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Trip Report Trip Report: East Africa-Tanzania

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My husband and I just returned from a ten-day trip to Tanzania and had the most amazing time—from interacting with the Maasai people to seeing a few animal kills on safari. Like a lot of people on this forum, we began thinking about our next trip to Africa even before we even hit ground in the U.S.!

Our trip was organized through African Travel Resource (ATR), and I must say they did an impeccable job. The logistics on the ground were flawless and the lodges and camps were well run and very clean (they all also had electricity and flushing toilets which was a big plus). Their partner Tanganyika Expeditions operated the safari on the ground.

Itinerary below:
-Arusha: Molvaro Lodge
-Ngorongoro Karatu: Gibbs Farm
-Southern Serengeti: Olduvai Tented Camp (two nights)
-Central Serengeti: Ronjo Camp (two nights)
-Zanzibar Stone Town: Dhow Palace (two nights)
-Zanzibar Island: Pongwe Beach (two nights)

On the way over we traveled from Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. to Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania. The trip was very smooth and hassle-free. (Note: since we live in D.C we got our visas before travel, which was very convenient in that we did not have to wait in line when arriving at our final destination. If you don’t have this option, the process for obtaining a visa at Kilimanjaro Airport seemed very easy. There was a long line (maybe 20 minutes long) but they seemed to be moving people fairly quickly.)

In the middle of the trip we flew to Zanzibar via Coastal Airlines. Our guide dropped us off at the airport in Serona and we flew to Arusha. We did not have “tickets” for this airline, we simply arrived at the airport and crossed our fingers that our names were on the pilot’s manifest. The travel time from Serona to Arusha was a little over an hour, and we were the only two people, in addition to the pilot, on the flight. When we first took off we could see the animals grazing and frolicking in the Serengeti. During the flight we flew over Maassi bomas (villages), the Ngorongoro Crater, and a few other craters—the view was so beautiful. From Arusha we flew to Zanzibar Airport. The flight time was about an hour minutes.

On the way home we flew Coastal Airlines from Zanzibar Airport to Dar es Salaam Airport. The flight time was about 45 minutes. From Dar we flew directly to Ethiopia (flight time 3 hours) and then to Washington, D.C. The flight time was 16 hours including an hour to refuel and clean the plane in Rome.

When we arrived at Kilimanjaro Airport, we were met by our guide, Edward, and then traveled to Moivaro Lodge. During the trip to the lodge we passed villages and farms with many people going about their daily activities. After settling into our room, we met with a woman from Tanganyika Expeditions who reviewed our itinerary with us and answered any questions we had.

The next day we traveled to Ngorongoro Karatu. On our way we had the option of going to Lake Manyara National Park, but opted out of actually entering the lake since we already had four plus days of safari ahead. (It’s important to note that if you do enter the Lake there are plenty of places along the road to stop and see the breathtaking view of the Rift Valley.) Instead, we first stopped at a shop in Arusha called Barclay’s, which was along the main road, and then at a small village called Mto wa Mbu (River of Mosquitoes).

Barclay’s had a great selection of merchandise, including paintings, lots and lots of statues, masks, spears, jewelry (including Tanzanite). It seemed like a very reputable place. The staff was friendly, but not pushy. Prices were negotiable and they accepted credit cards and did not charge extra for credit card transactions. Something else to note is that all statues, masks, etc. are made on the mainland, so if you go to Zanzibar you will find the same merchandise. We found prices to be fairly comparable at both places.

Mto wa Mbu served to be a great cultural experience for us. As soon as our safari jeep pulled up to the market we were swarmed by about five to seven young men trying to sell us everything from Maasai jewelry to Obama tapestries. In the group was a young man (not selling items) who spoke decent English. Our guide arranged for us to go around the town with him. He was terrific. He showed us the main areas of the town (the school, church, brewery, etc.) and also made sure that we were not pestered by townspeople trying to sell us items or requiring $1 for a photo of a public area. At the end of the tour we gave him $20 for a one-hour plus tour, which he was grateful for. The highlight of the experience was interacting with the children (it was a Sunday so the children were not in school). There were many requests for pens and “chewing gum,” which we thankfully had as suggested by other travelers on this forum. (Note: some travelers mentioned that pens are also good for bargaining. We found the enormous smiles from the children to be much more memorable. The people selling jewelry, etc. expected a handful of retractable pens and still wanted money.) We purchased Maasai necklaces (starting price was $10 per necklace, but we ended up paying $6 for three) and paintings (we paid $65 for two large paintings and had the artist roll up the paintings for easier travel).

