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Trip Report - short (Serengeti, West Kilimanjaro, Tarangire, Ngorongoro)

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Jun 1st, 2005, 09:54 AM
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Trip Report - short (Serengeti, West Kilimanjaro, Tarangire, Ngorongoro)

We just arrived back in Arusha after an eventful camping safari! The highlight was certainly the night of May 28 at a camp site near Seronera in the central Serengeti. We camped right in the middle of the apparent main herd of migrating wildebeest. At times the snorting noises got so loud I was afraid that they may stampede right over my tent! Hyenas were all over the place and in the early morning I thought I heard a lion followed by a loud struggle. Indeed, the next day we could see the vultures feasting on the remains of a wildebeest near the approach road of the camp next to us Ė about 75 meters away.

Unfortunately, the rains were very heavy at times and we got stuck on several occasions while trying to find the migrating herds off the beaten paths. At one point I was covered top to bottom in black mud after several failed attempts to push the Landcruiser out of the holes!

We saw a big herd (the one from our camp) moving north from Seronera on May 29. We also saw a big herd near the Sopa Lodge that appeared to be moving West along the Mbalagheti River. Several lines of Wildebeest were coming over the hills between the Sopa and Serena hotels and started to gather near the road between Seronera and Grumeti. It was too early to tell if they were heading west or north.

We could not find other large herds as the rains restricted our movements and the wildebeest were milling around in all directions near Seronera thanks to sufficient grass and water. I guess that there were more big herds to the south of the Sopa but cannot confirm this.

I have to think that the arrival near Grumeti is still several weeks away.

Between the morning and late afternoon excursions to find migrating wildebeest, we visited several lodges/camps. Here is a quick summary Ė more details and pictures to follow:

1. Mbalagheti is awesome! The views are incredible, the management staff is clued in and the presidential suite and honeymoon suites are amazing with outside tubs and showers overlooking the Mbalagheti river. It is 16km from the main road to Grumeti/and Kirawira and the wildlife viewing is not the greatest but perfect for a few days of R&R. But get the tented rooms Ė the standard rooms are not near as exciting. You can choose between rooms/tents on the west or east side of the hill.
2. Ikoma Bush camp was a let down. It needs a serious upgrade with planks in the broken windows of the buildings as you walk to the reception area. Landscaping is suffering from overgrowth and the tents were stained and looked dirty. The dining room (long communal tables) looked a bit scary behind a large dirty mosquito net. If you are planning to go there, donít expect too much! I simply did not want to stay there so I cannot tell you about the food and night drives.
3. Mbuze Mawe was a very pleasant surprise. It is an hour north of Seronera and really beautiful. They are still working on it but it will open any week now. The tents are great with dik-dik running around! The lounge area has great views and while the pool is not in place yet, it looks like a winner! The Serena-trained staff is sharp and attentive. I think it is a wonderful alternative to the crowded hotels of Seronera.
4. The upgraded Migration camp took my breath away. Donít miss this camp if you are visiting the Northern Serengeti. Iíve not seen a tented camp on the Northern Circuit that compares with the guest tents of the Migration camp. It rivals Mbalagheti but with the additional bonus of superb wildlife. There are resident wildlife, hippos and large prides of lion nearby (at Lobo). The managing couple used to manage lodges in Botswana and it shows.
5. In Ngorongoro, the Farm House has new management and time will tell. It is nearest to the gate (about 5 minutes) but rather big and large groups can overrun it. The Plantation Lodge is further away but smaller and more intimate. Gibbs Farm is even further away and a bit far for a comfortable trip to the crater but the new tar road goes right to the Ngorongoro gate and makes things a lot easier.
6. I hear that the half-day Ngorongoro game-drives have been suspended until January! I will double-check but two different guides told me this.
7. In Tarangire, the River Camp did not disappoint! With the Tarangire River flowing thanks to the rains, the views are just amazing. The tents are new and very comfortable and the bar area is built around a big tree. There has been much confusion between the camps in Tarangire. Just remember that Tarangire River Camp is outside the park just before the main gate. You cannot see it from the approach roads. Tarangire Safari Lodge is inside the park not too far from the gate. You can see it from the park roads and it also has a nice view of the Tarangire River. But it is older and larger and a bit more touristy.
8. Tarangire was not good for game viewing. The grass is just too long and we saw many frustrated safari guides with boring tourists. We saw just about nothing in two days. It is much better to wait for another month or two as it dries out. We are going back next week to stay at the newly renovated Treetops.
9. West Kilimanjaro took me by surprise! We stayed at Ndarakwai Ranch and also at the Kambi ya Tembo tented camp. Please note that the Kambi camp has moved quite a distance away from its previous spot. In the past, this camp was frequented by elephants on a daily basis but now it is nearer to Maasai villages and also near another tented camp (West Kilimanjaro camp). As a result, the game drives are a bit further away (towards the Kenyan border and Amboseli). But this area is remote and we saw no other vehicles! It was just our own wilderness for two days in an area that is both varied and rich in wildlife. The hunting concessions are being phased out and poaching is under control. Wildlife is returning and we saw large herds of elephant, zebra, gerenuk, giraffe, wildebeest, tummies, baboons, monkees and heard lion and hyena. There is an ear that looks just like the Serengeti Ė teaming with wildlife. They call it Little Serengeti!
10. We also stayed at Ndarakwai Ranch. The elephants there are amazing. We saw an elephant that just gave birth to a 2-hour old calf. They have a viewing platform next to the waterhole and I could easily spend all day there. The night-drives were exciting and the area is very good for horse-back riding, cycling and other activities. They donít have horses at the ranch (yet) which put an end to my horse-riding plans! Near Ndarakwai I ran into Elizabeth (the owner of Makoa Farm) and we are planning to visit her place soon. She is a super lady and if you do horseback safaris with them you should have a wonderful time.
11. Ndarakwai camp is tented and thereís no electricity. The rooms are very comfortable but the mosquitoes were a bit of a bother without nets. The lounge has two big fireplaces and is really welcoming. It is another place to just relax with lots of elephants to watch if you like them as much as I do.

