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Kenya/Tanzania trip report

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My husband and I traveled to Kenya and Tanzania at the end of December and I thought I'd add our experiences to the growing list of trip reports. This was our first trip to Africa (not counting Egypt) and we were on a private safari (just he two of us and the guide).

Pictures, daily journal entries, audio of Maasai songs, and all the details (packing list, etc.) are available on our web site at

First of all I'd like to thank those who participate in this forum. I found this board a few months before we left and lurked obsessively.

We planned this trip about ten months in advance because 1) we were traveling around the holidays and 2) we were using frequent flyer tickets. We booked the trip through Safariline (in the Chicago suburbs) and they used Transworld in Kenya and Shifting Sands in Tanzania. Our itinerary included Amboseli, Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro, and the Serengeti.

High level summary:

Flights - American/British Air via London on the way there. It's worth noting that it takes forever to change terminals in London, allow at least an hour and a half, especially when there's one flight a day and if you miss it you're stuck. Sabena/American via Brussels on the way back. Only thing worth mentioning is that there were three separate time consuming security checkpoints between terminals at the Brussels airport, and they unpack everyones carry-on luggage, make you remove your shoes, etc.

Vehicles - In Kenya we had a pop-top van and in Tanzania we had a Land Cruiser with removable hatches. We had three flat tires in Tanzania, but none took more than 10 minutes to fix. The Land Cruiser was by no means new (over 200k miles on the odometer) but the roads there will wreak havoc on any vehicle.

Immunizations and Medications - We both got all the shots recommended by the trave clinic, which was probably overkill but we figured better safe than sorry. We also took Malaria meds (Malarone) and brought an emergency antibiotic prescription "just in case". I "needed the antibiotics" on day 4, husband needed them on day 5 - AND we took the appropriate precautions (all bottled water, even for brushing your teeth, etc.). The antibiotics make you extra sensitive to the sun, which we learned the hard way.

Food - We weren't starving, but this certainly wasn't a vacation where we gained weight. You can always find something in the buffet, and we ate a lot of soup.

Pictures - As a caveat, we are photo enthusiasts. We brought two dSLR's, an 80-400 lens (borrowed) , and a 70-200 with 2x teleconverter (rented). The main reason for the two cameras was 1) husband and I both like to take pictures, 2) redundancy, and 3) to avoid having to change lenses and expose the camera insides to dust. Even with the 400mm, there were many times when I would have liked to zoom in a bit closer, but that's what cropping is for I guess. We also brought an Epson P-2000, which we love and couldn't live without. We shot over 2,600 images on this trip, of which about 5% are "keepers".

Nairobi (Serena) - We spent our arrival night at the Nairobi Serena. We were there a total of about 10 hours and the service was good and the room was fine. The rooms have Web TV (though it was not working) and the business center has internet access.

Amboseli (Serena) - Amboseli was a late addition to our itinerary because we were able to get earlier flights. As such, we weren't expecting much and it definitely exceeded our expectations. SO many elephants, and large groups of them too and many with babies. We think two nights is the perfect amount of time. The pool at the Serena was a great place to hang out in between game drives, and the everpresent Vervet monkeys were quite entertaining. The lodge had internet access for a small fee.
Tip: When we were checking out we saw housekeeping delivering a fan to a room - if we'd know that they were available we certainly would have requested one.

Tarangire (Kikoti) - This board had a lot of discussion about Tarangire, so I think our expectations might have been a bit too high. Kikoti Tented Lodge was nice, and the food was the best we experienced, but the lodge land had recently been pre-emptively burned so it was all scorched. The baobab trees in the park are scenic, but we didn't see a lot of animals and the roads we took were so bumpy, curvy, hilly, and dusty that we became cranky. Though we liked Kikoti, I think somewhere inside the park would suffice. The tents have power in the evening, and the main office area has a powerstrip for charging batteries whenever you want. Hot water had to be requested ahead of time and was delivered via bucket.

Lake Manyara (E Unoto Retreat) - Lake Manyara was tropical and lush, and packed with animals (perhaps just compared to our experience in Tarangire), especially elephants, giraffes, and baboons. Our bungalow at E Unoto Retreat was lovely and had a great view, but it was so horribly hot (over 100f, cooled to the high 80's at night) and had no cross-breeze whatsoever. Again, we liked E Unoto Retreat, but think somewhere inside or nearer to the park would suffice. The bungalows have power in the mornings and evenings, and there's a plug in the bar area if you're desperate.

Ngorongoro (Serena) - A definite "must-see" on the Northern Tanzania circuit, Ngorongoro Crater is amazingly huge but also contains a surprising amount of wildlife in very diverse environments. The drive into and out of the crater is quite a nail-biter. The Serena hotel was surprisingly convenient (located between the ascent and descent road), had interesting architecture, and phenominal views from every perspective. We were also surprised to see elephants right outside our room on the crater rim! The lodge had very slow internet access for a not that small fee.

Serengeti (Serena) - The Serengeti is another "must see" in our opinion. Our short stay limited us to the Seronera area, and we saw lots of animals including leopards, lions, and a serval cat. We also splurged and did the hot air balloon trip, which provided an interesting perspective from which to observe the landscape. The Serena pool area was pleasant between game drives, and there was lots of wildlife around our room (cape buffalo off our balcony, and warthogs, hoglets, and dik diks) and on the property (guards posted by the pool at night to keep it from becoming a watering hole). The lodge had internet access, but it wasn't working while we were there.

Arusha (Kigongoni) - Our time in Arusha was limited to 5 hours transiting between the Arusha and Kilimanjaro airports. We had a day room at Kigongoni, and it was the nicest accommodations of our entire stay. Our room was huge and lovely, the pool area was relaxing, and the restaurant was not a buffet. It was a perfect place to relax for a few hours before our marathon flight home. The lodge had internet access for a small fee.

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