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Safari - Fly or Drive, and Crater

Vancouver
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for San Jose del Cabo
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Safari - Fly or Drive, and Crater

Hi everyone. We are 6 in total, and have spend hours researching various options and have almost got it narrowed down. Then, some new information pops up and blows the whole thing out of the water. We would really appreciate your views on four questions. We will be doing a private tour in either late August or Early September (2015).

1) drive vs fly. Originally we were thinking of doing the typical driving route - 8 to 10 days, including Arusha through to Tarangarie, Crater, Central Serengeti and ending in Northern Serengeti, with a fly back, moving just about every night. Now we are thinking this may be too much driving. Instead we may Fly to Tarangarie and stay 3 nights, then to Central Serengeti for 3 nights and to Northern for 3 nights. Is there a disadvantage to flying vs driving? We are thinking that the additional game drives from the camps will make up for the lost 'viewing along the way' that the drive would have provided?

2) crater or no crater....this is the question. :-) This option misses the crater. I've looked at all the threads here and I realize everyone has their opinion. This will be our one and only safari. Would this be a big mistake? I've been told many love it....and that many hate it. Would I be correct to say that those that love it do so because of the variety and number of sightings that are here and not elsewhere? and those that hate it do so because it's you and 1,000 of your closest friends converging on the area simultaneously in one continuous line of vehicles that takes away from the feeling of being in the wilderness. This one really confuses me. Comments?

3) tour company vs lodge owners. So, we were also thinking of arranging with a tour company for the drive option, having our own a driver and guide, etc. With the fly option, we see that we could do this with one company (Alisia) that also owns their own lodges (which all appear to be very nice). Is there a disadvantage to doing it this way (i.e. dedicated with one lodge company) that I'm not appreciating other than the obvious...that you are restricted in lodge choice?

4) late August vs early September. We had originally thought of also going into the Maasai Mara, but it just seems to add another complication with border crossings (i.e. you have to make two connections, I'm assuming immigration, etc.) to see an extension of the Serengeti. We realize the wildebeest would more likely be further north by the time we go so we would likely miss that. Any comments re: not including the Maasai Mara, and either doing this in late August or early September.

Thanks again. I really appreciate your views and value your experience.

Chicago
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1. Re: Safari - Fly or Drive, and Crater

I personally got a lot out of the entire experience of the feel of the country as it goes by outside the window of the vehicle. I would not miss that for anything. I am hoping to get back to get more of the cultural and people experiences. My favorite times were visiting local marketplaces, getting a flat tire and meeting the children living nearby, visiting schools and orphanages. Flying one way is a way to save time, but I would not want to do it on each leg of the journey. Plus you miss the connection you build with your guide over many days.

Regarding the crater, I'm not sure I would rush to get back, but I feel that it is a place that everyone needs to see at least once-it is a very special and unique place. I am not sure many people say they wish they didn't visit, but a number say that once is enough.

Washington DC...
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2. Re: Safari - Fly or Drive, and Crater

Regarding the crater, I can't say I've met or read of many who hated it. It's a remarkable sight, a vast crater formed when a huge volcano collapsed upon itself. I have, however, met many who say one or two nights is plenty. Count me as one of them. With that in mind, I'd suggest including it, perhaps for one night....just seems like a pity to miss something so special.

You could mix and match how you get around. It's easy enough to car ride to Tarangire from Arusha, maybe for 2 nights, then ride over to the crater for one night. You could then use flights to get you to the central Serengeti, to the northern Serengeti, then back to Arusha. I'd suggest picking a camp in each of the two areas of the Serengeti and staying there so you can relax into each camp. Any camp/lodge will put your party of 6 together in a car. You won't get to know one guide/driver for 9-10 days but you will get to know 3 guides for 3-4 days each.

With your time frame, I'd forget about Kenya.

Good luck planning...you've got a fun time ahead of you.

Ottawa, Canada
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3. Re: Safari - Fly or Drive, and Crater

I am one who didn't 'love' the Crater, but sure didn't hate it. I think timing is important...at least for me. I visited near the end of a group tour, in the afternoon, in a vehicle with a fold back roof. The Crater is already a heat bowl, so add the direct noon sun and I was just hot, tired and done. I don't think anyone in the group put it high on the wow factor. BUT is I had done it before Serengeti and earlier in the trip, I expect it would hsve had a larger impact. The mist and fog as one manoevers their way down the hill. Watching the scenes as the fof burns off and the animals emerge. The flat expanse dotted with various animals that doesn't happen in the acacia and baobobs of Tarangire. I have been lucky to travel out of the summer season, so those crowds you spoke of are not my experience, and you just ask your guide to more on. Discuss with him beforehand how you want to deal with crowds.....if any. I always still recommend it on an itinerary, but at the front, not back end.

I love the changes of the land and the opportunity to see communities when driving from crater to Serengeti. It also is a time I can get regrounded and absorb some of the amazing things I have seen. There is a lot ospf sensory overload on safari, and I found the driving to be relaxing and yet still stimulating. steveb108 offers a good compromise.

Vancouver
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4. Re: Safari - Fly or Drive, and Crater

Thanks so much everyone. I learned a great deal from your responses. For example, I didn't even know you saw any villages while driving.

I agree, the steveb's blended option is a good one! And your descriptions of the crater make me think that while it's not for everyone, it is something not to be missed.

Thanks again!

