Tanzania Trip Summary and Travel Information
This is the report and information I filed following our visit to east Africa in 2007.
To make the most of our grand African adventure, we chose a location which allowed us to combine the usual photo safari with a unique gorilla trek in neighboring Rwanda. Tanzania fit the bill, with a variety of parks and wildlife hotspots providing ample wildlife photo opportunities.
After completing the Rwanda leg of the trip, we made it to Tanzania (via Nairobi) and enjoyed a couple weeks of exploration in Arusha, Tarangire, Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti and Lake Manyara National Parks, as well as a stop at Lake Eyasi.
Below, you will find details about our stay, including our guide, lodging, packing suggestions and information about the various parks we visited.
Parks and Attractions
Arusha National Park
A small park located in the shadow of Mount Meru. This is often the launching point for many safaris, since it’s right near the city of Arusha, which is home to most of northern Tanzania’s tour outfits. For safari veterans this park may not offer much in the way of spectacular scenery, but it’s full of wildlife and is a nice way to kick things off for first-timers. We found that Arusha National Park offered a couple unique treats for us. It was the only park in which we were allowed to go on a walking safari, getting up-close views of buffaloes, warthogs and giraffes. It was also the only park in which we saw black and white colobus monkeys.
Tarangire National Park
One of the less-famous parks in the northern circuit, and certainly underrated. You’ll see many of the same animals here that you’ll find in Ngorongoro and the Serengeti, but it’s a different landscape, and also less-crowded. Tarangire is home to one of the highest densities of African elephants on the continent, and is famous for its giant boabab trees. In the wooded southern part of the park, where few visitors seem to roam, you have a chance to see the elusive and beautiful kudu antelope, which is not found in the other northern parks.
Our wildlife tour was interrupted by a detour to the arid region surrounding Lake Eyasi. If you’re into wildlife, skip this. It’s a long bumpy ride and the experience almost wasn’t worth missing two to three days of wildlife shooting. The highlight for us was a morning spent with the nomadic Hadzabe, a tribe that has occupied the region for 10,000 years. Family groups continue in their efforts to shun Western ways, living in stick huts they build as they follow their food. We joined the Hadzabe on a morning hunt and watched as they caught and cooked breakfast in the bush. The second day at Lake Eyasi was spent visiting the Toga tribe, a local school and the onion fields that make the area famous. While the Hadzabe visit was definitely one of the highlights of the trip, overall I wouldn’t recommend staying long in this region. Our local guide here, Gabriel, was kinda creepy.
A World Heritage Site, the crater is famous as an eden for wildlife. It was at the top of my list as the place I most wanted to see, and it didn’t disappoint. Though small, it is teeming with life. Despite cloudy weather during most of our trip, Ngorongoro was clear (and usually is, according to our guide). We made sure to get there right as it opened at 6AM and stayed until it closed at dusk. Our first close encounters with hyenas, servals, lions and hippos were in the crater, and we were fortunate to see four black rhinos. Only 16 rhinos live in the crater, the only place they can still be found in Tanzania. Permits to enter the crater are expensive, and visits are usually sold in half-day increments. I strongly suggest spending two full days minimum in the crater.
Serengeti National Park
This may be the true jewel of the northern park circuit. It is absolutely huge, and requires several days to properly explore and appreciate. Visits to the Serengeti will be divided up into various regions of the park. Endless grassland makes up much of the southern portion of the park, and though it’s hard to fathom how one finds any animals roaming the flatland, we managed to encounter a massive variety of wildlife. We saw twelve cheetahs in the Serengeti, as well as at least ten varieties of antelope, all of the other big game and several species of raptors. In the more-heavily treed northern region of the park, be sure to visit Naironya Springs Road, which was a haven for large cats. Over two days, we saw several lions (including a kill and a separate hunt), six cheetahs and four leopards… all within a five mile stretch of this road! Note that at certain times of the year, one can purchase an “off road” permit in the Serengeti, which is not allowed in other parks. Alas, this wasn’t the case in November, when it was still too dry.
Lake Manyara National Park
A unique environment, and a nice change of pace after spending a couple weeks in the savanna. Lake Manyara is bordered by dense forests, and is home to forest-dwelling elephants, giraffes and rare tree-climbing lions. The opens areas near the lake host plenty of birdlife, include storks, pelicans and flamingoes.
More Tanzania Photos
More photos from Tanzania will be available soon.
Flying to Africa from the States can be expensive. We were fortunate to be able to cash in miles and fly “Business” (aka, First) Class. A class upgrade is highly recommended, especially if you’re doing 22 hours of flying from the west coast of the US as we did. We flew from Seattle to Paris, had a 10 hour layover in the City of Light, and then hopped on another redeye to Nairobi. From Nairobi, we endured a 6 hour shuttle bus ride south to Arusha in Tanzania.
When We Went
Our trip was in November. This was low tourist season, so the smaller crowds were nice. At times in Tarangire and Serengeti National Parks, we didn’t see another vehicle for hours. However, serious photographers also seem to avoid this time of year. I only saw one other “big” lens, at the tail end of our trip. The problem is that the wet season is just beginning. Sunrises and sunsets are often obscured by storm clouds, so good directional light is rare. Much of the action with the migration and wildebeest calving happens at other times. The calving is in February, and draws big crowds.
It is highly recommended that you bring cash and plenty of it. US dollars seem to be good in many cases, but we were originally told that we didn’t need Tanzanian Shillings, and that wasn’t the case. Tipping amounts vary. You can estimate $10-20/day for hotel staff, $20/day for your guide (if you’re happy with their performance). It adds up rather quickly. In nearly a month in Africa, the $1400 cash we brought with us ended up not being enough, even after making use of a credit card. Be prepared for souvenir shopping. You’ll get a lot of pressure to buy, especially since your guide drops you off at every other shop along the road (presumably because they get a commission). If this is your first Africa trip, you’ll probably want to buy too, as many of the hardwood sculptures and masks make for attractive reminders of your trip.
We learned the hard way about the visa process. Though we procured our Tanzanian visas ahead of time ($100 for US citizens, $50 for everyone else), we were given the impression that these would get us through Kenya with no problem. This is not true. If you enter Africa through Nairobi on your way to Tanzania, you will be required to pay for a Kenyan transit visa. The transit visas are only good for a limited time and only while you remain in the country, so pay for the cheap ($20) ones. We ended up paying for transit visas every time we went through Kenya, which meant an additional $60 investment for each of us.
English is fairly common in Tanzania and you can easily get by with it, but it’s always good to know some Swahili. Here are some essentials:
Jambo – Hello
Twende – Let’s go
Asante Sana – Thank you very much
Nzuri Sana – Very Well
Kwa heri – Goodbye
Simama hapa, tafadhali – Stop here, please
Lodging was arranged by our tour guide, and consisted of staying in Arusha after arrival and before departure, and at various lodges in or near each of the parks we visited.
Kibo Palace, Arusha
Certainly one of the nicer hotels we stayed in, if you don’t count the mosquitoes in our room the first night. The hotel has paid wireless Internet, a currency exchange desk and a fairly standard buffet.
Sopa Lodge, Tarangire & Ngorongoro
In Tarangire, the lodge is located just outside the park border. The Ngorongoro location is perched on the rim of the crater, which certainly makes for some nice views. Pretty standard fare. In fact, the food was subpar compared to other places we stayed. In the Ngorongoro Lodge in particular, the staff was overbearing and the rooms were stuck in the Seventies. Given the choice, we would not go with Sopa next time.
Kisima Ngeda Tent Camp, Lake Eyasi
A rustic family-run tent camp on the shores of Lake Eyasi. The luxury tents were nice, our hosts were very friendly and the “home-cooked style” meals were hit-and-miss. This is a very expensive place to stay, possibly due to the difficulty of bringing in supplies to this remote area.
Serena Lodge, Serengeti
Originally we were to be booked into the Sopa Lodge in the Serengeti, but that was full. We were glad it was, as the ameneties and food here were an upgrade over the Sopa Lodges. While meals are served buffet style, there are a couple chefs working the grills and there is a greater variety of food choices.
Migration Camp, Serengeti
The crown jewel of the trip. Located in the northern Serengeti, this luxury all-inclusive tent camp is a special treat. It is built directly into the massive kopjes boulders near a river teeming with giraffes, baboons and grunting hippos. We had hippos bumping into our tent and grazing on our lawn at night! The Migration Camp is expensive, but it’s certainly a special treat for those seeking a break from the usual fare. The food was so good we actually came back for lunch instead of staying out in the bush all day.
Kirurumu Manyara Lodge, Lake Manyara
Located in the Ngorongoro Highlands overlooking Lake Manyara, this was the only place we stayed that wasn’t directly bordering the park we were visiting. The tents we stayed in were adequate and the food was good.
Our Guide: Roy Safaris
Roy Safaris has a reputation for having one of the best vehicle fleets in Tanzania. Our vehicle was great for the most part, with two rows of seating and a small refrigerator in the back for storing cold water. The canopy opened for photography and wildlife viewing, and large sturdy beanbags were provided for shooting (I used their beanbags more often than the flimsy one I brought). We chose a private safari, which is more expensive of course, but imperative if you want to explore at your own pace (an important thing for photographers).
You are assigned a guide for the duration of your safari. We requested a particular guide when we booked the tour based on a recommendation we had received from someone else. However, Habib was assigned as our guide instead. Perhaps this was done on purpose since we were going for photography. Habib was excellent. We believe his animal spotting ability is unmatched in all of Tanzania, and he is one of the top two wildlife guides we’ve ever had during our travels. We highly recommend that you request Habib for his skills and knowledge as a guide.
Tell them Max Waugh sent you!
Special thanks to Susan and Grace of thirteenmonths.com for recommendations and info about Roy and the safari experience.
What We Packed
This was part of a longer trip that encompassed both Rwanda and Tanzania for nearly a month, so overall we had a lot of gear. Since this trip was planned through tour operators that provided comprehensive service, we opted for duffle bags to pack our clothing and miscellaneous items. These provided adequate storage capacity while still being easy enough to carry on our own in those few moments when we didn’t have porters swarming about.
We brought a small day pack for personal items. This pack conveniently attached to one of the photo packs, which made things easier when going through so many airports. My waist pack (see the Photo section) and two photo packs carried the majority of our camera gear for the entire trip. Most of the Tanzania leg was spent inside a safari vehicle, so we only really needed bags to hold cameras at ready. Water and food was provided by the lodges and our tour operator. Packing an extra bag for all the souvenirs you’ll buy is recommended.
Recommended Photo Gear
Three bags carried photo gear for the two of us. The Mountainsmith lumbar waist pack has been handy during my recent travels as a walking/hiking bag, and was used in the rare instance that we ventured out on foot.
We had two larger photo packs for transporting all of our equipment throughout Rwanda and Tanzania. Jenn used the Photo Trekker AWII camera pack, while I needed to use the larger ThinkTank Airport Addicted bag for my gear. We laid these bags out in the vehicle with all of our cameras and lenses ready to fire. Dust is a big problem in the region, so make sure you either keep your gear enclosed in the bag or cover it with a shirt or jacket when driving.
The 500mm was my primary lens on this trip, but the 100-400mm also got a lot of use for closer compositions. I often needed the 1.4x teleconverter with the 500, but got mixed results because the heat distortion was pretty dramatic at times.