There are a plethora of operators, and it's worth obtaining a quote from a few of them before deciding. Note that almost all operators will usually stick to their preferred lodges and camps, not always to the benefit of the guest. Use the accommodations reviews to help inform your final overnight itinerary, as all operators will book the recommendations you discover in this book if specifically requested, with the exception of those that offer only a full game package (your own driver and vehicle).
Top operators and travel agents for planning your safaris in Kenya include the following:
- Although based in Atlanta, Georgia, Uncharted Outposts (tel. 505/795-7710; www.unchartedoutposts.com) specializes in safaris, and its proprietors have first-hand knowledge of many of the camps and lodges in East Africa. They have handpicked most of the properties in their portfolio and have a close working relationship with people on the ground. If you want assurance of the best in the business, contact Sandy Cunningham, who was not only born in Africa and lived in Kenya for many years (where she worked at one of the country's finest lodges), but is on first-name terms with most of the best hosts and guides at the more exclusive and intimate places to stay.
- The Africa Adventure Co. (tel. 800/882-9453; www.africa-adventure.com) operates out of Fort Lauderdale and is a much-lauded operation with more than 2 decades of experience.
- South African-based Uyaphi.com (www.uyaphi.com) puts together reliable packages according to clients' needs; their agents have access to a broad base of Kenyan safari properties and ground operators.
- Abercrombie & Kent (tel. 800/554-7016; www.abercrombiekent.com) and New York-based Micato Safaris (tel. 800/642-2861; www.micato.com) both have good reputations as safari operators; Micato, in fact, was recently voted the world's top tour operator and safari outfitter by Travel + Leisure, an accolade they've earned every year since 2003.
- U.K.-based Black Tomato (www.blacktomato.co.uk) is an award-winning travel agency that specializes in putting together off-the-beaten-track holiday experiences that are always above the norm. They don't have a huge roster of tours in East Africa, but their staff are imaginative enough to put something extraordinary together for you.
Top operators and travel agents for planning your safaris in Tanzania include the following:
- Albatros Travel (www.albatros-africa.com) is an internationally respected company that's had an office in Arusha for more than a decade. Their dedicated team, headed by Julian Camm (East Africa Manager for Albatros Travel), knows what quality and service are all about.
- &Beyond (formerly CC Africa; www.andbeyond.com) prides itself on offering superb luxury safaris aimed at the mid- to high-end traveler. Of course, there is a bias toward their own camps, but they also offer independent advice and bookings to other lodges and camps in East Africa, and their all-inclusive packages can be surprisingly good values.
- Jeroen Harderwijk and Bas Hochstenbach are the cofounders of Asilia (www.asilialodges.com), with a focus on areas away from large concentrations of tourists in the Northern Circuit. They operate Oliver's Camp in Tarangire, the mobile Suyan Camp in Loliondo, the Sayari Camp and mobile Olakira Camp in the Serengeti, as well as Matemwe in Zanzibar. Asilia lodges and camps are as high-end and comfortable as you can get on a mobile safari, but the real luxury, they believe, is "bringing you closer to the overwhelming beauty of Africa." They do not make bookings outside of the Asilia family.
- Awaken to Africa (www.awakentoafrica.com) is jointly owned by a Tanzanian naturalist guide, David Mshana, with more than 18 years of experience in leading safaris in Tanzania (including professional photographic safaris), and Grace Evans, a veteran traveler and accomplished photographer from the U.S. This is both a tour operator and a ground operator company. The combination means no middle man and solid service.
- Planet Africa Safaris (formerly Green Footprint Adventures; www.planetafricasafaris.com) is led by veteran guide and Animal Planet celeb Jean du Plessis, Mary Rijnberg, and an enthusiastic team. They are particularly recommended for tailor-made private, active (canoe, cycling), and yoga safaris. "You get what you pay for" is their motto, and while they are not the cheapest, you sure do get a lot.
- A leading tour operator in Tanzania, Leopard Tours (www.leopard-tours.com) is a slick operator dealing in high volumes and receives literally thousands of visitors a year. They operate safaris from midmarket to high-end, but accommodations are usually skewed toward the big lodge category.
- Nomad Safaris (www.nomad-tanzania.com) operates some of the most stylish and exciting safari camps in Tanzania: Sand Rivers Selous, Kiba Point, Rhino House, Greystoke Mahale, Chada Katavi, Nduara Loliondo, Serengeti Safari Camp, and Nomad Tarangire. Like Asilia, they don't make bookings outside the family, but what a family.
- Renaissance Safaris (http://renaissancesafaris.com) is an excellent high-end exclusive operator specializing in private safaris, with only the best lodges on their books. Björn, the cofounder, never gets it wrong.
- Based in Arusha, Simba Safaris (www.simbasafaris.com), a 35-year-old family operation, offers solid support with 50 4X4 vehicles, 40 drivers, and excellent service. Tours are often biased toward the big lodges, but the company is flexible and able to arrange more intricate itineraries. Highly recommended for their commitment and their ability to produce the best itinerary for your budget. Africa specialist Julian Harrison, owner of U.S.-based Premier Tours (www.premiertours.com), works closely with Simba to ensure a 100% match between incoming travelers and on-the-ground experiences.
- Operating since 1984, Wildlife Explorer (www.wildlife-explorer.co.uk) owner Gary Strand has outfitted luxury tented safaris in Tanzania for National Geographic, the BBC Natural History Unit, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Sir David Attenborough, Rod Stewart, and Penny Lancaster -- enough said.
- Osman runs Ultimate Safaris Ltd. (www.ultimatesafarisltd.com), a small, successful, and personally run tour company offering value-for-money to high-end tours, with a modern fleet of custom-made Land Cruisers and experienced driver/guides.
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.