Sheryl & Laura’s African Photo Dreams Come True in Tanzania

 

“It was amazing to be so close to so many animals and to not only see them, like one does on TV, but to hear all the sounds – elephants walking through the grass, giraffes pulling off and chewing on the leaves from trees, doves cooing constantly in the background…  After 10 days, I was not ready to go home and was hoping for more time in the Bush…” — Sheryl

25 June

I flew on Ethiopian Airlines from SFO to Washington DC to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (ADD) to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania (JRO).  Arrived in JRO about 1pm. I was picked up by our Driver/Guide – Harry Richard. We drove about 30 minutes west to Arusha and 1st night lodging – Rivertrees Country Inn.  Had a lovely room on the ‘river’.  I kept hearing noises on the roof and when I went outside I saw small Vervet Monkeys climbing in the trees along the river and roofs of the buildings.  Took lots of cute pictures.

Wandered around the beautiful grounds to help stay awake.  Laura had spent the prior week in Arua, Uganda and arrived at the hotel shortly after 1 am.  She felt like she was in heaven compared to her experience in Uganda

26 June – 27 June

Photo by Laura

We enjoyed a nice buffet breakfast and Harry picked us up to start the trip around 9 am.  His boss from African Horizons joined us for an introduction and drive into Arusha.  We had to stop at the cellular store to get the ‘hotspot’ for the Land Rover working so we could have WiFi along the way.  (Laura was happy!) We dropped him off and headed out to Tarangire National Park.   Once arrived at the park we drove only a short distance before we started seeing all kinds of animals – antelopes, giraffe, elephants, deer, zebras, vervet monkeys, …  We could not believe our eyes! We had scheduled a ‘hot’ lunch at Tarangire Safari Lodge so we could explore the park on the way to our night’s lodging.  We barely made it before lunch closed as we kept seeing more animals and wanted to watch/take pictures.  The Lodge looks out over the park and has some beautiful views.

After lunch we headed out and saw lots more animals. The roads, like all the roads we traveled on were very rough and bumpy, but we got used to it.  It is called an African Massage, and my back actually never felt better during the entire trip! Our lodge for the next two nights was Kichuguu Camp towards the southern end of the park. It was a long drive but very nice camp. There are about 8 tent cabins and a central dining/gathering tent cabin where we had our meals.  We got to experience a bucket shower; we scheduled a time for a shower and the staff brought hot water, filled the bucket outside the tent, hoisted it to the top of the cabin with a pulley systems and then we would control it from within the shower through pull cords. We heard animals nearby in the evening. 

We were awakened with tea and biscuits delivered to our tent cabin.  (This became a daily tradition that we really enjoyed!) After another great buffet breakfast with fruits, cereal, eggs, etc, we headed out about 8 am going south towards Nguselororobi Swamp. Tarangire is known for its birds and we saw a lot along with some interesting animals.  One of the cutest ones is a “Dik-dik” a very small (12” tall) antelope. And more Vervet Monkeys…

We weren’t seeing a lot of animals, so Laura and I were wondering if the best was over (NOT!) Harry headed back north and we continued to see more elephants, zebras, giraffes, etc. Laura was really wanting to see a lion and then all of the sudden 2 female lions started walking towards us on the road.  They stopped on the side of the road and we drove up next to them. Shortly after that a couple young lions came down the road and joined. What a thrill to see them so close to us. And there were some giraffes nearby on the other side of the truck.  

Shortly after the lions wandered away we had to take a break due to elephants in the road! We just sat, watched and listened until they were ready to move on. 

We continued wandering the middle of Tarangire continuously seeing animals, some on their own, some in large groups. We saw an occasional Ostrich and plenty of antelope and gazelle.

We arrived back at camp around 5.  Had our bucket showers and joined the campfire / “bush TV” before dinner. 

28 June – 29 June

We bid good-bye to the staff at Kichuguu Camp and started our trip to Karatu. On the way we continued to see lots of animals, always stopping for more pictures.