Ottawa, Canada
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5. Re: Safari - Fly or Drive, and Crater

Yes, there are villages and real Tanzania scenery when you drive. A particular favourite is the south route from Crater area to Ndutu. Google Maps doesn't even show a road there, and not all know the route either, but worth it if you can plan ahead. I have a Tanz map with the road number on it. There are villages; one wanders near where the Laetoli footprints are, it is just lovely - particularly in green season. If you take the main N Circuit route, it is the main road from Arusha through the Serengeti to Mwanza on the shore of Lake Victoria. Of course, the Park doesn't have villages, but beforehand you pass through Mto wa mbo (Mosquito Creek), karatu where they sell wonderful red bananas, and many little wayside hamlets or schools. After the Crater to the Serengeti gate is is less habited because it is conservation area, but there are Maasai bomas. One is a man with something like 25 wives; over 100 children and a school he built just for them. You get a lovely patchwork of the land flying over it and the ability to see the great Rift Valley near Manyara, but the drive puts you on a more human scale and perhaps a little more in touch with the heart of Tanzania - its people.

As to the Crater, there is a section where you can breathe. Near one side is a wooded section you can drive. It is cooler and shaded, and you can park and just listen to the trickle of the creek and the sounds of the birds. You can capture part of that in Manyara but it is a little reprieve from any possible crowds....also go early, early, early....

Michigan
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6. Re: Safari - Fly or Drive, and Crater

I'm with Sciguy in that I love seeing the countryside while driving between locations. Yes, the roads can be bumpy, but you will be given breaks along the way. And he is also correct, in that you build lasting friendships with the guide over several days.

Regarding the Crater, it's a must see for me. Have been in March, 2009 for 1 night (very warm), May 2012 for 2 nights (very cool) and March 2014 for 2 nights (medium temperatures). Each visit has been different with different wildlife sightings. What I've enjoyed most, is taking a drive from the lodging on the rim down into the crater around 2:30pm and catching the evening lighting (need to be out by 6:30pm) and then going when they open (6:30am) the next morning to catch the morning lighting (and the cool temperatures and active animals). Have never run into big numbers of vehicles on any trip. The view from the rim can be amazing when it is clear, but even fascinating watching a storm move in and then blow over on my last trip. Having a picnic breakfast by the hippo pool is lots of fun.

State College, Pa
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7. Re: Safari - Fly or Drive, and Crater

Depending on how the itinerary is arranged driving time can be spread out to avoid those really long days, opportunity to really get to know one's guide, and chance to stop on return trip at those places (sights, stands, etc) that caught one's eye on the initial drive. Couple of times for us morning trip around the crater rim we noted the crater floor was fogged in but not so on return trips often later in the day.

Speaking of the crater it is a truly great place with considerable variety of habitat not to mention opportunity to see rhino which are seldom seen on the typical northern circuit safari. We have been in the crater for both early morning and noonish entries. I like the early morning entry and the building anticipation of descending into the crater particularly if moving thru the mist onto the open floor below. One can always move on when coming upon a concentration of vehicles particularly if for the more common species also seen elsewhere. Like QM and being somewhat more interested in birds we often enjoy pulling over in the L. Forest near a small brook and let the birds come to us despite other vehicles passing us to see mammals.

Interesting "this will be our one and only safari" as often one will be thinking of a return trip even before the first one is finished. Nor does one want to fall into the situation of attempting to plan the perfect safari as African has a strange way of rearranging what may seem like great plans. Timing the wildebeest migration is a great example.

As to lodges and camps, any worthwhile safari company should be flexible in you choosing where you want to stay. If not, move on to another company. It is your trip.

As a couple of posters already suggested, for the amount of time involved, stick to Tanzania. There will be more than enough to see. Plus, that is another reason to return.

Findlay, Ohio
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for Tanzania, Ngorongoro Conservation Area
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8. Re: Safari - Fly or Drive, and Crater

The crater, should it be on your miss list? No, it is something to experience. You will see animals at every turn of your head, if that's what you are there for. Will it be you and 1,000 of your friends, no it won't. It might be a hundred of your friends or perhaps 50 of your friends. Those who want to go there and be all alone won't like this as this is a small park (it's a collapsed volcano so how big can it be) so when you get 20 - 40 other vehicles down there with you someone may think it is getting crowded. I have never experienced this and I've been there many many times, I have had to share the experience with some others, but never with an overwhelming crowd. And for some, especially those who want to be alone there, this may be too much, but not for me. I understand that people go there to experience gameviewing, and that's what everyone, including myself, are doing. It is small enough that people are limited to a 1/2 day descent, and that is plenty of time to cover it all.

2) Most any tour company can put you up in any lodge (there might be a few exceptions to this but they are very few and also very exclusive, which also means very expensive).

3) Most likely the migration will be in the Serengeti at that time of the year, but who knows for certain; they go where they wish. Going to another country will complicate things, it will take you a day to go from the Northern Serengeti to the Mara, and you will need another visa, and if you don't have your yellow fever vaccination certificate that may complicate that since you will be going back to Tz from a YF endemic area.

Benefit of the drive, you will have the same driver/guide for the entire trip.

nyc
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9. Re: Safari - Fly or Drive, and Crater

For a 1st safari it's delightful to drive, most of which are broken up with stops between.

Day 1 - Arv. JRO

Day 2 - Drive to Tarangire

Day 3- Tarangire

Day 4 - Ngorongoro Crater

Day 5 - Drive to Central Serengeti

Day 6 - Central Serengeti

Day 7 - Drive to No. Serengeti

Day 8 & 9 - No. Serengeti

Day 10 - Fly back to Arusha/JRO

... No need to head into Kenya's Mara as half the herds remain behind in the No. Serengeti

While i'm not a fan of the Crater, you have to pass it... so might as well, besides Crater Tours are limited to only 6/hrs which is sufficient time.

Vancouver
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10. Re: Safari - Fly or Drive, and Crater

Thanks so much. This is all great information and helps immensely.