Hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists visit Kenya every year for what they hope is a great safari experience in one of those magical places like the Masai Mara or Amboseli National Park. As soon as they get off the plane, they are approached by hundreds of street vendors who want to sell them a safari tour on the spot. In Nairobi and Mombasa, there are many hundreds of safari tour operators. But not all are good.
While there are reputable companies trying to provide you with a worthwhile Kenya safari tour, many companies provide poor service while others are outright crooks. Complaints range from ignoring customers’ reasonable demands and terrible food to disappearing overnight with their money and sexual harassment by staff members.
There is often quite a bit of money involved. For a budget camping safari (meaning you’ll be staying in a tent at an open camp rather than a luxury tented camp or lodge), minimum prices are around $70 to $80. per person per night, which means at least $560 for a couple going on a 5-day safari (which I recommend is the minimum duration to get the true jungle experience). This is a lot of money for most Kenyans.
low budget companies
Most of the complaints concern budget businesses in Nairobi and Mombasa. Increasing park entrance fees (set by the Kenyan government) and high gasoline prices limit their ability to cut costs. Instead, they try to cut costs by not maintaining their vehicles (so you’ll waste days waiting for a tow truck) or trespassing into the parks, which can get you in trouble.
Other budget companies don’t have their own equipment, but wait until they have enough reserves, and then try to rent some equipment quickly. But who’s to say you’ll get your money back if you don’t? In addition, some companies do not even organize the safaris themselves, but only work as a kind of intermediary who work on commission for the trip organizers themselves. Often it is difficult to tell them apart. While these types of agreements are not bad in principle, they can leave you uncertain of who is liable in the event of a breach.
Unfortunately, even among the best tour operators, the quality is not consistent. Good traders can underperform, just as bad companies can occasionally shine. But good companies will at least take you on a safari in Kenya and try to make it up to you if something goes wrong.
Arrangement arrangements in place
Except for high-end tour organizers with a stable track record, it is better not to book a Kenya safari tour in advance. Although most tour operators allow reservations online and by phone, it’s best to do it on the spot. Visit the offices, talk to the staff and see what kind of people they are, and compare offers. Also, booking your safari apart from your hotel and/or flight gives you more options and flexibility.
Ask them to set out the details of your plan in advance. Be courteous and friendly, but make it clear that he won’t take bullshit from anyone. And don’t pay all your money up front. Keep at least apart from paying after the provision of the service.
So can you name names?
Many travelers ask us to put names: who are the good and bad companies? That’s why we compiled a special report on which Kenya safari tour operators are good at. After due consideration, we do not include a ‘blacklist’ of bad company, as this is not without its problems. Instead, we focus on those companies that consistently get great reviews from travelers (who send them to our website and many other online travel forums). This report is available free of charge to subscribers of our e-zine.