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Trip Report Great Tanzania trip in the off season

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My wife and I traveled to Tanzania in the last week of November and first week of December 2014 and I would highly recommend it. We flew from Canada through Amsterdam and arrived in Dar Es Salaam.

We spent three nights in Dar in total and the city was hot, sticky, and very busy. It’s much more developed than other places we've been in Africa, but may still be a shock coming from the West. There isn't much for tourism in the city and you would struggle to fill more than a day with sightseeing. We checked out the national museum (seemingly half shut down) and the village museum (a neat stop if only for the dancers who perform on weekends). If you’re only coming for a safari or to visit the beaches of Zanzibar, I would recommend flying directly to Kilimanjaro International Airport or Arusha Airport.

From Dar we flew on ZanAir up to Arusha where we were met by our guide and driver from Paradies Safaris. Paradies is one of the smaller safari companies based in Arusha and was started by a very friendly German woman who came to the area thirty years ago working for the German government and fell in love with the country. Our driver/guide was Mike and our cook was Paolo and we had our own jeep with a pop-up top that we took for our four night trip. Our first night was at a hotel just outside Lake Manyara National Park. Due to our tight schedule we didn’t enter the park, but it was a good stop to ease us into to our safari.

At Mike’s suggestion, and I would recommend this to anyone headed out on a similar safari, we decided to make our second day a long drive past the Ngorongoro Crater and through up to the northern of Serengeti National park, to a campsite called Lobo. While this was a long day in the car there was fantastic sightseeing along the way and we saw, and stopped to take pictures of, dozens of different species of animals. In Lobo we slept in a very nice tent that Paradies provided which also came with cots, a nice perk compared to what we saw from many of the other safari companies. We woke up before sunrise for a game drive of about three hours. We came back to a large breakfast prepared by Paolo and packed up to head to the next campsite under the watchful eyes and curious hands of a troupe of baboons.

Lobo was a great stop with much more of a parkland / forest feel than the other places we saw. I should note, however, that the bathrooms / showers were very, very rustic (i.e., cold water, missing a sink in the men's, and filled with bats). Good stop overall, though.

We headed south from Lobo to Seronera to a campsite in the centre of Serengeti park. We had a similar campsite set up as Lobo, but with hot water in the showers. We arrived mid-afternoon to find an elephant drinking out of the water reservoir (the park management leave the tops open for this purpose or the elephants will knock them down to get at the water) and eating out of the garbage can. They pick up garbage from all the sites daily, but i guess the elephants know how to track down a free meal. We did a sunset game drive filled with lions, hippos, and even a leopard. We arrived back to another very large meal from Paolo.

As we were preparing to go to bed at Seronera, a new elephant came in to try to eat the garbage. After ten minutes or so it seemed to get bored of the garbage and moved away to eat some nearby trees. You could literally hear it snapping tree branches off then loudly chewing the leaves and bark. Just as dusk was turning to night, however, we noticed the elephant take a renewed interest in the campsite. As my wife and i sat at a picnic table with some friendly Dutch tourists, the elephant walked up to the edge of the tents, We stood and collected our things from the table, then hurried into the wire-fenced cook house with the elephant not far behind. The guides made sure everyone was in a building as the elephant seemed quite aggressive, coming in to the centre of the site and even charging the cookhouse we were in at one point. After five minutes or so, when the elephant showed no interest in moving on, a few of the guides made their way to the jeeps and used their lights and horns to drive it out of the camp. They then sent everyone rushing to their tents, no trips to the bathroom lest the elephant decide to come back. That was a very stressful night as the elephant and a number of other animals continued to move around near our tent. After two hours of lying awake and worrying about what might come barreling over our tent, we eventually put our earplugs in and went to sleep.

The next morning we did another dawn game drive, returned to the camp for lunch, did a mid-afternoon game drive, then drove on to Simba campsite on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater. It was a very large site with good facilities, but only about 8 tents when we were there in November. It was also quite chilly with temperatures getting down to around eight or ten degrees Celsius at night.

At first light we headed down into the Crater. It was a very neat experience, just carpeted with zebra and wildebeest and a fair number of hippos, elephants, warthogs, wildebeest, ostriches and other birds. We did see the elusive rhino, but only at a great distance. I'm glad we saw the Crater, but i'm very glad we saw the Serengeti first. The Crater seems very tame by comparison and the animals are so used to the jeeps and the tourists they can hardly be bothered to get off the roads. If you have to chose the Serengeti or the Crater, definitely choose the Serengeti.

That was the end of our safari. Four days was a quick trip but we certainly saw everything we hoped to see and more. We were both very, very happy with the service provided by Paradies Safaris and were very appreciative of the great skill and eyesight of our guide Mike and the great cooking from Paolo. As far as i know its not possible to enter either of these parks without a local guide and we were lucky to have picked a small, friendly company rather than one of the more corporate-seeming bigger companies.

We spent one additional day in Arusha at the end of our safari doing a hike to a local waterfall and visiting a Masai-Mara village in the foothills of Mount Meru. Neither of these sites were really worth the trouble to get to them, though.

We then flew from Arusha directly to Zanzibar City. We spent two nights in Stone Town at the Dhow Palace Hotel, which i highly recommend. We explored the alleys of Stone Town and took a tour out to a nearby spice plantation organized by the hotel. The spice plantation was fantastic, though i would warn you that you won't necessarily get a better deal on spices just because you're at the source. Do some comparison shopping in town before you head out so you don't get ripped off.

We headed up island in a tourist mini bus, much cheaper than the private taxi offered by the hotel, to Nungwi, the northern tip of the main island. We stayed at the Ras Nungwi hotel, quite a splurge, which was out of this world. Walking down to the more popular hotels down the beach, it started to feel a bit like a Mexican resort, but our hotel felt very isolated and uniquely Zanzibarian.

At the end of our second week we spent another night in Stone Town and took the ferry over to Dar. Note: do not buy ferry tickets from any broker or sketchy middleman at the terminal. The official ticket booth for the Kilimanjaro Fast Ferry is tucked behind the gate on the north side. If you ask directions of the wrong person they will direct you to a broker hoping to earn a commission rather than to the official seller. Also, spend the extra five bucks for first class. It gets you an air conditioned lounge and deck on the ship and is very much worth the price.

We spent a final day in Dar trying to avoid the heat, then caught our flight out to Amsterdam. It was a great trip!

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