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Experience with ATR/Tanganyika Expeditions/ MKSC


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#1 stevento

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Posted 13 January 2017 - 05:18 PM

We are in the final stages of planning our August E.Africa trip, and would appreciate some help.

 

Several months ago, as recommended here and elsewhere, I contacted a few operators, local and international, such as ATR, ExpertAfrica, www.itstartedinafrica.com, Good Earth Tours, and some others.

 

I talked to a few, and got somewhat conflicting advice.  Some (ATR) very strongly recommended Tanzania over Kenya, others (Expert Africa and nearly everyone else), just as strongly felt about Kenya.  I am generally a skeptical consumer, but for whatever reason, I found the ATR agent extremely convincing, and had him prepare an itinerary.

The itinerary was for 5 nights (2 Tarangire, 1 Ngorongoro, fly to Kogatende for 3 nights), and is priced around $13,000 for 4 people.

Their local operator is Tanganyika Expeditions aka MKSC.

When others prepared a similar itinerary, their cost was considerably higher, even for the same lodges (Mawe Ninga, Olduvai Camp, Lemala Mara, or Serena NgoroNgoro instead of Olduvai).

 

Checking their reviews online, I could find very little anywhere...other than most people calling them "very overpriced compared to others".

I found just the opposite.

 

I need to make a decision in the next few days.  We travel a lot, and usually I am very decisive - but find myself very hesitant to pull the trigger here.

 

My concerns.

 

What my ATR advisor tells me is completely opposite to what everyone else is saying.  For instance, in Tarangire, he considers Mawe Ninga to be the best option, second only to Oliver's at triple the price.  Everyone else calls it a very simple and basic camp with better options elsewhere.  Yes, I know MKSC owns MaweNinga.

 

My ATR advisor strongly recommends Olduvai Camp, with a signifcant detour.  Everyone else says it's in a bad location with nothing to see but Maasai cattle.  Yes, I know MKSC owns Olduvai.

 

My ATR advisor very strongly recommends Tanzania over Kenya.  According to him, Kenya cannot rival Tanzania in terms of quality of safari, wildlife exposure, and much less crowds during peak times.  Everyone else says "they like Tanzania but love Kenya".  I wouldn't care one or the other, but it is so much easier for us to get into NBO than JRO (for various reasons).  In fact, even if we go to Tanzania, we are likely to go through NBO, which means additional flights and additional visas and additional times spent in airports.

It would have been easier logistically to just stay in Kenya if we are going through NBO.

 

When asked, ATR did provide me with a quote for Kenya.  If we were to go with 3 nights in Amboseli (Tortilis) and 3 night in Maasai Mara Naibosho conservancy, at Encounter.  The quote was for $17.5K for 4 people.  I am not sure that I am comparing apples to apples as Tortilis seems a lot nicer than Mawe Ninga or Olduvai Camp.

 

And perhaps most concerning is the fact that there are absolutely no reviews of either Africa Travel Resource or MKSC anywhere.  there are mentions on Fodors and TA, but nothing substantial and mixed overall.  Other companies have hundreds of reviews....

 

Yes, the ATR agent seems to have a strange mind hold over me...I tend to believe everything he says...sorry, have to run, he asked me wash his car now...

 

 

 

 

 

 


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#2 amybatt

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Posted 13 January 2017 - 06:22 PM

I'll insert my disclaimer here first:  I like Tanzania but I love Kenya.  Tanzania was my first safari and I liked it enough to want to do another, but I picked Kenya to return to.  Three times now.  Many more on here can beat my numbers, but that's how I feel.  I won't beat this horse any more as I'm sure there can be a multi-page thread on the pros and cons and subjective opinions on each!

 

First though I think you need to delineate between the camps and the people booking those camps.  ATR owns no camps.  They essentially make the arrangements for you.  You can book with Encounter Mara (or any other camp) directly through the Asilia (parent company) website and cut them out.  Sometimes they'll have packages that include transfers and intra-Kenya flights for you, sometimes not.  Gamewatchers, for example, is a hybrid.  They own the Porini camps but also have access to all the other camps in Kenya.  Thus to book Porini camps, you contact them, but you can also book elsewhere throughout Africa with them.  So your options are really, book through a third party provider (like ATR, Expert Africa) or try and book yourself directly with the camp.  First time out though, I think I'd go with a third party to make sure I haven't missed anything.

 

So when you say there are no reviews anywhere, my guess is that they wouldn't be listed with other camps, I don't think, but rather in safari planners or travel agents.  ATR and Expert Africa are well known and well used.  I know people who swear by one or the other.  I scoped out my latest safari with ATR in the early stages.  I knew exactly what I wanted and when, I just wanted them to book it.  ATR outright refused to book one part of it and tried to convince me otherwise on another part.  I found it frustrating to not have my agent working for me and just doing what I wanted (it wasn't outlandish, it was an itinerary others on here have done), so it wasn't worth the battle, I booked directly with the camp in Kenya and got the transfers and flights included through them.  We'll see how that works out for me next month.   For my Rwanda portion of this trip, I worked with a Rwanda specialist, as I've never been there and wanted to put my faith in someone who has; I used the same company for Tanzania and had an excellent experience. 


