Amy Handwerker, a Virtuoso agent and Puerto Rico and Napa, CA travel specialist of Travel Experts came to Hills of Africa a few months back to assist her in planning a trip to Africa for one of her clients. We were thrilled to help create the trip of a lifetime for her client, Zach and Lee, who recently returned home from their Tanzania safari vacation.
We’d like to thank Zach and Lee for allowing us to share their experiences in Africa and photographs. See below for Zach’s detailed description of his amazing trip to Tanzania (NOTE: all photographs in this post are owned by Zach and Lee):
First of all, our trip to Africa was incredible! From start to finish we had an incredible time. Thank you so much for organizing it and it was thoroughly clear through our safari itinerary that you were able to capture exactly the experience that we wanted. I’ve bulleted out some feedback below, as well as a more in depth description of the trip.
Thank you so much again!
Side note: Our guide was Aly Kea and he was AMAZING. As he told us, many people are booked with “Taxi Drivers,” who know the general main roads on safari and in Tanzania, but do not have the training, experience, or general interest in their jobs to make the experience special. Aly was incredibly knowledgeable and was able to quench our thirst for adventure. He is well trained and experienced and I would recommend him to anyone looking to travel on safari.
Airport transfer was easy. In fact, the line is MUCH shorter if you get a visa in Tanzania at Kilimanjaro than if you purchase it before. They let people buying them there cut to the front of the customs line. Even more, I didn’t even get charged the visa fee.
Rivertree Inn was great. Perfect for what we used it for on both the first and last days of our trip – comfort, excellent service, and proximity to the airport.
Lake Manyara was beautiful. The drive leaving Manyara was truly exceptional. Up and across the winding hills and farmland, it was beautiful to see some of the cultivated land. Driving to the Plantation Lodge was also amazing since we saw lines of local farmers carrying bushels on their heads, and we also saw beautiful coffee and wheat fields.
Plantation Lodge was incredible. From the moment we arrived the service was excellent, the staff friendly, and the accommodations wonderful. After our game drive, Lee and I had appetizers in the bar and drinks on the deck overlooking the sunset. Dinner was restaurant style, with Lee and I having our own table. After dinner, drinks in the bar were great. A group of about 10 congregated to drink and drink some more. The bar floor is made of glass and offers a view into their beautiful wine cellar. Dinner can be specially requested down there for a cost, I believe. It was an amazing night.
The drive to Ngorongoro was a bit tough due to our late night revelry, but it ended up being great. The drive up the crater is miraculous. The heavy fog that sets in really makes you realize that you are in the jungle. As we descended into the crater, we immediately saw buffalo, zebra, and lions. In the crater, we were able to see all of the incredible sights with the exception of one of the 35 rhino living in the crater. We did see a rare serval cat in the afternoon, which was very special.
There are two lunch areas in the crater, one in the forested area, the other by the lake. The lake location is a bit busier, but much more beautiful. The drive up the crater was also incredible. Lee and I have a video of the view in which both of us are unconsciously smacked by a low hanging tree branch. The view was spectacular. Also, while the view was excellent, this drive is not for the faint of heart. It is a bumpy and treacherous climb.
The Mysigio Camp was awesome to arrive to. Located atop a high hill in the highlands, it offered a beautiful view of the valley below. We were originally placed in a tent that had a bit of a fire ant problem. Once bringing the issue to the attention of the camp manager, we were moved into a different tent. Accommodations were great. We felt well treated without losing the aura of “camping.” Dinner at the camp was excellent, as was the company of the 8 other people that were traveling through. The lounge area was great and offered great wines.
The morning was beautiful, with fresh coffee being brought to our tent when we requested to be woken up. We spent this day hiking the Ngorongoro Highlands at the recommendation of our guide, Aly, in order to stretch a bit and see the sights from a different perspective. It was a long 13-mile hike, but it was amazing. We saw giraffe and zebra up close, as well as other grazing animals. We were able to check out a Maasai hut and see the local shepherds bring their animals to a local watering hole to drink.
We returned to the camp for lunch and a bit of rest and then had a cultural immersion with the local Maasai. They taught us about their lives and growing up as a warrior in a modern society. At the end, they performed a ritual dance and allowed us to participate. One note is that for these things, tipping is customary so bringing extra cash for them (as well as the for the armed park ranger who accompanied us on our hike).
