East Africa - Photographers Paradise
Whether you are going there for the abundant, exotic wildlife or the magnificent landscapes, East Africa is there to offer you the most superlative of experiences!
Selecting a trip can be both confusing and difficult. Best place to visit? Safest? Which company to go with? Leader?
For most first time visitors this is also a ONE TIME visit, a trip of a lifetime. That makes choosing a big gamble. After doing some thorough reading and research we decided that we must see two places, Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater. It just so happens that both of these are in Tanzania. Our other research told us that Tanzania has both a stable and reliable government, great news as well. Our first trip, we deferred to the leader to chose the tour company as he had been leading trips to East Africa for several years. We were so pleased with the tour company, that we have been with them since 2001.
There are several different types of safaris, each varying in price and services offered.
What we normally call a "sight-seeing" safari consists of the typical Land Rover/Cruiser with room for seven passengers plus driver/guide and every seat filled. These tours stay in lodges/camps until mid-morning (9am) and then spend a few of hours in the bush, return for lunch, then go back out in the afternoon for a few more hours, returning to the lodge/camp in time for cocktails before dinner. They range from 6 days to usually 12 days in length. These are OK for families with small children and offer highlights of the parks visited and are the cheapest way to go if you are not a serious photographer.
In depth safaris usually last 10-12 days and spend more time out in the bush, usually not returning for lunch, but stopping with boxed lunches at one or more designated spots for picnics. These generally are a little more expensive, a little less crowded and offer more time in the bush than the simple sight seeing trips.
True Photo Safari's utilize the same vehicles but limit the number of passengers in each vehicle. The reason being that when there is action, it usually happens on one side of the vehicle. With three to four photographers per vehicle, all have access to shooting space. Try that with seven people on board and it is chaos! The tours also leave the lodges/camps at or before sunrise to be out in the bush at first light, enjoy lunch out and return around sunset, maximizing time out in the wilds.
For us, we have never been on anything but Photo Safaris in East Africa. We have seen plenty of the other groups, showing up at a location with wildlife just as the light got harsh, grabbing a few snapshots and hurrying away to see what other animals they can see. Most of the budget groups have limitations on miles per day that the driver can use. The top tour companies are open ended, meaning that the drivers are free to spend the maximum amount of time and miles making sure the photographers get great images, great angles and pleasing backgrounds.
Choosing a leader is more difficult. Ask for references, read reviews if available. You don't want to be with a someone who is more interested in filing up their own portfolio rather than giving you the opportunity for the best shots. It also helps to have a leader who has been there a few times before and understands and communicates with the driver/guides about expectations. Almost all the driver/guides are good, having attended very intensive training at specific schools for their trade. The differences are the best guides move up to the top companies and are not restricted in miles they can drive per day by the tour company owners. We see many of the less well managed companies with poorly maintained vehicles, worn or even slick tires. These are not good situations.
The tour company we use is locally owned, meaning that the profits stay in Tanzania and do not get sent to foreign owners in Germany, England, the USA or other places. They are also in the top tier of tour companies in East Africa, offering the best experience, more versatility and have excellent reviews. It is always delightful to hear our clients brag, saying, "Those had to be the best guides you ever had!" We just agree knowing that we have had only great guides in all our years of working with our tour company.
The differences in price among the various tours is substantial. The more people you cram into a vehicle the less the cost in use of vehicles and driver/guides. If you limit the miles a driver can maneuver per day, that contains cost somewhat as well. Doing less maintenance and running tires to the ragged end saves money.
On a good Photo Safari you can expect the costs to be 25-30% more per day than the lower end sight-seeing safaris. So much depends on your expectations of a trip.
2017 will likely be the last trip we lead to Tanzania. For those who have gone with us in the past, we hope it was a terrific experience. Those going with us in 2017, it will be a great trip! And for those planning to go after we stop leading these trips, we will have recommendations on the best experience for photographers.
For information on the 2017 Trip click HERE