I did take lots of pictures of all the camps/lodges and will post it upon my return to the States. If you have specific questions about these, other lodges/camps or anything about the area while I am in Arusha I will gladly tell you more. For example, we also stayed at the Sopa Serengeti, the Impala in Arusha, the Coffee Lodge in Arusha, etc.
Regards
Eben
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Jun 1st, 2005, 10:00 AM
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Apologies for the many spelling errors but typing in a crowed internet cafe in Arusha in not easy.

Somewhere in the text I talked about tummies. I meant Tommies (Thomsons gazelles).

I can tell you about our tummies after night one at the dirty Simba public camp site at Ngorongoro but you will not be interested!
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Jun 1st, 2005, 10:22 AM
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Grrreat! Thank you so much for the report, and I'm glad you're all having a wonderful time.

Very exciting, esp. about Mbalageti and Ndarakwai. Enjoy the rest of your journey.
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Jun 1st, 2005, 10:42 AM
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Thanks! Despite the occasional rains the Serengeti is just wonderful. It is green and lush but one can clearly see the areas already trampled by the wildebeest. Nature is just incredible - the Serengeti would be so different without these wandering lawnmowers!

BTW, the crowds are already pouring in. Places like Sopa were fully booked during our one night stay! And it is not even high season yet!

Also, the trucks from the semi-permanent camping companies are queuing up to enter the Serengeti! I took notes and pictures of where the big boys (Nomad, Wild Explorer, Kibo, Sanctuary, etc) are setting up camp and will post this info later.

If you are planning a safari this year, the lodges will probably not be an option (fully booked) so these luxury tented camps may be your only hope in many cases. But it is very difficult to find out where and how to book these camps.

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Jun 1st, 2005, 10:47 AM
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Hmm, my only other E. African experience was, I guess, when tourism was still a bit "down." I'm thrilled that tourists are returning, but it does make planning a bit more difficult.

(un)fortunately, my next trip will not be until June of 2006, so I hope I'll be able to book at least one tented camp. (Frankly I don't mind more basic camping, but a friend and I are bringing her mother, so that's out.)

Thanks again, climbhigh. It's so exciting to hear from someone actually in Arusha right now. Have a Kili on me!
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Jun 1st, 2005, 10:49 AM
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Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I've been waiting for this. I really appreciate you taking the time to visit all of the various camps. It's so nice to get these great first hand reports!

I'm glad to hear you encountered lots of wildlife in the West Kilimanjaro area. Elisabeth seems like a lovely person from her emails. Enjoy the rest of your trip, Eben! Thanks again.
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Jun 1st, 2005, 11:14 AM
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Thank you so much for the information and for taking the time during your vacation to fill us in.

