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South-East Africa tour assistance

Travel Forums Africa and The Middle East South-East Africa tour assistance

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1. Posted by bunnies7 (Budding Member 6 posts) 43w Star this if you like it!


I am planning to travel to South-East Africa sometime around November and as I am a female travelling solo I must admit I am a little nervous and have decided to do a tour with a company (disgraceful, i know).
I have found 2 that I like and need some assistance/encouragement on which to pick.

There is a 23 day tour with Top Deck or a 30 day tour with Tucan Travel. Both around the same price and both visit the areas of interest to me. I really want to do the Tucan one, purely because it is longer and visits a couple more destinations. However, I have heard some horrible feedback about them, specifically that the tour price only really covers accommodation and travel, and that you have to pay for most things along the way.
Has anyone done a tour with them and has some feedback for me? What is everyones experience with Top Deck?
Or if anyone has any other Tour suggestions to bring to my attention feel free to do so.
I have searched other review websites but get suspicious that they delete ones they don't like.

Thanks in advance :)

2. Posted by harbinger (Budding Member 39 posts) 43w 2 Star this if you like it!

The fact that you are willing and eager to strike out on your own in an unfamiliar region is great, so don't be hard on yourself for looking at an organised tour. Many people take a more 'organised' option the first time they go somewhere, and treat it as reconnaissance for possible future visits, so your approach is absolutely legitimate. Also, having lived and worked in the region for a long time (often travelling alone), I wouldn't recommend it as a solo travel destination for a woman if it's your first visit.
I haven't travelled with either of these companies, but I know the region well, so I'll try to give this a bash.
'South East Africa' isn't a commonly used term, so it would help if you would provide a little more information on the countries/destinations that are of interest to you.
As a general rule, accommodation and transport will account for a large proportion of a tour's cost. However, food is also a significant component as well as park/reserve entry fees, so the first step is to read the fine print to determine what's in and what's out.
I presume that the majority (if not all) of the accommodation is likely to be camping. Usually, this means that the food is self-catering, and that tour members will be expected to pitch in with preparation. The question is whether the groceries are included in the price? Some companies will include this, whereas others will run a 'kitty' system, where everyone contributes a certain amount of money. The danger with
kitties is that when the funds are exhausted, tour members are likely to be asked for additional (unbudgeted) contributions. It's worth noting that sometimes shortfalls in the kitty are not the company's fault: for example, much of southern Africa is in the grip of a drought, and this has lead to a major leap in food prices (particularly fresh produce) which the company cannot be reasonably expected to anticipate. Just don't underestimate the importance of good food on a longer trip - most people can rough it for a few days, but it's worth a few dollars more for a tasty meal at the end of a hard day after three weeks on the road. This is something I'd definitely look for in reviews.
You may not be aware of how steep park/reserve entrance fees can be in the region. Certain countries (such as Botswana) have adopted a 'low numbers, high per capita income' tourist model, which are reflected in high park entry fees even for those who are camping. Entry fees are also high in Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia, and even in countries where entry fees are more 'reasonable', there is a two tier system, with international tourists paying more than local/regional tourists (the logic being that they already subsidise the parks through taxation and also have a preferential right to appreciate their own national heritage). It doesn't really matter how the company handles this issue - what matters is that you know what's 'in' and what's 'out' so that you can compare options in an informed manner. However, my personal preference would be for a package that includes this, which reduces the amount of money you need to carry, and protects you against unexpected tariff increases.
The other thing to consider is what 'services' are included. Going back to the issue of catering, is there a company representative tasked with the cooking, or are the tour members expected to do this? If the company is responsible, then is that person also the driver/guide (and, if so, how motivated will they be after a tough 10 hour drive with a border crossing?). If the tour members are responsible, will they also be required to plan menus and shop (if so, this will take more time out of your already busy schedule, and could result in horribly basic catering unless you're lucky enough to have a tour mate who's a gifted cook)? Regardless of the catering arrangements, you should expect to pitch in with basic prep and washing up.
Similarly, are game guides included? I presume that much of the attraction is to experience the absolutely wonderful wildlife that the region has to offer. In some areas (the open savannah, for example), the game is fairly easy to spot, but as the vegetation gets thicker, it can be more cryptic, and you really need someone to help you get your eye in if you're to make the most of the experience. Gamespotting is also so much more enjoyable when you know a little about what you're looking at, and the animal's distinctive characteristics and behaviour (not just, 'it's an impala'). Will this be the driver or will the company pick up local guides for each park? If it's the driver, does he know the parks well enough to know how to optimise the limited time you have in each, and again, how energetic will he be after a long day's drive?
Lastly, you should perhaps consider what motivates people to post bad reviews of a company. Usually it is disappointment that a company didn't live up to the person's expectations (which are at least partly informed by the information provided to them by the company). Sometimes it can be bad service, or poor food, or maybe disappointment that a breakneck itinerary didn't allow them to properly experience the places they travelled it. The better informed you are and the better an understanding you have of your priorities and expectations, the more likely you are to make the right choice for you. So, you're doing the right thing by doing your research. Good luck!

3. Posted by CheersT (Inactive 2578 posts) 43w Star this if you like it!

Quoting bunnies7

I really want to do the Tucan one, purely because it is longer and visits a couple more destinations. However, I have heard some horrible feedback about them, specifically that the tour price only really covers accommodation and travel, and that you have to pay for most things along the way.

This should be easy to research fully, no?

Excellent feedback from harbinger. Listen to her.

Have fun.


4. Posted by harbinger (Budding Member 39 posts) 43w Star this if you like it!

Thanks for the vote of confidence, CheersT! And cheers to you too ...

5. Posted by MattZarchy (Budding Member 2 posts) 41w Star this if you like it!

I agree with CheerT.

I've lived in South Africa. I would say decide on what countries you want to visit specifically, and then working from there. Will make decided on tour group a lot easier.

Being biased would say, Cape Town is a city you have to visit, although it is more Southwest it definitely is worth the visit. But do some research on the countries and decided which ones best meet your needs, as well as safety.

Hope you have an awesome trip :)

6. Posted by harbinger (Budding Member 39 posts) 41w Star this if you like it!

Of course you're biased, MattZarchy - you're a Capetonian!!!
And why not? Yours is indeed a fabulous city (to my mind, the most interesting single destination in Africa) - and coming from someone who lived in Johannesburg for over 25 years, that's quite a compliment! ;)

7. Posted by MattZarchy (Budding Member 2 posts) 41w Star this if you like it!

hahah what can I say harbinger. I love my city lol.

Joburg is beautiful in its own right, can't argue with that :)... I guess ;)

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