Gorillas/Volunteering

Gorillas/Volunteering

Kristin Shea wrote:
I’m planning a trip to East Africa from the beginning of Sept through end of November this year. I’d like to incorporate seeing the Mountain Gorillas, along with volunteering and sightseeing in Tanzania. Two questions: 1) What is the ideal time to see the gorillas? & 2) Can you recommend any volunteer opportunities in Tanzania or Rwanda? I’m a teacher and would like to lend a hand while back there. Thanks!

A: The mountain gorillas live in the “rain” (intentionally bracketed!) forests of East and central Africa, so it rains a lot. But there are seasons when it rains less than more, and if your schedule permits, that is probably the best time to go. But before I tell you what those seasons are, I think you need to think of what else you’ll be doing, and what your own schedule permits, because even in the season of “less” it could be raining hard! So to the answer: normally it rains most in April, May and from mid-November to mid-December. (Not so this year, by the way. It rained most in March!) The point is that it rains so much, that ought not be as important a consideration as the other things you’re doing… As to volunteering, there are several tour companies which promote volunteering, but I don’t like any of them. What I suggest you do is go to the source. Find a school that offers the discipline that you teach back at home and contact them directly. Finding a school is easy and with that I’ll be happy to help. Send me another email and we’ll get you going!

Kristin wrote back on 14May:

Amahoro has been referred to me and I’ve researched them…They seem great. My concern is that I’m traveling by myself and & I’m wondering if there’s a recommended tour company that would let me join a group. Any thoughts?

Based on your advice, I’m researching direct volunteer opportunities in the Arusha area. There is a hostel there that I’ll use as a back-up plan. If you know of any elementary schools or orphanages that are in need of volunteers, please pass along their info to me. Thank you!!!!

A. Amahoro is a good company, you’re in good hands. I wouldn’t worry about joining a group, because a gorilla trek is by government rules a group of 6-7 people with one guide. So whether you arrive alone or not, you’ll be automatically teamed up for the actual trek.

August and part of September is a school holiday month in most of East Africa and the term that begins in September is a critical exam study month for all children matriculating at the end of the year, so you’re going to find many administrators loathe to take on a volunteer, then. However, there are many private schools that have a slightly different schedule and dozens of orphanages that integrate schooling into their facility. When contacting these people, it’s very important that you sell yourself with your own training and background. This may sound strange, since you’re volunteering, but the fact is that now there may be too many outsiders trying to volunteer these days, so like any position in which you’d like to intern, you have to sound valuable. In the old days, just offering to volunteer was enough; absolutely not so, anymore.

Contact India Howell at
india@tanzanianchildrensfund.org

and Good Luck!

Malaria Prevention

Malaria Prevention

Chris Dennos wrote:

Jim,
Long time since we spoke. My son, Mike is going to Africa and we were talking about malaria meds. When we traveled with you, many years ago, you gave me the name of a med I bought in London as the current US brand caused nightmares. Is that still the case and what do you now suggest is the best?

A: Lariam is the drug you’re recalling, and yes it’s still available and widely prescribed, and yes, I still suggest you look for something else. My own personal experience and that of many colleagues is that it just produces too many side effects. On my last two safaris, in fact, people who were using it reacted so badly both stopped using it in the middle of the safari, which isn’t good. Once you start a malaria prevention regimen, you ought not in the middle stop or switch.

There are other options, but I can’t recommend one over the other because it depends very much upon the medical health history of the person involved. It’s really absolutely something that you should see your personal physician about.

Climbing KILI

Climbing KILI

from prfsullivan@gmail.com:

Q. I have a friend who told me that he was thinking about trying to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. (I had mentioned that you are the travel sensei of central eastern Africa.) I’m not sure how serious he was, but I told him I’d find out some information. How much would it cost for EVERYTHING to go to Tanzania and climb Mt. K? (Please include return flight cost this time.) Also, how long would the whole trip take? What kind of dangers are there?

Much appreciated,
Peter

A. This year we expect around 14,000 people to try to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro – this is down from the high point in 2006 when more than 22,000 people tried. Needless to say, it’s hard to imagine even 14,000 people (roughly 40 people per day).

