We spent 10 days from 14 to 24 February and had a fantastic time! We stayed at Gibb's Farm, Olduvai Camp and Ronjo Camp. Reviews of them will be done in the next week, (hopefully!), but just to say we were very impressed with Gibbs Farm and the other two were, we thought, also pretty good.
An album with some of our pictures is here: http://brianabbott.jalbum.net/Safari_2013/
This report isn't in the usual diary format but is some random jottings and thoughts that might help others.
The TO was Africa Travel Resource (ATR) who use Tanganyika Expeditions (TE) locally. I'd give ATR 7.5/10. They have a good informative website and the back office functions are very good - prompt, friendly and effective. The only slight downside was the rep, who (although obviously knowledgeable) was, I felt, in a 'crank the handle towards this months sales target' mode and had to be prompted a couple of times when he suggested something not too good. TE provided an excellent driver - Kessy - very experienced and easy to get along with. The 4x4 was though, even by Tz standards pretty old - though it proved to be reliable.
The idea of 3 nights at Ronjo was that we'd be in the middle of the migration at that point. Unfortunately, this year it's a bit late and was still a week away when we stayed there. However, over the 10 days we still saw pretty well every animal we'd set our sights on, except for a cheetah, and had some spectacular close encounters with lions and elephants among others (see the album!). Overall we were well satisfied. One of the best holidays we've ever had! (As it should be, given the cost, I guess).
Apart from the animals, one of the things we got a lot out of was meeting the locals - both Maasai and others - and getting an insight into their lives. It was fascinating.
Now for a few random observations that might be of use to people contemplating a safari:
Driver and vehicle: Overall, I'd say push very hard to get the best driver you can - he'll (for there are no she's!) make a big difference. But don't expect too much of the 4x4. Apparently they're used for 15 years+ (though quite well maintained) - so it's unlikely you'll get aircon, for example (not that you'll really need it). Note: ours, and - as far as I could see - most of the 4x4s, had an onboard 'fridge and a 230v charging point via an inverter, so no need to take a car charger. (But don't rely on that, check with your TO).
Crowds: we expected there would be a lot of 4x4s in Ngorongo crater and sure enough there were around 100, I'd say, when we went. What we didn't expect was the same volume of traffic in the Seronara area. And buses and trucks on the main route through the Serengeti (it's also the main highway to Lake Victoria - 11 hours drive from Arusha). Having said that, it didn't really spoil our enjoyment. And the animals weren't fazed!
Infrastrucure: From the entry to the conservation area just East of Ngorongo crater, it's all dirt roads. Even the main Arusha to Lake Victoria route, which runs through the park and is dusty and very corrugated - and busy (not that it bothered the animals!). (We saw a sign on the back of one 4x4's spare tyre (tire) - "It's rough, it's dusty, but it's an adventure" - that just about sums it up!)
Money: we were advised by our TO to take US$. The experts on this TA forum advised change to Tz shillings and use that. Sorry to say, but our TO was right! On the tourist circuit the $ is king. Everywhere we went (including the Maasai village where we paid $50 for a very good tour - see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRJTMMg1lUc ) they quoted in USD and had to mentally switch gears to deal with Tz /-. The only exception to that is smaller tips - these are better left in Tz/-. Forget Euros, Pounds etc - most places won't take them. Take more than you think you'll need!
ATMs: There is only one ATM at KIA (broken when we arrived) but Arusha and Karatu have several. We used them several times. So far we've been billed for exactly what we got out. Our credit card was refused in several ATMs, despite warning our CC Co beforehand, but our Debit cards were fine. We were charged an OK exchange rate plus a £1.99 'transaction fee' that we'd not have been charged anywhere in Europe or North America.
Money changers: There is one money changer in the KIA arrivals hall (closed when we arrived at midnight!) but none in the departures hall. Plenty around in Arusha; though, on the advice of our driver, we didn't use them - relying on ATMs instead.
Tips: The place runs on tips. Coming from the UK (where tips are the exception) I was a bit resentful of this at first. But I came to rationalise this as feeding money into the local economy quite directly - much better than giving money to some charity or NGO where - between 'overheads' and corruption - not much would actually filter down to where it would do any good.
Biting things: We encountered no Tzetze flies and had only a couple of encounters with mozzies - both when we were least expecting !
Souvenirs: Generally, we found the many stores on the road west from Arusha to be cheaper than the shops in Arusha if you're after paintings or wood carvings. Inevitably, you need to be prepared to bargain! Our opinion (FWIW) was that the paintings were formulaic and uninteresting, but the wood carvings included some very good stuff amongst the inevitable dross.
Arival at KIA: we flew from Amsterdam via KLM and had a good flight. Around half of the flight had pre-organised their visas. We were in the other half. We saw the queue for on-arrival visas and had visions of being there 3 hours later, but in practice it cleared pretty quickly and we were at the luggage carousel before our luggage was. It was fairly cool - late at night but also lots of ceiling fans.
Departure at KIA: in contrast to arrival, there were few ceiling fans working and it was very hot and muggy - even late at night. No money exchange to get rid of unwanted /-. Plenty of the usual overpriced gift shops. A cafe selling reasonably priced snacks and drinks.