We were glad to be back on paved roads for a little while on the drive to Karatu.  Along the way we stopped at a Masai village. While the ‘village’ catered to tourists, we did learn a bit about how the Masai live (small huts) and what they eat (cow’s blood and meat). When we arrived, we were greeted with some singing, dancing and a jumping competition for the men. They demonstrated how they start a fire and we went into one of the huts. They also showed us their “Kindergarten” class that was learning their ABCs. 

Photo by Laura

We arrived about 2pm at Plantation Lodge where we had a late lunch on a beautiful patio before settling into our “upgraded” suite. The room was spacious with 2 sleeping areas and 2 patios. The avocado tree kept dropping avocados on our roof, but the fresh avocado we had with our meals made it all worth it! Plantation Lodge is in the ‘highlands’ at 4000 ft. It was cooler than we expected, but pleasant. They served afternoon tea in the English tradition, even though the Lodge was run by German woman who had been in Tanzania for 40 years or so.  The dinners and breakfast were very good. There was also a nice bar and a sitting area with TV, where watched a bit of the World Cup Soccer games.  

We got an early start for a trip to Ngorongoro Crater.  We had about an hour drive to the edge of the crater and then down into the crater on a very steep road.  The crater has a very high concentration of animals due to the geography and environment.  We saw many, many animals, including a Rhino (very far away), Hippos, Lions, Wildebeest, Buffalo, Hyenas, Zebras, …  No giraffes as there aren’t any trees for them to feed on.

The crater was full of safari vehicles, and they communicated with one another via radio to share sightings.

We left the crater mid-afternoon after a very fulfilling day.  It was foggy on our drive into the crater, but we had a great view when we got back to the top.

We enjoyed a late afternoon tea back at the Lodge and relaxed before dinner.  

30 June

We headed west towards Lake Eyasi to visit two tribes: Hadzabe and Datoga.  We met our guide who grew up with the Datoga tribe and also speaks the Hadzabe language. We drove through the bush, across dry river beds to visit the Hadzabe. They are hunter/gatherers who live in the bush and go hunting for their food every day.  The young men demonstrated and, through our guide, told us about how they live and hunt, showing us various types of arrows and describing how they hunt for different types of animals.  They also demonstrated their bow and arrow ‘practice’, letting us give a try. Several women and children were gathered around as well. Apparently, all the children are offered the opportunity to go to K-7 public school. If they do, they need to leave the tribe and stay at a boarding school. Not many of them do that; and some that do, don’t like it and return to the tribe.  After 7th grade, schooling can continue if students score high enough on tests.  If not, they return to the tribe. Two unique things about the Hadzabe – they speak with a ‘clicking’ dialect which is one of the first known forms of human communication.  Also, they seek shelter during the rainy season in the Baobab trees which are tall and hallow inside.

Photo by Laura

We drove about 30 minutes from the Hadzabe to see the Datoga tribe.  Datoga are ‘pastoral’, living in small communities where they keep their animals.  The group that we visited had several wood frame buildings and did metal-working. They gather scrap metal, melt it down and then pound it into shapes. We sat inside one of the buildings with the women from the tribe.  They showed us how to (and let us try to) grind corn which they cook for their meals.  We did a little Q&A with them. One of the questions they asked me was “where is my husband?” I said that he was at home, didn’t travel with us. Our guide had to do quite a bit of explaining so they could understand that a woman from the US can travel independently from her husband.  They asked if Laura was married and (jokingly, I think) offered me 20 cows if she would stay to marry one of the boys in their tribe. That is actually common practice with the tribes and throughout Tanzania – the men have to offer something (traditionally animals; today money or property) to the women’s family if they want to marry.  

1 July – 2 July

We drove Northwest from Karatu area to Serengeti National Park. The first part of the drive was the same as the route to Ngorongoro Crater.  Then we dropped down towards Olduvai Gorge made famous by Mary and Louis Leakey discoveries showing earliest evidence of the existence of human ancestors.

