There are over 400 safari companies in Arusha, Tanzania. More than two years is spent researching and planning the ‘Adventure of a Lifetime’ - a wild game safari in Africa. An internet search unearths safari reviews, recommendations, travel forums, and safari advice. Notes are made of what does and does not work for travelers on safari. Travel web sites like TripAdvisor, Fodor’s and other safari resources are reviewed to learn the how, what, where, and when of safaris. The review of glossy safari brochures by several well known North American based companies help select a 2 week East Africa itinerary. Identical itineraries and accommodation choices are emailed to several safari tour operators to gauge pricing policies. The information requested: national park recommendations; lodging recommendations; description of safari vehicles; concerns about being eaten by an exotic, wild animal, etc. After communicating with 20 safari tour operators, and weighing the pros and cons of each, Good Earth Tours & Safaris is the winner.
Good Earth Tours is based in Arusha, Tanzania. The USA office is located north of Tampa, Florida. The US representative is Narry Ernest. Narry is easily reached via email and/or a toll-free telephone number. Good Earth Tours & Safaris is an accredited member of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO); Better Business Bureau; and a licensed Seller of Travel in Florida and California. Good Earth Tours arranges tours in Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana, South Africa, and Uganda. Additional excursions to Rwanda, Zanzibar and Victoria Falls (between Zimbabwe and Zambia) can be added to tours.
After reading several African safari travel forums, the decision is made to hire a local safari company. It is difficult to plan an African safari, or have confidence in a tour company, if the safari operator has never stepped foot in Africa, or its lodges and tented camps, or national parks, or the countries under consideration. I decide the safari costs should remain in Tanzania and Kenya, and not be distributed to a North American middleman tour operator. Most non-African safari companies sub-contract the actual safari arrangements to small local businesses. Some American/Canadian safari companies own lodge and tented camp properties in Africa and book safari guests in their ‘exclusive’ properties. Through internet searches, several positive safari reviews arranged by Good Earth Tours & Safaris are found. I review Good Earth Tour’s web site and contact the US representative, Narry Ernest, to discuss the logistics of a wild game safari. Good Earth Tours emails names and rates of lodges and tented camps in different national parks. I research them; discuss them with Narry; and select the lodgings Good Earth Tours reserves.
Originally, a group tour is considered, but the thought of a large safari bus did not appeal to me. I want to be surrounded by beautiful wildlife, not impolite humans. Very reluctant to share the confines of a 4 wheel drive (4WD) safari vehicle with up to six strangers on a ‘small’ group tour of 24 individuals. A minimal additional fee is paid for a ‘private safari’ for two individuals, which entitles us to the exclusive use of a skillful game spotter and his 4WD vehicle. The final itinerary is a two week private safari, visiting two national parks in Tanzania (Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park) and three national parks in Kenya (Amboseli National Park, Samburu National Reserve, and the Masai Mara National Reserve).
Narry Ernest, knowledgeable and patient, is the primary reason Good Earth Tours & Safaris is selected. Narry Ernest and Nadashy Nicholaus (based in Arusha) are the directors/owners of Good Earth Tours & Safaris, a family run business. Narry was born and raised in Tanzania. He still has close family members living there. Narry travels regularly to Tanzania, at least four to five times a year. Narry personally evaluates the national parks/reserves and accommodations for Good Earth clients. He responds promptly to emails, and I can always count on reaching him Monday – Friday by telephone. He answers countless questions. I constantly seek detailed information about the African safari. Narry’s calm demeanor and patient persona presents informative explanations to endless questions – i.e., how does the lion not smell or realize lunch and dinner are sitting inside the safari vehicle? Where and how do women go the bathroom in the African bush? Can you recommend the kind of travel insurance needed for a safari? Where is the closest hospital in …? How does one get to the hospital? Is bottled water supplied in the safari vehicle? On, and on, and … [you get the idea.]
Currently (2011), the US State Department and the British Foreign Office are warning citizens against travel to Kenya. After much discussion, a flying safari is organized between Kenya’s national parks. According to Narry, the driving distance between parks is much longer than what the mileage suggests on a map. The overland journey is time consuming because high speed driving is impossible. The majority of Kenya and Tanzania roads are not asphalted, but covered in dirt and rocks. The single engine 10 - 12 seat planes provide quick service and short flights. A flying safari minimizes numerous hours riding on bone-jarring, VERY DUSTY, unpaved roads in East Africa. NOTE: If the safari begins in Kenya and ends in Tanzania, entry health regulations require a yellow fever vaccine for visitors coming from Kenya.
Narry plans the following itinerary:
1. Arrive at Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO) on KLM’s Amsterdam flight.
2. Good Earth driver and vehicle provide airport transfer from JRO to the East Africa All Suite Hotel and Conference Centre in Arusha - 1 night.
3. In Tanzania, a Good Earth Tours & Safaris English speaking safari guide and a 4WD Toyota Land Cruiser is at our disposal.
4. Drive past Lake Manyara.
5. Drive and stay on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater at the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge – 2 nights.
6. Visit Olduvai Gorge and museum.
7. Visit a Masai village and see how the nomads live and survive.
8. Drive and stay in Serengeti National Park at the Mbuzi Mawe Tented Camp – 2 nights.
9. Fly from Serengeti National Park back to Arusha.
10. Good Earth Tours arranges transfer from Arusha Airport to the Kenya border. Transfer to a Nairobi based safari tour company, Private Safaris of Kenya – providing an English speaking safari guide and his 4WD safari vehicle.
NOTE: The Tanzania government mandates Tanzania registered vehicles and Tanzania licensed safari drivers/safari companies only, (not overseas companies), transport safari guests in Tanzania. Kenya has a reciprocal policy. [As a result, global safari tour businesses sub-contract the operations to local safari companies.]
11. Private Safaris of Kenya drives to southern Kenya’s Amboseli National Park and Ol Tukai Lodge – 2 nights.
12. Fly from Amboseli NP to Samburu National Reserve and stay at Ashnil Samburu Camp – 2 nights. Camp driver and vehicle conduct game drives.
13. Fly from Samburu NR to the Masa Mara Confluence area and stay at the Mara Intrepids Club (tents) – 2 nights. Camp driver and vehicle conduct game drives.
14. Fly from Masai Mara Airstrip to Wilson Airport in Nairobi.
15. Airport transfer by Private Safaris of Kenya from Wilson Airport to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO). Board KLM flights back to the United States.
The cost of the safari includes: Lodging accommodations; all game drives; all meals - breakfast, lunch, and dinner; English speaking safari guides; 4WD safari vehicles - bottled water daily; gasoline; unlimited mileage; arrival and departure airport and airstrip transfers; all other ground transportation; Serengeti Masai Village visit; daily park fees per person and safari vehicle; 4 internal one way flights in Kenya on 10 and 12 seat single engine planes including taxes and fees; and a step stool/box to easily climb in and out of the 4WD safari vehicles. Exclusions: international air fare; visa fees - Tanzania visa = USD $100/person and Kenya visa USD $50/person; gratuities for the safari guide, baggage handlers, restaurant wait staff, and housekeeping; beverages; laundry; souvenirs; vaccinations/shots; and travel insurance.
A USD $750/person Deposit is required once the safari itinerary is final and Good Earth Tours makes reservations for accommodations. Final Payment is due 10 weeks before the safari start date. The Deposit and Final Payment can be charged to a major credit card. A 4% fee is added to the safari cost if the credit card is used for Final Payment. A credit card fee is not assessed for the Deposit money. Clients may also pay by personal check, or an electronic money transfer. Do not pay with a debit card.
Good Earth Tours & Safaris provide all day and unlimited number of game drives in Tanzania with their employee and 4WD vehicle. A flying safari is arranged for Kenya. As a result, the lodge/tented camps provide the safari driver/guides and 4WD vehicles. The flying safari does not permit the exclusive use of the safari guide and safari 4X4’s, and the number and length of the game drives are pre-determined by the lodge/tented camp policies. Good Earth Tours has no control over the skills and qualifications of safari guides employed by the accommodations. The Good Earth safari guide is far superior to the three other guides. We learn so much about game animals from James Mleche. The Mara Intrepids Club safari guide is an excellent game spotter too, but the other two individuals function merely as drivers.
Good Earth Tours has pages of information on the web site – www.goodearthtours.com Good Earth Tours also provides web addresses for the Tanzania and Kenya embassies; visa applications; health info for each country; a packing list; and a tipping guide.
