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Trip report, northern circuit Oct 2011

Montreal, Canada
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Trip report, northern circuit Oct 2011

My partner and I have just returned from an 8-day safari in the Tanzania northern circuit. As I lurked and searched on this forum for months before the trip, and learned much from the combined wisdom of the Experts here, I wish to give a little back.

I will not give a travelogue and describe what we saw where, many others have done this more elegantly than I can. Suffice to say that it was fantastic, a real trip of a lifetime, and we saw 32 species of mammal and countless birds while in the parks. A return trip to Africa is definitely on the horizon (as an aside, on day 1, our driver asked if we had been to Africa before, and we said 'yes, Egypt'. A slight pause before he replied, 'that's not Africa' I think he's right).

Instead, I want to try to be a little more practical to help others with planning, so here is our itinerary and my observations.

Day 1, from Arusha to Tarangire, half-day drive in Tarangire.

Day 2, full day drive in Tarangire.

Day 3, drive in Lake Manyara, taking in Mto wa Mbu.

Day 4, afternoon drive in Ngorongoro crater (morning was ‘lost’ as a truck skidded off the road in the Ngorongoro preservation area and blocked all traffic until noon).

Day 5, 6 and 7, full days in the Serengeti.

Day 8, we flew out of Seronera at 11 am.

This was designed to give us maximum time in the parks and allowed a leisurely pace to see and photograph the animals we wanted to watch.


1. I had originally wanted to add the Maasi Mara for Wildebeest (this was the dry season) and the Maasi, but it wasn’t logistically sensible. But, hakuna matata, there are plenty of Maasi tending their flocks in Tanzania, the colourful robes are in abundance along the roads from Arusha to the parks. We were also lucky to have had some early rains and there were wildebeest in central Serengeti.

2. Go privately! There were two of us in the jeep, and it was the best way to go. We saw two other common safari ‘types’: jeeps/landcruisers with 6-8 people, in which only 4 (max!) could stand and look out of the top of the vehicle at any one time; and convoys of jeeps from safari companies that seemed to us to just hurtle along at great speed rushing to the next destination.

3. Choosing the safari company: there’s lots of good advice and suggestions here and in Lonely Planet. About 6 companies responded to my initial vague email, and I soon reduced detailed correspondance to two well-known companies. One replied via a representative in the north-eastern US, who was extremely useful in answering many questions, and we corresponded for a long time before I ultimately chose another. I feel bad about getting free advice from an operator and then dumping them (see ‘How to treat a tour operator’ thread by Brian_in_Brooklyn), but they did not give me a price until a near-final itinerary was established. By then I had received several (better) quotes from an Arusha-based company (BaseCamp), and Achmed was quick to amend prices every time I asked him to add or remove something. I’d also express my gratitude to Achmed for being very understanding about deposits – he booked my internal flights long before I could get any payment to him. I wouldn’t hesitate to go with BaseCamp again. Our driver was Victor - very knowledgeable, he answered every bio-hortico-geologico-political question I threw at him.

4. Accommodation. We stayed 1 night at Ilboru Safari Lodge in Arusha, 2 nights at the Tarangire Sopa, 1 night at Kudu Lodge on the way to Lake Manyara, 1 night at Ngorongoro Sopa, and 3 nights in a tented camp in the Serengeti. The Ilboru and Kudu lodges were nice – huge accommodations and a friendly feel. The Sopas were so-so - they were extremely busy and the dining rooms were packed; food quality and service suffers under those conditions. The Ngorongoro Sopa had the worst accommodation (cold, drafty room with water-stained carpet, poor restaurant service), but fantastic sunset views. My favourite by far was the tented camp in the Serengeti. There were only us and one other party there, dining was in the mess tent, and the staff brought the dishes and served onto the plates as in a posh restaurant. The food was excellent! But the quiet, the darkness, sitting round the fire at night and waking at sunrise to watch elephants skirt the camp – priceless! We spent the evenings with Victor at the camp, and enjoyed hearing his stories of growing up in a local village.

Next time, I'll go tented camps all the way.

5. The parks. Tarangire is a superb park, and two full days there is not too much. On our first drive, we almost drove into a group of massive elephants crossing the road – that was our first jaw-dropping moment. Most of the mammals we saw were seen here, up close and personal.

Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro were similar to each other, possibly because of the time of year, and both had very reduced bodies of water. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of vehicles in the caldera, it was not nearly as busy as I expected. We saw something different in each park, and both were worth a short (half-day) visit.

The Serengeti is something else again. The landscape is ‘Africa’, rolling plains studded with acacia trees. In the dry season the mammals were not abundant, but we added cheetah, kopi, eland and oribi to our list. The hippos and lions were easier to watch here than elsewhere. And I could have watched the soft dawn light play on the acacia trees forever. However, in the other party in the camp, who were there for 2 days after a Kili climb, there was a young lady who commented that she was getting bored with a second full day in the Serengeti. So, three days was great for me, but might be too much for others, perhaps especially so in the dry season.

6. Domestic flights. We opted to fly out of the Serengeti to our next destination, Zanzibar, to save a full days’ drive and additional overnight in Arusha. For $399 each, I’m glad we did. We ended up taking three flights on Cessnas on Air Excel; Serengeti – Lake Manyara – Arusha – Zanzibar, changing planes in Arusha. Great fun. No airport security (no airport, just loos by the airstrip in the Serengeti !), no check-in, chatting with the pilot, flying like I presume it used to be. Flying over Ngorongoro gave a great view of the whole thing.

Again, many thanks to all the experts here, and I hope this helps someone else.

Somerville, New...
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1. Re: Trip report, northern circuit Oct 2011

What a great report! Brought up some fond memories.

So happy that you had a wonderful safari and for sure made a friend for life (Achmed).

Thanks for giving back by reporting back!

Edited: 31 October 2011, 23:32
Dallas, Texas
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2. Re: Trip report, northern circuit Oct 2011

Thx so much for sharing your experience. We are planning our first trip to Africa next September. You gave good tips. Can't wait to see TZ myself!

Perth, Australia
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3. Re: Trip report, northern circuit Oct 2011

Thank you. Interesting about losing a trip into the crater due to a road accident, glad we've also got two trips in booked, just in case. Camping in the Serengeti sounds magic, cant wait for that experience.

palm coast, fl
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4. Re: Trip report, northern circuit Oct 2011

A wonderful report. Thanks!!

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5. Re: Trip report, northern circuit Oct 2011

sounds like you had a wonderful trip.

Thanks for your report.

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6. Re: Trip report, northern circuit Oct 2011


Great Report! brought back great memories of our stay. Ilboru Safari Lodge is a great place to start from, and I too wasnt crazy about the Ngorongoro Sopa. I think if getting into the crater 1st thing at dawn is a main goal, its worth it. However, if one is thinking of heading down after breakfast, look elsewhere

Honolulu, Hawaii
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7. Re: Trip report, northern circuit Oct 2011

Loved to read your report. We are going Aug. 2012 on a similar trip and now I can't wait. Thanks a bunch !

Nashville, Tennessee
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8. Re: Trip report, northern circuit Oct 2011

What a great report! Thanks for the insight. We are in our final stages of planning for March 2012. Hopefully headed to many of the same areas.

Thanks again

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9. Re: Trip report, northern circuit Oct 2011

Chris, thanks so much for writing such a helpful, detailed report. I am sure there are people on here who snorted about the young lady who was bored on her second day in the Serengeti! Some could spend weeks there and never get enough.

10. Re: Trip report, northern circuit Oct 2011

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