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Trip Report Tanzania Safari - The Good, The Bad, The Unexpected and The Amazing!!

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I knew I wanted to go on safari with the kids at some point, but I also knew I did not want to "rough it". While I wanted a tented camp, I also wanted hot showers, flushed toilets, electricity, and oh, that "Out of Africa" feel would be nice.

Suffice it to say, I knew I was interested in a luxury safari. So, I decided to wait until it was a momentous year for us - which 2014 was. Our daughter graduated from college, our son graduated from high school and hubby and I both turned 50 - great things to justify a "splurge" adventure!! Also, I suspected this might be the last family vacation for awhile with all four of us, due to college and new work schedules.

If you have read my other posts you know when we travel I usually do all the planning by myself, however I did use a travel agent (a good friend) for our Israel/Jordan trip and I decided to contact her again for this one. I knew she had recently been on 2-3 safaris and she knows how we like to travel. With the myriad of options for where to go, safari companies to use, camps to stay at, it seemed a little overwhelming so a phone call to Carol seemed the place to start.

I began by stating we needed to go in June and wanted to do a South African Safari with a few days in Capetown. Her immediate response was "Capetown in June will be like San Francisco in the winter, and if you are looking for the 'Lion King' feel than I suggest you consider East Africa - namely Tanzania and/or Kenya." Spending time in a cold/wet city was not high on our list for June, and of course I wanted that 'Lion King' experience!!

So, I started researching East Africa and decided on the Northern Circuit of Tanzania. I did not want the trip to be much more than 2 weeks as we were not sure what my daughter would be doing after graduation and did not want to close off too many job opportunities due to her being gone for a long time (as it was, the job she did get started a week before we arrived home, but they allowed her to start a week late - more time than that and I suspect it may have been tough). I did play with the idea of a few nights on the end in Zanzibar but in the end decided not to extend the trip for that.

Now it was time to pick locations and camps. I decided a mix of lodges and tented camps was the way to go. We went with nice, luxe and ultra luxe when picking our locations. Since our flight would not be arriving in JRO until 7:45pm in the evening, I determined that spending two nights in Arusha on our arrival would be important, particularly since we had just a 1.5 hr layover in Amsterdam. This would give us time to decompress after the long flights as well as give us an extra day if for some reason we missed the connection in AMS. This turned out to be an excellent idea - we did not miss the connection but really enjoyed the extra day to settle in before heading out on safari. I will give more details on each place we stayed in future posts but we ended up with this itinerary:

Two nights in Arusha at Machweo Lodge (this is actually just outside of Arusha)

Three nights Manyara Ranch - a permanent tented camp located in a private reserve (the Manyara Ranch Conservancy) between Tarangire and Lake Manyara National Park

Two nights at Exploreans Lodge by Ngorongoro Crater

Three nights at Singita Sabora a permanent tented camp in the private Grumeti Reserve just bordering Serengeti National Park.

Everything was booked through Naipenda Safaris which specializes in Tanzanian Safaris.

The US contact is Jo Bertone who is located in Texas and she was excellent always responding quickly to our questions. Israel Mwanga is the contact in Tanzania and while we did not have any interaction with him before leaving the US, he made sure we met him in person before heading out on safari, which was much appreciated. He was very professional and we were glad to know he was available 24/7 while we were in Tanzania.

For pictures click on this link:

We booked about a year in advance which was good since our dates were pretty set and we were staying at some smaller properties. We also had our friend join us who is the kid's "big sister" and who traveled with us to Vietnam in Dec. 2011 (read about that trip here). Once these were all booked there was not too much else to research as on a normal trip where I would plan what we would see, do and where we would eat each day. This of course, left me open to obsess over what to pack/wear while on safari!! However, from the online travel forums I do not think I am alone in this. Next up - packing!!

