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I'm planning a safari to Tanzania with my wife and two teenage daughters (13 and 15) for this coming summer. First time in Africa. After some research I started working with Africa Travel Resource (ATR). They've been very responsive and competetive on price. I have seen some bad reviews from years past and am wondering if anyone has had more recent experience with ATR.

Although our plans are not finalized this is the general outline. We are outdoorsy people , lots of hiking and camping expereince so some adventure and cultural interaction is welcome. We are travelling late July into early- mid August.

Night 1 - Molvaro Lodge Arusha
Night 2 and 3 - Tarngire: Mawe Ninga Camp
Night 4 and 5 - Ngorongoro Karatu: Gibbs
Night 6: Ngoringoro: ilmisigiyo Bivouac Camp (Hike to Olduvai, night 7)
Night 7: Olduvai Tented Camp
Night 8,9,10, 11: Serengeti Mara: Serian Serengeti North (fly in)
Night 12: Zanzibar - Stone Town - 236 Hurumzi
Night 13,14: Zanzibar - Pongwe Beach Hotel

Can anyone comment and provide feedback on the proposed itinerary. This trip is most likely only going to happen once in our lives. I want to get it right. my wife and I have been talking to the kids about this since they could talk. Are we hitting the right spots. Are we in the right place to try and catch the migration in Northern Serengeti. Does anyone have any experience with the camps?

Thanks to all who reply

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    I'm no expert, but I like your itinerary very much. The only caveat may be the 2 days at Tarangire in July/beg. August. I have not been to Tarangire but have it on good authority that the park really comes into its own a bit later in the season. Would suggest trading that in for 2 nights at a camp in the Moru Kopjes area of the Serengeti. Moru has excellent resident wildlife that does not follow the migration.

    Your hike sounds exciting. Serengeti north at either of those camps should be terrific. And I suppose the crater is a must, though I skipped it myself! It sounds like a well thought out trip- enjoy!

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    As is usual for an ATR itinerary, they do not put people on the Crater Rim , rather at Karatu which is at least 2/hrs east (lousy if planning a morning crater tour when gates open at 6am), or at Oldupai Camp, which is about 1.5/hrs west and on the way into Serengeti. How many crater floor visits included (these are limited to 6/hrs only)? If more than one, if staying outside/off the rim, you have to pay each time you enter the NCA.

    A stop at Gibb's which is in Karatu is good for 'out-of-vehicle' time, as hiking, bike riding, other. But, for a visit to the Crater I'd definately want to be on the rim... ask about Sopa Lodge or better, Lemala Camp. Then you can continue onto Oldupai.

    From Oldupai Camp which some like for being close to the Masai tribes, but other have commented 'not that clean' and doesn't compare with the other properties you show.

    ... and ask, from 'where' do you fly to No. Serengeti? Which airstrip? Ndutu or Seronera? Of a 'private charter'?

    Nice to see Serian Serengeti on an itinerary which is rare, but is an excellent choice... were any other camp options up this way offered? That's not taking away from Serian... just curious.

    As sangeeta has never been, know that Tarangire IS at it's peak from late-June thru Oct (often Nov), so definitely stop here. It's a gem of a park with a mini-migration during this time, as well as a birders paradise and those amazing baobab trees.

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    Plan for all day outings in the Serengeti with a packed lunch to increase your odds of getting to the bulk of the herds, maybe even a river crossing. Mention that up front in the booking, if it is of interest to you.

    I like Sopa Lodge at the crater for its own access road. Lemala is a tented camp, also using the access road.

    If you can add days...

    Consider the first full day in Arusha National Park for hiking and canoeing, along with traditional game drives. This plan also offers a buffer day in case of problems, luggage delays, or extreme jet lag. The forested habitat of Arusha NP is different from the other areas in your itinerary and offers a chance to see the beautiful black and white colobus monkeys and blue monkeys.

    Also consider some of the cultural activites like boma-stays around Karatu. I have not done homestays here, but they seem interesting. Check out Esilalei Maasai Village, for example, for a visit or an overnight.

    If there are some big ele enthusiasts in your group, consider a 3rd night in Tarangire. I've spent 3 nts more than once and could stay even longer. Three nights allows time to fully explore the southern part of the park, which contains the Silale Swamp where hundreds of elephants hang out. It also allows you to wait along the riverbanks in the north in search of the herds (eles and other) that come for a drink.