As we entered Serengeti National Park it was noticeably drier and less green vegetation than Tarangire and Ngorongoro.  We stopped at the Serengeti Visitors Center and took a tour with a young guide training to be a Safari Guide.  He took us on an exhibit/walk showing some of the animals, habitats and skeletons of animals in the park, and explained how the park was formed in 1951.

During our game drive that afternoon, we saw a lot of the same animals, but the vegetation was much more open. It was interesting to happen upon a group of baboons in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. 

Photo by Laura

We stayed at Kiota Camp in central Serengeti for 2 nights.  It is owned by the same company as Kichuguu and was very similar in layout, style and operation.  As with Kichuguu, we were able to join the ‘bush TV’ before dinner.

We set out as early as we could the next morning for pictures of the sunrise and hot air balloons. Laura got some great shots.

After watching the balloons, we went out looking for animals and happened upon a lion family wandering down a path off the road.  We stopped, and they came right by our vehicle and decided to take a break nearby. A very nice morning greeting and lots of nice pictures.

We spent the day driving all around the Central Serengeti and saw many animals, but quite spread out.  We were looking for leopards and cheetahs. We did see 2 leopards, at different times, at a distance and hanging in trees. 

We also saw several crocodiles as well.  We saw an interesting scene with several elephants near a stream and some lions resting nearby.  One of the elephants was pregnant. She was walking around slowly and at one point a male elephant walked up to her and reached out with his trunk touching her belly as if to sense the baby. A couple other younger elephants were nearby as well. 

3 July – 4 July

After our usual, full breakfast, we left the Central Serengeti and headed over to the Western Serengeti near the Grumeti and Mbalageti Rivers. We didn’t see a lot of animals on our way to the west until we were about half-way there and we ran across the ‘Great Migration’. All of the sudden there were hundreds of Wildebeest and Zebras in every direction, crossing the road in front of us and slowly heading toward the North on their clock-wise migration around the park.

We stopped to watch them for quite a while.  At one point, some baboons came down by the water on the side of the road to join the fun.

The Wildebeest make a lot of bellowing noises, so it sounded like we were in middle of a barnyard as they were crossing all around us.  We continued heading west and came to a marshy area where we saw some Storks along with the Wildebeest and Zebras.  

Photo by Laura

We spent out last two nights at Kirawira Tented Camp in the “Tembo” tent.  The camp is located above the plains at 4100 feet at 20 Latitude and offered beautiful views from our ‘tent’.

And gorgeous sunsets.

On our final full-day we drove all around the Western Serengeti, mainly by the 2 nearby rivers.  We saw some Hippos ‘sun-bathing’ and spent quite a bit of time watching some Wildebeest and Zebras trying to approach some water.  There were a male and female lion nearby ‘waiting’ for them. The zebras apparently let the Wildebeest go to the water first and then they follow if it’s safe. They seemed to sense trouble ahead and took quite a while to head down to the river. The lions didn’t seem too hungry or aggressive. They laid back but as the wildebeest got to the water they made their move towards the wildebeest who quickly climbed back up the banks away from the water and into the open again.  Everyone was still safe and sound when we left.

We did see a Cheetah at quite a distance working on its prey, but no close-ups. Back at camp we enjoyed our last sunset over the Serengeti.

5 July

Our last day…  We had a nice breakfast at Kirawira.  We were sitting at a corner table which was open to the outside in the usual style of the tented camps.  The Vervet monkeys had been wandering into the dining area a bit. Much to our surprise one of them jumped down from a post, onto the table and grabbed a piece of fruit off a plate that Laura had set aside!  On our way to airport we had to stop for a small Tortoise in the road. We said good-bye to our faithful guide Harry Richard at the Grumeti airstrip and headed to Arusha for our trip home. We touched down to drop-off and pick-up others at the Central Serengeti Seronara airstrip. Along the way to Arusha we flew over Lengai Crater.

