Having lead overland trips in Tanzania I was very excited about returning to one of my favourite countries in Africa after almost six years. The purpose of my trip was to visit as many of the properties in the ‘northern circuit’ National Parks, namely Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater and the surrounding area, the Serengeti and Tarangire, as possible. Chris MacDougall who is operation manager for Go2Tanzania, our sister company and Philip, our excellent guide joined me.
I’d never been to Lake Manyara National Park before so it was great to finally have the opportunity. So many people just stop off here for one night but the Park is very picturesque, offers some great wildlife viewing and thoroughly deserves more than one night, time and budget permitting. Having been delayed on a flight from South Africa, I arrived late in Arusha so we didn’t arrive at the Manyara gate until gone 6pm, but luckily had special permission to enter the park after hours to drive to our lodge for the night. We were richly rewarded on our night drive with five porcupine sightings, a large herd of buffalo who weren’t very amused with being gently herded off the track and plenty of genets.
The reception we received at Lake Manyara Tree Lodge was most welcoming even if we did arrive at 11pm! Following a midnight feast in the boma we were shown to our room, which was very spacious, had the best shower in the whole of Tanzania and lovely views out into the surrounding forest. Lake Manyara Tree Lodge is the only lodge actually in the Park and is definitely worth a 2-night stay. Surrounded by lovely mahogany forest, the lodge consists of ten wooden chalets built on stilts with large verandahs, which are nicely spaced out providing plenty of privacy. The central area is a creative masterpiece complete with on show kitchen, comfy sitting area and stylish boma. All the staff are very friendly and Scott, a Tanzanian, is a fantastic manager.
Sadly we had to leave fairly early the next morning but were rewarded with a lovely morning game drive in the park. We had fantastic sightings of klipspringers, elephants, huge herds of buffalo and plenty of wonderful birds. Manyara is one of those places where you can just park up for a while and sit back and watch the world go by surrounded by the most beautiful scenery – the lake shimmering in the distance in front of you and the Rift Valley escarpment towering behind you. Not to mention all the wonderful scents and sounds of the bush.
Other accommodation in the surrounding area includes the Manyara Serena Lodge, Kirurumu Tented Lodge and E Unoto Retreat. The Serena and Kirurumu are perched on the edge of the Rift Valley Escarpment and offer great views over the Park. E Unoto Retreat is closer to Mto Wa Mbu and provides a cultural Maasai experience in addition to various activities including walks and mountain biking.
Our next venue was Karatu, which is a rapidly expanding town up in the northern highlands surrounded by coffee plantations and lush farmland. The Japanese have funded a tarmac road from Arusha all the way to the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area gate which has improved transfer times and conditions beyond all recognition and as a result Karatu is now booming. There are quite a few nice lodges and guesthouses to stay at to enjoy a break from safari. Alternatively Karatu makes a nice stop off point to visit the Ngorongoro Crater if you don’t want to stay right on the rim. Amongst others we visited Plantation Lodge, Kifaru Lodge and Ngorongoro Farmhouse which all have their own unique charm.
We stayed at Gibbs Farm which has recently refurbished nine of its 20 rooms and is planning to have them all done by 2008. Renowned for its lovely home cooked food, Gibbs doesn’t disappoint and the new rooms are spacious, airy and comfortable. The colonial style bungalows are dotted around the lush gardens, which provide sweeping views over the valley below. The garden is full of organic vegetables and herbs as well as beautiful flowers. Activities include guided walks around the gardens and farm, the Ngorongoro Forest, nearby waterfalls and caves as well as Karatu. There is also a resident Witch Doctor who practises traditional Maasai healing techniques in the Spa. There are no set prices but donations towards buying cattle are gratefully accepted! Resident local artists are also more than happy to show you their masterpieces and discuss their techniques.
