Fodor's The Complete Guide to African Safaris: with South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia, Rwanda & the Seychelles (Full-color Travel Guide) (2015)
Main Table of Contents
Why Go with an Operator?
List of Tour Operators
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Things to Take into Consideration | Types of Safari Operators | Questions to Ask a Safari Specialist | Going Green
Booking a vacation yourself online is now very much the norm, and there’s a widespread perception that you’ll get a more authentic and reasonably priced experience if you do it all yourself.
This approach often works for American or European city visits, but not as frequently for a safari in Africa. You may save money, but you could end up with hassles that outweigh the savings.
An exception is an overland safari, or a self-drive safari in South Africa. One of the main reasons to book yourself is to choose what you want to do and when, but all of the outfitters we feature offer customized trips.
THINGS TO TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION
Do you have only 12 days or less? Africa is huge and infrastructure isn’t well developed outside South Africa. Flights from the U.S. and Europe are long and seldom direct, and if one leg is delayed you can miss your connection and derail your whole itinerary. Just getting to a lodge from an airstrip can be a time-consuming journey, too. A tour operator will know the ins and outs of local travel so you’re aware of traveling times in advance, and they’ll sort things out if they don’t go as planned. They also know the best ways to contact lodges and airlines, which can be challenging due to time differences between countries on the continent and the U.S., as well as unreliable phone and Internet.
Safety and Surprises. Although the countries you’re likely to visit are largely stable and safe, first-time travelers in particular can be anxious about their virgin journey into unknown terrain. Political climates can change quickly, and news can be slow to filter out through traditional news channels. Your operator has contacts on the ground who keep them up to date with relevant information. Natural disasters, or even heavier than expected rainfall, can make roads dangerous or impassable, and a tour operator can adjust your itinerary accordingly. And they will be accountable if anything goes wrong or you don’t receive the service you paid for.
Specific requests or interests. When you plan a safari, you’re presented with multiple countries and infinite options, depending on your budget, the time of year, whether you want to see animals and landscape in a vehicle, on foot, on horseback, or on a boat, and whether you want to stay in a canvas tent or a hotel. You may have dietary or health issues, or want an eco-holiday rather than a butler and private plunge pool. You might want to see three countries in 10 days or just one in a week. A good tour operator will discuss your preferences and tailor an experience that delivers exactly what you want and how you want it, saving you weeks of research. Tour operators also have the kind of overview of an area and its various options that you can’t pick up from reading individual reviews of places online.
Details, big and small. Weight allowance on planes, yellow-fever certificates, visas, tipping—these are just some of the easily overlooked details that a good outfitter will tend to. You’ll also receive valuable information about local culture and customs.
Choices and Prices. Hotels and lodges have two sets of prices—rack rates, which are what the public pays, and a cheaper rate for tour operators. The operator will add their own mark-up, but you often still pay less, and you’ll be aware of all the costs involved upfront, which allows you to budget better. Tour operators will also buffer you against currency fluctuations—the price you’ll pay months in advance of a trip will be guaranteed. Also, many lodges don’t take bookings directly from the public because they also prefer their clients to go through an operator, so you’ll automatically lose out on a lot of good choices.
TYPES OF SAFARI OPERATORS
African tour operator. Usually based in the U.S., this type of company specializes in tours and safaris to Africa and works with a safari operator that provides support on the ground. Start dates and itineraries are set for some trips, but customized vacations can almost always be arranged. Travelers can find out the details of these trips through retail travel agents but can also deal directly with the company, usually by talking with them about their preferences on the phone and then receiving a personalized itinerary and quote via email.
African safari operator/ground operator. This type of outfitter is a company in Africa that provides logistical support to a U.S.-based tour operator by seeing to the details of your safari. An operator might charter flights, pick you up at the airport, and take you on game-viewing trips. Some operators own or manage safari lodges. In addition, a safari operator communicates changing trends and developments in the region to tour operators and serves as your on-site contact in cases of illness, injury, or other unexpected situations. For example, go2africa is an African tour operator that uses a ground operator to handle logistics and accommodations. Micato and Roar Africa, on the other hand, handle every stage of your trip themselves.
Retail travel agent. In general, a travel agent sells trip packages directly to consumers. In most cases an agent doesn’t have a geographical specialty. When called on to arrange a trip to Africa, the travel agent turns to an African tour operator for details.
