Excellent Lemala Camps!

Jul 23rd, 2008, 05:42 PM
  #1  
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Excellent Lemala Camps!

We have recently returned from a wonderful Tanzania safari and here is our feedback on Lemala camps. We booked Lemala camps for Ngorongoro and Serengeti even though we felt we were taking a bit of a gamble as they were new and there were no previous guest reports on the internet to view. As it turned out both camps are truly excellent in every way from staff to locations to food to comfort.

Our trip started with Tarangere River Camp for 2 nights which wasn’t our first choice but we were unable to get space at Olivers Camp. The camp is 25 minutes from the park entrance which is not a major inconvenience but I would recommend anyone to stay inside the park to avoid the transfers and get the most out of this fabulous park. The camp itself is very comfortable, the staff pleasant and the food acceptable and I could not fault it but it lacked the charm and intimacy of Lemala camps. It felt more like a hotel.

We had tremendous game drives and being keen birders we were thrilled with the amount of birds in Tarangere and our guide from Grumeti Expeditions, John, who was fantastic. We counted 158 species in 2 days and to top that we saw a leopard kill, lion hunt buffalo, plenty of elephant and buffalo herds, tons of giraffe and lots of other wildlife. One of the more unexpected sights was of elephant still mating which according to John was unusual as most of the mating took place towards the end of the rainy season but this year the rains have been poor which might explain the delayed love fest.

On our way to Lemala Ngorongoro we had a game drive in Lake Manyara Park from 10.30 to 3.00 and avoided the park traffic. The famous tree climbing lions were nowhere to be seen but we had a great time finding a few more birds to add to our list. The park is very pretty with the lake providing an interesting habitat. Just a word of warning – it can get quite hot during the day and the flies can be bothersome but if you are prepared to ignore the heat and flies then you will be rewarded with fewer vehicles on game drive and decent birding. The animals were inactive during this period so it is probably not the best time for a game drive however we did eventually find a lion pride lying under a thorn bush near the lake lazily eyeing buffalo a few yards away.

From Manyara entrance it took us roughly 90 minutes to reach the viewpoint on the rim of the crater. The view is breathtaking and it is quite remarkable that so much wildlife exists inside the crater. It is one of the great ecosystems of the world and to ensure it remains that way John mentioned that the Ngorongoro conservation authority is moving majority of its staff accommodation out of the rim and conservation area to reduce water consumption and save the forests and water catchment areas. Larger lodges may also have to do the same.

The viewpoint is a busy place with safari vehicles arriving and leaving virtually every other second, with most vehicles heading in the direction of Serena or Crater Lodge. Our original preference was CC crater lodge but we were persuaded to try Lemala camp because of its quieter location and better access into the crater. The dirt road from the viewpoint to Lemala is in a reasonable state and it should take about 35 minutes to the camp but our arrival was delayed by a herd of elephants which blocked our route for 20 minutes. They sniffed in the air with their trunks, flapped their ears and head, trumpeted and a male even mock charged us but we stood our ground and eventually they grew bored and disappeared into the bush. We drove on and reported at the park entrance next to Lemala Camp and then took a little track on the right which leads to a magnificent forest, much of which was bathed in the evening sun. The camp does not face the crater which did not matter to us as the forest and the neighboring hills provided a superb magical setting – something out of a fairy tale. There was a profusion of birdlife and nearby 3 elephants were feeding on the foliage of the trees. For a minute or two I was in a complete trance.
vips is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2008, 05:49 PM
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Our arrival was extraordinary with cheery Masai and smartly dressed staff lined up to take our luggage, offer us towels and drinks (fresh pineapple in crushed ice), and welcome us in Swahili and English. Throughout our stay we had the most amazing Tanzanian hospitality that was incredibly warm and heartfelt.

We were introduced to the camp by Godwin who is a very gracious and likeable camp manager. We were warned of the cold nights but didn’t realize until we set by the camp fire how cold it actually was. It was probably 5 to 8 degrees above freezing but it felt more like zero especially after having spent the whole day in the tropical heat. The camp provides a gas heater in each room and there are heaters in the dining tent which helped enormously but we did not have enough warm clothing for outside. Luckily the camp keeps extra jackets and blankets for the guests which we were able to borrow during our stay. I would recommend warm clothing and hat if you are heading to Lemala. According to John this year has been much colder than previous years due to the prolonged dry period accompanied by clear skies but it should warm up by at least 5 degrees from August or September onwards as the African spring and then summer set in.

