Saturday, July 13, 2013

Finding the Right Tour Company

In the last 10 days I have been approached hundreds of times about Safari's, Mount Meru and Kilimanjaro Treks, trips to Zanzibar, and everything in between. My response has not changed for every interaction, "Already have one. Asante." After the one hundredth time of being approached you start to wonder how many people end up in Tanzania without a tour company already in place. Not that you need to arrive with one because being flexible and planning last minute can provide serious benefits, especially when negotiating prices, some trips need to be planned in advance due to the limited number of permits allotted or the popularity of the trip or the time needed to plan, prepare and possibly train [ie. seeing the Gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda and climbing Kilimanjaro].

Since climbing Mt Kilimanjaro was not a trip I decided last minute my trekking partner and I spent countless hours searching tour companies, reading reviews, and negotiating packages with a few companies. It was a rather daunting task and one that I can only imagine caused many hopeful travelers to say, "Lets just go to Europe or Hawaii--seems way easier."

Sure, Europe is easier in many regards. So is Hawaii. But the adventure of a lifetime sits here in Africa, and so if you can push yourself and take some time to find the right company, I guarantee you will not regret it.

For those that who are willing to take the risk (for what will be a large reward) here are some tips that we found to make the process much easier.

1. Set a budget. Figure out what are your non negotiables. There are so many add-ons that may not enhance your experience enough to justify the added cost (do you really need a portable toilet?). Setting a base will help make your search easier.

2.Find a company that is well established. There are tons of "tour companies" out there, however the ones that have been around for a long time seem to be doing something right.

3. When possible, go with a local agency. Colonization already severely damaged the continent and so by choosing companies that are rooted locally keeps your money in the country and supports many more then overseas companies. We chose Zara Tours for this reason (the fact that it is owned by a Tanzanian woman only made them that more appealing).

4. Ask for a sample menu and their ability to cater to dietary needs. The company we chose went above and beyond to cater to everyone's food needs (gluten free, vegetarian, AND carnivore delight all in one group? For some companies this is no problem).

5. Read peoples reviews. They are a good indicator of how good a company is.

6. Finally, see what the company does to support their guides and porters. Some companies have great programs to support their employees. We learned that Zara Tours provides their guides and porters with bank accounts and gives them financial planning classes to help them manage their money better during the low season. Duma Explorer sends their guides to school during the low season to help expand their knowledge base. Not an essential, but I can attest to the fact that if the employees are happy, and healthy, your trip will be that much more enjoyable. And, lets be honest, a little good can go a long way.

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