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  • Insider's Africa (www.insidersafrica.com) is a small, low-key safari operation now based in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in the Central Highlands, just outside Nanyuki. Alex Hunter has long been known for his walking safaris and now runs a small tented camp where -- in addition to the usual safari experiences -- guests can sign up for an interactive conservation safari course, which offers a much deeper understanding of the African bush, with hands-on experience. Alex also tailors special-interest safaris catering to individual requests, whether you have a penchant for culture and history or a fascination with flora and fauna.
  • If you're looking to get a firsthand look at some of Kenya's diverse cultures, Origins Safaris (www.originsafaris.info) is a top choice. They specialize in experiential cultural discovery tours that allow you to meet some of the various tribal groups that live here, learning about and even participating in some astonishing activities, including ceremonies that are rarely witnessed by the outside world. Origins also offers the best bird-watching safaris in Kenya, bringing together the best ornithological guides and exclusive accommodations.
  • Offering both trekking and cultural trips, IntoAfrica (www.intoafrica.co.uk) is a good choice if you want to tackle Mount Kenya or spend time getting to know the people of Kenya -- or combine both. The company offers scheduled and tailored trips.
  • Mobile Safaris

    Mobile safaris can be like advanced camping expeditions, where you overnight in a different spot each night, either in smart tents (the best companies erect these for you and put on fabulous meals, too) or at a string of lodges or permanent camps. The level of luxury will be reflected in the price, and the type of transport (you can go by 4X4, camel, horse, foot, or even plane) will determine the manner in which you encounter the wilderness, its wildlife, and its people. Two of the top mobile safari operators in Kenya are Robert & William Carr-Hartley Safaris (tel. 254/722-510-673; www.carrhartley.com) and Bill Winter Safaris (tel. 254/20/88-3369, or 832/585-0042 in the U.S.; www.bwsafaris.com), which both offer luxurious standards and years of experience.

    In Tanzania, &Beyond, Nomad, Lemala, and Asilia are the best choices (other top-end safari operators are likely to be booking through these four).

    Adventure & Wellness Trips

    One of the top operators for adventure holidays is the country's lone white-water-rafting company, Savage Wilderness Safaris (www.whitewaterkenya.com). They also put together mountain-climbing, hiking, and caving trips.

    Volunteer & Working Trips

    Some of the smaller, privately owned lodges and camps will take on volunteers who express a genuine interest in either conservation, community work, or -- in the case of working ranches -- farming. Please don't volunteer yourself if you're not fully committed to putting in substantial efforts, earning your keep (you'll generally receive full board and lodging), and engaging with your hosts, their guests, and their staff fully. The volunteers we've met have been young (often taking time out on a gap year) and exceptionally enthusiastic. You can expect to work hard, get up early each day, experience multiple facets of a new and fascinating way of life, learn Kiswahili (or a local tribal language), and develop a close working relationship with your hosts. You have a better chance of landing such a special opportunity if you have previously been to Africa or have visited the lodge or camp you're interested in. Potential volunteers should have good people skills and should be prepared to interact with paying guests. Start by contacting Richard Bonham of Ol Donyo Wuas (www.oldonyowuas.com), Colin and Rocky Francombe of Ol Malo (www.olmalo.com), or the management at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy (www.lewa.org) to begin your search for a volunteering opportunity.

    You can also go the institutional route, starting out by investigating opportunities at the Kenya Voluntary & Community Development Project (www.kvcdp.org), a good grassroots organization that places volunteers in anything from planting trees, building schools, and promoting AIDS awareness to constructing roads, making bricks, and providing reproductive health education. A 2-week work camp costs $350, while a 2-month program will set you back $950, which covers airport transfers, orientation, participation in the program, and transport to the volunteer location. Accommodations and food are provided, but volunteers take turns preparing meals.

    Volunteer Kenya (www.volunteerkenya.org) is the international name for ICODEI (Inter-Community Development Involvement), which runs volunteer programs mainly in education, health care, AIDS education, and micro-enterprise development. Their programs are based in Western Kenya, where the organization also began the first public library in the region. Volunteers pay $1,185 per month to participate, and the fee covers airport pick-up, all meals, and accommodations in a four-person hut situated on a former sugar cane farm in rural Kenya.

    Eco-Resorts (www.eco-resorts.com) is worth investigating for their tailor-made safaris that combine interactive cultural experiences with opportunities to participate in volunteer activities and programs.

    Tanzania Volunteer Experience (www.volunteertanzania.org) places volunteers in day-care centers and orphanages around Arusha as teachers or HIV/AIDS educators. A 2-week work camp costs $495, while a 2-month program will set you back $1,495, which covers airport transfers, orientation, participation in the program, and transport to the volunteer location. Accommodation and food are provided, but volunteers take turns to prepare meals.

    Escorted Safaris

    You'll get the most out of your safari with an experienced and knowledgeable guide who understands the bush and should be able to discuss the flora and fauna with you in detail. Often your guide will be available to join you for meals (indicate whether you'd like this) and regale you with tales of past adventures. Note that the safari companies recommended above all provide a guide/driver along with their vehicle, but often they are more drivers than guides. Companies that provide guides as well as drivers (&Beyond, for example) usually take the whole safari experience to a new level.

    In Kenya, guides employed by legendary high-end safari company Ker & Downey (www.kerdowneysafaris.com) -- don't muddle them with the similarly named tour company that's based in Houston -- are renowned for their professionalism and know-how. Ker & Downey was established in 1946 and is considered the world's oldest safari company, making use of luxury lodges and camps, yet giving clients a real sense of adventure and an excellent insight into the bush. On similar footing is Royal African Safaris (www.royalafricansafaris.com), which organizes highly individualized bespoke tours, matching up clients with their ideal guide.

    Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.