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Tanzania Trip Report - March 1-14 with Naipenda

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My wife and I just returned from two weeks in Tanzania – one week on safari and one week on the island of Zanzibar. We had a fabulous time. Naipenda Safaris was spectacular both before and during the trip. Jo was an amazing help in planning and organizing, always responding within hours to our many email questions. Our driver Nickson had an eagle eye and was a virtual encyclopedia on African animals. He has been driving for 12 years and it shows. We were often the first on sight to see large cats, others would see us and drive over to see what was going on.

I purchased two Nikon D40s for the trip and spent about a month learning the ropes. I took about 75% of the pictures with the 70-300VR and the other 25% with the 18-200VR, but almost all the pics posted are from the 70-300VR as I haven’t sorted through all of the 18-200 pics yet. All of the pictures on Zanzibar except those of the locals farming seaweed were taken with my Canon G7.

Day 1 (March 1) - Mt. Meru Game Lodge
Day 2 – Afternoon in Tarangire (Maramboi Tented Camp)
Day 3 - Full day Tarangire (Maramboi Tented Camp)
Day 4 – Most of day at Lake Manyara (Bougainvillea Lodge)
Day 5 – Ngorongoro (Serena Ngorongoro)
Day 6 – Ndutu (Ndutu Lodge)
Day 7 – Ndutu / Serengeti (Serena Serengeti)
Day 8 - Serengeti (Serena Serengeti)
Day 9 – AM drive Serengeti, fly to Zanzibar (Pongwe Beach Resort)
Day 10, 11, 12 - Pongwe Beach Resort
Day 13,14 – Stone Town (Zanzibar Palace Hotel)

1. Ndutu was the highlight of our trip. The migration was in full effect and we were rarely surrounded by other vehicles. The ability to go off-road made a huge difference in both getting close to the animals and allow vehicles to spread apart. In 24 hours we saw a Cheetah with 6 cubs feasting on an impala, a lioness with three cubs lunching on a zebra, several other lions, and tens of thousands of wildebeests and zebras. The best part…there were never more than two other vehicles next to us (usual we were alone) and we had ½ hour alone with the lion cubs. Ndutu lodge was also our favorite lodge on the safari.
2. Pongwe. The beach was one of the best we have ever been to (better than Rio, Thailand, etc.) and the hotel was fabulous. It was small and intimate, but offered an array of services and things to do. Food was the best seafood we’ve ever had and we live in a town with great seafood. Perhaps the best overall hotel experience we have ever had, certainly for the price.
3. Tarangire. We were worried about spending 1.5 days in Tarangire because many books and many forum posts said to consider avoiding it this time of year. What a mistake that would have been. We probably saw over 100 elephants including tiny babies up close, dozens of giraffes including babies up close, two cheetahs, our best view of a leapod on the entire trip and much more all in a beautiful setting. It was FAR better than the central Serengeti in our mind (this time of year).
4. A private safari. I don’t think we paid much more than a group safari and it was great to have the vehicle to ourselves so we could spread out and always have a prime view. We could also tailor each day to our needs (get up very early if wanted, sleep in if wanted, etc.) and spend as little or as much time viewing a given animal as we wanted. We probably spent over an hour watching the cheetah and her six cubs.

Relative lows:
1. Central Serengeti. Perhaps we were just spoiled by the end of the trip, but our two days in the Serengeti were a disappointment and by far the least enjoyable of the four parks we visited. Animals were scarce, so ones that were spotted were surrounded by other vehicles. We did see an excited chase, where a zebra somehow escaped two lions and some large hippo pools, but not much else. We saw three lionesses our first night and they were surrounded by cars. The next day after an hour or two of not seeing much, we saw them again. At one time I counted 26 other vehicles watching the lions and they would all jockey for position each time the lions moved. Not exactly a chance to enjoy nature. I kind of expected this in the crater, but not in the central Serengeti. In fact, we expienced very little crowding in the Crater or Ndutu despite the migration being in those areas. Our hypothesis is that because there was so much to see in those areas, everybody was spread out viewing interesting things on their own. In the Serengeti, because it was sparse, none of the drivers were finding much, so when one did they radioed and everybody in the area rushed over.
2. Stone town. It was excessively hot in Stone Town and very difficult to find a place to cool down. Even the nicer restaurants didn’t have A/C. Really not much to do at all other than walk around. The churches and “palace museums” were not worth visiting. I would spend one day here at the most.
3. Serena lodges. We found the smaller lodges we stayed at to have better rooms and facilities, better food and far better service. Prices for gifts and wine were also ridiculous. Example – a 20 page soft cover children’s book with a price of 6 British Pounds (about $12) printed on it listed for $22.00 at Serena. However, the NCO Serena was worth staying at for one night just for the views.
4. Local bank ATMs in Arusha. We tried two, neither gave us money, but one did charge us $600 for four separate withdrawals. Thankfully, Bank of America is taking care of it without hasstle. Use the Barclays ATM in Arusha instead.

Mt. Meru Game Lodge (B) – Good place to spend a night before heading on safari.

Maramboi Tented Camp (B+) – Best rooms of the trip, modern and good views, but a good distance from the parks.

Bougainvillea Lodge (B) – Nothing to complain about, but nothing too exciting. Good service, No views. Didn’t spend a lot of time here.

Serena Ngorongoro (B) – Disappointing except for the views, but I guess that’s what you pay for. Rooms were dated and service was just okay. We had problems with the toilet flushing and they weren’t exactly fast or friendly in resolving the problem. We called once, they said they would be right down, waited an hour with no response, called again, a plumber came, but didn’t solve the problem, etc.

Ndutu Lodge (A+) – Great location, 2 minutes to good game drives, views, good food and service.

Serena Serengeti (C) – Dated rooms, couldn’t get a queen bed – had to settle for two single beds, far from game drives, impersonal service.

Pongwe (A++) – See above

Zanzibar Palace (A-) – We had the cheapest room (Rosewood) and it was small and had no view. I think some of the other rooms are much better and worth the upgrade. Great service, very friendly owners. It was the first place on our trip with a TV and A/C in the room, which loved after two weeks without either. Would have liked a location closer the main shops and restaurants better.

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