The vast majority of these are budget climbers and they travel the “Marangu Route” which is nick-named the “Coca-cola” route. The Tanzanian government has built three dormitory-styled lodges on the route, with rooms that have 4 to 8 bunks with shared toilets. The Marangu Route is only one of 7 routes up the mountain, but it is the quickest (some argue, therefore, the most difficult) and the least expensive. Three days up. Two days down. Climbers can actually arrive without any prior reservations at the park gate with their backpack and gear, hire a porter/cook (which is mandatory, but you must supply the food), pay fees and begin climbing. This completely self-catered climb will cost around $700, most of it government fees.

Most of the people who try it that way don’t make it. Fitness is not the principle concern, since Kili is basically a walk to the top. Most failures to reach the summit are caused by inappropriate responses to high altitude, and it effects most people around 12,000′. (Kili’s summit is 19,349′) By adding only a couple hundred dollars to the basic cost, you can make professional arrangements with basic outfitters like the Marangu Hotel. These better trained and chosen porters and guides, with proper food, could double your success potential. Nevertheless, the Marangu Route is a tough one because it’s so fast, and it’s the least scenic way up the mountain.

EWT and a number of other companies outfit the more scenic climbs, and these can be as long as ten days with huge staffs carrying tents, showers, toilets, food, etc. Perhaps the most scenic route is the Machame Route. The most challenging is the Umbwe Route. There is a vast variety of costs for these 5 to 10-day climbs, ranging anywhere from $2000 to $6000 per person, depending upon the time of year, level of outfitting and required skill of the guides.

As to the safety, about a dozen people a year die trying to climb the mountain, but these are usually nonclimbing fatalities such as heart attacks and undiagnosed pulmonary edema, which in most cases could have been avoided had the climber been better outfitted or had better guiding. However, in November, 2008, a serious avalanche killed 5 people, and represented the increasing effect of global warming on the mountain. Another reason to choose a good outfitter who will know what parts of the mountain are safe, and which aren’t.

Properly outfitted, the danger is minimal and almost exclusively a matter of how your body reacts to high altitudes. EWT has outfitted U.S. Olympic medalists in track and field who didn’t make it to the top! And we outfitted a 70-year old man with one lung who did!

No matter what level of outfitting you choose, it’s always recommended that you give yourself some time in Tanzania before actually starting the climb, to shake jetlag and adjust to higher altitudes. You can do this by just hanging out in Moshi town under the mountain (at 8000′) or by some rigorous hiking in spectacular national parks.

As for air fare, it changes so much it would be worthless to quote until you really know the dates you’re going to go. In the course of 2009, roundtrip air fares from New York varied from $1350 to $2480 roundtrip.

Request EWT’s “Kilimanjaro Reference Guide” for more comprehensive information.

A Very Lonely Planet

A Very Lonely Planet

lonelyplanetArusha is NOT one of the 8 worst cities in the world. It is the 8th most HATED city, so there!

In October Lonely Planet published a list of the world’s most hated cities, and Arusha was 8th. As for lists, this was about the 8000th mistake Lonely Planet has made about East Africa.

First, a reality check. Arusha is one of my favorite African cities. It’s a modern, fast growing city doing just fine, in fact superbly by African standards. You’d never know it was so large, because it’s so pretty. It has some serious crime which you can avoid by not walking the streets at night, and a lot of conmen which you can avoid by not being conned.

Sound familiar? Sound like, well maybe, Chicago?

I love Chicago.

One of the authors of the original list, Vivek Wagle, tried to create a conundrum but instead just revealed poor journalism.

A Lonely Planet connundrum it is not. It’s a mistake, no complex idea.

By the way, here are the other cities that were more “hated” than Arusha at 8th:

Detroit, Accra, Seoul, Los Angeles, Wolverhampton (England), San Salvador, and Chennai (India).

That list is, of course, a conundrum because those cities have little in common with one another except that they are cities (well, not sure about Wolverhamwhat?), but reduced to the little we know about the big ones (Detroit, Accra, Seoul and LA) it’s really not a bad group to find yourself in.

Lonely Planet is becoming very lonely. More and more astute travelers know to politely acknowledge it but never take it to the café.

In the beginning, the LP idea was a pretty good one. It was detail on the cheap. Find some inveterate, young (and necessarily poor) traveler who was spending a lot of time in some foreign place, and pay him/her outrageously poor wages to write a chapter.

It worked when Americans just began their love of traveling the world. There were many really good young explorers with a bit of their own capital who loved the exposure that publication provided.