Despite the cold we loved this place. This was the real Africa – raw, wild and beautiful – and we felt we had made the right choice for Ngorongoro. To us it made more sense to be with nature, star filled skies and the sounds of the jungle rather than the din of a large hotel. We were more than happy to brave the cold, like we often do on the mountains, and experience the camp’s wonderful, wonderful natural setting.

The dining and sitting tent is decorated very elegantly in old-world style and is extremely cozy. The dinner table is lit by candles and dramatic paper chandeliers hanging over the table and all guests including our guide sat together. The ambience is really lovely. The food is cooked and presented in a down-to-earth style rather than in modern, trendy style but it is delicious. Before it is served, the chef comes into the tent to announce the various courses which I thought was very sweet. We had to haul him back into the tent after dinner to congratulate him on the food which he created out of a small kitchen tent using less than half the equipment I have at home. The house wine is quite good but you could order premium wine for extra dollars – I think it was 50 dollars. In fact the drinks cabinet is quite impressive.

After hot chocolate by the camp fire we retired to bed. The heater had been turned on before our arrival so the room was warm but we were surprised by 4 hot water bottles in our king bed. The Lemala tent is spacious, clean and comfortable and divided into the room area and bathroom area with separate cubicles for the flush toilet and bucket shower which are accessible from the bathroom area. There is wooden flooring throughout made up of several small wooden platforms laid together, storage trunks to lock up valuables (no padlock provided), bathrobes and excellent solar lighting. The bucket shower lasts about 4 minutes and the staff is happy to top it up. Because of the chilly evenings the shower should be taken as soon as you return from the crater game drive. This was my first bucket shower experience and I have to say I really enjoyed it. The basin in the bathroom has one tap with running water which can be very cold in the morning but it did get us going for the early morning game drive.
vips is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2008, 05:55 PM
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Our freshly brewed coffee and cookies arrived at 6.00 and we set off at 6.30 with a packed breakfast just as the sun was rising. The breakfast has to be ordered the night before and it was superb. The main reason for choosing Lemala was for its quick, quiet access into the crater and this proved accurate as the road leading into the crater is a minute away and we were inside the crater within 20 minutes. We did not see another vehicle for more than an hour. During that quiet period we had several more species of birds counted and saw young male lions hunting zebra unsuccessfully, female leopard, buffalo and dozens and dozens of hyena. We broke the drive at 10.00 for our breakfast at the public picnic site and continued towards the lake and the black rhino areas which were extremely crowded. Around lunch time the area started thinning out as many of the vehicles headed for the public picnic site and we took the opportunity to enjoy another drive around the lake. We returned to camp using a different route, enjoyed a late lunch at the camp in the company of elephants followed by a shower. The birdlife around the camp is fantastic so we paid for a walk with an armed ranger and John and ended up with 22 more species.

We had another great dinner and went to bed early. I was going to miss this wonderful camp and its caring, hard working Tanzania staff. This is a 10/10 camp.

The next day our flight from Manyara to Northern Serengeti was at lunch time and we enjoyed some more birding before the transfer. We bid farewell to our friend and learned companion, John, and flew across the Serengeti with great anticipation of our next venue and the migration.
vips is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2008, 09:16 PM
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Vips

THANK YOU for posting this. You described the whole experience exactly as it is - I have stayed at both Lemala camps (Serengeti and Ngorongoro) and I could not agree more!

climbhighsleeplow is offline  
Jul 24th, 2008, 01:00 AM
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Fantastic report, thank you!
Kavey is offline  
Jul 24th, 2008, 03:17 PM
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Eben

I am glad you also think highly of these camps. I have been to camps in Botswana, Zambia, Kenya and Uganda and I believe what makes Lemala camps extra special is the staff. At some of the other camps I have come upon regimented staff, put on smiles and parrot-like greetings, and I think this is the trend world over. So it was refreshing to see a team that was spontaneous, flexible and caring without being over the top. There appeared to be great morale and equality amongst staff and everyone’s happiness rubbed on us too. It was great to see local Tanzanians doing a better job than many of the professional managers I have encountered at other camps. I hope Lemala stays that way. The camps are perhaps not for those who prefer the safety and convenience of a permanent lodge but for me they pressed all the right buttons.

I will soon post a report on the north Serengeti part of the trip where we saw several wildebeest river crossings and amazing game while on off road drives.
vips is offline  
Jul 25th, 2008, 04:14 AM
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Thanks Vips! I've been considering Lemala for the Serengeti portion of our upcoming trip - very much looking forward to your postings about that camp!

Elizabeth_S is offline  
Aug 2nd, 2008, 10:34 AM
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Thank you vips for the information on Lemala Crater. I can't wait. I'm booked there for late February 2009.
Dana_M is offline  
Aug 11th, 2008, 12:44 PM
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Sorry this is taking long due to work and other commitments.

Kogatede(sp?) airstrip came into view, stretched out before us and surrounded by thorn bushes. Several wildebeest herds were massed along the Mara River poised to cross while others were milling around scorched earth or advancing through tall grassy plains in single lines to nowhere. The migration was surely here in the northern section of Serengeti.

We were met by James, a wonderful guide based at Lemala Camp. He decided to show us the Mara River which is only a few hundred yards from the airstrip and an adjacent ranger post. A bridge at the river would have taken us across to an area between the Kenyan border and the Mara River called Lamai but James wanted us to explore near the camp where the evening before he had seen a leopard family feeding on a dead impala suspended from a branch of a sausage tree.

We turned back and drove towards the camp which is about 15 miles from the river. To reach the camp we passed through ever changing scenery, from an area with dense thorn bushes which eventually gave way to undulating plains offering breathtaking panorama of the escarpments in Kenya and Tanzania and then to boulder strewn terrain punctuated by large indigenous trees. About 30 to 40 miles away across the border, the landscapes of the Masai Mara are completely different from the ones in north Serengeti and perhaps a lot less handsome and interesting. James took a short detour off the main track to show us a large elephant herd he had spotted earlier and to give us time to eat our picnic lunch. In north Serengeti off road drives are permitted like in Botswana and this made every game drive exhilarating and traffic-free.

After lunch we drove to the leopard kill but as there was no sign of the leopards we decided to return later after dropping our bags at the camp. The camp is set about 400 yards from the main track and well concealed by a collection of large boulders. It is fronted by an expansive hill of a gentle incline which allows very long views over the plains especially when the grass is as tall as it was in July. It is a fine setting that gives a true sense of a remote wilderness. The tents are exactly the same as the hugely practical and comfortable ones in Ngorongoro and they are west facing so one is treated to spectacular sunsets that light up the sky in vivid shades of orange, red and purple. The dining tent is decorated with luxurious sofas along with eclectic and striking wooden furniture. What I like about Lemala camps is that they are not trying to make yet another design statement; instead they have focused on providing proper comfort with many practical touches, good service, stimulating ambiance and marvelous locations. We were pleased that Lemala guides joined us for meals daily as they are terrific company and very conversant with local habitats and wildlife movements.

Majority of tents are in clusters of two set up under trees while some are on their own for honeymoon couples. Simon, the Tanzanian manager at the camp, has a completely different personality to that of Godwin’s at Ngorongoro; he was quite shy and perhaps less confident with guests at the beginning but over the next few days he warmed up considerably and showed his witty and cheeky side. The service and quality at Serengeti is as good as Ngorongoro and that is quite an achievement considering how remote the area is and how hard it is to resupply.

After a quick cup of tea we returned to the dead impala and waited for twenty minutes before the leopard arrived and leapt up the tree. There was no sign of the 2 cubs that James had seen yesterday. The mother ate for a few minutes and then disappeared into the bush. We had some wine and beer while we waited for an encore but it never took place and in the end we returned to camp as the sun was just disappearing behind the hill. The camp fire was burning and was inviting enough for a glass of wine and some popcorn before a shower and another enjoyable dinner. We organized our next day with James and then retired to our warm beds. The beds at Lemala are some of the most comfortable ones I have slept in on my travels and I slept straight through till the morning.
vips is offline  
Aug 19th, 2008, 04:51 PM
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Thanks for your report on Lemala camps. Your writing makes me want to plan another trip to Kenya. (We went there years ago and to TZ last Nov.) www.pbase.com/pattyroth
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Aug 21st, 2008, 06:47 AM
  #11  
 
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That's great you enjoyed the Lemala Camps and think of the savings over Crater Lodge. You can put that toward a return trip.

Your comments about the lack of enough warm clothes can serve as a helpful warning to others wondering what to pack.

In addition to nice places to stay, you had some great animal action with eles mating and blocking the road, a leopard, and your birds.

Interesting comment about less accommodation pressure on the rim.
atravelynn is offline  
Aug 21st, 2008, 08:13 AM
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I love camping at the crater, as long as it isn't the Simba campground. Tembo A and Tembo B are my favorites, and Lemala is a very close second. I would be happy with any of them. My primary reasons why I love camping at the crater:

1) easiest access to the floor of the crater

2) fastest way to the floor of the crater

3) smoothest road in and out of the crater

4) no crowds. small groups at dinner. More intimate feeling.
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