Comparing Africa trips offered by OAT

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I read Wanda Bahde’s article “Ultimate Africa — Going Beyond the Simple Safari in Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe” (Oct. ’10, pg. 44), about the trip she and her husband took with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) in September-October 2009, and I could not concur more with their recommendation of this trip. My wife and I took the “Ultimate Africa” trip with OAT in July ’09 and had a superlative experience.

I have a few comments on Ms. Bahde’s assessment.

She wrote that they were advised by friends not to take the pre-trip extension to Kruger National Park in South Africa because the region was “too visited.” I feel this was a serious error.

Toward the end of her article, she mentioned that friends had recommended OAT’s “Best of Kenya and Tanzania” trip in Eastern Africa. My wife and I took that trip in August 2010 along with its pre-trip extension to the Maasai Mara in southwestern Kenya (which adjoins northern Tanzania’s Serengeti). If you want to see “too visited,” take that trip. Particularly in the Maasai Mara, when a lion or leopard was sighted, we experienced more safari vehicles than there are cars on the Long Island Expressway during rush hour.

By comparison, when we took the “Ultimate Africa” trip’s pre-trip extension to Kruger, we saw few other safari vehicles. Our assessment is that if you take OAT’s “Ultimate Africa,” be certain to include this pre-trip extension.

As Ms. Bahde indicated, you will not see the sheer numbers of animals on the “Ultimate Africa” trip that you’ll see on “Best of Kenya and Tanzania,” but you will see them, and, unlike on the Eastern Africa trip, you’ll see them up real close — another big plus.

Also, while the Bahdes did not take the air portion offered by OAT, it appears that they wound up paying more for their air than they would have if they had had OAT book their flights, as we did. Our combined airfare cost the two of us around $1,200 (New York-London-Johannesburg), round trip, while the Bahdes paid $2,366 for two (Orlando-Atlanta-Johannesburg).

It should be noted that OAT’s air arrangements included the use of a day room in a hotel at London’s Heathrow airport, to shower and relax before catching the flight to Johannesburg, as well as lunch at the hotel and hotel/airport transportation.

Ms. Bahde also noted her experiences in Victoria Falls, and I can only add, if you go, make certain to visit the Victoria Falls Hotel, a short one-block walk from the Ilala Lodge (where OAT guests stay), for High Tea. For a bargain $10 per person, we had a real 19th-century English High Tea in what one pictures an English colonial hotel to be. Not to be missed!

A final comment on the “Ultimate Africa” trip — OAT flies you between camps, consequently minimizing your travel time and maximizing the number of game drives you have. Having taken both OAT trips mentioned in Ms. Bahde’s article, we feel that “Ultimate Africa” is, by far, superior and, if you are going to visit Africa only once, it is the trip to take.

There are some things that should be pointed out about the trip “Best of Kenya and Tanzania.”

My wife and I took that trip, Aug. 7-29, 2010. Including airfare (through OAT) between New York and Nairobi as well as the optional extension to the Maasai Mara ($1,295 per person), the cost for the two of us was $14,487 for the 22 days.

We chose to take the trip at that time mainly because we wanted to see the northern migration of the wildebeests. Although OAT does not guarantee that travelers will see any specific thing, I must say that, because of the location of their camps, someone taking the OAT trip at that time of year would have a high probability of seeing the migration, including, as we did, the animals’ crossing of the Mara River.

At that time of year, the Serengeti is filled with animals, and it is very likely you’ll see everything there is to see… that is, if you’re willing to put up with five long trips between the various camps in what I considered to be a cramped and uncomfortable safari vehicle and if you’re also willing to suffer some kind of respiratory disorder due to the volume of dust you will breathe in.

On each trip between camps, we traveled six to eight hours. The dust was mostly being kicked up by traffic coming the other way. We could not keep the windows completely closed; consequently, the dust was everywhere.

I didn’t see anything about this in the pre-trip materials we received from OAT, and, although I knew to take a pillow case to protect my camera’s sensor during game drives, my wife and I were totally unprepared for the amount of dust we encountered on trips between camps.

As it was the dry season, the dust couldn’t be helped, but the fact that OAT didn’t make this abundantly clear precluded us from taking preventive action. They didn’t even provide face masks, which would have been somewhat of a help.

