I posted most of this in separate trip reports back a while, but a friend of a friend is thinking of Tanzania, so I compiled information on the tour companies I used and hotels I stayed at all in one email for her. Thought I would share it here...
Tanzania is a good place to do a safari. I have heard that Kenya is a bit cheaper and you get a similar experience. South Africa is another big safari destination, but I have heard mixed things about it. If she goes to Tazania, then the place to get a safari is Arusha. She can either fly into Kilimanjaro airport (about 1 hour drive to Arusha - if she arranges before hand the company will pick her up) or into Dar Es Salaam (about 10 hours drive from Arusha, or 1 hour flight - the flight is optimal, because the roads are rough - flights in the country are pretty cheap too, probably only $US 100 - $US 200 for the flight).
I arranged my travel all with different companies. There could be some debate as to whether this is smart or not. Supposedly it's cheaper than getting one company to arrange everything for you, but based on my experience comparing prices for my safari versus another couples who booked ahead of time, it probably doesn't save that much money. It does provide a certain level of flexibility that a single company may not be willing to provide.
For the flights to and from Tanzania, I used Contintental / KLM, because they were the only ones that flew into Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania from North America or Europe. All the other carriers fly into Dar Es Salaam, which would mean transfering to Arusha. No matter which destination she flies into, she will have to get a flight through Europe. There are no direct flights to Tanzania from North America.
For the Kilimanjaro climb (on which I got sick and had to come off the mountain early on a stretcher), I arranged prior to leaving North America with a company called Africa Travel Resource (www.africatravelresource.com), who locally used a company called The African Walking Company as the local guides. Overall, my guides were excellent, both in helping us up the mountain and in assessing my health situation and helping me down the mountain. The mountain rescue team was excellent in getting me off the mountain, even if the stretcher was not very comfortable. The $20 paid in park fees for the mountain rescue crew was well worth it to me! The climb was booked through Africa Travel Resource The climb was more expensive than others I saw, but I do feel that the quality of guides was above that of some of the other groups I saw climbing the mountain. The food was decent and filling, though the higher we got the less variety that we got in our diet.
Prior and just after the climb my hotel accomodations were at the Kibo Hotel in Marangu, and I have no complaints about. I have often read that the Kibo Hotel is a “faded glory,” but the beds were comfortable, the showers had hot water, the rooms were clean and the beer in the bar was cold.
I paid a total of $US 1300 for the climb (6 days / 5 nights including all food), 3 nights (2 before, 1 after) at the Kibo Hotel (food extra) and transfer from Kilimanjaro airport and transfer to Arusha at the end. As I said, cheaper climbs can be found, but I was happy with the price I paid.
For the safari, I waited until I was in Arusha, Tanzania to arrange that, because I was told the companies were plentiful (they were) and the prices would be much less (maybe not). I was taken on the safari with Comfort Holidays based in Arusha (http://www.comfortsafaris.com/ ). That’s not who I booked with, but that’s who ended up taking me. I booked with Kilimanjaro Crown Bird Safaris in Arusha. The next day, Comfort Holidays showed up and said I was going with them. Of the 5 people in the car, only two of the people had actually booked with Comfort Holidays, and they had done that prior to leaving for Tanzania. The other 3 paying customers had all booked with another company. After hearing a number of horror stories about people booking group safaris and then not getting to go when the others in the group magically disappeared, I was just happy that I was getting to go on a Safari at all.
The guide and car provided by Comfort Holidays met my expectations. The Toyota Land Cruiser was in good working condition and comfortable (though a bit crowded when all 7 people (5 guests, guide and cook) were in the car). The guide was knowledgeable and did an excellent job meeting the desires of the group for a good, first timer safari. He did get a little side tracked one day trying to find a leopard for us to see, but otherwise I have no complaints.
Food was good and well prepared. The last day we started to run out of some things (powdered milk, tea bags, etc.), which makes me think they could do a better job in supply.
The tents were a little old and took a long time to set up, even with the guest pitching in. They were comfortable enough.
All told my safari (booked in Arusha the day before departure) cost me $US 478, including guide, car, cook, three meals a day, park fees, campsites, tents, sleeping bags and mats, Maasai village visit, Olduvai Gorge fee and tips. The couple who booked from home paid about $50 more than I did booking in Arusha. That was for a camping safari. Around $US 80 - $US 100 is about right for a camping safari. The hotel lodges start at $150 a night, so if she wanted to do hotels, she should probably expect to pay $US 200 a day for the safari and up (depending on the quality of the lodge).
If she ends up staying in Arusha and looking for a place to stay, I would recommend L’Oasis for $45 a night (single). Very nice. Just across the road and through a couple streets from the Novotel Mount Meru. L’Oasis provides a clean and very atmospheric bungalows in a quiet setting. It’s run by a couple of Brit ex-pats. They are also renovating a backpacker hostel across the street, which I think they said they would charge $15 a night for. I spent one night at the Novotel Mount Meru for $85 a night (single). Overpriced for what you got. I would definately stay away from the Williams Inn. This was recommended by my guide book, and the place I probably would have stayed had it not rained when I arrived at the Novotel. However, one of the group in my safari stayed here and did not like it at all. A woman was screaming all night long about people trying to kill her, and doors were constantly opening and closing and discussions about prices for sex acts could be heard all night long. They were booked to stay 2 days, and only stayed one to find a new place.
For the trip to Zanzibar, I had Comfort Safaris (who I had just returned from Safari with) arrange the plane trip. The plane was about $US 150 one way from Arusha to Zanzibar. Comfort Safaris had arranged for a driver to pick us up in Stone Town, Zanzibar. He took us to a place I had found recommended in my guide book: The Garden Inn on Kaunda Road. $US 20 for a single including breakfast on the rooftop patio. The rooms were nice with four-poster beds, mosquito nets, fans and hot water. It is also an excellent choice because it is on a major road, and thus easy to find. One of the places I was thinking of I stumbled on while lost in the twisting alleys of Stone Town. There is no way I would have been able to find a hotel in those back streets in the dark after a few beers.
When in Zanzibar, I took a spice tour. Every guide book on Zanzibar recommends taking a spice tour. Zanzibar is famous for growing spices, especially cloves, and taking a tour of a spice farm. The farmer takes you around and shows you various plants and their fruits. We then play a game where we try and guess what spice is made from the plant. Everyone else in the group would be sitting their saying stuff like, “is it turmeric?” The farmer would say, “Yes! It is turmeric!” And I would be thinking, “What the heck is turmeric?” A spice tour is a very, very boring concept if you know nothing about spices or cooking. All it was to me was an hour of beach time lost. The spice tour I took cost $20 including a transfer from Stone Town to Kendwa.
Kendwa, on the north coast, is a quiet and beautiful beach town. The beaches are white sand. The Indian Ocean water is blue and calm, perfect for swimming. Unfortunately I only had a day available in Kendwa. I could have stayed much longer.
I stayed at the Amaan Bungalows. It was $US 30 for a single “sea view.” It was about 20 metres from the beach. They wanted $US 50 for a sea view on the beach, but I decided that the extra $20 wasn’t worth the saved 40 steps to the beach. Very nice place – hot water, beds with mosquito nets, fan, AC. A beach bar and restaurant is on the property. Food is a little pricey.
I also checked out Kendwa Rocks next door. They were a little cheaper than Amaan Bungalows, but didn’t have any singles available. I liked the architecture at Kendwa Rocks better – the thatch hut look rather than the stucco bungalow look, but that’s just window dressing. I have heard that Kendwa Rocks can get a little rowdy at night – they do host full moon parties.