Before you entrust your trip to a tour operator or travel agent, do your best to determine the extent of his or her knowledge as well as the level of enthusiasm he or she has for the destination. There are as many travel companies claiming to specialize in Africa as there are hippos in the Zambezi, so it’s especially important to determine which operators and agents are up to the challenge. We’ve featured some of the best further on in this chapter.
After choosing a tour operator or travel agent, it’s a good idea to discuss with him or her the logistics and details of the itinerary so you know what to expect each day. Ask questions about lodging, even if you’re traveling on a group tour. A lodge that’s completely open to the elements may be a highlight for some travelers and terrifying for others, particularly at night when a lion roars nearby. Also ask about the amount of time you’ll spend with other travelers. If you’re planning a safari honeymoon, find out if you can dine alone when you want to, and ask about honeymoon packages.
QUESTIONS TO ASK A SAFARI SPECIALIST
We recommend you withhold your deposit until you’ve considered your operator’s answers to most of the following questions. Once you pay the deposit, you’re liable for a penalty if you decide to cancel the arrangements for any reason.
How many years have you been selling tours in Africa?
Where do you have offices—do you have any in the destination itself?
Are you or any of the staff native to the continent?
To which professional organizations do you belong? For example, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) or the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA)? International Airlines Travel Agent Network (IATAN) members must have annual sales exceeding US$250,000 and carry an US$1 million liability insurance policy, which eliminates fly-by-night operators.
Do you have bonding insurance? This protects you if the company goes under and your agent defaults before your trip.
Can you provide a reference list of past clients? Would I be able to talk to some of them about their experiences?
How often do you and your staff visit Africa? Have you been where I’m going?
What sort of support do you have in Africa?
Can you handle arrangements from start to finish, including flights?
Do you have your own guides and vehicles? Will my tour be escorted the entire time by an experienced tour leader or director?
Do you charge a fee? (Agents and operators usually make their money through commissions.)
What’s included in the cost? Are all tips included, for instance?
What’s your cancellation policy?
Is the trip guaranteed to operate regardless of the number of travelers?
What level of fitness is required for this trip?
What other companies and charities does your company associate with? Can I get involved with your philanthropic efforts or learn about volunteering efforts?
What do your travelers sometimes learn the hard way?
What’s your contingency plan in case of war or terrorism?
Do you have any affiliation to a particular lodge chain, or will you refer me to lodges or camps you own yourself only? (An operator can keep costs down by doing this, but you’ll benefit the most from impartial advice.)
Consider how responsive the agent is to your queries. If they take a long time to get back to you, aren’t easy to get hold of on the phone, don’t read your emails properly, or make mistakes with details in the beginning stages, it’s not a good sign. The level of service you receive when gathering information and booking the trip is a strong indicator of the company’s professionalism.
If you’re serious about ecotourism, shouldn’t the tour operator you pick be ecologically conscious as well? Make sure to find an operator who’s as passionate about being green as you and can prove it by working with the local community and leaving as light an impact on the landscape as possible. How do you find this out? It’s difficult when it comes to traveling in Africa, because many companies “green-wash” —they apply an eco tag to their trips or services without any real follow-through. Until an official ratings system is in place, you’ll have to do the research yourself (though Kenya has a reliable website with ratings).
You’ll often find that you’re visiting extremely impoverished communities and you’ll want to give something back. Before booking your trip, question your preferred operators about their relationship to the communities where their safaris take place. Many reputable outfitters have established foundations that make donations to local peoples or wildlife, and some will arrange trips to nearby schools, orphanages, or neighborhoods. We’ve highlighted the philanthropic endeavors of a number of top operators in our List of Operators below.
GREEN QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR OPERATOR
Are the lodges on the itineraries solar powered?
What are the lodges’ philosophies on recycling, energy efficiency, water conservation, and waste management?
Have local materials been used in building your safari lodge?
Does the lodge’s dining menu use local ingredients? Or, even better, are ingredients sourced on-site?
Do the safari guides, rangers, and trackers belong to tribes from the region in which you’re traveling?
Do the chefs and porters hail from the surrounding area?
Does the company, or the lodges it uses, provide economic opportunities for local communities?
Does the company have any philanthropic or voluntourism projects?
Here’s a short list of camps that are big on luxury and small on eco-footprint; these spots look after the environment, the local communities, and the wildlife so you can feel good while you’re having fun.
Campi ya Kanzi, Kenya. This was the first camp in Kenya to be gold rated by Ecotourism Kenya for its efforts in sustainable tourism and is one of the most environmentally friendly camps in East Africa.
Damaraland Camp, Namibia. A joint community venture with the local riemvasmakers (thong makers), this eco-friendly isolated camp has won numerous awards for its successful integration of local communities, the environment, and wildlife.
Delta Camp, Botswana. A major conservation plus for this enchanting camp set deep in the Okavango is that motorboats aren’t used; the emphasis is on preserving the purity of the environment.
Porini Amboseli Camp, Kenya. A silver eco-award winner, this camp is co-owned with the local Masai community. You’ll see very few visitors (numbers are limited to 12 per day), but lots of game, including predators and elephants.
Saruni Mara, Kenya. This exclusive eco-friendly lodge just outside the Masai Mara boasts the Masai Wellbeing Space, which uses local plants for its treatments and is considered one of the best spas in Kenya.
Vuyatela, Djuma, Sabi Sands, South Africa. This vibey camp mixes contemporary African township culture with modern Shangaan culture. The owners are passionate about community involvement and have established a day-care center for the local children.
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Top 10 Outfitters | Highly Recommended Outfitters
Our list of tour operators hardly exhausts the number of reputable companies, but the following operators, sorted alphabetically, were selected because they’re well-established firms that offer a good selection of itineraries ranging from overland safaris, walking and fly-in safaris, under-canvas safaris, to safari lodges. They all offer fully customizable trips, too.
TOP 10 OUTFITTERS
Formerly CC Africa, this luxury tour operator offers ready-made trips and tours to all parts of Southern or East Africa, or can tailor a safari to your needs. It offers some of the best destinations and accommodations in Africa (and manages 33 of its own highly regarded properties), from the Okovango Delta to remote Indian Ocean islands. Unique trips for the discerning traveler can be planned around learning, conservation, and sustainability, or “luxury in the bush,” which includes more holistic activities, such as yoga safaris. They also offer active adventures such as rhino darting for conservation, walking safaris, and turtle-hatching expeditions.
Destinations serviced: Botswana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Most popular packages: Treasures of Tanzania, 7 days, from $7,000; Big Cat Safari, South Africa, 5 days, from $4,000.
Philanthropy: They have raised and committed R100 million (US$11.5 million) to implement and operate projects in six African countries.
What they do best: Luxury in the bush; impeccable attention to detail, honeymoons.
Pinmill Farm,164 Katherine St. | Sandton, South Africa | 2010 | 27/11809-4300 in South Africa, 888/882-3742 in U.S. | www.andbeyond.com.
Abercrombie & Kent.
In business since 1962, this company is considered one of the best in the business and is consistently given high marks by former clients. From your first decision to go on safari to its successful conclusion, A&K offers seamless service. Their tailor-made safaris hark back to days past when intrepid adventurers such as Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway relied on private guides to create a safari program and escort them through the bush from start to finish. The company has a professional network of local A&K offices in all its destination countries, staffed by full-time A&K experts, and maintains its own fleet of four-wheel-drive safari vehicles and trains its own drivers. The head office in the U.S. is in Illinois.
Destinations serviced: Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Most popular package: Kenya & Tanzania, 12 days, from $5,775.
Philanthropy: Extensive projects benefit ecosystems and wildlife, communities and cultures, and health and education. Guests can meet local people making a difference in their communities. Many guests build their safari around several of these projects.
What They Do Best: Knowledge—they have some of the most experienced guides on the continent.
1411 Opus Pl. | Downer’s Grove, Illinois, USA | 60515 | 888/611-4711 | www.abercrombiekent.com.
Africa Adventure Company.
This award-winning company, based in Florida, is renowned for arranging low-impact and personalized travel. Their experienced staff listen closely to what kind of experience their clients are after and match it with a suitable itinerary. Owner Mark Nolting has spent more than 25 years exploring and researching Africa and has written several guidebooks. His partner, Alison, managed safari camps for many years and now works on developing new safari programs for both repeat and new clients as well as organizing community and volunteer programs. They promote camps that are symbiotic with nature and the community, and offer exquisite game-viewing with top-notch guides. They also offer add-on tours, such as beach escapes and honeymoon packages.
Destinations serviced: Botswana, Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Seychelles, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Zambia.
