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Trip Report, Tanzania, 7/08

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I recently returned from a 10 day safari in the northern circuit of Tanzania, July 7-17. We had a fantastic time, and saw many more animals than we ever could have imagined. Our itinerary was 4 nights Serengeti (split between the western corridor and the north), 2 nights Ngorongoro Crater, 1 night Karatu/Ngorongoro Highlands and 2 nights Tarangire. We were two people on a private safari.

I planned this trip over a year ago, using information from this forum (only as a lurker, I haven’t posted much), other websites such as http://go-safari.com/ and the Mark Nolting Africa Wildlife book, plus information from our safari operator (Africa Dream Safaris). I wanted to share our impressions which may be of interest to other “first timers” in the planning process.

Rather than make a day-by-day report, I thought I’d give an overview of game viewing in each area, the camps/lodges and general impressions/recommendations. Even without the day-by-day, it will be long, I’m sure. I will do a brief review of ADS in a separate post.

Game Viewing

Note that these observations are for the first half of July, in a year where the migration was a bit ahead of schedule. Game viewing is likely different at other times of the year.

After an overnight in Arusha, we flew directly to the Lobo airstrip on Air Excel. We found the game drives in the Lobo area and north to the Mara River the best of the trip. The game was the most varied, with lots of elephants, zebra, wildebeest and other antelopes, and we saw 9 lions, 2 leopards and a cheetah all the first afternoon. The area was still somewhat green, and we found it among the prettiest. There were large mixed herds of wildebeest and zebra along the Grumeti River game drive loop. Most of the herds had crossed the river, and we followed them all the way to the Mara River (the mixture of zebras in the herds declined the further north we got). At the Mara River, we saw very large migrating herds of wildebeest, as far as you could see, although they were just short of crossing the river. We did see them cross a couple of small streams. There was also a large group of hippos on the river bank who en masse got up and entered the water, and this might have been the best viewing we had of hippos. The entire Lobo/north Serengeti area benefited from being relatively uncrowded. We saw very few other vehicles.

The western corridor was very good, but not quite as interesting as the north, as most of the wildebeest had already crossed the Grumeti river in the west corridor. We did see many large herds of buffalo, more giraffes than in the north, hyenas (which we had not seen in the north), hippos and crocs and a very close encounter with a pregnant cheetah. There were fewer elephants than in the north. This corridor was slightly more crowded than the north, but still less crowded than the areas we visited later.

We found the central (Seronera) area and the southern plains the least interesting parts of the Serengeti at this time of year. Seronera was much more crowded with vehicles, and we didn’t see much new. The southern plains had a couple of good lion sightings as well as large migrating herds of Thomson’s gazelles.

The Ngorongoro Crater was something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, we saw black rhino (four including one close enough to get a decent photo) and more lions, especially adult males, than anywhere else, as well as our third cheetah. We also saw flamingos, a bit closer than at Lake Manyara. However, there were a couple of times when the traffic jams reminded me of midtown Manhattan at rush hour. We did one afternoon game drive and two early morning game drives. I would say for most people, one to two game drives would be sufficient, although we only got reasonably close to a rhino on one of the three drives. I was surprised by how green and lush the crater rim and eastern descent from the rim were. It was very pretty. Note that it was quite cold at the rim and even pretty cold in the Crater the second morning.

Lake Manyara was a little disappointing after the first two parks. We did see blue monkeys, bushbuck (too shy to get a picture) and a number of adult elephants. There were a large number of giraffes too. The storks, pelicans and other birds were good, but I was disappointed in how far one had to stay from the flamingos, at least where we were. We did see some 3 week old lion cubs nursing, and for that reason alone, am glad we had a half day game drive in this park.

Tarangire was a bit of a challenge, as the grasses were still fairly high in much of the park. We saw the most game near the Tarangire river, including lions, many, many elephants including lots of juveniles, and giraffes. The unique things that we saw in this park were lesser kudu and serval cat, as well as the baobab trees. I didn’t realize baobabs were deciduous, so they were not as attractive as they would be with leaves in summer. We stayed at Swala camp, which is a long drive from the park gate. We found the last 10 or 15 km drive to Swala to be fairly devoid of game until right near the camp. On arrival, there were a lot of animals right in and near the camp (lots of elephants, warthogs, monkeys, zebra, impala and waterbuck), and we saw lions nearby too. On balance, even though we saw more game abundant in the Serengeti, we did enjoy Tarangire. However, I would say that if one has limited time for safari, I would maximize time in the Serengeti and skip one of Tarangire or Lake Manyara.

All in all, I was really happy with the itinerary. I know some people prefer to end in the Seregenti, the peak of the trip. For me, it was better to start there, have the great wildlife sightings early, and remove any “pressure” to see certain wildlife. It basically made everything we saw after day 1 or 2 “gravy,” as we had already seen everything we could have imagined. It also allowed us to feel able to take a couple afternoons off from game drives.

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