Africa 2019, Take 2

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May 14th, 2018, 08:39 PM
  #1
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Africa 2019, Take 2

Back again with a new plan. My friend has decided to wait until retirement for this trip, when she won't be tied to email, so I am going solo. The trip needs to be a little shorter to accommodate the cost of single supplement, and I upped my budget some as well. The time frame is still October 2019.

I emailed ATR, Gamewatchers, and Wild Source. ATR has been very responsive and in tune with what I want and can afford. Gamewatchers sent me a few links, which weren't terribly enlightening and left me with a vague feeling that they aren't on the page with me. Wild Source never responded. I know I should contact a couple more TOs, but I've really enjoyed working with ATR so far. Here's what she has for me:

Arrive Entebbe, stay Protea Entebbe
Transfer to Bwindi, Mahogany Springs
Bwindi, Mahogany Springs, gorilla trek
Bwindi, Mahogany Springs, gorilla trek
Transfer to Nairobi, Giraffe Manor
Nairobi National Park, Ololo Lodge
NNP, Ololo Lodge (for rhino)
Transfer to Samburu, Elephant Watch Camp
Samburu, Elephant Watch Camp
Samburu, Elephant Watch Camp
Transfer to Maasai Mara, Serian Mara North
Maasai Mara, Serian Mara North
Maasai Mara, Serian Mara North
Maasai Mara, Serian Mara North, balloon ride
Transfer to Nairobi

She is recommending Samburu over Amboseli because of more severe congestion at Amboseli. She has also pitched Tanzania (Tarangire, Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti), but I'm leaning to sticking with Kenya. This will let me check my three Africa bucket list items off: gorillas, Giraffe Manor, balloon ride, in case I don't make it back to Africa.

I know I need to book Giraffe Manor NOW, but I won't be in a position to make the deposit on the trip until July, when I'm expecting an infusion of cash. So overall there is still plenty of time to choose a TO and an itinerary.

1. Thoughts re Samburu vs. Amboseli
2. Thoughts on Kenya vs. Tanzania
3. Opinions on the trip overall
4. Recommendations for other TOs?
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May 14th, 2018, 09:02 PM
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ATR is very opinionated, that's for sure.

1. Thoughts re Samburu vs. Amboseli -I don't know but I'd probably be inclined to go to Samburu for the more wild factor.
2. Thoughts on Kenya vs. Tanzania - I've been to both and for whatever crazy reason prefer Kenya. Stick to your guns on this one.
3. Opinions on the trip overall - I think it looks fab except I have never had the slightest interest in Giraffe Manor and that looks like a lot of nights in Nairobi, but I'm not sure how many exactly.
4. Recommendations for other TOs? - Does Volcanoes do Uganda? I think Offbeat books safaris, but perhaps only their camps? I'm not sure. Have you peeked at safaritalk.net or any of atravelynn's old trip reports here? the last few trips I took I booked separately: one operator for Rwanda, Kicheche for Kicheche camps in Kenya, then with Sheldrick to book their camp in Tsavo.
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May 15th, 2018, 04:41 AM
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ATR is indeed very opinionated. I've twice not booked with them when they didn't want or like the camp I wanted to go to, which seemed odd. You can see it in some of their camp reviews on the website, there's a definite bias there. That said it's still a valuable resource for researching camps.

Quite frankly if you're traveling solo and have a budget, I'd ask to look into Offbeat Mara in Mara North rather than Serian. Serian is pricey for sure, and Offbeat offers no single supplement and stay for 4 pay for 3 specials (or 6 for 5) that could likely get you more time there for the same price as fewer nights at Serian. I booked my Offbeat safari with them directly and it was a breeze; they handled transfer in Nairobi from JKIA to Wilson and the flights and I got a 6 for 5 special. I think they only book their stable of camps though. Run that by ATR and see what they can come up with.

I agree that Nairobi National Park is the best place to see rhino (I saw 12 in my first game drive and quite close at that) but I'm not sure you need 3 days there for that, unless you were going to also work in Sheldricks Wildlife Trust for the elephant orphans, the bead factory, etc. When we went from Rwanda to Kenya last year, we took a 7 a.m. flight out of Rwanda, landed in Nairobi and made a 2 p.m. flight out of Nairobi to the Mara. It's possible to not spend any time in Nairobi if you don't want to. I don't get the draw of Giraffe Manor since you'll see a ton of wild giraffe on any safari, so if it's booked when you try to finalize your itinerary, I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

I've only been to Amboseli and liked it well enough but probably wouldn't go back. The elephants are really the draw there (and the mountain if it's not fickle enough to hide behind clouds). For all around safari experience you can do better. But "congestion" was not at all a problem for me at Amboseli, so I question that rationale. If anything I found it extremely deserted. We went hours without seeing another vehicle.

