Travel to a new continent is being planned for next year (2013). We have never travelled to the amazing continent called Africa and we are looking forward to the great African Safari tour this time around, given that we have never done such a trip.
Africa itself is fascinating to us. Known as many names such as Dark Continent, The Last Frontier (now replaced by other nations such as Mongolia), or more recently, land of freedom (ironical to the number of anarchical ruled states there), the continent is surely fascinating to many people for a variety of reasons. Of course, these vary from business to nature to wildlife to heath care etc.
So let’s roar ahead to experience the full trip details and pics here.
Travelling to a really new place and that too, not too developed surely has its challenges which needs to be faced from planning stage only. We are planning an African Safari trip which will be a really new experience for us, since we have never done anything like this before.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL
There is quite a lot of travel we are planning in the next one year and the finalization of destinations needed quite brainstorming. As of now, travel to Tanzania in Feb, Iceland in early April and New Zealand in late 2013 is planned but now, there are various other factors coming up, so most likely, 2 out of these 3 will only materialize.
The rationale to see these countries is that they all offer very differing experiences, while the schedule was planned such that the season when we travel to the respective places should be near best at that time. Generally speaking, most of the travel to any of these countries was best suited around Jul-Sep period but there are caveats which could be exploited and which helped make the year long travel plans.
THE ACTUAL PLANNING
So the planning started for Tanzania in late September and god, we were late already even though the actual journey was supposed to start only four months later. Some of the top accommodation places start getting reservations as much as an year earlier and so generally, 6-8 months in advance planning is recommended.
We finalised February for Tanzania as it is the season when we hear that the wildebeest calving season begins and Tanzania is best to visit around then, in the Serengeti area. The other animals are pretty much seen year round but the calving season is where they are most concentrated as in wildlife theory, the “little ones” are easy prey to the predators. Moreover, the sight of tens of thousands of a range of animals, like wildebeests, zebras, giraffes etc. all at one place is certainly a sight to see.
So, the best place to start planning Tanzania trip is by default, Tripadvisor.com. Mr. Karl Gingrich is a destination expert there (as of 2012) and he was very helpful in fine tuning our itinerary. One thing we have identified while making the travel plans is that we need to have a tour operator for a relaxing and worry free journey. We read that Tanzania is heard to be quite a safe and stable country. (To be further commented on this post our trip). Nevertheless, the idea of getting a tour operator is just for the comfort of not going through the hassle of booking each accommodation at different places/game parks.
We made a draft itinerary of places we wanted to see, based on initial itineraries we saw on most forums and in tour operators’ websites. Then we emailed all the tour operators who got great reviews from multiple bloggers who went through them. Please click here for the list of tour operators we went ahead with and scroll to the bottom.
THE FUN PART BEGINS..
Then begins the fun part. We started getting replies from each operator and those marked in bold were most prompt in replying to each and every query we were posting. We would especially highlight that Easy Travels, Swala Safari and It Started with Africa, were the most prompt in replying and I got the feeling from them that they really knew their task well.
To expedite the process and ensure there was no confusion I also did couple of phone calls to them (except It started…. with whom I had a long Skype chat). They were very polite, listened to each request quite patiently etc.
Since the broader itinerary and was common for each of the three operators to work on, the shortlisting was mainly a function of accommodation they offered which had best location and comfort at best price. The three operators (am sure along with many others) are mentioned to have good vehicles and guides per reviews we read.
TOUR OPERATORS TO CONSIDER
Per our experience, the tour operators there seem quite professional. Based on feedback from various sources, we jotted down the list of operators who have got some rave reviews from fellow travelers…
- Easy Travel
- Roy Safaris
- It Started with Africa
- Serenegti Select Safaris
- Wild Things Safari
- Sunny Safaris
- Nature Beauties
- Swala Safaris
- Warrior Trails
- Maasai Wanderings
The ones in bold are the ones we actively engaged with at the planning stage and they were most prompt in replying back to queries. Not that others were not, seriously. To their credit, almost all the operators were very prompt in replying back. Our final three operators who gave us best itineraries and price for our tour were Easy Travel, Swala Safaris and “It started with Africa”.
LAST MAN STANDING
So now, after much deliberations and emails and Skype messages, we finalized “It Started with Africa”. Honestly, there was no real differentiator between the three operators at this stage as all had great reviews, were offering more or less same accommodation (if not type of accommodation) at same price. I guess what clinched the deal for “it started…” was that it was mentioned in number of places that they had partnered with BBC for the latter’s safari shows in Tanzania. Moreover, Joao, the main point of contact through Skype was extremely helpful and prompt, replying to emails almost whole day long (but this is true for all and not a deal clincher).
LonelyPlanet and later, TripAdvisor as well had some great reviews about it like the other two as well, cost was same etc etc. So I think BBC partnership did the trick. The sequence of events also happened such that by the time we were done with our final final itinerary and accommodation planning, we were chatting with Joao. So we asked him to go ahead only and hence had to send the sober news to the other two also deserving operators.
We did get some delayed response from other operators but by now, It Started with Africa it was!
SOME PAYMENT AND ITINERARY PLANNING TIPS
- Do some research and give operators a draft itinerary first. Also detail what you want to see, so they can prioritise the trip accordingly
- Do not hesitate in sending multiple e-mails and changing itineraries trillion times, till you are perfectly fine with your version
- Send the itinerary you finalised to TripAdvisor. There are destination experts who can recommend up-to date information on whether the plans are right for your trip at that part of year or not
- Negotiate hard! On average, Tanzania is US$200-250 per day per person for tours cost and the rest is depending on your accommodation. But you can further negotiate on final costs as well as operators get a cut for their accommodation booking and you that enables them to further give you a bargain. (all rates as Feb-2013)
- Once you are done with booking, do not think it is final and be prepared for changes till accommodations are confirmed by the operators. Hence, till you are not paying the initial amount (50% of tour cost and 100% of accommodation cost), be ready for changes especially if booking late. We got some too!
- Be ready to pay 2.5% extra for Paypal, credit card payments. Else, whatever your bank charges to do overseas bank transfer.
What to take and other tips
- Take long sleeve summer shirts (not thick ones as it would get hot during the day). Especially in evenings, there are mosquitoes in the jungle. Similarly, trousers or khakhis are handy. Shorts are ok only for the day but definitely not as evening approaches.
- Mosquito repellant, both spray AND patches are helpful. They would be needed every day.
- First aid for wounds is not critical although we took it just in case. Having meds such as aspirin and other OTC meds are an insurance, nothing more.
- Pack lots of good snacks. You typically get three meals and you would feel hungry on long safari days. Don’t worry, the four and more legged beings around would not get attracted unless you tease them with your beef junkies.
- DO NOT step out of the car / jeep when out for safari, even if it means you’ve to pee in a bucket. There was an instance when I was thinking of stepping out to take a pic from a certain angle, near long grassland. Thanks to the driver, I didn’t and soon after, I could see one by one, lions coming out of the tall grass. Eventually, we saw there were 17 of them there! Yep! oooo !!!
- Lastly, take some water with you. Needless to say, it helps.
Thats all for now… see the full trip details and pics here.