better experience for you. He and Sunworld won't learn to improve unless they know they are delivering an imperfect service, which is where your review/feedback comes in!

It does sound like you had some good sightings though, which I hope you're able to look back on and enjoy the memories of!
amyb is online now  
Apr 15th, 2019, 04:43 PM
  #17  
 
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This is truly shocking. I can’t imagine anyone in their
right mind going with Sunworld. I hope you didn’t spend much.
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Apr 16th, 2019, 06:19 PM
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I've heard of Sunworld but was looking for reviews from a "local". I guess it just depends on the guide.

You got a bad one. I think you should let Sunworld know. They need to know this guy needs more training.

I had what I consider to be a not-great-guide-for-the-price-I-paid in 2018. I complained on-site and received a less than acceptable response. I didn't complain to the US agent. I only hope my complaint in Kenya was taken up with the guide even though I was blown off in person. It's easy to convince yourself you are being too critical. But, hey, it's your money. Right or wrong, I know where I won't spend mine again.
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