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Why Go On Safari?
Viewing Africa’s wildlife may have been piqued by a National Geographic documentary, magazine article, a visit to a zoo, or watching “The Lion King”. Due diligence by the novice explorer turns endless choices into a successful safari. One option is contacting a ‘safari expert’ tour operator to arrange the itinerary OR one can become an informed traveler, and research what is important to see and experience on a wildlife safari.
An African safari involves several wildlife game drives, staying in remote locations, and observing the behavior and survival skills of Nature’s inhabitants. For 2 weeks, the novice explorer chooses to be electronically unplugged from the modern world (internet is available, but ignored; turned off the cell phone; no newspapers, radio or television), no fast food chain restaurants, no vehicular traffic, no crowds of people, no manmade noises - an alien world in today’s fast-paced, modern hurly burly. Each day on safari is a series of spontaneous, unexpected, natural events.
One never knows which game animals or wondrous sights one will witness. The encounters are: a bull elephant charging the 4 wheel drive (4WD) safari vehicle; thousands of wildebeests thundering away from predators; lions mating; a leopard family at play; baby elephants helping each other, unsuccessfully, climb out of a muddy watering hole; vervet monkeys stealing food and drink; hippos turning a pink hue in the noonday sun; and innumerable families of giraffes, baboons, lions, hyenas, leopards, monkeys, warthogs, zebras, wildebeests, elephants, cape buffaloes, hippos, mongooses, gazelles, vultures, and ostriches. Every wild animal plays a specific role in the ecosystem of Africa. Some animals are predators, others are prey, and still others are scavengers. Most predators attack the vital organs and soft tissues, while others consume calcium rich bone or tough outer hides, leaving few animal remains to blemish the landscape. Every safari is unique and exciting. The opportunity to view Africa’s wildlife and meet the indigenous people enriches one’s world. Knowledge acquired for an African adventure ensures a rich appreciation of the safari experience.
Which African country to visit?
54 countries claim the continent of Africa home. Organized safaris are available in 3 distinct African regions - 8 countries that are toured individually, or combine 2 or 3 countries in one safari expedition. The regions are: ·
• East Africa – Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda ·
• South Africa, the country ·
• Southern Africa – Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia
The country to tour would depend on the specific animals the novice explorer wants to observe, which is primarily determined by the landscape and rainfall: umbrella acacia trees on the savannah (most varieties of predators, prey, and bird diversity); treed woodland (elephants); scrublands and semi-desert; desert (Namibia Desert is known for reptiles and birds); forest (mountain gorillas and birds); wetlands, lakes, and rivers (hippos, crocodiles); coral reefs and coastal beaches (abundant sea life). Narrow the choices - decide which game animals, the corresponding country of residence, and select the national park or reserve. Most national parks and game reserves harbor several species. Game animals are protected from poachers and hunters in designated national parks, national reserves, and private game reserves.
Observing and shooting (with a camera) the ‘Big Five’ is the primary goal for the novice explorer's first African safari. The Big Five include lions, leopards, elephants, African cape buffalos, and the nearly extinct rhinoceros. The country of South Africa, originally, is the location chosen. Yellow fever inoculations and anti-malaria medication are not required for travel to South Africa. South Africa has two large national parks (Kruger and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park), approximately 25 small national parks or private game reserves, as well as cultural activities. The research unearthed the following information: During high season, Kruger National Park is overrun with (closed) safari vehicles filled with tourists (the same is said about Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve); game viewing is impossible with the number of vehicles in the park; and no off-road driving is allowed. Private reserves bordering western Kruger offer: a safari in off-road, open safari 4WDs; night game drives; or walking safaris (with an armed ranger and naturalist).
A decision to concentrate solely on wildlife game drives versus cultural activities results in researching other countries. A documentary of Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater and descriptions of the annual Great Migration convinces the novice explorer that East Africa, (Tanzania and Kenya), is the safari destination.
When is the Best time of the year to go on a safari?
Tour operators advertise game safaris are offered 12 months/year. Yes, that is true, but the operators fail to mention that some lodges and tented camps shut down operations during part of the year – the low season. The main reason for closure is weather related, the long rains. The continuous torrential downpours of the ‘long rains’ hampers wildlife sightings and the dirt roads become impassable. The volume of safari guests drop considerably during this period.
After the ‘Long’ (April thru mid-June) and ‘Short’ (November and December) rain months, unpaved roads (translation = dirt tracks) become muddy quagmires. ‘Short rains’ do not last all day as the ‘long rains’ do. After the rains end, the grasses grow to more than 3 feet. Safari guides admit it is more difficult to spot wild game among the tall grasses.
Time of year is important in order to see the Great Migration in East Africa. The large grazers (grass-eaters) and browsers (eat leaves, grass, bushes, and trees), and the predators (that hunt and kill them), consume the fields of new grasses following the annual long and short rains. The annual Great Migration (almost 2 million wildebeests and zebras) runs from late May through the end of October. The game mammals follow the lush new grasses and water sources in the Serengeti ecosystem in a clockwise direction. In 2011, the annual migration begins early as the rains are not abundant. The wildlife migrates to more fertile savannahs 4 weeks early.
