Kenneth Hieber, president of 2Afrika.com, answered your questions about booking an African safari
Kenneth Hieber: Very Good Afternoon to you -- This is Kenneth Hieber of 2AFRIKA, INC. ready and waiting to assist you in planning a safari of a lifetime to my home . . . so, as soon as you are ready, please proceed with your questions and with pleasure, I will answer as many as I can in the allocated time.
Boston, MA:: Several friends and I are ready to plan a trip to Africa for late 2006/early 2007. We are interested in doing a Mt Kilamanjaro climb and a Kenya/Tanzania safari. Almost two years ago, your magazine ran a column recommending avoiding booking such a trip here and waiting until arriving in Africa to save hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars. is this still the case, and if not, do you have any recommendations for tour/safari companies that are reputable and (relatively) inexpensive? All of us are approximately 40 years old. Thank you so much. Anthony
Kenneth Hieber: ANTHONY -- firstly, I would recommend that you consider climbing Kilimanjaro in February for that is renowned to be the best month for a climb always. But I would take this a step further . . . find yourself a lunar calendar and plan to hit the summit on or around full-moon! You'll not regret it.
On the 'arrive-and-arrange' issue, personally (and particularly in East Africa), I would not recommend that you do that simply because when you do arrive unprepared, SUDDENLY everyone is a travel agent or tour operator OR has a 'friend' that can help and while that is meant with no malicious intent by any means, it can become overwhelming. Good luck -- I hope that you make to the summit!
Ellington, CT: : Can you suggest a affordable alternate to Kenya? It seems like many African destinations cost an arm and a leg to fly to and I realize it is a lengthy flight but $2000-$2500? Even Australia and NZ didn't cost that much. I would like to begin my next life long project of the 7 peaks. My first will be Kilimanjaro before we nook the snow cap do to our love of over sized gas guzzlers in this country. Thank our grand president for that. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Nima
Kenneth Hieber: NIMA -- strange though this may seem, the 'land-arrangements' in East Africa do NOT cost a fortune (expensive yes, a fortune no). You are right that the airline ticket is the higher of the costs but if you select a provider who has a great airline contract, you'll be amazed just how inexpensive a safari and a climb can be. DO NOT buy into the 'thought' that the air only is between $2,000 and $2,500 . . . that is absolutely inappropriate pricing. You can buy an entire safari for much the same amount. SADLY, the snows of Kilimanjaro are disappearing rapidly -- I would get there sooner than later if I were you. When I first saw Kilimanjaro way back in 1978 the cap was enormous . . . now sadly, each year that I see her, the cap is visibly smaller and smaller. And remember - KENYA IS AFFORDABLE! Just depends where you shop.
St. Louis, MO: Is there any way people with limited mobility can take a safari?
Kenneth Hieber: Absolutely yes -- here at 2AFRIKA we plan (as I am sure that others do) days that are long enough to enjoy the safari experience but short enough to not exhaust our travelers. Once you are at your accommodations, your selected provider will be able to make arrangements to maximize your comfort (E.G. -- getting your accommodation as close to the guest areas as possible to avoid long walks etc. to your room(s) where ever you are. Some countries are easier to navigate than others in Africa BUT typically you will be well taken care of is you select a well prepared onsite provider AND remember this . . . although there are several safari activities usually included in the overall journey, you are NOT obliged to have to take them all . . . so if you require a little down-time at the lodge(s), that is perfectly appropriate. I would however make my 'requirements' very clear at the start of planning your safari so that there can be sufficient time for any preparation to maximize your experience.
Lenexa, KS & St. Louis, MO: We're two 50-something fun and active couples who travel together and want to see Africa next year. Viewing the wildebeest migration is NOT a requirement. Our primary goal is to view wildlife and the two guys are amateur photographers (Karen & I are 'point and shoot' gals!). All of the information on where to go/what to do is OVERWHELMING. We can spend 10-14 days, and we are all 'low maintenance,' but do not wish to set up camp or prepare meals--this is our vacation! Can you please give us a suggested itinerary, contact companies, and some idea of the costs? Thank you so much!
