We just returned from our fantastic trip to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. My wife and I, along with our 2 boys (18 and 16), had a truly wonderful trip and we are already missing the animals and landscape. I’ve been thinking: Is Swahili that difficult to learn and can I find a job there? Although we do a considerable amount of adventure photography (our last trip was underwater photography of whale sharks), I’ve never been out of the Western Hemisphere, so I was somewhat anxious about making the flight and personal connections in Tanzania. However, all of that anxiety was unnecessary as Africa Dream Safari organized this trip perfectly.
Before we go into details and give some suggestions, I should say that we wanted to do a lot of photography and Dawn suggested renting a good camera and lens. In addition to my reasonably good Nikon D90 with a 70-‐210 F2.8 lens, I rented a D800 and an 80-‐400 F 4.5-‐5.6 lens (key decision), because we often had several people wanting to take pictures at the same time. The D800 has to capability of taking 36-‐ megapixel images; thus, the images made by this camera are wonderful. Also, bring one wide-‐angle lens for those scenic shots.
Because I was shooting fine JPEG and RAW images simultaneously, I used a lot of memory with each mage I took. I had 8 SD cards (ranging from 8 GB to 64 GB) and could fill them every day, so bringing a laptop computer is another important decision to download the images. Make sure you bring the cable that connects your camera to the computer so you can download the images. I forgot my cord, but fortunately my Mac has an SD card slot. Also, bring a copy of your camera’s users manual – I had to resort to it several times during the trip. Downloading the pdf to the computer is a nice way to save weight. Our driver-‐ guide had 2 good beanbags in his LandRover, so don’t bring your own or go buy beans in the Arusha market (like I did).
We also brought a video camera and a drone to fly over the animals. (***Note: Subsequent to this safari, the Tanzanian government has now banned the use of drones***) The drone is capable of taking jpeg images and video. The drone enabled us to get a hot air balloon view anytime we wanted for less than the cost of a 1-‐hour balloon ride for 3 people. Interestingly, we were not the only people using drones for photography. Our driver-‐guide enthusiastically, but safely, encouraged the use of the drone. We have many spectacular aerial images of animals in their habitat. Although viewing the animals from the roadside is wonderful, the aerial images give an entirely new view of the animals in their environment.
International flights: We took Delta to Amsterdam and Delta (KLM) to the Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania. Delta was much less expensive than flying KLM, but used the same aircraft. All of the flights had excellent in-‐seat entertainment. Our single checked bag made it without issue.
Kilimanjaro Airport reception: Faith (who is a wonderful person and very pregnant at the time) met us at the airport and got us through the visa line quickly. We were taken by van to the Mount Meru Resort – a 1-‐hour drive. At the entrance, they check under the vans and cars with mirrors to make sure the place is safe. The hotel is nice, but since it is the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, the pool was just a little too cold four our taste. We took an extra day to recover from our 24-hour journey, so we just slept late at the hotel and then went for an Africa Dream Safari provided drive around Arusha. Arusha is a large city with significant poverty; it is amazing that Tanzania has been able to keep the Serengeti from being converted to farmland just like the American Plains were.
Getting to the Arusha Regional Airport to the Grumeti Airstrip: Faith met us at the hotel and helped us with the hotel checkout. She also arranged for us to leave a bag of clean clothes with the local Africa Dream Safari people.
Flight from Arusha Regional Airport to the Grumeti Airstrip (Western Serengeti): We flew with Regional Air on a Cessna Caravan C 208 B, which holds only 11 people. All of our checked bags were weighed as we were allotted some 30 pounds of luggage each. The carry-‐on baggage was very small (basically your cameras). This plane does not have any overhead storage, obviously. The Arusha Airport landing strip is over 5000 feet long – plenty long for this type of aircraft. (Of note, Ethiopian Airlines landed a 767 on this landing strip in December of 2013. One more reason not to take Ethiopian Airlines.) The Cessna Caravan C 208 B is a twin-‐engine turboprop aircraft with an excellent overall safety record.