If East Africa experiences drought conditions, constant blowing DUST is a major hazard from June through the end of October. The dust gets into your ears, eyes, nose, throat, hair, skin, clothes, etc. One gets covered in DUST. Nevertheless, wild game is much easier to spot during dry weather.
Late December through March is calving season for the mammals, another popular season to be on safari. 400,000 wildebeests (gnus) alone are born during 3 weeks in February. The newborn gnus are easy prey for the lions and many young are hunted and killed before the completion of their first migration.
Types of Safari: Budget/First Class/Deluxe/Luxury
The differences between a budget versus a deluxe safari are the quality and location of accommodations; quality and number of included activities (which are hidden in the final safari cost); size of the safari tour group; and the level of personalized service.
“of camping is the Holiday Inn!” - The novice explorer did not want to pitch a tent and cook food, though there are safaris where an authentic “in the African bush” experience is offered. The novice explorer prefers flushing toilets (no squat holes); hot water showers (versus tepid bucket showers) after a long and dusty game drive; and meals prepared by someone else. No video games/televisions on safari. Guests have face to face conversations discussing the day’s events and animal observations. Internet access is slow (and expensive) - almost nonexistent out in the bush. Accommodations use generators for a few hours each day to power equipment and provide electricity. The generators are turned off from midnight to dawn to conserve fuel. The safari levels below are arranged as a group safari, as well as a private safari, by a safari tour company: ·
• Budget – least expensive: Participation safari where camping equipment is carried; choice of ‘pitch own tent’ or more basic accommodations. A cook may be hired to prepare meals and clean up. This is a no frills wild game safari. ·
• First Class – moderate expense: more comfortable stays @ rustic hotels/lodges; large safari group tours; restaurants; beds (not sleeping bags); other amenities; additional costs for extra activities,in.e., Masai village visit. ·
• Deluxe – upscale and more expensive; smaller group tours, gourmet dining, game drives at night (additional charge); personalized service, all-inclusive meals and activities, i.e., star gazing, lectures, etc. ·
• Luxury – golf courses, spa treatments, private valets and butlers, wine and liqueur included with meals, free laundry. Less emphasis on observing wildlife, more emphasis on personal pampering.
How to Choose a Safari Operator
There are over 400 safari companies in Arusha, Tanzania. More than two years of research and planning from the initial email enquiry to the Africa-bound flights. Below is the methodology used:
1. Search the internet for safari reviews, recommendations, and note what does and does not work for safari travelers.
2. Research TripAdvisor, Fodor’s and other safari resources and learn the How, What, Where, and When of a safari.
3. Review safari brochures of several well known North American based safari companies.
4. Select an itinerary.
5. Email identical itineraries and accommodation choices to several safari tour operators to gauge pricing policies.
6. Inform the tour operators of personal issues: food allergies; limited mobility; heart condition; queen versus twin beds; motion sickness; etc. The safari operator will advise the client if a particular safari or activity will be a problem because of personal issues.
7. Request from safari companies: description of safari vehicles; lodging recommendations; national park recommendations; express concerns about the logistics of being on safari, i.e. are there rest room facilities in the parks?
8. Determine how knowledgeable the safari companies are. Questions to ask: Have you ever been to the country of …? How long ago? How many times? Have you stayed in ABC Tented Camp or XYZ Lodge?
9. Decide: whether one wants be a member of a group tour versus a private tour; a medium size safari company versus a large, well known global tour company.
10. The novice explorer contacts approximately 20 safari tour companies, and receives prompt replies to inquiries (indicates customer service).
11. After weighing the pros and cons of each safari tour company, narrow the choices down to 2 or 3 companies.
12. Thoroughly VET the selected safari operators. Check to see if the safari operator is reputable, a member of professional organizations, ., Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO).
13. Contact references of previous safari participants. Ask for negative and positive comments about their safaris. Would former clients use the company again? If No, why not?
14. A safari is an expensive undertaking – international airfares, all-inclusive room and board, transportation, safari guide, airport transfers, etc. Be meticulous in the examination of the safari company.
15. Evaluate the information. Take a deep breath. Have faith in the decision-making process. Select the best company that one believes is the right fit for the novice explorer.
Large versus Small Safari Operators
Well-known, large safari companies advertise heavily to entice western tourists. The company’s reputations generally are reliable and high quality, especially those operators who have been in business for more than a decade. A few global companies also offer travel tours to other continents, while smaller companies offer wildlife safaris only in one or two countries. Whatever size safari operator you choose, PLEASE take the time to research the company. Check if the company belongs to a reputable travel organization, i.e., Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO). TATO has over 200 registered companies as members. If you are interested in finding a list of tour operators; hotel and national park information; helpful Tanzania websites, access the TATO website.
