I would like to start with an apology for the length of this review. This experience is so profound that it warrants a full description of all our encounters and the many wonders of a Trip of a Lifetime, so read on if you like.
The very first night I met Darleen I got to ask her three questions…would you like to dance? “Yes”. Would you like a drink? “Sure”. Would you like to go to Africa with me? Well, she didn’t answer my calls for three weeks. So, life happened, and it took me 36 years to finally get that answer I was looking for, and for the summer of our 35th anniversary we finally went on my ‘Dream Adventure’. It was by far more than I ever expected.
I had been looking into this for several years in hopes we would one day take this adventure and narrowed it down to three tour companies. During my research, I learned three very important factors. I knew we wanted a private safari, no question. I knew we wanted an enclosed vehicle, no question, and I knew we wanted an organization we could trust and depend on and who had the experience, staff and logistics to offer us a “Trip of a Lifetime”. After measuring all the ratings, reviews and speaking to some staff, there was no question that ADS was the company for us.
We were fortunate enough to work with Michael Wishner and through several long conversations and emails, he put together a 15-day itinerary. This schedule gave us a rest day before our safari (highly recommended), 11 days on safari and a day when we returned to organize our souvenir purchases and prepare for a long journey home. The itinerary was perfect with a new adventure every day.
When we arrived, Mathias arranged for someone to meet us right off the plane and put us first in line for the COVID rapid test. From there we whisked our way through immigration and customs and found Matias and Sumbe waiting for us. They took our bags and drove us directly to the Arusha Coffee Lodge to rest. The next day they took us on a tour of Arusha, and we made a visit to the Cultural Heritage Center which was amazing (don’t miss it).
The next morning, they took us to the Arusha airport to fly to Kogatende at the Mara River and there we met our guide, George. We were like kids in a candy shop. Look, a crocodile! Look, a zebra! Look, a wildebeest! Look, an elephant… You get the idea.
Three hours into our first day George spots lions under a tree 300 yards away. Of course, we couldn’t see them, but George drove right up to them leaving less than 10 feet between us. THEY WERE MATING! WOW! That’s something most folks don’t get to witness. Our highlight of the day for sure.
The biggest reason I wanted to go to Africa was to witness the Great Migration and experience a river crossing. We spent three nights at the Mara River Camp which was amazing, and the folks there said that many people do get to witness a crossing, but not everyone. The next day we set out at 6:00 AM and by 12:00 we witnessed FOUR crossings.
We were on the south side of the Mara River and saw two south to north and two north to south, the last one included zebra. That was such an amazing experience! My dream to witness a crossing was more than fulfilled, it was overflowing. We ate our boxed lunch then decided we were exhausted, so we took the rest of the day off to rest. The camp prepared a bush dinner for us complete with singing and dancing, what a great night.
The next day we started our third game drive to the Kenya border. We saw so much wildlife and experienced the vastness of the Serengeti. The air is so clean and sweet from the grasses, nothing like back home. We followed an elephant family for quite some time, what a treat to see how they interact. But our highlight of the day was to witness our FIFTH river crossing, this time from the north side of the Mara River and we were the only ones there!
There seemed to be tens of thousands of wildebeests coming at us, the line was endless, and we were positioned perfectly. They first crossed to our left, then something spooked them, likely a croc, and they changed their entry point to our right, we were right in the middle. If yesterday’s crossings were the main course, this was the best dessert ever! After that we decided to crown George, “King George of the Serengeti”, a title he accepted and truly earned.
The next morning, we headed out for the longest drive of our trip, an eleven-hour trek to the western Serengeti to stay at the Mbalageti Tented Lodge. It was long, dusty and very bumpy. Don’t kid yourself, those roads are rough and as George said, “Today you don’t get just the usual African massage, you’ll get the deep tissue massage”, and he was right.
Along the way we stopped for lunch at the visitor center in central Serengeti so George could fuel up and change a tire. We also veered off the main road a few times on short game drives and found a lot of wildlife, especially lions and a mom with her cub.
We spent two nights at the Mbalageti Tented Lodge which is absolutely beautiful, complete with a swimming pool and the best view of all the lodges.
In the morning we started our game drive early again with boxed breakfast and lunch. I highly recommend this since you’re paying to see animals, not to eat at a lodge. We toured the Grumeti River Circuit looking for anything, but mostly crocodiles since this is where they are most prominent. We found all kinds of wildlife including very large crocs, but the highlight was having lunch with about 120 hippos along the riverbank.
Returning to the lodge we stopped in the middle of the Mbalageti river (a creek really) and watched a baboon troop interact for quite a while. Along the way we also found a beautifully pristine forest of Whistling Thorn Acacia trees, truly a sight to see.
Like the days before, our coffee was delivered at 5:15 AM as a wakeup call so we could leave by 6:00. This day we headed east towards central Serengeti on our way to the Seronera Sametu Camp for two nights. On the way the notable sightings were lions, lions, lions. We also ran into a full grown nearly 20-foot-tall male giraffe standing on the road who only moved a little to let us by. I could have touched him had I stuck out my hand.
Other notables were a cheetah mom with three cubs and Darleen’s favorite, vervet monkeys with several babies.
The next morning started like the others with breakfast and lunch in boxes so we could tour the Central Serengeti Circuit. Along the way the notable sightings were an African spotted owl, a spitting cobra, and a lion mom with babies in a cave. We also saw several types of beautiful acacia trees including Umbrella Thorn and a forest of the Yellow Bark species.
The highlight of this day was following a cheetah and her cub on a hunt. The communication between the two is done with her tail. Tail up means follow, tail down means stay back, and that cub really listens. She set her sights on a Thompson Gazelle and she took off. I have never seen an animal accelerate so quickly. Sure, you can see it on TV, but in real life, right in front of you, is totally unbelievable. You have to be there to understand.
She caught the gazelle, killed it, then called for her cub as we watched the whole process for nearly two hours. They perched on a termite mound for over 30 minutes and watched for other predators who might steal their meal while mom cooled off and lowered her heart rate after the chase. They then moved the gazelle to a suitable eating location and ate the entire animal leaving just a couple of bones and a spot on the ground.
This is when I realized how grand nature really is. A mom had to kill an adolescent gazelle to feed herself and her cub. She chose an animal just the right size to fill their needs leaving nothing to waste. We could learn something here.
The following morning, we left the Serengeti and made our way to the Ngorongoro Crater. We got there by noon and had lunch at a popular picnic location with beautiful acacia trees and a hippo pond. We drove around the park and enjoyed the sights of the crater which is set roughly 2000 feet below the rim and is known as the “Garden of Eden of Africa”.
This 100 square mile crater has an abundance of wildlife, a seven-mile lake, a forest and large flat plains. It seems to have it all, including tourists. The rangers were preparing for the arrival of the President who is visiting all the national parks to promote tourism. It was getting busy by the end of the day, so we headed in to the Ngorongoro Lion’s Paw Tented Lodge for the night.
We spent the next morning in the crater hunting for a Rhino and more monkeys with babies. We couldn’t find either, so we decided to leave before the President arrived and things got nuts. On the way out, on the ascending road, we encountered perhaps our most dangerous experience of the trip. As we rounded the bend, a 60+ year old bull elephant appeared in the middle of the single lane road, heading down hill right at us. King George stopped the truck, cut the engine and told us to be still and very quiet.
I was standing with my head through the top as I had the whole trip with camera in hand. I started clicking pictures like crazy not thinking to press the movie button (darn!). The elephant came right up to the front of the truck, then veered to our right stepping off the road only enough to get by. He stopped midway, which was a scary part, and nearly pressed his tusk against the window Darleen was looking through. If the window was open, she could have touched his tusk.
He then continued past and saw a second truck 50 yards behind us also stopped. He spun around a bit looking confused as to where he should go, so he headed back towards us and got very close again and fanned his ears all the way. That is typically a warning, so we all got very concerned. He eventually decided the trucks were too much to deal with and headed down the side of the hill and away from the road. George fired up the truck and got out of there.
As we rounded the hillside, we saw the elephant seemingly confused and heading back towards the road not knowing how to get out of his situation. We made our way out and finally found a paved road! The first paved road in ten days, what a relief. We stopped for lunch at an actual restaurant and decided to give away our boxed lunches to some children we found along the way. From there we made our way to the Escarpment Luxury Lodge for the night.
