Northern Circuit Tanzania Safari and Zanzibar

This is a trip report from the 2011 trip to Tanzania. I had initially published it on TripAdvisor but now that I have my own travel blog I am publishing it here too.

We flew Oman Air from London and arrived in Dar es Salaam via Muscat on 8th July 2011 evening. Took a cab from the airport for 25,000 Tsh and drove to Econolodge on Libya Street. The drive was awfully slow due to heavy traffic and took nearly an hour. The hotel was budget accommodation with relatively clean room but basic facilities. For dinner, we went across the road to ChefPride that does a mix of Tanzanian and Western fare. The prices were reasonable and the food was ok. Plenty of western tourists who stay in nearby budget accommodation seem to use it.

Dar-es-Salaam to Arusha

We took a 6am bus from Dar to Arusha. I had read on tripadvisor that only two bus companies are reliable, Kilimanjaro and Dar Express. When we arrived at Ubongo bus station at 5am it was completely dark and there were hundreds of people milling around outside the bus station. At first, we were accosted by a local guy who said he would take us to the ticket office of our bus company. Instead, he took us to a room down an alley and tried to sell us a different bus ticket. We had to be quite firm with him to stop him from chasing us and sell us bogus tickets. We then made a second attempt to go inside the bus station past the narrow turnstiles. At first, we were turned away as we didn’t have bus tickets. However, next time we simply kept going ignoring the inspector trying to stop us. Once inside the bus station, it was utter chaos! There were people everywhere and some few hundred buses stood standing at different angles all over a compound. The worst thing was the name of the bus company was not visible at the front. We kept walking slowly, avoiding the buses and tried to make sense of it. After few minutes, my husband got pulled (literally!) by a local who nearly got him run over by a bus. At this point I got separated from him for few minutes. Finally, when he found me we held hands and kept walking down this alley where people were shouting “Arusha, Moshi…”. It was our utter stroke of luck that the 6am Kilimanjaro express drove out of its bay and slowly came to a stop few metres from where we were standing. I tried to jump on the bus only to be pushed out by a guy who claimed there weren’t any tickets left. I felt so harassed by then that I was ready to go back to the hotel and shell out money on a flight. The next thing I saw was that my husband had elbowed and jumped on the bus ignoring the annoying guy trying to stop us from entering. Once inside, we found the ticket inspector who asked us to wait. After about 15 minutes she issued us tickets at 30,000 Tsh each. From there on, the rest of the day was pretty uneventful. The bus stopped twice in the 10 hour journey to Arusha. It was pretty comfortable and views along the way were nice.

Upon arrival in Arusha, we were picked up by taxi arranged by Basecamp (our safari operator) and taken to a beautiful lodge L’Oasis few minutes drive away. As soon as we arrived at the lodge we saw a colourful tall resident crane roaming the garden of the lodge. Our first wildlife sighting in Africa!! We were assigned a bungalow with beautiful wooden furnishings inside that definitely had the African feel to it. That night we had one of the best meals in Tanzania that included a sickly sweet rum laced chocolate pudding for dessert.

At about 8pm, Achmed, the guy who runs Basecamp arrived at the lodge to give us a briefing. He is actually an Englishman from Birmingham who used to be an expedition driver in Africa before he set up his own business. He is a very interesting guy to chat to. He gave us a detailed briefing of the different national parks we will be visiting over the next few days. He ensured we knew all about park regulations, safety etc.. We chatted for a couple hours about our backgrounds and travelling. At midnight, we retired to our room and promptly fell asleep. The temperature seriously drops in the evening in Arusha and we had to use our sleeping bag along with the blankets provided by the hotel to keep us warm.