But there was never any fact-checking. It was basically all opinion. Fortunately for the idea, the opinion was usually positive, because these were kids awestruck by a new place, energized by a feeling of discovery, and elated by the idea they were now an author.

Lonely Planet pays about $500 for a chapter about a country. In the old days, some of that was extremely good stuff. I particularly liked the condensation of history, for example. But it’s still pitiful wages.

But as time went on, and book sales zoomed, and the owners got profitable and there were lots more people traveling everywhere, journalism crept into the credo.

Are you sure that that tented camp didn’t have a bathroom attached?

Fact check. Holy smokes, who’s going to find that one out?

So more and more scrutiny developed and in the 90s LP submitters had to spend at least one cycle of regularity in each place they reviewed.

That was expensive. Paying for that might eke into the outlandish profits of the publisher! Two nights in a tented camp in East Africa costs an entire chapter’s pay!

Unless…

The camp comps you. That means takes you free, because the camp knew it would then appear in Lonely Planet.

Get my drift?

All of us began to know this. I remember during my close association with Hoopoe Safaris of Tanzania that the marketing manager’s main call to arms was sounded each time a Lonely Planet editor came to down.

We wined and dined and put him/her up free at every place we owned or might soon.

And guess what else? We bought adds in some Lonely Planet publications. It was called “synergy in marketing.”

And we got rave, rave reviews, and it paid handsomely. I never thought the marketing manager was very good, but he claimed in one meeting that a quarter of our bookings came from Lonely Planet.

In today’s internet world TripAdvisor has replaced Lonely Planet.

Lonely Planet still has great background. As a Cliff Notes guide to a place you’ll be traveling, it’s still worth the buy. But as far as its recommendations and opinions about the cities or places you might stay, forget it. It’s all staged.

But then, you know that. Lonely Planet is lonelier than ever.

World Tourism & World Cup

World Tourism & World Cup

emamaimu@yahoo.com asks:

Q. Are toursits coming from USA to TZ increasing after world economy crisis? Is world cup is going to affect tourism in East Africa?
Thanks.

A. The only numbers we have of Americans traveling to Tanzania is provided by the TTB (Tanzania Tourist Board), and we’ve always been skeptical about them; they come out so long after the fact. So the question whether tourism is increasing is a very hard statistical question… My gut feeling is that yes, it is increasing, but very, very slowly.

Unlike the TTB, the South African Tourism board reports numbers accurately and often, and they are quite discouraged by the lack of interest from the United States for the World Cup. The numbers they expected from Europe are proving true, and June and July should be boon years for South African tourism as a result, but ironically, it seems that some Americans who would have been traveling in South Africa are avoiding it because they suspect crowds and other logjams. “Soccer” as we call it at home, just isn’t a big sport, here. So if anything, there could be a boost to East African tourism as a result of Americans diverting from South Africa.

Best game in October

Best game in October

Niki Roberts buckaroos@lionspath.com asks:

Q. We are getting mixed messages about where to see the most animals in October.

A. At any time of the year, in any weather condition, there are more animals seen on an East African safari than on any other safari anywhere else in Africa, including all of southern Africa. As a comparison consider that normally on a two-week safari at the best time of the year for southern Africa game viewing (July – September) you will likely see 10-15 lions. At the best time of year for an East African safari (March – June), you’re likely to see 70-80 lion. Similar comparisons exists for most of the other animals as well.

While that is an absolutely true and definitive statement, the statement that March – June is the best time to see animals in East Africa is a little bit more qualified. This is because — unlike southern Africa which is definitively south of the equator and has absolute climate seasons — East Africa lies astride the equator. This means the seasons are not really very different from one another, and it also means that the weather is much more complicated. This is true around the world at the equator because of the confluence of jet streams wirling around against one another.

Rain patterns are pretty well established, though, and that’s what I base my statement on. The rainiest time in all of East Africa is March – June. That’s why it’s the best time for seeing the most animals. This is when they’re fat and sassy and less stressed, meaning more viewable. It’s also the only time of the year when the great wildebeest migration is all in one place at one time: the southern grassland plains of the Serengeti. So in other words, this is the ONLY time during the year that in one view from a mountain top near Lemuta you have the chance to see between 150-200,000 animals, the maximum a wide-horizon view will allow when they’re packed together.

