Booked Feb. 2013. Traveled Aug. 31-Sept. 10, 2013. We traveled as a couple, in our mid-50’s. After reading through the TA forums, decided on the Northern Circuit and created a list of criteria and locations for our travel agent. We wanted the confidence of booking through a US-based company, but the expertise of an Arusha-based operator. We liked the idea of tented camps, but wanted somewhat high-end, yet reasonably priced. We also wanted a small tour group. We believe we found the right combination. Our agent found this tour, which was almost an exact match to our requirements: General Tours 9-day “Luxury Tenting in the Serengeti”. General Tours is a US-based company, but are incorporated in Tanzania as Grumeti Expeditions. They own and operate the Lemala camps. They limit tours to a maximum of 16 guests. We wanted to include Tarangire Park on our itinerary, so our agent worked with General tours to add that to the front of our tour. The complete itinerary was exactly what we were looking for. Below is a summary of our trip. Additional reviews of the camps, etc., are included in the links at the end.
Flew United Airlines to Dubai and spent a couple of days there. It was hot, but was a good move to adapt to the time difference. Arrived at JRO via ADD on Ethiopian Airlines. They were checking Yellow Fever cards as we entered. Since we had ours, we breezed through. Finished the visa process in less than an hour. Our guide was there to meet us and remained with us through our entire time in Tanzania.
We spent the first night at The Arusha Hotel before heading out to the camps. Nice place and a good way to start the trip. It’s probably best to stay on the hotel property, since the locals are fairly aggressive at trying to sell tours, t-shirts, maps, etc.
Tarangire National Park (2 days). This was our private, custom add-on to the packaged tour. Arrived at Whistling Thorn Tented Camp in time for lunch. After lunch, enjoyed a game drive in the park. Huge variety of birds, including many at our camp. We saw jackal, impala, dik dik, wildebeest, warthog, monkey, baboon, giraffe, bushbuck and lots of zebra and elephants. Returned to camp for a shower, snacks by the fire where the local Masai welcomed us with a dance and song, followed by a nice dinner. For our second day, we packed a lunch and spent a full day in Tarangire, traveling to Silale Swamp. Saw many of the same animals as the previous day, with the addition of waterbuck, dwarf mongoose, cape buffalo, rock python, reedbuck, leopard, ostrich and many other birds and more elephants than we could have imagined, especially at the swamp. Tarangire is an amazing place. We’re glad we added it to our trip.
Lake Manyara (1 night). Arriving into the park, saw monkey, baboon, gazelle, wildebeest, bushbuck, hippo, elephant, flamingos and other birds. About a mile from the camp, we came across 2 lions resting in a tree. That was a great sight, and apparently, fairly uncommon. Arrived at Lemala Manyara Camp for lunch and joined the rest of the tour group, who were just beginning the 9-day package tour. There were only 8 people on the tour, so we divided into 2 groups of 4. That was a perfect size with plenty of room to move around in the vehicles for great viewing. After dinner, we did a night game drive. It was fun to spot the eyes glowing and then see the animals. Saw a good variety of animals, including a very large porcupine. Before leaving Lake Manyara, we had an early-morning bushwalk with a park ranger. It was nice to get closer to the lake and look at some of the plants, insects, etc. up close. Also came across some fresh lion tracks.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area (2 nights). On the way, we stopped at Kibaoni Primary School. It was recess when we arrived, so we got to interact with the children. We met some of the school staff and got a tour of the classrooms, kitchen and the garden maintained by the different classes in the school. A very nice visit and an opportunity to provide supplies or donations, if desired.
After checking in to Lemala Ngorongoro Camp, we were taken to the nearby Masai village, where we were greeted with a welcome dance that included the men jumping and women singing while bouncing their large, flat necklaces. We were able to tour the inside of their homes made of sticks and covered in cow dung. We toured their little school house and had the opportunity to buy some of their crafts. That evening, one of the chief’s sons visited our camp to talk about the Masai way of life, as we sat around the fire. It was very interesting and a great addition to the trip.
The next day, we took boxed lunches and spent the full day in Ngorongoro Crater. On the way into the crater, our guide received a call that a rhino was spotted not far from our location. We arrived to get a nice view and complete our sighting of the Big Five. The crater is beautiful, with an amazing assortment of wildlife. We enjoyed lunch in the crater, near a lake filled with hippos, with several lions visible in the distance.
Central Serengeti (2 nights). On the way, stopped at Olduvai Gorge visitor center. It was interesting to see the stark difference in geography of this area.
Just a few miles from our camp, we came across a lion that had just taken down a warthog. We were able to watch for several minutes as it dispatched the prey and then hauled it off to the deep grass to settle in for the meal. We checked into Lemala Ewajan Camp to enjoy an outdoor lunch before heading out on another game drive. During the drive, we came across the family of leopards resting on a kopje. We watched for several minutes as they played and moved around, with a beautiful Serengeti sunset behind us.
