We just got back from a 7 day safari plus 2 days in Zanzibar (from 22nd feb to 4th march). The entire trip was organized by EASTCO (east African safari and touring company) including the internal flights and transfers. This was our first ever safari trip and we were very concerned about some negative reviews posted on TA. Overall, our trip was very fulfilling and positive and I would certainly recommend EASTCO for safari and especially with "James" as the tour guide. Following is a fairly detailed account of our trip. Excuse the typos and grammar I don’t intend to proof read it again. We took nearly 6K photos so it’s going to take some time sorting through them all, I will try to post them separately.
There are 3-4 very recent threads reviewing EASTCO, while some people are disappointed others are very satisfied. I think the experience of safari depends on the expectation the person has from the trip. We are a young couple and have extensively traveled Europe but, are really newbie in the whole African safari experience. This is the thread I used for planning my trip tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g297913-i9775-k598… We decided to go with EASTCO despite the few bad reviews because First, safari quote was within our limited budget and Second, the locations that Simon proposed were exactly what we wanted (staying near Ndutu plains in serengeti and Paje coast in Zanzibar). Though the accommodations and vehicles were not in good shape, we found them to be functional, so in the end the minor problems we had, were overshadowed by the amazing safari experience we got.
DAY 1: Had a pretty rough start, arrived in Dar-es-salam at 3:30am very tired and sick after 30 hours in transit, We were suppose to take the 7:10 flight to Kilimanjaro but found out that PrecisionAir sent an email just 14 hrs before departure for changing the flight time to 10:30, that meant an extra 3 hours of wait in the airport. After talking with precisionair people we were allowed to board the 6am flight to JRO and we waited there until Simon sent Saidi to pick us up. Additionally, we found our luggage bag zipper was broken somewhere in the process, for this Saidi took us to a tailor shop in Arusha and got it fixed. After arriving into EASTCO office in Arusha Simon greeted us himself, there we changed, got fresh and settled the payment. The office is actually quite nice with many beautiful birds, butterflies and small animals. We met Bernard there who had a king fisher sitting on his hand, something I was not expecting to see so quickly after landing into Tanzania. Unfortunately, I could not get a photo and the bird flew by the time I unpacked my camera. Afterwards, we went to meet our guide, James. We had our first lunchbox today, the food was plenty and tasted nice but, felt that chicken was cooked a very long time ago. We spent the afternoon in Manyara national park and then headed towards the crater in the evening. Manyara game viewing wasn't all that great and I was warned regarding this in the forums but, we did it anyways to fill the first day and it was good to practice our new camera equipment. Our plan was to spend the night in basic Simba camp but, Simon up changed it and so we got to sleep in the Rhino Lodge with no extra cost. We really appreciate this considering how exhausted we got on the first day. The lodge was great and the food was very nice. At night we went to sleep with a Buffalo chewing outside our balcony. We also heard a faint growl of a large cat in the bushes at night, though we didn’t see it, I'm pretty sure it was lioness.
DAY 2: The morning we headed into the crater. The wildlife was just unreal, the place was densely packed with animals and with such diversity, I couldn’t keep my concentration on one scene. Within 15 minutes James showed us a birth of a wildebeest. We actually saw several different new borns learning to walk. It was fascinating to see how minutes after birth the babies start to keep up with their mothers though they fall a couple of times. We saw a ton of different animals, could not see the rhinos from up close, they were very far away. In the afternoon we drove towards our camps in Serengeti, I think it was between the Olduvai and Ndutu plains. At first I was a bit disappointed as I saw no animals near our camps, but as night fell it changed. Dixon served us very nice dinner cooked on camp fire we went back into our full service camps. The camps had some problems, first, the portable toilet and shower were not fully enclosed inside the tent (somewhat in public view), this was a problem for us because, of religious reasons. This was fixed fairly quickly although, the shower was not completely covered hence, we only used the shower to clean the dusty hair. There were no rechargeable lights inside the camp, the one present didn’t work, we used our small torches for the rest of the days, would have been great if this was taken care of. The zipper in our tent didn’t work properly and there were some holes in the tent canvas which worried us because, there were rats in the bushes just behind our tent. However, all went well, though we did wish it the camp was maintained. At night after dinner we slept and I was woken at 3am by a herd of zebras who were munching grass just outside our tent, I could actually feel them pushing the tent. It was one amazing night!
DAY 3: In the morning we went to have breakfast and found a group of giraffes standing in the bush near the camps. After a good breakfast we went for our first game drive in Serengeti (ndutu plains 3 hrs away). James was very friendly throughout the trip and accommodated our every need during the trip. He was excellent at spotting animals, was always eager to tell us the differences and behavior of different species and was fairly communicative when it came to planning the day. We told him specifically that we were not after seeing the big 5, but would be rather happy to see a few animals but wanted to spend the whole day around them, to observe their behavior, he was ok with this and we spent countless hours in front of our favorite animals (cheetahs). He also planned so that we always knew how far we were from public toilet, this was a big relief to us, as going behind the bush was something that we wanted to avoid. Today, we saw many vehicles waiting outside a bush for a leopard but, we never saw anything however, soon we found a mother with 2 young cheetahs feasting on a young zebra. The cheetahs after some time left the carcass unfinished and went into the shade to rest, during this time we went to a nearby lodge to use the restroom, only to return to see that the same cheetahs had another kill with them, this time it was baby Thompson gazelle. The saddest thing was the mother of the gazelle kept on staring at the cheetahs from a distance, for nearly an hour she stayed there until giving up and she went away. After the cheetah's we slowly started going back to our camp and saw a lion pride with 4 lioness and one handsome male. The day ended with another good dinner at the camp.
DAY 4: Being nearly 3 hrs away from the Ndutu plains (where the big cats were) was a problem because, this meant that we could not take photos at sunrise or sunset light. We decided to leave camp early today at 6:30 and we although couldn't get photos of cats in the morning light, we managed to capture the landscape and some gazelles fighting. Today was a lucky day we saw three different cheetah families, 12 in total including the three we saw the previous day. Also another lion pride but, most of the animals were pretty in-active and were resting in the midday sun. We tried again our luck with the leopard but were not successful. In the evening we were going back to our camp when the Mrs spotted a cat on the tree. We were really excited because we thought it was a leopard and the fact that this was the first time we were able to beat James at spotting any animal; however it turned out to be something really bizarre even for James. The animal we saw was not a leopard but, a Serval cat hanging on the tree branch. Apparently, a leopard killed the cat and left it up there after partially eating it. I never knew even such a large cats are hunted as well. In the end we headed back to camp. It was hot today with a lot of dust.
DAY 5: On our 3rd day in Serengeti we started off by seeing a newly born baby gazelle. After driving a while towards the Ndutu plains we saw a huge dust cloud on the road. Until now we haven’t seen a single animal concentration, mostly herbivores were scattered on the plains. This was the first time we saw the signature migration with zebras leading the herd. The animals were running and the dust produced was so immense that it was hard to see anything. Soon after we went again to our leopard spot. Today, we were fortunate to see mr. leopard sleeping on the tree branch, very much like how clothes are hanging on the drying line. We saw another group of cheetahs, two different pairs of mating lions before it started to rain a little bit and we headed back to our camp.
DAY 6: We woke up for breakfast when our masai cook told us that a spotted hyena stole the cooking pot they used last night. They found the pot far away but, it was broken by the time they got it. After breakfast Dixon showed us the beautiful view from the top of hill behind our camps at sunrise. Today we left our camp and headed towards Oltukai Manyara to sleep overnight. On the way we enjoyed the game view. I think the highlight of the day was a very large herd of giraffes. Normally, we saw giraffes grazing over bushes and trees, but this time we saw nearly 100 of them out in the open field, this was an amazing scene something I had never seen, even in photos. On the way we visited a Masai village, although not a very authentic experience, with all the jumping dances and everything but, we went to take some photos which we got in the time we spent there. Lodge at Oltukai manyara is fairly close to the city and is located near a very beautiful lake bed. The wildlife near the lodge wasn't that great, a few wildebeest, zebras very far away. We were taken for a walk with two masai watchmen, we saw some hyenas and gazelles from far away. The interior of the lodge room was very beautiful and spacious. However, it felt like the place needs a lot of work to be completed. There is no proper path from the room to the mess hall where the dinner is served, in the morning there wasn't any water available for the toilet use and there was no electricity. The issue that bothered us the most was the openness of the lodge, meaning there is a 360 viewing net that lets you see outside the lodge and that someone outside sees everything inside as well (yes I checked). I don't understand why the lodge is built in this manner, maybe people fancy the option of viewing the animals at night surrounding the room but, for us the aspect of privacy should not be compromised and this is what we expect from every accommodation. Maybe having an option of curtain would remove this problem in the future. Also toilet had transparent glass panels which were totally visible from outside. But this was quickly fixed by Patrick and they covered it up pretty nicely when we asked them.