Search the internet for safari reviews of the safari company. If one cannot find a review written in the past 3 years, inquire on TripAdvisor’s Destination Travel (identify which African country) Forum whether a local resident ‘expert’ can be of help. The Forum advisors have no ulterior motives in answering queries and advice. SOME are in the travel industry business and do sell services, but inform you of that immediately. MOST provide key insights into new and unknown destination subject material. ALL are enthusiastic about the subject countries, and have a keen desire to encourage tourism growth. TA’s Travel Forums are invaluable in answering the How, What, Where, Who, and When safari conundrums.
Several North American safari companies have NEITHER offices NOR employees in Africa – they subcontract their safaris to local companies. After careful deliberation, the novice explorer chooses a small safari company based in Arusha, Tanzania. The safari company visits, evaluates, and has first-hand knowledge of national parks, lodges, camps, etc. The small company pays attention to details, provides prompt professional service, and does NOT have 200+ guides working for them. The service quality is personalized and far superior in a small company versus a much larger firm Online there are several, positive reviews from very satisfied customers, as well as lengthy conversations with the USA representative, convinces the novice explorer that this is the right choice.
Group Safari versus Private Safari
Large safari tour operators plan and sell set itineraries at least 2 calendar years ahead. The companies bring unrelated strangers together to form a tour group. The safaris details are fixed and cannot be adjusted: number of days on safari; hotel and lodge choices; tour group meals; daily schedule; national parks visited; non-safari activities – museums, sundowner cocktails, bush breakfast and bush dinner, hot air balloon ride, Masai village visits; vehicular transportation – pre-selected choice of motor coach bus, mini-buses, minivans, 4X4 trucks, motorized and non-motorized boats, or single engine planes; daily driving for hours, in confined spaces, with strangers; usually with one guide and several drivers. The only decision the traveler makes is selecting the safari start date.
A private safari is a custom itinerary tailored to the interests and choices of the participant(s). The safari guide and 4WD vehicle are for the travelers’ personal and exclusive use. Private safaris can be arranged for 2 passengers, and even 1 passenger. The tour operator charges a minimal fee for arranging private safaris.
A group safari is suppose to be less expensive than a private safari, due to wholesale hotel group discounts and regularly scheduled reservations. A private safari can cost less than a group safari. The process is to: Select a safari operator (see comments below): Select an itinerary of a well known group safari tour company; Email the identical itinerary (number of days, accommodations, national parks, extra activities, and airports to start and end the safari) to several safari tour operators requesting total costs; Review cost estimates ranging from 40% less to 35% more (upscale accommodations) for the same itinerary. Most safari operators can turn the group safari itinerary into a private safari, for a small additional fee. The cost differences will be in the type of accommodations (amenities like golf courses are costly), select alternate parks that do not charge as high a daily entrance fee, spend less time and money on extracurricular activities, i.e. hot air balloon ride.
The reasons the novice explorer chooses a private safari are: ·
Flexible itinerary - No daily regimented group schedule. ·
Interest in touring different or more national parks and reserves. ·
Spend more (or less) time in one location over another. ·
Extremely hesitant to share a small vehicle with strangers. ·
Did NOT want to spend hours driving from park to park. ·
Warnings of high security risks involving overland travel in Kenya – a flying safari is arranged.
Personally, the private safari is an unforgettable adventure. The guide spots and tracks specific wildlife animals; stops and parks, so animal observations are as long or as short as desired; stops and maneuvers the 4WD in order to find the best photo shot; and have the option to decide the time the game drive starts and ends. One is not on someone else’s rigid time schedule. On the game drives, the novice explorer notices crowded 4WD vehicles, every seat is taken, and passengers jockey to find the best photography angle while standing up in the pop up roof. The novice explorer revels in the solitude and freedom of a private safari.
Safari Modes of Transportation
The most common mode of safari transport is the 4WD vehicles. Safaris also utilize single engine planes, motor coach buses, minivans, motorized and non-motorized boats (canoes and kayaks), camels, elephants, horses, and even on foot (with armed security guards). One can do a self-drive safari without the expertise or expense of a driver/guide. However, hiring a skilled safari guide is invaluable, especially if you are not familiar with the wildlife and the park’s terrain. An escorted mountain gorilla trekking safari is popular in Uganda and Rwanda. Daytime game drives are the norm, but night bush drives view nocturnal animals, usually in private game reserves.
PLEASE NOTE: On a flying safari, one is transported directly from park to park. The safari company cannot control the qualifications and skills of the safari guide assigned by the lodge/camp. The safari guide in Tanzania is highly skilled and a trained game spotter of the chosen company. The guide teaches the novice explorer so much about game animals and their natural habitats. An excellent safari guide enhances the safari expedition. The personal experience with 4 guides is 50 – 50. The excellent safari guide employee of the Arusha based company, and the Masai Mara National Reserve camp guide are both dedicated and knowledgeable game spotters. The guides/game spotters in Amboseli National Park and Samburu National Reserve are not. They merely function as drivers.