For a trip the length of ours and without ATMS, I would recommend $100 set aside for the main guide at the end of the trip, $100 in ten dollar bills for each night at a local lodge/camp, $100 in $5 and $1 in order to tip local porters, bag handlers, etc.
We got an early start for our drive from the Highlands to the Central Serengeti. Initial part of the drive is very long and without a ton of wildlife to see during the dry season. While a bit empty of wildlife, it was a beautiful drive and nice to see yet another type of habitat in the region. As soon as we began to get closer the Central Serengeti, the topography changed and we instantly saw more animals. The Central region is beautiful and has a high density of animals. As such, it also has a very high density of tourists, as well as “Taxi Cab” safari guides that call one another when animals are spotted, causing a traffic jam of activity, which can also disturb the animals. Despite this, we had a wonderful time and saw lions mating, a lioness stalking a zebra, were almost charged by an elephant, and drove through the tail end of the Great Migration, catching up to the herd once we reach the Western Serengeti.
Arriving that evening in the Western Serengeti at Serengeti Safari Camp was awesome. While the Ngorongoro camp was laid out in a horseshoe to create a sort of campsite, the Serengeti camp was a long line of tents, offering a bit more isolation, and amazing views of the Serengeti to all of the visitors. The tents were beautiful, as were the lounge and dining areas. Staying here for three nights was incredible. After our game drive, we congregated by a campfire at 7PM for an hour of cocktails and snacks to hang out with the other people staying the camp. Dinner was delicious, as well.
Day 6 -7
Because of the extreme heat during the day, we broke our time in the day in the Western Serengeti into two parts, a morning game drive, followed by a bit of rest, and then an evening game drive, followed by a shower and dinner.
Additionally, since many of the animals are docile and in hiding from the heat of the sun in midday, there is not much to see. The mornings were beautiful, waking at 5:45AM and having breakfast packed and then eating in a remote location of the Serengeti. One morning we ate in the middle of the migration, it was really awe-inspiring to see such a great amount of animals.
Lunch at the camp was nice, as was a much needed siesta each day from the heat. Dinner, again, was amazing. We had a blast with the people that we met – the families, the honeymooners, and other travelers. It was unforgettable. Additionally, on our last night a leopard was spotted in the camp area and so, we all stayed up late to dull our fears, aided by hefty portions of wine. Very fun.
Day 8 – 9
We left the camp in the morning after having breakfast and drove to the Northern Serengeti, Nomad Lamai lodge. It was great to drive through some of the local villages and see the people, stop at a local gas station, and hear the children yelling, “Mgunzu! Mgunzu!” which just means they were shouting, “white people, white people!” The grass here was very high as the wildebeest had not arrived, however it offered beautiful views of the hills and “kopjes” (rock outcroppings, just like Pride Rock in The Lion King). In fact, the Nomad Lamai lodge is built on the Kogakuria kopje, one of the highest in the area.
Arriving here was truly insane, to say the least. The lodge’s indoor/outdoor construction was amazing. With the bar and lounge areas looking out to full vistas of the Serengeti, you could easily spot herds of elephants roaming the adjacent hills. It was spectacular. In fact, the managers told us that one morning a leopard was found sleeping on a couch in the lounge.
Dinner here was remarkable and was set on one of the decks overlooking the Serengeti. After dinner, drinks in the lounge were also wonderful, with conversations carrying on into the night. The rooms, as well, were amazingly beautiful and well appointed. They spared no expense.
The next day we spent our “siesta” time lounging by the pool after lunch, reading and hanging out, until our final game drive, which was, above and beyond what we could expect. Up until this point, we had only seen 2 leopards from a distance and no rhinos. Well, as vehicles are required to be back at camps by 6PM, of course at about 4:45PM we spot a leopard in a large fig tree. We sat watching the leopard for about an hour while drinking beers and other cars of people arrived, as well.
At 5:45PM, we decided to continue on, Aly hearing word of something about 10 minutes away. We arrived, seeing a rare black rhino grazing with her young calf. It was amazing. At this point, it was 6:05 PM and we were the last people out on the savannah. We drove back to the lodge, but not without stopping at the leopard tree, only to see the young leopard had descended to the ground and was eating a small impala. Driving back from this was incredible. Lee and I were on cloud nine.
Does this sound like a trip you’d love to take? Learn more about Tanzania here.