We then traveled through the countryside to Gibbs Farm, which was a very relaxing and enjoyable place. You can take a short walk around the plantation with a staff member and learn all about their produce (we gave our guide a $5 tip for a 20-30 minute walk). There were also a few Massai working at the camp. The food was absolutely delicious, since they grow everything right there. For breakfast they served eggs, warm muffins, fresh passion fruit, fresh mango, and papaya, rhubarb spread, yogurt, cereal and milk, etc. Dinner consisted of a traditional rice dish, potatoes, vegetables, beef from their cows, and dessert. Another highlight was the view. Gibbs Farm is located on a hill and the sunset was so beautiful.

Our first day of safari was to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. We started out with our guide around 8:00am and took our time getting to the Crater, stopping along the way to take pictures, etc. The Crater is magnificent. It was very green and teaming with very healthy-looking wildlife. We saw lions, elephant, black rhino, buffalo, hippo, cheetah, pink flamingos, zebra, hyena, gazelle, wildebeest. We had an excellent guide who has been a guide for ten years and were very fortunate to see a cheetah stalk and kill a baby wildebeest, and lions mating five feet from our vehicle. Interestingly, most of the big game highlights happened in the afternoon, so I think it’s wise to listen to your guide; starting out early does not guarantee you will see more. Typically we started out around 8:00am and were back to the camp by 4:00pm.

The next day we headed to the Serengeti. We were originally scheduled to go to Gol, but our guide informed us that that portion of the Serengeti would be empty as the rains had not yet come and the earth was unseasonably dry. The animals, specifically, the wildebeests were scattered across the plains searching for food and water. Instead we went to Ndutu. The earth was very depressed in Nduta and at first we were a little concerned that we would not see much activity. Again, towards the afternoon we saw a leopard stalk and attempt to kill a baby wildebeest. While this was going on a lioness and her three cubs killed a baby zebra. (We had been watching the lions during the morning but they seemed very lazy.) Unfortunately the baby zebra ended up in a pool of mud and it took the cubs (with intermittent assistance from the mom) about an hour to get the zebra out. All very interesting to see!

The next two days were spent at Ronjo Camp in Central Serengeti. Ronjo Camp is situated in the center of a plain surrounded by Maasai villages. The camp is operated by local Tanzanian staff, who we found to be very pleasant and service-oriented. Another bonus to the camp was that Maasai work there giving guides and protecting the camp at nighttime. Since we were there for two days we had the opportunity to talk and interact with a handful of Maasai, who were very genuine and more than willing to tell us about their lives. The men we talked to were in the 20s and most were not yet married, though one already had three wives. The Maasai stay at the camp for about thirty days and then travel back to their village for a few months. They were amazed to hear about our water system (Maasai women have to travel a few miles each day to fetch water) subway, what type of animals we have in America and, of course, our thoughts on Obama. We were really hoping to visit a Maasai village, but wanted to avoid the ones that were open to tourists. After talking to a worker at the camp he arranged for two Maasai to take us to an authentic village not visited by tourists (this man built a small Lutheran church at the village and was very intent on educating the women (and tourists) on their lifestyle). The village was about a 15-20 minute walk from our camp. We went in the later part of the morning so most of the people were out doing their daily activities. After receiving a brief tour of the village we entered the house of a Maasai women, where we sat and talked for 20 minutes or so. (The Maasai women did not speak English and was quite shy so we talked mostly two the Maasai guides). There were also four children (one was the child of the Maasai women) who were very intrigued by us and kept peering around the door. We gave the women a handful of pens and $15 ($5 for each of the women living there) for the experience. We also paid our guides $10 each.

We arrived in Stone Town Friday afternoon and departed around 10am on Sunday. You can easily cover the city highlights in a day or two. We greatly enjoyed being there on a weekday and weekend day as the rhythm of the city is very different. We paid $15 for a taxi from the airport to Stone Town; be sure to negotiate a price with the driver before beginning the drive.