Kenneth Hieber: First off -- most companies like us will accommodate 4 passengers as a private safari so in theory, you call the shots! (No pun intended :-) You're right about the OVERWHELMING . . . consider this! Since your primary goal is to view wildlife, you should focus on East Africa as your primary destination. Next -- if you can afford 14-days away, I would have NO hesitation in recommending UNITED STATES/NAIROBI/ SERENA MOUNTAIN LODGE @ MT. KENYA (1 NIGHT)/LAKE NAKURU NATIONAL PARK (1 NIGHT)/ MAASAI MARA NATIONAL PARK (2 NIGHTS)/ SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK (2 NIGHTS)/NGORONGORO CONSERVATION AREA (2 NIGHTS)/TARANGIRE NATIONAL PARK (1 NIGHT) . . . and then back to Nairobi for the return journey to the US. Once added up, you will easily see that you will maximize on the safari experience, waste little time and allocate the remaining days to the international travel portion of your journey. Hope this helps!
Los Angeles, CA: Hi Kenneth, I'm planning a trip for me and my family (my parents and my older brother) to West Africa next spring. We would like to go to Senegal, Mali, and Gambia, although Senegal and Mali are top priority. I'm having some difficulty finding tour companies who specialize in trips to those areas. Do you have any suggestions?
Kenneth Hieber: I recently returned from West Africa where I experienced a fascinating world of colors, cultures, tastes and religions. Senegal has the famous Goree Island and its slave house (infamous door of no return) as well as some fantastic national parks where literally millions of birds congregate. Many of Europe's migratory species winter over there. I always try the local cuisine and Dakar has some excellent restaurants, including many that specialize in African dishes (many spicy stews with rice, fish, chicken, vegetables, etc.). The French soldiers stationed there are a good barometers on where the good places to dine can be found.
Gambia, a former English colony, helped as far as the language barrier (in Senegal the lingua franca is French). Bird watching is a specialty here, too, and hundreds of forest species have been catalogued there. My favorite was the red-cheeked cordon bleu! Gambia is also famous, of course, as being the birthplace of Kunta Kinte, Alex Haley's ancestor, and you can actually visit his home village.
Mali, on the other hand, is a world unto itself. The desert nomadic culture, where the legendary Timbuktu is found, provides a completely different experience from Senegambia. In addition to the famous mosque in Djenne (constructed completely from mud) the country has recently become noted for its annual desert music festival. Supposedly American blues can find its roots in Mali and local musicians have incorporated some of the American electric guitar sound into traditional music. It's a wonderful blend of cultures and a desert safari is the way to go. Local guides are quite proficient at finding their way through what, to my eyes, looked like a trackless vista to the horizon.
All three countries are Muslim but I experienced no problems as is the case in other parts of North/West Africa. Dakar and Banjul (the capital of Gambia) have several Christian churches where Sunday worship is held. In addition, the women in Senegal, in their colorful native dress, jewelry and French perfumes are something to behold. I wouldn't hesitate to go back to the region. There's certainly a lot to see and do! When your time permits, you may email me for a comprehensive list of Operators who specialize in the region.
West Palm Beach, FL: Hi Mr. Hieber, Several friends have been on safaris. They told of seeing huge herds...of safari vehicles! Sometimes they said 4 or 5 vehicles from different tour groups would surround a solitary animal. How can I make sure my once-in-a-lifetime safari experience isn't shared by so many others at the same time? Or is this the reality?
Kenneth Hieber: Sadly in most cases -- this IS the reality I am afraid! You see, when someone spots something unique in the bush (E.G., a hunt), they tend to gravitate to the common area and that's what causes the gridlock . . . BUT, people get 'over-it' rapidly and move on so while it appears as if there are several vehicles converging on one common area at a time, the crowd(s) dissipate as quickly as they come. One thing that we insist on here at 2AFRIKA with our driver/guides is that they try and avoid the gridlock situation to the best of their ability, and they do! But oftentimes you're going to want to be at the point of action . . . then move on! In the bigger parks in East Africa where space is endless this is less likely to happen (E.G. In the Serengeti where you can see beyond the horizon). It is for this reason that Tanzania Wildlife Services have now mandated a rule allowing for a ½ day safari game viewing drive into the Crater at the Ngorongoro Conservation area. I am glad that they took that stance.