With OAT, we stayed at some well-appointed lodges in Kenya and in non-Serengeti Tanzania. The OAT camps in the Tanzanian Serengeti were relatively spartan, being mobile camps. Bucket showers were the norm as were portable toilets, which could be flushed. OAT did provide us with good meals, even under those circumstances.

Staying at those mobile camps is a tradeoff. There are no permanent camps close to the river in northern Tanzania’s Serengeti, so if you want to see the wildebeest migration and river crossing, you need to stay in a mobile camp in proximity to the river. Guests at the closest permanent camp, almost a two-hour drive away, would be unlikely to spend much time, if any, at the river and, thus, unlikely to see a river crossing.

Charging camera batteries is another matter. The mobile camps have limited generating facilities and those facilities are available for limited periods, which I found to be insufficient to fully charge my batteries. Fortunately, I travel with several batteries. Having backup batteries is something I strongly advise.

We have traveled with OAT and its sister company, Grand Circle Travel, many times and will travel with them again (we have two more trips booked). We have found that, for the most part, OAT provides exceptionally good value for the money spent.

However, as far as “Best of Kenya and Tanzania” is concerned, we felt that OAT was penny wise and pound foolish in electing not to fly clients from camp to camp. Doing so would have increased the cost, but I think anyone who can afford this trip (already expensive, even at OAT’s attractive price) would not be dissuaded by the additional expense. With the excessive days of travel in the dust, I’d say the tradeoff between the experience and one’s health is simply not equal.

ALAN R. LICHTENSTEIN

Commack, NY

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to Overseas Adventure Travel (347 Congress St., Boston, MA 02210) and received the following reply.

I’d like to thank both Mr. Lichtenstein and Ms. Bahde for traveling with us.

It is true that Kenya/Tanzania and Botswana offer travelers different experiences.

We think Mr. Lichtenstein’s recommendation to include information about seasonally dusty road conditions in our predeparture information is an excellent one.

Also, while we’re not planning to add internal flights to our “Best of Kenya and Tanzania” adventure at this point, our regional manager in Cape Town recently reported that, by midyear, longstanding roadwork between Arusha and Nairobi will be completed, offering a quicker and smoother transfer than in the past.

PRISCILLA O’REILLY, Director, Public Relations, Grand Circle Foundation

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

I read Wanda Bahde’s article “Ultimate Africa — Going Beyond the Simple Safari in Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe” (Oct. ’10, pg. 44), about the trip she and her husband took with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) in September-October 2009, and I could not concur more with their recommendation of this trip. My wife and I took the “Ultimate Africa” trip with OAT in July ’09 and had a superlative experience.

I have a few comments on Ms. Bahde’s assessment.

She wrote that they were advised by friends not to take the pre-trip extension to Kruger National Park in South Africa because the region was “too visited.” I feel this was a serious error.

Toward the end of her article, she mentioned that friends had recommended OAT’s “Best of Kenya and Tanzania” trip in Eastern Africa. My wife and I took that trip in August 2010 along with its pre-trip extension to the Maasai Mara in southwestern Kenya (which adjoins northern Tanzania’s Serengeti). If you want to see “too visited,” take that trip. Particularly in the Maasai Mara, when a lion or leopard was sighted, we experienced more safari vehicles than there are cars on the Long Island Expressway during rush hour.

By comparison, when we took the “Ultimate Africa” trip’s pre-trip extension to Kruger, we saw few other safari vehicles. Our assessment is that if you take OAT’s “Ultimate Africa,” be certain to include this pre-trip extension.

As Ms. Bahde indicated, you will not see the sheer numbers of animals on the “Ultimate Africa” trip that you’ll see on “Best of Kenya and Tanzania,” but you will see them, and, unlike on the Eastern Africa trip, you’ll see them up real close — another big plus.

Also, while the Bahdes did not take the air portion offered by OAT, it appears that they wound up paying more for their air than they would have if they had had OAT book their flights, as we did. Our combined airfare cost the two of us around $1,200 (New York-London-Johannesburg), round trip, while the Bahdes paid $2,366 for two (Orlando-Atlanta-Johannesburg).

It should be noted that OAT’s air arrangements included the use of a day room in a hotel at London’s Heathrow airport, to shower and relax before catching the flight to Johannesburg, as well as lunch at the hotel and hotel/airport transportation.