Back in Arusha, we met with Godfrey from African Horizons our guide for the afternoon.  We had a leisurely lunch at the “Coffee Lodge” and then a city tour. We drove by many open air markets where people buy their clothes, household items, etc. They are set-up each day as people bring the items into the market. Our guide pointed out one market that was less expensive as it sells all the things that get shipped/donated from the US.  (It was quite large and full of clothing, etc!) We arrived at Kilimanjaro airport in mid-afternoon. We flew to Dubai, arriving about 6 am. Dubai is an incredibly modern place and the airport terminal was a very abrupt change from the environment we had been in. It was nice to have a direct flight to SFO on Emirates.  

Overall, it was an incredible, once in a lifetime trip for me.  I’ve been interested in doing a Safari since I read Beryl Markham’s “West with the Night” in 1987, but I never really expected I would.  I’m so glad Laura convinced me to explore the idea and to learn that it really is very doable. Laura was a great travel companion; the accommodations and food were superb.  Most of all, it was amazing to be so close to so many animals and to not only see them, like one does on TV, but to hear all the sounds – elephants walking through the grass, giraffes pulling off and chewing on the leaves from trees, doves cooing constantly in the background…  After 10 days, I was not ready to go home and was hoping for more time in the Bush…

Follow Laura’s travels on her Instagram account @laura_morgannn

More of Laura’s Photo’s

 

Lion Cuddles in the Serengeti

Green Season Safaris in Tanzania

While Tanzania is best known for being home to the iconic Serengeti plains, the Serengeti can be known for peak season crowds especially concentrated around river crossings and migratory herds.

However, we see the Serengeti as a 10-month destination with lots of options for shoulder season and off-peak travel which offers great value, expanded access to unique wilderness areas and a wider variety of activities.

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

 

View of the Coffee Fields - Gibbs Farm

Safari Seasons, They Are a-Changin’

It’s true!

Big 5 game viewing is best during the Dry Season. Usually July-October when water is scarce, a great number and variety of animals congregate without the obstruction of thick foliage or tall grass. Perfect conditions for first-time safari goers: it’s easier to find concentrations of wildlife, animals are easier to spot and it’s easier to take great photos.

However, with such perfect conditions, prices go up, availability at the best camps and lodges goes down, and prime wildlife viewing areas get crowded. Now, as more safari enthusiasts return to Africa and the conservation tourism industry matures, the traditional safari season is expanding.

More small owner-operated camps are open during the Green Season with reduced rates, less crowds and the added thrill of having to search for wildlife through dense bush. It is also the absolute best time for waterfalls, spotting baby animals and bird-watching. It’s also possible to find last minute availability on quality scheduled departures or at the best camps in the Serengeti.

Here’s this year’s top picks for summer adventures and holiday safaris…

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Handsome Lion in the Serengeti

Peter & Ellen’s Pics from Tanzania

Peter & Ellen visited some of our favorite camps and lodges during their trip to Tanzania earlier this year.

Here are just a few of Peter & Ellen’s amazing photos… Thanks for sharing! 

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elephant trunk tarangire

Tanzania Family Safari Trip Report

Arrival in Tanzania
Our guide, Emanuel, met us at Kilimanjaro International Airport for the 45 minute transfer to Lake Duluti Lodge. We enjoyed a small late dinner before a good nights’ rest in a comfortable forested cabin.


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Overland to Maramboi Tented Camp
After a delicious breakfast, we drove through bustling Arusha Town to Maramboi Tented Camp located between Tarangire & Lake Manyara National Parks. This medium-sized, classic tented camp is spectacularly set with open views on Lake Manyara and the Rift Valley Escarpment. While Kili enjoyed a sundowner, Jeremy and Rainier took a dip in the pool, and herds of zebra and wildebeest surrounded the deck and took advantage of a waterhole near the main lounge.

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