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#3 optig

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Posted 13 January 2017 - 07:15 PM

Let me say that after having worked with both ATR and ExpertAfrica, I much prefer Expert Africa. I found them to be much more honest and open, as well as lower cost. I love both Tanzania and Kenya, but for first time safari goer I think that you'd be happier with Kenya.  Expert Africa's head of the Kenyan department Richard Trillo is the author of a superb guide to Kenya. I even found that Expert Africa to be less expensive than some local Kenyan travel agencies.


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#4 stevento

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Posted 13 January 2017 - 10:30 PM

Thank you for your replies. 

I wanted to clarify that ATR's quote was less than others.  I think it wasn't clear from my post.

 

I think I will do what was suggested and reach out to camps directly.  As we are only talking about 5-6 days, and so 2 or at the most 3 camps, with fights in between, I might as well do that.



#5 AndyH1000

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Posted 14 January 2017 - 03:26 AM

I would work out where I wanted to go and the type of experience I want. Then get a quote for that from a number or providers where you can compare apples.

 

It is clear that ATR prefer to recommend camps / operators which they have a relationship with (Olduvai, Tanganyika Exped, etc) - it's evident from a look through their website and their TA reviews. That could be good or bad or whatever. It just is.

 

I have stayed at Tortilis camp and it was great - I would expect a higher priced quote with it's inclusion. Also I wouldn't probably stay at Oldvai Camp in August but would around Feb - but that's just me.



#6 AfricIan

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Posted 14 January 2017 - 03:38 PM

@stevento - We've gone with ATR twice.  The first was to Botswana in 2007 out of Jo'burg (as we were already going to be in South Africa). Can't fault the advice given and although what we settled on was a "simple" Kwando 3-camp trip via Maun, everything went smoothly & it was a great trip.  
In 2014 we booked with them again to Ruaha/Zanzibar and again, can't fault the advice given. ATR's cost was significantly less than any others for the same camp in Ruaha (Kichaka) although different lodges/hotels on Zanzibar meant it wasn't easy to compare costs.

 

I do like the way ATR break down their quotes so you can see exactly where your money is going, I've not seen this level of breakdown with anyone else.  

 

I was also impressed with both ATR & Expert Africa's integrity in 2009 when we were looking at going to Tanzania - we had just about given up as the costs were just too high but I found a Selous Safari Co. special with Bales Worldwide.  They both said "book it now, we can't get close" when I told them what Bales quote was.


Ian

 

Photographs from our Africa trips in my PicasaWeb albums


#7 Livetowander

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Posted 16 January 2017 - 01:05 AM

For my first safari, I much preferred Kenya to Tanzania. For a few years after that I tried destinations in South Africa, Rwanda and Uganda. When I felt it was time for a different agent, ATR was one company I contacted (I had been a fan of their website for years) and, like @stevento, the siren call of the ATR agent (Brian) lured me into visiting Tanzania again. It turns out he was dead right. I think it wasn't so much about the destination (I was definitely more open to Kenya than Tanzania), but that the agent heard who I was and what I had experienced, and listened to what I was looking for. I had seen the camp he recommended before speaking to him, but would not have chosen it for myself. Pretty soon I'll be heading out for my third visit to that same camp in Tanzania (Kwihala).


Edited by Livetowander, 16 January 2017 - 01:06 AM.

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#8 optig

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Posted 16 January 2017 - 01:25 AM

@Livetowander  I hope that you have a great safari in Tanzania. I certainly enjoyed my stay in Kwihala. I was there in 2014.



#9 stevento

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Posted 16 January 2017 - 01:48 AM

For my first safari, I much preferred Kenya to Tanzania. For a few years after that I tried destinations in South Africa, Rwanda and Uganda. When I felt it was time for a different agent, ATR was one company I contacted (I had been a fan of their website for years) and, like @stevento, the siren call of the ATR agent (Brian) lured me into visiting Tanzania again. It turns out he was dead right. I think it wasn't so much about the destination (I was definitely more open to Kenya than Tanzania), but that the agent heard who I was and what I had experienced, and listened to what I was looking for. I had seen the camp he recommended before speaking to him, but would not have chosen it for myself. Pretty soon I'll be heading out for my third visit to that same camp in Tanzania (Kwihala).

He is very persuasive, isn't he?



#10 Christopher Moran

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Posted 16 January 2017 - 02:17 AM

While I can't comment on which of your recommended camps would be better over another, I can certainly endorse ATR as a travel agent. We booked a 2012 trip through them, and all of the in-country arrangements happened without a hitch. There have been a few trips written up here on ST which were booked with ATR - a google search should bring them to the top.

#11 Livetowander

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Posted 17 January 2017 - 01:34 AM

@Livetowander  I hope that you have a great safari in Tanzania. I certainly enjoyed my stay in Kwihala. I was there in 2014.

Thank you! It's obviously one of my favorite destinations ever.