Ms. Bahde also noted her experiences in Victoria Falls, and I can only add, if you go, make certain to visit the Victoria Falls Hotel, a short one-block walk from the Ilala Lodge (where OAT guests stay), for High Tea. For a bargain $10 per person, we had a real 19th-century English High Tea in what one pictures an English colonial hotel to be. Not to be missed!

A final comment on the “Ultimate Africa” trip — OAT flies you between camps, consequently minimizing your travel time and maximizing the number of game drives you have. Having taken both OAT trips mentioned in Ms. Bahde’s article, we feel that “Ultimate Africa” is, by far, superior and, if you are going to visit Africa only once, it is the trip to take.

There are some things that should be pointed out about the trip “Best of Kenya and Tanzania.”

My wife and I took that trip, Aug. 7-29, 2010. Including airfare (through OAT) between New York and Nairobi as well as the optional extension to the Maasai Mara ($1,295 per person), the cost for the two of us was $14,487 for the 22 days.

We chose to take the trip at that time mainly because we wanted to see the northern migration of the wildebeests. Although OAT does not guarantee that travelers will see any specific thing, I must say that, because of the location of their camps, someone taking the OAT trip at that time of year would have a high probability of seeing the migration, including, as we did, the animals’ crossing of the Mara River.

At that time of year, the Serengeti is filled with animals, and it is very likely you’ll see everything there is to see… that is, if you’re willing to put up with five long trips between the various camps in what I considered to be a cramped and uncomfortable safari vehicle and if you’re also willing to suffer some kind of respiratory disorder due to the volume of dust you will breathe in.

On each trip between camps, we traveled six to eight hours. The dust was mostly being kicked up by traffic coming the other way. We could not keep the windows completely closed; consequently, the dust was everywhere.

I didn’t see anything about this in the pre-trip materials we received from OAT, and, although I knew to take a pillow case to protect my camera’s sensor during game drives, my wife and I were totally unprepared for the amount of dust we encountered on trips between camps.

As it was the dry season, the dust couldn’t be helped, but the fact that OAT didn’t make this abundantly clear precluded us from taking preventive action. They didn’t even provide face masks, which would have been somewhat of a help.

With OAT, we stayed at some well-appointed lodges in Kenya and in non-Serengeti Tanzania. The OAT camps in the Tanzanian Serengeti were relatively spartan, being mobile camps. Bucket showers were the norm as were portable toilets, which could be flushed. OAT did provide us with good meals, even under those circumstances.

Staying at those mobile camps is a tradeoff. There are no permanent camps close to the river in northern Tanzania’s Serengeti, so if you want to see the wildebeest migration and river crossing, you need to stay in a mobile camp in proximity to the river. Guests at the closest permanent camp, almost a two-hour drive away, would be unlikely to spend much time, if any, at the river and, thus, unlikely to see a river crossing.

Charging camera batteries is another matter. The mobile camps have limited generating facilities and those facilities are available for limited periods, which I found to be insufficient to fully charge my batteries. Fortunately, I travel with several batteries. Having backup batteries is something I strongly advise.

We have traveled with OAT and its sister company, Grand Circle Travel, many times and will travel with them again (we have two more trips booked). We have found that, for the most part, OAT provides exceptionally good value for the money spent.

However, as far as “Best of Kenya and Tanzania” is concerned, we felt that OAT was penny wise and pound foolish in electing not to fly clients from camp to camp. Doing so would have increased the cost, but I think anyone who can afford this trip (already expensive, even at OAT’s attractive price) would not be dissuaded by the additional expense. With the excessive days of travel in the dust, I’d say the tradeoff between the experience and one’s health is simply not equal.

ALAN R. LICHTENSTEIN

Commack, NY

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to Overseas Adventure Travel (347 Congress St., Boston, MA 02210) and received the following reply.

I’d like to thank both Mr. Lichtenstein and Ms. Bahde for traveling with us.

It is true that Kenya/Tanzania and Botswana offer travelers different experiences.

We think Mr. Lichtenstein’s recommendation to include information about seasonally dusty road conditions in our predeparture information is an excellent one.

Also, while we’re not planning to add internal flights to our “Best of Kenya and Tanzania” adventure at this point, our regional manager in Cape Town recently reported that, by midyear, longstanding roadwork between Arusha and Nairobi will be completed, offering a quicker and smoother transfer than in the past.

PRISCILLA O’REILLY, Director, Public Relations, Grand Circle Foundation