BUT in the wet season predation is much harder — for obvious reasons — so the number of predators that you’ll see easily is often less than what you’d see in the dry season. In October on a two-week safari in East Africa, the number of lion you’re likely to see can double, to over 100.

I prefer the beauty of the wet season: the gorgeousness of the veld, the abundance of game, the large numbers of babies, the abundance of birds (because all the European migrants have joined the African species to increase the total species count to more than 700)and the general state of the veld: much less dust, for instance. Ironically it also coincides with the “low season” so the rates are the cheapest. Low season doesn’t mean it’s a bad time to travel. This is the low season for most places all over the world — it’s just a time that people don’t travel for some reason.

Finally, you may be interested in why you’re confused! Game viewing in East Africa started in Kenya in the late 1950s, early 1960s. Travel was much more difficult then. The cut tracks in the national parks weren’t very well maintained, and the vehicles were pretty bad — mostly minibuses. Imagine traveling through areas of mud with a poor vehicle! (By the way, rainy season is not like London, but like summer in the Midwest: grand, dramatic afternoon thunderstorms with the rest of the day and night beautifully clear.)

Also fortunate for Kenya, the dry season is featured by about a third of the great migration coming into Kenya’s Mara. So it was absolutely true to say, at least in the 1950s and 1960s, that the best time for game viewing was during our summer and fall, during Kenya’s dry season.

But that changed when vehicles changed and parks got better tracks. Today we mostly use Landrovers which have no problem with a bit of mud. The tracks are better, and northern Tanzania is now developed. In the days when the myth of the best game viewing during dry times developed, there wasn’t even a Tarangire National Park and very few roads at all in the Serengeti!

But of course the Kenyan operators are not going to help you explode this myth! The Kenyan’s rainy season is much shorter than in northern Tanzania; Kenya is a much drier place all year long, and so if you accept — as I’m arguing — that the wet season is better for game viewing than the dry season, then the Kenyans are immediately going to be upset.

But those are the facts!

Honeymoon in August

Honeymoon in August

Andrew@

Q. I am writing to inquire about my honeymoon in August & September of 2010. My fiancée and I are very interested in planning a combination safari and beach extension over a 10 day period. More specifically, we’d like to spend four/five days on safari (preferably in Southern Africa – Botswana/) and then spend an additional four/five days in a beach resort to relax.

A. Andy –

First of all, congratulations!

August and September are perfect for a safari in southern Africa, so I’ll get to that in a minute.

Keep in mind that a “safari” in southern Africa usually includes 2 or 3 days in beautiful non-safari places like Cape Town. Southern Africa is more like California than the Congo. Its range of attractions is immense, including one of the world’s most beautiful cities, Cape Town, endlessly beautiful hiking trails and forests, great theaters and museums. So an optimum holiday to southern Africa meshes game viewing with these other “european-like” attractions. If this isn’t what you had in mind because it’s really intense game that you’re after, then I’d direct you to East Africa, instead. Just as a very broad comparison, in a week of best game viewing in southern Africa in August you’re likely to see 10-15 lion. In East Africa, that will be 50-60. But unlike southern Africa, East Africa has few of the other great “european-like” attractions that southern Africa has.

The beach experiences at this time of the year in southern Africa aren’t at their prime. This is southern Africa’s winter. There are islands off Mozambique which will give you a pretty good experience, but starting in about mid-August, the day time temperatures might not get above the lower 70s (although the Indian Ocean is the warmest ocean in the world). There is great variety, though, in mid-August and you could see a day touch 80 but that’s a gamble. Take 5 to 10 degrees off those numbers if you stay in South Africa along its coasts. Now if you are divers or active water sports enthusiasts, this may really not matter. But if all you’re looking for is R&R, then you might rethink this section.

The best beach experiences for August and September are much further north in East Africa: Zanzibar, or off the Kenya or Tanzanian coasts. And keep in mind that there is no beach experience anywhere on the African continent which can compete with our own. I normally point this out to couples when a conflict of interest like this might arise. In other words, the best I could give you at any time of the year anywhere on the continent would probably not meet the experience of our better resorts in the Caribbean or Hawaii.

So if you stick with southern Africa as your venue, you might want to just consider a safari experience that ends for a slightly extended time at a very romantic resort… but not for sunbathing on the beach. For example, there are some very romantic properties at Victoria Falls, as well as actually within game parks. Along the South African coast east of Cape Town (known as the “Garden Route”) there are beautiful and romatic villas and resorts on the sea, but the sea is like northern California in the winter. So you’d certainly be able to beach comb and hike, but not swim. And like in Mendocino, for example, you’d be beaching combing with a nip in the air, probably in your fleece.