Narry Ernest suggests several choice accommodations for each national park and provides prices of alternate lodging. I research the lodges and camps, and the two of us discuss the merits of each. Narry understands that my ‘idea of camping is the Holiday Inn’. He assures me that I will be impressed and surprised by the deluxe tented camps, and he is absolutely right. The accommodations chosen are two large, impersonal lodges (no other choice in the parks), and small tented camps. The tented compounds are equal to 5 Star full service boutique hotels. Tented camps are highly recommended. If the assigned tent is close to a watering hole or river, one views a parade of animals arriving to quench their thirst. One feels closer to nature when birds rustle and sing to greet the sunrise; elephants trumpet; lions roar; monkeys chatter; and hippos grunt – these are the unforgettable sounds of a safari. Just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the experience of staying in the tented camps!!
The modern conveniences of flushing toilets and hot showers are requested. Good Earth Tours provides these items every night. The third request is a box, milk crate, or step stool to help one climb in and out of 4WD safari vehicles (arthritic knees and height challenged). The Good Earth safari vehicle is a Toyota Land Cruiser with a pop up roof and two gas tanks (there are no roadside gasoline stations). The pop up roof provides shade for those standing to take photos or videos. There are safari 4WD vehicles with no pop up roof cover, just canvas roof flaps that fold forward. Photographers might enjoy the canvas roof. However, a sunburn or excruciating headache may result from no shade protection from the brutal African sun. The Good Earth Tours Land Cruiser is equipped with two very powerful binoculars to observe wildlife, one large pictorial reference volume on African wildlife, and a reference guide on birds of Africa. The books are very helpful in identifying the colorful birds and game animals, along with safari guide James Mleche’s expert commentary.
An invaluable member of the Good Earth Tours & Safaris team is James Mleche – the safari guide/game spotter extraordinaire! James should teach other guides how to become an outstanding professional safari guide. An African safari is so memorable and educational when a guide generously shares wildlife information and shows you what to look for when spotting wild game. James is very personable and he clearly loves his vocation. He answers countless questions and is very patient in explaining the habits and specific roles of each wild game animal.
For example - James on the subject of lions: Lions live together in a pride. Each pride has several female lions, who work as a team to take down prey, and only one dominant alpha male. If the pride has more than one male, they are usually related – brothers or father/son. The alpha male defends his leadership role by defeating male challengers from outside, as well as from inside the pride. In the African savannah, a pecking order exists when a large mammal prey is brought down. The pride of lionesses stalk, hunt and kill the prey. The alpha male eats first and when he is sated, the lionesses and cubs eat next, followed by the hyenas and jackals, and finally the scavengers – the vultures and Marabou storks.
James Mleche develops an excellent rapport with the Good Earth guests. He takes special care to show you the beautiful flora and fauna of amazing Tanzania. We are not birdwatchers. Initially, we are not interested in the African birds. A lilac breasted roller and a superb starling perch near the 4WD in the bush. We are captivated by the magnificent colors and sizes of the birds. From then on, James points out all the different species and functions of Africa’s feathered creatures – i.e., oxpeckers expertly clean ticks from large mammals; male weaver birds annually attract females by building elaborate hanging nests in trees; secretarybirds; hornbills; etc. James firmly believes in protecting wild game animals from poachers. Mankind should not interfere with the bio-ecological natural balance, and should leave the Serengeti ecosystem undisturbed for future generations. All Good Earth Tours safari driver/guides receive months of comprehensive training before they are allowed to become Tanzania national park safari guides. The employees of Good Earth Tours & Safaris are proud citizens of Tanzania.
Good Earth Tours & Safaris run an outstanding safari tour operation. The company does not have 200+ guides working for them. The quality of service is far superior and more personal with Good Earth Tours & Safaris versus a large tour company. Good Earth Tours customizes the safari to a client’s expectations, rather than the client fitting into a rigid, set itinerary of a large safari company. Good Earth Tours & Safaris arrange quality safaris with first-hand knowledge of the national parks and reserves, the wildlife, and the available budget to luxury accommodations. Anybody can make reservations for hotels and 4WD vehicles, but the informed guidance of a safari expert, as well as a knowledgeable and well trained safari guide, are what one should look for in planning a ‘Once in a Lifetime’ adventure. The East Africa wildlife safari is one of the best vacations taken in 40+ years of overseas travel. I look forward to planning the next safari with Good Earth Tours & Safaris. Asante, gentlemen.