What to wear, what to pack - probably two of the most often asked questions when planning to go on safari. This can also have added difficulty if you are doing internal flights and are given a maximum luggage weight of 15 kg (33lbs) per person for everything, luggage AND carryon combined. Now, we always travel with carryon only so are used to traveling light - but 33 lbs for EVERYTHING especially when carrying so much camera equipment, binoculars, etc. is daunting!! We worked really hard to have everyone down to the 33 lbs. In all honesty when we left home we were all about 34-36 lbs. each. But, we discovered that while it is important to watch the weight and be mindful of it, they do not actually have scales anywhere on these airstrips and as long as you are not carrying too much oversized luggage you are probably fine. That being said, I would still stay below 40 lbs and not push it. In the end we were happy we had packed light - there was not anything we had left at home that we wished we had brought and having fewer items made it really easy to pack every time we moved. Most camps will provide laundry service so no need to overpack.

I scoured Fodors, TripAdvisor and blogs to learn what to wear and pack. I got all kinds of advice, for the most part all good. The majority would say things like - "wear whatever you want, don't buy clothes just for the safari, BUT do not wear white, black, bright colors, particularly bright blue." Considering that most of my wardrobe is black/white and bright colors I did not see how I was going to get away without buying new clothes. I do own some khaki shorts and an army green jacket and I did bring those and they came in handy, but I did need to buy a few things as well. Let's start by discussing some of the things that are said, and discuss why they are recommended.

No black or white - basically this is because they can get dirty/dusty, particularly if you are driving in an open air vehicle. If you will be in an enclosed vehicle for your game drives this is less of an issue

No bright colors - I have read that many animals can not see bright colors - only black and white so this is not so much for the animals. Plus everyone always points out that the Masai wear bright colors so if you want to you can. I just relate this to dressing to "fit in", ie you would not wear a suit/tie or dress to go to the gym and you would not wear work out clothes to a wedding. Not everyone you will see, but the majority of people will be in neutral/khaki/nature colors as are all the drivers/guides. I think one just feels most comfortable wearing this while out on safari so you do not stand out so much. OTOH, we did push the envelope on this just a tad with peach tee and purple top...

No blue (particularly bright blue) - This one is important!! Apparently, it is true that tsetse flies are attracted to bright blue - evidenced by the many blue tarps hanging on trees that are put there to attract the tsetse fly. If you see Masai wearing bright blue (which they do), then you know you are not in tsetse territory!

Tennis shoes/trainers are fine - We found this to be correct. Most of your time is spent in the jeep so any sport shoe is fine. Even if you are doing a walking safari it should be adequate unless you are doing some real hiking.

Layers - Yes!Yes!Yes! This is probably the most important thing. Layer up in the morning when it is cold and then peel them off as it begins to warm up.

One thing that was never really made clear to me, but Carol, my friend/agent told me was that you can wear whatever you want in the camp - i.e. a bright shirt is okay at dinner or around camp to take you out of the color doldrums now and then.

Here is a list of what I packed. I wore everything on the trip EXCEPT an extra top I threw in at the last minute and an extra pair of sandals I brought.

Three camis in neutral colors. Ordered online from J Jill. Great layering piece and perfect for when it got hot.

Three long sleeve button up shirts that I could roll up the sleeves - colors - khaki, army green, eggplant. Purchased from REI and one was found at Macy's.

Three long pairs of hiking pants (one was zip off) and an extra pair of khaki shorts - Bought the pants at REI, Eddie Bauer and Prana, already owned the shorts. Went with khaki colors and a dark gray. We were there in June so not as hot - if going in warmer season would want more shorts.

A patagonia lighter weight fleece with hood and army green jacket - My fleece was the favorite thing I brought, it was the perfect weight for early morning or evening game drives to add as a layer. Did not really need the jacket too much but was glad I had it for the few times that I did.

Three nicer tops and sweaters to change into for dinner - dressing up for dinner is really not necessary, but I do think it feels good to take a shower and get out of your safari clothes and put on something a little nicer for dinner. I also brought a scarf which many had recommended and I was glad I did. These were all clothes that I already had. At the last minute I threw in another top but ended up never wearing it.