#12 Livetowander

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Posted 17 January 2017 - 01:35 AM

 

For my first safari, I much preferred Kenya to Tanzania. For a few years after that I tried destinations in South Africa, Rwanda and Uganda. When I felt it was time for a different agent, ATR was one company I contacted (I had been a fan of their website for years) and, like @stevento, the siren call of the ATR agent (Brian) lured me into visiting Tanzania again. It turns out he was dead right. I think it wasn't so much about the destination (I was definitely more open to Kenya than Tanzania), but that the agent heard who I was and what I had experienced, and listened to what I was looking for. I had seen the camp he recommended before speaking to him, but would not have chosen it for myself. Pretty soon I'll be heading out for my third visit to that same camp in Tanzania (Kwihala).

He is very persuasive, isn't he?

 

 Yes, he is, LOL. Not only is he persuasive, but more important, at least in my case, he was right!



#13 rjwafrica

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Posted 25 January 2017 - 12:40 PM

Not to confuse the issue as I have not used either of the companies listed but would suggest checking out Access2Tanzania. We used them last year and they were GREAT to work with. Very helpful. We are using them this September for a Serengetti/Ruaha safari. 



#14 amybatt

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Posted 25 January 2017 - 01:29 PM

FWIW I also used Access2Tanzania on my first safari and are traveling with their company in Rwanda (Treks2Rwanda) in a couple of weeks.  Another happy customer.



#15 Julian

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Posted 05 March 2017 - 07:15 PM

Havent been on here for a while, so a bit late with a response to this.
We found ATR to be very honest, open, helpful , and booked everything we wanted precisely, and our Tanzania safari in 2015 booked through them was amazing and there were no problems with anything they arranged. We stayed inSelous, Ruaha, Katavi and Serengeti- trip report on here.
There are totally independent reviews of ATR on Feefo.com
With regard to whether Kenya or Tanzania are best, I dont think most travellers who compare the two have seen enough of Tanzania to make a comparison.
If you consider Tanzania there is of course the northern 'circuit' which comprises Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara and Tarangire, but there is also the south and west of Tanzania which comprises three other amazing areas - the Selous, Ruaha and Katavi, as well as Mahale.
If you take the eight Tanzania locations Ive just listed I find it difficult to understand how the combined major locations in Kenya could match Tanzania - but thats just my opinion.

Edited by Julian, 05 March 2017 - 07:18 PM.

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#16 hannahcat

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Posted 17 March 2017 - 09:55 PM

I'm quite late to this as well, but just wanted to chime in quickly to say that I used ATR for a trip to South Africa & Botswana last year because, like @AfricIan, I liked the fact that they broke down all their costs. The trip went really well -- very smooth, etc. It was maybe a little transactional -- after booking, I didn't really hear from ATR either before or after the trip, and I suppose I did half-expect to hear from them -- but it's a small complaint.

 

While I was in Botswana, though, I met an agent from The Ultimate Travel Company, based in the UK, whom I really liked, and I just made an inquiry with her, as I'm also thinking about either a Kenya or Tanzania trip. So, I will be very interested to hear what you end up booking and how your trip ends up! 


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#17 stevento

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Posted 18 March 2017 - 04:50 PM

I ended up changing our itinerary.  Unlike nearly everyone else on this forum, the idea of 10 days of game drives just didn't sound appealing to any member of my group.

3 days sounded just about right.

So instead of Kenya or Tanzania alone, we decided to spend 5 days in Namibia and 3 in Kenya.

 

 

This is the final itinerary, as shown in this thread:

 

Day 1 18.30 NYC-CAI.

 

Day 2 Land in CAI in the 11 AM. 12 hr layover.  Tour CAI, get back to airport, change, shower, board 11PM CAI-JNB.

 

Day 3.  Land in JNB at 7AM.  Unfortunately, early flight not available, so JNB for 6 hrs.  Change, shower, board 13.15-14.10 to WDH. Catch a charter flight to Opuwa Lodge.  Overnight Khowarib.

 

Day 4. Drive with Kunene Tours to Kunene River, exploring the landscape. Overnight Kunene River Lodge.

 

Day 5. Kunene River lodge to Epupa Falls, further exploring landscape and Himba villages.  Overnight Epupa falls Lodge .

 

Day 6. Hike along the Kunene, drive from Epupa to Khowarib Lodge.

 

Day 7. Early charter flight to Kulala Lodge in Sossusvlei.

 

Day 8. Sunrise tour to Sossusvlei and Deadvlei.

 

Day 9. Early charter flight to WDH to catch 11.15AM WDH-JNB-NBO.  Land at NBO 8.30PM.  Overnight NBO.

 

Day 10. 8.40AM  Wilson - Mara.  Stay at Serian North.

 

Day 11. Mara.

 

Day 12. Mara

 

Day 13. 11AM-12 Mara- WIL. for 19.40 NBO-ZUR-NYC

 

 

I used ATR to book Serian and Kulala only, as well as some transfers and domestic Kenya flights.

 

I rarely use agents to book trips because I am the kind to spend many hours researching it myself.   If I actually worked half the time I spend on researching trips, I would have paid for them many times over...but I enjoy it.  This one, though, has so many moving parts, it's really kicking my butt :)


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