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Red Chilli 3-Day Safari

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Red Chilli 3-Day Safari

I'm posting this here b/c Trip Advisor wouldn't let me post a review because it involves a specific tour company...and I'm shocked that there's not already a review of Red Chilli on here.

As you'll see, I think there are some important points to be made about Red Chilli - both good and bad. For reference, I'm an expat living here, and have traveled throughout East Africa - I think I have a pretty good perspective on what should and should not be expected on this kind of trip...hope this helps some of you to prepare for your trip to Uganda!

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Overall, Red Chilli's 3-day safari to Murchison Falls is the best budget deal around...not just in Uganda, but probably in the whole of East Africa. Prices in 2007/2008 place are generally under $200 per person, and include all transport from the Red Chilli HQ in Kampala, park fees, guide fees, and accommodation. This is generally an OUTSTANDING deal.

The safari vehicles (vans with a pop-up top for game viewing) were more than sufficient, and in great shape by Ugandan standards. The driver was professional and safe (again, VERY safe by Ugandan standards), and the newly re-paved road to Hoima makes about 3/4 of the ride very smooth sailing - by the standards of any country! Lunch is taken in Masindi on the way up and the way back, breaking up what is between a 4 and 5 hr drive (optimal conditions); the restaurant is owned by Red Chilli (though that's not advertised) and serves a decent local selection, and you can depend on the food to be safe.

I won't review the entire itinerary (b/c you can do so on their site - www.redchillihideaway.com), but I will say that while the day and a half of actual safari activities might seem a little sparse, it was fantastic and perfectly relaxing. The morning game drive is a good length, and at a perfect time to catch the sunlight for photos. While the game anywhere in Uganda is not what would be expected in neighboring Tanzania or Kenya, Murchison is as good as it gets here. You can count on seeing lots of varieties of antelope, cobs, water buffalo, a few Rothschild's giraffes (note: they're smaller than giraffes in Kenya/Tanzania, and tend to go solo), a small handful of elephants (or more on a good day - these guys are also a bit smaller than the variety you'll see in neighboring countries), and probably lions - we saw two females and their cubs with a fresh kill. Note that there are no zebras at Murchison Falls - there is only one site in Uganda that still has zebras, thanks to Idi Amin's pillaging of the country - but Murchison is your best bet for game overall, even without zebras. Oh, and of course you'll see the ubiquitous baboons and warthogs, and as is typical of Uganda, a wide selection of birds.

The boat trip up the Nile to the Falls I was initially not too excited about. I was wrong. This is a GREAT way to spend a hot afternoon, and you'll see a million and one hippos, some crocodiles, and perhaps and elephant or two down for a drink. This is a really lovely time, and a great photo opportunity.

The camp itself is great, and is in the park with no perimeter fence, so warthogs are constantly grunting around (loudly) and at night the hippos come up to graze (again, loudly). Do be smart and listen to the staff about the danger of the hippos. We stayed in a tent (included in the price of the safari), but you can upgrade to a banda if you want to for a minimal amount. The tents have twin beds in them that are moderately comfortable/standard issue Ugandan mattresses. Tents are permethrin treated, so while they don't have bednets, you don't really need one - just do be sure you're on malaria prophylaxis anyway, and spray down with DEET at night.

The food at the camp is great and reasonably priced, though it's probably worth mentioning that it is not local or 'traditional' food - since I live here and eat Ugandan food daily, this was more than fine, and the cheese and bread served by Red Chilli is probably the best I've had in 6 months in Uganda, but for those looking for a 'traditional experience', you'll need to find that before or after this safari! Also, there is always a vegetarian option for meals. The bar is decent, but note that they don't have ice (not many places in Uganda do).

The hike to the falls the next day is awesome, and while I was not so enthused about that either (I was just there for the animals and to get out of Kampala!), it turned out to be great. You can't really appreciate the falls till you're on top of them - really spectacular.

Now, here's the catch: This is a fantastically priced get-away, but I was SEVERELY unimpressed with Red Chilli management. The staff were great and helpful; the management needs to take a lesson in basic customer service.

