A Crash of Buffalo on the Serengeti

Sorting through the Serengeti

Lion Cuddles in the Serengeti

Lion Cuddles in the Serengeti

With so many truly spectacular natural wonders within relatively close proximity, it’s no surprise the Northern Circuit and Tanzania’s Serengeti plains are such popular first-time safari destinations. Along with that popularity comes the crowds and an overwhelming array of options to consider:

  • What are the best camps and lodges for each season?
  • Why are some camps so expensive while others seem too cheap?
  • What order of destinations makes the most sense?
  • What is the most efficient way of getting around?
  • Where are the best guides or the best chefs or the best activities for kids?

Of course, the answer to all these questions is, it depends. It depends on you, your preferences and interests and how you envision your ideal safari. That’s why the team at Next Adventure invests so much in educational and familiarization trips throughout East and Southern Africa, and all of our safaris feature custom arrangements based on long running partnerships and our first-hand experience.

In November of 2016, Next Adventure’s Managing Director Kili McGowan spent 3 weeks on a comprehensive tour of some of Tanzania’s best camps and lodges. Read her trip report below, flip through her photos, and get in touch to find out what we would recommend for your safari on Tanzania’s Serengeti plains!


Serengeti – A Swahili word for Endless Plains or Extended Place

Just the sheer number of safari camps and lodges in the Serengeti is daunting, but, when you add that fact that many of them move locations with respect to the seasonal migration, the options can be dizzying. In mid-November, most camps that are not in permanent locations move toward the Ndutu area so they are in position for the expected wildebeest migration, one of Earth’s truly remarkable wildlife wonders.

Typically, the ‘mobile camps’ open in December on the Southern plains. It is quite difficult to predict when the herds will arrive as their movements are very dependent on the rains and other environmental conditions. If one is planning travel during the shoulder season, we highly recommend combining two different regions in Serengeti to maximize your chance of spectacular sightings of the migration.

Southern Serengeti

I visited several properties in the Ndutu / Lake Masek area, most notably the new permanent property Lake Masek Tented Camp, which offers large spacious tents at a mid-range price point. Of course, peak season is December through March when the wildebeest migration and all of the accompanying wildlife drama are at its best, but Lake Masek offers guests year-round big 5 off-road game viewing in the shadow of Mount O’ldeani. Even though I was a bit early for the herds to have arrived, I was treated to an incredible sighting of three bull elephants hanging out in their ‘bachelor herds’ while dwarfing the rest of the animals around them.

Besides the seasonal herds, the Ndutu and Kakessio areas (further southeast from Ndutu, near Lake Eyasi) are well known for decent sightings of wild dogs. Two of our favorite mobile camps in the area are Alex Walker’s Serian Camps, Serengeti South and Serengeti Mobile Kusini. Each camp dedicates a private vehicle to every distinct booking, and they employ some of the best highly trained guides. Guests can hope to catch a glimpse of cheetah on the plains as well as other predators like lion, hyena and wild dog, especially when the herds are in residence (Dec-Mar).

Central Serengeti

Following my stay down south, my guide and I made our way to the Central Serengeti’s Moru Kopjes area. This region is strategic for catching the migration this time of year as it is between Seronera and Ndutu. My home for two nights was Nomad’s Serengeti Safari Camp, a fantastic mobile camp nestled in the kopjes (large rocky hills lying on the flat plains). This part of the Serengeti is just beautiful, and we were very lucky with our lion sightings here. It seemed like we kept finding different prides on every drive, and we even saw a wild black rhino–a rare sighting indeed! The camp itself, like Entamanu Ngorongoro, has a relaxed atmosphere, lovely public areas, and six well-appointed ensuite tents.

For a slightly larger and more permanent option, guests might enjoy the ten-roomed Serengeti Pioneer Camp. Also situated in the game-rich Moru Kopjes area, this lodge has a pool, individual dining, and an unbeatable view from its perch on top of a kopje. Another noteworthy camp in the Moru region is Dunia Camp, which has the unique distinction of an all female staff. The warm manager, highly trained guides, and each team member make a supreme effort to provide the best guest experience possible…and they succeed! Overall, visitors to the Serengeti will find the central area near Seronera/Moru excellent for high density game viewing year round, but they will have to compete with a lot more vehicles from other lodges as well.

Far from the crowds of the Central Serengeti lies the remote Namiri Plains Camp. A stay at this Eastern Serengeti gem makes guests feel like they have the Serengeti to themselves, as no other camp is within one hour’s drive of Namiri Plains. The flat open grasslands are prime habitat for cheetah and other big cats along with plenty of resident game. There is a coalition of six male lions nearby that make for exciting viewing and splendid photographic opportunities. Namiri is a year-round destination ideal for honeymooners and those seeking the hidden side of Serengeti.

Northern Serengeti

Moving North toward the Lobo area of the park, I had the chance to spend time at Elewana’s Serengeti Migration Camp. Don’t let the name fool you! This is a permanent ‘hybrid’ lodge that feels a little like a hotel and camp combined. The accessibility to Lobo airstrip, the delicious food, the swimming pool, amazing river views and plentiful wildlife activity make for an incredible Serengeti stay. This camp might be one of the best choices for families looking to spend time in the park.