On Sunday we made our way to F.A.M.E. to get our COVID test. This is a really nice place. I truly commend the doctors who founded this facility and is truly worthy of a nice donation. As a result from yesterday’s experience giving out food, Darleen caught the bug, she insisted we stop at a market to purchase treats we can give away to the children. So, we loaded up the truck and found as many children as we could to give them a treat.
This was Darleen’s highlight of the entire trip. She just loved meeting all the children and seeing the happy smiles on their faces as she gave out juice boxes, lollipops, chocolate bars and assorted treats. We did this all morning and loved every minute. We followed this with a tour through the Manyara National Park. The canopy here was the best of all and provided sightings of baboons, vervey monkeys and blue monkeys all with babies. There were also a lot of birds and other wildlife. From there we continued to the Maramboi Tented Lodge for two nights.
The next day we started with a drive through town to give away the last of our treats to the children on our way to the last game drive of our safari. Here we toured Tarangire National Park. I was fascinated by the huge Baobab trees, so many and so awesome.
We found many lions sleeping in trees, which is what this park is known for, and vervey monkeys feeding impalas fruit from a tree. Our highlights were a python curled up atop a tree which looked like it just ate something. George said this was the largest python he has ever seen. It was huge!
We also finally saw a Leppard, on our last game drive! It was sleeping in a tree at a bit of a distance. I did get some pics, but nothing frameable.
On our last full day, we made our way back to Arusha to check in at the Coffee Lodge for one last night. We headed over to the Cultural Heritage Center to collect our souvenirs and packed them in our luggage, then back to the Coffee Lodge to rest. We spent the rest of the day recalling our trip and talking about all the wonderful experiences we had.
The next morning, after a late breakfast, George and Mathias came to pick us up and take us to the Kilimanjaro airport for our flight home. With a sigh of exhaustion and a true feeling of connection to Tanzania and the Serengeti we boarded our flight and looked back as we took off hoping to return.
I would especially like to thank the ADS team, notably Michael Wishner for his honesty, time and guidance. Jeff Smith for his photographic insight and the generous amount of time he gave us advising on my camera, but also on Africa in general and what to expect and prepare for. Mathias and Sumbe for their hospitality and consideration of our needs.
And finally, “King George”, who wears that title proudly. George is an amazing and very experienced guide. He is also a kind thoughtful and considerate man who truly cares about his clients and ensures they have the best experience possible. Thank you so much George!
A quick rundown of the animals and trees that we saw and noted. Lion, spotted hyena, leopard, cheetah, black-backed jackal, bat-eared fox, banded mongoose, dwarf mongoose, baboon, vervey monkey, sykes/blue monkey, Nile crocodile, python, spitting cobra, monitor lizard, agama lizard, leopard tortoise, tawny eagle, bateleur eagle, augur buzzard, fish eagle, African spotted owl…
…black kite, martial eagle, eland, wildebeest, topi, hartebeest, reedbuck, Grant’s gazelle, Thompson’s gazelle, impala, steinbok, waterbuck, klipspringer, dik dik, elephant, hippopotamus, massai giraffe, buffalo, zebra, warthog, rock hyrax, ostrich, kori bastard, secretary bird, marabou stork, crowned crane, guinea fowl, cattle egret, hamerkop, saddle-billed stork, yellow-billed stork, sared ibis, flamingo, Egyptian goose, fisher’s lovebird, giant kingfisher, woodland kingfisher, lilac-breated roller, hoopoe, red & yellow barbet, ground hornbill, superb starling…
…ruppell’s griffon vulture, lapper-faced vulture, white-headed vulture, hooded vulture, baobab tree, candelabra tree, sausage tree, tamarind tree, sycamore fig, African ebony, umbrella thorn acacia, flat-top acacia and whistling thorn acacia.
In closing I would like to thank you for reading and welcome you to reach out with any questions. There are many other clients who have left reviews and have more experience than us. I would like to thank them for taking the time to share with all, it was really helpful, and I advise you to read as many as you can. If you want an Adventure of a Lifetime, this is it! If you want a great company to go with, Africa Dream Safaris is it! Don’t forget to request “King George”.
Ralph and Darleen R.
Safari Dates: August 25, 2021 to September 08, 2021