    Whenenver I see beach time in Zanzibar I always ask if you think that is the best use of limited vacation time, since most people have beaches closer to home. Zanzibar offers cultural and nature activities too, which you may be seeking. (I've never been to Zanzibar.)

    I'd seek out another quote or two for your own education even though I think ATR would be fine.

    What a wonderful family trip you have in the works.

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    Just to clarify the Lemala/Sopa access road is not really a private access road- It just so happens that most lodges/camps have been situated on the western side of the crater which is also the approach side for tourists coming in from Karatu etc and hence the access road used by Lemala & Sopa on the South east side of the crater rim is very quiet and peaceful. It is still so but today there are 2 more tented camps -Thomson Safaris and one more that use the same access road. Sopa would actually be a tad further away from the ranger gate than Lemala which is within the 'crater boundary' on the rim. I believe Thomson Safaris camp is even closer but now I am splitting hair on the distance!

    I stayed 2 nights at Lemala and we were there at the post at 5:55-6:00 am both morning -the first ones at the gate- infact on the 2nd morning the ranger came a few minutes later with a toothbrush in his mouth, hurrying to open the gate!

    Point of all this being- I agree with Lynn- stay in Lemala or Sopa- the crater is very crowded- and no amount of people telling me 'the crater is very crowded' prepared me for the crowd. On both days the 1st 2 hours were spectacular and vehicle bereft and quiet. I lunched at Gibbs Farm on my way to Tarangire and as Sandi says its good for a lunch/coffee and exploring their beautifully kept garden and interesting birds- But its not the wild. Lemala with 6 tents and sitting around the campfire surrounded by bushes and trees was wonderful. Sopa with many many more rooms compensates with a view to the crater floor which Lemala doesnt have.

    I also did 3 nights at Tarangire in mid September and inputs from both my guide and the camp staff that it is very good July onwards though obviously it becomes better and better as the river completely dries up. I had phenomenal lion and leopard sighting and more than 500+ elephants at silale swamp and Lynn had great sightings of all 3 big cats and elephants. Tarangire is in my must return to list. The camp you have in your itinerary for Tarangire, is on the far west side of the park and as a pure view from the camp the websites mention views of Lake Burundi and Lake Manyara in the distance -both of which are not in the park. I like the look and description of it very much but would ask more on location and driving times to different parts of the park since its on the western side of the river. The only question on Tarangire I would ask for end July is if the controlled burns are over and done with by then ( I think they are but I like to get these things clarified). The park does an alternate pattern of controlled burns -meaning grass is burnt on one side of the road and left the way it is on the other side and alternated every year. I think this probably happens end June/early July but would ask.

    Final thought- Serian is great but Nomad which also gives a Private vehicle per group of guests is in a terrific location overlooking the Wogakuria Kopjes. In terms of location I thought it was brilliant and their guides are very well respected- I stayed at Olakira and Sayari and Olakira and Nomad Lamai seemed to be on top notch locations

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    They might try to resist your saying on the Crater rim (they did with me), but you are the client--push them.

    I thought Olduvai Camp was fine, not dirty at all, but it is rustic. I remember one poster here years ago saying it was dirty, but he was rather flamboyantly attached to luxury and I cannot recall other comments along those lines. There may be some, though.

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    Leely, I like your "flamboyantly attached to luxury" comment. Perfect.

    Tanya, thanks for some great info.

    A breakfast box for the crater so you can get there early (and perhaps a lunch box) are some things you can request. I've taken 2 boxed meals down there for the day. The reason I mention to ask for the boxed meals in the planning stages is not because they need to be prepared months in advance, but so that your driver/guide is prepared for your schedule. You can always make the decision to go with boxes or lodge meals the night before.

    It appears bringing some dental floss for the ranger might be in order as well. ;)

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    All, thanks for all the great information.

    Atravelynn, thanks for thought of an additional night in Arusha and the tip on Esilalei Maasai Village. My oldest daughter in particular, as well as the rest of us,are interested in some cultural interaction, volunteer activities, home stays, etc. If anyone has any leads or info on this sort of things please pass them on

    Sandi, Tanya_1976 et al, thanks re the suggestion to stay on the crater rim. ATR does push Gibbs and I have been resisting staying at some of the larger lodges on the crater but the lure of getting to the crater floor early is too large to dismiss. I'll be the first at the gate!