Further north along the Kenyan border lies the Lamai wedge, a visually stunning landscape blessed with resident wildlife in the path of the migration. This area, along with Kogatende, typically sees the migration pass through in late June through August and then again when the herds come back from Kenya in late September-October. For travelers who are looking for good value in the Lamai region at a mid-range price point, the modern and fresh Lemala Kuria Hills Lodge is an excellent option. One of my favorite lodges in this area is a luxury camp, Lamai Serengeti, which discreetly blends twelve rooms into the nooks of a kopje. There are long walks between the rooms and the lodge, so this place is not ideal for people with mobility issues. The lodge itself offers simple hearty fare and feels like you are spending time in your friend’s living room…it’s that comfortable and relaxed. There is a resident lion pride right at camp and leopard sightings are common on game drives.

Adjacent to the Lamai Serengeti property is the private villa, Mkombe’s House. This is an ideal family property with two ensuite bedrooms juxtaposed with children’s rooms. Four adults and six children can comfortably occupy the house. Exclusive use of a guide and vehicle, a private chef, and pool are just a few of the amenities of this space. Flexibility is paramount, and there is no age limit for children. Mkombe’s House even provides car seats and high chairs for little ones!

As I flew away from the Serengeti on the long journey home, I had to marvel at the high quality service that Tanzania as a whole delivers to safari travelers. The people I met were very proud of their heritage and language, and they were warm, hospitable and eager to learn about the bigger world. The Highlands at Ngorongoro provided one of the most genuine culture interactions I have ever been part of, and the Serengeti offers a dizzying repository of wildlife diversity as it faces developmental challenges with new properties coming onto the scene each year. The robust lion populations and other cat sightings were highlights as well as the black rhino at Moru Kopjes. After this visit, I feel more invigorated and confident than ever to help Next Adventure travelers find the rare gems within the mainstream bustle of tourism in Tanzania.


With all these choices, which camps and lodges would I recommend for you? Call me to start planning your safari or to hear more about mine!

Read Part 1: Tanzania’s Northern Circuit Shines

Ele eating in the crater

Tanzania’s Northern Circuit Shines

Across the Ngorongoro Crater Floor

Across the Ngorongoro Crater Floor

With so many truly spectacular natural wonders within relatively close proximity, it’s no surprise Tanzania’s Northern Circuit and vast Serengeti plains are such popular first-time safari destinations. Along with that popularity comes the crowds and an overwhelming array of options to consider:

  • What are the best camps and lodges for each season?
  • Why are some camps so expensive while others seem too cheap?
  • What order of destinations makes the most sense?
  • What is the most efficient way of getting around?
  • Where are the best guides or the best chefs or the best activities for kids?

Of course, the answer to all these questions is, it depends. It depends on you, your preferences and interests and how you envision your ideal safari. That’s why the team at Next Adventure invests so much in educational and familiarization trips throughout East and Southern Africa, and all of our safaris feature custom arrangements based on long running partnerships and our first-hand experience.

In November of 2016, Next Adventure’s Managing Director Kili McGowan spent 3 weeks on a comprehensive tour of some of Tanzania’s best camps and lodges. Read her trip report below, flip through her photos, and get in touch to find out what we would recommend for your safari on Tanzania’s Northern Circuit!


Arusha

Touching down at Kilimanjaro Airport, I was full of excitement for the epic safari that lay before me. First, I needed to rest, and the nearby Rivertrees Country Inn provided just the right blend of understated luxury and comfort for my first night in Tanzania. The staff was attentive and full of Tanzanian hospitality. The restaurant welcomes a refreshing mix of Arusha residents and international guests, and the feel of the lodge is very local. I had a restful stay and believe that this is the perfect beginning or end to a safari in Tanzania – a mix of refreshment and convenience enhanced by plentiful birdlife and monkey antics in the gardens. Some of our other favorite places to land in Arusha are the Arusha Coffee Lodge or Lake Duluti Lodge.

Tarangire & Manyara

On my first morning, my private guide and I bumped along to Tarangire for about two hours, taking in the undulating hills and plains that welcome you to Tanzania’s Northern Circuit. Given that we know the Tarangire area quite well and our favorite lodges, Sanctuary Swala Camp and Oliver’s Camp are operating at the highest standards, on this trip I decided to investigate a private concession just outside Tarangire. I arrived at Little Chem Chem set amidst the Baobabs and overlooking the shore of Lake Burunge later that day. This intimate vintage safari camp is the perfect setting for big game walks, tracking animals across the plains, or visiting the village school where you can interact with students.

I enjoyed my chance to stretch my legs after being on the long haul flight and in the vehicle. This area between Tarangire National Park and Lake Manyara National Park is home to elephant, buffalo, lion, cheetah, and plentiful plains game species. Seasonally (Dec-Mar), you can view flamingos and hopefully catch zebra and wildebeest calving. Game drives into Tarangire are possible from Little Chem Chem in addition to walking safaris on the private concession.