Tarangire National Park

The Basecamp safari vehicle arrived with Abdul, the driver, and Christian, the cook, sharp at 7am. After a couple of hours of driving through some smaller towns, we arrived at the Tarangire National Park. We were bursting with excitement by this point and couldn’t wait to have the first taste of the African safari. We pulled up the roof of the vehicle so that we could stand upright and take in the sights.  We had only just entered the park that we noticed Zebras and gazelles grazing few metres away from us. From then on, every few metres we noticed some or the other animals (gazelles, impalas, antelopes, baboons, dik dik, giraffes, ostriches, warthogs etc.). After about an hour, we saw a family of elephants including baby elephants drinking water by the river. We spent some time taking pictures and then moved further on. We had only driven for few minutes from our last stop when we saw about 4 or 5 other safari vehicles parked in the distance. This is always a good sign that something is on. When we arrived there, we had the most amazing sight. On one side of the road, was a pride of lions sitting under the shade of a tree. On the other side were a family of elephants wanting to go across the road, past the lions and towards to river. We seemed to have blocked their way. This deadlock continued for another half an hour after which one of the elephants took the lead and walked past the last vehicle that had driven in, thereby, leading the group to the water source. The lions seemed oblivous to this situation and continued to stretch and admire the view!

Post-lunch at the picnic site, which had a breathtaking view of the park and elephants, we drove out and started a 4 hour journey to the camp site at Ngorongoro campsite. Ngorongoro is a collapsed volcano and the campsite is at the rim of the crater. To view wildlife you need to travel to the bottom of the crater where you’ll be rewarded by the most amazing views of the wildlife and natural beauty. The roads were in good condition pretty much all the way to the campsite. The campsite was extremely busy that evening so much so that we had to eat outside which would have been fine except that it was freezing cold and we were not equipped for that kind of temperature. So, one word of advice, if camping at Ngorongoro crater remember to bring warm wollies! I thought I would get a frost bite that evening. Anyway, after the delicious dinner cooked by Christian we went to bed in our tent where, thankfully, we had really warm sleeping bags that we have used to camp in snowy conditions in the past.

Ngorongoro Crater

We left the campsite at 8am and travelled to the bottom of the crater. The road is very bumpy but it is a short ride. We had not even fully descended, when we noticed a male lion snoring by the side of the road and a female lion taking a stroll. Good start to the day. The rest of the day was filled with various sightings of zebras, gazelles, buffaloes, a single male elephant, ostriches, hyenas, cranes, flamingoes, jackal and a rhino in the distance. We saw a lionness hunt for wildebeest, a cheetah chased away by a warthog and a serval cat (quite extraordinary and rarely spotted!) few metres away from our car. At about 3pm we started our ascent back to the campsite. There was some confusion over the payment made to Basecamp so Abdul, our driver, spent the next hour sorting that out. The one slightly annoying thing I can say about the safari was the incessant phone calls made and received by Abdul. He is a fantastic driver otherwise with almost a sixth sense for spotting animals but, boy, does he like his phone. I nearly said something to him on several occassions but then didn’t know if it was appropriate. We took a cold shower that evening at the campsite and then spent the rest of the night talking to other tourists and reading books. The dinner was delicious and this time we ate indoors. Score!

Serengeti National Park and Olduvai Gorge

We were up early and even though were ready by 7.30am, it took over an hour to pack everything back into the vehicle. When we left at about 9am it had started to get a bit warmer. After two days of biting cold, I was so happy to feel the warmth of the African sun. The road from Ngorongoro to Serengeti is long (~4 hours). On the way there, we stopped at Olduvai gorge often known as “Cradle for mankind”. It is a ravine in the great rift valley and one of the most important pre historic sites in the world and contains deposts from 2.1 million to 15,000 years ago. We attended a talk by their resident guide followed by a browse through the museum. The drive between Ngorongoro and Serengeti is as bumpy as it is scenic. Along the way, we encountered several masaai people, the most fascinating of those wore black and had their face painted with white stuff. Not much wildlife encounter up until we reached Serengeti. Serengeti is like no place I have ever been. Even without the wildlife, what would impress you is the unending plains. There are no hills in sight and it looks as if you can see the end of the earth from there.

After a late lunch at the Serengeti entrance picnic site, we drove towards the Lobo campsite in Northern Serengeti. Along the way we first encountered two families of elephants with the cutest little baby elephant I have ever seen. This was quickly followed by a herd of zebras intermingled with giraffes. We must have only drive another few minutes when we saw a big crocodile by a river. We waited there for few minutes and then some zebras appeared who showed interest in drinking water. They were hesitant at first (with good reason as the crocodile was only few metres away!) but then went ahead and made the perfect line to do their business. I was glad that no blood was shed that day and the crocodile maintained its position only to open and close its mouth for air. In a different part of the same river, were no less than two dozen hippopotamus sitting in the dirty water. It was a bit freaky to watch so many of them together and then I got a fright when one of them jumped out, made this loud ruckus, had a fight with its neighbour, sprayed water here and there, and then went back inside the water. The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful. The only other thing of mention will be the vultures (3 of them) who were resting in the middle of this large field. I have decided that vultures are the most ominous living creature I have ever seen. There is something about them that just radiates sheer wickedness.

