Trip Report Safari 2011 - Tanzania -


Mar 31st, 2011, 10:44 PM
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Trip Report Safari 2011 - Tanzania -

Trip Report Safari 2011 Tanzania
Lake Manyara, Ndutu, Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater

This was my seventh safari, been going every year since 2005. Mostly to South Africa but also a few camps in Zambia, Kenya, and Botswana.

Here’s bottom line, if you like really short trip reports - This my first safari in Tanzania and very glad I went. I would go back to Ngorongoro Crater, but likely not to the other places.

My entry into Tanzania was Kilimanjaro (JRO), then straight to Arusha. From leaving home (California USA) to Arusha African Tulip hotel, took 32 hours. I flew on Delta and KLM, cost (LAX-JRO) was $1,800. Four members of our group from USA (Colorado) choose to break this up by staying overnight in Amsterdam then AMS to JRO flight next day.

My basic itinerary was –
Feb 14th Arrive JRO airport, over night Arusha, African Tulip hotel.
15th another night at African Tulip
16th Safari - Drive to Lake Manyara, Lake Manyara Serena Lodge
17th Lake Manyara Serena
18th To Ndutu Safari Lodge
19th Ndutu Safari Lodge
20th Ndutu Safari Lodge
21st Ndutu Safari Lodge
22nd Ndutu Safari Lodge
23rd To Serengeti, Serengeti Serena Safari Lodge
24th Serengeti Serena Lodge
25th To Ngorongoro Crater, Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge
26th Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge
27th One more early drive Ngorongoro
This ends the group safari, four persons return home. Another fellow and I stay 3 nights longer.
27th Yes, back to Ndutu, Ndutu Safari Lodge
28th Ndutu Lodge
Mar 1st To Manyara National Park, night at Lake Manyara Serena Lodge
Mar 2nd Morning game drive Manyara, lunch at Serena Lodge, drive back to Arusha, hotel African Tulip day room to clean-up, flight out later pm from JRO.

Yes, I arrived Arusha, African Tulip, a day early which is the way I like to start a safari after a very long tiring journey over, 32 hours door-to-door. The safari operator was Roy Safaris Arusha, cost of the basic safari, Feb15 through Feb 27, 12 days on safari, 13 nights, was $5,300 (including at the African Tulip at each end). My three night, four day, extension added another $1,000. This cost is no secret, is was published on a web site. Also, must say that this cost included three safari vehicles and three guides for the six of us. And all park fees, etc.

The safari was organized by Roger Clark. He has a wonderful web site with a wealth of photography knowledge and information you will find nowhere else. Also some mighty fine photos. . Roger is a world renowned scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). A gentleman, scholar, and photographer you would be happy to know. Susan, his charming wife, was his vehicle and room companion. They had been on very similar safaris in 2007 and 2009. Also, from Colorado, were Kelly and Christoph. And from Sweden, a fine fellow, Per, who I shared a vehicle and room with. Per was with Roger and Susan on the 2009 safari. I had not before “shared” a safari with a stranger so was a little apprehensive. But Per and I got along very well, could not have been much better.

Yes, six of us in three vehicles. Only two photographers per vehicle. Most other photo safaris have three per vehicle. In addition, Roy Safaris has safari vehicles special made, stretched. They are based on a Toyota pickup truck bed that is lengthened by 3 feet then a cab/passenger section built. The top is open and can be the typical hard pop-top on four corner supports. Or, that top comes off and you have a totally open top that if needs covering has a roll back canvas. And this totally open top is the way we used it. This my first experience with open top, stand-up/sit-down vehicles. Every one of my other game drives (around 150) have been in the totally open Land Rover types so common in South Africa safari camps. Which type do I prefer? The Roy Safari type for all the driving (hours) we had to do between safari camps. And it worked ok for photography – for me. If you don’t have to drive hours on a dusty rough road, then I prefer the open Land Rover type because you feel more “out in the open”, more “vulnerable” when close to lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo. But the Land Rover presents other difficulties to photographers with big lenses that need support.

And talking about photography, one of my joys of safari is trying to get good photos. I used Nikon DSLRs with at 300mm lens being the longest. I also shot video using a Canon S5. Kelly also used Nikon. Cristoph shot HD video, Canon. Roger and Per used Canon DSLR with mostly 300mm or 500mm lens. Susan did not take photos. In Ngorongoro Crater a rain shower shut down my primary Nikon DSLR body so I was very glad I had another as back up. I have 43 shots up on my smugmug site. About half are “record” shots and I hope the others are simply good photos in themselves. . Click on the thumbnail. (photos from previous safaris also on smugmug).

