Update: Since publication I have received a full refund from Acanela.
I’m sharing a detailed Acanela Expeditions review. Spoiler alert: this company is a disaster and I feel scammed. I feel obligated to share my experience with others to prevent more people from having unpleasant travel experiences with this company. Time off is precious and travel is expensive. No one deserves to have their time away ruined by an incompetent and perhaps scammy tour company.
Imagine paying $2100 for a three-night safari in the Serengeti, and then learning the other four people on the tour all paid $600. That’s what happened when I booked a tour with Acanela Expeditions. I know that sounds wild, but I have the receipts – I’ll share those later. Let’s start at the beginning.
My Acanela Expeditions Review
I booked a tour to climb Mount Kilimanjaro followed by a three-night Serengeti Extension. The tour began with a five-day trip to climb Kilimanjaro and continued with a three-night trip to the Serengeti. Things started off well, the team that supported me when I climbed Kilimanjaro were all great. I had a capable and kind guide, a talented chef, and five friendly porters.
The only complaint I have about the time on Kilimanjaro was that on the last day I went nine hours without being fed a meal. Between 7:30 and 4:30 I hiked 11.3 miles without lunch, and even though I was told lunch was waiting for me at the gates, it wasn’t. It seems that lunch was withheld so that I would make it to the gate and finish the hike faster, ultimately I caved to the pressure to take a jeep the last few miles. This was just a minor introduction to the disaster that would become my experience with Acanela.
Acanela Expeditions is a young company helmed by a 26-year-old in Utah who can be found traveling the world, often with a group of Instagram influencers in tow. She makes travel look easy and glamorous, always wearing flowy dresses and having her photo taken at scenic locations. She periodically does trip giveaways on Instagram to boost both her and the Acanela Expeditions Instagram followings. She braggingly shares photos of her 40 under 40 award (from some publication called Utah Valley BusinessQ). It is apparent that she wants her name to be known just as much as that of the company she runs. She says she has a humanitarian mission to help people in other countries; it’s unclear how this mission is executed.
I was worried about booking a trip with a company that I was unfamiliar with, but thanks to their series of trips with influencers, I found nothing but positive reviews online. Prior to the trip, I received a detailed itinerary that listed the meals that would be included and that specified my accommodations as being a “classic safari tent”. The itinerary was detailed, thorough, and it read like the balance of adventure and luxury that I was looking for.
After my Kilimanjaro trip, I spent a night in a hotel in Moshi before being picked up the next morning and taken to meet the group for the safari. Jackson, Acanela’s local tour contact met me himself. He explained that I would be staying in a lodge the first night and then a tent the next night. I figured he was explaining the lodge accommodations since they were outside the specified “classic safari tent” listed in the itinerary, and I assumed that the second night I would be in a “classic safari tent”.
The first day was fine, we spent most of the day in the Jeep, first spending several hours driving to the Serengeti and then driving around spotting animals within the Serengeti. At sunset, I was brought to the lodge while everyone else was taken to a campsite, the first clue that everyone else had paid for a much less expensive trip. It seemed a bit odd. I booked a group tour to be with a group, instead, I was alone. Yet, the lodge was lovely and I had a delicious steak dinner, so I was happy.
My room was a large canvas standalone tent that felt more like a permanent structure than a tent. It had a real bed, electricity, hot running water, and a flush toilet. It was rustic and luxurious at the same time. It seemed less like a lodge, like Jackson had called it, and more like the classic safari tent that had been listed in my itinerary.
The next day the Jeep loaded up with the four other people on the tour came to pick me up at 6:30 am. Everyone else complained of not being able to sleep in freezing cold tents while loud animals circled the campsite. Some were too cold to sleep, others were too scared.
We drove around all morning seeing elephants, zebras, lions, leopards, wildebeests, cheetahs, gazelles, warthogs, hippos, and more. At lunchtime, we ate lunch at the campsite where everyone else had spent the night. The bathrooms were dirty and when lions came to the border of the campsite we had to seek shelter in the mess hall.
The afternoon was spent mostly driving to Ngorongoro Crater, the area where we’d be spending the night. I was nervous about the accommodations but I kept reminding myself that it was great the first night and that I’d paid $700 a night for the trip, so it couldn’t be that bad. I thought of the glamping tents I’d stayed at in the Sahara. They didn’t have running water, but I still had a warm cozy bed and a private bathroom.
My hopes were crushed when we pulled up to a campsite just like the one where everyone had spent the previous night. There was no beautiful canvas tent. No mattress. No private bathroom. There was a basic camping tent, no different than the one I’d spent nights in when I was in girl scouts. And a public bathroom with mud all over the floors.
It had to be a mistake. I immediately asked to speak with the tour guide. I told him that this couldn’t be right, I paid $2100 for this. I was promised a classic safari tent. He called Jackson who gave me the runaround and kept insisting that Acanela booked me a trip that involved spending the second night in a tent.
When I got off the phone it occurred to me that I should find out how much everyone else paid for this trip. A couple from Chile pulled up their receipt, they paid $600 per person.
