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Trip Report great safari in n. Tanzania with "Destination Tanzania"

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Just a note to say that we had a absolutely super safari in Tarangire, Manyara, Serengeti and Ngorogoro parks/reserves this June/july 2009 with Destination Tanzania. We opted for a mix of tented lodges and camping. (3 nights Tarangire, 1 night Manyara, 4 nights Serengeti, 2 nights Ngorogoro, 1 night at Plantation lodge.)

It included a meeting with the guide and the co. rep. the night before the start, at the hotel in Arusha. The guide, Alex, is middle-aged and very experienced at his profession, but also still really enthusiastic about his job. His age (age still gets respect in Africa) allows him some leeway when dealing with the bureaucracy of getting in and out of the parks, highway patrols, etc. The officials know him from his long experience. Although he wears glasses, they really must be binoculars, as he was able to see up-turned sleeping lions and other animals and birds from 100s and 100s of meters away. He is really knowledgeable about the birds and carried a box of field guides to check on any that he was unsure of: birds, raptors, plants, mammals, park guides in his truck, along with bean bags for camera support and binoculars that he was more than willing to share with us. From years of being with avid photographers he was skilled at placing the vehicle at the correct angle to the light for photos, and was keen that we should get photos of animals reflected in water while drinking, evening silhouettes etc. He shut the vehicle off repeatedly in order to quietly roll into the perfect position for a photograph. We never had to take photos from a vehicle that was running.

The company kept us supplied with drinking water for the duration of the trip and they supplied an electrical inverter that converted nrg from the truck battery into elec. for digital camera batteries. The vehicle also is equipped with a 2-way radio so that the guide can be in contact with park officials and other guides to find out where there are the most recent sightings of big cats and their kills. And this is where the guide's long experience really pays off. The experienced guide will have good and trust-worthy connections with his peers. There were no troubles with the vehicle. The tent (for camping portion of the trip) was spacious, air mattress comfortable& my sleeping bag was warm--as needed up on the crater. The young cook, Samani, was friendly and really good in the noisy, chaotic kitchens that he works in at the campsites. He kept us warmed up with thick soups to start dinner and provided a variety of goodies in his lunch boxes. In total, the companies grasp of logistics was superb. There were no problems on this trip.

We had been on budget safari nearly 20 years ago in Kenya, and one of my main memories is of the long drives between the parks. I wanted to spend as much time as possible in the parks this time so we booked a slightly longer safari than most people might. The extra money for the extra days in parks was well spent.

We stayed 3 nights at Tarangire Tented Safari Lodge--man you could sit with a drink, in front of your tent up there on the ridge, and look at the view/animals in front of you all day.... (food is good, staff is organized with a breakfast buffet if you need quick getaway) But we elected to mostly drive around the park admiring the ever changing landscape, baobab trees and its multitude of animals. In addition to the usual sorts of animals we saw a serval cat being chased by impalas, and lions hunting and chasing wildebeest along the river banks there and a leopard on 2 dif. days. We also pre-arranged a walk in this park with one of the park rangers. He was very quiet and did not speak much except to whisper the names of the animals and birds that we saw--including a new born giraffe. If we could go again, I'd spend even more time in this park.

Next was to go to Lake Manyara. Again a beautiful and interesting landscape studded with a variety of animals. Along the lake at lunchtime we were able to watch as various animals came out of the shimmering heat/dust haze towards the water to drink. It was great to see so many dif. spp. together. Later we drove around the park on the small roads in the bush. Mostly we saw elephants, monkeys, many dif. birds and a few small dik-dik antelopes. We stayed at Kirurumu Tented Safari Lodge, well outside of the park. (very plush surroundings, another amazing view, but too far from the park to see a lot of game, unfortunately, staff are slow in the morning with breakfast if you are hoping for a quick getaway...)

Since we have 3 sci. degrees in our household we were keen to see Oldupai gorge and museum. I'm sure the guides are tired of stopping there, but the good ones use the time to keep up to date on where the animals are in the various parks, in addition to the usual gossip that we humans indulge in. We had seen the Zinjanthropus exhibit in Dar, so really appreciated seeing the site and museum. Lots of nice colourful birds under the lunch canopies as well.

We stayed at one of the Serengeti public campsites for 4 nights and would have loved to have been able to stay longer in this park. The campsites are fairly centrally located so from them you can drive off in a dif. direction each day if you wish. We visited the Lobo area in the north, Grumeti R., western corridor and various sets of kopjes (rock hills) on dif. days. We were able to see the tail end of the wildebeest migration during our time here, plus many, many lions (some in trees) and cubs, a cheetah, a leopard, a caracal cat from a distance and another serval cat. Of course we saw the various antelopes and all the other usual serengeti suspects. --hyena, elephants, ostriches, foxes, jackals, hippos, vultures, eagles. On our drive out of this park, with the cook, we came upon 2 youngish, but large male lions chasing a thompson's gazelle into the water from which they were too afraid to retrieve it. --crocodiles! The cook was thrilled to see all this action, dif. than his usual days around the camp and in the kitchen. In this day and age it is nice to see people enjoying their jobs.

The last stop was at Ngorogoro crater where we stayed at 2 nights at Simba camp site. Aptly named as there were lions hanging around just outside the gates. Apparently the noisy, nocturnal zebras there are a good thing. They are hiding from the lions amongst the lights and activity of the camp. If the zebras are not there, then maybe.... The camp facilities seemed to be undergoing some sort of renovations even though it was peak tourist season. One of the sets of washrooms was closed, meaning a long walk down the hill in the night time fog, that hopefully was thick with zebras and not lions.... Considering the price all those (around 100 the nights we were there) tourists pay for camping at this site, I think the gov't should arrange to do their renovations in off season.

We had arranged to go to Empakai crater for a walk down into it. This was a really good experience. The park guide/ranger for this walk was more informative about the landscape and animals and birds. Again, highly recommendable. The drive along the crater to Empakai is fascinating in itself.

We got into the Ngorogoro crater early in the morning at opening time so were able to see the sun slowly warm up a very chill landscape. Here the animals were much more thickly furred than in the other parks. We managed to see one of the park's rhinos although she mostly wanted to lay down in the grass. The guide thought she was bothered by the wind in her ears--makes weird noises that disturbs an animal that relies on its sense of hearing. Again we saw lots of lions in this park. Nice to see trucks full of local school kids taking in their country's natural heritage.

It seems the last stop on a safari trip is to place the guests in a very plush farm lodge to wash off the dust from the trip. We stayed at the Plantation Lodge. The more budget conscious could probably skip this portion of the trip, but then they would miss a very memorable shower.

Back in Arusha we met again with the Destination Tanzania co. rep. Since there had been absolutely no problems with the whole trip it was a pleasant meeting. We would have absolutely no reservation about recommending this company to anyone for a safari trip. They were extremely professional right from the initial email contact and then throughout the whole trip. The price seemed to come in the middle of the quotes we received and they seemed to catch on fastest to what we wanted in the way of a tailor made trip. It was worthwhile to pay, above the bottom quotes that we received, for their logistical expertise.

Next day we went back to Dar es Salaam (11 hours on the Scandanavia bus) in order to start the next safari in the southern parks.

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