Lake Manyara National Park, Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge -
Our three vehicles left Arusha on the smooth wide asphalt road at 8:30am and we got to Lake Manyara National Park about 2 hours later. Checked in at the Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge, a nice comfortable room and a nice buffet lunch. At 3pm - our first this safari game drive!! We would have six more there, that is, morning and afternoon the next day and morning of the third day. And then our overnight stop there on the way back in to Arusha. Our morning game drives left early before the Lodge breakfast buffets so we took a box breakfast. Leaving early with a box breakfast was typical for the whole safari. The Big Five at Lake Manyara – saw elephants four times, no herds, just a couple together. Except for a few buffalo very far away, none of the other big 5, no cats. The closest we could get to Lake Manyara itself was probably 300 yards/meters. No vehicle off-roading, the Lake comes to you, you not to it. Off-road driving is not permitted in the Park so you see what comes to you near the road. What we saw the most of were baboons and vervet monkeys. I mean, seeing a troop of each every hour. I took many photos of the baboons and vervets but none I like. And birds, lots of birds. My favorite photos are of two Dik-diks very close to the road and very relaxed. And one of the “Little Five” a leopard tortoise.

Our guide said – “it is said that Lake Manyara is for beginners and birders”. And that’s the way I see Lake Manyara. An easy drive out of Arusha, an exciting game drive, if, if, it is your very first ever game drive ever. I would skip Lake Manyara next time and continue further west, i.e. Ngorongoro Crater, Ndutu, Serengeti, etc.

Part 1 of 2
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Mar 31st, 2011, 10:48 PM
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Part 2 of 2
Trip Report Safari 2011 Tanzania
Lake Manyara, Ndutu, Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Ndutu, Ndutu Safari Lodge
So while Lake Manyara was no big thing, I was indeed expecting a lot from Ndutu. The drive (we took) from Lake Manyara to Ndutu Lodge goes directly by Ngorongoro Crater and the road to the Crater is smooth asphalt. But From the Crater to Ndutu Lodge is a wash-board gravel road. Three hours of teeth rattling dusty road. Ndutu Safari Lodge is nice but water and electricity is not on 24 hours nor do all rooms have electrical outlets for battery charging. For comparison, I’d say the rooms were on par with the bungalows at Kruger Park rest camps. But what bothered me more was the meal/dining selection. Basically none, being fixed course lunch and dinner. You can however request a change of the main course, e.g. I don’t like lamb, and they will give you something else. But I don’t go on safari to eat, but for the wildlife. So no big deal, onward to safari.
If you’re there at the right time and the rains are right, the vast grass plains around Ndutu become the feeding and calving grounds for huge herds of wildebeest. But this year (2011), as in many years, the rainfall was just-so and the herds were small, not concentrated, thin and moving trying to find good grazing. There had been some rain in the area and the grass was nicely green. As commented on by those who were there in 2009 as 2009 was very dry and the grass brown. We did see some calves but no calving. A lot of zebra, as usual with wildebeest. We saw members of the lion pride, Big Marsh pride every day, sometimes on both game drives. The pride has three about three month old cubs which are of course darlings. One morning a good distance from the lodge there was a fair sized herd of wildebeest and zebra grazing. Four female lion were there, but not from the Big Marsh pride. One female made a short easy chase on young male wildebeest and killed. About 30 minutes later anther female took down a young zebra. Those were the only kills we saw whole safari, a very exciting morning.

Cheetahs were about and we saw them every day including a mom and two cubs that played around vehicles. Leopards, twice, both very poor views. At first one we could see only its tail high in an acacia tree. At bottom of tree were ringed 16 vehicles. And all anyome could see, if you looked hard, was its tail. We didn’t stay and heard later that the leopard came down when about half of the vehicles left. Poor thing may have thought it had been trapped for keeps!!! Elephants, a scattered few every day, one small herd of about 20. No buffalo, no rhino. A morning highlight were three relaxed bat-eared foxes around their den area. Saw a few hyena and black-backed jackal. Birds, of course birds. Lilac-breasted rollers and Eurasian rollers were common. White-backed, Hooded and Lappet-faced vultures on several occasions.