    Thanks also for the info on Tarangire. I'll check on the location.

    I was under the impression that Serian (Alex Walker) was one of the best in Northern Serengeti but it looks like I should look around some more. BTW I'm pretty sure that they are supplying a private vehicle for us but I need to confirm.

    Thanks Everyone

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    A couple more things,

    Sandi, it looks like I'm flying from Seronera to Kogatende on Coastal. Is this good, bad, indifferent??

    Atravelynn, Tanya or anyone else. What camp or lodge would you suggest in Tarangire

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    Serian is very very good. The reason I suggested Nomad is because like Serian it provides a private vehicle and their guides have a very strong reputation and they have been in that area through their mobile camps far longer. However the most important reason for me is the location where I would not rate Serian in the top 3 just on location (Otherwise I would always have Serian, Asilia and Nomad as options to pick from) based on my 7 night stay -which is not to say its not a bad location, just that takes a bit longer to some of the crossing points and the Wogakuria Kopjes which is predatory heavy area and I would like to be out there at the Kopjes at first morning light and also stay out as much as I can before having to turn back to camp. The longer you need to drive from camp the more you are cutting out from the morning and evening hours. Its just these small differences that I was pointing at so please dont get worried. Serian or Nomad- you should have the private vehicle as its included in the price!

    If you want to know more about N. Serengeti -Eben Schoeman of Killiwarriors has a wonderful guide- its small, succint and he has rated the camps based on location etc-When I visited and looked around the area, I found his advice bang on. The guide can be bought for USD 9.00 from Amazon for your kindle and is better than anything else I have read on N.Serengeti. I also used the Africadreamsafaris website as they too divide this huge area into 5 parts and explain the flora and fauna in each. N. Serengeti is vast and driving distances are not small.


    In Tarangire I stayed at Oliver's and when I saw Lynn's pics of Tarangire Safari Lodge with the views was very very impressed- those views from the camp are something else! Swala is another option I would consider. Which is again not to say that what ATR has in your itinerary for Tarangire is bad -its just that its on a part of the park which was not part of all the gamedrives I did- which could be my miss and not anything to do with the park, but I would wonder why noone has written more on this westen section of the park -Those tents looked perfect to me.

    However this is what Natural High Safaris have to say about the western part of Tarangire ( they are another UK based vey reputable agents and if you are the outdoorsy hiking type you could try them-they are very focussed on the wilderness experience over and above other things)

    http://www.naturalhighsafaris.com/sitemap/area/tarangire-western-boundary



    Regarding ATR I think the positives are you can count on them for perfect execution and sometimes they have the most ridiculously low rates compared to rack rates on certain camps. In my own experience they compensated that by padding up the private vehicles and trasfers so net net they were more expensive than others.

    The negative is (I have experienced this and so have others here) they really push some camps more than others to the extent of putting down some excellent choices and providing questionable feedback on prior/other choices. I also dont like the way they name some camps differently from what the rest of the world does- it sounds bit weird. Lastly I know you would like a lot of cultural experience and hiking but that still doesnt explain 2 nights in Karatu, 1 night in ilmisigiyo Bivouac and 1 night in Olduvai camp in dry season(read lot of dust, little wildlife in those areas of NCA) -You can easily reduce this to 2 nights- 1 in crater rim and 1 in Olduvai camp - in Olduvai camp all your hiking and walking activities will be with the Masai.

    Here's a website I really like to refer too as mentioned though these guys are usually on the more expensive side.

    http://www.africadreamsafaris.com/lodge_ser_olduvai.html

    My own trip was organised by Bill Given at The Wild Source and guided by his Tanzanian partner Deo Magoye. You can find the trip report here. I would blindly recommend them.

    http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/northern-circuit-tanzania-a-first-safari-perspective.cfm

    Another very good option for proper camping/hiking/adventure is Wayo Africa run by Jean Duplessis- I think Natural High Safaris use their camping tents.

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    Serian and Nomads, both provide private vehicles per tent/group, which is a plus for many.

