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Input on Suggested Itinerary - Tarangire, Olduvai, Serengeti Mara

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I have been taking advantage of the expertise -- and good will -- of the TZ forum posters and have learned loads. Was hoping to continue my education by asking for input on my tentative itinerary. We are planning to visit Tanzania in August of 2013 (I know, I plan far in advance). I have contacted a few agencies at this point -- Natural High, African Dream, Expert Africa. The first agency I contacted was ATR and the itinerary that we've created is below. I realize ATR can tend to stick to its favorite lodges/camps, but the rep I've been working with there has been incredibly helpful and responsive to my wishes.

Our goals: enjoy excellent wildlife viewing (especially big game), have exceptional guides, include a little down time (we both have pretty hectic lives back at home)

Day 1: Arrive in Kilimanjaro - overnight at Moivaro Lodge, Arusha
Day 2: Drive from Moivaro to Oliver's Camp, Tarangire -- overnight Oliver's Camp
Day 3: In Tarangire -- overnight in Oliver's Camp
Day 4: Drive from Oliver's Camp to Gibbs Farm (possible stop at Manyara Park) -- overnight at Gibbs Farm
Day 5: Elephant Caves, mountain biking -- overnight at Gibbs Farm
Day 6: Ngorongoro Crater, Drive to Olduvai Camp -- overnight at Olduvai Camp
Day 7: Drive from Olduvai to Seronera Airstrip, Fly to Kogatende -- overnight at Serian Serengeti North or Olakira
Day 8: In Serengeti Mara -- overnight at Serian North or Olakira
Day 9: In Serengeti Mara -- overnight at Serian North or Olakira
Day 10/11?: UNDECIDED whether we'll fly back that day or stay one more day and night in Serengeti Mara

I have so many questions...
- Is the drive down to Oliver's Camp painfully long? Should we stay somewhere further north in Tarangire? I was attracted to Oliver's because it offers walking safaris.
- I know Gibbs Farm is not a safari destination and two nights there may be too much. My notion, however, was that on vacation my husband and I both craze some downtime for reading, meandering around, etc., and staying two nights there might provide that. Would welcome opinions on this.
- How long is the drive from Olduvai to Seronera Airstrip?
- I know Olduvai is an ATR standby, but it seems like perhaps it is so for good reason. The animal viewing in that area may not be good in August, but I welcome the cultural experience that Olduvai may offer us. Would welcome any other opinions.
- As for Serengeti Mara, I'm still debating our lodge/camp choice. I like that Serian offers a private guide (assuming that's a guarantee), but supposedly Olakira is in a beautiful spot and maybe I'm over-valuing the private guide/car.
- Would love to hear if people think a three-night stay in Serengeti Mara could suffice. We have limited time and, having never done a safari before, I'm thinking we may hit our endurance limit at that point anyway (not to mention financial limit). However, if there's a consensus that 3 nights simply isn't enough in Mara, we may try to extend or still a night away from Gibbs.

I look forward to any and all advice forum-posters could share. Thanks!

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    I can only comment on a couple of your questions. I stayed 2 nights at Gibbs Farm and LOVED it. It is beautiful, the food is incredible, the staff super. Go for it. The guided walk to the elephant caves is an enjoyable 2-3 hrs (does not take all day). We stopped at Olduvai Gorge for about 2 hrs. It's very interesting and I'm happy to have seen it. You don't need that much time there, however. The WORST bathrooms on our trip were at Olduvai - amazing since it's such a popular tourist stop :-(

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    Thanks so much for your helpful reply. I think a stay at Gibbs Farm does make sense. It just seems a little more low-key. I have read that the standard rooms -- which are much more affordable than the cottages -- are pretty shabby. I'll have to check on the cost of those cottages again.

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    We stayed in one of the cottages, which are lovely. I don't recall seeing what you call the standard rooms, so not sure what they would be like. Highly recommend getting the cottage!

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    We did something quite similar for our first safari (Jay at ATR worked with us on this and the next trip). Our camps weren't all the same but the route was.
    My comments would be
    Going further into Tarangire will get you away from the main traffic area. We were also a long way into the park at Swala which I loved and it was near swamp areas with great elephant viewing. We stayed there two nights and all I will say is that I wished we had booked three. Consider that if you particularly value Elephant viewing as we thought ( and others have said) it can be limited the rest of the trip. By the time you get to the camp it will be late but you will have had a lovely time game viewing on the way. You will then have one full day and the following day you will not have much time to do activities before leaving to game-drive your way out of the park.
    We then stayed at Gibbs, arriving just in time to do the walk up to the Elephant caves and have tea in the garden which was very pleasant. We left the next morning. Rooms weren't great but not bad - but, especially as you are staying for two nights which will be excellent, upgrade to the better rooms if your budget allows.
    We did the same as you will be, leaving Gibbs and visiting the crater before arriving at Olduvai in time for the sunset walk. You will not find this camp the same standard as Olivers or your later camps, don't expect too much but the masai are great and it turned out to be a very nice experience. We would stay there again. It is in a very handy position on the route. We actually had one of the best game drives of the trip whilst staying here despite it being the wrong time of the year for the area - but we stayed here two nights.
    Agree with cateyes, try and avoid the toilets when you visit the gorge ! We walked to the gorge with an armed ranger and masai men from camp.
    Sorry but I can't tell you about the time to drive to the airstrip from here as we didn't go directly there. The guys at ATR will know exactly though and you can be sure they have organised your itinerary accordingly. They seem VERY good at such detail and ground-handling - at least in my experiences.
    We flew up to the northern Serengeti and stayed at Sayari. If Serian guarantee a private vehicle go for it. I fear you will not like sharing when you have had a private vehicle and guide up to that point. Unless you think you are actually very sociable and might enjoy the company.
    I think three nights will be ok - we stayed four but 3 would have been just fine.
    Hope that is helpful - just my opinion and I am sure others will chime in soon.

