Kenya/Tanzania June 2005

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Mar 23rd, 2004, 08:37 AM
  #1
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Kenya/Tanzania June 2005

I, like many others, am planning a North African safari and have learned so very much from these posts. Every day for the past month I have read your posts and have learned valuable information from your experiences. Thanks to everyone!

I would love any comments/suggestions for any aspect of our plans below. I have dozens of brochures and have talked to a few US operators, but still do not feel that I have a firm grip on what is out there and what how we can get a good deal. I, like everyone else, would like to find a safe, reliable deal.

Travel dates - June, 2005

Travel party - Two couples (4 adults in our 40's) with 3 children (two age 11, one age 14 when they will travel). This is the first time travel to Africa for all of us. 3 in Iowa and 4 in Arizona.

Lodging - No "camping"! We would like luxury permanent tents or lodges. After looking at many websites and reading your posts, it seems as though the permanent tents are the way to go. But the Serena type lodges look very good as well. Why pay twice as much for the tents - some of which appear quite rustic?

Itinerary - At this point we are looking at 12-14 days. We want to see the "big five" for sure. We would like to experience some of the native culture, especially for our children. We would like an itinerary that provides a good chance of seeing part of the migration. I know that there are no guarantees, and that the migration is linked with the weather at the time. But we would like to plan an itinerary that would give us the best chance see this awesome event. How do you all feel about Kirawira in western Serengeti for June?

Here are a couple of possible itineraries - one less expensive than the other. I plan to ask a few respected operators to bid on these. If we can't afford the best priced deluxe itinerary we will settle for the basic. Please comment on what I've missed - too much time, too little, duplication, not good for kids, etc?

ITINERARY "A"

This itinerary is a deluxe "flying safari".

Accommodations: 1 night upon arrival (Nairobi - Norfolk Hotel/Arusha Coffee Lodge, etc.). 2 nights Amboseli ? Tortillis. 2 nights Tarangire Tree Tops, 2 nights Manyara Tree Camp. 2 nights Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. 4 nights Kirawira in western Serengeti.


Type of Safari: This would be a "flying safari" with 4x4 vehicles for game drives.


ITINERARY "B"


This itinerary is a basic "driving safari".

Accommodations: 1 night Nairobi - Norfolk Hotel or similar. 2 nights Amboseli - Serena. 2 nights Tarangire Tree Tops or Kikoti. 2 nights Ngorongoro Serena. 2 Nights Serengeti Serena 3-4 nights Kirawira in western Serengeti.

I plan to send to these operators for bids:

Born Free
2Africa
Taga Safaris
African Travel
Jenman Safaris
Roy's Safari
Predator's Safari

Any operator suggestions?


Thanks in advance for any comments you have!
Andrew


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JazzDrew is offline  
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Mar 23rd, 2004, 09:13 AM
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Perhaps also have them quote the "basic" accommodations with the flying. I would have been miserable and a misery to ride with on the bumpy roads. I can only imagine that kids wouldn't take it much better. Your time in each park seems appropriate, though as you mentioned the migration might determine whether Kirawira is the best locale in June. The kids probably would like a visit to a Maasai village. That can be done in Ngorongoro Crater (though it seemed to be a bit more commercial than the eastern Serengeti village).

One aside - a lot of accommodations will only allow children if it's a private safari, but from your post that's what it appears you're planning. I would think you should point out the children's ages to the operator though to ensure no issues once you arrive.
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Mar 23rd, 2004, 10:16 AM
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Others are better placed to comment on specific East Africa game reserves and accommodation choices.

I just wanted to reply to one thing you said:

Why pay twice as much for the tents - some of which appear quite rustic?

There is something very magical about sleeping within canvas when on safari. The luxury tented safari camps offer comfortable rooms with proper beds, ensuite bathrooms and electricity but offer that canvas experience.

Why is it so magical?

Go to sleep to the sounds of hippos munching, lions grunting and monkeys chattering. Awake to the sounds of birds chattering, baboons hooting and elephant stripping bark of the trees nearby.

You won't need to ask the question again.

If comfort/ facilities etc are more important by all means go for the regular brick built options.

But do try and include at least a few tented options too!
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Mar 23rd, 2004, 06:09 PM
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JazzDrew: A couple of thoughts, if I may. First off, I cannot agree with Kavey more about spending some time under canvas while in Kenya and/or Tanzania. By the way, Tortilis and some of the others on your options list are permanent tented camps. There is nothing like it and many are extremely comfortable, not rustic at all. My favorite thing about sleeping under canvas is when I hear something scurrying atop the tent! Like the night a bush baby proceeded to make its presence known - on top of our tent! Or when you hear off in the distance a male zebra calling to its harem. Or when you lay in bed and you can literally hear clumps of grass being pulled from the ground by a hungry hippo. These are some things that you would miss staying in a lodge/hotel. Also, I would suggest a fly/drive combo. Saves time and yet gives you a chance to see the landscape, villages and people. Food for thought.
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Mar 23rd, 2004, 06:09 PM
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sandi
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JazzDrew - both itineraries are good, but the fly-in is going to cost
"big, big bucks" and the stay at Crater Lodge which "over-the-top" and the kind of place one wants to see, you can save lots of money by staying right down the road at the Serena.

Even with the flying, a lot of the airports aren't right there at the site, i.e., the airport for Ngorogoro is at Lake Manyara, so that would be a drive.

While staying 2-nts at Tarangire is good - it's the beginning of the Migration that arrives between June-October, but I wouldn't spend more than 1 nt. at Lake Manyara, if at all.

As to the Serengeti, the western areas have herds all year-round as they seem to have a permanent water source, but the other herds should be starting there move up to the Mara (bet. May-June) so the Serengeti is a good stop.

But I can't imagine going that far and not spending a few days in the Mara in Kenya, even if the herds haven't arrived in full (it can be anytime from July thru Oct, and then they return) - there is just so much to see in the Mara whether the Migration is there or not.

Also you don't have to do all luxury tents, a combinations can be nice and a break if any of the children "go balistic" from the night sounds often very close.

You must definitely find out whether the 11-yrs olds will be permitted on safari? While many places accept children from little ones up (with babysitting available), some younger than 12 aren't permitted on safari. Also are the children all the same sex? Most camps and/or lodges have either twin beds or double beds, Kirawira (which is a Serena property) does have king- size beds in 5 of their tents. At minimum it seems you'll be needing 3-rooms/tents, wherever you stay. Do find out whether the children get any special rate reductions? It's usually so, if they stay with 2-adults, otherwise it is likely to be full rate.

As to the tree camps at either Tarangire or Lk.Manyara, be sure none of the children sleepwalk, as it's a fair drop to the ground. At Tarangire there is a nice hotel inside the park, The Sopa, with large rooms, small sitting area at entry foyer, en-suite bathroom, and a pool - it's an option.

For any driving portions, be sure the kids have enough "entertainment" to keep them busy/occupied - and don't forget batteries, lots of them.

I'd think an itinerary as below might be interesting with a combination fly/drive and lodge/camps:

1 - Arv. NBO - Norfolk
2 - Drive or Fly to Amboseli - Tortillis, which is lovely, tents are either double or twin beds.
3 - Amboseli - Tortillis
4 - Drive via Arusha (lunch here) onto Tarangire - Sopa Lodge
5 - Tarangire - Sopa Lodge
6 - Drive to Ngorongoro - Serena Lodge, double or twin bed rooms
7 - Day in Crater - Serena
8 - Fly to Kirawira (from Lk Manyara airport) to Grumeti Airstrip which is about 10-miles from camp (the Seronera airstrip is too far away, almost 75-miles), king and twin bed tents here.
9 - Kirawira
10 - Kirawira
11 - Fly to Arusha/Kili for flight to NBO (Wilson Airport, arv about 2pm), catch flight out to the Mara - Not sure where to stay here, there are so many - Maybe Kichwa Tembo, large tents, and a large camp but there might be other children around - might!
12 - Masai Mara
13 - Masai Mara
14 - Drive or Fly to NBO, get day-room at hotel till your late departure. If you didn't have time for touring on day of arrival, you can arrange to go out to Giraffe Center (feed the giraffes), Karen Blixen (Isak Dinisen) Home; and definitely have dinner at The Carnivore Restaurant - then head out to airport
15 - Arv - Home.

As to the tour operators:

Born Free - can't comment
2Africa - they're a budget company, with set dates/itinearies, anything different, likely going to cost, and this kind of itinerary is not their specialty
Taga Safaris - can't comment
African Travel - they can arrange it, but it'll cost you
Jenman Safaris - never heard of them
Predator's Safari - is 2Afrika's in-country outfitter, why bother with 2Africa, when you can go direct
Roy's Safari - since Tanzania is their base, they will probably give you the best rate with the tightest price, and can also arrange your Kenya portion.

Hope this doesn't add to your questions, but think this is a better all around itinerary. Do let us know your final decision.





 
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Mar 24th, 2004, 08:06 AM
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Thanks to everyone for your replies. This is just what we need! It sounds as though it might be worth the extra price to combine flying and driving (at least the long drives). I will modify our requests.

All 3 children are boys (what a time they should have). They are all used to long holidays. Armed with good books, MP3 players and Gameboys I suspect that they will "tolerate" a few drives in Africa! They best not complain!!

I will include the children's ages with our quote requests, although from what I've found the camps/lodges we are looking at allow children over 8. We plan to use 3 roms (1 triple and 2 doubles). Night/walking safaris may not be an option for the kids under 12 though. We will have to deal with this as it comes up.

We certainly would like to visit a Maasai village. Is this normally arranged in advance by operators or in country with drivers?

Kavey - I am with you on tented accomidations. But my wife has reservations. She has never camped in her life. The closest she has come to camping is a Motel 6 once! She is quite concerned about safety. I can only imagine her reaction the first time she hears a loin roar and a creature, no matter how small, on our tent! I know that she will be fine with this once we get there, but I know that she would much perfer the hotel type accomidations. I think that the suggestion to blend both lodges with tents is a good one.

Sandi - Great suggestions as well! Thanks. From what I have read it seems to me that the Maasai Mara in Kenya is much the same eco system as the Serengeti. I thought that, if that is the case, I would attempt to see the migration in the Serengeti which has a better chance of being in the south in June. How does the Mara differ from the Serengeti?

It look from the brouchures that children under 12 pay between 65-75% of adult prices.

I thought we would try one "splurge" and the Crater Lodge looked awesome! I would still be very happy with the Serena I am sure.

Question - How would you compare the Serena lodges with Sopa in general? I am getting a feeling that the Serena properties are a class above Sopa? Am I off base on this? Hard to tell from web sites.

Again I appreciate you comments. We certainly would not be doing an African trip without the knowlege on this board. It is comforting to know that you all have been through this before and that you are willing to share your experiences with newbie like us! Thanks!!
Andrew

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Mar 24th, 2004, 08:58 AM
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I strongly encourage you to also send a price request to Tanzania Serengeti Adventures. They were lowest on about three different Tanzanian itineraries I priced out, and I definitely intend to give them first look when I finally do get to Tanzania.
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Mar 24th, 2004, 09:29 AM
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Roccco - Thanks. Actually I have already emailed Tanzania Serengeti Adventures for info and plan to include them with a follow up quote request.

I have learned much from your previous posts including advice to contact local based operators. I was wondering if you had any contact with anyone who has recently used Tanzania Serengeti Adventures? I always like to hear first hand accounts from those people that have travled with an operator. I know that you were planning to use them before you decided to go to Zambia. Did you get a chance to do a "background check" on Tanzania Serengeti Adventures? If so what did you find? I have heard many positive comments on operators like Roy's Safari and Predators, etc. but have not read any posts from anyone who used Tanzania Serengeti Adventures.

It sounds like you and I are alike in that we enjoy finding the best available for the lowest price. I like knowing that I paid the least for the best! Thanks.
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Mar 24th, 2004, 11:21 AM
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A few notes about Lake Manyara Tree Lodge -- the accommodations aren't actually in the trees like the Treetops lodge. It's more like a screened porch on low stilts (anywhere from two feet to eight feet off the ground depending on the hut). It's really an amazing place and absolutely the best game drive of our trip mostly due to the lodge location which allowed us to spend the entire drive at leisure without rushing to get out of the park before dusk. The lack of vehicles versus other parks was also a plus. And the lantern lit boma for dinner at night is the most magical place I've ever been - the kids would love it.

If your wife is already nervous about the trip and wild animals you would be best to start now prepping her for what to expect (and for the rarity of tourists being attacked). While we were there, a family of three was cutting their trip extremely short because the wife was terrified of the noise. This was only exacerbated by two of their camps - Manyara Tree Lodge and Grumeti River Camp which is a tented camp. She was also terrified at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, which I can't even conceive since the room walls are so thick. I still can't identify a lion roar at night, but to some it might be worse NOT knowing what the noises are than knowing. Bottom line, you will encounter animals, and some may be closer than your wife is comfortable with.


From what I've heard about Sopa versus Serena lodges from people who were staying there, the Sopa lodges were relatively under par. We had a day room in a Serena lodge and it was quite nice. The shower was a mess, but the room overall, the grounds and food were excellent.

Heather
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Mar 24th, 2004, 12:06 PM
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JazzDrew: before going to Africa, the closest I had ever come to "camping" was in a huge motorhome with fridg, TV, AC, bathtub and shower, etc. I could relate to reservations that your wife may have. However, having been there, I can say that at all the permanent tented camps we stayed at, safety was of utmost importance to camp staff. Tortilis is surrounded by an electric fence, so it is highly unlikely an animal will be anywhere near where you all are sleeping. I agree with Sandi about the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. We spent one night there and one night at the Serena. Personally, I preferred the Serena. We saw lots of families at the Serena, none at the Crater Lodge. The Sopa chain is a step down from the Serena chain. If you are traveling in June, you definitely want to stay in the western corridor of the Serengeti. The Serengeti and the Mara are the same ecosystem, with the Serengeti obviously being much larger. Landscape wise they are very similar, but both are well worth the visit. With all due respect to Heather, I think she did a bit of an injustice to even bring up tourists being attacked. Those instances are extremely rare and the ones I know about were the result of human stupidity, like getting out of a vehicle when repeatedly warned not to, or walking around camp at night when you are specifically told not to without an escort. I would suggest if you want interaction with the Maasai, you go to the village at Amboseli. Apparently it is less "touristy" than elsewhere. The tour operator I use won't even bring clients to the Maasai village anymore in the Ngorongoro area because there is no interaction, just a big sell to buy their wood carvings, beaded jewelry, etc. There is a lot to digest when planning a safari, but that is half the fun of going. Once there, I wondered what the heck I was so worried about "camping" in Africa. Also, as for night game drives or walking safaris, the vast majority are not conducted inside the parks themselves. Again, all food for thought.
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Mar 24th, 2004, 03:31 PM
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The Sopa lodges were the first large company to open in Tanzania - in fact, Tanzania was rather late getting into the safari business. And the Serena properties are rather recent and much nicer. The suggestion for the Sopa was an option - we found large rooms, a real nice property, clean, good food, great staff and served us well for the 1-nt, but Tarangire as a park is great. And since you'll be dealing with boys, doubt any of the tree-top type camps will be an issue for them.

As to your wife's uncertainty about staying in tented camps, let me say, that if this Princess could do it, anyone can. Even my partner had to admit at the conclusion of our trip, at our last tented camp without electricity "hey, you did good, not a peep of complaint about anything, you're a pleasure to travel with" Flattered, of course, but then I was the person who organized the whole thing, so knew what I was doing. The only "princess" thing I did the entire trip was at our stop at the Mt Kenya Safari Club - I had a manicure, and the most expensive one ever, about USD$30, when I can get both a manicure and pedicure in NYC for $20. Oh well!

As SusanLynne mentioned, Tortillis and many other tented camps have electrified fences as well as security guards traversing the property regularly at all hours. Not likely for other than vervet monkeys to get thru (they come from the trees) - and love to help themselves to your morning cookies! Ooops, don't let your wife read that. It really means, not to keep any food around your tents, because those little critters will find whatever.

Our first night at Tortillis we went to sleep to the sounds of a mating bull frog - didn't know whether to laugh or cry, but one Ativan, and I was off to dreamland. People are often so exhausted after a day out on drives, the sun, good food and wine, that the pillow looks real good by 10pm, and you're unlikely to hear much.

And remember, even if you hear lions roar, they are probably miles and miles away - at night especially, the sounds travel great distances. More often than not, the animals don't want to have any more to do with us, then we should with them. Remember "take photos, leave only footprints" and as you've gathered from many on this board, "one's heart"

You are correct - the Mara is the top-end of the Serengeti with similiar eco-systems, however, the Serengeti is just so vast, I personally prefer that Mara. Even with the Mara's open savannahs, I find it more intimate and welcoming.

Whichever tour operator you select, especially if, in-country, where you can't easily check the BBB, have them provide names of past clients that have given permission to be contacted. A reputable operator will be more than agreeable in doing so.

It certainly will be bumpy in places and dusty, but hey, it's Africa and what an experience awaits you all.

 
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Mar 25th, 2004, 03:51 AM
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I would be interested in hearing more about the Sopa versus the Serena lodges. Having what we thought were great food, pleasant/accommodating staff and clean/spacious rooms at the Serengeti and N Crater Sopa lodges in 2002 the Serena lodges must be really, really great to hear others "mark" them higher.
Does anyone recall hearing the vocalization of the hyrax (the small groundhog size mammal)? Talk about sending chills up one's spine. We had one in the tree outside our room at the N Crater Sopa Lodge and had I not known better I would have thought it the biggest, meanest critter in the jungle. Looking forward to hearing that little guy this coming June!
Dick
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Mar 25th, 2004, 04:33 AM
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sandi
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rsynder - basically they're newer, and you know how many always prefer newer. I've only stayed at the Sopa at Tarangire, so can't compare to the one at the Crater or in the Serengeti. I would assume that once the Serena's appeared, that the Sopa's likely refurbished their properties. One thing I did like was that they had a women manager of this lodge and young women working on staff, unlike everywhere else where only young men worked; hopefully since then more young women have been offered employments opportunities at the various lodges/camps.

You can check the Serena site, where they have detailed listings of all their properties in both Tanzania and Kenya - a few new properties have been built in the last two years.

At the Crater specifically, there are just a few places they can build properties, so the animal sightings and experiences are relatively similar. And that little Hyrax is strange, a cousin of the Elephant, yes. And yes, they do project a very strange sound to go along with the look of them - a pudgie rodent.

During your upcoming trip try to get to the Seronera Center of the Serengeti where they have an open air museum which is interesting, with lots of Hyrax hiding about the rocks and crevices.
 
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Mar 25th, 2004, 08:05 AM
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Sandi, thanks for the feedback. Was the open air museum the one with the walkway around a kopje illustrating/depicting the gnu migration? I don't have my notes with me but seem to recall seeing numerous hyrax there.

Dick
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Mar 26th, 2004, 08:05 AM
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Has anyone heard of or used a company called GOOD EARTH TOURS? Their we site is www.goodearthtours.com

Based on their website it appears they have an office in Texas and Africa. The staff are African.

They provided me with an excellent price and now I need to do some research on them. They are a member of the BBB and are in good standing.

They have a number of reccomendations from past clients on their web site. I have asked the president to provide me with either email or phone numbers of clients.

What else can I do to confirm that they are reliable? They are a young company (started in 2001) and thay makes me nrevous. I would love to hear from a few Fodorites who may have had an experience with them! Thanks, Andrew
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Mar 26th, 2004, 11:03 AM
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rsnyder - yes, that's the place! With the walkways and interesting info on the migration and various animals and birdlife. It was a nice break to stretch the legs.

JazzDrew - every company has to start somewhere. There are some companies that have been in business for years and might have some complaints, but it's whether they've been resolved that is important. A new company can just as easily supply what you need as a well established one. The company I dealt with for my first trip in '96 was only about 4-yrs in business and that was 8-yrs ago and still in business and reputable. On the other side, two sets of friends booked with A&K "they wanted to go with the best," got the same as we did, had problems and are still trying to resolve issues, for years now.

Consider today's environment, no one seems to be walking into the local travel agent down the street. Most everything is being done online, rarely even by phone. So if Good Earth can give you what you want, is attentive to your needs, returns emails/quotes/others promptly, can provide references - that's about as good as it gets.

At least working with a US based company (though others can disagree) you won't have to chase all over the world should anything go wrong, which I'm sure it won't. I have no problem working with an in-country Africa operator, but rules, regs, laws are different, at least at home, you know you have resources. Go for it.
 
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Mar 26th, 2004, 12:47 PM
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Andrew: If I may pick up where Sandi left off. I agree with her that because a business is new you should not discard that company. One thing I looked for when searching for an African-based tour operator was whether they were a member of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA)- of which many African-based companies are members. This would give you an avenue of recourse should something happen. Also, to be a member, there are strict insurance rules that must be met and other criteria which made me feel more comfortable in selecting my tour operator. Also, you can check with either the Kenya Association of Tour Operators or the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (both have websites) to see if someone is a member in good standing. Doing the research is all part of the planning process, as no doubt you want this trip to be as good as it can be. Good luck.
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