1.) First, their pricing system places the risk on the consumer, which is extremely poor business, and while it is uber-typically Ugandan, this is not a Ugandan-run company and caters almost exclusively to outside tourists; they clearly do know better, and simply do it because they can get away with it. Our situation was that we were a couple on a safari that had been fully booked...until 2 people didn't show up the morning of. Now it IS in their policy that the safari is priced by the number of people that are on it (e.g. we had to pay $20 more per person because there were only 6 of us in the end). This is fine, except the rest of us (3 couples) had all trekked over to Red Chilli HQ to put down a deposit a week ahead of time as requested, but apparently the fourth party had only confirmed by email and not paid. So when they didn't show up, 6 strangers had to pay more because they no-showed. In my opinion, Red Chilli should have either warned us a week out that there was no confirmed 4th couple, or they should have assumed the risk that the individuals would not show up. They tried to justify it by telling us that this happens really, really rarely - but to me that's all the more reason the risk goes on the company, not the consumer.

2.) Adding insult to injury, the management at HQ told us that they'd compensate us by getting us a round of free drinks up at the camp. When it came time to pay our tabs on the last morning (you run a tab for the whole trip for meals/drinks), we mentioned this HQ-management promise, but the camp manager played dumb and said that that wasn't standard procedure and she didn't know why they would have told us that. She had been on her cell phone with HQ several times over the last few days, but seemed totally unwilling to make a simple call to verify the promise that had been made to us, and told us that maybe if we had said something earlier she could have worked it out - outrageously poor customer service on her part. It wasn't a matter of the free drinks, it was a matter of being lied to and then brushed off by management.

3.) Does it get worse? Yes. Because we all needed to pay an extra $20, the driver brought us to an ATM and we all got out $20 worth of shillings (most of us live here, so we don't have a ready supply of dollars). Well it turns out that Red Chilli only takes shillings for safari payment at a rate of 1900=$1, which is an UNHEARD OF rip-off, given that the exchange rate is 1680=$1. NOWHERE in Kampala is anyone buying shillings at this rate, which means that Red Chilli is preferentially screwing people over if they have to pay in shillings - convenient especially when their prices are subject to last minute changes.

Through our rather civil complaints on all of these issues, management was entirely unresponsive, and acted as though they had absolutely no desire to make sure we walked away satisfied. As I alluded above, this was very typical risk-averse Ugandan management, and is one of the reasons that Uganda will continue to dramatically under-perform as a tourist destination - but this is NOT a Ugandan-run business. There is NO reason to act like the idea of customer service and basic respect are foreign; there is no reason to try to rip your consumers off at every turn. From what I hear of the couple who started the business (one of whom passed away tragically, and the other of whom now resides in South Africa), this is NOT in the spirit that their company was founded. I would have HAPPILY paid $250 for my safari (more than I paid with all the add-ons), if it included decent management service and no hidden and totally inappropriate costs. Happily. This left a very bad taste in my mouth, and frankly if there were ANY other comparable option I would refer people elsewhere on the basis of customer service alone (note to Red Chilli: the fact that there's not a comparable option shouldn't be an excuse to act this way!)

In short: still a great deal and a great trip, but go in heavy-handed with the management and don't be pushed around. Make sure that if you're given any promises at all you get them in writing or hear them passed along - basically don't trust the management of the place any further than you can throw them.

Isle of Man, United...
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37,185 posts
360 reviews
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1. Re: Red Chilli 3-Day Safari

What a sorry tale but glad it did not spoil your overall enjoyment. As you say you would have paid more 'up front' but it is the poor response that jars and I agree. Report them to UTB as this diminishes Uganda's status and I know from personal involvement how hard UTB is trying to climb the ladder of good destinations. That over with...

Why the heck would TA not let you post a review. this needs looking at as ALL reviews are specific to a Hotel/Lodge/Airline/Operator otherwise they are not objective!

It looks to me like local management here are on the make. Go back to Kampala HQ and put your case to them firmly and fairly explicitly. I understand their view on Min numbers and the no show BUT there is no evidence that this was not a 'come on' to post a lower price. Without that evidence I would not have paid. This trick is getting all too common at the budget end of the trade.

There are other good operators in Kampala that I can put you in touch with if you want to go again.

In return can you PM me with details of the Hike to the top of falls. Was this from Camp or just a couple of kms?

finaly you can see all the Zebra/Impala/Eland you want closer to Kampala in Lake Mburo NP, 3 hours down the road. Take a trip down there. Nice UWA Bandas or pitch your own tent.

uk
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2. Re: Red Chilli 3-Day Safari

LADIES just want to warn you about the bar staff their is one who man who will say anything to be with you proberly for money or just because he can. He is very charming and a lier I know of at least 8 women he has used so be warned.

UK
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3. Re: Red Chilli 3-Day Safari

Hi,

First of all, I'll declare my interest straight away - I am one of the managers at Red Chilli Kampala.

I've read this post with great interest and am pleased to hear you enjoyed the trip overall.

Obviously I'm disappointed that you feel the management let you down. I'll comment on your points :

Our pricing sturcture is, as you say, standard in Uganda. The cost of the minibus is split between the passengers. There is obviously a risk of the price increasing if people don't show up but we do our best to make sure this doesn't happen - anyone staying at Red Chilli Kampala or elsewhere in Kampala is required to come in and pay a deposit.

The problem comes with people who have not yet arrived in Uganda as there is not yet a "cardholder not present" payment system running in Uganda so we have to take bookings on trust. People who book are required to confirm when they book, 10 days before their trip and again 2-3 days before their trip, the theory being that if they go to the effort of doing all this they're going to turn up and the vast majority do.

We are quite strict with this and won't hesitate to cancel bookings and rebook from our reserve list if the confirmations are not received, but this system is clearly not foolproof and people sometimes don't show up. When this happens we do ask for more money from the remaining passengers, as per the terms and conditions laid down on our website and on the information sheets.

I understand how this can be annoying but (as a later person said) to say it's a scam is clearly ridiculous. Why on earth would we want a load of disgruntled people turning up at Red Chilli 3-4 times a week when most of our trips have a reserve list? The extra money we ask for covers our costs only and does not give us any profit. Red Chilli has been operating for 10 years and would not have survived this long if we were scammers. There are plenty of other reviews in guide books and elsewhere on the net.

However, the extra workload for us and the possible problem with customers has persuaded us to change the system and we are now running at a fixed rate with a proviso that the trip may be cancelled if there are not emough people booked. We're also hoping that a Ugandan bank will soon introduce a reliable "cardholder not present system" to allow us to take deposits for our trips and our room bookings.

Just a few of other points - the lunch break at Masindi is at one of two cafes neither of which are owned by Red Chilli. No idea where that information came from!

As you say, one of the original owners of Red Chilli was tragically killed a few years but it's incorrect to say that his partner now lives in South Africa. She lives in Kampala and calls into Red Chilli most days and is still very much part of the business.

The exchange rate you hsve auoted is before my time and I've not checked to see what it was earlier this year but always advise customers to pay for their trip in dollars and charge a fair exchange rate. A better rate is available at a bank but we're not a bank!

As for the management issue it's difficult for me to comment on this as I've only been here since April but I'm sure this was a case of a breakdown in communication rather than deliberate bloody-mindedness. The management couple at Red Chilli Murchison are highly professional and would never deliberately do something to p*** off a customer.

You clearly feel aggrieved by this so I apologise on behalf of Red Chilli. If you are passing please feel free to call into Red Chilli Kampala for a drink and to maybe talk to returning trip customsers about their experience.

Thanks,

Richard Smith

Isle of Man, United...
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37,185 posts
360 reviews
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4. Re: Red Chilli 3-Day Safari

Thanks richard,

always nice to get both sides of the story and good of you to put your side AND declare your interest.

Gratifying to see you have changed the booking so as to remove any sense of scamming. this way people are aware of what is happening which is always a good thing. Obviously the ATM visit and Exchange rate do need looking into as well but lets see if DSP83 calls in for his drink.

I will!

5. Re: Red Chilli 3-Day Safari

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