Pros and Cons for a Flying Safari ·
Pros - no extended overland drive on dusty, potholed, unpaved roads between parks; less of a bone-jarring ride; reduced side to side movement in the 4WD; saving hours of precious safari time. ·
Cons – less flexibility on game drives; using the lodge/camp employee and 4WD does not entitle one to an all day exclusive use of the guide and vehicle; one may have to share the vehicle with strangers.
The safari vehicle used exclusively by the novice explorer is a 4WD Toyota Land Cruiser with a pop up roof and two gas tanks (there are no roadside gasoline stations). The pop up roof provides shade for passengers standing to take photos or videos. The Land Cruiser is equipped with two very powerful binoculars for observing wildlife, one pictorial reference book on African mammals, and a comprehensive reference guide on birds of Africa. The books are very helpful in identifying the colorful birds and game animals.
There are 4WD vehicles without pop up metal roofs. In this type of 4WD, the roof is canvas fabric. The roof flaps are tied down. In the ‘open’ position, the flaps are untied and are rolled forward behind the driver. Photographers might enjoy the unobstructed roof of the folding canvas roof. However, no protection from the relentless sunshine may cause sunburn or excruciating headaches on long game drives.
One global tour company uses a 4WD vehicle which has 3 rows of stadium seats and no windows or doors – which I thought would be great for taking photos of wildlife. It turns out the game animals walk so close to the safari vehicles. The novice explorer can literally reach out and touch them, if dared. It is unnecessary to carry 3 foot long camera lenses. The small digital camera takes great wildlife photos since the subjects are so near – sometimes a little too close. The novice explorer is grateful for the doors and windows on the 4WD vehicle.
In Amboseli National Park, the new guide drives a 4WD, retrofitted minivan (9 seats) with a pop up metal roof. The minivan is not as comfortable as the Land Cruiser. The seats are narrow and very uncomfortable. The driver sits too far away from the passengers, so it is difficult to communicate with each other. Massive dust invades the vehicle. No binoculars to view game or reference guide books.
Ashnil Samburu Camp – Toyota Land Cruiser; no reference books and the guide did not share the binoculars.
Mara Intrepids – Land Rover Defender’s canvas roof rolls forward and the plastic windows roll up. If it rains, the driver/guide has to stop the 4WD and unroll the roof and windows - a minor inconvenience. The safari guide shares powerful binoculars and is a fountain of wild game information.
All safari vehicles and occupants must exit the national park by 6:30 PM, otherwise heavy fines are paid by the safari guides/tour operators. If one stays outside the national park/reserve, the 4WD and its occupants have to exit the park early to avoid the fines. For less unnecessary driving time, I highly recommend staying in accommodations within the national parks and reserves.
Visas and Passports
US passports must be valid for 6 months past the return date of travel from Africa. United States citizens need at least 6 blank pages in the passport. US citizens are required to apply and pay for visas for travel to Kenya, Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. The 2011 visa fees for Kenya = USD $50/person, and Tanzania = USD $100/person.
Kenya visas are obtained at the border crossing - a quick and painless process. Enter the government office; authorities take photograph; pay the visa fee (USD $50 cash/person); Kenya visa is issued; and the safari continues.
Six weeks before the safari, the Tanzania visa application, fee, and current passport are mailed to the Embassy of Tanzania, Washington DC. With the visa application, send a pre-addressed, stamped envelope which is used to return the passport and approved visa. If you are reluctant to mail in passports, another option is to obtain the Tanzania visa when deplaning in Kilimanjaro. Either way, the fee is the same – USD $100/person. The thought of standing on a visa processing queue after flying 16 hours from the USA, late at night, with hundreds of other passengers, made the decision to mail away for the Tanzania visa easy.
Risk of malaria exists in most African countries, except for Lesotho and South Africa. Certain anti-malaria medication is not effective in some of the African nations. Prescribed anti-malaria medication is taken 2 weeks before leaving home, while on safari in Africa, and continues 2 weeks after returning home. Mefloquine hydrochloride tablets are prescribed - one anti-malaria pill weekly for 6 weeks. Consult an overseas travel medicine physician, or personal physician, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for the most current health recommendations for travel within Africa.
Yellow fever inoculation is required if one enters Tanzania and Kenya from a yellow fever prone country (India, Kenya, etc.). If you arrive in East Africa from the USA and/or Western Europe, yellow fever inoculation is NOT required. Hepatitis A (food and water), and Hepatitis B inoculations, booster shots for tetnus, polio, and other childhood vaccines are recommended.
From dusk to dawn, use a strong Deet infused insect repellent; wear long sleeve shirts, long pants, closed toe shoes (not sandals); and use mosquito netting to prevent insect bites. The high altitude (7,500 feet/2,300 meters) of Ngorongoro Crater causes temperatures too cold for mosquitoes.
Avoid dehydration by drinking lots of bottled water. The dust dries out the eyes, throat and mouth. Arrange with the safari operator for bottled water in the 4WD safari vehicle and the lodging accommodations.
