This was our itinerary:
- 3/17 Arusha arrival KLM: Impala Hotel
- 3/18 Tarangire: Tarangire River Camp
- 3/19 Lake Manyara: Overnight at Crater Rim Lodge in Karatu
- 3/20 Serengeti: Serena Serengeti
- 3/21 Serengeti: Serena Serengeti
- 3/22 Crater: Serena Crater Lodge
- 3/23 Crater: Serena Crater Lodge
- 3/24 Lake Eyasi: Kisema Ngeda
- 3/25 Return Arusha – day room KIA Lodge
Here are the pics again:
This board was extremely helpful to me in planning our journey, so I almost feel an “obligation” to do a report – even though it is not in my nature to do so. A little about me: I lived in Nairobi on three separate occasions (five years in all) as a child, and actually finished high school there. So, I have vivid memories of do-it-yourself safaris all over Kenya when I was tot going to Serengeti and Crater in the 70’s and then in the 80’s. Sadly, the border with Tanzania was closed in the 80’s when I last lived in Nairobi, so Masai Mara was as far as you could go. Fast forward to after graduate school in the 90’s and I worked in the Int’l Development field, spending about 3 months a year in Africa. This was all work, and no safari in places like Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Uganda. I did get back to Nairobi a few times, but it was always so sad to be around the crime and “bad vibes” after knowing a very different Nairobi before. I left the int’l development field in 2000, and have pined for Africa on many occasions.
So, our (with my wife Fiona) return to Africa was with purely as a tourist and to go on safari. I wanted to go to Zambia (Fiona’s father was actually born in N. Rhodesia –now Zambia) but the connections and price did not work out. We were thrilled that we wound up choosing Tanzania.
We went with Access2Tanzania, a relatively new outfit run by a NY-based former Peace Corps Volunteer in partnership with two Tanzanians. Full disclosure: Brian, the stateside owner works in my field and has become a friend after mainly seeing him at conferences for years. We got other quotes, but Access was very competitive and we were drawn to their philosophy and the fact that the tour operation runs alongside a local charitable organization (Project Zawadi) that educates and sponsors orphans. They were excellent, and it was just Fiona, me and our guide, Maninga – who was GREAT. If you can afford the little bit extra I highly suggest taking a “private” safari. We also had lunch with the rest of the team our last day in Arusha, along with some of the students from Project Zawadi.
We had a fantastic time; it surpassed all expectations. I am so pleased that we waited until mid-March when the crowds had thinned and best of all – the rains had started. Everywhere it was a verdant green, and after such a tough drought it seemed like happiness abounded – from the animals to just about all the people we spoke with.
It was a bit odd being in Africa as a pure tourist, but we found the Tanzanians we met (including orphans being sponsored by Project Zawadi) incredibly friendly and open. There also seems to be great hope and faith in the new President to help turn the economy around.
Arusha: the Impala Hotel was just fine after a long flight on KLM, and they actually gave us a “suite” in the new wing. We had a laugh – it was a circular bed almost out of a honeymoon suite type of thing. The only problem was that I am six foot three and much prefer a bed where my feet don’t hang off the circular bed. Anyway, the service, shower and breakfast were very nice.
Tarangire: The drive from Arusha was great – the road was fantastic. It was a bit of a surprise to me to see Maasai busy tilling the soil after the recent rains. Later a Maasai from Tarangire River Camp explained that there is a group of Maasai who now farm.
I was not sure what to expect animal wise in Tarangire, after reading that most of the game moves on in late fall. We were pleasantly surprised to see so many elephants, dik dik and giraffe. We really enjoyed the landscape of the park, and the fact that we saw so few other vehicles. Highlights: Fiona spotting a family of mongoose and many elephant by the river. There is also nothing quite as majestic as the Baobab tree. For me, they are almost like looking at an ancient person with scars, bumps, knots and branches.
We really enjoyed Tarangire River Camp. The staff was wonderful and the tents were charming with great views. We awoke after midnight to the sounds of a very large and noisy elephant lurking just outside our tent and having a midnight snack. It was a wonderful experience in the moonlight, and it actually sounded like he/she had crashed through our bathroom area with all the rustling and guttural noises.
We went on the early morning “hike” with a Maasai, which we highly recommend. For us, any occasion to actually get any exercise was wonderful. I could not believe how close we were able to get to two elephants on foot (and took a few pics). The hike only lasted about 50 minutes, but for $10 and the early morning damp air it was great.
Lake Manyara: I had low expectations game wise, but we really enjoyed it. The landscape is so varied – first forest, then the lush plains by the hippo pools and then the drier area along the foot of the escarpment. We were fortunate to see a big pride of tree climbing lions and dozens of elephants. The main picnic spot is also wonderfully situated with panoramic views.
We stayed in Karatu for the night to keep costs down a bit. We stayed in a small guest called the Crater Rim Lodge, which was very comfortable. It has a nice open garden and bar and the food was surprisingly good. The bartender and the female manager are also super sweet and we had a great chat. It was nice to be off the tourist path, and to walk around Karatu a little.
