I have just returned to the US following a 5 day safari with Allen Mnyenye through Northern Tanzania (Central Serengeti, Ndutu, Ngorongoro Crater), and I would very strongly encourage anyone serious about having an amazing safari / animal-viewing experience to get in touch with Allen and hire him.
When I planned my safari, my priority was finding an excellent guide-driver instead of finding a good safari company. We all know that when selecting a safari company -- even a high-end company -- you run the risk of being assigned a driver who is mediocre and/or not compatible with your interests/style. People focus so much on the company, when it is really the driver who makes or breaks your safari experience. As such, I didn't like the idea of hiring a safari company and being "assigned" a driver. I wanted to talk to my driver in advance and make sure we were compatible and make sure he understood what I wanted to get out of my trip. I didn't want to show up in Tanzania not knowing who my driver was and not having talked to my driver in advance.
I set out to find a driver-guide I could hire directly, and I came across Allen Mnyenye's name when doing some online searches and reading some old threads on this and other message boards. There wasn't very much information about Allen, but what I did read about him sounded very promising. So I decided to email Allen. Allen wrote back and offered to telephone me in the US. We talked on the phone, and I got the sense that he could be good for what I wanted (primary focus on good animal viewing and photography, long days getting up early and staying out late, etc.). Allen then sent me a price quote for the itinerary and accommodations I wanted, and his price was significantly cheaper than some of the prices I had received from higher-end companies (but higher than the quotes I received from the "budget" companies that were probably cutting corners).
At that point, I had a good feeling about Allen but had some concerns given that there wasn't very much info online about him. So I asked Allen for references, and the references turned out to be what convinced me to choose Allen. I talked via phone to 4 different clients (Americans) of Allen, and I was really impressed by what I heard. These people were all savvy/experienced travelers, some who had even been on multiple safaris in Tanzania. They spoke about Allen's professionalism, his outstanding game-spotting skills, his great knowledge of the animals, how hard he works when out in the bush, and what a nice and warm person he is. Allen isn't a slick "salesman" type who convinces you why you should hire him, and it ended up being his stellar references that caused me to book with Allen.
When I began my safari with Allen, I quickly realized that all the great things his references said about him were true. My 5 day safari was truly outstanding, and it was all because of Allen's abilities as a great safari driver-guide.
Allen is truly hard working. I wanted to see as much as I could (safari is expensive, after all), and also be in the bush at sunrise/sunset for photography purposes. Every day, we left the lodges at before sunrise and didn't return until after dark. For Allen, that meant working 12-13 hour days (6 or 6:15am to 6:30 or 7pm) with only a short breakfast and lunch breaks in the bush. Allen never complained about this. Rather, Allen encouraged me to be in the bush for as long as possible.
And Allen's abilities out in the bush are remarkable. Allen is a great game spotter, but I'm sure most drivers meet that requirement. What made Allen special was his patience and knowledge of animal behavior. I'm somewhat-serious with the photography, and Allen's skills in this regard really helped me get some amazing shots. When viewing a group of animals, Allen was constantly on alert to put me the in the best possible position (the way the animal was looking/moving, best lighting, least obstructions from the bush, etc.). Allen and I would sometimes spend 30-40 minutes with one group of animals just observing and enjoying and photographing. Allen would adjust the car's position anytime it would give me a better and/or different perspective. I regularly saw other drivers approach the animals, stay for 2-3 minutes while their customers snapped a few obligatory pictures, and then race off to the next spot. When these "drive-by" types left the scene, Allen and I would have the animals all to ourselves to enjoy.
Allen is also well prepared to deal with any problem that comes up. We got a flat tire (which is quite common due to the bad roads), and Allen was able to get us up and running again within 10 minutes. I've read reports of people wasting hours due to car problems, and I'm very confident that Allen knows what he's doing here. Along these lines, Allen's jeep is clean and very well maintained.
Perhaps most importantly, Allen is a nice and pleasant guy to be around. This is critical because you're in a car with your driver all day, and eat dinner with him at many of the accommodations. He has been to the US 4 times, so his English is great (he actually understands and comprehends questions about the animals, unlike some guides who can merely recite their scripts English) and he is well versed on knowing what tourists want and how to keep them happy.
I had an itinerary change, and Allen even let me spend the night (for free) after my safari at the very comfortable guest house in his Arusha home. I was fussed over by his wife and kids, and the dinner and breakfast meals that his wife cooked for me were so much more tasty than the food I ate at the camps and lodges.
In sum, I'm more than 100% thrilled with my decision to go on safari with Allen Mnyenye. I think more people should focus on hiring a driver instead of a company that will give them a mystery driver, and there can be no better man for the job than Allen. I'd like to see Allen do well and get more business since there's not a whole lot online about him, so I'm passing along his contact info:
Please feel free to message me if you're considering Allen and would like to discuss more specifics. I hope you use him.