• Matembezi Safaris (www.matembezi.co.tz) is a multilanguage safari company (with guides who speak English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Hebrew) that offers a range of specialized safaris, as well as no-frills wilderness camping, including the Lake Natron-to-northern Serengeti haul.
  • InTanzania (http://birds.intanzania.com) is the top choice for birders. Run by James Wolstencrof, known affectionately as the Birdman, a lifelong naturalist (and very keen birder) whose first East African safari was in 1976.
  • If you're looking to climb Kilimanjaro, the following are recommended:

  • The family-run Marangu Hotel (www.maranguhotel.com) offered the first commercial climbs from their farmhouse in the 1930s, and their most senior guides have been working with the hotel for more than 40 years. Their climbs are not the cheapest (though they are certainly competitive), but they provide highly professional service with experienced guides and porters who queue up to work here (Marangu Hotel is a partner with the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project). You have to stay at the Marangu Hotel to utilize their climbs.
  • Owned by the dynamic Zainab, Zara Tours (www.zaratours.com) has been cornering the budget market for 2 decades and is, in this sense, by far the most successful outfit in Moshi, proudly claiming to put more people on the summit than anyone else. Zara offers a very competitive package, including airport transfers and 2 nights at their hotel (Springlands), with add-on tours elsewhere in Tanzania, though, again, these are very much focused on the budget mass end of the market. You do not need to stay at Springlands to utilize Zara Tours, but it makes sense to, given that the accommodations are also geared to saving money.
  • Nature Discovery (www.naturediscovery.com) is a highly ethical company that's been climbing since 1992 and focuses on top-end personalized expeditions. Kili climbs are only via the Machame and Shira routes and include the Western Breach ascent with all safety precautions. Their cooks are said to be the best on the mountain, and their equipment is tip-top, from the modern mountaineering tents with ground sheets and cold-weather sleeping mats to large mess tents furnished with aluminum tables and chairs (with backs and armrests) and sanitary portable flush toilets inside enclosed tents. All guides are fluent in English and receive ongoing training. Their camping and lodge safaris are also highly rated.
  • Chagga Tours (www.chagga-tours.com) was founded by mountain guide Michael Nelson Ntiyu of Tanzania and investor-hiker Christina Helbig of Germany. Michael, a Chagga who grew up on the mountain, has successfully guided hundreds of groups up the mountain (he has also climbed Mt. Everest) and is very attuned to the needs of climbers. Christina climbed with him twice and was so impressed by his leadership skills that she decided to partner with him. Tours are not just mountain treks, but can include stops at the cultural achievements of the Chagga, such as the irrigation canals, built hundreds of years ago, which seem to flow uphill, and the terraced cultivation of plants in the Chagga farmlands.
  • Jo Anderson, a keen botanist who, after 50 climbs, is well versed on Kili flora, runs Jo Anderson Safaris (www.jo-anderson.com). He, along with three guides he's trained, make the journey as special as the arrival at the summit. Safety is a top priority, and his team carries oxygen, a high-altitude pressure chamber, and a full wilderness medical kit on every climb; all support staff have first-aid qualifications and have practical experience in wilderness first aid. Flowers bloom at different times, but March through May is great (low season on the mountain), as are September and October.
  • The Arusha-based Hoopoe Adventure (www.hoopoe.com) won the Condé Nast Ecotourism Award for best tour operator in 2004. Hoopoe offers relatively inexpensive tours, with a bias to their own camps and other eco-friendly lodges.
  • Ranger Safaris (www.rangersafaris.com) is the biggest operator in Tanzania and deals with big catalog operators, but also offers a large selection of scheduled small-group "seat in vehicle" itineraries, a good-value option for singles and couples who don't mind sharing their experiences. The company also provides custom safaris where you have complete flexibility.
  • 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.

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

    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.

    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.

    If you want the most informative Tanzanian safari ever -- a veritable crash course in fascinating animal facts -- arrange your trip with Lee Fuller. Lee acts as a private guide to select clients traveling in East Africa, but is also the trainer to all Singita's guides in East Africa; his knowledge, commitment, and passion for his subject are unbeatable. He's also excellent company. With limited time at his disposal, it's best to book Lee well in advance (LeeF@grumeti.singita.com). Lee tends to work in the north, including Kenya, in safari itineraries. If you're interested in combining a trip to the south and west, including gorilla tracking in Rwanda, Leslie Nevison, sole proprietor of Mama Tembo Tours (leslie@mamatembottours.com; www.mamatembotours.com), offers personal custom tours on Tanzania's less-trodden routes.

    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.