Kenya / Tanzania trip report

Dec 5th, 2003, 10:32 AM
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Kenya / Tanzania trip report

The most amazing vacation I?ve ever had. I had tears in my eyes as we were leaving ? my husband and I have both truly been bitten and cannot wait to return. In fact we?ve decided to cut our Eastern Europe trip short next summer to allow two weeks in S.A. Thanks for all of the wonderful advice here which made our trip so much more enjoyable. If you have any questions please feel free to ask.

We utilized CCAfrica and I cannot say enough wonderful things about them. Because we went to both Kenya and Tanzania and visited four lodges and two cities, I was concerned that there might be an instance of us not being able to find our connection or might need to call their office for instruction, but that was never the case. We even joked when we got off the plane in the U.S. that we wouldn?t be surprised to find a CCAfrica representative at baggage claim with our taxi hailed and waiting to escort us home!

We spent nine days in the bush, one night in Nairobi, and ended with a day room in Arusha before departing around midnight. Our night in Nairobi was spent at the Mayfair Court Holiday Inn. Very nice hotel, good breakfast.

Thanks to the board, I tried to refrain from snapping photos of every animal we saw as soon as we got off the plane! But there were just so many! The camp was lovely, although I wouldn?t recommend a tented camp for a honeymooning couple. We?ve been married just over a year and sometimes the bathroom situation was a bit too much togetherness! The camp is enclosed by an electric fence, although several animals (baboons and warthogs primarily) have free run of the camp. We spotted elephants, zebra, giraffe and wildebeest just on the other side of the fence right outside of our tent door. The migration has returned to the Mara due to Tanzania desperately needing rain, and seeing the huge herds was spectacular. At one point we caught wildebeest running towards the river, but after debating amongst themselves for half an hour they decided not to cross. On our first game drive we were fortunate to see a zebra learning to stand only minutes after it was born. We took the Governor?s Camp hot air balloon ride and I would highly recommend this company ? lasted for 1+ hour, we crossed the Mara River several times and saw loads of animals.

Beautiful place, and quite a difference coming from a tented camp. We took a quick walk around the place and almost witnessed our first kill ? a domestic cat was about to pounce on a field mouse. Unfortunately my camera clicking distracted the cat and the mouse escaped. The food was pretty good, but in such a rich setting I expected it to be much better. While the food was still delicious, both of us agreed that it was our least favorite of the four camps. We were the only two on our game drive, so we headed into the Crater early the next morning. The big game news of that trip was rhino spotting - four rhino at a distance, then later a female with her young probably 50 yards away. We stopped for lunch by a lake with two huge tuskers wading in the distance. While we were eating, a kite flew down to steal my husband?s food, leaving him with a scratch on his finger and a great story. After the isolation of the Mara I wasn?t fond of all the vehicles in the crater. We left early and spent the afternoon enjoying our room which wasn't difficult to do. After all, we were on vacation.

We were the only people again in the vehicle and had the best game drive of our trip from the airstrip to the lodge. Saw hundreds of baboon, velvet monkey and blue monkey, and an elephant family right by the road complete with the papa mock-charging us. Encountered hippo, giraffe, kilpspringer, dik dik, breeding and bachelor herds of buffalo, loads of birds, and the trip was capped by three tree-climbing lion cubs with two lionesses not 20 yards away. We watched them for about half an hour until they had meandered into the distance. Our guide was so amazed with our drive ? he?d never seen these cubs before and was delighted. The lodge itself is fantastic. There are ten individual rooms which are basically screened porches on stilts. Lots of bugs (and large!), but certainly manageable. The shower is outdoors and I had a close encounter with a squirrel who was as terrified as me. The lodge itself is amazing ? dinner was outside in a boma illuminated by 56 kerosene lamps. I felt like I was in a picture, it was just too perfect. The meals here were fantastic. The next day our new group of 6 spent the drives bird watching, with no big animal encounters save for a hippo returning to the pool at the crack of dawn. It made me really apprciate our spectacular drive the first day.

Probably my least favorite camp, although the meals were exceptional. The night drives were disappointing (saw puff adder, owl, bush baby and serval cat). Our only drive in the Serengeti, we only made it a few kilometers into the park although an exciting encounter. One of the visitors in our vehicle was from S.A. and quickly spotted a cheetah stalking a pack of impala. We waited almost two hours before the cheetah became serious about approaching the pack slowly. The impala began to congregate then dispersed without her attempting to make a catch. As we drove away, the S.A. women noticed two lioness nearby which could be why the cheetah spoiled the hunt ? she didn?t want her breakfast to be lost! The three cats came close to one another watching the impala run away, then went their separate ways. I was very impressed with the spotting by our new friends, though disappointed in our tracker & guide! With it being our last night in the bush, we wanted to spend our time on a game drive that evening. Our guide had different plans however and insisted we pay to visit a Maasai Village or else miss the night drive (the rest of the group was comfortable with the plan so we went along with it). We had a wonderful time, though the fact that we had no choice in the matter didn?t sit well with me. Our final morning we awoke to a herd of 30 elephant walking across the plains just below us. No game drive, we headed to the airstrip mid-morning and after several puddle jumps were met in Arusha by a driver who took us to a day room at Mountain Village (a Serena lodge) which was amazingly beautiful. I spotted two mongoose frolicking on the property just before we headed to the airport. I'm fairly certain they were saying goodbye.
hlphillips2 is offline  
Dec 5th, 2003, 11:35 AM
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Thanks for sharing that trip report. It sounds like you had a great time, but I'm surprised that such a high-end operator, like CCAfrica, would allow you to visit Masai Mara and Serengeti on the same trip at the same time of the year. They are two parts of the same large ecosystem, and when the migration is in one part, the other area is not that exciting, as evidenced by your scant activity in Serengeti. Now that you have seen the migration and are now planning a trip to S.A., just bear in mind that the gameviewing in South Africa, even the high end lodges in Sabi Sands, pales in comparison to the Mara and Serengeti. If you again want to see large groups of animals, plus everything else, consider Chobe, where I have been, or Hwange, where I haven't but intend next to visit.
thit_cho is offline  
Dec 5th, 2003, 12:18 PM
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We are planning a very similar trip to yours next year (Sept 2004). I am a little worried about some many stops in such a short period of time. Are you glad you did four camps or would you in hindsight had done fewer camps with more nights each?

I have also heard that NCL is very commerical, could you elaborate more.

Finally, at Kichwa Tembo, did you get a chance to see Bateleur Camp? If so, how was it.


PS: We were in South Africa this year at CC Africa's Ngala and Londolozi camps (3 night each) Our experience was similar to yours - a once in a lifetime vacation. Thats why we are also going back.
Phil555 is offline  
Dec 5th, 2003, 12:48 PM
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So if you're going back then it wasn't really a "once in a lifetime vacation." LOL
thit_cho is offline  
Dec 5th, 2003, 02:03 PM
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thit_cho -- As for visiting the Mara and Serengeti on the same trip, they encouraged it. Quite possibly because there's no telling what the animals will do. Two weeks before we left the migration was around Klein's Camp, then the week before our arrival they'd gone back north -- very unusual. But thanks to CCA's recommendation to see both places, we were able to see the migration. I'll admit that we were very spoiled by our first visit, and thanks to the S.A. group with us on our last days we will hopefully be able to temper our expectations when we head down there next year. After that we've heard that Botswana has exceptional game viewing, as well as Chobe. Haven't heard of Hwange but it will go on the list!

Phil, as for NCL it is very over the top, very rich, very ritzy. We happened to meet a couple from NYC on the trip who commented that the rooms are larger than their New York loft. But as over the top as it was, the people we met there were so genuine and accommodating, and the guests we met were very down to earth. I probably won't return but am so glad I went. Everything at the lodge smells great. The rooms are extremely luxurious: leather chairs, sherry on the sidebar, cozy fireplace lit each evening during dinner, a bathroom the size of our tented lodge, his & hers sinks, bubble baths... an extremely romantic setting. Cocktails are served before dinner so that all of the guests can socialize, then guests are invited to meet in the bar for after-dinner drinks. Reminded me of Hearst Castle in California...

We didn't see Bateleur Camp, although the NYC couple stayed there and loved it. The staff went out of their way to make their stay exceptional and from what we heard the accommodations were huge.

As for so many camps in so short a time, in retrospect or would have stayed in one country or the other. Our two days at Manyara and the Crater was perfect, but we could have spent more time in the Serengeti. Or alternatively would have tried to arrange road transport from Ngorongoro Crater to one of the Serengeti camps to ensure a trip to Olduvai Gorge and a game drive through the Serengeti. We tried to add Grumeti this way at the last minute (which I've heard is lovely -- we'll be going there eventually) but it was too pricey on short notice (one day!). Because the flights operate every two days between CCA lodges, I'd suggest doing Klein's for two days then Grumeti for two days.

Thanks for the recommendations in S.A. -- we'll look into them.
hlphillips2 is offline  
Dec 5th, 2003, 02:26 PM
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Thanks for the reply. I have some new questions:

1) How would you rank the four camps by animal viewing?
2) How would you rank them by accomdations?
3) Were you given any tipping recommendations? Guide? Tracker? Hotel Staff?

Phil555 is offline  
Dec 5th, 2003, 02:28 PM
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Wonderful trip report, many thanks! Sounds like a great holiday!
Kavey is offline  
Dec 5th, 2003, 05:58 PM
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Thanks for the nice report.

In the Ngorongoro Crater, I have read that the vehicles all go on the same route, entering from one single entry of the crater and exiting from one single exit point.

How much liberty does the driver/guide have to explore inside the crater. I know that it is only about 11 miles x 11 miles, but do all the vehicles have to stick to the same route or are you free to explore or at least take your time once inside the crater?

Is the crater just FULL of animals? Is it really a MUST SEE or if given the choice only between Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater, would you have skipped the crater, based on your limited time spent at each location?

While it seems crazy not to go to the Ngorongoro Crater, right now I am planning a trip that does not inclue Lake Manyara but I am really hearing a lot of good reports about Lake Manyara, and when I am in Africa, I love the exclusivity of certain places and do not care for a lot of traffic.

In the game lodges that I have been, there has never been more than two other vehicles within sight at any given time and I kind of like it that way. On a typical day, at least at Singita (Sabi Sand), Matetsi (Zimbabwe), Djuma Vuyatela (Sabi Sand) and Kafunta (South Luangwa, Zambia), I think the average amount of other vehicles that I saw on any given day was a maximum of about five, combining both the morning and evening game drives.

Will I see 100 vehicles inside the Ngorongoro Crater? Do you get great pictures inside the crater or are there TOO many tame animals that it is not even intersting after the first five minutes?

So far my itinerary for my planned June trip is:

Ngorongoro Crater Lodge (2)
Kirawira Lodge, W. Serengeti (4) (very closely located to Grumeti Lodge)
Emerson & Green, Zanzibar (2)
Sand Rivers, Selous Game Reserve (4)
If necessary, a night in Dar Es Salaam or Arusha before flying home.

Glad to see that you are already planning a return trip to Africa. South Africa is a magical place and I am sure that you will enjoy it immensely.
Roccco is offline  
Dec 8th, 2003, 08:03 AM
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Roccco, you will see MANY vehicles in the Crater; in fact, there are few times, if any, that you will not see another vehicle, even if its in the distance. However, this will not prevent you from getting great photos. The crater is very large, and while you drive on-road, there is plenty of room to drive, but in the distance, there will almost always be other cars.

That being said, a visit to the Crater is essential, although it can be visited in one full day, so maybe you can just spend one night and do an afternoon game drive on first day and morning drive on second.

The scenery is also spectacular, and in my opinion, you'd be doing yourself and STD a substantial disservice by skipping it, even if it is very popular.
thit_cho is offline  
Dec 8th, 2003, 08:30 AM
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>1) How would you rank the four camps by animal viewing?
Because of the migration and rains, the Mara was the best, followed by Lake Manyara (but we were very lucky), then the Crater, then the Serengeti. But at Manyara we had one GREAT drive, followed by two drives which yielded nothing so it really can be a crap shoot except in the case of the migration.

>2) How would you rank them by accomdations?
We both LOVED Lake Manyara's lodging, despite the bugs. The other three we liked for different reasons - the Crater Lodge was elegent, Kichwa Tembo made us feel the most that we were on safari, and the view from Klein's was perfect. Though I'd probably rank Klein's as fourth.

>3) Were you given any tipping recommendations? Guide? Tracker? Hotel Staff?
We used guidelines from this board. At Lake Manyara we had to use traveler's checks and gave the tips to our camp manager to distribute. He mentioned how generous we were being, but I'd rather overtip for great service than undertip. We only had a tracker at Klein's, and had a personal butler at each camp so typically we tipped the guide, butler and general staff (rather than $1 here, another there...).

You are correct that there is a descent road and an ascent road -- one way up or down. But after entering the park the cars may go any way they choose, just not off road. I personally wasn't fond of the Crater because there were so many cars. I would have been fine skipping the Crater and seeing the Olduvai Gorge, but my husband can't imagine at least having the experience (it really made us appreciate the camps when we were isolated). And you certainly do see just about everything in the Crater (even if you cannot necessarily get very close). I counted 17 vehicles waiting for the rhino and her baby to come near the road. Versus the Mara where we counted a maximum of five at one time (lions mating) and Manyara with two vehicles, and we never encountered another vehicle in the Serengeti. One of the things we liked most about Lake Manyara is the difference in vegetation, and the thick trees meant that anything could be around the next corner. Versus open plains and dry grass everywhere else.

We're still awaiting our photos, but we were lucky to get close to a few big tuskers in the Crater (our guide even pulled out his camera) and a lion. But we got just as close in the Mara driving off road and in Manyara because the park's area is so narrow.

I could concede with the recommendation that you spend a morning in the Crater then drive to Olduvai Gorge and Shifting Sands in the afternoon. I certainly wouldn't spend a full day in the Crater, but a half day won't ruin your trip!
hlphillips2 is offline  
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