The Lobo campsite is very remote and after two nights of experiencing mini-glastonbury like atmosphere it was a nice change to arrive at a campsite where there were only 2 parties other than us. We quickly introduced ourselves to a Dutch family who had just returned from a nightmarish game drive. They had left Lobo that morning to see the migration in the north west. On their return, the car broke down and they had to walk (!) for an hour with their kids to return to the campsite. I must say my whole perspective changed at that moment and Abdul’s innumerable phone calls didn’t bother me anymore. I even considered cancelling the idea of going towards Mara river to see the Great Migration and returning to more popular campsites in central Serengeti. Anyway, we did no such thing and we are only too glad. The campsite is just breathtakingly beautiful and so peaceful. We have never seen sky filled with as many stars as we saw that night. All in all a successful day.

Great Migration near Kenya

Left Lobo campsite at 6am. Saw at least 4 hyenas few hundred metres from the campsite. After about 15 minutes of driving, we saw a whole pride of lions feasting on a wildebeest. Looked like the kill had taken place not that long ago. There must have been at least a dozen lions of different ages in that pride. For the next hour, our eye were just peeled on the lions watching their every move. On the other side of the road, 3 vultures sat on top of the tree eyeing the lions eating their meat. One of them flew over and started feasting on the left over bits few metres away from the 3 female lions. A jackal had been waiting for its turn too but seem too scared to get close. We drove on and noticed vultures sitting on top of nearly every tree. Maybe it was the time of the day or maybe they are just always there.

We were on our way to Mara river to see the migration. After a toilet break at the immigration centre on the Tanzanian border, we drove further and it was obvious that not many tourists visit this part. The roads were less well defined and there were only 2 more safari vehicles visible at a distance. The population of wildebeest kept steadily increasing around us. After about an hour, we spotted 3 cheetahs (one female with its 2 cubs) playing without a care in the world. We noticed one of them climb a small tree which is very rare. Abdul claimed that he had never seen a cheetah climb a tree before in his life and he has been into hunting/game driving for 15+ years. Next, this family of cheetahs started walking towards their prey: 2 gazelles grazing on a hill. We sat still in our car waiting for something to happen. After waiting for about 45 minutes, it looked like the direction of the wind had changed and so had the plans of the cheetahs. We continued towards our destination. Along the way, we saw another family of cheetahs only this time they were resting under the shade of a tree. Although, I have seen migration on the TV, when I first saw it in person, I nearly jumped out of the car in sheer excitement. It is an amazing sight, the parade, the number of wildebeests and how they form the pattern.

The rest of the day was spent following the migration to the river, taking photos and watching the surrounding wildlife. On our return, the cheetah family that had failed on their hunt last time, tried to go after a baby wildebeest. Thankfully, the baby wildebeest wasn’t too hurt as its mother came to its rescue. We spotted one of the lions from the pride of the morning on our way back to the campsite. Christian was waiting for us when we arrived at Lobo. We loaded the car and drove for 2 hours to Seronera campsite in Central Serengeti. Seronera campsite is relatively new and has 2 showers and 1 toilet each for men and women. That evening there was no running water in the toilets or shower. At about 8pm, a water tank drove over and provided the much needed water supply. I viewed a beautiful sunset and a near full moon that night. The dinner was great as always and we retired to bed early. There was a notable temperature difference from Lobo campsite in the north and we were just a bit too warm in our tent.

Serengeti National Park

Got ready by 6am for the game drive. Saw several hyenas on the way followed by a large pride of lions all walking in search for food. Unlike the previous morning, this time there were  twice as many safari vehicles surrounding them. In hindsight, the time we spent at Lobo and Northeren Serengeti was so special. We had wildlife pretty much for ourselves to admire.