Ndutu area permits off-road game vehicles. Going off road is a must if you are serious about photography. So that’s fine, but the problem with Ndutu now is its popularity. Another permanent camp, Lake Masek Tented Camp opened late in 2010 with 20 permanent tents. Ndutu lodge has 34 cottages. In addition in Jan/Feb time there were around 10 mobile camps in the area. Our guides and a Ndutu manager commented that the game vehicle traffic had tripled in the last two years. This I saw and show photos. It is possible that the area may not permit off-road vehicles. For photography, this would be a disaster. But even now with a dozen vehicles crowding for good views it is difficult

Serengeti National Park, Serengeti Serena Safari Lodge-
Early morning game drive at Ndutu, breakfast at Lodge, left lodge at 11am and arrive at Serengeti National Park border at 12 noon. Bordering the Ngorongoro Conservation Area the Serengeti Park requires a separate permit and additional cost. Our drive to the Serena Lodge was also a game drive, so got to the Lodge at 4:30pm. On way saw nice herd of elephants, about 20, big herd of zebra, a cheetah sleeping under tree and a lioness sleeping under a tree. The Serena lodge was nice, comfortable room, good buffet meals. We had a short stay at Serena, two nights, for four game drives. In Serengeti saw again many gorgeous birds, Rollers, Grey Crowned cranes, several ostrich. And a leopard, the only other leopard we saw on the safari. She was in a low tree branch next to the road, very sleepy, head down on paw. We were the first to find her. She seemed content to sleep so we left for about 30 minutes. Came back and she was awake and standing on the limb. But there were also 9-12 vehicles lined up on the road. We went around to a close by parallel road to wait for her to come down the tree. She did and disappeared into tall grass. Meanwhile all those vehicles came scurrying over for maybe a view of her. Off-roading is not permitted in the Serengeti, so 9-12 vehicles stacked up, hoping for a glimpse. Looked very chancy, we left after a few minutes.

Next morning game drive to the “Hippo Pool”. A large pool around 50 by 30 meters fed by a small stream. With about 80 hippos of all ages in it. A “bloat” of hippos is it?? Well, it was that and much more, constant rude noise emitting from both ends of the animals. The pool of water was more like a stew of water and brown, and green grasses and gases!!! Quite a sight and show, we stayed for probably an hour. Then started our drive to the same gate we came in, our Park permit expired at 11am.

Ngorongoro Crater, Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge
We left the Serengeti gate at 11:45 am and arrived at Ngorongoro Carter west gate about 1:30pm. The Crater, probably the most widely known African wildlife area, the Crater is magical. My favorite place of the safari. In some areas wildlife, birds, large mammals, small mammals all around as far as you can see. Saw four of the big five, lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino, missing the leopard. Other special sightings were a Serval cat early morning, very relaxed, good photo op. The rain shower (same one that shut down my Nikon) made some nice road puddles with birds drinking, hyena drinking and wart hogs splashing.

Sopa large is nice, large lodge facility at 96 rooms. Room was very large, very comfortable. Large dinning room that is noisy when full for dinner. Meals were good, you order from a menu with several entrée choices. The prime advantage of Sopa is that it is the closest gate entry into the Crater, in fact with its own access road. Sopa is also very close, 10 minutes, to a Masai village. Our second afternoon we went there. The Masai did their welcoming singing and dancing, an elder took us into a hut and talked about Masai life, we saw some young kids in school in a hut, and we shopped for jewelry.

Back into the Crater. We had three game drives in it, two morning and one afternoon. As with the other game drives I preferred the morning game drives. The second morning I watched for when we saw other vehicles. We were down in the Crater about 6:30am, the sun coming over the rim into it a bit after 7am. Immediately sighted lioness and four cubs, but way far off. We find large male lion, nice pose in early sun, not to far from road, and cameras start clicking. He and the lioness and cubs part of the Munge pride, after the Munge River. We continue further into Crater and did not see another vehicle (than our 3) until 8am. By 9am have seen another 10-15 vehicles. I asked our guide how many vehicles are in the Crater at same time during peak hours typically everyday - he said 150-200!!!

Maybe 400 meters away our guide spots a single rhino, it’s 9:30am (first morning). A black rhino he says. It is meandering in one direction and there is road over there so we head that way. Our guide says the rhino will likely cross the road. We pull up behind 11 other vehicles also waiting. Only decent photo I got of rhino is when it was still maybe 100 meters away. The number of vehicles can again be a problem in the Crater as elsewhere. Number of vehicles, no off-roading, I’d still go back.