Sharing the concession to the West is Chem Chem Lodge, an elegant safari lodge known for exquisite culinary experiences and outstanding sundowners on the edge of Lake Manyara. While game drives can be arranged, Chem Chem is best for those who want to set out on foot with their Maasai guides and naturalists. Giraffe, zebra, and many bird species are often your companions on wilderness walks. Meaningful visits to community projects are often considered highlights by many guests. Both of the Chem Chem accommodations embrace the ‘slow safari’ concept where the sensual discovery of the wilderness is paramount. This location is an ideal reprieve from the busier mainstream wildlife viewing destinations and a chance to unwind in the natural beauty of the area while delving into the culture of the Maasai.

Ngorongoro Crater

Climbing the Great Rift escarpment into the higher altitudes of the Ngorongoro highlands, my next destination was Lemala Ngorongoro Camp, located on the crater rim in an Acacia forest on the Eastern side of the crater. This homey mobile camp has spacious tents with heavy duvets, hot water bottles, and gas heaters to combat the chilly evening temperatures. Along with fantastic service and escorted walks in the forest and along the rim, Lemala Ngorongoro offers quick access into the crater at Lemala gate. We were the first car through at 6am to explore the wonders on the crater floor while most other groups did not arrive until an hour later, allowing for excellent photographic conditions and a bit of uncrowded wildlife viewing! Although it can get congested with visitors, Ngorongoro Crater always delivers incredible wildlife sightings of elephant, hyena, eland, zebra and sometimes rhino. This little microcosm of the Tanzanian plains set against that dramatic crater wall is definitely a sight to behold!

Following a full day of exploring the crater, we headed deeper into the foothills and other craters of the region. Approximately 45-minutes north of the Ngorongoro Crater lies a new camp focusing on the culture and natural history of the area, Asilia Africa’s The Highlands at Ngorongoro. Exclusive and remote, The Highlands is an architectural wonder that maintains coziness and luxurious comfort for active travelers in a truly unique setting. The location of the camp, nestled along the Ol Moti Crater, has steep walks between the guest tents and the main lodge. Wood burning stoves keep the domed tents toasty warm and comfortable. Exemplary hosting at family-style meals makes everyone feel welcome and involved in whatever conversation is being held. This camp feels removed from the bustle of Ngorongoro Crater and offers many options for curious travelers looking for something a little different.

Whether trekking around the Ol Moti Crater or descending into the scenic Empakai Crater with it’s tiny lake dotted with flamingos, the naturalist guides at The Highlands are experts on the local flora and fauna. Perhaps the biggest strength of The Highlands is the unobtrusive and genuine village visits. These manyattas are not your typical commercial cultural experiences but authentic opportunities to learn about the Masai lifestyle from the villagers themselves. A guest might participate in bringing the herds into the boma or hearing a local legend from an elder. No matter what your experience, it will be unique as visits are spread among many surrounding backcountry villages.

Another new experience in the Ngorongoro Crater area lies on the Western rim near the Serena access road at Entamanu Ngorongoro, operated by Nomad Tanzania. Although it feels more ‘traditional’ than The Highlands with its proximity to the Crater itself, Entamanu delivers in every way. Without question, the camp has the best view of any crater property–gazing out over the expansive plains of the Serengeti. With no surrounding forest to obscure views, guests are treated to a 180 degree panorama of one of the most famous landscapes on earth…and did I mention the sunsets? Just stunning…on a continent where marking the end of the day with a cocktail and exquisite bites has become a truly important daily ritual, Entamanu shines.

The cushy barefoot luxury of the camp is evident in throughout all 6 tents as well as the huge main area that feels like a big cozy living room. The camp maintains the highest standards of environmental care–and it is completely removable. The design considered ‘leave no trace’ to be a very important theme of the camp while not sparing any creature comforts for guests. Again, the Nomad management and guides provide outstanding hosting, and they make the family-style meals and excursions truly memorable as guests are welcomed as members of the ‘tribe’. The activity focus of Entamanu is bush walking with armed Ngorongoro Conservation Area Rangers and the Nomad guide team along the rim which can be just as exciting as drives on the crater floor. Relationships with the nearby villages are blossoming and soon will be integrated into the guest experience.

An advantage to the Entamanu location is the nearby access to the famous Oldupai Gorge, where paleo-anthropologists Mary & Louis Leakey’s ground-breaking archaeological discoveries changed the way we think of our earliest ancestors. Following a quick breakfast at camp, we were able to be at Oldupai by 8 A.M., well before any other visitors arrived at the museum. Plans are in place for new facilities to open at Oldupai in the coming year. Once we toured the museum, there was ample time for a visit to Shifting Sands, the fascinating crescent shaped dunes of volcanic ash are a rare scientific phenomenon. From there, we continued down the escarpment and onto the vast plains of the Southern Serengeti National Park near Ndutu.


Get in touch to find out what we would recommend for your safari on Tanzania’s Northern Circuit, or continue reading Part 2: Sorting through the Serengeti