Travel insurance is highly recommended by the safari tour companies. The insurance should cover medical, trip cancellation, luggage, and emergency evacuation to the nearest urban hospital. The per person travel insurance cost is based on the total cost of the safari plus international airfare. Pre-existing medical conditions should be noted and covered in the insurance plan. Check whether your current health care plan covers medical reimbursements for overseas medical care. Travel insurance from a reputable provider makes good sense and should definitely be purchased. Thousands of dollars are spent on the safari. If a medical emergency arises, one would want to pay for the best medical care available. Travel insurance costs a few dollars more and provides peace of mind thousands of miles from home.
US dollar bills are widely accepted in Tanzania and Kenya, even by local roadside vendors. All souvenirs and trinkets are priced in US dollars, not local currency. Take 100 crisp, one dollar large-faced USA bills, printed after the year 2003. Change US dollar bills into Tanzania shillings and Kenya shillings at the local Bureau de Change office, not the bank. The exchange rate is competitive with world market rates and no currency exchange fee is charged.
DO NOT exchange more US money into local currency than absolutely necessary. It is almost impossible to exchange unused shillings back into US dollars.
Major credit cards are accepted in most businesses. Sometimes a credit card usage fee is also assessed, equal to 3 - 5% of the purchase price. The novice explorer did not see an ATM machine while in Africa.
Guide books recommend wearing earth tone color clothes when on safari. One does not have to purchase a new safari wardrobe. The Masai people wear bright colored cloth, especially the color red, from neck to feet. The safari guides explain the animals, especially the lions, are color-blind, so they cannot see the bright colors. Avoid the colors of black and dark blue which attract biting and disease-carrying tsetse flies. Also avoid white colored clothing - they will turn streaky brown from the ever-present dust.
The only clothing purchased is a 21 pocket safari vest (sometimes called a photographer’s vest). The novice explorer loves it!! The vest has a hidden zipper pocket to carry cash; pockets with Velcro fasteners; pockets within pockets; D rings to attach straps to the vest; mesh pockets; etc. The safari vest organizes what is carried and leaves the hands free for the camera.
Natural fiber clothing, like breathable cotton, is most comfortable in tropical Africa. Wear long sleeve shirts and long pants from dusk to dawn when biting insects appear.
In the higher altitudes, a sweatshirt or windbreaker is good for the chilly early mornings and cool evenings, though the daytime temperatures can be very warm.
Surprisingly, a bandana is genuinely useful against the DUST that permeates the hair and skin on game drives. The bandana covers the nose, mouth, throat, ears and lower half of the face. It effectively functions as a dust mask, but covers a much larger area.
One day laundry service is available in most lodges and camps for additional fees. The novice explorer did not purchase new clothes for the safari, except for the above-mentioned vest. Guests do not dress up on safari. Comfort, not style, is the mantra of the novice explorer.
Soft sided duffel bags are preferred on internal flights in Africa. The flights are 10 and 12 seat single engine planes. Weight limit is 15 kilos or 33 pounds, and one carry-on weighing 3 kilos or 7 pounds. The baggage is not weighed. The pilot is the check-in desk, ticketing agent, TSA security, baggage handler, and hand weighs the baggage. Heavier bags are placed in the rear of the plane for even weight distribution.
Things To Pack
Camera memory cards – The novice explorer took 10 Gigs of videos and photographs.
Batteries - Camera and other electronic products.
Large ziplock bags to keep electronics free of moisture and dust, and other uses.
Travel power converters – Africa uses European style electrical outlets. A few camps/lodges loan converters out or will offer to recharge electronics, though there is no guarantee that they can. Remember – electricity is NOT available 24 hours . The camps/lodges designate several hours a day/night when the generators are turned off.
*Flashlight – small, to illuminate the pathway back and forth to the dining hall, and to provide room light in the middle of the night (See above).
Anti-bacterial Wipes and Hand Sanitizer - clean, running water not always available.
Maximum strength Deet insect repellent - Can of Doom aerosol bug killer (very effective) is provided in each tent/room.
Prescription anti-malaria medication – Carry this and other prescribed medications with you while in travel status [no mini-fridges available if medication needs to be refrigerated].
Over the counter aspirin, pain relievers, band-aids, vitamins, aloe vera gel for sunburn, anti-itch bug bite lotion, toiletries, first aid kit, etc. – Never noticed a pharmacy or supermarket.
Wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, lip balm, suntan lotion – Brutal African sun.
Pillow - Cushion the back from bone-jarring unpaved roads.
Eye protection and lens cleaner for glasses and camera lenses – Blowing DUST, DUST, DUST everywhere.
Bandana – to protect ears (or ear plugs) , nose, throat, face from DUST.
Hard candies/Throat lozenges - Lubricate the throat from dust caused dryness.
Slippers – Tents/rooms have wood floors or tile floors. Do not walk in bare feet, especially in the dark - too many dangerous African insects and snakes.