The next morning was scheduled for a balloon flight, but when we arrived, we learned that winds were too high for a safe flight. We were able to reschedule for the next morning and instead enjoy a nice game drive where we saw 3 cheetahs stalking and chasing gazelle, but failed to make the catch. Later in the day, we watched a large pride of lions surround 3 warthogs and move in for a successful kill. On the way back to camp, we encountered a pride of at least a dozen lions that came out to the road to check out the vehicles. It was amazing to be that close to so many lions.
Early the next morning was the balloon flight with Serengeti Balloon Safaris. It was one of the most exciting highlights of the trip. It was stunning to fly over hippos, giraffe, elephant, gazelle, etc., and observe them and the landscape from above. After a toast with champagne and mango juice, we were treated to a nice breakfast in the middle of nowhere, with elephants in the distance. Definitely worth it.
Northern Serengeti (2 nights). The final 2 nights were spent at Lemala Mara. On the way, we came across another pride of lions that had taken down a buffalo. As we arrived in the area of the camp, it was just beginning an afternoon rain shower (the only rain during our trip). We arrived at the Mara River where a large herd of wildebeest were gathering at the shore. We waited for a bit and were able to observe a crossing of a few hundred animals. Another highlight.
The next morning, we woke up to the sound of wildebeest near our tent. We peeked outside to see several wildebeest, impala, monkey and zebra within about 100’ of our tent. It was an amazing sight. A morning and afternoon game drive gave us a closer look at the different landscape in this area. It was another interesting area with a great variety of wildlife. At the end of the day, our guide took us to a remote area away from camp where the staff had prepared snacks and drinks as a farewell gesture. We enjoyed chatting with the others in our tour and reminiscing about what a great time we all had. There we were in the middle of nowhere, watching the sun set over the Serengeti. It was a perfect end to a perfect trip.
The next morning, we took a flight from Kogatende Airstrip to Arusha, with a stop at Lake Manyara Airport. It was a great way to get one last look at the magnificent areas we had visited, before heading home.
Conclusion--There are several things that determine the success of a trip like this:
Tour operator: General Tours/Grumeti Expeditions provided everything promised. The itinerary was executed exactly as described in their marketing information, with enough flexibility to accommodate our specific interests, desired level of activity, etc. Their communication was very good and gave us good info about preparing for the trip. Definitely recommended.
Overnight accommodations: The tented camps were simply amazing, in great locations, with exceptional comfort and friendly staff. It’s important to consider the level of quality in these camps, especially with things like food preparation. Nobody on our tour got sick and the food was exceptional and plentiful. Showers were hot and refreshing. There were plenty of charging stations for electronic gear. We liked the consistency and quality of the Lemala camps, but Whistling Thorn was also very nice.
Vehicles: Our vehicle was very clean and well-maintained. Tires looked nearly new. It was cleaned every night and was in great running condition. On-board power let us charge equipment while traveling. We saw several other safari vehicles that were not nearly as clean and well-maintained.
Safari Guide: This is one of the most critical factors for a successful safari. Our guide, Romauld was beyond amazing and was with us throughout the entire trip. 14+ years of guiding experience, eyes that could spot and identify animals from impossible distances and a memory that seemed to encompass every imaginable guidebook from wildlife identification and behavior, plants, culture, geography, etc. He could accurately predict animal behavior and position our vehicle to the perfect viewing position for the animal’s next move, while other vehicles were still trying to catch up. Great personality and sense of humor and always willing to accommodate our requests to position for best photos, observing as long as we liked, etc. His driving was responsible, very safe and considerate.
Tour group: There are always questions and concerns of personalities you may encounter in a group tour. We quickly identified two people in the group who we felt matched our personalities and goals. We invited them to join us in our vehicle. Our common interests helped make the tour even more enjoyable. We enjoyed chatting with others during meals and around camp, but having compatible personalities during the game drives added significantly to our enjoyment of the tour.
Timing and Luck: We planned our visit hoping for a good combination of dry season, fewer visitors and to possibly catch some of the migration in the Northern Serengeti. We believe we got all that and more. We saw a much greater quantity and diversity of wildlife than we expected. Saw the Big Five, lions in a tree at Manyara, 3 separate lion kills, cheetahs stalking and chasing gazelles, wildebeest and zebra crossing the Mara River and so much more. It was truly an amazing trip and one that we will cherish for a lifetime.
Thanks to everyone on this forum, who provide exceptional advice, tips, itinerary recommendations, supplies to bring/not bring, etc. It made a big difference in planning and enjoying our trip.
Some photos from the trip: https:/…
General Tours Luxury Tenting in the Serengeti tour:
Tarangire National Park:
Whistling Thorn Tented Camp:
Lemala Manyara Tented Camp:
Lemala Ngorongoro Tented Camp:
Ngorongor Masai Village:
Olduvai Gorge Visitor Center:
Lemala Ewajan Tented Camp:
Serengeti Balloon Safaris:
Lemala Mara Tented Camp: