Trip Report, Tanzania, 7/08

Jul 23rd, 2008, 01:36 PM
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Trip Report, Tanzania, 7/08

I recently returned from a 10 day safari in the northern circuit of Tanzania, July 7-17. We had a fantastic time, and saw many more animals than we ever could have imagined. Our itinerary was 4 nights Serengeti (split between the western corridor and the north), 2 nights Ngorongoro Crater, 1 night Karatu/Ngorongoro Highlands and 2 nights Tarangire. We were two people on a private safari.

I planned this trip over a year ago, using information from this forum (only as a lurker, I haven’t posted much), other websites such as http://go-safari.com/ and the Mark Nolting Africa Wildlife book, plus information from our safari operator (Africa Dream Safaris). I wanted to share our impressions which may be of interest to other “first timers” in the planning process.

Rather than make a day-by-day report, I thought I’d give an overview of game viewing in each area, the camps/lodges and general impressions/recommendations. Even without the day-by-day, it will be long, I’m sure. I will do a brief review of ADS in a separate post.

Game Viewing

Note that these observations are for the first half of July, in a year where the migration was a bit ahead of schedule. Game viewing is likely different at other times of the year.

After an overnight in Arusha, we flew directly to the Lobo airstrip on Air Excel. We found the game drives in the Lobo area and north to the Mara River the best of the trip. The game was the most varied, with lots of elephants, zebra, wildebeest and other antelopes, and we saw 9 lions, 2 leopards and a cheetah all the first afternoon. The area was still somewhat green, and we found it among the prettiest. There were large mixed herds of wildebeest and zebra along the Grumeti River game drive loop. Most of the herds had crossed the river, and we followed them all the way to the Mara River (the mixture of zebras in the herds declined the further north we got). At the Mara River, we saw very large migrating herds of wildebeest, as far as you could see, although they were just short of crossing the river. We did see them cross a couple of small streams. There was also a large group of hippos on the river bank who en masse got up and entered the water, and this might have been the best viewing we had of hippos. The entire Lobo/north Serengeti area benefited from being relatively uncrowded. We saw very few other vehicles.

The western corridor was very good, but not quite as interesting as the north, as most of the wildebeest had already crossed the Grumeti river in the west corridor. We did see many large herds of buffalo, more giraffes than in the north, hyenas (which we had not seen in the north), hippos and crocs and a very close encounter with a pregnant cheetah. There were fewer elephants than in the north. This corridor was slightly more crowded than the north, but still less crowded than the areas we visited later.

We found the central (Seronera) area and the southern plains the least interesting parts of the Serengeti at this time of year. Seronera was much more crowded with vehicles, and we didn’t see much new. The southern plains had a couple of good lion sightings as well as large migrating herds of Thomson’s gazelles.

The Ngorongoro Crater was something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, we saw black rhino (four including one close enough to get a decent photo) and more lions, especially adult males, than anywhere else, as well as our third cheetah. We also saw flamingos, a bit closer than at Lake Manyara. However, there were a couple of times when the traffic jams reminded me of midtown Manhattan at rush hour. We did one afternoon game drive and two early morning game drives. I would say for most people, one to two game drives would be sufficient, although we only got reasonably close to a rhino on one of the three drives. I was surprised by how green and lush the crater rim and eastern descent from the rim were. It was very pretty. Note that it was quite cold at the rim and even pretty cold in the Crater the second morning.

Lake Manyara was a little disappointing after the first two parks. We did see blue monkeys, bushbuck (too shy to get a picture) and a number of adult elephants. There were a large number of giraffes too. The storks, pelicans and other birds were good, but I was disappointed in how far one had to stay from the flamingos, at least where we were. We did see some 3 week old lion cubs nursing, and for that reason alone, am glad we had a half day game drive in this park.

Tarangire was a bit of a challenge, as the grasses were still fairly high in much of the park. We saw the most game near the Tarangire river, including lions, many, many elephants including lots of juveniles, and giraffes. The unique things that we saw in this park were lesser kudu and serval cat, as well as the baobab trees. I didn’t realize baobabs were deciduous, so they were not as attractive as they would be with leaves in summer. We stayed at Swala camp, which is a long drive from the park gate. We found the last 10 or 15 km drive to Swala to be fairly devoid of game until right near the camp. On arrival, there were a lot of animals right in and near the camp (lots of elephants, warthogs, monkeys, zebra, impala and waterbuck), and we saw lions nearby too. On balance, even though we saw more game abundant in the Serengeti, we did enjoy Tarangire. However, I would say that if one has limited time for safari, I would maximize time in the Serengeti and skip one of Tarangire or Lake Manyara.

All in all, I was really happy with the itinerary. I know some people prefer to end in the Seregenti, the peak of the trip. For me, it was better to start there, have the great wildlife sightings early, and remove any “pressure” to see certain wildlife. It basically made everything we saw after day 1 or 2 “gravy,” as we had already seen everything we could have imagined. It also allowed us to feel able to take a couple afternoons off from game drives.

traveler318 is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2008, 01:38 PM
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Part 2

Camps and Lodges

We stayed at Migration Camp, Mbalageti Tented Lodge, Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, Plantation Lodge and Swala Camp. We thought all of the lodges and camps were very nice, and would recommend them all. Our overnight in Arusha and day room before departure was Arumeru River Lodge. It was ok, nothing special, but fine for such a short stay.

Migration Camp was our second favorite. It was a large tent, with a beautiful location and nice sunsets. Lots of wildlife, especially hippos, could be heard at night. Food was decent (good breakfast), but the box lunches were weak. It was quite cool in the mornings. This camp had 24 hour electricity.

Mgalabeti Tented Camp was located on a hill with a 270 degree view. The tents were stylish with many artistic touches and a large bathroom with stone walls rather than canvas. Beds were very comfortable. The pool was nice, and dinner and lunch were a bit better than Migration Camp, but breakfast was not as good. The generator was turned off from 11:30 pm to 5:30 am. I slept with the flashlight under my pillow.

Ngorongoro Crater Lodge has such a reputation that I don’t need to say much. The food was probably the best overall, the staff really warm and friendly and the views were incredible. Make sure to be there during daylight hours to make best use of the bathtub with a view. The generator was turned off for a couple hours late afternoon. There is no heat other than fireplaces. In the room the fire provided adequate heat, but we found the dining room cold.

Plantation Lodge was a nice change, with lovely gardens, pretty good food, nice staff and the best shower of the trip. We took a walk up into the highlands. It has 24 hour electricity.

Swala Camp was our favorite and highly recommended. The tents were full canvas, and the smallest we stayed in, but still adequate in size. We found that this was the most authentic “safari camp” experience. With only nine tents, it was also the most intimate camp we stayed at, and the staff was great. The waterhole had animals at almost all times, and there was a lot of game in the camp. The food was second best to the Crater Lodge, and the “bush breakfast” was the best we had. Evening cocktails at the firepit were pleasant with more substantial snacks than most places. There was no sunset view. This camp had the most limited generator hours, with the generator run only in the morning (about 5 to 9 am) and evening from about 5:30 or 6 pm until all had gone to bed. This made charging camera batteries a challenge. There was some battery power at night for the lights, however. This was the only camp/lodge that neither had a hairdryer nor allowed you to use your own.

traveler318 is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2008, 01:40 PM
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Part 3

General (Random) Observations Recommendations

We found the picnic lunches tedious, and thought picnic breakfasts were generally better. I would suggest early morning game drives with either lodge or picnic breakfast and returning the lodges for lunch, when feasible. You then have the option of a late afternoon game drive or not.

Early morning game drives were good, especially for lions, but we found light for photography tough until near 7:30. We didn’t find late afternoon game drives as interesting. I’m not sure we saw anything unusual after 4 pm. Our cheetah and leopard sightings were in the heat of mid-afternoon!

Air Excel weighed all of our luggage together, and since we under 30kg total, so it didn’t matter if one of us was over 15 kg. They did not weigh the small bags we took into the plane which contained cameras, batteries, binoculars, wallets and valuables. Since these items were heavy, this was a great relief.

There was no need to bring a flashlight, as each camp/lodge provided one as well as candles and/or lanterns. Mbalageti had a rechargeable lantern.

The bathroom situation was not a dire as I expected. Tarangire, Manyara, the Crater and the southern/central Serengeti all had acceptable restrooms, most flushing. Only in the remote regions of the Serengeti were there primitive pit toilets (mostly at the ranger posts). In those places, “bush” bathrooms were probably better. Our driver provided toilet paper, and I brought little plastic bags for waste.

Beware of hippo pools in the dry season, as they can be very “ripe.” The most odor free hippos sites were the Mara River and the Crater.

We didn’t find the dust as bad as expected, except in the Crater, and did not mind the bumpy roads. I found the land cruiser seats comfortable, even for 10 hour days. Except for a few rough game tracks and the Crater roads, I really didn’t think they were very bad.

There were no mosquitoes that we saw at this time of year. Tse tse flies were present in some areas (mostly the Seregenti and Tarangire), but not everywhere or all the time, and we managed to avoid being bitten. I’m not sure if it was the light colored clothing, long sleeves, or luck. Our driver did get bothered more by the flies than we did.

We traveled from the west coast of the US (a 10 hour time difference), and it is a very long trip to JRO. We spend three nights in Amsterdam to get over the jet lag, and I recommend at least a day or two there if time and budget allow. I would have hated to arrive on safari exhausted and sleep deprived. We flew straight home (26 hours!), and I’m not recovered yet, several days later. KLM was fine, pretty much on time, and our luggage made it.

I think that’s all, as this is too long. Feel free to ask any questions.

