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Trip Report Northern Tanzania and Masai Mara: 12 days trip report !

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Have just returned from a fantastic trip together with my 13 years old son, following our “Project Africa” for once a year safaris and game viewing around this continent. Last year we saw the BIG 5 in Kruger Park and Sabi Sands, in South Africa. The target for this year was to see cheetahs, never seen before. After some research on this forum we decided to pick this eastern part of Africa with following itinerary:

1 nt Arusha
1 nt Tarangire NP
1 nt Lake Manyara NP
3 nts Serengeti NP
2 nts Ngorongoro Crater and surrounding area
1 nt Arusha
1 nt Nairobi
2 nts Masai Mara
dropp off at Nairobi airport

Being a little tired of the same lodges I ended up taking into consideration a camping safari. Our local agent in Arusha was Basecamp Tanzania, www.basecamptanzania.com, which has budget prices and positive reviews. I can now say that I highly recommend it !! We took their 8 days camping safari plus one extra night/day in Serengeti. Achmed Phillips is half English and half German, his wife is from Tanzania and they are the owners of the agency. I contacted him with several emails and lots of questions for months before our departure and he was always very fast (sometimes also on Saturdays and Sundays !) in responding to each single point ! For the Masai Mara trip Achmed gave me the contact of his counterpart agency in Nairobi, Safe Ride Tours and Safaris and I contacted them directly.

20th Aug. Italy to Arusha
We were picked up at 6am at Kilimanjaro airport after our flight from Frankfurt, Germany.
It was still dark, cloudy, windy and cold I would say, more than expected. Arusha is about 40 kms from the airport. We stayed at L’Oasis lodge, not right in the city center but in the quite suburbs. We had a nice stroll around the village together with a guy of the hotel staff. We met an old masai man in his house with his family. Later in the afternoon Achmed came to the lodge for a briefing on what we would have done and seen in the next days. A beautiful crowned crane is a regular guests in the lodge gardens !

21st Aug. Arusha to Tarangire NP
We met our guide Sosy Peter and our cook Richard at our lodge at 8:30am, leaving in the green Land Cruiser to Tarangire NP. The entire car was only for us two so we had a kind of private safari. Peter is doing this job since 18 years, always among tanzanian parks. He also used to be the driver for the National Geographic team while making wildlife tv documentaries in Tanzania. In terms of knowledge and direct experience it was not possible to ask for more or better ! He knows everything in deep details ! We reached the campsite before lunch and they unloaded all the stuff from the car. The cook stayed at the camp building up our tent while we started immediately our game drive into the park with a boxed lunch. The highlight of this park is the large number of big baobab trees which are really very impressive and also the beauty of the scenery ! Saw a lot of regular wildlife and a lioness.
Back for dinner and overnight. Our tent could accommodate up to 3 people. We had camping beds, mattresses and pillows ! We only had to bring our own sleeping bags. In each campsite we always found toilet, showers (sometimes cold) and washrooms facilities.

22nd Aug. Tarangire to Lake Manyara NP
This park has a first part of thick vegetation, then another one with flat open plains and savana around the lake.
The hippo pool was our first stop. We had our boxed lunch from a great view point on a hill.
There are thousands of pink flamingoes in the lake but unfortunately too far away from the shore and it could not be possible to get decent pictures of them. An option could be going with canoe towards the center of the lake but at that time we had not planned that extra activity. We saw another lioness in the distance, resting under a tree.
The campsite is located by a lodge in Mto Wa Mbu with pool facilities.

23rd Aug Tarangire to Serengeti NP
This was a great day as we had a lot of expectations from the park ! We could not wait to have our game drives there for our predators and cheetah ! On the way we stopped at Oldupai Gorge and at a Ngorongoro viewpoint on the rim of the crater and we then recorded that view as the best of the entire trip ! The dirty road from Ngorongoro to Serengeti is simply horrible, bumping, dusty and with endless holes ! I do not remember roads in worst condition ! The way from the gate to central Seronera area is almost flat open plains with some rocks somewhere and short hills. This was actually already our first afternoon game drive to the camp ! A female lioness with 4 cubs were right on our road going in the opposite direction. We just stopped and let them go beside our car !! Incredible sighting just a few minutes after entering the park !! There are several public campsites in Seronera area. Our camp was called Nyani. Just a few meters before reaching the campsite we saw three vehicles at a sighting. It was a leopard having a rest on a tree ! Really awesome, but unfortunately not very close to the road ! We stayed three nights in that campsite.

24th -25th Aug Serengeti NP
That morning was our glory day !! 6 cheetahs in the shade under a tree ! 2 female and 4 cubs !! Our sighting this time was very very close, almost along the main road ! So we made it and in the better way ! The yellow grass was a bit high. The guide told us that cheetahs hide the cubs in the grass from possible lion’s attacks ! This was our only cheetah sighting in the whole trip but no complaints at all !! How could we ? In our 3 days at Serengeti we have seen in total these 6 cheetahs, 5 leopards and 60 lions !! Another highlight was a sighting of 6 elands, not so very common to see around ! The scenery was also very beautiful.
The campsite had no fence. We were told that during the night hyenas had come among the tents looking for some food ! We did not realize anything at all in the night.
In this park we have experienced the very painful bite of the tse-tse flies, which could also bring the so called sleeping sickness. My son was scared for this ! In the unlucky event, one should take daily tablets for the rest of his life !! These flies are attracted by colours blue and black so we were advised not to wear clothes with these colours.

26th Aug Serengeti NP to Ngorongoro
Again that horrible dirty and bumping road !! Before the outgoing gate we saw another pride of 2 lioness and 5 cubs walking right on our road, this time in our same direction ! On the way up to the crater rim we stopped at a Masai village. I know it is very touristy and they asked for US$ 50.00 to enter the village, making a welcome dance, first the men, then the women and then and showing us around ! By the other side this is the only chance to get pictures of them in the village !
The public campsite was on the top rim of the crater at about 2300m altitude (about 7600 feet I guess). Both campsites in Serengeti and Ngorongoro were not fenced but the kitchen and the dining area were separated and fenced by a wall, about 120cm (4’), metal nets and the roof. A hungry bushpig showed up near the kitchen after dinner !
No electricity at all in Serengeti, just a few plugs and a short time electricity in Ngorongoro. For charging batteries, cell phones, cameras etc.. I had bought a car power socket to be connected to the cigarette lighter of the car and with a plug to connect all stuff ! In a few words: 12V converted to 220V and again to again 12V. It worked fine and had no problem at all ! We would have not made it without it !

27th Aug Ngorongoro to Karatu
Early morning started at 6:30am with cloudy and foggy weather. We could even not see the bottom of the crater from above but while descending the visibility improved a lot ! The Ngorongoro crater is a collapsed volcano about 250 square kms. Part of it has green vegetation and a bush due to the underwater coming from Lake Victoria. The bush is refuge for the rare black rhino but probably because the cold weather they remained hidden somewhere and we could not see them !! Therefore only the BIG 4 this year !
We have seen a lot of hyenas here and a beautiful black ostrich (male) walking on the white salted Lake Magadi. Animalwise the highlight of the day was a good number of male lions and the sighting of mating lions. Only 6 hours maximum are allowed into the crater. Some vervet monkeys tried to steel some food from inside a car while guests were eating their packed lunch ! The view of the Ngorongoro cater from above is fantastic !
In the afternoon we were already on our way to Karatu, a small town still in the Ngorongoro Highlands and we had our overnight there in a nice campsite with hot shower !
That night was not as nice as the place as a group of 3 or 4 wild dogs have seriously fighted against each other for some reasons, right beside our tent and that loud noise lasted some endless and sleepless hours !!

