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Back From Tanzania

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Last year I sought advice when planning my trip to Tanzania. Well, I have recently returned and am pleased to report that the trip was absolutely superb! Thank you, everyone, for your helpful advice.

While I don't have time to provide a day-by-day report on my trip, I can report some recommendations regarding specific locations, accommodations, etc. Hopefully, you will find this helpful.

First, let me report that I booked the trip through CC Africa and we couldn't be more pleased with their recommendations, service, etc. In fact, my husband and I were so impressed that we are in the process of planning our next trip to Africa (more on that later) and won't even consider another company.

So, here's the lowdown on our trip:

Mahale: The camp is a bit rustic but that only adds to the charm. The managers, Steve and Teena (who, unfortunately, are no longer at the camp as they have struck out on their own) made us feel right at home and excelled as hosts. The guides were knowledgeable, friendly, and most importantly, extremely respectful of the chimps. They treated the chimps like well-loved friends who needed their protection, yet the guides still ensured that we tourists got the very best wildlife experience possible. Truly amazing! Anyone who has the opportunity to go to Mahale should jump at it.

The CC Africa Guides: The only CC Africa properties we stayed at were Lake Manyara Tree Lodge and the Crater Lodge. It was at these two places that we encountered the most knowledgeable and well trained guides of our entire trip. At Manyara, Kasmir, treated us to an experience that not only included tree-climbing lions (and cubs) and all the usual mammals, but also included information about flora, fauna, local customs, and loads of information about Tanzania itself. Ophious, our guide at the Crater Lodge, was usually stationed at CC Africa's Matetsi Lodge in Zimbabwe but was temporarily relocated to Ngorongoro Crater, which was a blessing for us. We spent four days with Ophious, during which he impressed us with his knowledge, respect for nature, and openness to new ideas and adventures. It was very clear to us that CC Africa sets very high standards for its guides and trains them to ensure they all meet - or exceed - these standards. Even if the CC Africa properties weren't worth a visit in their own right, they'd be worth it just for the guides.

Wildlife: This item is really highlight #1, but everyone knows that so I've left if for last. Since we visited Mahale, Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, and two locations on the Serengeti, we pretty much saw it all. Yet, no matter how many lions we say, the next one was still a thrill! Regardless of how many elephants or giraffes we got close to, we experienced each one anew. I worried that spending so many days on game drives might result in a bit of boredom, but I can honestly say that even after three weeks on safari, my husband and I awoke each morning eager to hop in that Land Cruiser yet again.

Open vehicles: The only place we had to stay within a hatched vehicle was Ngorongoro. Otherwise, we were in open vehicles all the time, making for a far, far superior wildlife experience. If anyone is considering whether to do a land or fly-in safari, go with the fly in. My understanding is that many of the people who go by land are confined to the same vehicle for the whole trip, meaning that the only difference between driving between parks and driving within parks is the hatch is open during the latter. If you are going by land between parks, check to make sure you can use open vehicles for your game drives.

The Palms, Zanzibar: Everyone seems to favour Mnemba and we had originally been booked to go there. However, I don't dive and my husband doesn't 'do' barefoot, so we decided to try The Palms. If anyone is faced with a similar choice, I would highly recommend The Palms. After three weeks of safari, the air-conditioned bungalows at The Palms were heavenly, not to mention the private plunge pool and beach banda. Service at the Palms was impeccable and the food was varied, interesting, and always superb.

Disrespectful Guide: As far as I'm concerned, a guide being disrespectful to me is excusable; a guide being disrespectful to the wildlife is not. At Tarangire we had a guide who was polite, very friendly, knowledgeable - especially about birds - and a very pleasant companion. However, he seemed to be far more focused on capitalizing on a good photo opportunity than on whether that photo op disturbed the animals. On one occasion, he repeatedly manoeuvred the vehicle to get closer to a herd of female elephants and their young even though it was clear that our proximity was making them nervous. Despite my repeated requests that he back off, he kept pushing until finally the females all formed a half circle around the babies, fanned out their ears, and started acting quite aggressively toward our vehicle. John kept reassuring me that the elephants would not charge and didn't seem to 'get it' when I explained that I was more worried about the elephants than about us. It's simple math, if every tourist causes them this much stress...

Serena Serengeti: As my husband said, the Carnival Cruise ship of the Serengeti. Every other place we stayed was relatively small, intimate, and provided a genuine safari experience. The Serena Serengeti was like a bad 3-star hotel, complete with buffet meals and bad wine. UGH! We stayed there only to access the Serengeti balloon ride - which was absolutely marvellous and made the stay at the Serena bearable (although only barely).

Royal Palms, Dar es Salaam: I haven't been to the Holiday Inn but it might be a better option. The rooms at the Royal Palms are a bit run down and I'm not sure it was worth the extra bucks, especially since it was just a stop-over before catching our flight home.

All in all, we had an absolutely unforgettable experience that far exceeded our expectations and now has us anxious to return to Africa. We're hoping to go again next February but would really like to do Botswana and perhaps Madagascar or Mauritius, none of which are at their best in February. Any advice on whether/where to go? Are some places in Botswana good in February? If we go to Mauritius - or the Seychelles - in February, are we asking for rain? Any help/advice would be greatly appreciated.


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