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    Believe I replied to this on your TA posting, with my comments on pros/cons.

    While we stayed at Swala vs Oliver's, we did arrive at the park by 10am, but instead of heading direct to the camp and having had a boxed lunch with, took our time game viewing before arriving at the camp about 5:30pm. More than sufficient time to check-in, shower, change cloths and head for sundowners around the fire and dinner after. So it would be up to you whether you want to drive straight onto camp in this area or spend game driving first.

    As to Gibb's Farm, they started refurbishing their 'standard' rooms to the lovely large 'cottages' about 3-4/yrs ago, but still had a few standard, which I believe by now are all cottages.

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    We just returned from TZ and stayed at both Oliver's Camp and Gibb's Farm -- and loved them both. We drove from Arush to Olivr's Camp which was, indeed, a bit of a jaunt. It is about 120KM to the Tarangire gate and then about 75km to Oliver's. However, there is abundant game to be viewed on those last miles! We never had any issues with crowding at all. In fact, we were alone for most sightings which included the whole range of animals. Oliver's is lovely and the walking safari was fascinating and a very different experience. Gibb's is a very lovely place, especially after the drive up the very dusty red dirt road...kindof like coming into an oasis! The locally grown veggies are delicious, there is wifi in the main building (I know I am not supposed to care about that but oh well) and they have a resident Masai who gives cultural lectures. Oh and they also have bushbabies who come out and get hand fed at dusk. Darling critters. The drive to the Crater is about 45 minutes so not bad really. I found it a very nice change from the tented camps, etc. and am really glad we made the choice. Oh we had a cottage (Deutch) with two bedrooms which was very nice.

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    Thank you all for the helpful advice. I have one more question... where to add a day?

    We've adjusted our itinerary slightly. Below is our current version, we probably could get away with adding one more day/night. Would love thoughts on where to add it. Jul_uk, I know you stayed in both Tarangire and Serengeti Mara. Where would you add a night? Anyone else?

    1: Arusha, overnight @ Moivaro or Onsea
    2: Tarangire, overnight @ Oliver's
    3: Tarangire, overnight @ Oliver's
    4: overnight @ Gibb's Farm
    5: early Crater visit, overnight @ Olduvai Camp
    6: fly to Serengeti Mara, overnight @ Serian North or Olakira
    7: Serengeti Mara, overnight @ Serian North or Olakira
    8: Serengeti Mara, overnight @ Serian North or Olakira

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    Personally I would add another night in Tarangire but that is for several reasons that might not apply to you. We loved this park and as I mentioned, great Elephant viewing in particular. Also we were really tired when we set off and were rather knocked out by the travel and inability to sleep on aircraft. Despite a restful time at Movairo I longed not to move on after just one full day/two nights at Swala. I longed for a bit more downtime /recovery time - mind you, that was partly our fault as we couldn't resist long days out game-viewing when we probably should have had a bit more time in camp. Our fault not our guides' !
    I see you have decided to do only one night at Gibbs and my only thought on this is you mentioned going biking etc which you have now cut out. If you would enjoy a little more immersion in local culture e.g. biking around the coutryside and visiting villages in the area that might be a mistake as I doubt you will get much like this elsewhere (unless Oliver's has something to offer in this line as I am not familiar with this camp?). This wasn't a priority for us but it might be for you.
    Our trip was a little earlier than yours so we hedged our bets and had a couple of nights in central Serengeti before going North. This worked well for us as we saw part of the migration in the western corridor and only the start of it reaching the northern section when we got up there. I wouldn't recommend this for you.
    You should hopefully get masses of action in the north and I have a feeling most experienced people would say the safest thing is to add another night there to your itinerary and I absolutely see why. This is probably the sensible choice for you to make even if it wouldn't be mine.
    If you a) think you might be like us and might be really tired and not "travel well"(malarone also affected our sleep quality which is fairly common but you might be fine), b)particularly want good Elephant viewing or c) might find you much prefer your 24 hour-a-day driver/guide situation to the in-house camp guide (sorry, no way you can know this now!)then another night in Tarangire might set you up better.
    Don't obsess too much about it ! Either way you can be sure you will have a fantastic time and will probably be plannning another itinerary soon afterwards.
    All the best

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