For a safari experience August and September are ideal for southern Africa, its winter. The slightly better game viewing is in Botswana and Zambia, near Victoria Falls, but several flights and nearly a day’s journey from Cape Town, so you’re not only investing more time (presuming you start at beautiful Cape Town), but also a larger budget because of the extra flights involved.

Air Charter

Air Charter

Rosemary

Q. What type of planes are there and how many passengers do they hold?

A. I presume you mean the planes used within East Africa. There is a huge variety of charter aircraft, but there are some trends.

Between Kenya and Tanzania, between Kenya’s small Wilson airport and Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro airport, and between Mombasa (in Kenya) and Tanzania, these are usually larger planes, like ATRs, which have up to four engines and hold up to 46 people.

These larger planes are also often used between Nairobi and the Maasai Mara.

But on all the other routes throughout East Africa, the size of the plane is never guaranteed until you actually arrive at the airport. The charter companies use planes to fit the number of bookings.

Probably the plane most used is the Cessna 208, commonly known as the Caravan. This is a single-engine, 12 or 13-passenger aircraft. But again, you just never know until you arrive for check-in!

Weight Restrictions

Weight Restrictions

From Denise@

Q. We are so excited about our family safari in December! But I’m concerned about the weight restriction for the small aircraft. Is this for real?

A. Yes, and here are the details. Bottom line: if you carry too much, you could lose it. Alternative: charter your own plane, or buy multiple seats.

Charter companies in East Africa presume an average tourist weight of 75 kilos per person. They know how much they as pilots weigh, how much their fuel and safety equipment weighs, and it’s a simple calculation to know how much weight is left for luggage, and that the plane can still take-off.

It’s that simple. The result is to presume the plane is fully subscribed and that leaves about 15 kilos (32-33) pounds per person for everything besides tourist bodies.

This is also the limitation that the larger commercial aircraft (ATRs, etc.) that fly between Nairobi’s Wilson airport and Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro and Mombasa’s airport. But on these flights you can bring extra luggage and pay an excess weight charge (of about $1 / pound).

But on a remote national park airstrip when your smaller Cessna 208 or such comes in to get you, there are no scales for the pilot to use. If the plane is full, and if the pilot believes you have too much, he’ll simply start taking pieces and off-loading them.

I’ve seen it happen. Not often, admittedly, but it does happen. The pilot tends to off-load luggage, understandably, from those who have the most. He gives it to the driver/guide who has brought the customer to the airstrip, and arrangements are then frantically made to somehow have the luggage catch up with the passenger.

It usually doesn’t. And it usually costs a lot.

If you’re having difficulty with this and don’t want to incur the extra costs associated with chartering your own plane or buying extra seats, then there’s only one alternative left.

Have the “extra” bag that you know might be the one held back. If you do this, don’t scimp on this bag, or the pilot won’t choose it when he begins to off-load. But in sum this is a pretty bad idea, since you just never know. Best thing to do is just off-load those hair dryers, hard cover books, extra pair of shoes and let your guide bring the first-aid!

Gibbs vs. Crater Lodge

Gibbs vs. Crater Lodge

From Johanna@

Q. We are currently scheduled to stay at Gibb’s Farm but were wondering if &Beyond’s Crater Lodge or Tree Lodge would be nicer? What is your opinion?

A. Some itineraries are designed for certain properties, and some itineraries are designed for game viewing, and all itineraries are constrained by budget and time. So it’s hard to answer you without knowing all your details, but let me try in general.

Gibb’s is located almost exactly in between Tree Lodge and Crater Lodge. Tree Lodge is in Lake Manyara, which is just south of the town of Karatu where Gibb’s is located, which is just south of the crater. So being in the middle, Gibb’s is perfectly located to visit either Lake Manyara or Ngorongoro. With the other two properties, of course, you’re limited to visiting the park in which they’re located.

And that’s the main difference between all three properties. Crater Lodge and Tree Lodge are located in reserves — in fact, while you stay there you’ll also be paying government game viewing fees. Gibb’s, on the other hand, is located on private land outside any reserve.

So why even consider Gibb’s? Price and style.

