Finding a safari company:
Making the trip to Safari in Africa takes a lot of careful planning and research. First, you must decide where in Africa you want to Safari. Throw in the desire to adhere to a low budget, and this process becomes even more involved. We decided on Kenya as it seemed like a less popular destination among tourists when compared to South Africa. After hours and hours scouring the hundreds and hundreds of safari operators (I am talking weeks of research!), I found a few very helpful websites in making my decision. The first is the KATO website. KATO stands for the Kenya Association of Tour Operators and they hold their operators accountable to a code of standards. You can find hundreds of safari operators on their website along with grades and ratings. Safari Bookings was another helpful website that contained a lot of low-budget options. Unfortunately, the difference in prices in safaris is great, so finding one that seemed both environmentally conscious, as well as highly rated and a good price was very difficult.
How I chose Wildlife Sun Safaris
I had seen Baboon Budget Safari as the lowest price option in Kenya for Masai Mara, Amboseli, and Lake Nakuru. However, upon further investigation, I saw several poor reviews, one even citing a man’s experience of being forced into a safari van with no seats (with what I know now, I cannot make it clear enough to steer clear of that company). Because of this, I decided to go with a more expensive option in Wildlife Sun Safaris. So, I reached out, negotiated the price a bit (you should definitely do this!) and put in my deposit. I admit the deposit was very nerve wracking. They asked for a money wire, but that made me feel anxious, so I paid a little extra to use credit card. I recommend this, because at the very least, you have the security of your credit card company to cover you if something goes awry, but you will have to pay a surcharge.
From the beginning, James, the coordinator, was extremely helpful. He always got back to any questions I had by email almost immediately. The experience itself, however, was very disappointing. Remember what I said earlier about paying more to avoid the Baboon company? Well, to my dismay, we were picked up and taken to none other than a Baboon tour office and ultimately a Baboon safari van. So, I literally paid more to avoid the very tour I ended up on. You can imagine how upsetting that was. What’s more is that we were guaranteed a tour of no more than five. There were a total of 8 seats on board. All were full. If you are sitting in the back, which is what we got stuck with, you cannot even get to the part of the van that has the pop-off roof to see the wildlife. It was very cramped and the shocks on the van were completely shot, so rolling over a popsicle stick was like being hurtled into outer space. I hit my head on the top of the van on several occasions. There was no air conditioner, which meant getting the black lung from other exhaust flowing directly into our nostrils through the cities and even behind other safari vehicles. While the trip was pretty rough, we did get to see the Big 5, meet some amazing people, and experience the magic of Kenya. James was also very accommodation and personally met us at the end of our tour to try everything he could to make things right. Upon a conversation with him, we were told that normally his company does private safaris rather than group safaris. The truth is, no matter which company you choose, many of them work together when it comes to the group budget safaris, which was the case in our excursion. So, to be fair, I cannot really speak to how great the actual company is, I can only speak to my experience and rate from there. Without further ado, I will break down each part of the tour and give it a proper rating.
James really earned the high rating for service. Our driver was also very nice, but James really tried his best to make things right. One of the accommodations was absolutely horrific, so he upgraded us to a mid-tier accommodation to try to make things right. We knew that we had budget accommodations, but nothing could prepare us for the lack of service and rough conditions with some very bug infested tents that were poorly maintained. However, when I reached out to James about it, he was very responsive and tried his best to make things right. I think he really cares about his customers, and that showed in his responses to our cries for help.
Tour Van 0/5
This should reflect on Baboon Budget Safaris as that was the true tour we were on. The van was basically broken. We were promised four-wheel drive and got stuck several times in a two-wheel drive van. It had very basic interior with exposed metal. Some windows did not work and I hit my head several times. There was no air conditioner and the air we were getting was full of dangerous exhaust fumes. There was no room in the van when it came time to see wildlife and we had to take turns standing up under the pop up van to see anything, which meant missed opportunities seeing lions. Every bump sent us hurtling upwards, usually ending in a head bump. The van also broke down on several occasions. Our driver informed us that the van was not really up to operational standards, but that he had no choice as no other vans were offered to him. The van radio was hanging from a cut wire and had no functionality. It definitely adds to the adventure getting stuck in some high mud and waiting for someone to rescue you!
This again reflects Baboon Budget Safaris. Since the radio was cut, it was not until the last leg of the trip that we got to know our driver and were able to ask about the animals, since he did not really say much unless asked. That was disappointing, because I wanted to learn during this trip. He seemed more in a rush to get home than anything else, but he was very nice when we did get to know him a bit. Besides being nice, the biggest reason he gets a good score is because he was an excellent driver. He was given a pile of junk to drive and did a fabulous job, safely.
When they say budget, they mean budget. From no mosquito nets to scary bugs and spiders, my insect repellent self was not quite ready for what I was about to experience. The worst was the first accommodation, Miti Mingi Camp, where the staff were extremely rude and even yelled at the guests. Luckily, I did not get yelled at, but I witnessed many people get humiliated and screamed at by the staff, most often in front of a large crowd. It was so strange! Funny enough, our “upgrade” landed us in an abandoned area full of bugs and with no mosquito net. I would say it is worth the extra money to stay in the mid-tier or luxury resorts.
We got to do a lot. But, unfortunately, that meant a lot of driving…far. If I had it to do over again, I would cut either Amboseli or Lake Nakuru. Masai Mara was excellent and we saw many wonderful animals. We went to Nakuru to see the rhinos, which was successful. We went to Amboseli to see Mt. Kilimanjaro, but even though it was dry season, it rained the entire time so we only got to see it for a brief moment from the camp. The other problem was that we had to book it back to Nairobi to drop off another couple (who ended up being awesome!) during the middle of our journey. So, after Masai Mara, most time was spent on the highway, which was long and disappointing.
Because Kenya is a magical place with magical sights and warm people, we had an amazing journey despite the disappointments and failed expectations. However, I really recommend avoiding Baboon Budget Safaris. From other reviews, I would say our experience with them was a lucky one, as many have told horror stories. Make sure that whoever you choose is not going to pawn you off between vans throughout your journey. That did not happen to us, but we picked up new people and left others along the way, which felt a bit disorganized and frankly, unsafe. Be sure to scour the reviews and if something does not seem right, it probably isn’t! Luckily, we had James on our side, so for that reason, I would definitely consider Wildlife Sun Safaris in the future, but with their vans and drivers. Whoever you choose, have an awesome time on your safari!
Have you been on a safari? Share your experience in the comments!