In Stone Town we spent two nights at Dhow Palace ($100/night for bed and breakfast; two small water bottles per day). Our travel itinerary suggested that we not leave the hotel after dark and instead dine at our hotel. We did this the first night and were disappointed in the food and service at the hotel’s restaurant, and after talking with a few guests the next morning found that the streets were full of tourists dining past dark. The next night we went to Monsoon Restaurant, which we greatly enjoyed—the food and atmosphere were wonderful. They have traditional style dining on floor-cushions and serve Swahili and Western food. Since we were there on a Saturday there was a small trio performing Swahili music, which was a nice touch (there is also live music on Wednesday). We ordered the three-course meal, which was outstanding and very reasonable. The service was great and there were breaks between meals, which made for a very relaxing evening. (Note: It’s suggested that you make a reservation. We just stopped by around lunchtime and made a reservation for the evening). We also ate at Archipelago Café-Restaurant, which is in the same vicinity as Monsoon. The food at Archipelago, again, was very fresh and delicious; the atmosphere was very modern and hip. I believe they also serve dinner but it is more of a casual place than Monsoon.

On Saturday we got up fairly early and went to Darajani Market, where we saw hardly any tourists, and were really able to experience the local culture. At the market we bought spices packaged in coconut shells or wooden boats for $1 (around town you will find the same item for $3-5) and handmade soap for $1. After the market we walked around town, passing by mosques, and went into the Beit El-Ajaib (House of Wonders). Be sure to go all the way to the top floor, where you will enter onto a wrapping balcony and witness a beautiful view of the city. (We were hoping to experience the famous Forodhani Gardens, but unfortunately they are being renovated and are completely closed off to the public. There are very tall aluminum fences blocking the entire area and you can only see the gardens/ocean from high buildings, such as the Beit El-Ajaib.)

Our last two nights were spent at Pongwe Beach. We arranged for our taxi driver from the airport to bring us to Pongwe Beach and then from Pongwe Beach back to the airport. We paid $35 from Stone Town to Pongwe Beach and $40 from Pongwe Beach to the airport. Initially we were going to have the hotel arrange for a taxi to the beach, but the staff manning the front desk seemed a little shady and wanted to charge us $50 to the beach (I am assuming they got a cut of the cost).

Pongwe Beach was absolutely breathtaking. We spent two nights at Pongwe Beach Hotel ($210 for bed, breakfast and dinner; they also provided 1.5 liters of bottled water per day). The hotel was non-pretentious and just a lovely facility—the beach was very quiet and relaxing (there were no speedboats or jet-skis zipping by which was a welcome addition), the staff was delightful, the facilities were very clean, and the food was delicious. There is no need to bring along beech towels or bags as they are provided. They also have Internet, though if my memory serves me correctly it was $5 for 30 minutes.

Below are a few other things I was curious to know before travel that may be helpful for first-timers:
-We purchased a Canon EOS Rebel XS camera for our trip, which we just loved (instead of one 8 memory card we brought two 4 gig, incase one was damaged). We also brought an older digital camera to take short video clips on.

-We were able to charge our camera battery every place we stayed (at the camps they just asked that you to charge batteries in the main lobby since the individual tents were powered by generators).

-You can find bottled water virtually everywhere, and found it to be less expensive than bottled water in the U.S. We paid $1-2 for 1.5 liters at the lodges/camps.

-We paid about $3-5 for 1 bottle of Kilimanjaro beer, the higher cost being at the camps where everything has to be brought in from far away.

-Of course everyone is different, but since my husband and I are in are early 30s and love to try exotic foods we ate almost everything, including peeled fruits, fresh squeezed fruit juices and raw vegetables and did not have any problems with the food at the lodges or restaurants. The curry sauce is what you need to watch out for!

-A few items we were glad to have packed:
-Baby wipes (we used five or more a day)
-Rewetting drops and Ayr Nasal Spray for safari drives (there is a lot of dust and the air can get very dry)
-40-60 pens for the children (you can get packs of ten pens for under $2 at Target)

- We brought a comprehensive medical kit (including needles, wound closer kits, etc.) but only used Band-aids, Neosporin, Imodium AD, and Advil.

-We brought lots of $1, $5 and $10 bills (Everyplace takes (and most prefer) U.S. dollars, as suggested by this forum and were glad we did. We found that some places did not even have the most current USD exchange rate against the Tanzanian Shilling, so it was easiest to pay in dollars.

Please let me know if you are a first-time traveler to Tanzania and have any questions, particularly on the facilities.

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