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Trip Report Trip Report - Tanzania/Zanzibar June 2008 with photos

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Before starting the trip report, I would like to thank all of the people who had helped me several months ago with questions I had during the planning process. The suggestions were very helpful and definitely made the trip more enjoyable and less stressful!

If you are interested in seeing geotagged photos from our trip then please go to: http://picasaweb.google.com/grumby24/TanzaniaHoneymoon
You can see a map at the bottom of each individual photo's page or select "View Map" on the main page to see all photos on a map.

This trip was for our honeymoon and we both couldn't be happier with how it turned out (except for the commute time back and forth, but what can you do about that). To start, I contacted about 11 safari companies which operate in Tanzania. I narrowed it down to 4 contenders after a few didn't reply and the others were too expensive or did not fit our itinerary as we had planned and sent to them. In the end we settled on Access2Tanzania, which is a smallish company which specializes in Tanzania and, as far as I can tell, offers primarily private tours. I would definitely recommend checking our Access2Tanzania. They are a smaller company, but give excellent service. I had a ton of questions when planning and Karen was so helpful and friendly. They are also affiliated with a charity which helps children with education.

This was definitely key for us in enjoying our safari. We had our own driver for the entire Tanzania portion of our trip and always had the final say over what we wanted to do. We saw several safari vehicles packed with visitors, even for the much more expensive companies. I couldn't imagine sharing our vehicle with other people (especially when photographing the wildlife).

Our guide Ray was great! He was very friendly and very knowledgeable about the wildlife and cultural questions we had for him. He was very ethical and would not break park rules (like driving offroad) like other guides we saw.

Our itinerary for the trip was as follows:

Days 1-2: Fly Chicago to Arusha (Kibo Palace Hotel)
Days 2-4: Tarangire (Boundary Hill Lodge)
Day 5: Lake Manyara/Maasai boma visit (Ngorogoro Sopa)
Day 6: Olmoti Crater hike/Ngorogoro Crater drive (Ngorogoro Sopa)
Days 7-8: Central Serengeti (Serengeti Serena)
Days 9-10: Western Serengeti (Kirawira Tented Camp)
Days 11-13: Stone Town, Zanzibar (Zanzibar Palace Hotel)
Day 14: Fly Zanzibar to Atlanta


Days 1-2: Fly Chicago to Arusha
Kibo Palace Hotel

We started off from Chicago where we had our wedding to Arusha, stopping in Amsterdam for 3 hours. The Amsterdam airport had plenty to do with lots of shopping and eating establishments. They even have a casino! When we landed in Arusha we were picked up by our guide Ray who took our bags and led us to the vehicle. The vehicle wasn't the newest, but it was in very good condition. Ray confirmed our itinerary for the whole trip as we drove to Arusha. We stayed at the Kibo Palace Hotel and were put in a very nice, roomy suite. The hotel was very nice and I would recommend it to others.


Days 2-4: Tarangire
Boundary Hill Lodge

We drove to Tarangire the next day and did a game drive in Tarangire National Park. There were a ton of elephants there as well as zebra and impala and others. The park was not too crowded and the roads in decent condition. Later in the afternoon we left the park towards the east entrance to go to the Tarangire Conservation Area where the Boundary Hill Lodge is located. The drive was a little far, especially near the end of the day when you are tired.

The Tarangire Conservation Area is very similar to the park, but at this point in the year had noticeably less wildlife than the park. We drove up the hill to the Boundary Hill Lodge and were met at the entrance by a man names Moses and a Maasai worker (Loeshe?). The workers at Boundary Hill are so nice and the service was excellent. The meals at the dining area were very delicious.

We did a game drive the second day and found some lions. We were able to watch them for a while as they were mating and sleeping near the same spot. Luckily, there weren't too many vehicles around to disturn the animals.

On the 3rd day we asked to change things a bit and were taken on a hike of the area around the lodge by Moses and Loeshe. We really enjoyed this as we learned a lot about the local wildlife and vegetation. Later on that night we drove to a hill in the conservation area aout 45 minutes from the lodge to watch the sunset. It was a beautiful experience! We really miss Moses, Loeshe and the girls in the dining area at Boundary Hill Lodge.


Day 5: Lake Manyara/Maasai boma visit
Ngorogoro Sopa

The next day we drove towards Ngorogoro Crater with a half day game drive in Lake Manyara and Maasai boma visit on the way. Lake Manyara National Park was located in a beautiful area with much more vegetation than Tarangire. Since the park is the smallest of the ones we visited there was a lot more
congestion with vehicles.

The park was nice but, aside from the setting, didn't seem to be too different from Tarangire in terms of wildlife. As we left we continued on for the crater for our visit to a Maasai boma before checking into the Ngorogoro Sopa.

The Maasai boma that we visited is right next to the entrance road into the crater which is right by the Ngorogoro Sopa. The visit consisted of the men and women singing in different groups, then the men dancing. We got a tour of a hit by a man who spoke very good English, but after that we were encouraged to buy crafts. That wasn't the most pleasant experience and they were not the nicest when it came to bargaining so we ended up buying less than we planned.

We then drove to the Ngorogoro Sopa which was only about a mile or so away and checked in. There is major renovations going on in many rooms and the room we were given did not have any heat. It was very cold at night at the high altitude where the lodge is located and we were very cold on our room. At least they put hot water bottles in our bed each night. The sheets and carpet seemed old and not the cleanest. I'm not sure I would recommend this place until the renovations have been completed (hopefully that includes their bedding). The food was decent and the service at the restaurant was good, but was a bit slow (not too much of a concern).


Day 6: Olmoti Crater hike/Ngorogoro Crater drive
Ngorogoro Sopa

We planned to take a hike up and into the Olmoti Crater this morning. Olmoti Crater is right next to Ngorogoro Crater but much smaller in size. We started by driving to a ranger camp and then walking with a ranger to the rim of the crater. That was where we stopped as my wife was not having fun as it had been a more difficult walk then expected. There was no path at the beginning and we first walked through tall grass which was in clumps. If you didn't walk around the clumps you would trip most of the time as the grass was very firm. Once you started going uphill there was a path but it was wet and muddy so it was a little dangerous as it started to get a little windy (in addition to being cold). Once we got to the top we decided to go down. Perhaps it would have been different if it weren't so cold and windy.

We did a game drive in Ngorogoro Crater after that and loved it. There were so many animals in such a concentrated area. We did see a cheetah (just sleeping) and a rhino but it was very far away. Some of the roads near the area where rhinos stay have been closed so it is hard to get close, let alone see clearly, the rhinos. There were tons of wildebeest here as well and it was fun watching the males keep their groups of females together while chasing off other males.


Days 7-8: Central Serengeti
Serengeti Serena

We drove to the Serengeti today. It was fascinating to watch the environment change so quickly as we descended out of the crater. It got very dry very quickly (and dusty!). It took a little while to go through the registration process, but we used this time to eat our boxed lunch.

We went on a game drive and saw some lions and tons of Thomson Gazelles. After a while we went to check in to the Serengeti Serena. The Serena was a nice place set up on a hill. We had a great view outside the balcony in our room. The room itself was decent and was much cleaner than the Ngorogoro Sopa. The food was decent for dinner, but the service was just average. There was a show in the evening featuring traditional dances which was entertaining.

Breakfast at the Serena was just average on both days. There was a lot of fresh fruit, but it was always covered by bees (dozens, not one or two) so we did not have an opportunity to try it.

The game viewing around the Serena was pretty good, but we didn't see much of the wildebeest migration in this area. There were also a lot of vehicles driving around, so any time there was something interesting at least 5 vehicles showed up. This wasn't a problem most of the time except once when we waited an hour and a half for zebras to cross the road to a watering hole where lions were hiding and waiting. All of the vehicles around (at least 10-15 of them) left a gap so the zebra could go to the water. For some reason one vehicle drove right up to the gap, near the zebra and scared them off.

We had a picnic at an area which had a nice welcome center and nature trail with great educational displays. We had to stay here longer than planned since our vehicle started getting a flat tire, but we spent this time watching a fascinating documentary about the wildebeest migration in the welcome center.


Days 9-10: Western Serengeti
Kirawira Tented Camp

We drove west from the Serena towards the the Kirawira Tented Camp. The drive was a little far, but we spent most of the time looking out for wildlife. Although we did see things, it didn't seem to be as much as near the Serena. This was probably because we were on the main road most of the time. We eventually started seeing lots of wildebeests and eventually it was obvious we were driving through the migration. We couldn't believe how many wildebeest we would see over the next 2 days! In this area though there were almost no elephants though.

We eventually checked into the Kirawira Tented Camp. This was a really great place! The tents are very nice and have all the amenities you need. They are raised up on stilts so there is no need to be concerned about animals coming into the tents. In fact, the first night we were there we heard lions in the camp. There were also wildebeest nearby with their familiar grunts.

The food at the Kirawira was very good. The portions were smaller than elsewhere but that was fine as all of the meals we had up to that point were a bit large. The service was also excellent and eating there was like eating at a fine restaurant (with the fine china to match!).

Now comes the bad part about this portion of the trip. There were a TON of tsetse flies in this area of the park. It was not a problem when we were in the camp, but out on game drives it almost became unbearable. At first I thought my wife was overreacting, but after a while we had over a dozen flies in the vehicle trying to bite all 3 of us constantly. We had to pull the roof down a few times and kill the ones already in the vehicle as they were still trying to bite us. Even when we drove away as fast as 25mph (40kph) we had a small swarm of flies following the vehicle right behind us. We all got bite a number of times. Sometimes the bites were minor but sometimes they were extremel painful. This definitely affected the mood for the last day and a half in certain areas. While driving around with all of the windows up and the roof down we could see hundreds of animals twitching and moving around to get flies off of them as well. We felt really sorry for them.

The second day we went down to the Grumeti River and watched hippos and crocodiles. Aside from that, there were mostly zebras and wildebeest in this area (in huge numbers).


Days 11-13: Stone Town, Zanzibar
Zanzibar Palace Hotel

The next morning we packed and took a leisurely drive to the Grumeti airstrip. We waited a little while for our flight to come (Air Excel) and got on and headed for Arusha and then finally on to Zanzibar. We had been worried all trip about the weight of my bags because I had a lot of photo equipment but our bags were never weighed. If I had known about this earlier I would have been more likely to buy more souvenirs.

The flight to Arusha was very scenic. Once we got to Arusha we were lead to a check in desk where we got our boarding passes and then were asked to wait in a waiting area for about 45 minutes before our flight to Zanzibar. When it was time for our flight to Zanzibar someone found us and escorted us to the plane.

The flight to Zanzibar was also uneventful and scenic as well. When we landed there was a short wait to get our bags. After we got our bags we were met by a representative from Zanzibar Unique, the Zanzibar agent for Access2Tanzania. We were given a welcome package and a ride to our hotel, the Zanzibar Palace Hotel in Stone Town. The hotel is in a beautifully renovated building with around 8 rooms. Our room was very nice but was on the top floor and the only way to get there was by stairs so it was a little strenuous going up at the end of the day. The staff was very helpful and informative and helped us with all of our questions.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the tourist areas looking for souvenirs. Most of the stores had the same merchandise so I got bored after a little while. My wife was really enjoying the shopping. One other thing I didn't like as much was all of the "papasi" street vendors. Some of them didn't like to take "no" for an answer which was annoying.

The second day we took 2 tours. The first was a Stone Town walking tour and the second was a Spice tour. We had the same guide for both tours, Hamis, who was a great guy and seemed to know everyone on the island. The Stone Town tour was very interesting but started getting expensive since I tipped each guide who led us around every time we went to an attraction (House of Wonders, Palace Museum and Anglican Church). The only real complaint is that we didn't get to spend too much time at each museum (as we would have if we were to go there on our own). We ate at Mercury's restaurant which was pretty good before going on the Spice tour.

The tour wasn't on a real plantation but was still interesting in that we had never seen most of the plants or spices before (except in a bottle). We got our goofy souvenirs to wear at the end of the tour. If you look at our pictures you'll see what I mean.

We had a nice dinner at a restaurant whose name I can't remember but it had an Arabic type name and was across the street from the Serena.

The last day before we left for home we went on the Jozani Forest tour. We did not feel this tour was worth the time or money. We watched the colobus monkeys for a little bit, did a short walk in the forest then an even shorter walk in a nearby mangrove swamp. Our guide was not very good which could have made a big difference.

After the tour we were taken to the Mtoni Marine hotelfor lunch. The lunch was expensive and not good. I would definitely recommend that people not go here to eat.

After eating we started what would be the long journey home (which took over 28 hours total). We drove to the airport, waited around 2 hours for our flight, had a 30 minute flight to Dar es Salam, had a 4 hour layover in Dar, a 9 hour flight to Amsterdam, a 3 hour layover in Amsterdam and a 9-10 hour flight to Atlanta. It was bad but not as bad as it looks now.


Day 14: Fly Zanzibar to Atlanta

Goodbye Africa!

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