Most popular packages: Tanzania, 11 days, from $4,250; Best of Southern Africa Safari, 12 days, from $3,395.
Philanthropy: Africa Adventure Company is involved in a number of African communities, giving back with a wide range of conservation projects and supporting guides at grass-roots level. They also run excellent voluntourism projects.
What They Do Best: Safaris and voluntourism projects for small groups and independent travelers.
5353 Federal Highway | Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA | 33308 | 800/882-9453 | www.africa-adventure.com.
Africa Travel Resource.
Africa Travel Resource’s website will provide you with numerous trip possibilities. After you’ve browsed to your heart’s content and made all the decisions, the operator can book the trip for you. So, if you’re looking to plan a trip to Mt. Kilimanjaro, you can search through the huge resource base and choose your perfect trip. Alternatively, you can speak to a member of the team who will work out your itinerary with you. All quotes are tailor-made for the customer with a complete itemized breakdown of costs, and consultants try very hard to match clients’ preferences with the type of accommodations that are available. The staff are all genuine experts, all with extensive personal experience of traveling, living, and working in Africa, and they personally inspect more than 5,000 properties across Africa to ensure that their guests get to the right places. They have offices in the U.K., U.S., South Africa, and Tanzania.
Destinations serviced: Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Most popular packages: Tanzanian safari and beach combination, 14 days, from $3,000; 21 days with Kilimanjaro included, from $4,750-$12,500.
Philanthrophy: ART gives 10% of their profits to a charitable foundation to fund various projects in Africa.
What they do best: Very responsive sales teams, plus efficient, accurate, and reliable trip creation and delivery systems.
Melton Heath House, Westcott Rd., Dorking | Surrey, England | RH43NB | 44/1306-880-770, 888/487-5418 in the U.S. and Canada | www.africatravelresource.com.
Cheli & Peacock.
Based in Nairobi, this award-winning company is a small family business. It was born out of a passion to conserve Kenya’s wildlife and wilderness areas and has developed over the years to become one of Kenya’s leading destination management companies and inbound tour operators, specializing in East Africa. The variety of locations covers a broad selection of ecosystems, game, and conservation, and features small luxury camps and lodges in top national parks and reserves. Their trips are very creative; for example helicopter rides across the Northern Frontier District or walking with camels guided by experienced local tribesmen across the Laikipia plateau. They manage all ground arrangements themselves. Beach escapes to Kenya and Tanzania can be added to safari trips.
Destinations serviced: Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda.
Most popular packages: Scenic Safari in Kenya, 13 days, from $7,000; Swift Adventure in Kenya, 7 days, from $3,700.
Philanthropy: They’ve developed conservation and community partnerships for the past 27 years and have an extensive program.
What they do best: Creative itineraries and top-notch accommodations and service to East African destinations.
Lengai House, Wilson Airport | Nairobi, Kenya | 00517 | 254-20/600-3090 | www.chelipeacock.com.
Family-owned and -operated, this New York-based operator offers deliberately luxurious trips driven by a sustainable ethos. Safari lodges enchant with such unadulterated luxuries as private plunge pools and personal butlers. Cultured safari guides educate, instruct, and amuse, while itineraries offer an irresistible array of experiences from the sophisticated pleasures of Cape Town to the celebrated savannas of the Serengeti and the near-spiritual beauty of the Kalahari. Micato has been long praised for its ability to deliver seamless personalized “un-group-like” service and over-the-top luxury without sacrificing true immersion in the “real Africa.” Stand-out inclusions on Micato programs include time-saving bush flights between lodges and an “all tips included” policy.
Destinations Serviced: Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Most Popular Package: The Stanley Wing Safari, Kenya, 16 days, from $11,000 per person.
Philanthropy: Their charitable endeavours are impressive, with visits to the Micato-AmericaShare Harambee Community Center a highlight for many clients.
What They Do Best: Impeccable service from start to finish alongside excellent community projects.
15 W. 26th St. | New York, New York | 10010 | 212/545-7111 | www.micatosafaris.com.
Natural Habitat Adventures.
Nicknamed “The Nature People,” this operator is known for its focus on wildlife and conservation. Nathab’s headquarters are in Colorado, and although they organize trips to destinations around the world they have a good reputation for arranging incredible safari itineraries. They always choose the best destinations for viewing wildlife in its natural habitat and focus on small groups and intimate lodges in secluded, off-the-beaten-track settings. Their online safari-building tool is a useful starting point for getting an idea of what’s possible before speaking to one of the experts in their team. They can also arrange photo expeditions, family safaris, and Kilimanjaro treks.