I called Jackson back figuring that if I let him know that I found out the others were paying $600 while I was paying $2100 that I would immediately be brought to a lodge. Instead, Jackson tried to tell me that my trip was one night longer and involved an excursion to a coffee plantation. My trip wasn’t longer, nor did I go to a coffee plantation. He was spinning lies.
He told me that the lodge was expensive. $450+ a night he said. My response: I was paying $500 a night more than everyone else, so it would make sense for me to stay in a $450 a night lodge.
I begged Jackson to just have me brought to a lodge – we could figure out what happened later. I wasn’t prepared to spend the night in a very cold tent (the temperatures dropped significantly at night). I didn’t have the clothing needed to stay warm. Staying in a tent was not an option after four nights freezing in Kilimanjaro; I couldn’t fathom another night in the cold. I thought that if I could just be brought to a lodge we could work the details out later. Jackson refused to help me or have me moved to a lodge. I also sent emails to Acanela and they were never answered.
Cold and frustrated, I posted the following image to my Instagram stories and tagged Acanela’s owner, Kylie. It caught her attention.
Kylie admitted that a mistake had been made. I am certain that if I didn’t happen to have 45k followers on Instagram, no one would have replied and I would have been stuck in a tent.
Kylie told me that I should always contact the local tour provider first. Assuring me that they are very responsive. At this point, I’d spent over 90 minutes on several calls to Jackson who was insistent that a mistake wasn’t made and that Acanela booked me on a trip where I’d be spending a night in a camping tent, despite the fact I was paying $700 a night for the trip. This seems outrageous.
Kylie arranged for me to finally be moved to a lodge. At the same time she begged me to take down my Instagram story, I refused to do so until I was at the lodge.
The following day, when the safari ended and I was dropped off at a hotel in Arusha, I tried to understand what happened. I looked up the prices of my accommodations to see if somehow it would add up to represent a value close to what I paid. It didn’t, even though I stayed at the expensive lodge.
What Happened to My Money?
One thing that I can’t understand is where my $2100 went. The trip included meals, accommodations, and the safari. I was able to find the cost of my accommodations online:
Heritage Serengeti $372
Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge $486
Tulia Boutique Hotel $81
Even if you add in the full $600 that everyone else (who stayed in tents) paid for the trip, the total cost is $1539. That is still far less than the $2100 I paid.
Given this cost breakdown, I am confused as to why Jackson repeatedly refused to move me to the Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge, which was clearly within the budget. Instead, he wanted me to stay at a $30 a night campsite, perhaps so he could make more profit? It’s unclear.
Only the accommodations in the lodge the first night could be considered a “classic safari tent”. The itinerary lists that three nights would be spent in a classic safari tent. None of this makes sense and makes me believe that I was booked on the wrong tour by Acanela, or that Jackson put me on the wrong tour intentionally.
Once at the hotel in Arusha, the local tour company, Hekima Safaris, tried to do damage control by constantly calling and sending people to talk to me, which was very annoying. They skirted around acknowledging any mistake on their part and repeatedly told me that they were following the direction of the Acanela Expeditions team.
That night I assembled a document, with all the information that I am sharing here, and sent it to the Acanela operations team, the team that Kylie had told me to email with any concerns. Kylie had said that her team would be meeting with the local team the next Tuesday to discuss the mistake and that they would be getting back to me. I wanted them to understand the situation and to see the photos.
They didn’t reply to me with a resolution. Meanwhile, I saw that Kylie was in Africa meeting with Jackson and was about to lead another influencer trip. She referred to him as one of her favorite people, it all seemed very curious.
When I got in touch with Kylie, she was quick and apologize, say that a mistake like that had never been made, and to mention a refund. A refund seemed appropriate, I clearly wasn’t booked on the $2100 trip that I had paid for. I sent all of the relevant information to Acanela and waited to hear back from them. I even sent the receipt showing that the others paid just $600 for the tour. After following up with them twice, they wanted to schedule a phone call with me, which is just a convenient way to avoid putting anything in writing. Eventually, they offered me a $240 refund.
Paying Acanela Customers vs. Acanela Influencer Trips
Just days after my Serengeti trip, Kylie embarked on a Serengeti trip with a group of influencers. I was interested to see how their trip compared to mine.
They stayed in classic safari tents at the Kati Kati Tented Camp! They had real beds and private bathrooms. This was the experience that I paid for but didn’t get.
Acanela excels at making everything look perfect on their website and when they host influencer trips, but they don’t deliver the same product to paying customers. I am upset that I didn’t receive the trip that I paid for and that was described in my itinerary, and that they only agreed to refund me $240.
Acanela Expeditions Review Summary:
– Acanela Expeditions is only the booking agent. They don’t run the trips and instead rely on locally-based companies to do so.
– Jackson from the locally-based tour company lied when he said that everyone else on the trip only paid for two nights, in fact, they paid for four nights.
– The total amount I paid far exceeds the cost of the trip I was booked on.
– I received an insufficient refund.
– The trips that Acanela depicts through Instagram do not match the experience that their paying customers have.
This trip was paid for out of my own pocket. I did receive a $240 refund from Acanela. This post is not sponsored by Acanela, obviously.