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Tanzania Trip Report 12/27/06 - 1/09/07

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Greetings! While I wasn't too active in posting on this board, I found it very useful over the past year in planning our safari. We just returned (this evening), and I wanted to recap (partly b/c I can't sleep due to let lag!) :)

Itinerary:
12/27: SFO to AMS
12/29: AMS to Kilimanjaro, overnight at Serena Mt. Village
12/30 - 12/31: Tarangire Safari Lodge
1/1: Game drive in Manyara, overnight at E Unoto Retreat
1/2: Serengeti Sopa
1/3 - 1/5: Migration Camp
1/5: Serengeti Sopa
1/6: Ngorongoro Sopa
1/7: Serena Mt. Village, Arusha
1/8: Kilimanjaro to AMS, AMS to SFO (arrive 1/9).

We traveled by vehicle between each location.

Operator:
Good Earth Safari & Tours (www.goodearthtours.com). We had a wonderful experience with Good Earth. I would highly recommend the company, and especially our guide Joseph. We did a private tour with Good Earth. There were four of us in a nice Toyota LandCruiser (1999) with a hard pop-top. I was very comfortable during the journey…and we spent a lot of time driving!

Background:
I am trained as a wildlife biologist, and have dreamed of visiting Tanzania for as long as I can remember. I had a fixed window of time for which I could travel, and a fairly tight budget (grad student). Of the highest priority was observing as much of the wildlife (including birds), as possible.

Highlights:
1. MUD! Because of the late rains, the roads were an adventure (to say the least). Joseph was an amazing driver (I emphasize amazing). We did not get stuck once, and we saw plenty of vehicles that did. Our driver, and vehicle aided in several vehicle rescues. Many of the game circuits in the northern Serengeti were impassable, and the road to Migration Camp was pretty much non-existent at certain points (we were re-routed through the woodland). It was certainly an adventure! :)
2.Rain: The rain in Africa was amazing. Each night we were treated to the most spectacular thunder and lightening show. It rained 3 or 4 days of our trip, but I don’t think the rain lasted for more than 1 or 2 hours on each day. I was amazed at just how quickly a storm could roll in, and roll out.
3.Birds: I love birding, and it was important that I was able to do a bit of this on safari. I tried to keep a running list of each bird that we identified (via sight or sound). Joseph was great at spotting game (both bird and other animal). My bird list is at least 70 species long. I think the ‘prettiest’ bird I saw was a malachite kingfisher.
4. Wildlife Viewing: We had excellent luck in Tarangire, and it was my favorite park of the trip. The highlight of that park was witnessing a mother cheetah, and her three cubs (nearly full grown) swim across a swollen river to reach a herd of impala, and then make two kills. The cubs caught a young impala, and so did the mother. I never thought I would see a cheetah swim! Other wildlife highlights: (1) watching a male lion guard a giraffe carcass, (2) watching two crocodiles munch on a hippo carcass, (3) seeing four black rhinos in Ngorongoro, (4) being surrounded by a herd of zebra in Ngorongoro, (5) watching a dung beetle in action (it is so cool how they maneuver those large dung balls), (6) observing the social interactions in a baboon troop, (7) seeing a leopard, (8) watching elephants splash and play in the Tarangire River (for hours!), such an amazing change from seeing them at the zoo, (9) seeing thousands of wildebeest in the South Serengeti/NCA…the list could go on and on!

Lodges:
1. Serena Mt. Village (Arusha): I really enjoyed this lodge, and it was a great place to begin, and end our safari. On the last day we did the canoe safari around Lake Duluti, and really enjoyed it. We observed cormorants, several species of kingfisher, and two large water monitor lizards.
2. Tarangire Safari Lodge: We stayed in the tented rooms, and I really enjoyed this lodge. It was actually my favorite of the trip. It is rustic and low-key (which I like in my accommodations). The lodge sits on a bluff overlooking the Tarangire River, and the view couldn’t be beat. The staff was incredible friendly, and there was wildlife everywhere! We saw elephants, giraffes, baboons, vervet monkeys, and hyena.
3. E Unoto Retreat (outside of Mtu Wa Mbo, near Lake Manyara): E Unoto was beautiful, and the service was excellent. Our room was perched up on a hillside overlooking the Rift Valley. E Unoto directly supports the local Maasai community, and offers several cultural trips, but due to time we were not able to take any. My favorite part of the resort was the dining area (an open thatched roof patio that had the most amazing view), and the performance that evening by local Maasai villagers.
4. Serengeti Sopa: My least favorite of our accommodations. After staying at Tarangire (and being so close to nature), and E Unoto (with its focus on Maasai culture) I felt that the Sopa was a bit of a disappointment. The rooms were fine, the food was fine, but it kind of felt like I was staying at a Holiday Inn stuck in the middle of the wilderness. Compared to Tarangire, and E Unoto it was huge, and I always felt like there were herds of tourists around. But, I knew upfront that we would have to stay at Sopas (at least 2 nights) to make the rest of our trip possible on our budget.
5. Migration Camp, Northern Serengeti: Amazing luxury. From the minute we arrived we were blown away. The setting, the ‘tents,’ the lounge, and the restaurant were all exquisite. Peter and Anita were fabulous hosts, and I thoroughly enjoyed our 2 nights here. The food at Migration Camp was the best that we had on the entire trip. (I would say that E Unoto was second for best food).
6. Ngorongoro Sopa: In my opinion it was much better than the Serengeti Sopa. I liked the bar/lounge, and the incredible view of the crater below.

Lessons Learned:
1. I learned that I prefer the tented-camps, and the smaller lodges better. The Sopas were not bad, and did not negatively affect the trip, they just didn’t enhance the experience like the other accommodations (hopefully that makes sense).
2. Next time I visit E. Africa, I will make sure that I try to spend 2 nights at each accommodation (or fly to the Serengeti). During our trip we were able to cover a lot of ground, but it was tiring. We spent most days in a vehicle for 8-10 hours.
3. Shop around for your safari tour operator. We talked with several individuals that were taking almost identical trips, and some paid nearly double.

Books:
I spent a lot of time researching, and evaluating which field books to purchase, and bring on safari. I ended up purchasing “Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania” by Peterson Field Guides, and “The Safari Companion: A Guide to Watching African Mammals” by Robert Estes. I would highly, highly recommend both. I found the Safari Companion to be a great read. It does not focus on how to identify an animal, it focuses on their behavior, and interpreting what it means (based on years of in-field research). It was fascinating to watch the accounts in the book carried out in ‘real-life’ by the animals I observed.

Let me know if you have any questions! :)

Erica

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