Destinations serviced: Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Most popular package: Secluded Botswana (includes Victoria Falls on the Zambia side), 12 days, from $10,795.
Philanthropy: The Natural Habitat Foundation focuses on conservation and arranges voluntourism programs. They’re the first carbon-neutral travel company and the travel partner for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
What they do best: Sustainable ecotourism for small groups with a focus on wildlife and conservation.
833 W., South Boulder Rd. | Boulder, Colorado, USA | 80307 | 800/543-8917 | www.nathab.com.
One of East Africa’s original safari companies, Nomad Tanzania owns and operates their own collection of unique camps and privately guided safaris across the most geographically diverse areas in Tanzania. They also offer an efficient ground-handling and safari-planning service throughout Tanzania and Zanzibar and use their experience and approach to recommend other camps that they feel meet their exacting standards. They have a reputation for employing excellent guides and for always going the extra mile for their guests. All of their team members have a deep love for the African bush and a desire to share their passion with others. Their website has some sample itineraries for inspiration but each trip is fully customized.
Destinations serviced: Tanzania.
Most popular package: Serengeti Safari, 8 days, from $5,000.
Philanthropy: A micro-finance scheme allows guides to purchase their own safari vehicles, which Nomad then rents from them. They’re also introducing steel water bottles for all guests so as to reduce the use of plastic. The Nomad Trust raises charitable donations for a range of community projects.
What they do best: Excellent guides, camps, and service in a specialized region.
255/784-734490 | www.nomad-tanzania.com.
ROAR Africa offers a one-of-a-kind travel service for personalized, custom tours. The founder’s family dates back to 1688, ensuring a wealth of information and well-established network that can only come from years of actually living in Africa. Clients have had memorable and life-changing adventures, such as meeting with artists and tribesmen, dinner with a CEO from their industry, walking with lions, umpiring a national cricket match, meeting Nelson Mandela’s family, and visiting township schools. ROAR is headquartered in New York but also has offices in South Africa. It runs its own ground operation, which enables concierge-level service and support during both the planning phase and travel.
Destinations serviced: Botswana, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Most popular package: South Africa, Cape Town Winelands, & Safari, 10 days, from $10,000.
Philanthropy: ROAR Africa supports three foundations focused on improving the lives of impoverished children. They also sponsor Save the Rhino and The Big Cats foundations.
What they do best: Impeccable attention to detail and imaginative, bespoke itineraries.
1111 Lexington Ave. | New York, New York, USA | 10075 | 855/666-7627 | www.roarafrica.com.
One of Africa’s most respected and innovative tour operators, Wilderness Safaris assures you impeccable service, gorgeous destinations and accommodations, and game galore. The company operates a seven-day fly-in safari from Windhoek, which covers most of the main destinations in Namibia. It also owns the majority of lodges in Botswana and offers mobile safaris, custom tours, and honeymoon packages. Their policy is “sustainable conservation through responsible tourism,” and they engage local communities in conservation. As Wilderness has more than 70 lodges and camps, all with different styles, they have something to suit everyone. They have a regional office in each country they operate in as well as a head office in South Africa, ensuring that their ground operations run very smoothly.
Destinations serviced: Botswana, Congo, Malawi, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Most popular packages: The Great Wilderness, Botswana, 11 days, from $8,950; The Great Namibian Journey, 12 days, from $6,500.
Philanthropy: Their “Children in the Wilderness” environmental and life skills program teaches rural children about their wildlife heritage.
What they do best: Incredible destinations and seamless service from start to finish.
373 Rivonia Blvd. | Rivonia, South Africa | 2128 | 27-11/807-1800 | www.wilderness-safaris.com.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED OUTFITTERS
This New York-based company has excellent Africa-based operators and specializes in Kenya and Tanzania exclusively, so they have specialized knowledge of the two countries. Although they offer suggested itineraries, in the end the trip is custom designed for the client and is dependent on the time of the year and budget. Clients often combine Kenya and Tanzania in one trip. Africa Sependipity is flexible in being able to offer prospective clients what they wish and at a price that meets their budget.
Destinations serviced: Kenya and Tanzania and their coastal islands.
Most popular package: Serengeti Migration, 12 days, from $6,100. A beach escape is often added to the end.