In summary-
Very glad I went, been wanting to do this Tanzanian safari for years. The classical vast savanna African plains are special. The unique draw for Ndutu, our longest stay seven nights total, is the wildebeest migration. But how can you plan months ahead a five day safari to see it ? The “pros” go and stay for 6 weeks, at some point it will happen. When taking photography into consideration, Ndutu is the only place where you can “manage” your shots. Because you can go off road. But Ndutu now also has the problem of being too popular. Lodge staff said their favorite time at Ndutu is April-May. Crowds are gone, grass is green, large herds about. (But no calving). And Lodge rates are down. However, before going back I’d check and make sure off-roading is still permitted. Kenya offers good alternatives to the migration. For photographing the Big Five I think Botswana or South Africa is better.

Again, I would not go back to Lake Manyara unless logistically required. I really did not give the Serengeti much of a chance, with two short days. But Serengeti was discouraging because of the crowding and no off-roading. I would go back to Ngorongoro Crater, it is magical, even with its vehicle crowding and no off-roading.

regards - tom
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Apr 1st, 2011, 05:27 AM
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Lovely, lovely report, Tom. Thank so very much for writing and posting it!
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Apr 1st, 2011, 06:14 AM
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Yes, thanks for the report. Enjoyed reading. And, the photos were excellent!
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Apr 1st, 2011, 07:35 AM
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Thanks, Tom, for the exceptionally interesting, informative, and detailed report. It helps a lot for future planning.
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Apr 1st, 2011, 03:11 PM
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Been looking forward to this and, as usual, it is full of useful information. Photographs superb. I think as newbies we made the right decision to go to SA in Sept. Thanks, Tom
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Apr 1st, 2011, 04:41 PM
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All the essential details are included, well worth your efforts.
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Apr 2nd, 2011, 04:03 PM
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Thanks for the report Tom. Some nice photos as usual. Avoiding crowds will become a mantra for all of us who like to go on more than one safari.
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Apr 2nd, 2011, 05:43 PM
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Tom, I completely understand where you are coming from with regards to the vehicles. I have been running safaris in northern Tanzania for 9 years now, and I have steadily seen the increase in vehicle traffic. There are ways of running safaris to avoid the crowds, and it takes some effort (and sometimes money) to pull it off.
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Apr 2nd, 2011, 07:37 PM
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Thanks all for you kind words. I'm happy to share what I find. Just remember it's from only a few days and from my perspective on it.

With my last few safaris in South Africa I was not used to, prepared for, seeing large numbers of vehicles in Tanzania. That is, at SA private reserves and camps the vehicle traffic is well controlled. Even if that does mean you have to que for a sighting. But the guides have ways of disguising the que so you (well, most guests) likely don't know it. Of course Kruger can be packed at a lion sighting, but maybe not.

And in Tanzania it wasn't like -every- view was jammed with vehicles. My/our vehicle found the leopard in the tree in the Serengeti so we were only ones there. But 30 minutes later it was jammed with vehicles. And, Ngorongoro Crater was great at sunrise and for an hour we were the only vehicles we saw.

And at that Serengeti leopard sighting my friend mentioned that he recognized Joe and Mary McDonald in vehicles. New names to me but they are professional photo tour guides (based in USA) doing all kinds of wildlife trips. When I got home I checked out their web site- and on it they have a trip report of that Tanzanian safari we saw them. Anyway, about their time in Ndutu Joe writes - "Once in the NCA we headed cross-country until we reached the Ndutu lake basin, where the gnus were once again in migration. . . . Three of our vehicles continued on to where a leopard had been spotted, and now surrounded by 20 vehicles, but the cat was sleeping and unperturbed, with its head buried in brush. Mary radioed me to say, don’t bother, and we didn’t." 20 vehicles he says !!! So they also saw the vehicle jams in Ndutu we saw. Here is link to that page, about 3/4 down -

And one more time, I'm very glad I went, but if a next time, would want to change some things next time.

thanks again - tom
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Apr 3rd, 2011, 09:28 AM
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tom - thanks for the report. As you know, I'm a SA girl. When we decide to go to East Africa, I will seek lots of advice.

Beautiful photos.

Sounds like one more place we're loving to death.
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Apr 4th, 2011, 12:05 AM
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It looks that the guiding wasn't up to standard. A professional would steer his clients away from the traffic jam around the predator sightings.

Also the itinerary was strange to me (3 days in Manyara f.e. and only 2 days in the central Serengeti).

Don't think that Botswana/South Africa are better to photograph the big five.

If you are serious about your wildlife photography, you need better equipment, your own vehicle and spend time in private concessions even if that means you can't stay as long as you did now. Also try to shoot more from a low angle ...

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Apr 4th, 2011, 08:03 AM
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Tom, thanks for sharing! I am still anticipating our first safari and have from the beginning leaned towards SA. Your report confirms that we are on the right track. So glad you had a good time.
I'm off to view your photos. Can't wait until it's my turn to review. ;O)
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Apr 4th, 2011, 10:33 AM
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Tom - Excellent photos, great bat-eared fox and secretary bird. Also so fortunate to see Serval Cat. We were at Ndutu area Feb 5-7, and then into Serengeti Feb 8-9. We saw some clots of vehicles, but avoided them in general. I think some drivers rely too much on radio to find sightings and everyone is trying to run to a few places, vs. finding sightings through wits and patience. Jim.
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Apr 4th, 2011, 11:32 AM
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thanks all
Otis 72 - how were the herds around Ndutu when you were there? I'd guess about like I saw, we had been following the rain situation there since mid Jan and it never changed much, being very little and scattered. At Ndutu Lodge heard several stories about photographers staying there 6 weeks so to be sure about the rain/herd timing. Must be nice

Was happy to see the bat-eared foxes, my first time. I'd seen serval cats before but that one was very relaxed and posing nicely. Got several shots of the secretary bird but like most the one with extended wings.

Our Roy Safare guides, three, I thought were excellent. They each had over 10 years experience in the area. They in fact had just gotten back from guiding for a well known pro photo tour. The problem is that sightings like the three lion cubs are a huge magnet for vehicles. We did have the bat-eared foxes to ourselves and many other sightings. But sometimes not. Like you say, it's really up to you what you "fish" for, the guides were most accommodating.

regards - tom
ps - anyone else noticed very flakey/sporadic/slow response from Fodors forum sites the last few days? I'm not seeing such from other sites.
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Apr 4th, 2011, 11:41 AM
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Thanks for the report, I am in a similar position to you with a trip to Tanzania in June after trips to Mala Mala and Botswana. My niece chose to go to Tanzania as she had been studying that area in school and this is her birthday trip. I am so concerned about being disappointed in animal sightings and having so many vehicles around. I know it will be different, and hope to come away with the same love of the land as I have for the southern region. We have one night at Lake Manyara and am going to see if we can skip it and add an extra day at the Crater. Any other last minute suggestions will be appreciated. We are at nearly the same camps as you went to and will have our own driver. Glad to hear they will get going so early-that has already been my request.
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Apr 4th, 2011, 01:24 PM
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Shellcat - I'm sure your niece will be totally awed by Tanzania. That classic vast African plains look and feel. And you will like it, different than SA or Bots, strong Masai culture there for one thing.

I would for sure trade a night at Lake Manyara for the Crater!!! However, IF baboons and monkeys are your niece's fav animal, Manyara had the most I've ever seen, by far. Crater has high access fee, $200 day per vehicle?, so your cost may jump some. And, FWIW, the Sopa Lodge has the best/easiest/fastest access to the Crater (so I'm told).

Are you also going to Ndutu Lodge?

Yeah, get out early in morning, even if you have to skip the lodge buffet breakfast. Your lodge will pack a box breakfast for you and your guide. But the box may not be entirely to your liking, ask them about it and request what you'd like.

If anything you'd like to ask me off-Forum, feel free to email me. Same for anyone.

regards - tom
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Apr 4th, 2011, 01:32 PM
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Tom, I was in the Ndutu area 2 times in a 3-week stint from February 20 until around March 12. I have amazing wildebeest migration viewing in late February in the Ndutu area, however in early March some of the herds had scattered in different directions. At the end of my safari, say around March 10, we had TONS of wildebeest right in the middle of Seronera. I was staying at Bilila, and we do nothing other than sit at water holes for 3 days behind the Seronera Wildlife Lodge. They were flooding in from the area behind Makoma Hill.

Thanks for the great safari report!!
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Apr 4th, 2011, 01:32 PM
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I feel much better already-thanks for the quick response. How do I email you directly?
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Apr 4th, 2011, 03:20 PM
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ShellCat - my email is in my profile, click on cary999. Should be there. But new names/yours will likely come into my spam folder. I do answer all email I recognize, if you don't hear back please try again. Or tell me here about it.

Andy - may have seen you!?! But I think I would have recognized you. You were not at Ndutu Lodge I suspect. I was Lodge around the 18-20th. Like I said, guess my timing was just perfect to -miss- the big herds. Or being wrong place. Next time I'm following you

regards - tom
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