I think that Gibb’s cottages are nicer, more comfortable, more functional and more beautiful than either of the two &Beyond properties. We call them Nantucket cottages since they were styled after small beach cottages on that New England escape. And significantly, you can stay for two nights at Gibbs for the price of a single night at Crater Lodge. (It’s just a little less expensive than Tree Lodge.)

But why not consider Gibb’s. Animals.
Gibb’s is a great interlude to intense game viewing, because even while you can base yourself from here to visit Manyara or the Crater, most guests don’t. They just luxuriate in the spectacular surroundings. Many guests remark that the farm setting reminds them of being in Tuscany. There are sweeping views of the valleys surrounding Ngorongoro Crater.

But there’s no game. While at Gibb’s you mountain bike, visit the organic farm, hike, make an appointment with a Maasai masseuse or shaman, visit the nearby town and school … do all the things cultural that many safaris leave out.

Safari travelers often discount the importance of taking a deep breath on safari and just relaxing for a while. And it’s true that a well disciplined traveler can do this anywhere.. just skip a game drive, for instance. But that’s really Gibb’s main attraction, a short vegging out from the intensity of dawn game drives and sitting in a vehicle all day.

I love both Tree Lodge and Crater Lodge deeply. It comes down to a decision of price & style.

Jogging on safari?

Jogging on safari?

From LeslieK463@

Q.    We are a very active couple and want to go on safari, but don’t like the idea of spending the whole time in a vehicle.  Can we jog around sufficiently?  Do most places have a pool?

A.    The short answer to your question is that you should do your safari in South Africa.  The reason for this is that in most of the safari destinations (including most of those in South Africa) the kind of activity you enjoy simply isn’t possible.  You will be most of your time in a car.  But if you go to South Africa, you’ll be able to intersperse a few days on safari with all sorts of other touring which will let you be very active.  Think of a safari in South Africa as similar to visiting Yosemite.  There are many great roads in Yosemite where you can’t get out of the car in order to see the elk and bears, but the next day you can hike in the mountains all day, or take a quick trip into San Francisco.  That exists in South Africa, but in virtually no other country with safaris.

Once on safari, no, you can’t leave the vehicle often.  And no, you can’t jog outside the perimeter of the lodge/camp, and there are plenty of reasons for this.  Read my blog on April 30, 2009: “Elephant Suit”.  But yes, many of the better places have pools.

When is the best time for Samburu?

When is the best time for Samburu?

From angie@

Q.    When is the best time to visit Samburu and the northern frontier areas, like Laikipia?

A.    These beautiful areas just west and further north of Mt. Kenya include two actually different ecological zones, and so the answer is just a bit different depending upon which zone you have in mind.

The southern and western portion, commonly referred to as Laikipia, is still at a fairly high altitude, ranging from around 6,000′ (Ol Pejeta) to 4,500′ (Ol Mukutan).  This zone is divided from the much larger which includes Samburu by a steep escarpment, and everything in this much larger zone is much lower, around 2,500′.

Both areas are semi-arid, very similar to much of America’s southwest.  Most of the year it is dry, and when the rains come (late March and again in November), the desert plants like a variety of cactus and heavy-wooded bushes bloom spectacularly and it transforms in a very short time from a sort of brownish, wind-swept area into a vertible Garden of Eden.

So for both zones if you’d like to see the area at its prettiest, and when many of the birds are at their peaks, then travel just after the rains begin, either in late March or mid- to late November.

Animal viewing is great in these areas year round, but it is better during the dry seasons.  This is particularly true of the southern zones, where several important rivers (like the Ewaso Nyiro through Samburu) concentrate huge amounts of game.  But if you are traveling to the southern zone (Samburu, Shaba, Buffalo Springs and the Mathews Mountains) too long into the dry season and even the animals start to disappear, because these rivers dry up.  So for the southern zone for game viewing I recommend December, January and the first half of February; or July and August.

The northern zone is less effected by the dry season because of its higher altitude.  And so for places like Lewa Downs, Sweetwaters, Borana, etc., there is a wider window for good game viewing: December – March, and July – October.

Best Camps in the Mara?

Best Camps in the Mara?

From MotherGoose335@

Q.    We’re planning our safari right now for next summer and we’re going to be ending in the Masai Mara in Kenya.  When I went online to see available places to stay, I was absolutely overwhelmed, there are so many.  Do you have any recommendations?