Philanthropy: They have no direct involvement with any charities but the ground outfitters they use only employ local residents and are involved in community schemes.
What They Do Best: Kenya and Tanzania. Their focus on these two countries truly makes them experts.
1670 York Ave. | New York, New York, USA | 10128 | 212/288-1714 | www.africaserendipity.com.
African Portfolio’s team visit each in-country operator annually and are on a first-name basis with the managers of the properties they use. They pride themselves on discovering the best places, whether they’re hidden gems, up-and-coming properties, or well-established classics. With each client, they’re committed to providing a safari reminiscent of what so captivates them about Africa. Their mission is to provide unique and memorable experiences through nature-based travel that educate, entertain, and inspire, and provide participants with opportunities to directly contribute to conservation.
Destinations serviced: Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Most popular package: Great Rift Valley Safari, Tanzania, 10 days, from $6,000.
Philanthropy: African Portfolio was started in Zimbabwe and their philanthropic efforts are directed there; this includes support for orphanages and a wildlife sanctuary.
What they do best: Assisting travelers with “off the beaten path” trips.
146 Sound Beach Ave. | Greenwich, Connecticut, USA | 06870 | 800/700-3677 | www.onsafari.com.
Offering more than 100 tours to Africa, this Florida-based operator promises its clients a trip of a lifetime—if you’re not happy with the choices given, Big Five will custom-create one for you. You can be assured that whatever trip you do choose, your knowledgeable agent will be able to draw on personal experience to assist you. Since its inception in 1973 the company has been committed to responsible travel that fosters the preservation of natural and cultural heritage and, equally important, the well-being of local communities.
Destinations serviced: Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia.
Most popular package: Enrichment Series Livingstone Collection Kenya and Tanzania, 15 days, from $12,350.
Philanthropy: Their nonprofit Spirit of Big Five Foundation supports conservation, poverty alleviation, education, and health care.
What they do best: Luxury travel that gives something back to the community.
1551 SE Palm Ct. | Stuart, Florida | 34994 | 800/244-3483 | www.bigfive.com.
This small, hands-on company, based in Colorado, specializes in East Africa; as a result they have very detailed knowledge and excellent contacts that enable them to give guests privileged access to places they’d never find on their own. Their guide-to-guest ratio is high: one guide for every four or five guests. Ethical tourism is a cornerstone of their approach and they aim to educate as well as entertain and indulge their guests. They can deliver a fully customized itinerary within an hour of conversation.
Destinations serviced: Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda.
Most popular package: The Deeper Uganda safari, 10 nights, from $7,299.
Philanthropy: Micro-finance projects economically benefit individual families, and guests can contribute to the community projects that they visit.
What they do best: Personalized service in specialized locations.
2935 Baseline Rd., Suite 301 | Boulder, Colorado, USA | 80303 | 888/658-7102 | www.deeperafrica.com.
The owner and president of Colorado-based Explore Africa, Cherri Briggs, has spent up to nine months of the year for the past 20 years in Africa, and the sales team travel regularly to Africa to inspect and experience the lodges that they endorse. Itineraries are never cookie-cutter, and are always carefully matched to client preferences. The company prides itself on using tourism as a tool for promoting conservation and creating sustainable development in Africa. As well as safaris, they can arrange trips to a wide range of other African countries.
Destinations serviced: Botswana, Cameroon, Central Africa Republic, Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Most popular package: The most popular destinations are Botswana, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, and safaris start at $300 per person per night.
Philanthropy: The company is very active in philanthropic/community development projects in Botswana, Niger, and Zambia, and has donated safaris to charitable auction events.
What They Do Best: Explore Africa has a strong focus on conservation and sustainability and offers a uniquely wide range of African destinations.
P.O. Box 776369 | Steamboat Springs, Colorado, USA | 80477 | 970/871-0065 | www.exploreafrica.net.
Eyes on Africa.
Whether you’re a honeymooner, wildlife enthusiast, or photographer, Chicago-based Eyes on Africa will find a trip to match your budget. A wide range of interests and preferences can be catered to, and they have a long list of budget options, too. Along with safaris, they also cover mountainous destinations and beaches. All of the staff except co-owner James Weis are African transplants to the U.S., but James personally leads two-month photographic safari workshops in Africa each year.
Destinations serviced: Botswana, Congo, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Most popular package: A mid-level priced safari to Botswana, 7 days, from $2,800.