School supplies – are in short supply. Donate to an orphanage, local school, or Masai village. The novice explorer brought 12 dozen ball point pens for the children of the Tanzania Masai village. At the last tented camp,the novice explorer gave away clothes, shoes, toiletries, and packaged snacks to a Masai employee and her family. She was very grateful and the novice explorer did not have to bring the items home.
Note: Bought a head lamp to read and write in my journal nightly - Never used the lamp. The novice explorer is too tired to stay awake - early morning game drives begin at 6:30.
The novice explorer uses a small Canon (Powershot SX100 IS, 8.0 Mega Pixels with 10X Optical Zoom) digital camera. It takes fantastic photos and action videos of the wild game animals. The wildlife mammals are a few feet from the safari vehicle – sometimes next to the 4WD. There is no need to bring a 3 foot telephoto camera lens. The wildlife does not pay attention to the noisy paparazzi.
While the 4WD is on the move, there is a lot of bouncing motion because of the poor road conditions. Ask the driver/guide to momentarily stop in order to take photographs/videos. Some guide books recommend a bean bag as a faux tripod. If the camera is small enough and you do not have a large attached lens, it is not really necessary.
During the 2 week safari, 40 videos are taken. The action videos capture: giraffes cantering across the savannah; 3 baby elephants trying to climb out of a watering hole; hundreds of thundering wildebeests, running away from hyenas; and lions chasing vultures and Marabou storks away from the leftovers of a fresh wildebeest kill.
Bring extra memory cards, flash drives (if a laptop is used to store photos/videos), and lots of BATTERIES – no convenience stores in the bush.
Travel warnings issued by the US State Department and the British Foreign Office are based on current economic and border issues. The security risks of overland travel within Kenya are high. As a result, a flying safari to three national parks in Kenya is arranged.
All meals are included while on safari, except dinners on the first night in Arusha and last night in Nairobi, (prior to boarding USA bound flight). The chosen small safari company arranges the following itinerary:
1. Arrive in Kilimanjaro International Airport ( JRO ) on KLM’s Amsterdam flight.
2. Airport transfer from JRO to the East Africa All Suite Hotel and Conference Centre in Arusha - 1 night.
3. In Tanzania, the safari company's English speaking safari guide and a 4WD Toyota Land Cruiser is at our disposal.
4. Drive through Lake Manyara National Park.
5. Drive and stay on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater [ http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserRe... ] at the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge – 2 nights.
6. Visit Olduvai Gorge [ http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserRe... ].
7. Visit a Masai village and meet the villagers.
8. Drive and stay in the western corridor of the Serengeti National Park [ http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserRe... ] at the Mbuzi Mawe Tented Camp – 2 nights.
9. Fly from Serengeti National Park back to Arusha.
10. Transfer from Arusha Airport to the Kenyan border. Transfer to a safari tour company based in Nairobi – provides an English speaking safari guide and 4WD safari vehicle.
NOTE: The Tanzania government mandates Tanzania registered vehicles and Tanzania licensed safari drivers/safari companies only, (not overseas companies), transport safari guests in Tanzania. Kenya has a reciprocal policy. As a result, large North American safari tour operations sub-contract the safaris to local safari companies.
11. A Kenya safari company drives the novice explorer to southern Kenya’s Amboseli National Park [ http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserRe... ] and Ol Tukai Lodge – 2 nights.
12. Fly from Amboseli NP to Samburu National Reserve and stay at Ashnil Samburu Camp – 2 nights. Camp driver and vehicle conducts game drives.
13. Fly from Samburu NR to the Masa Mara Confluence [ http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserRe... ] area and stay at the Mara Intrepids Club (tents) – 2 nights. Camp driver and vehicle conducts game drives.
14. Fly from Masai Mara Airstrip to Wilson Airport in Nairobi.
15. Airport transfer from Wilson Airport to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO). Board KLM flights back to the United States.
In Tanzania, the driving safari is with the same safari guide and 4WD vehicle touring two national parks, Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti National Park. The governments of Tanzania and Kenya have a reciprocal agreement where only citizens/residents and registered vehicles of a country can conduct safaris in that country. Sadly, the safari guide extraordinaire and his beige Land Cruiser cannot continue the safari to Kenya - touring Amboseli National Park, Samburu National Reserve, and Masai Mara National Reserve.
Types and costs of safari accommodations vary greatly in amenities (golf courses, swimming pools, massages), sleeping bag versus cots versus beds, gourmet cuisine versus cafeteria food. One can stay in a luxury resort lodges or rustic (budget) lodge; luxury tented camp or ‘pitch your own tent’ campsite; a permanent camp location versus a mobile tented camp, or a combination of the above. The choices are endless. Personal reviews of the following accommodations can be found on TripAdvisor:
East African All Suite Hotel, Arusha (1
Night) - http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserRe...
Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge (2 Nights) - http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserRe...
Mbuzi Mawe Tented Camp (2 Nights) - http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserRe...
Oltukai Lodge (2 Nights) - http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserRe...
· Ashnil Samburu Lodge (2 Nights) - http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserRe...
· Mara Intrepids Club (2 Nights - http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserRe...