    Also up that way besides, Sayari & Olakira (both Asilia properties) and Lemala Mara, know that Lemala is opening a new permanent tent in the Kuria area (same name as tribe), which if I have my bearing correct it in the 'Masai wedge' Another in the Wedge would be Serengeti Mara Camp, so from my figuring... that's it - 2/camps only (but for how long??? :)

    ATR and African Dream Safaris, both have exclusive use of Mawe Ninga and Oldupai Camps, why they seem to push these. Using Oludpai as an option other than offering clients properties on the Rim, or in your case, way east in Karatu at Gibbs, which is lovely, but not for being at the Crater. If not on the Rim, closest property in Karatu but right outside the NCA would be the Farmhouse, about 15/min from the NCA gate.

    At Tarangire, both Oliver's and Swala Camps are in the south, and it didn't take us more than 15/min from the former and 20/min from the latter to reach the Silale Swamp, with plenty of game on the way. Oliver's more rustic than Swala which is luxe all the way; similar prices; Oliver's finally has their bore hole so constant water and real toilets! Swala has proper loos with both indoor/outdoor showers. And, while some claim visitors are more likely to come upon Tse-tse flies down here, I didn't see any and this was right after the 'wet.'

    Flying from Seronera to Kogatende is fine, it's about a 2/hr drive north from Oldupai Camp to the airstrip.

    If you've got interest in other than what ATR is offering, ask for changes - would be interesting to hear their replies, if they give you a problem.

    Let us know of your progress.

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    Glad to learn about the Tarangire season, Sandi. When I was looking to add it on to my itinerary in the second half of July, several people told me that T is at its best from the second half of August onwards, so I let it drop. To be fair, perhaps I was given recommendations for "optimal" times because the "recommendees" :) knew that I would be back another year, which may or may not be the case for OP. Also see that OP is looking at a mid-August timeframe anyway, so that's better than my mid-July and fits in well, though it may make sense to reverse the itinerary and go to N. Serengeti before Tarangire?

    I would agree with Tanya that the Nomad Lamai camp has a fantastic location. On a clear day, you will have stunning views all the way into Kenya from their kopje.

    Another camp in the Lamai Wedge? Oh no, Northern Serengeti is going to be more crowded than Seronera at this rate!

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    Msirota,

    If you are looking at a lodge, the Tarangire Safari Lodge has an optimal location with fantastic views of animals congregating at the river. But TSL does not have an intimate, secluded camp atmosphere.

    "Oh no, Northern Serengeti is going to be more crowded than Seronera at this rate!" It may be the "rates" charged for N. Serengeti lodging that prevent overcrowding!

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    Msirota, We used ATR for our month in Southern Tanzania. You can read my trip report by clicking on my name above. We were extremely happy with Lenny from ATR. He was most attentive during the planning session and everything went like clockwork while we traveled. He talked me through every step and answered endless questions. I was very opinionated and studied with my plan. He talked me into some minor changes, talked me through his reasoning and all were spot on - making the trip better. He connected me with a great insurance company in the UK, which gave much better rates than any US insurer. I can't lodge one complaint. They even lowered our price after we had signed the contract when I found a better deal. He didn't have to do that, but he did. I would give ATR a big thumbs up!

