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Trip Report: Tanzania May 2014

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We just returned from our safari from May 14-23 in northern Tanzania. Fodorites were helpful in my planning, and as so in return I thought I'd offer a report and opinions that could help experienced safari goers and newbies like myself.

We used Good Earth Tours, as recommended by some here. I'd rate them a "B", solid, but somewhat lacking in perspective and firm advice.

First up, on arrival we stayed the first night in Arusha at the Planet Lodge. It's "OK", and I learned owned by Good Earth. Thus the reason they booked us there. It is a ways out of town, which is a huge drawback. The restaurant serves delicious food, though.

Next was Tarangerie.and we stayed at the Tarangerie River Lodge. This was a lovely camp, and we were the only guests for 2 nights. Being the only 2 in camp meant that we had 6 or seven staff members watching us eat, which was really uncomfortable. The camp managers, a South African couple, gave the camp a very personal feeling. The food was some of the best on our trip. The tents are all being, or have been renovated in the last 2 years. This is a very nice place. They are in a spot of trouble now, as an American tourist was trampled by an elephant on a waling safari sponsored by the camp (in September 2013).

As for Tarangerie park, our experience in May 2014 was horrible. The park was really, really boring. In fact, my memories of the park are of endless hours of driving looking at occasional elephants and impala and miles of grass. I was told repeatedly during the trip that Tarangerie is a nice park from July on, just don't go in the first half of the year. I'd second this. They call it the "off-season" and this park was all "off" for us. The views from Tarangerie River Lodge were very nice, and would have been perfect if there were any animals to see. But there were none. So Tarangerie was completely a wasted 2 days.

Next we drove to Ngorongoro and did the afternoon game drive. This was pleasant enough and we largely had the entire crater to ourselves. A lot of the game had moved out of the crater because good water and grass was plentiful in May. We stayed at the Sopa. This was an "average" place in our opinion. Comfortable and nice as a large hotel. Food was buffet and was average. One day at Ngorongoro is plenty in our opinion.

We were originally booked at Serena Serengeti, but Serena saw fit to bump us. After much deliberation and back and forth we had (by my choice) two nights in Serena Kirawira and one night at Serena's Mbuzi Mawe camp. There is not a lot of recent info on Kirawira here, so I'll review and compare both.

In May 2014 the herds had already moved west and north, a bit ahead of "normal". So Kirawira was well positioned, by luck. Had the herds not been in the western Serengeti, I think Kirawira would be completely out of the way and not a good place to stay. But who can predict the subtle herd positions in May versus June? Just don't stay there, in say, February.

Kirawira camp itself is very nice. Stripped down to the elements: all these tents send to be about the same. Kirawira had nicer furniture, granite bathrooms, nicer fixtures, etc. The grounds and views were gorgeous and there were nice herds of Wilder beasts and zebra to see. The staff at Kirawira are excellent, and service was the best we had anywhere. The downsides to the camp are that the beds were the most uncomfortable (they need new mattresses) and the food was awful. One of our dinners was completely inedible. Hands down the worst food on safari.

Getting bumped to Kirawira turned out to be a very good blessing, as the western corridor is where we saw the most animal actions. Here we got to see Grumeti River crossing by a couple of wilder beast herds. We saw crocs snatch wilder beasts twice! Incredible. This was the best two days on safari!

Then we drove to Mbuzi Mawe. Apart from seeing a few zebra herds around the camp there was little to see in and around Mbuzi Mawe. Mbuzie Mawe tents are huge, beds are nice, and food excellent. The staff here had some serious service issues, though, and language was a barrier with a few (like the bartender who didn't understand any English!).

In central Serona we had some nice lion and leopard spottings. There were absolutely no wilder beasts here, and only a few small herds of zebra.

The last night was at Serena Manyara. This hotel was really dated, and the food was just average. It is a huge complex and seemed to be a favorite with large tour groups. Manyara park was completely forgettable and another place I'd skip on any safari.

So the scorecard, in terms of key animals seen:
Lions: 26
Cheetah: 5 (including a mother and 3 cubs!)
Leopard: 4
Serval Cat (!): 1

Now my opinions on the safari overall. This was our third Africa safari, the other two in S.A. and Bots. I knew there would be a lot of driving on this trip, I just greatly underestimated how much. So anyone planning a trip like this, just beware: my memories of this trip are of 9-10 hour days driving on bumpy, dusty roads, stopping occasionally to look at animals.

This safari was also a very sedentary endeavor. Let me summarize the safari: get up and eat, get into truck and drive 4 hours, eat, drive another 5 hours, return to camp to eat, sleep. Repeat this for 9 days. If you want to feel like a truck driver, then a safari will do the job! ;) Honestly, I had some serious issues dealing with the sedentary nature of this trip. We are a very active couple, enjoying running, hiking, etc. We are just the out of doors types. I felt very restricted and confined on this safari. You can't hike at the camps (understandable), and there is little else to do other than eat, drink, or just sit around. No gyms, no physical activities (and I get why not, considering the location and power issues). Some had small pools, and I took to treading water for an hour at the end of each day. My wife had less of an issue with everything, but by the end of the trip I was ready to pull my hair out!

In terms of crowds, May was a good time. We saw very few other trucks, the most being in central Seronera. We got to see almost all animals by ourselves or with 2 or 3 other trucks at most.

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