Seattle, WA:: My boyfriend and I are planning on spending 3 weeks in South Africa and Zimbabwe. We are overwhelmed by the number of tour companies offering Safaris. How do we know which is a good deal for the money?
We would like to do something overnight (1-3 nights) which gets us to see the animals (prefer the big 5). We don't want luxurious accomodations but don't want to sleep on the floor of a tent either. We also heard you can drive in yourself and rent accomodations. Is it worth it to do a guided Safari?
Our trip dates are November 7-26th. We are hoping to find a good Safari in Kruger National Park. Can you help us? There are so many choices how do we know what to do?
Kenneth Hieber: Hi Tricia - Yes, the choice of safari operators can be overwhelming. Choose a company that focuses on Africa only, rather than the whole world. Check out a few websites. Talk to safari consultants to see how well they know the destination. Ultimately, a well versed consultant will guide you to what is right for YOU, and therein lies the value for your money. A good company will also offer you to customize an itinerary specifically for you. You will need a minimum of 2 nights in a wildlife reserve to make the game viewing worthwhile -- 3 nights or more would be better if budget permits.
Accommodations in the Kruger Park area are staggering, but any we recommend are clean and comfortable with en-suite bathroom. While technically you can rent a car and drive through the park yourself, if you don't know what signs to look for, you may not see many animals. Also, if the grass is fairly tall, and you are in a car, rather than a higher-off-the-ground vehicle, your view is limited.
Choosing your accommodations has more to do with the type of wildlife experience you are going to have. In Kruger National Park, the roads are paved, vehicles may not go off-road and you cannot do night game drives. There is a 3 to 4-fold price difference for staying at a PRIVATE game reserve BORDERING Kruger National Park, where you CAN go off-road and up close to the animals, do night game drives and you'll not only have an experienced driver/guide, but also a tracker (animal spotter). There are no fences between the National Park and any of the private reserves, so you will have all the same animals as within the park boundaries themselves. The only thing you cannot do in a private reserve, is drive yourself.
Is a private reserve worth the money? Isn't the wildlife the main reason you choose to go to Africa? Wouldn't you therefore want it to be the best it could be?
Be prepared for an experience of a lifetime!
Tacoma, WA: Grandma, parents, and 2 kids, ages 8 and 10, will travel to Tanzania to visit friends in July 2007. Grandma travels from Seattle, the family from Madison, WI. Besides visiting our friends, we want a 5-7 day safari focused on Serengeti, Olduvai Gorge, and Ngorongoru crater, if all can be seen without drives in excess of five hours. Kids will be fine on game drives AM and PM, but long drives between parks should be avoided. We may be joined on safari by our friends, 2 adults and 2 kids the same ages as ours.
Kenneth Hieber: Thank you for your question. Within East Africa it is inevitable to have at least one or two long drives between locations. For instance, between Arusha and the Serengeti it is approximately 7 hours. The other transfers are a bit shorter, but average about 4 hours. The main issue is that often times you are traveling within the national parks and there are speed limits and the roads are not paved, making for sometimes bumpy rides.
There is always the option to fly between the parks, however with a family traveling together this often times does get expensive. Most charter flights between locations range between $200 to $350 per person and the rising fuel costs are not helping to keep these costs down.
My best suggestion would be since you will be traveling together is to book your own safari vehicle with your tour company. This will allow you the option to stop along the way, if you need to. Most companies will allow up to 7 people per safari vehicle, so if your friends will be joining you -- you would need to look at 2 separate vehicles traveling together.
Enjoy your trip!
Washington, DC: I was wondering if you had any advice for mixed-race groups and couples traveling to Africa. I've traveled a few times to West Africa and did a study abroad in South Africa 7 years ago. On previous trips, I noticed that white travelers were sometimes quoted higher prices for transporation, souvenirs, money exchange commission, and tours. My partner and I are planning her first trip to Africa and would like to visit a game park next year, probably in the fall. We're thinking Kenya or South Africa. She's white, I'm black. My question is, are we likely to run into any difficulties as an interacial couple? Will we end up paying more for cabs, tours etc?