Wildlife, birds, and Man require water for daily survival. It is extremely fascinating to observe the animals drink, bath, or stalk prey by a waterhole. Mbuzi Mawe Tented Camp is NOT located on a river or watering hole. Therefore, there are few game animals around Mbuzi Mawe Camp to observe. The trade-off is the other tented camps near water sources, Ashnil Samburu Camp and Mara Intrepids Club, are enclosed by electric barriers, to keep the dangerous wildlife at bay.
An individual employed as a guide in a national park should know the terrain and wildlife inhabiting the park. Each species has specific habits, i.e., giraffes and elephants prefer eating leaves of tall bushes and trees; and lion prides are territorial beasts. For example, a good safari guide knows which prides prowl distinct zones within a park.
In Tanzania, the novice explorer is spoiled by the safari guide. The guide is a fountain of wild game information and he expertly instructs clients on how to successfully spot game. The game spotter introduces and educates us to the mammals and birds of Africa as he guides us through Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti National Park. Two out of three Kenyan guides DO NOT approach the high standard set by the Tanzanian guide. One taciturn guide is knowledgeable, but does not freely share the information, while the other is young and finds wild game by following other 4WD vehicles.
The fourth guide is excellent and is employed by Mara Intrepids Club. The Mara employee is an outstanding game spotter; highly knowledgeable; easily shares information about game animals and birds; knows the breadth and depth of the Mara Reserve and the hiding places of the various Mara wildlife. The Mara guide drives to each lion pride’s territory and describes the pride members. During the last afternoon game drive, the novice explorer wants to photograph a black rhino. The Mara guide knows the black rhino’s habits and searches for the nearly extinct black rhino. The Mara guide is determined to flush the double horned beast out of the rhino's daytime shady hiding place. The Mara guide patiently scours the woodlands and savannah for a black rhino sighting. The rhino appears on cue as the late afternoon breezes dissipate the African heat. The passengers are elated to follow the rhino rambling across the plains as the African sun sets.
Earlier in the day, the Mara safari guide introduces the passengers to the famous female leopard, Olive, and family – full-grown son, Nkayuni, and one year old daughter Bahati, ‘the lucky one’. The leopard family surrounds the Land Rover as the group monitors the leopards play together, and chase, but not catch, a hare. Whichever game animal is asked of the Mara guide to find, the guide happily obliges!
The exceptional skills of outstanding game spotters bring new and exciting animal interaction during each game drive. All safari vehicles must exit the parks and reserves, or return to camp, by 6:30 PM - otherwise, the driver/guide is heavily fined. After finding and following the black rhino, the 4WD races across the Mara, to enter the Mara Intrepids camp with seconds to spare.
Qualities of a good game spotter:
1. Willingness to share knowledge and information about the game mammals, feathered flying creatures, and their relationship with the natural environment.
2. Ability to immediately identify animals and explain the differences between the Thompson gazelle and the Grant’s gazelle; or the Plains and Grevy’s zebras
3. Identify the distinguishing characteristics of the male and female of a species.
4. Know the habits of the game animals, and their regular park hiding places.
5. Be willing to locate the wildlife animals guests want to observe.
6. Explain the mating rituals of a species.
7. Describe the social structure of the game animals – how long is the gestation period - and who cares for the young? Are they solitary or group animals? Is the group headed by a matriarch or patriarch? Are they monogamous for life or one mating season?
Excursions in Addition to a Wildlife Safari
The following excursions can be added to the safari:
· Climb Mount Kilimanjaro: takes 6 – 9 days depending on the route selected to the summit.
· Sand and surf beach resorts: In Tanzania, the destination is Zanzibar, while in Kenya, it is Mombasa. Direct flights are available from the national parks.
· Victoria Falls: White water rafting, helicopter, jet boat, elephant safari.
· Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda and Uganda
· Visit to a Masai or Samburu Village
The Masai warriors, women and children are nomadic and scratch out a meager existence in the bush. Most do not speak English or interact with foreign tourists. For a fee, a few of the Masai (in Tanzania) and Samburu (in Kenya) semi-nomadic communities have opened their stick and dung built bomas (huts) to tourists. One is able to see how the Masai subsist in the barren African plains. The Masai men and boys are cattle and goat herders. The Masai men walk miles every day to find food and water for their livestock. The Masai women contribute to the village’s livelihood by making colorful beaded jewelry for sale. Most lodges and camps employ the tall Masai warriors as security guards. Others hire Masai warriors for their sling shot skills to chase away mischievous monkeys and confrontational baboons from the hotel property. The novice explorer befriends a waitress serving meals at the last tented camp accommodation, who is member of a local Masai tribe. The mother of two is undergoing culture shock being away from the Masai family and village. The Masai woman is getting use to wearing her ‘constricting’ beige safari uniform and ankle high boots. More young Masai adults are seeking employment with regional lodges and tented camps.