I've been to TZ and Kenya and also prefer Kenya. I didn't know any better at the time on my first safari to TZ, but looking back the amount of driving between locations (Arusha to Tarangire to Manyara to Ngorongoro to Ndutu to Serengeti) was such a waste of time. I know everyone does it, but now that I've been to Kenya where you fly between camps and it's a game drive as soon as you get off the plane, I far prefer that. You can probably get the same in TZ, but at a higher price and not on the itinerary you were pitched.
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May 16th, 2018, 03:36 AM
  #4
 
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Hi artsnletters! I am jealous. Its been a year and I can't wait to go back : )

Giraffe Manor: we loved it. one of our favorite places. I would plan on embracing the full 24 hours there and just enjoy the setting, the hotel, the food. We left and did the DSWT about 4pm and wished we didn't have to leave and could just immerse ourselves there. Also a good point midway to get some laundry done

Samburu. Loved Samburu. We stayed Elephant Bedroom Camp. We loved Samburu, but it was the hottest of the camps we went to. At that time, it was hot and dry, so interesting to see if the recent floods have affected them.

Masai Mara - We stayed Serian Ngare, which was one of our favorites, so while I can't speak to Serian North, I know that I loved our Serian stay. It was one of our favorite camps.

Travel agent: We used Gamewatchers - I found Julie to be dead on with her itinerary. She listened to us and we had a great trip, I recommend them unconditionally.

She also booked a hot air balloon ride for us. My (now) 14 year old's favorite part of it and he said, "when we go back, I would like to do that again." I loved that he said "when" not "if" !

feel free to click through and read my trip report. I'm pretty detailed so you can get a sense of my thoughts. I wrote that as a series of emails as we were traveling - I send them home to family, so they are the "on the ground" reactions.
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May 16th, 2018, 10:06 AM
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I also loved my stay at Giraffe Manor altho it was before the Garden Manor addition so not sure if/how that might effect the experience now. Yes you will see lots of giraffe in the wild but never at breakfast as they poke their head thru the large french windows! Try booking Jocks Room in the original Manor as its on the 2nd floor on the side of the building where the giraffe will come to at about 6:30 am looking for pellets. Very cool!

It's a pricey stay so I also made sure I was there for the full 24 hours altho with coming from Rwanda this may depend on flight times. It's a beautiful place, the Giraffe Centre is right there so you can just walk over, food was really good, great laundry service and to me well worth every cent it cost me!

Kenya vs Tanzania - Always Kenya for me altho I've only done the northern circuit of Tanzania and understand Selous & Ruaha are great parks.

Haven't been to Amboseli but loved Samburu - very hot with lots of eles too. The draw for me here were the northern species such as reticulated giraffe (my fav!) beisa oryx, gerenuk, Grevy zebra & Somali ostrich.

The Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage is a must! Baby eles slip sliding around mud the colour of milk chocolate? What's not to love?
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May 18th, 2018, 11:15 AM
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Amboseli is a good choice for those travelling by road from Nairobi to Tanzania, as I did myself. I got my classic photo of elephants with Mt Kilimanjaro in the distance while there. Didn't make it to Tarangiri, but visited Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and Lake Manyara.

Masai Mara and Serengeti NP are part of the same ecosystem, and which is better, IMO, depends upon time of year and where the wildebeest migration is at the time. We were lucky enough to travel through the shortgrass plains in February, at the time wildebeest and zebra were birthing. It was a spectacular sight to drive for miles and miles through the seemingly endless herds of antelope and zebra, followed closely by the predators.

That day we drove from the Seronera Valley to Ngorongoro Crater, stopping at Ulduvai Gorge on the way, staying overnight at a lodge on the crater rim. Ngorongoro Crater gets a bit crowded, but you are guaranteed to see lots of animals there. I'll never forget the clouds rolling over the crater rim when we woke up at our lodge that morning.
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May 20th, 2018, 06:47 PM
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If you decide to visit DSWT, the open visiting time is 10-11. The afternoon visitation at 5 pm is for those who have adopted an elephant for $50, which is a very small donation considering the tremendous work they do.

Giraffe Manor and DSWT are very close in proximity. You can visit DSWT in the morning, watching the elephants come in from the park for their morning feeding and splashing about in the mud. As you are leaving you have the option to adopt an elephant. You will then be able to return in the evening to watch the elephants come in from the park and get put to bed for the evening. You can walk around the stalls and spend time observing each elephant and talking with their keeper. It is an experience of a life time..I can't wait to return. We adopted two babies.
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May 21st, 2018, 09:39 PM
  #8
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Hi again, sorry to be so slow getting back on. I actually wrote up a reply a few days ago and thought I had posted it, but it's not there, so either there was a malfunction or I just think I hit Post. Anyway, thank you all very much for your comments - it's very helpful. Now I'm thinking along these lines:

EBB
Transfer to Bwindi. Mahogany Springs
Bwindi, Mahogany Springs, gorilla trek
Bwindi, Mahogany Springs, gorilla trek
Transfer to Nairobi, Giraffe Manor
Transfer to Samburu, Elephant Watch Camp
Samburu, Elephant Watch Camp
Samburu, Elephant Watch Camp
Transfer to Lewa Downs, Lewa Safari Camp or Lewa House
Lewa Downs, Lewa Safari Camp or Lewa House, rhino
Transfer to Maasai Mara, Serian Mara North
Mara, Serian Mara North
Mara, Serian Mara North
Mara, Serian Mara North, hot air balloon ride
Return to Nairobi and fly out

I'm thinking of a second night in Nairobi, as the one at the moment would put me at Giraffe Manor around 4pm and require me to leave around 8:30 the next morning - no time for the sights. I can't afford two nights there, so I might stay somewhere inexpensive the first night and then transfer to Giraffe Manor the next morning.for a full day there. Or alternatively add a night at the end in Nairobi.

I'm glad to hear some of you really enjoyed Giraffe Manor, for the same reasons I think I will.

Serian Mara North was recommended to me because it's in a conservancy and I'd get a vehicle to myself, which is appealing since as a single I'll be overruled if there's a difference in desires when sharing. If you think there are better choices or others I should consider in the same general price range, please recommend away.

I'm interested in any thoughts on the itinerary as a whole and on Lewa Safari Camp vs. Lewa House, and any other input you have. TIA for all your help!
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May 22nd, 2018, 05:24 AM
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Offbeat Mara is in the same conservancy as Serian Mara North. It is cheaper per night to start with, has no single supplement and has pay for 3 stay for 4 specials (so you'd get a night free). It also has excellent guiding, which is why it's the first place I've been on safari that I'm returning to. The only benefit I see to Serian is the private vehicle. I can speak from experience though that at most IF you have to share a vehicle at Offbeat (and that's not a sure thing), you will be matched with similar folks as long as you tell them your interests. You won't be in a vehicle with 6 other people (likely 2) and no kids etc. if that's not your thing. There's no "overruling" to speak of as long as you're open about your interests and the guides don't do anything by vote, they want to offer you the best sightings and experiences, for everyone in the vehicle. If you're into cats and elephants, they won't put you with a bunch of birders who don't want to see cats. I'm still surprised ATR is pushing Serian if you've told them you're on a budget. When I put my next safari together, I had asked for Serian along with Offbeat and it was firmly out of my budget. You're looking at a good $200 or so more per night before you factor in the single supplement and specials. I'd still reconsider that, or the Porini Lion Camp in Olare Motorogi (also a conservancy, next to Mara North and equally plush with cats and excellent guiding) to get more for your money. I'm not discounting the Serian experience overall; I know many safari friends who've been and swear by it, but for safarigoers on a budget, it doesn't typically work out. Consider: you could take that savings and put it toward another night at Giraffe Manor!
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May 22nd, 2018, 06:45 PM
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Join Date: Feb 2007
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I very much agree with the recommendation for Offbeat Mara. We were just there in February and loved everything about our time there. The staff and guides strive to give you the experience YOU want.There were only 7 of us in camp when we visited. My husband and myself had a jeep to ourselves. Our guide, Josephat, was a great source of information on all the animals and birds we saw. Camp is fantastic, the meals outstanding. I wouldn't hesitate to stay here again.
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May 22nd, 2018, 09:35 PM
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Agree about asking re: Offbeat or just contact Offbeat directly. Check Kicheche too. I loved Bush Camp in Olare Motorogi--it is fabulous--and the Kicheche Mara camp in Mara North is excellent as well.
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May 23rd, 2018, 05:50 PM
  #12
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OK, so now I have this, which is under my max budget:

EBB
Transfer to Bwindi. Mahogany Springs
Bwindi, Mahogany Springs, gorilla trek
Bwindi, Mahogany Springs, gorilla trek
Transfer to Nairobi, Giraffe Manor
Nairobi, Macushla House (want a second night in Nairobi, GM for 2 nights blows my budget)
Transfer to Samburu, Elephant Watch Camp
Samburu, Elephant Watch Camp
Samburu, Elephant Watch Camp
Transfer to Lewa Downs, Lewa House
Lewa Downs, Lewa House, rhino
Transfer to Maasai Mara, Offbeat Mara
Mara, Offbeat Mara
Mara, Offbeat Mara
Mara, Offbeat Mara, hot air balloon ride
Return to Nairobi and fly out

Any other advice?

Thanks for your input, past and future.
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May 23rd, 2018, 06:29 PM
  #13
 
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I love Macushla House, have stayed there on three occasions. It is very low-key and chill, (plus a great, warm bartender/waiter if he's still there: Walter!). Probably will feel less luxe than GM.

Itinerary looks fab to me. Safari njema!

Last edited by Leely2; May 23rd, 2018 at 06:37 PM.
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May 24th, 2018, 04:26 AM
  #14
 
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Looks great, artsnletters, I think you'll be really happy with that itinerary.
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