A.    I know exactly how you feel!  There are around 6400 bed nights in the Maasai Mara and surrounding private reserves, more than 100 different properties and camps.  Before I tell you my favorites, here are some guide lines for deciding.

First, about half of these are actually inside the reserve, with the other half outside in private reserves.  This is very much a southern African model.  Consider the great Kruger National Park in South Africa.  Most of the lodging is actually outside the park in private reserves like Sabi Sands.

But this model doesn’t work as well in Kenya as it does in South Africa.  The game viewing in the Mara is absolutely better inside the reserve than outside.  But it is also much more crowded inside the reserve than outside.  So for better game viewing: inside the reserve.  For a more exclusive or boutique experience: outside the reserve.

The time of year matters.  If you are traveling to the Mara when the wildebeest herds have normally arrived from the Serengeti (late June – October), then your best bet is to stay as far north in the reserve, or as far south outside the reserve, as possible.  (Except for when they just arrive and just leave.)   For the rest of the year (November – May) it really doesn’t matter, as the game viewing throughout the areas is about the same.

Budget is very important.  Right now there are three main budget levels: $200-300 per day per person; $300-400 per day per person; and more than $400 per day per person.  (These are gross averages.  During the lowest seasons, these could be reduced by 50%; during the highest seasons, like the December holidays, they are doubled.  There are discounts available in all sorts of ways at all times of the year, and your final costs will also have to at least include transport and park fees.)

The lowest budget level really restricts you to the larger lodges, and there is often nothing wrong with these other than that they’re larger.  There are a few camps at this level, but none that I would recommend.  So at this first level, I like Mara Sarova Lodge.  Also at this level, I like the Mara Serena Lodge but its location is good only seasonally, from July – October, and the company is very directed to large suppliers rather than individual bookings.

Most of the properties are in the mid range, and of these my recommendation is solidly Governor’s Camp.  Governor’s actually owns and operates a family of camps in the Mara, and it is Main Governor’s that falls in this range.

At the top end I like Sala’s Camp and Olonana Camp.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope it gives you a start.  And note one thing: they are all inside the reserve.  For me, game viewing is the most important thing!

East or South for our Family?

East or South for our Family?

From LeeAnn1023@

Q.    We are planning a family safari vacation now that our kids are in college, and the great debate is whether to go to East Africa or South Africa.  What do you say?

A.    Both destinations are fabulous.  And they are very different.

Think of East Africa as more like “the Congo than California.”
Think of southern Africa as more like “California than the Congo.”

East Africa is more exotic, much less developed, has much better game viewing and not a whole lot else.  Southern Africa has good game viewing (not as good as East Africa), but that’s usually just a part of a good itinerary, there.  It has lots of safe adventure acitivities like hiking and rafting and surfing, a deep and fascinating history with lots of wonderful museums, and extremely modern and exciting cities like Cape Town.  Oh, and by the way, Victoria Falls.

More and more, people are beginning to treat southern Africa very much like they treat Europe or South America.  East Africa doesn’t have that diversity, yet.

Here’s a good gauge for game viewing.  On a 12-day trip to East Africa in the summer (when family vacations usually occur) you can expect to see 80-100 lion.  On a 12-day trip exclusively game viewing in southern Africa, you’ll likely see around 20 lion.

So if your question is for game viewing, it’s hands-down East Africa.  But if you want a wider experience than just game viewing, then southern Africa is the answer!

How many shots do we need?

How many shots do we need?

From FrankLFriedreick@

Q.    Do we have to get a lot of shots to go on safari?

A.    No, but your doctor might think so.  Here’s what I mean.  The only shot that any of the governments of sub-Sahara Africa might require is a vaccination against yellow fever, and then only in certain cases and with certain countries.  But that doesn’t mean that your doctor may think that’s all you need.

Several physicians in Munich, Germany, recently were recommending that families planning to visit Disneyland get immunized against hepatitis.  This because of a heptatis scare traced to a fast food place in Orlando.

American hospital travel clinics often recommend quite a cocktail of shots, and I do think some of them are unnecessary.  What I would do is not go to a travel clinic, but make an appointment with your own physician.  This is sometimes difficult, because individual physicians are often trained to funnel you to their hospital’s travel clinic, but I think the time and money you might spend insisting you see your own internists will ultimately pay off.  I really think of travel clinics as profit centers with little real science behind them.