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    Hi
    For your interest our first safari was with ATR and very similar to your itinerary but at end June / early July. We went to Movairo, Swala in Tarangire, Gibbs, Olduvai, Ronjo (central Serengeti) then flew up to Sayari in northern Serengeti.
    As Tanya said "faultless execution" and indeed, after much research, we travelled with them again earlier this year to Rwanda and Kenya. Jay at ATR arranged both of our trips and I can't fault them.
    I do agree that they may push certain camps but I certainly had no problems with changes. They were very happy to accept my wishes to upgrade (an upgrade in terms of "luxury")from Mawe Ninga to Swala. I believe they do try and get a feel for what type of traveller you are, what level of luxury you require balanced with authenticity - and, importantly what you want to acheive for what budget. Those camps that they undoubtedly favour are perhaps not as luxurious but are a bit cheaper.
    A few thoughts I have regarding your queries.
    Tarangire - Swala was wonderful, highly recommend. Yes, Sandi, I was bitten but I had never met the dreaded tsetse fly before and could have done a lot more to prevent this. No Tsetse in camp .Without Tarangire in our itinerary we would not have had excellent elephant viewing. It was the reason I wanted to go there and, apart from a great experience with a small herd near the Serengeti gate, elephant viewing would have been quite poor without it.
    Gibbs was very nice and "cheap" for a stopover. An advantage of staying there, apart from good food, is that there is some nice easy walking to do around and about which is nice hwen you haven't had any exercise since leaving Arusha. I don't remember it taking a long time to get to the crater and having most of the day there. Can't have been an exceptionally early start or I would remember !Personally we were very happy with that arrangement and left the crater in time to reach Olduvai in time for the short walk up to watch the masaai bringing their animals home for the night. My only reason for staying at the crater itself would perhaps be that it gives you a much better chance of getting amazing views / photos over the crater. It was and often is too misty in the morning when you set off. We did get some good views later but if that is a really big thing for you then I have heard the Sopa has the best views.
    Olduvai- rustic, don't expect too much of the cuisine but utterly charming in other ways. I intend to stay there again if I can get back for a green season safari. It will be dry and not much wildlife as a poster above says but we stayed there two nights and our "full day" with all day game drive gave us some of our best wildlife encounters of the whole trip including leopard and cheetah and saw no other vehicles all day. Maybe we were just lucky. Also at that time of year you can walk over to Oldupai Gorge / Museum rather than drive. Takes about an hour from the camp if I remember correctly.
    I think I understand some of the thinking behind ATR's own rating of camps. Often they have weighted the authenticity or cultural interaction or position of a camp in its rating. This means that their rating may give the impression to some that a camp with a very high rating is top-end luxurious with all those facilities. I think that may account for many of the disappointments reported in the past. I think you should make sure that you have a full and frank discussion with them about all your concerns. We have now stayed at a real mixture of camps for different reasons. Sometimes I have spluged on more luxury for a treat and at other times stayed at a more rustic cheaper camp to either ease the budget or because it has some other attractive quality.
    Hope that helps a bit or do ask

    julie

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    I've stayed at Mawe Ninga and Olduvai and enjoyed them both, for what it's worth. No, they are not luxurious, but yes, they are comfortable, rustic and unique. One of my traveling companions on my ATR trip later mentioned that Olduvai was her favorite camp! This was her first safari and we just stayed there one night, did no game drives, just a little walk with the Maasai. She love-love-loved that experience and preferred Olduvai to the Nomad semi-mobile camp where we stayed in the Serengeti.

    So, different strokes.

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    Thanks for the feedback Jul and Leely2
    A couple of more questions

    1. We are planning to hike from ilmisigiyo Bivouac Camp to Olduvai. We have been told that we will walk through a number of villages on the way. This sounds great to us but I'm wondering if it will be TOO TOO desolate in late July early August? We were planning to do this hike more for the adventure and cultural interaction than seeing game but is this just plainly the wrong time?

    2. My older daughter is really into volunteering and community involvement (schools, orphanage, etc). Does anyone have any first hand experiences with this sort of thing around Arusha or Karatu?

    3. Finally if we wanted to spend one night at Lake Eyasi how long of a drive is it from Karatu.

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    1. The timing is ideal. Not a lot of rain--but nowadays who really knows? That's about the time of year I did a hike in a similar location. Desolate depends on whether there is an extended drought and if so then other months could be equally desolate.

    2. Look at this link. I have not gone with this company but I saw their vehicles around Tanzania in Sept. If you search for Warrior Trails, you'll see comments on them here.
    http://www.warriortrails.com/Cultural%20Experiences.htm

    In general the village stays and homestays I've done in Africa that have accompanied a safari have been well worth it. No personal experience about areas you mention.


    Regarding Tarangire in the dry season...I've been in mid-July when there was lots to see. I've also been there mid-July when the rains were late and it was unseasonably cool and not much was around for the 3 days we searched. In addition to the time of year, it also depends on the weather. But in general July-Oct is good with odds of plentiful wildlife increasing as you get later into the dry season. If there are early rains, then Oct could be less productive.

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    msirota--I just found your post, as I was searching Africa Travel Resource. I too am planning a trip in August with kids (currently ages 12, 14, 16), potentially with ATR and the itinerary I have chosen looks eerily like yours. Because of timing issues, several camps already sold out for August, and we have decided to postpone until 2013.

    I had not seen the Mt. Makarot hike that you identified, and it looks marvelous! What a great idea, and I've added it to our schedule too.

    Can you let me know what your final itinerary is? If possible, it would be fantastic to get some feedback after your trip too...Good luck!

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