Philanthropy: They support several wildlife charities, primarily The Wilderness Trust and David Sheldrick Wildlife.
What They Do Best: A wide range of budgets and special interests are catered for.
1743 West Fletcher St. | Chicago, Illinois, USA | 60657 | 888/450-9247 | www.eyesonafrica.net.
This Nairobi-based company specializes in delivering luxury tailor-made safaris to small camps and lodges in the top game-viewing areas of East Africa. Every traveler is guaranteed a personal, authentic safari and the opportunity to experience the magic of the African bush while helping protect Africa’s wildlife, ecosystems, and cultures. Gamewatchers run their own ground operations, ensuring guests are well looked after from the start of their trip to the finish. Guests often add beach trips to the end of their safaris.
Destinations serviced: Botswana, Kenya, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia.
Most popular packages: Gamewatchers Adventure Camping Safari, 6 nights, from $1,960; The Porini Wilderness Experience, 6 nights, from $4,940.
Philanthropy: They support a school in Kibera, Nairobi, and more than 1,000 Masai families are directly benefiting as a result of their conservancies.
What they do best: A personal, authentic experience, as far from mass-market tourism as it’s possible to get.
877/710-3014 | www.porini.com.
All of go2africa’s 40-plus specialist African safari travel experts are located throughout South Africa or as far afield as Uganda and the U.K. A number of “inspirational itineraries” offer a good starting point for planning; they showcase what’s possible and give timelines and price indications. Along with safaris you can plan cultural-interest or pony-trekking tours in less covered countries such as Swaziland and Lesotho, respectively, for example, or beach escapes or kayaking in Malawi.
Destinations serviced: Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Most popular packages: Cape Town, Kruger, and Victoria Falls, 11 days, from $2,820; Kenya (Amboseli, Lamu, Masai Mara), 9 days, from $4,981.
What They Do Best: A wide range of exciting itineraries in interesting locations.
3rd Fl., Langkloof Studios, Darters Rd. | Cape Town, South Africa | 8001 | 888/818-8121 in the U.S., 0808/238-7564 | www.go2africa.com.
South Africa-based Journey Beyond specializes in arranging travel to privately owned island retreats, although their budget safaris are popular too. All journeys are tailored to the client’s exact requirements, and staff work hard to ensure that all expectations are met. They take into account the destination, budget, time of year, the composition of the traveling party, any special interests, and the level of comfort and luxury expected.
Destinations serviced: Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Most popular package: 10-night safaris start at $6,000.
Philanthropy: They support the Endangered Wildlife Trust through a contribution made on behalf of every guest.
What They Do Best: A wide range of personalized itineraries matched to guests’ preferences.
27-11/781-9210 | www.journey-beyond.com.
Ker & Downey.
One of the oldest and most respected safari companies in Africa (it’s been operating since 1946), Ker & Downey also has an office in Texas. The company utilizes its exclusive camps to provide luxury safari experiences and offers in-house expertise for all destinations as well as excellent on-the-ground service. They work hard to get to know each client to match them with the ultimate itinerary. They pioneered the concept of the photographic safari and often organize trips for film crews as well as corporations and private clients.
Destinations serviced: Botswana, Congo, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Most popular package: Royal South Africa, 11 nights, from $16,700.
Philanthropy: They support a wide range of projects, including conservation projects in Namibia, South Africa, and Uganda, and programs for children in Botswana and Uganda.
What they do best: Luxury travel, unique itineraries, and excellent service.
6703 Highway Blvd. | Katy, Texas, USA | 77494 | 800/423-4236 | www.kerdowneysafaris.com.
This small, dynamic Namibian company, which also operates Dune Hopper Air Taxis, has flexible fly-in packages from Windhoek or Swakopmund to the Sossusvlei area. It also offers a wide range of exclusive fly-in safaris (called “wing-in” by the operator) to other tourist destinations in Namibia, including Skeleton Coast, Damaraland, and Etosha. They have a special interest in hiking, mountain biking, and mountain climbing—anything active, adventurous, and off-the-beaten track. Although they’re a small and intimate company that practices a hands-on approach, they pride themselves on being bold and thinking big.
Destinations serviced: Botswana, Namibia, Zambia.
Most popular package: Self-drive option in a 4x4 covering the highlights of Namibia, 13 days, from $2,500.
Philanthropy: Their sun stove project funds solar cookers for small businesses in the community.
What they do best: A small, dynamic company offering personalized service and adventurous itineraries.
Storchstr 2 | Windhoek, Namibia | 9000 | 264-61/23-9643 | www.naturefriendsafaris.com.
Orient Express owns three strategically located camps in some of Botswana’s most diverse ecosystems and most desirable destinations: Chobe National Park, Moremi Wildlife Reserve, and the Okavango Delta. Each camp has a distinct character, although all have all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a luxury operator. The team are all experts on Botswana and offer guests advice on how to get a taste of authentic Africa, albeit in an exquisite setting. The website has sample itineraries, but all trips are customized. They can also arrange add-on trips to South Africa.
Destinations serviced: Northern Botswana, South Africa.
Most popular packages: Journey to the Heart of Africa, Botswana, and Cape Town, 11 days, from $8,590; Best of Botswana, 7 days, from $6,450.
Philanthropy: They support the Endangered Wildlife Trust, by donating $1 per bed per night. Guests have the opportunity to visit local villages.
What they do best: Luxury safari trips to Botswana and South Africa.
The Westcliff Hotel,67 Jan Smuts Ave. | Johannesburg, South Africa | 2193 | 27-21/481-6000 | www.orient-express-safaris.co.za.
Although it’s based in Philadelphia, Premier Tours is owned and managed by people born and raised in Africa who have organized all kinds of safaris, from basic camping trips to celebrity vacations. CEO Julian Harrison specializes in the development of ecotourism on the continent and is the founding member (and first USA tour operator) of The UN’s Environment Program’s Initiative on Sustainable Tourism Development. Other team members lead tour groups as naturalist guides, and participate in research projects in various African countries. Beach escapes can be added to safaris.
Destinations serviced: Botswana, Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Most popular package: Cape Town, Botswana, and Victoria Falls, 12 days, from $6,995.
Philanthropy: They support Children in the Wilderness and also contribute to the Ongava Game Reserve research center in Namibia.
What they do best: They have expert guides and interesting itineraries.
21 S. 12th St. | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | 19107 | 800/545-1910 | www.premiertours.com.
More than 75% of Pulse Africa’s clients are repeats or have been recommended by others. The company is based in South Africa and so has up-to-date information on travel in that country, but every member of the team has personally visited each place that they recommend. “Pulse Packages” are trips primarily to one destination (either beach or safari); as a result they’re more affordable than a tailor-made trip.
Destinations serviced: Botswana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Most popular packages: South Africa safari, 14 days, from $4,000; Tanzania safari, 10 days, from $5,000.
Philanthropy: Pulse support Watamu Turtles, a marine conservation organization in Kenya.
What they do best: A good range of affordable options as well as expert guidance.
2nd Floor, Hyde Square, Jan Smuts Ave. | Johannesburg, South Africa | 2121 | 2711/325-2290 | www.pulseafrica.com.
Skyview of Africa.
This Kenyan-owned and -operated company offers a wide range of memorable safaris throughout the year to international clients. Destinations include the Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti, Masai Mara, Amboseli, and even a Mt. Kenya climb. All the itineraries featured on their website can be customized. They only offer private safaris, so guests don’t have to share vehicles with other guests. This affords greater flexibility with dates and itineraries.
Destinations serviced: Botswana, Kenya, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Most popular package: 15 days in Kenya and Tanzania, from $5,500.
Philanthropy: Skyview of Africa supports legally established children’s homes by donating both money and material items.
What they do best: They specialize in Kenya and Tanzania, although other destinations are covered, too.
254-20/252-8721 | www.skyviewofafrica.com.
Based in London and with offices in both Arusha and Dar es Salaam, this knowledgeable company creates tailor-made itineraries to Tanzania that can suit every individual requirement, from safaris and beach holidays to honeymoons. They’re the only company to have taken extensive video footage of each and every lodge in Tanzania and Zanzibar, and their website, with video, Google maps, and testimonials, is excellent. They aren’t affiliated with any lodges so will always offer impartial advice.
Destinations serviced: Tanzania.
Most popular package: two nights at the Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara and four nights in the Serengeti, from $4,500.
What they do best: They have unparalled, specialized knowledge of Tanzania and an excellent website.
1 Swan Mews | London, England | SW64QT | 866/356-4691 in the U.S. | www.tanzaniaodyssey.com.
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