Grumeti Airstrip: Hard packed landing strip on a flat area of the Western Serengeti. Again, no safety problems; however, one of our bags (the one with the drone) was accidentally loaded onto another aircraft. We got the bag later in the day. The landing was great as we could see wildebeests, warthogs and hippos all around the airport. We were met at the airstrip by our driver-‐guide, Inglebert.
Game drives: The drives start immediately upon arrival to the airstrip. Inglebert turns out to be a pleasant chap, terrific guide and excellent photographer. He is quite knowledgeable about the ecosystem, the animals and their habits. Having a knowledgeable Swahili-‐speaking guide is key as they radio each other with the locations of the various animals. This guaranteed us a concentrated game viewing experience. It may have been luck, but we saw 3 rhinos, 3 leopards, a python, and over 50 lions on our 6-‐day tour.
Speaking of lions, we saw lionesses in trees teaching cubs to climb, one group of seven lion cubs and another of 11 lion cubs. We also saw 2 lionesses make 3 wildebeest kills in less than 1-hour; apparently, they were “playing”. But we came for the migration and we saw hundreds of thousands of wildebeests and additional large groups of zebras, buffalos, impalas, and gazelles.
Key tip to the photographers – relax, you will get to see everything up close. Some days are designed for lions whereas other days for leopards. Trust Inglebert. But beware; he will give you a full day of animal viewing. Our game drives started at 6 am sharp, so we were usually up at 5 am, and we often didn’t reach the lodge until 6 pm many evenings. We were all happy to have taken the extra day in Arusha; otherwise, I think the first day’s game drive would have been difficult due to fatigue.
Mbalageti Lodge: Of all of our accommodations, this was my favorite camp. These “tents” have cement floors, rock and concrete walls, and metal roofs. Although tarps separate the living area from the bedrooms, there are doors and rock walls separating the bathrooms. The rooms are equipped with wooden furnature, leather couches, and a TV /DVD. Various DVD’s are available for viewing, but we never turned on the TV. The rooms also have a small refrigerator with complimentary water, sodas and beer. The view from the attached wooden deck is spectacular.
The camp is well positioned for the May-June part of the migration. Obviously, this lodge is in the bush and animals can, and do, wander through the camp. After dark you are required to have a guide to leave the tent. The tents all have bathrooms with hot water; hair dryers, towels, soap and shampoo are provided. Apparently, the water is heated by solar power, so take your showers at night. The warm water supply in the morning is limited. Beds are very nice and comfortable. The electricity is turned off in the mid afternoon and from midnight to 5 am, so charge your electronics appropriately. Locking safe is available. The lodge has a pool, but the water was just too cold. Dinner was great. Breakfast was a boxed meal as was lunch. Both were excellent.
Serengeti Serena Lodge. Not a tented camp, but rustic and very nice. My son particularly appreciated the WiFi. The camp is well positioned for the central and north Serengeti with its resident lions and leopards. The views from the rooms and throughout the lodge are spectacular. Obviously, this lodge is in the bush and animals can, and do, wander through the camp. After dark you are required to have a guide to leave the tent. This camp has a resident leopard that killed a dik‐dik outside our room one evening. We were disappointed as to not have recorded the action digitally, but we heard it. However, the kill was made at 6 pm – during the daytime before you are required to have a Maasai walk around the camp with you. Watch small children carefully at all camps – especially this one. Apparently, this leopard left her cub in a lodge room in 2012; I guess she couldn’t find any daycare that day. Bathrooms are very well equipped; hair dryers, towels, soap and shampoo are provided. Beds are very nice and comfortable. The electricity is available throughout the day and night. Locking safe is available. The lodge has a pool, but the water was just too cold. Dinner was great. Breakfast was a boxed meal as was lunch. Both were excellent.