This is what I wore on the plane - skinny jeans, nicer t-shirt and long sleeve sweater. I used the skinny jeans to wear to dinner each night with the nicer tops I brought.

These were the shoes I brought - flip flops, sandals, Toms, light weight trail shoes - I already had them all except for the trail shoes. The flip flops were great for walking around camp during the day. I brought the extra pair of sandals because I thought I might wear them for dinners but for me it was too cold at dinner time for sandals. The Toms came in handy to wear at dinnertime when I wanted my feet covered but did not want to wear the trail shoes. All of my sneakers at home are bright colors and I did not want to bring my heavy hiking boots (for weight purposes) so I did go buy a pair of lightweight trail shoes. These are Merrells and they were perfect! I have already worn them a few times since coming home.

Tilley Hat - I already owned this Tilley hat and it was great to have.

Pajamas - I just brought a long pair of lightweight pj pants, two short sleeve t-shirts and one long sleeve t-shirt.

Socks - Three pairs of ankle high hiking socks - helped protect my ankles from mosquitoes

Underwear - I brought 14 pair enough to make it through the entire trip. I had read that in Africa they often will not wash your underwear. Many suggest bringing some laundry soap and washing it in the sink, but frankly when on vacation that is not what I want to do so I brought enough to make it the whole trip with out cleaning. However, the places we were staying all cleaned underwear so was not necessary, but I was glad I was prepared!

Camera gear - We had three of us with 35 mm cameras. I had a little point and shoot but mostly used my iPhone to take pics and upload to social media when we had wifi. For wildlife photography my husband had a Pentax K-3 body (35 mm) and a Pentax 55-300 lens which made it equivalent to a 450 mm lens which he said he used every bit of, particularly when in National Parks and you can not drive off road. In addition, he did have other shorter lenses for pics of people, etc. He also definitely recommends you bring a bean bag for throwing over the top of the jeep and setting your camera on to help stabilize it. We brought a Safari Sack I (R420X) and a Gura Gear Anasi Weight Bag Sack. The Safari Sack was a bit larger and provided more area to set your camera.

Binoculars - These are a must!! We brought 3 pair for 5 of us, which seemed to work out pretty well, since some people were tied more to their cameras anyway. We brought: a Nikon 8x42 Monarch 5, a Nikon 8x42 ProStaff 7, and a Vortex 8x42 Diamondback. The original plan was to purchase those, decide which we liked best and return two and get two more of our favorite. It turned out too difficult to determine the favorite while at home and using it only on a limited basis so we just ended up keeping all three. While on safari we determined that our favorite was the Nikon Monarch 5 - it seemed best for color rendition and its lightweight.

Other things that are helpful to bring even if you do not end up using them: flashlight (we used a lot - if you wake up in the middle of the night it is pitch black in your tent), sunscreen, insect repellant, First Aid Kit, day pack (helpful to have while in the jeep to carry whatever you might need), Immodium, Cipro (or other antibiotic), Malarone (anti-malarial), tylenol/ibuprofen, sunglasses, protein bars (I found these helpful on early morning drives before breakfast)

Makeup - I bring up this subject because a lot of people say not to bring makeup. With early morning wakeups and most dinners by candlelight many people see no need. I think this is a very personal decision. I do not wear a lot of makeup, but to be honest I rarely go out of the house without anything! It can take me just a minute or two to put on light makeup and I was glad I brought it and used it when I felt like it!! I would like to note that I did not bring any body soap/shampoo/conditioner as I figured we were staying in some nice places and this should be provided. However, our first two places did not provide separate conditioner, it was a shampoo/conditioner combo which is never quite the same. Not a big deal, but if important to you bring a travel size conditioner bottle.

For the record, if your wardrobe is made up of a lot of khaki and neutral colors then you probably will find that you can dress for safari from your own closet. My 18 yo son was too busy concentrating on graduation to pay much attention to what to wear on this trip. Luckily he had plenty of khaki pants/shorts, several light grey t-shirts (long and short sleeve), a light grey fleece and light weight grey jacket and he was good to go!!

For pictures click on this link:

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