Selecting the right travel company is key to ensuring a successful safari because you'll rely on the company and its staff to help you create an experience that meets your expectations and brings your dreams to life. The company also will arrange logistical details, such as transportation to, from and within Africa; your lodging and meals; and selection of tour guides. A number of travel companies specialize in "ecotourism" - touring natural habitats in a manner meant to minimize ecological impact. Such companies present guided programs with prearranged itineraries for small groups of travelers interested in wildlife, nature and ecology. Sholley offers these tips for finding and evaluating travel companies: To identify potential travel companies, network with relatives and friends to find individuals who have gone on safari. What company did they use? Were they satisfied?
Check travel company ads in natural history magazines and request catalogs. A reputable company will offer prospective customers a comprehensive directory of programs and services.
As you form ideas for your itinerary, preferred accommodations (would you enjoy lodges or tented camps?) and other elements of your trip, contact the most promising travel companies and ask for their Africa expert. That representative should have expertise and firsthand knowledge of Africa, having traveled there numerous times.
Ask about the company's land operator, the local company that will handle your accommodations, ground transportation, tour guides and so forth. Your travel company representative probably will not accompany you to Africa; the company must have appropriate, reliable contacts at your destination.
When you've determined that you might want to do business with a company, ask for the names of four or five satisfied customers that you can contact. If the representative resists your request, hang up immediately.
Finally, properly evaluate and compare travel programs. The cost of a two-week safari can range from approximately $4,000 to $10,000, but the least expensive program is not necessarily the best value. When friends asked Sholley to compare several tours they were considering, he found that the less expensive tour included only 2 1/2 days in wildlife areas compared with 12 ½ days with the more expensive tour. Ask your representative to review the itinerary with you day by day: How much travel time is involved getting from point A to point B? How many people will be in your group? Will you have direct access to wildlife areas? What specific accommodations and vehicles should you expect? "It's one thing to be in a Land Rover with everybody in a window seat," says Sholley, "and quite another to be jammed in a full minibus where you're craning to look through the nearest window."