Well I just got back from an amazing journey of an African Safari in Tanzania. This was a guided safari through Gate1 Travel and met all my expectations. We started out with flights from Cleveland to Chicago on United. Then on a KLM flight from Chicago to Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro. KLM is super strict about the weight and size of your carry on item so be prepared when going with them. Upon arrival at Kilimanjaro, paperwork was need to confirm you were not infected with Ebola, just a couple of questions and no temperature was taken. JRO is a pretty small airport so there is no gangway and you take the steps down to the tarmac. Some passengers are then off to get visas. I was lucky enough to have completed mine in advance of the trip so was able to skip the line of people waiting for hours to get the visa before getting in line for passport control. The price was the same for the visa at the airport compared to the in advance so highly recommend that process.
The Gate1 representative, Ruwand, was right there to pick me up for the transfer with a good hand shake and a bright smile. I later found out that he would also be one of the drivers with us on the safari. After the hour drive to Arusha Hotel we were provided our keys and dinner on site. I had the opportunity to eat with Susie and Randy from New York and Lydia from Canada. I would meet the rest at the briefing in the morning. The room was comfortable with bottle water for brushing teeth and drinking provided all along the way. Word of warning, there are no clocks in Africa. The entire time I would look for one with none to be found. Also they work on AFT which I later learned meant Africa Flexible Time. Think “Island Time” and you’ll understand what I mean.
In the morning we met the rest of the group. The meeting included the head of the program, Edward, who reviewed what would see along the way, meeting the drivers: Ruwand and Edmond, and the rules with going on drives. Then we were off to the Ngorongoro Crater! We checked in to the Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge that was positioned right on the edge of the crater so that you can look down for the animals.
After lunch we headed out on our first game drive. This was it; this is what I came all the way here for. Everyone warned me that I may not see a thing due to the time of the year and to not get my hopes up. Well they were wrong! Here is what we saw in one drive: Giraffes, Water Buffalo, Zebra, Cranes, Ostriches, Warthogs, Wilder beast, Flamingos, Rhinos (even saw them charge towards a car), Hippos, Hyenas, Antelope, and Lions. All that in less than 2 hours! Not all of the animals were by the road but the binoculars I brought were amazing and then even had some in the car for those that didn’t. Then we were back to the lodge. Keep in mind that they do turn off the generators at night to save power, so make sure that everything is charged and you have your phone to use as a flashlight to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
The next stop was where I wanted to be the whole time. I choose this tour due to the amount of time that was spent in the Serengeti National Park. With three days there we saw a ton of animals! Some of the new ones that we hadn’t seen in the crater were: Baboons, Camels, Gazelles, Jackal, Elephants, Leopard, Rabbis, Monkeys, Dik Dik, Heart Beast, Cheetah, Impala, Owls, and Water Buck. Mind you in one drive alone we saw 26 lions, 2 cheetahs and a leopard while enjoying dinner on the side of the road. We stayed at the Lemala Ewanjan and all I can say was it was out of this world. You would never think of this as a tented camp. They had hard wood floors in the tents, plush beds, laundry service, and soda/beer/wine included. The service was outstanding with personal care from your room attendant and a morning wake up with tea/coffee and cookies. The only thing I would hear from them when I had a request was hakuna matata! All I thought was Lion King and I was smiling like a fool.
What is a little adventurous with the camp is there was no fence and you are literally in the middle of the Serengeti so it should come as no surprise that there was a lion outside the camp walking around in the middle of the night. But do not worry. There was a Maasai warrior outside making sure everything was safe and secure. I also went on a hot air balloon ride right at sun rise with Serengeti Balloon Safaris. You’re able to go where the trucks can not and see the animals a little bit closer. Even if you have a fear of heights the highest we went was tree height because any higher and you wouldn’t be able to see the game. After about an hour air born there is a “controlled crash landing” other than a couple of bumps which felt like you just went over speed bumps a little too fast we were off to breakfast. Here you have the opportunity to use the ‘Loo with a View’, a three sided tent where you can watch the game do by as you take care of business.
The next stop was to Lake Manyara National Park, where we stayed at the Lemala Manyara. Now while it was the same company, the experience was slightly under what was expected. The food was amazing but the tents were leaking in the bathroom and the room attendant wasn’t as accommodating to the prior location. We were even told at the welcome meeting this would be the least favorite place. Another word of warning: Tsetse Fly. Yep, it’s a fly that when they bite it’s the worst experience ever. You will itch and itch and even a week later I am still itching. DEET will not stop these suckers either, even 100% DEET spray or shoes or jeans did not slow them down. There really weren’t many new animals to see, just more in packs like lions, elephants, baboons, and flamingos.
The final stop was to Tarangire National Park, where the tsetse flies were still present. The Tarangire Sopa Lodge was another amazing place. The rooms were like little huts that the local people stay and provided a view of the park from the balcony from a small sitting area to enjoy coffee or tea. Lunch was served pool side and the only time we had that we can jump in for a little dip and lay out in the sun. In Tarangire we saw a python, mongoose, vultures, leopard tortuous, and a cheetah with her son. We later saw that it was a hunting lesson. I was able to get some amazing video of mother cheetah trying to take down a baby zebra with her son slowly trailing behind her. They were not successful and you could tell it was the sons fault with a little spat afterwards. The last dinner was amazing; since it was my birthday I received the local Happy Birthday song version and a cake to share with the group. We ended the day making sure everything was packed and ready to go for the 30 hours it would take to get home.
On the final day, the group met back up with Edward to discuss the trip in a debriefing and to provide the feedback in a welcoming environment. Our drivers were amazing, patient for answering our questions, some of the same ones 7 times in a row. They knew their animals and birds like the back of their hand and would give you the information on how to tell which was what. They would also stop and wait for you to be able to capture the picture you wanted, even if you needed 100 pictures of those cute little lion cubs playing with a stick. We couldn’t have asked for better people to have along with us. Then we were off to the airport where we could clearly see Mt. Kilimanjaro. She wasn’t shy for us and we were able to see the snow-capped peak with no issue.
Couple of Friendly Tips:
- Never drink the water, ice or brush your teeth in the tap water. There was bottle water in every room in each hotel and water in the truck to drink when out on game drives.
- Power tends to be turned off at night so be prepared with your phone or flashlight to find your way to the bathroom.
- Tipping in the hotel is highly recommended and there is a tipping box in the lobby.
- The JRO airport is not air conditioned and you’ll want to get your visa in advance to avoid the line with hundred others in the hot crowded small room.
- No places were air conditioned for that matter.
- Lunch and dinner are served pretty late. Lunch was normally around 2 pm and dinner was usually 7:30 pm or even 8:30 pm.
- Tsetse flies love the color blue and black so avoid wearing those colors and cover up every inch of your skin.
For more information or to experience this trip yourself, please contact Traveline at 1-888-700-8747.