DAY 7: Patrick brought us some water in the morning but was not enough for washing. The dinner and breakfast was very good, and for the first time the lunchbox we got felt like having fresh food. In the lake bed we saw some wildebeest fighting so it was a good start. We headed today into Tarangire national park and spent half day there. Saw loads of elephants as expected. First a lion pride of 8 including a lot of cubs. Then again saw another lion pride with 4 adults. In the afternoon we were dropped at JRO to take a flight to Zanzibar, we said farewell to James and waited for PrecisionAir which was again fashionably late. Arriving in Zanzibar we are picked up by taxi from Kilima Kidogo and we were charged 20$ extra because of the late arrival from PrecisionAir. Dina greeted us and we found her very hospitable. The food and tours were more expensive than prices in nearby Paje village. But, Food was really good and we enjoyed our time relaxing there.
DAY 8: Saw Zanzibar for the first time at sunrise, an amazing scene, Dina has two lovely cats, they were very friendly and definitely added in the time we spent there. In the morning one of the cats brought a small snake in the guesthouse which I thought could have been very dangerous for her. It turns out everyone there found it very normal and the restaurant waiters killed the snake and threw it away. The reason I wanted to stay close to Paje village was easy access to snorkeling. We went in a traditional Dhow to see some sea life. Snorkeling trip was good but our captain could not understand English so it was hard to explain him what we wanted. We saw some nice fishes and sea stars. The problem was that snorkeling could only be done in midday because of the low tide schedule, this made the trip to the coral reef very difficult because of the hot weather.
DAY 9: We relaxed and went again for snorkeling, this time with Abdullah and also for some reef walk, saw octopus today and had a great time exploring. Today snorkeling was difficult for us because of the strong current so we spent most of the time in walking on the reef.
DAY 10: Time to go back, we fell in love with Africa and now it was time to go back ... A very long way back home, could not stop thinking about when we would come back again. Could not stop talking about the nights we spent in Serengeti, the beautiful landscapes the colorful masai and the amazing wildlife.
In my opinion safari experience depends more on the people (guides, cooks, managers) rather than the lodging and equipment. I specifically requested for James as the guide and we were very lucky to have him, the 7 day we spent with him were very enjoyable and he provided us with a great safari experience. We were lucky not even to have a single incident that would cut on our game viewing time and we were never rushed during the game drives. The vehicles as stated in many threads are not in great shape, as we saw nearly all other tour operators vehicles were in better visible state than ours. We went in a land rover 6 seater, the seat covers were torn and lose at places, the seats could not be adjusted but were comfortable, windows and sunroof worked as expected, shocks were good, there was only 1 spare tire. But, we never had a flat tire so never needed it. The popup sunroof was damaged one day but James got it fixed the very next day. For us it mattered most that the vehicle was fully functional. I was surprised how we managed to travel for 7 days without one flat tire on the bumpy rock roads of Serengeti. There were other EASTCO vehicles which got 4 flat tires in the trip so basically its luck. If I go again I will pick the same vehicle again.
The things I did not like about EASTCO was first, Simon although very fast in communication, become very slow in providing me details after the itinerary was confirmed, such as e-tickets of internal flight were not sent before and I only got them on the last day. Second, privacy situation in lodges and tents needs to be improved, an option of curtains should be provided. Holes in tents and zippers need to be fixed; there should be some chargeable light inside the tent if one calls them full service camp. Twice, it happened that EASTCO camp workers took ride in our vehicle to go to city. So, basically they were with us the entire day, this was not something we were expecting in a private safari and did not like it.
The things I liked are as I stated above were the amazing experiences we had in the trip. James was an excellent guide and Simon (although slow in responding emails at the end) helped us a lot in fixing our luggage and upgrading our first night into rhino lodge. We knew things don't always go as smoothly as we plan in safaris but, I liked how people in EASTCO fixed majority of the problems as they arrived. If someone is deciding to go along with EASTCO, I would recommend that they ask for photos and details of vehicles and lodges before deciding. If the quality standard of vehicle and lodges is meets up with the client then I would definitely recommend going with EASTCO as the guides like James, Muhammad, William and Ezakiel all have very good reviews. Personally, I would like to go with EASTCO again if James is the guide. Simon I know you are reading this... please fix the minor issues mentioned in the mean while :)