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Feb 2013 - Please help me choose among accommodation options

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Oct 16th, 2012, 09:03 AM
  #1
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Feb 2013 - Please help me choose among accommodation options

Greetings!

Long story short...we'd been planning on India for 2 weeks end of February with friends. Change in plans as friends need to postpone that trip and it turns out we have fewer nights than originally thought due to DH's work schedule. We've switched gears and made a crazy last minute decison to go to Tanzania. I've been to South Africa twice, but DH has never been to Africa. We are very excited.

Want upscale experience but not necessarily top deluxe in every place. Like good food and service. Want a diversity of experience...mix of lodge, mobile, permament tented. Excellent guides a must. Would love opportunituy for a walking safari and/or night drive. I understand some areas can get crowded but would like to avoid mobs as much as possible. I was definitely spoiled in Sabi area (Londolozi and Lion Sands) and would like to avoid a huge number of vehicles around every sighting.

As we are a bit late in booking and need to wrap this up quickly it looks like we have a couple of choices to make. Fast.
Will be on the ground for 9 nights. One night near Arusha for flight.

Choices to make based on availability and my requests/interests:

1. Manyara Ranch Conservancy OR Swala in Tarangire. Looks like Manyara may be best this time of year? Preference between the two? Both properties seem great, but locations different. Leaning towards Manyara Ranch.

2. For Crater area: Lemala Ngorongoro OR Exploreans? Lemala N seems to be getting some mixed reviews, but I like the location and access to crater. Exploreans looks and sounds gorgeous and comfortable with good food. Pretty setting. But about a km from park entrance.

3. 2 nights Lemala Ndutu and 2 nights Kusini or all 4 nights at Lemala Ndutu? Don't like to move too much, but leaning towards 2n/2n combo. Thoughts?

Thanks for any input you may have. Availabilty is very tight so I am trying to make some decisions quickly. Cheers!!
fun4all4 is offline  
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Oct 16th, 2012, 09:38 AM
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1. For night drives and walking I think you want Manyara Ranch Cons. The time of year would be good for Manyara too. (I personally have not been to either.)

2. You mentioned a mix of LODGE, mobile, perm, etc. Crater is a chance for a LODGE with a good location and lower price than Lemala. Why not Sopa Lodge, which has same location advantages as Lemala. Granted, Sopa is a bigger facility, not as intimate as a tented camp. (Only been to Sopa, not other places you mention.)

3. With herds so unpredictable I like the 2/2. It is the strategy I am using in March in the Serengeti, splitting my time between regions.

Since you mention the tight availability, that trumps other considerations.
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Oct 16th, 2012, 10:25 AM
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Thanks, atravelynn. I am glad to know I am not way off base in my thinking here. I thought about Sopa for location, but is it too big, impersonal, meh? Or is it actually very comfortable and lovely, etc... I was sort of turned off by it, but maybe I was too hasty? Did you like it?

Definitely going to go with the 2n/2n combo for Ndutu/Kusini (Olakira not available). Almost certainly going with Manyara Ranch. Unless someone can tell my why Tarangire would be "better" or more special for some reason I'm missing.

Other thoughts and "votes" welcome.
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Oct 16th, 2012, 10:31 AM
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Just my two bits...We visited Swala in June. Beautiful camp with a resident herd of impala, lots of vervet monkeys and an early morning lion visit. Garth and Liz were exceptional hosts as were the rest of the staff, the food was delicious and the accommodations were very comfortable.

We enjoyed our stay there very much.
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Oct 16th, 2012, 11:18 AM
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I stayed at Lemala Ngorongoro two nights. The first my friend and I were the only ones there, the second night some other guests were present. It's set in a beautiful acacia forest. The tents are very comfortable but not what I would call luxury (although you are looking for a mix of lodgings). Food was very good. It's chilly and there is a heater in the tent that someone comes and lights early in morning while you're still in bed. Its access to the crater is excellent - especially when going into the crater in the morning when you want to be one of the first vehicles in. I loved it there and would definitely stay again.
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Oct 16th, 2012, 02:19 PM
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Why Tarangire better? Probably more eles, even in Feb. But night drives and walking would sway me toward Manyara.

Sopa or Lemala-Check the difference in cost. If minimal, then you may want Lemala. Catseye mentioned "chilly." Sopa has more infrastructure between you and cold (plus a fireplace that is attended to for you) while Lemala is tented. I liked Sopa and it's where I'll go in March, but mostly from a cost standpoint. I have not been to Lemala.

Do both Sopa and Lemala have availability?
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Oct 16th, 2012, 02:49 PM
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Lemala is considerably higher than the Sopa, from what I understand. I've stayed there a couple of times and think it would be fine. The Crater rim is the one place I'd prefer to NOT stay in a tent because of the cold and fog.

I always enjoy Tarangire, even in February. The only advantage I see in Manyara Ranch is the possibility of a night drive or walk. That said, you might have more wildlife within the park by the Tarangire River.

I think you'd be fine with either the 4 only or 2/2 split in the Serengeti. I'd probably choose the 4 night option myself... less time packing and unpacking. If the Migration herds aren't in the Ndutu area then (should be but you never know), an all day drive to wherever they are located is always a possibility.
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Oct 16th, 2012, 03:10 PM
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My DH and I have stayed at Lemala Ngorongoro twice, both times for three nights - August 2009 and most recently in August 2012. It is one of our favourite tented camps. The tents are comfy (and heated - important on the rim in the winter, when it is very cold!), the setting very pretty (in a stand of ancient acacias), the food is very good, the staff very professional and friendly, and the camp is located inside the gate, so there is no delay at the gate in the morning. As a Lemala guest, you receive all of your crater permits (at the gate) on the day of your arrival, so you get up in the morning and drive straight into the crater (with or without a guide - we were self-driving, but most Lemala guests are with a guide - either their own or a guide from Lemala) - no delays for paperwork. We were first into the crater each morning, and felt as though we had the crater to ourselves - very special. The packed breakfasts and lunches provided by Lemala were huge and delicious - far beyond the typical boxed meals that are so popular in Tanzania. I would not hesitate to recommend Lemala Ngorongoro! A bit pricey, but worth every penny! CR
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Oct 16th, 2012, 04:19 PM
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CR, are the heaters on all night? Just curious...
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Oct 16th, 2012, 06:25 PM
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No, the heaters do not run all night. The staff turn them on while you are at dinner, so you return from dinner to a lovely warm tent. The staff then come and turn the heaters off (apparently) about half an hour after your lights go out - I never stayed awake long enough to know when our heater was turned off. The staff can turn off the heaters from outside the tent - they do not come into the tent to do this. The staff then turn the heaters on again about half an hour before your wake up call - at the same time that they fill your hot water container. I was always rather relieved that the staff turned the heat off after we were in bed. It was always very warm in the tent when we returned from dinner, and the duvets are very warm. They also put hot water bottles in the bed. We have never been cold in the tent. CR
I should add that the communal areas, such as the dining room, are also heated.
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Oct 17th, 2012, 07:16 AM
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Swala Camp is beautiful and they DO have permission, even though located inside the park, to be able to conduct bush walks and night game drives. I'd prefer to be in Tarangire than Manyara.

At Ngo, Lemala will be way more expensive that the Sopa; the Sopa has roof/walls and should be warmer at night than Lemala. These two are practically next door to one another. Exploreans is new and lovely, but located outside the Crater, thus if you have a morning crater tour, you loose time getting from this property to Crater gate, paper handling, then to the descent road to crater floor... better to stay on the Rim.

At Ndutu, the mix of Ndutu and Kusini is good... with Kusini located a bit farther west than Ndutu, so the areas are somewhat different. However, you still never know exactly where the herds will be, but don't sweat it. Your guide will do his utmost to get you where you have to be.
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Oct 17th, 2012, 08:31 AM
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Thanks, everyone! I appreciate the input and very happy that I had so many good choices this late in the game. It turns out I don't think Sopa was available, but I didn't double check because I decided against it.

Every choice had pros/cons, and I know everyone makes different choices...
To follow up, I went with 1n Duluti upon arrival, 2 Manyara Ranch, then an unusual pick for me but I am happy with what/why I chose this way...1 night Exploreans and 1 n Lemala Ngorongoro, 2 n Lemala Ndutu and 2 n Kusini. Fly back to Arusha. Day room at Arusha Coffee, and home.

Very excited. Happy travels!
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Oct 17th, 2012, 08:51 AM
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It won't take you long to go between Manyara Ranch and Exploreans. If you have extra time that day, consider visiting the Rift Valley Children's Village, an orphanage near Karatu. The turnoff is near the Ngorongoro Farmhouse. I've been there several times and sponsor a young boy there (even helped to plant the trees onsite.) They help the local village and school, as well, so you might be interested in seeing their programs. You'd just need to contact them in advance: www.tanzanianchildrensfund.org.
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Oct 17th, 2012, 09:27 AM
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I stayed at Lemala Ngorongoro for one night in June, and while nice, I would not stay there again. It was COLD, very cold, which I knew it would be. I stayed there because of the heaters and hot water bottles, as we wanted the tent experience AND wanted to be warm. However, there were 3 issues because of the cold:
1) we wanted to be up at 4:30 AM so we could be out before daylight. The staff do not not come around until after 5 AM to turn on the heaters, so it was cold getting ready in the morning. They offered to try to get there before 5 AM, but it did not happen.
2) because we got in "late" the night before, only one of us got a shower that night before dinner, and it was too late after dinner. Due to the 5 AM wake-up call noted above, the shower also was not ready before 5 AM. And the shower area is not heated by the room heater, and it was FREEZING getting my shower!
3) minor inconveniences for us, given the one-night stay, but the experience our guide had was not minor. The accommodations for the drivers/guides do NOT provide heaters or hot water bottles. Our guide had not been there before, and did not know how cold it would be and did not come prepared with a sleeping bag, as he did not need one elsewhere. Well, he FROZE! in fact, was so cold, he barely slept. I did not know of this until after we left that morning, so did not report this to camp management. I did however send an email upon my return home, expressing my dissatisfaction with the accommodations for the all-important guides, but did not hear back from them.

I am returning to the crater in January, and this time will stay at the Sopa. I prefer tents all the way, but when it comes to the crater, as others said, stay in a lodge if you want to be warm.
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Oct 17th, 2012, 10:08 AM
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kfrisch - What a very different experience you had at Ngorongoro Lemala, and only two months prior to our visit to Lemala, which was so positive and a highlight of our six-week tour of Tanzania.

I find it a tad suspicious that your very negative review of Lemala is your only contribution to this forum, and that you joined the forum specifically to contribute to this thread. CR
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Oct 17th, 2012, 11:07 AM
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"The accommodations for the drivers/guides do NOT provide heaters or hot water bottles. Our guide had not been there before, and did not know how cold it would be and did not come prepared with a sleeping bag, as he did not need one elsewhere. Well, he FROZE! in fact, was so cold, he barely slept."

Something to consider, the guide accommodations. I know there are some spots that guides don't care to go, even though it is lovely for the guests.

Anyway, it is worth asking about.

I would not expect hot showers at 5 am on safari, myself.
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Oct 17th, 2012, 02:28 PM
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Baby wipes!
I never leave home without them. Even at lodges/camps that supposedly should have hot water when needed, you just never know.

And, for your guide to be so inconvenienced, I have to wonder who the tour operator/outfitter was that didn't advise him of this fact. Some lodges and/or camps* provide excellent accommodations for the guides, others not so.... like no soap, duh! But the guys know ahead of time where and what to expect
*some properties even put up the guides off premises altogether.
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Oct 18th, 2012, 05:39 PM
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It always amazes me that someone negatively comments on a new poster's first comment. If the new poster's comment is "negative" you are suspected of being a competitor or a troll, and if it's a "positive" comment, well, then you must be company-"hired" and here only to post just good comments. Either way, the new poster is hardly ever just welcomed to a forum. I have been coming to and reading this forum for almost a year. I did just join because I finally had something to say. You can read my unbiased review of all my lodging choices on the Trip Advisor Tanzania forum.

Yes, apparently I did have a different experience there than some folks. However, not all reviews of Lemala Ngorongoro are positive. I actually liked the camp and would have considered going back again, if not for the deplorable conditions the guides have to endure. I did not expect to get a hot shower at 5 AM, I was commenting that if you try to take one when it is cold outside, you should expect to be cold because the heater doesn't reach the shower/toilet area.
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Oct 18th, 2012, 05:43 PM
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Thanks for the followup. It puts your comments in context.

I'm shivering just reading about the cold shower, being a cold water wimp.
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Oct 20th, 2012, 07:25 AM
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Thanks for all the extra input, information, and perspectives.

I am pretty sure our guide is very experienced and well-prepared for Lemala Ngo, but I will check to be sure. And I will be extra certain now to pack some extra layers for my own comfort...although it will be "summer" and after spending 3 nights along the Inca Trail in an UN-heated tent with no shower facilities at all(sleeping elevation up to 11,000ft and nighttime temps about freezing - there was ice on the inside edges of my tent), I should be fine as long as I pack properly (thanks for the alert).

ShayTay - I love this idea. Thanks for the suggestion to visit the Children's Village and link to it. I'm not sure that we have time that day, but I am going to ask! And, if a visit will not work out, I still plan to donate. I've read all through the website and it looks impressive.
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