Anyway, after the lion encounter, we witnessed a fight between 2 elephants, one of them more troublesome than the other. I think they were getting territorial. One of the elephants would retreat from the fight only to be brought back by the other through getting its bottom poked by its trunk. We returned to the campsite for a quick breakfast at 10am and then took off again for more game viewing. The reward of that day was witnessing a leopard that was initially sitting on the tree, climb down from it and takes its position to hunt gazelles. It kept waiting for the perfect opportunity but then got chased away by an elephant. It was an incredible sight with nail biting tension in the air. That night it was very noisy at the campsite but the atmosphere was of bon homie. Some people were strumming guitar and singing songs. Even then, I was out by 10pm.

Serengeti and Arusha

Woke up at 6am for another game drive before the journey back to Arusha. Spotted a rare African bird (whose name I cannot recall), vultures, hyenas, lion and elephants that morning. Returned to the campsite by 9am. Loaded the car and started our journey back. It took a long time to return to Arusha. On the way we stopped for food at the ticket office for Serengeti. We had brought some books and coloring pencils that we donated at a Masaai village on the way but overall it was pretty uneventful. It was 7pm before we arrived at L’Oasis. The lodge was excellent again and the food was sooooo yummy. I went for the rum laced chocolate pudding again. Met Achmed and thanked him for everything. Gave Chris and Abdul tips and said our goodbye. Achmed then told us that Abdul will be taking us to the airport next morning. I read some more on my kindle and was out by 11pm.

Arusha to Zanzibar

Had a lie in today. Woke up at 7am, had delicious breakfast, and left for the airport. Good to see Abdul again. The drive to the airport was a bit sad but we were looking forward to Zanzibar. Said our final goodbyes to Abdul and left Arusha for Zanzibar. The flight (Precision Air) was on time and had a modern aircraft. Swift baggage collection in Zanzibar airport followed by 1 hour drive to the resort, “Sun and Seaview Resort” in Bweju. The resort is few metres from the beach and had very few guests. The caretakers Frederico and his partner Suzy maintain the place and have 10 bungalows. The bungalows are beautifully furnished and have a nice porch outside. The location is great too, right next to the beach except the waves were too strong during the high tide for a decent swim and the water will recede good few hundred metres from the beach during low tide. Still, very pretty place. We spent the evening playing African bao game. We got totally hooked to it and spent hours playing it over the next two days. We also discovered carrom board in the bar area and my husband beat me hands down at it at his first attempt of playing it. Peaceful sleep with the sound of the waves and a full moon night.

Zanzibar

We thought we would arrange snorkelling trip today but turns out where we wanted to go is not possible due to high winds. So we spent the next two days just eating, reading and relaxing. We are expert at Bao game by now and I am on my fourth book of the holiday. Having a wifi in the bar area meant I could purchase two more books on the kindle 🙂

Ferry from Zanzibar to Dar-es-Salaam

We leave the resort at 9am for the ferry terminal in Stone town. We get on the 12pm ferry to Dar ($40 per person first class). The water was choppy but we remembered to take “travel calm” tablets beforehand. I even manage to read half of the journey. We arrive in Dar and go to Econo lodge hotel. Back to Chef Pride for some grub and then back to more reading. We sleep by 11pm and take a taxi at 3am for a very early morning flight.

It was an amazing holiday overall. I would rate Basecamp very highly. There were glitches and as I have mentioned before I wasn’t too happy about the phone calls but overall the driver was extremely knowledgeable, food was always fresh and plenty, and Achmed is a reliable guy.

Cost of the safari: $1500 per person.

Cost of Oman Airways: £585 return from London to Dar

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5 responses to “Northern Circuit Tanzania Safari and Zanzibar

  1. I very badly want to do the Inca Trail! But there are no direct flights from Dubai to Peru! It’s all via Brazil and other such places… and the tickets are super expensive. *sigh*
    Some day!

      • btw… it’s amazing that you remember all the details of where you stayed with the names and all so vividly!

        For me, the names and details are all hazy! I only remember stuff like what I ate and the people I met. but mainly just the food! 😛

      • This particular long post was written for TripAdvisor initially because a lot of people helped me when doing research on Tanzania. That is why (a) its so long (b) its so detailed.

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