Back from safari about two weeks ago and finally got an opportunity to sort through my photos and put together my trip report. We stayed 3 nights in Ndutu, 3 nights central Serengeti and 1 night Ngorongoro and traveled with Basecamp. This was a return trip for me and my second time traveling with Basecamp and the magnanimous Achmed. I had a great experience on both trips (2011/2014) and below is a quick recap of the trip with some highlights and notables.
San Francisco to Kilimanjaro on KLM and a full 24 hours basically spent in transit. KLM/Kili worked well in comparison to the other options (Turkish/through Nairobi). I would definitely recommend anyone considering visiting the northern parks to fly to Kili as opposed to transiting through DAR… which I did on my first trip. Save a day of your life, fly to Kili.
I was supposed to meet a friend traveling from Atlanta in Amsterdam and continue on to Kili but the trip was complicated by the fact that the travel companion never showed in Amsterdam. Both of us are from the US and neither of us had phones so it made reconnecting a scramble over the internet once I got to Kili. It turned out that his flight out was delayed by snow and he was re-routed through Ghana and Kenya and arrived at Kili airport 11 hours later than expected. After some frantic emailing I was able to piece everything together and Basecamp grabbed him the following morning and we were off to the races.
A definite highlight of the trip and frankly a large reason for returning to Tanzania. I had always heard of the February calving at Ndutu and the destination lived up to the expectations. During a prior trip to Tanzania in June we visited the migration in the Western Corridor but the amount of animals present in Ndutu dwarfs the herds I saw on my prior trip… there were times when we were on the plains and as far as the eye could see in either direction was wildebeest and zebra, simply amazing. Being in Ndutu you really got an idea of how “the migration” is not a static event, you could visit the same location on consecutive days and one day would be wildebeest as far as you could see and the next day it would be empty … “the migration” is almost a living being to itself and there is a constant movement although the animals were massed around Ndutu. I would love the opportunity to visit Ndutu again and I cannot say enough about the location or our accommodations. Basecamp recommended “Ndutu Wilderness Camp” and it was a great experience, the camp is comprised of 10 tents in an almost semi-circle around a campfire and dining tent. The experience was tented camping at its best with en-suite bathroom, drop shower and a bed… the food was good we enjoyed the location and spacious tents a lot. Coming back from a long days drive to a bed and mattress and warm shower was refreshing. At night you could hear lion roaring in the distance and zebra and wildebeest right behind your tent… I took one shot of my friend walking from our tent toward the dining area and there are zebra and wildebeest just behind him in the background.
While in Ndutu the calving was occurring and we came upon many newly born wildebeest calves in the morning and some females with the placenta still dangling from fresh births. With the large number of births and the herd’s sheer size, death made itself visible in a way that I had not encountered on prior trips to Tanzania. We came across multiple wildebeest carcasses that seemed to die from natural causes and there were storks and vultures galore cleaning up the plains, another item that tugged at your heart was wildebeest calves separated from their mothers and roaming the plains… sometimes trying to follow your safari vehicle while calling out in confusion. They seemed so vulnerable and in your head you knew that the calf had a day or two to live and that was it… it was hard to watch.
Highlights of Ndutu include the huge number of herbivores present and numerous up close cheetah sightings, watching an unsuccessful cheetah hunt and watching a female lion stalking wildebeest. Like many people, I have the morbid fascination with watching an actual hunt and kill take place, we watched two cheetah hunting for at least an hour and there was one unsuccessful chase, we then left and heard that about 20 minutes later they brought down a Thompsons gazelle… a little more patience would have done it. Another highlight was having a conversation with the Tanzanian staff from the Ndutu Wilderness Camp about life as an African American in the US. It was really interesting to hear an East African take on African Americans, our under-representation on safari, Obama and the reality of life on the ground as an African American in the states… sitting around a campfire at night in Africa discussing race with brethren from your continent of origin was great… there were a lot of layers to that cake and the conversation and insight was one of the travel experiences that you tuck in your pocket and keep with you.
The Serengeti was our next destination after Ndutu and the migration extended roadside from Ndutu pretty much up to Naabi Hill Gate and stopped there. Once past the gate and with the migration behind us, the Serengeti presented a very stark contrast to Ndutu and the vast open spaces of Serengeti dominated the landscape. Notable differences were not only the disparity in animal concentrations but the presence of large herds of buffalo (which we didn’t see in Ndutu) the presence of more giraffe and the presence of leopards (that we could see anyway). A huge difference between the Serengeti on this trip and my prior trips was that the Serengeti was green… I have been before in June and everything except the Acacia is brown… it was a pleasant surprise to see how green the Serengeti was and it gave the landscape a “glow” if you will.
In Serengeti we ditched tented camping and had our first nights of basic camping in public campsites. On a prior trip to Tanz my wife and I were unfortunate enough to have hyena fighting right outside our tent one night and ever since being on safari has been insomnia at it’s best. I am resigned to not sleeping much and my strategy has been trying to stay up as long as possible (11ish) so I can sleep through as much of the night as possible but I consistently only get about 4 hours of good sleep per night as I am now hypersensitive to noise and cannot really get back to sleep once I get woken up. Fortunately other than just hearing them around the campsite there are no new bad hyena stories so this trip worked out better. There have also been improvements to the basic camping facilities and new bathroom/shower blocks had been constructed which was a pleasant surprise.
Highlights of Serengeti include seeing 4 leopards (Mother and two cubs, lone male) and the male leopard walking around in a sausage tree around dusk, seeing two pride males together with two females on the open plains, large herds of buffalo and the vast open spaces of the Serengeti. We also saw a pride of lion lounging about when one of the females spotted some zebra off in the distance… it eventually caught everyone’s attention and all of the females moved off into the tall grass to presumably track down the zebra… watching them gather and walk off into the tall grass together was a treat. The vast open spaces of the Serengeti never disappoint and this trip was no exception.
After leaving Serengeti we headed for Ngorongoro to overnight before descending into the crater in the morning. That night there were two armed guards on site with assault rifles which was a little off-putting but I think there had been some issues with people’s belongings walking away so there is more visible security now.
The crater was a good experience and there is such a large concentration of game in a relatively small area so there is always game to be seen. We spent a portion of our day watching multiple rhino at a distance and one moved teasingly closer to the road but never got very close, I took a lot of photos which later came out as unimpressive grey rocks but it was great to watch them in person and such a shame that they have been hunted to the point that the crater is the only opportunity most people have to see them. We closed out our time in the crater by driving through a very large herd of buffalo and then coming upon two male lions lounging in the grass… we then had to hustle out of the park and we stopped in Mto Wa Mbo on the way back to Arusha. I believe I read others on the forum disparage the experience but I enjoyed it, it was interesting to walk around town with our young guide looked to be about 20 and was whip smart and spoke at least 3-4 languages. We were shown local construction and housing, the making of banana beer, walked through a local market and watched a neighbor cutting up a goat to make stew… interesting things you would never see in a car driving through town. The sad takeaway though is that Mto Wa Mbo is seemingly growing in Manyara’s direction and everyone’s reliance on firewood means that more and more of the surrounding environment is being chopped and burned daily.
After returning to Arusha we met with the great Achmed (Basecamp’s owner) and ran through trip at the hotel and shot the breeze for some time. I had not seen him since 2011 but it was like meeting up with an old friend. Meeting the owner added a great personal touch and shows that he honestly cares about those returning from trips as he is there to get a first hand account of everything that happened. Again it was a great trip and hats off… back in the “real world” now and Bing had a photo of two African Wild Dogs on it’s homepage… a reminder that I still need to see them in the wild, that and a kill, I will quietly plot my return to Africa.
Many forum posters come here for information on an upcoming trip and the topic of which provider to choose comes up frequently. I would not “tell” you who to choose but I will share that I have traveled with Basecamp twice and have high praise for the company and have had excellent experiences with them. On this trip we had an excellent pop top car without any troubles (and the roads can be rough), a great guide in Thomas (over 20 years experience) and a great cook in Omari who also spent a fun filled night showing us a local card game called “last card” which we stayed up playing together at Ngorongoro, we got shellacked in the game but it was a lot of fun. The food was top rate and my favorite is always the soups, I’m not a soup lover and don’t order them in the US but they are a staple on safari and the soups are amazing (seems kind of random I know). Thomas drove us through loads of mud and tough terrain like a pro and he had great eyes. Without standing on a soapbox I would say that if you are considering the trip I would definitely recommend including Basecamp in your applicant pool, when planning my trip I did my due diligence and got quotes from other carriers mentioned on the forum and the price difference between the American firms offering safari services and going direct with the provider in Tanzania was sizeable… like extra days on safari sizeable. Signing off for now but I wanted to leave feedback for an oft asked question and provide kudos where due to Basecamp for helping make this a great trip.