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Old Sep 7, 11, 10:44 am   #1
 
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Safari / Tour Operators in Tanzania [merged]

Hi all,

I was looking for some advice in regards to tour operators in TZ for a 5-6 day safari. (Northern Circuit) About 5 years ago I used Safarimakers and they were great, but I want to do some shopping. Can anyone provide some recent experiences?

Thanks,

Keith
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Old Sep 7, 11, 10:56 am   #2
 
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I used Good Earth tour for a private safari about 2 years ago. Very satisfied!
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Old Sep 7, 11, 3:27 pm   #3
 
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June 2011 I did 2 weeks (pro photographer) with Maasai Wanderings, I have absolutely no complaints.
http://www.maasaiwanderings.com/
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Old Sep 7, 11, 4:45 pm   #4
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Old Sep 8, 11, 7:28 am   #5
 
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Drunkmuppet,

There are hundreds of safari companies that can get you to the same lodges and have you sitting in the same land rover. The service and advice you receive in the process of booking is what will vary much more than the price.

I assume, based on your question, that you are looking for a tour operator and not a safari lodge “chain”. In my definition, a pure tour operator will be a company that owns no lodges and has no financial interest in any particular on-the-ground product. That way they can advocate for you in the sales process without financial bias. Most tour operators will have contracts with the lodges and buy the nights at a discount so they can make their money buy marking-up and selling to you at a price similar to the same price as booking directly with a lodge. Some tour operators, of course, mark-up much more and few a little less.

A lodge owner or safari lodge operator will own a chain of lodges. There are also many hybrids that are vertically integrated to some extend and, of course, many safari lodge chains that also sell directly to the public. This may also be an option if you know exactly what you want.

There are tour operators located in the Tanzania and also throughout the USA. Sometimes, the ones in Tanzania will have their own guides and vehicles but own no camps or properties. Some of the tour operators in Tanzania may run their own mobile camping programs and own the equipment associated with this. Some of the tour operators in the USA even own product on the ground in Africa. For example, Thompsons in Boston owns Gibbs Farm near the Crater. For another example, Unique Safaris, based right here in Minnesota, has their own mobile operation in Tanzania. Micato Safaris has their own set of tours with pre-contracted space at lodges and hotels. Abercrombie & Kent in Chicago owns the Sanctuary Lodge chain in East Africa, Botswana, and Zambia.

It is important to find out what components of the distribution channel are owned by the company you turn to for advice on a safari. That way, you can filter the advice they give you against any potential bias. Of course, if a company has empty seats on a tour they operate or empty tents in their own lodge there may naturally be a very high financial temptation to oversell their own products.

Given the world may be slipping back into recession; my other advice is to find out what financial protection the company you book with can offer. Are they covered by US travel insurance companies for bankruptcy protection? If not, I HIGHLY recommend you only book with a credit card. If you book with a credit card, find out the fees before you commit.

Hope this helps and does not cause more confusion!

Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond
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Old Sep 8, 11, 10:45 am   #6
 
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Thanks

Craig,

This is excellent advice. You are correct that we are not looking for a company that owns their own lodges. Ideally we would like a driver/guide that is independent of the lodges and will just ferry us around the parks. This is materially different that South Africa where most lodges offer game drives as part of their occupancy package.

Keith
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Old Sep 8, 11, 12:42 pm   #7
 
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Keith,

In my observation, the natural career cycle of private driver-guides in Africa seems to be as follows:

1 - Young guy gets hired and trained by big safari outfitter.
2 - Young guy works for 10-15 years as private guide. During this period he makes many contacts with his clients and gains business acumen.
3 - Young guy is now middle-aged and he breaks away from big company and starts his own private guiding business. Now he can book the safari and capture the margin on the booking and the fees from the guiding services. Good for him.

This seems to be the natural progression. I have seen a lot of good guides come-up this way and then break off. Gregg Hughes and Matt Copham used to be the top private guides for Wilderness Safaris. They now work for a private guiding firm in South Africa: http://www.bukela-africa.com/bukela_team.html

Jon Niva used to be a top guide for A&K in Kenya. http://nivasafaris.com/clients.html

Godwin Mbogo used to be a guide for Serengeti Select in Tanzania: http://www.mbogoexpeditions.com/

I have booked clients with all these guys in the past.

The private guiding industry is much more prevalent in East Africa as many of what I consider the best lodges in Southern Africa only allow their camp employed guides to drive on their property so there is no place for private guides unless they sit in the back of the land rover with their clients. Most East Africa camps have game drive packages with camp staff or guests with private guides just pay room and board.

Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond
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Old Sep 30, 11, 5:46 am   #8
 
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My film crew drivers (with their own Land - Rovers) also do private safaris when we are not filming. These are the best drivers to have on safaris as normally they are true bush nuts and spend far more time in the bush then the top drivers of companies. If you want I can bring you into contact with them. These drivers also are freelancing for upmarket tour operators in TZ.
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Old Sep 30, 11, 7:55 am   #9
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JCary View Post
I used Good Earth tour for a private safari about 2 years ago. Very satisfied!
I too used Good Earth and had several major problems. Posted complaint on Fodors and was flamed so much, I no longer read or post on Fodor.
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Old Oct 7, 11, 9:14 am   #10
 
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I've heard really good things about Access2Tanzania from friends,and am considering booking with them as well.
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Old Oct 20, 11, 9:17 pm   #11
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I'm booking a Tanzania safari, and I'm having trouble figuring out what company to trust. I think it's fundamentally important to have an awesome driver who goes the extra mile and really knows what he's doing. Based on reviews/anecdotes, I'm not convinced you're guaranteed to get this (or are at least very likely to) even if you go with a "high end" company. You could end up with a less-than-excellent driver even if the person in the booking office is very professional, writes back quickly, is very knowledgeable, etc. It seems to be that any of the big "high end" companies will be hit-or-miss.

I've traveled to a number of places where I've hired my own local guides directly and talked/emailed with them before I arrived. This doesn't seem feasible in Tanzania. Seems like you have to pick an operator, show up in Arusha and hope they give you a driver who works well with you.

Is there any better way to approach this? Thanks!
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Old Jun 14, 12, 3:29 pm   #12
 
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Tour operator in Kenya/Tanzania

I am looking for recommendations for a tour operator for a trip next year. My husband and plan to do a trip to kenya/ tanzania with about 8 days of safari and a few days in Zanzibar. We have a few specifics that we would like for our activities, locations, and accommodations and I would like to work with someone who will be able to accommodate those.

I contacted an operator that was highly recommended on another forum and found it was very difficult to customize our trip at all. Our itinerary had us spending a large amount of time in transit- which was eliminated by switching to the itinerary I had requested in the first place. Our hotels/camps were all large hotel/lodge types even though I requested tented camps. They would ignore or argue with any request I made. Who should I contact to create a great mid priced 2 week safari trip?
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Old Jun 16, 12, 11:52 am   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cakegirl View Post
I am looking for recommendations for a tour operator for a trip next year. My husband and plan to do a trip to kenya/ tanzania with about 8 days of safari and a few days in Zanzibar. We have a few specifics that we would like for our activities, locations, and accommodations and I would like to work with someone who will be able to accommodate those.

I contacted an operator that was highly recommended on another forum and found it was very difficult to customize our trip at all. Our itinerary had us spending a large amount of time in transit- which was eliminated by switching to the itinerary I had requested in the first place. Our hotels/camps were all large hotel/lodge types even though I requested tented camps. They would ignore or argue with any request I made. Who should I contact to create a great mid priced 2 week safari trip?
I'd get in contact with Allen Mnyenye, who is a really awesome safari guide. Don't know if he does Kenya, though. Here is my review of him:

Tanzania Safari Guide Recommendation - Allen Mnyenye

You seem pretty "active" / sophisticated, so I'd advise you to do the leg work yourself and figure out what itinerary you want (activities each day, specific lodgings). Read reviews. Get advice on Tripadvisor/Fodors about your itinerary; lots of experienced people there will help you out. Then I'd send your preferred itinerary to various tour operators so it's easier to compare prices for the same thing. Also, you'll be able to test how responsive they are to you.
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Old Jun 17, 12, 8:18 am   #14
 
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Thanks so much. He looks like a really great option.
The places I've contacted have really packed a lot of locations into the trip and had us having 1 or 2 game drives in a location and then moving on. It seems like quite a bit of time in transit. Is that common for an East african safari? Should I try to spend more time in fewer locations?
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Old Jun 17, 12, 11:32 am   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cakegirl View Post
Thanks so much. He looks like a really great option.
The places I've contacted have really packed a lot of locations into the trip and had us having 1 or 2 game drives in a location and then moving on. It seems like quite a bit of time in transit. Is that common for an East african safari? Should I try to spend more time in fewer locations?
I believe that these companies want to jam as much stuff as possible into their advertised itinerary so that you're impressed that you'll "see so much." This applies not only to safari companies or but to companies offering group tours to places like Europe. Allen (as well as some of the less cookie-cutter, personalized companies I spoke with) definitely encourages you to take it slowly.

I think your instinct is right to spend more time in fewer locations. I had five days in Northern Tanzania, and some companies wanted to jam the whole "northern circuit" (Lake Manyara, Tarangire, Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti) down my throat. I definitely wanted to see the Crater because it's a unique geological site and I wanted to spend as much time in the Serengeti as possible because it's "the best." I didn't really see the point of going to Manyara or Tarangire on such a short itinerary; I'm sure they're nice parks, but I didn't want to cut my time short in the Serengeti to spend half a day getting to a "lesser" park only to drive around it for a couple of hours.

I'm no expert, but the landscape in the parks in Kenya and N Tanzania all seems kind-of the same to me (savannah, Acacia trees, etc.) so I don't really see what one gains by checking as many parks off the list as you can. Seems better to go to fewer parks that have the best animal concentrations at the time of year you're going.
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