Good safari planning and travel to all.

traveler318 is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2008, 03:52 PM
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Thanks for the interesting report. We had lunch boxes prepared by Onsea House when we stayed in Arusha for two nights and they were excellent.
raelond is offline  
Jul 23rd, 2008, 05:43 PM
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Thanks for the report and glad you had a good time. It is indeed hard to predict "what will be where" in terms of the migration, tall grass in Tarangire, dried out hippo pools, etc., etc., especially as most of us make our reservations so far in advance. I guess that's why we return.
Leely2 is offline  
Jul 24th, 2008, 07:06 AM
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Thanks for your replies. Having read so many reports that we would miss the migration, it being early this year, I wanted to report that there was still a great deal of activity in the Seregenti. You can never know what next year will bring, of course.

It was a great trip, and I think I was most surprised by how much more we saw than I expected. As novice, I did not want to be disappointed, and tried to keep my expectations reasonable. However, they were far exceeded.
traveler318 is offline  
Jul 24th, 2008, 08:46 AM
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Thanks for the report. I am going with my daughter in late October/early November on our first and more than likely only safari. We are going to Tanzania for 10 days too.
I don't know whether I want to read your ADS report! That was our second choice. I am hoping we have made the right choice in choosing someone else.
Dawn at ADS was wonderful and I felt really guilty when we chose another company.
Anyway, again, thanks for the report. Looking forward to reading more.
Feistybrit is offline  
Jul 24th, 2008, 08:56 AM
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Thanks for your report!
Patty is online now  
Jul 24th, 2008, 08:58 AM
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"Best odor free hippo pools". That's a new one VERY detailed. Thanks and glad you had such a good trip.
kimburu is offline  
Jul 24th, 2008, 09:37 AM
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Kimburu, you stole my comment word for word!

I bet that not only did you see more than expected, your whole trip probably exceeded your expectations.

Thanks for all of your observations.
atravelynn is offline  
Jul 29th, 2008, 12:14 AM
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I enjoyed your trip report. We have a lot in common. We are about to leave in early August for an ADS safari, are from California, we are flying to the lobo airstrip on Air Excel in the north Serengeti,and are staying in two common camps, Migration and Swala, your two favorites.How were the dinners at Migration? So your information is valuable and timely.

We are staying one night in Amsterdam and two nights in Arusha Area to overcome jetlag.
Being a month later, we are camping on the Mara River. Did you venture across the bridge to the Mara triangle? Did you take the Mara guided walk with a Ranger? Glad to hear that the north was uncrowded.

We are also camping in resident lion country in the central Serengeti for a total of 6 nights in the Serengeti.

I hope that our game viewing, even though different than yours, is as good as yours. Did you take any of the ADS options in route to the crater from the Serengeti or did you go straight to the crater? What time in the mornings did you start your game drives?

We are planning an afternoon and then an early morning game drive to the crater.On the day we leave the crater we will make a decision to make a third crater game drive, or stop for a short game drive at Lake Manyara,or drive directly to Swala.It will be later in the dry season so I am hopeful that Tarangire will be at its peak.

How long did it take you to get from Swala to Arumeru Lodge? Did you stop for souvenirs? Where? What kind?
Any advice on interfacing with ADS in Tanzania? The trip planning with U.S. ADS was terrific.

Thanks
Dugi
dugi_otok is online now  
Jul 29th, 2008, 01:31 PM
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Dugi,

Thanks for your reply.

We did not go across the Mara River. We spent time observing the migration, having our picnic, etc. on the south side of the river. Since the bulk of the migration was in that area, we decided not to cross. We did take the walk with the ranger; it was short and nothing spectacular, but we did not want to offend him by skipping it.

Our guide would have started every day at 6 am if we had always been willing. We started between 6 and 7 most days. I think one day we started at 8 am and felt it a luxury. I think 6:30 was adequate most days to get in on the early action.

We were going to stop at Olduvai on our way to the Crater, but at the last minute decided to skip it and have more time in the Crater that afternoon. Since the weather was good that day, it ended up being a good choice. As between a third Crater game drive or Manyara, that is a tough call. I'd recommend you play it by ear and see how successful your game drives are in the crater. The drive to the crater floor takes a while, and you have to travel the same road to Manyara anyway when you leave. We got to Manyara at about 9 am and spent about 4.5 hours there, including lunch. We got to Swala at 6 pm as I recall. Manyara is different from most other areas, especially the forest which is quite green and lush, so I'd probably say that is the better choice, but see how you like the crater.

We left Swala after breakfast and traveled at game drive speed to the Tarangire park gate. That probably took 4 hours. We had an early box lunch, and left the park by 1 pm. I think it took something over two hours to get to Arumeru, as I know we were there at about 3 pm or so. We made one very short stop for shopping to look at jewelry in Arusha, but did not buy anything there. We're not big shoppers on vacation.

I thought the ADS people were great to deal with, and can't think of any special advice. Our guide was great, and we liked the visa assistance on arrival at the JRO airport.

I'm sure you'll have a wonderful trip.
traveler318 is offline  
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