Ngorongoro Lion’s Paw Tented Camp: The most tent‐like experience of all three lodges. The view is spectacular. The camp is well positioned in the Ngorongoro Crater, so you get an early jump on the animals for those great early morning photos. This camp is at altitude, so it is cold at night and in the morning‐but I really didn’t need the long underwear – only a fleece jacket. No gloves are needed either. Obviously, this lodge is in the bush and animals can, and do, wander through the camp. After dark you are required to have a guide to leave the tent. Bathrooms are very well equipped; hair dryers, towels, soap and shampoo are provided. Unlike the other 2 camps, the toilet is behind a tarp – not a door. Also, the shower is actually a real camp shower – someone filling up the reservoir with 40 liters of hot water. Beds are very nice and comfortable. The electricity is available throughout the day and night. Locking safe is not available. Dinner was great as was breakfast. Lunch was an excellent boxed lunch.
Last day: After a 3-hour morning game drive where we watched lions devouring a fresh wildebeest kill, Inglebert drove us 3.5 hours from the Ngorongoro Crater to the Mount Meru Resort where we used 2 different day-rooms to shower and repack. Our clean clothes were waiting for us at the resort. We ate dinner at the hotel at 5 pm and were whisked away to the Kilimanjaro Airport by an Africa Dream Safari representative. We were dropped off at the departure door and we made our own way to the KLM counter. One exit form needs to be completed for each person prior to boarding your flight. KLM was very strict as to what could be considered hand luggage, so we ended up checking 4 bags back to the US (we only checked 1 bag coming to Arusha). Getting through emigration was easy; however, none of the bathrooms were working in the boarding area, so some of us had to leave and redo the process all over again. Our 4 checked bags made it to our destination without issue.
Electricity: You will need an EU plug adaptor as the American plug type will not work. Bring a power strip to charge multiple items at the same time. The voltage in Tanzania is 220 volts; whereas, in the US it is 110 volts. All of our cell phones, computers, and rechargeable camera charged without a converter. Things like hair driers made for the US market are not designed for that voltage and will burn up. If you insist on bringing your own hair dryers or curling irons you will also need to use a converter. We did use an inverter in the LandRover to charge the camera batteries during our long game drives. Of note, none of the lodges had AA batteries and the AAA batteries looked old, so bring a good supply of newly purchased batteries from home.
Disease and Health Issues: All of the rooms come equipped with mosquito netting, but we didn’t see many mosquitoes. We sprayed all of our clothes with Permethrin prior to departure and we rarely needed to use DEET containing substances. Red ants are found outside and can be painful so don’t play with them (sounds obvious, but they are intoxicating to watch and fun to provoke).
Consider bringing some medication designed to relieve itching due to bites and stings. Only one brief case of traveler’s diarrhea occurred, which resolved quickly with Lomotil and ciprofloxacin. Consider making an appointment with your physician to get a week supply of ciprofloxacin just in case the traveler’s diarrhea gets you too; Lomotil is available over-‐the-‐counter. The roads are hard – packed dirt and very ruff – it’s called the Serengeti massage, so bring some Tylenol and/or Advil. The sun can be bright, so bring sunscreen. The hats provided by Africa Dream Safari proved to be key at preventing sunburn.
Money and tips: It is difficult not to tip well after seeing the poverty in Arusha and in the Maasai villages. Bring more cash than you think you will need. I never used my credit card due to possible fraud issues, but I ended up with just $7 in my pocket when we arrived in the US.
You pay for all of your drinks including water at dinner (except at Lion’s Paw; drinks, including alcohol, are complementary). Take a lot of 1‐dollar bills with you to tip baggage‐porters and the Maasai to lead you to and from dinner in the dark. It is not much to us, but I think it makes a significant contribution to them. I blew through 100 $1 bills easily in just 8 days. Tip $10‐20 per day per group at each of the lodges. They all have tip boxes (except Lion’s Paw). Tip your driver guide $70/day – use $100 bills when possible.
Jay, Abby, Alex and Collin R.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Safari Dates: June 2, 2014 to June 9, 2014