Best wishes for the rest of your trip!
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Jun 1st, 2005, 12:33 PM
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Thank you for this and am thrilled to read your enjoyment of Migration Camp, although must say I am most disappointed to hear about Ikoma as we are staying there in Nov. -- may rethink this -- can you share any info on relative costs of Mbuze Mawe vs. Mbalagheti vs. Ikoma?

Also, in Tarangire we are staying at Swala -- any info on that?

Thanks!
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Jun 1st, 2005, 12:36 PM
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Welcome back! Am saving this one to read over the weekend!
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Jun 1st, 2005, 01:05 PM
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lisa,
I emailed Serena hotels about Mbuzi Mawe and they quoted a rate of $315 per night (not per person) double occupancy full board for November 2005. I'm not sure how that compares price wise with Ikoma or Mbalageti.
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Jun 1st, 2005, 03:26 PM
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Thanks Patty. Maybe I will ask our outfitter what the price differential would be if we substitute Mbuzi Mawe for Ikoma.
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Jun 1st, 2005, 03:31 PM
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Great report--thanks.

I know you said you would expand on this later but when you said that half-day tours to Ngorongoro would be "suspended" until January, I hope you meant that the rule limiting to half day was suspended and that full days would continue until January (as well as half days). Is that right or did you mean that all acess is "suspended" (even half days)? Just got a little paranoid when I read that portion of the post.
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Jun 1st, 2005, 03:51 PM
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Thank you Eben, for this wonderful report! I can't wait to hear more details when yoiu get home. I have been pricing differences between Kiraira and Mbalageti - the better tents at Mbalageti are significantly more $$'s than Kirawira - I'll post all the details on my thread - but from what you said it may be worth the difference.

I am also trying to decide about TreeTops in Tarangire so let us know what you think.

Looking forward to the photos.
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Jun 1st, 2005, 04:48 PM
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How's Impala hotel in Arusha? Our outfitter is having us make a stop there for lunch on a drive from Tarangire to Ngorngoro. How's the food? are there better places for a lunch stop?
thanks.
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Jun 1st, 2005, 06:45 PM
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What excitement in the Serengeti! A newborn elephant, such luck! Thanks for the Migration Camp tip. Have a good trip home and thanks for the feedback.
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Jun 1st, 2005, 10:42 PM
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It is now 9:30am in Arusha. I am actually at the internet cafe at the Impala.

The Impala is very comfortable as it is next to a supermarket, has a great internet cafe (but at $5 per hour it is more than double the rates of the downtown internet cafes, it has sat TV and phones in the rooms, it has very good exchange facilities and 4 restaurants (including the best Indian restaurant in town). Always ask for a room in the new section overlooking the pool. If you can, get a corner room (800A, 600A, etc).

At $75-$120 per night the Impala offers excellent value for money which is why I like to stay here.

Outside of Arusha, the Coffee Lodge is very romantic and my nr 1 choice for a luxury experience. Rivertrees, Serena Mountain Village and Ngurdoto are also good upscale choices. After that, there are a host of good lodges such as Moivaru, Mt Meru Game Lodge (very friendly and with resident wildlife).

Near the airport, Kia Lodge is excellent.

COSTS of Mbalagheti vs. Mbuze vs. Migration vs. Ikoma, etc. There is a tourism trade show in Arusha this weekend and I can get all the rack rates and post it here.

Yes, IMO Mbuze is a MUCH better option than Ikoma. One can hardly compare the two but once I post my pictures you can decide for yourself.

Patty, I talked to Elizabeth and she immediately knew about you! She offered to take me around Makoa next week and I will post the details.

About Ngorongoro - it is the half-day game drive enforcements that apparently has been suspended until January - meaning the full-day game drives are still OK this year. But I will confirm it at the tourist show this weekend.

Lerasp, your lunch stop between Tarangire and Ngorongoro cannot be the Impala in Arusha? Are you thinking of the Farm House? Or maybe Gibbs or Plantation Lodge?

The choice between Mbalagheti and Kirawira is somewhat tough considering the apparent cost difference. Mbalagheti is a bit closer to Seronera and a game drive from Mbalagheti can go either west (to see the crocs at Grumeti) or east (towards Seronera)which is good.
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Jun 2nd, 2005, 05:44 PM
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Thank you so much -- I will look forward to what you have to say after the weekend, and also to your photos.

We are staying at Kia Lodge too so was glad to hear it is good.
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