28th Aug Karatu to Arusha
On the way we stopped at a snake farm and my son was very happy to see some beautiful and poisonous snakes. Then he could keep a small crocodile in his hands. Once back to L’Oasis lodge in Arusha we could relax in our bungalow with a real bed and private bath after 8 days ! Achmed came again to our lodge to have a feedback from us. I had some beers with him and with two honeymooners from Spain having had a similar trip with another car of his company. Some others from San Francisco had just arrived and he also gave them the briefing for their next days.

29th Aug Arusha to Nairobi
We were picked up at the lodged and transferred to the shuttle bus station for our trip to Nairobi. Visa formalities were fast at Namanga border. On the walking from the Tanzanian and Kenyan immigration offices we had been well warned neither to listen nor talk to anybody as they try to exchange possible fake banknotes ! An Indian guy the day before had been convinced by someone to pay him the visa fees in another currency. That man then disappeared so he had to pay again the visa amount to the immigration office !
Approaching Nairobi was a mess in that traffic jam! It took almost 2 hours from the suburbs to the city center. They dropped us off directly at the Boulevard Hotel in the afternoon. We had some time to go by taxi to the city market area or better to those nearby streets for some shopping, some kenyan clothes for my 7 years old daughter, at home with my wife. in the evening we met my previous german boss after 3 and half years who had moved there with his family. We had a nice dinner together and they all could still speak Italian !

30th Aug Nairobi to Masai Mara
Safe Ride Safaris picked up at 8:30am for our 3 days safari to Masai Mara. The guide was very young and a bit too shy so that I could well experience the difference between a perfect guide (that we had had in the previous days in TZ) and just a driver !
The Manyatta camp is just outside the eastern gate of Masai Mara. It is a permanent basic tented camp with large tents and private toilets and showers. We could have electricity in the evening from 7 to 11pm.

31st Aug Masai Mara
For the landscape we found it more hilly and more beautiful than the flat plains of central Seronera area in Serengeti, but on second thoughts, those flat plains in Seronera are not less beautifull than Masai Mara. We simply love both of them ! The grass here was green and not yellow, reason why the great migration is there at this time of the year ! In 2 full days we have seen a total of 30 lions. Unfortunately no leopards or cheetahs. In terms of sighting the very impressive highlight of this part of the trip was the attack and killing of a zebra by a lioness. We had followed the whole happening from a distance, when the zebra was eating the grass and the lioness was hidden in the higher grass, then starting the running attack with a jump on the poor zebra. A second lioness just followed to complete the killing. After some time one of the lioness left that site for some minutes and came back later with 4 cubs to join and share the meal !! We had come closer to the eating place and at a certain moment it had become very stinky ! Really very impressive ! My son could get the video of the whole event. The same had happened 2 years ago in Etosha NP, Namibia, where we took the video of a Lioness-springbok killing. That’s life and nature !
We have reached the Mara River and seen groups of hundreds of wildebeests but they hesitated to cross the dangerous river with large crocodiles !

1st Sep Masai Mara to Nairobi airport
The early morning game drive was nothing special in terms of sighting. It seemed another car had seen some cheetahs but they had then disappeared ! We were dropped off directly at Nairobi airport in the afternoon, at around 4pm, a bit too early for our 9:50pm evening flight to Amsterdam but happy for our whole unforgettable trip !

This was my first camping safari experience. Basic accommodation and facilities made me feel closer to the real Africa and I would not hesitate to do it again ! We met a lot of people from Europe but also from Usa and Canada in these campsites. Meals were quite good: vegetable soups, pasta, meat with vegetables, potatoes, pancakes, fresh fruit, coffee, tea, eggs, toasts, jam and more.

Our Project Africa goes on somewhere else next year ! My son would love to see gorillas in Uganda/Ruanda……. We will see…. !!!

Hope to upload some pictures in the next days to share with you !!

Thanks to all of you who helped me here in planning this trip !

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