Kenneth Hieber: Hello. I'm glad you are thinking of sharing the safari experience with your partner and particularly in the fall when East African safaris in Tanzania and Kenya enjoy beautiful dry savannah weather.
In my experience of many trips and safaris, the courtesies and warmth extended to safari travelers and American travelers in particular is really what defines the interactions between tourists - of any race - and your hosts. The idea that tourist (hospitality) industry people would actually express judgments towards an interracial couple should be of very little concern to you - though I respect your trying to over-anticipate anything that would diminish the good feelings and expectations of your trip.
If racial tensions may forever remain a difficulty in the world, I think you will find that they are in fact quite lessened among the people you will meet - from hoteliers to gas stations attendants, from local shopkeepers to waitresses - on your safari. Will individuals judge? I hate to think in terms of judging others -- but probably this answer would be yes. However will those judgments rise to the level of ill treatment or suspicion or price-gouging, absolutely not! There is a spirit of integrity in Africa (I am proud to add) and I know that you can, and should travel with confidence -- AND you will without doubt see an incredible change in South Africa from when you were last there 7 years ago. It makes me very proud to be South African by nativity when I see my fellow countrymen and women NOW, just 11 short years into a new country.
Go confidently and have the most wonderful journey!
Niceville, FL: Is there one park in Africa, or a combination of two different places, where a person can see the greatest variety of wildlife, including birds?
Kenneth Hieber: Easy but equally difficult question to answer due to the migratory pattern of the wildlife BUT, for a well rounded experience year round, no hesitation in recommending that your safari should include the Mt. Kenya Forest areas as well as Lake Nakuru National Park . . . get further afield however for a full safari experience and include the Tanzania northern circuit...the best place for viewing most animals and plenty of birds (Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Serengeti National Park and the Lake Manyara area as well as (time permitting), Tarangire National Park. Hope that this has been helpful to you.
Novato, CA: What game viewing areas are not as badly affected by drought at this time?
Kenneth Hieber: This is the dry time in virtually all game areas, whether it is East-, South- or Southern Africa, and perceived to be the best time for wildlife viewing, as water is not as readily available and disbursed throughout, so the animals are forced to come to fewer watering holes, and are therefore easier to find. The grass is short, and it is easier to spot the game. Though - I would recommend you concentrate your efforts and time in the Maasai Mara / Serengeti eco-system for there you are bound to see much game. Sadly the drought areas to the north of Kenya have been severely affected - stay south!
North Conway, NH: I've been on Safari before--18 years ago...Best trip ever. I'd like to organize a trip to share the experience with a group of friends and relatives. 10 days in Africa. What's the best way to organize a group trip, and how many people do you need to get one or 2 people free? I want to keep the cost down so people can afford it but a guide/driver on Safari is a must. Clean lodging and food at the lodge too. One price from a destination..Our other trip was all inclusive and it worked great...the company we went with no longer exists. Holly
Kenneth Hieber: That is SO difficult to answer -- trying to have a 'small group' but with 1 or 2 free of charge passengers AND keeping the price down. Firstly, the airlines have a very hard stance these days on free airline tickets and usually the common rule is 1 free in 20. Accommodations on the other hand are generally 1 free in 15 so there is a bit of juggling to do. I would recommend (given the configuration of the safari vehicle seating -- 6 per vehicle) that you start by considering denominations of 6/12/18 etc to keep balanced numbers (that's a cost saver right there already) and then pay attention to the season that you travel in April/May are good price wise in East Africa (though that is the rainy season) as is June (though marginally higher) due to the fact that the airline will have increased tariffs effective June 01st. East African safaris are always (in my experience) fully inclusive with ALL MEALS, safari game viewing drives, National Park entrance fees etc. Always a good destination for the full on safari experience.
Enjoy the planning -- it is always the best part.