From Karatu we headed off to the Crater which is one of the most amazing wildlife spectacles in the world. We enjoyed a picnic lunch on the edge of the rim before descending to the Crater floor late in the afternoon and had the place to ourselves! We were actually doing a sneaky short cut from the Sopa Lodge to the Crater Lodge but what better way than via the Crater itself! The light was perfect for photos and we saw some lovely bull elephants and a Black Rhino in addition to some fantastic birdlife.
The welcome we received at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge will never be forgotten. Shupha, a delightful woman from Tanzania was the manager (that’s a first!) and she and her staff spoilt us rotten. Perched on the edge of the Crater rim, Crater Lodge consists of three camps rolled into one, all of which are superb. The views into the Crater are fabulous and relaxing in a bath admiring the view is one of those things you have to do before you die.
Unfortunately we only had a brief overnight stop at Crater Lodge before continuing to the Serengeti, but another fantastic short cut is to go via Olduvai Gorge and Shifting Sands. Thoroughly recommended! The Serengeti provides fantastic game viewing at any time of the year and we weren’t disappointed. The wildebeest migration was in full swing in the central and western area of the Park and there is nothing better than parking up in amongst it for a while and revelling in the sounds and smells. We saw wildebeest and zebra as far as the eye could see on many occasions, but if you look closely you can pick out small family groups and watch bulls vying for territory right in front of you. We were also lucky enough to see a lioness up a tree dreaming about what she would have on the menu that night along with some lovely elephants and a big herd of giraffe. A sunset over the Serengeti with a cold Kilimanjaro to hand, listening to lions roaring in the distance is another unforgettable experience which we managed to squeeze in on a couple of occasions!
We spent a total of four nights in the Serengeti and stayed at a variety of lodges and camps in addition to inspecting ten others, but amongst my favourites were Mbalageti, Sasakwa, Sabora, Tanzania Under Canvas, Mbuzi Mawe and Ndutu. Mbalageti is a tented camp located in the western corridor and offers fantastic views over the Serengeti Plains, especially from the dining terrace. Sasakwa and Sabora are located in a private concession and offer the ultimate accommodation in the Serengeti. Sasakwa is right on top of Sasakwa Hill and provides 360-degree views of the surrounding plains. It is a colonial style manor house and each suite comes complete with heated private plunge pool and acres of space! Sabora is a ‘bush camp’ right down on the plains. Each air-conditioned tent has a private deck and there is even a swimming pool and tennis court. Both are very tastefully furnished but come with a price tag. However, for a special occasion or if you feel like splashing out, both are worth it for the views alone. Tanzania Under Canvas is a luxury mobile-tented camp which moves around the Serengeti following the migration hosting a maximum of 16 guests at any one time. Perfect for optimum migration viewing up close. Doze off at night to the sound of wildebeest all around you. Mbuzi Mawe is another tented camp located in the northern section of the Park and is surrounded by kopjes (rocky outcrops), again offering lovely views out over the plains and the Serengeti stretching away as far as the eye can see. Ndutu is a homely lodge located between the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro highlands and is close to a small lake attracting plenty of birdlife and is surrounded by Acacia woodland.
Our final destination was Tarangire National Park which I’d never been to before. Famous for its large herds of elephant and plenty of Baobab trees, Tarangire is very different to any of the other Parks in the area. Best visited between June and November, many people say that the Park resembles Ruaha in the south of Tanzania. One of the highlights was having lunch parked under a tree surrounded by a herd of over 100 elephants quietly feeding all around us. Fantastic! There is a variety of accommodation available ranging from intimate lodges to tented camps some of which are located inside the park, others just outside. Tarangire is often included as an overnight stop on safari but personally I think it warrants at least 2-nights there as there is so much to see.
We travelled over 2250km in ten days and covered pretty much every inch of all the National Parks and had a truly fantastic trip! I only hope that I can return to Tanzania, a country renowned for its smiley, welcoming people not to mention the fabulous game-viewing before another six years has gone by.
To see our list of trips to Tanzania click here