Most Personalized Service and Friendliest Staff
Serena’s Mbuzi Mawe Tented Camp [ http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserRe... ], in Serengeti National Park, emphasizes personalized service. From check-in until check-out, the camp’s entire staff respectfully greets the guests by name. The restaurant staff remembers special requests and anticipates each guest’s needs. The entire staff should be congratulated on the genuine, upbeat service and professional demeanor.
Best Safari Acommodation
Heritage Hotel’s Mara Intrepids Club [ http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserRe... ] is centrally located on the Talek River within the Masai Mara National Reserve, which is the northern section of the Serengeti ecosystem. Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve combined is really the same park, with the Tanzania/Kenya border running through the northern region. The Seregeti NP is almost 10X the size (5700 square miles) of the Masai Mara National Reserve (583 square miles). The annual Great Migration of almost 2 million wildebeests, zebras and predators are concentrated within these two parks. The tented camp is situated in a wooded grove of lush vegetation ensuing peace and serenity. The location of each tent maximizes privacy for the occupants.
The employees of Mara Intrepids provide incredible professional service. The porter Gideon is unobtrusive. The porter brings the early morning coffee and cookies on time, and the hot water bottles nightly. The safari guide is extra-ordinary. The head chef prepares delicious gourmet dishes, and the wait staff makes the novice explorer feel right at home. General Manager, Edwin, oversees a high quality, well run operation.
Quality of Food
Mbuzi Mawe Tented Camp and Ashnil Samburu Camp - Best food quality is when the chef has less guests to prepare meals. The small tented camps with less than 20 guests excel in this category. However, Ol Tukai Lodge , cooking for 200 guests, also prepares outstanding and varied cuisine.
NOTE: Ice made from bottled water is available upon request. At dinner bring the bottled water and request glasses of ice, otherwise, charges for bottled water ordered in the bar and/or restaurant is added to your bill. Sufficient bottles of water are provided by the safari company and the lodges and camps.
Best National Park/Reserve … is the Serengeti ecosystem: Serengeti National Park and the Masai Mara National Reserve . The size of the combined parks, diversity of wild game and birds, and geographic landmarks allow each game drive to be unique and wondrous. The novice explorerI would definitely return again to the Serengeti NP and the Masai Mara NR.
Best Wildlife Closest to Camp – the Elephants , as well as giraffes, zebras, impalas, Little Bee-Eaters, and other distinctive birds, at Ashnil Samburu Camp . The wildlife and beautiful birds comes faithfully, everyday to drink from the Ewaso Nyiro River, which borders the camp.
What the Novice Explorer liked MOST about the Safari
· The ANIMALS, the WILDLIFE, the FEATHERED CREATURES, and the baby ANIMALS! The game animals are mesmerizing to behold and observe in their daily routines.
· Avoid long, DUSTY, bumpy, overland journeys by FLYING from national park to national park.
· Learning about each game animal and its instinctive habits and characteristics.
· Unplugging from the electronic universe.
· Witnessing mothers tend to their young; listening to songbirds, announcing the dawn; preserving in memory, the African sunset turning the sky into golden flames.
What the Novice Explorer would do differently …
1. Add an extra day before the start of a safari. International flights from USA to Africa are 17 hours with connecting flights. Flight delays can happen and play havoc with the itinerary. Schedule an extra day or two. Spend the extra day exploring Arusha and allow the body to get over jet lag.
2. Spend more time in Tanzania exploring additional parks (Tanangire National Park and Selous Game Reserve). Thereby, keeping the 4WD vehicle and superb safari guide longer. [The Masai Mara National Reserve is OUTSTANDING! The novice explorerI does not regret flying into Kenya.]
3. A visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi to see the orphan elephants would have been a spectacular bonus. One can get up close and personal with the little tuskers. There is always next time…
· In Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda - learn some words in Swahili, e.g. Hello = Jambo ; Thank you = Asante ; How are you? = Habari?
· Smiles are universally understood and transcend language barriers.
· Expectations - If witnessing a ‘kill’ several times a day is important, then purchase a National Geographic documentary and watch that instead of going on a safari. The videographers who produce documentaries spend hours, days, and weeks capturing the wildlife shots. Do NOT expect to see a lion pride stalk, chase, kill, and then consume the prey while you capture the moment in photos and video. One can be lucky and come upon predators stalking prey, give chase, and kill the weaker prey, but not daily. Lions and leopards hunt at night. The cats rest and sleep through the heat of the day.
· Learn which animals are grazers – eat grass only; such as the wildebeests, zebras, warthogs, and hippos.
· Learn which animals are browsers – eat leaves, grasses, trees, bushes; like the elephants, giraffes, elands and other antelopes.
· Listen and follow the instructions of the ranger/guide - #1 responsibility is to keep safari guests safe from danger.
· Wild animals are unpredictable, and should not be provoked. Stay in the safari vehicle. If on a walking safari, NEVER get between a mother and its young.
Go on an African Safari. Learn about the natural world – the incredible wildlife, colorful birds, and the hardworking Masai people. Get out of one’s ‘normal’ routine. Let one's self experience … a truly UNIQUE journey.