San Diego, CA: As a graduation gift for my wife, we will be heading to Africa!!! Originally we intended on Kenya and Tanzania, but we are now leaning towards Botswana. We are wildlife and nature enthusiasts on a budget (try living in SD on one income for 3+ years)who are trying to find the best way to Botswana and a reputable "budget safari." So....Which are the best cities to depart from in Europe (or does it matter)? Which are the best African airlines (or which to avoid)? Are there any other interesting ways to travel from South Africa to Botswana like train, fairly reliable buses which may add to the trip, or should we stick to air? An of coures, do you recomend any good budget safari groups (we did find G.A.P adventures as well as others)? I think that is all for now. Would love to read about our trip in the column as we are long time subscribers. Oh we are planing on a early to mid September trip (arrive 8 -11 ish)for about 14- 16 days then some time back in europe. Our ages are 27 & 33 and active. Thanks a ton, Daniel
Kenneth Hieber: Congratulations on your graduation and what a nice way to start your life journey by heading to Africa.
To reach Botswana from the U.S. and also from Europe, it is necessary to fly through Johannesburg (which has become the central hub for Southern Africa). The best city European city to depart from is London and there are several airlines to choose from, including Nationwide Airlines (a South African carrier) as well as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. From Amsterdam, KLM offers daily service as well.
I would personally recommend flying up to Maun (from Johannesburg) to reach the Okavango Delta Area or into Livingstone, Zambia or Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and then transferring by land into Kasane/Chobe National Park Area. Air Botswana is the best recommendation to Maun and Nationwide Airlines into Livingstone offers reliable service twice daily and also offers convenient connections throughout most destinations in South Africa as well. There rates are very affordable and service and on time performance is excellent.
From Maun there are several companies that offer tented mobile safaris, that are not only affordable, but allow you the opportunity to actually sleep out under the stars and see Africa in a truly unique way.
Chobe National Park offers some great wildlife viewing and direct access to the Chobe River where herds of elephants are often seen swimming from Botswana to Namibia -- truly an amazing site to see. The Chobe area is one of the most affordable locations for game viewing in Southern Africa.
If you have a bit more time to spare and a little bigger budget, there is a train company called Shongololo Express that has been introducing wonderful train journeys through Africa that span many countries on one trip. Accommodations are adequate and often include many activities as well as food. Think of it as a cruise on wheels J This allows travelers the opportunity to not only see a lot, but avoids the hassle of transferring to airports and losing valuable vacation time. Most of the long journeys are scheduled overnight, so you don't miss a thing.
Have a wonderful time and enjoy Africa!
Concord, NH: A friend and I would very much like to visit Namibia's Skeleton Coast, but so far all the guided tours we've found have been dreadfully expensive. Of course, even two weeks there can't justify the trip from the US. Are there any reasonably-priced tours that combine that portion of the world with other interesting animals and birds? We have no interest in wineries or cities.
Kenneth Hieber: Namibia in general is not an inexpensive destination, but simply spell-binding. There is very limited access permitted to the Skeleton Coast, as it is such a fragile echo system. To save cost, you could join any Northern Namibia tour that has at least one day at leisure in Swakopmund, and take a one-hour scenic flight over the Skeleton Coast from there, with landing at the airstrip in Damaraland for a brief walk before flying back to Swakopmund (total excursion approximately 2 ½ hours). You will see the ship wrecks (from where the Skeleton Coast takes its name) from the air even better than from the ground.
When going to Namibia, do not miss the Namib Desert (Sossusvlei)-- one of the most breathtaking deserts in the world, particularly at sunset. Etosha National Park offers great game viewing, and if you would like to combine Namibia with another country, you could travel through the Caprivi Strip in the North Eastern section of Namibia into Botswana for Chobe National Park and some serious game viewing and birding, and from there you'd also have easy access to the Victoria Falls.
Kenneth Hieber: SAFARI SALAMA everyone and thank you for your communications! It has been a pleasure spending the hour with you and it is my wish that you get to experience Africa soon. Then, you will truly come to imbibe the meaning of "warm African wishes".
Until next time -- do take care,
KENNETH R. HIEBER