Serengeti: Next was the long drive to Serengeti in a light rain. About 30 kms. from the Ndutu turnoff we encountered the migration and the wildebeests. I saw it Serengeti in 1984, but it defies description. On the way we happened upon a hyena feasting on a stray wildebeest about 40 meters off the road.
I was really looking forward to the Serengeti plains, and I was not disappointed. It helped to have a fantastic guide and to have great luck. Just past Naabi Hill Gate we came upon a lone cheetah and followed it for about a mile. We had lunch at the very informative Seronera Visitors Center.
We were really lucky to come across a leopard, right above us in the Maasai Kopje areas. As a kid, I thought I was a good game spotter but no more. I was always on the lookout for leopard, but to no avail. Thank heaven for Maninga. Fiona and I were admiring a certain rock formation and discussing the way a tree seemed to be growing right out of the rock. So we passed it and then Maninga stops – it so happens that there was a small male leopard right in the tree only 10 meters from us with nary a vehicle on the horizon.
We also had some great close-ups with a pair of lions right near the Seronera airstrip. Other highlights include seeing a Caracal crossing the road just after the Serena turnoff near dusk, and 200 meters on seeing a honey badger scurry across the same road. We also had great luck with lions on the way out the park. The only problem we had was the tsetse flies in a stretch on the back road to the Serena. We all got bitten and the Lonely Planet became the designated fly killer. The bites leave quite a welt.
We stayed two nights at the Serena. I was a bit reticent about a lodge with all the tourist trappings but we were pleasantly surprised. The rooms all felt very private and it was nice to be in one of the bandas near the very edge of the property. The service and food was also very good. Fiona is a vegetarian, and also enjoyed it. The grounds are lovely and the area overlooking the plains is fantastic.
Next we drove to the Crater. Again we encountered the migration that must have been near Ndutu and even to Olduvai. Just before leaving the Serengeti we cam upon a large lioness atop a rock formation a few kms. From the Naabi Hill gate. Incredible.
Another benefit to waiting until later in March – fewer vehicles in the Crater. Our first game drive was after lunch and while wet it was great. The Crater is magnificent, especially from the rim and the descent and ascent roads. We saw eight rhino, all from afar and hundreds of buffalo. We were also really lucky in seeing a huge male leopard on the ascent road before dusk. What a site.
Again, we had a great experience with Serena and the Crater Lodge. It is really a fine structure and built with wonderful planning. And the views are incredible. The only downside was getting a room under a couple with a bratty seven year old who was stomping all over the place and making a ton of noise. Anyway, I am a turning into a young curmudgeon so Fiona tells me. The food was also good.
We had booked an Olmoti Crater hike and it made for a nice day. We had a quick game drive across the Crater floor before exiting on the Sopa side. The hike was nice. The altitude was tough at first and we worked up a good sweat. Again, the lush green country was wonderful. Atop the Rim is a lovely waterfall. I highly recommend it, especially if you are itching to get outside. It took about 2 ½ hours. On the way back down, we went for a shortish game drive before calling it a day at 4:00. The ascent road certainly needs some work, especially in the rain! I am glad that I was not driving.
The next day was Lake Eyasi. We were looking forward getting away from people a little bit, and seeing a less traveled area. The road from the main turn off is in real bad shape and I sort of hope it stays that way if it will keep it a less traveled path. With some reservation, we decided to hike with the Hamadze – accompanying three young men on a “hunt.” I feared a real tourist trap, but it did feel right. We had decided to visit the area a long time ago, certainly well before the recent Travel and Leisure article about going on a similar hike. We hiked for about two hours through the bush, straying off paths and trying to avoid acacia thorns and various other sharp things. This area had been really dry and now it was alive and the dry riverbeds are now full of rushing water. I really enjoyed just wandering – not having a clue where we were and just following the guys and their great looking dog. The hunters shot their arrows at a few sparrows, with no luck.
We enjoyed the experience very much and I for one was happy that no baboons were killed on our watch.
Then on to Lake Eyasi and the oasis that is Kisema Ngeda. It is a bit of paradise and we so enjoyed the hosts, the wonderful service and above all just lazing in the sun and swimming in the fish pond. Our tent was also great and it was really a treat.
The next day it was back to Arusha. We had a nice lunch with a few of the students from Project Zawadi and then a rest and shower at the KIA Lodge before KLM.
Having traveled all over Africa on planes (including some notorious spots such as Lagos, Monrovia, Cote d’Ivoire and others), I knew our trip had gone just too smoothly. Just before landing in Dar the lights went down across Dar and we were forced to return to Arusha because of low fuel. We sat on tarmac in Arusha for 3 hours (the airport was closed), all hoping that the power would come on in Dar before the “deadline” for a KLM crew (maximum hours that they can work). Three minutes before the deadline, we took off again and made it to Dar. Later, the flight steward told me that after takeoff the lights went down again but we soldiered on with luck. Anyway, like many developing countries Tanzania is facing a shortage of electricity. I just hope they can do a better job of backup power at the airport, as I am sure KLM and others and none-to-pleased!
Anyway, it was a wonderful trip and we are hankering for a return.
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Trip Report and Reposting of Pictures - Tanzania March 17-25
This was our itinerary: