Safari and trekking recommendations for Tanzania after a climb of Kilimanjaro?
July 6, 2008 6:14 PM   Subscribe

Tanzanian Safari company/location recommendations?

I am going to be in Tanzania for the month of August. I'm climbing Kilimanjaro with a group of friends for the first 9 or 10 days, but after that, I have an open schedule. One friend is staying on with me, which is relevant as safaris seem to be priced differently depending on how many people are in your group.

Things I'd love to do - hike in the Usambara Mountains. See the big animals on a Safari. Dream type thing is a hot air balloon, but that's pretty pricey, so I don't know. Go to Zanzibar.

I've been reading Thorn Tree msg boards on Lonely Planet and also the Rough Guide site, and blogs, and so on. I'm kind of in information overload. I am one of those people who goes to the supermarket and stands in the toothpaste aisle frozen with indecision as the huge array of choices:) I'm having trouble figuring out the best plan. I usually like to just go to a place and see how things work out, but while that works when you're going to, say, Prague, I'm pretty sure that's not wise in East Africa.

So, if you've been to Tanzania, could you recommend things to do and see besides Kilimanjaro, and include a few words about why? What tour groups? Flying between cities vs the bus?

posted by jacquilinala to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My mother just got back from a trip to Tanzania. She went to Arusha, Olduvai Gorge, Ngorongoro Crater, and Serengeti National Park. She went through Africa Travel Resource and they came up with a plan that fit her needs and budget (she wanted to see lots of animals, and she wanted to do it as cheaply as possible). I think August is a pretty busy month, though, so you may be limited in what's still available to book.

The safari was awesome; if you like wildlife at all it's definitely something to do. Her guide was really informative and got her pretty close to everything she wanted to see: lions, giraffes, zebras, elephants, and (in a really good stroke of luck) cheetahs. It was just her and the guide driving around for five days, and their only obligation was to make it to the appointed lodge by dinner, so they had a lot of flexibility about cruising around trying to find the good watering holes. I think that with just you and your friend that might still provide enough of the "let's see where this goes" feeling that you're looking for.

I think one of her friends has done some hiking on or near Kilimanjaro as well; feel free to MeFi Mail me if you want more details on the logistics of the hiking or safari trips.
posted by stefanie at 7:33 PM on July 6, 2008

I went on safari in Tanzania about a year ago. Because I was on a long around-the-world trip (traveling alone) I wasn't in the position to book ahead. It was a pain to find someone to go with (even on LP people are flaky) and to find a company in Arusha that I could trust. On my second day in Arusha I found another solo traveler and we banded together to find a group. A lot of safari companies will advertise that they have a group ready for a certain date. They may even tell you specifics about the people (a Swedish couple, for instance). This is often a ruse to get you to sign with them. I won't go into being followed by groups of men trying to get commission etc. It was stressful to say the least.

We booked with a company and in the morning no one else turned up. The driver told us that they Swedish couple were late and would meet us at the first park. Two English guys showed up that night, and they had just booked a few hours earlier. This doesn't have to be a big deal but we didn't get along well and there was a lot of tension.

Here was our itinerary:
1.Lake Manyara
2.Drive all day to the Serengeti
3. Serengeti
4. Serengeti
5. Drive to Ngorongoro Crater
6. See the crater, drive to Arusha

Now, I was on a super cheap tour. Our car was in such bad condition that we had to tie one of the doors shut so it wouldn't open while we drove. We met a number of people on very expensive tours. I think I paid around $600 for the same tour that someone else at our camp site had paid $5000 in the US for. They had a nicer car, more friendly drivers and nutella on their breakfast spread.

I think there is a happy medium. Booking from abroad will add a lot of cost for the middle men. If you have the time I would suggest contacting those nice safari companies beforehand and seeing what they could do then visiting them before Kili to check in. I went to one of the nicer companies and they had one guy who wanted to go on a 12 day trip and everyone else was already in groups and not open to adding anyone else. While I was in the Serengeti there was a horrible accident in front of us with two jeeps. It was actually with two of the expensive agencies so even if you go with them urge your driver to slow down. I had to lift bleeding kids out of the windows. They drive like maniacs, no matter what kind of company they are.

Watch out of bate and switch tactics like your driver taking you outside the park to sleep. We didn't agree to this but he asked the other two guys without us (since he knew we'd say no). This is a lot cheaper and the driver or company pockets the difference. However, you end up spending two extra hours a day to and from camp and miss out on early morning and night drives.

Okay, now that I've probably scared you here's some more detailed information...

If you want to see big animals you'll want to go an a multi day safari. You don't really get out of the jeep all day but it can be really exciting when a Leopard runs in front of you. In August the Wildabeast Migration should already be in Kenya. There will be animals in Tanzania but not what you see on TV. Safaris in Kenya were a lot cheaper when I was there because the government fees/park fees are a lot less than in Tanzania. If it were me I'd go in Kenya, but that's up to you. Maybe you can do Kili, head to Zanzibar and then come back to Kenya for safari and leave from Nairobi.

I took a straight bus from Uganda through Nairobi to Arusha (which broke down twice and took about 30 hours) so I'm not sure of the exact bus times. I think from Nairobi to Arusha it takes most of the day. I also went from Arusha by bus to Zanzibar. I managed to do it in one day, just barely. I caught the earliest bus (maybe 6am?) to Dar. I jumped in a taxi and headed to the docks and caught the 4-ish ferry to Stone Town (the last of the day). That got me in around 6:30 or so. When I was there everything was booked up so check to see if you need hotel reservations.

Alternately, you can take a short flight from Arusha to Zanzibar. I didn't because they were more expensive than I liked... maybe $250+ one-way, I don't quite remember. If you're short on time the flight is probably worth it to you. On the island I stayed in Stone Town and headed up to Kendwa (nice for sunsets and swimming and better than Nungwi next door) and then stayed at Pongwe which was pretty boring and deserted and finally at Jambiani (Paje was totally booked out). I did this taking the local buses, walking and hitchhiking. It's possible but not very relaxing but hiring a driver to take you is around $50, a bus full of tourists is more like $8-10 if they're going your way. I found the accommodation and food on Zanzibar to be expensive and crowded but it's cheap if you're used to the West. Much more than Asia, in general, though.

That's enough for now, send me a mail if you have specific questions about my trip or want a link to the photos.
posted by Bunglegirl at 8:08 PM on July 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

I lived in Uganda for a few years (i'm canadian), and as someone who did the safari/zanzibar thing twice (once a 'budget camping' version, and once a 'wonderfully luxurious' version, when my parents visited), and refered a ton of people many times, i am a wealth of information ;-)

What's your budget? That will be a big determinant of your options. Less than $100/day gets you a camping safari, more gets you lodge safaris of varying degrees. (I should note that i loved the camping as much as the luxury version, so don't feel you have to push your budget up unnecessarily.)

After your Kilimanjaro hike, get your tour company to drop you in Arusha (where they'll probably drop you anyway.) From there, pick up a safari (i can recommend specific companies once you answer the budget question) for a 4 night/5 day safari. Go to the Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara, and the Serengeti. If you'd rather do 3night/5day, then cut out Manyara. For a camping safari, beware of any place that charges less than about $85 or $90 a day. Anything less is not a bargain, since you get what you pay for and paying less than that gets you ripped tents, crappy sleeping pads, and crummy food. (I took JS Safaris, and was pleased. I referred five other friends there, and all five trips with them were great.) You and your friend should probably book in advance, and if you feel like it, tell the safari company that they can add a few more people into your truck, to lower the costs (if that's an issue.) If you don't book in advance, head straight to the main tourist office in Arusha, they are great for sending solo travellers or couples towards safari companies that are trying to fill safari trucks.

After your safari, you'll spend one night in Arusha. Depending on your budget and time constraints, either take the Scandinavia bus (this is the best bus line BY FAR, only take other bus lines if for some reason you really want gain 'travellers cred' by enduring crazy driving and breakdowns) to Dar Es Salaam, or you can fly for about $250 pp. (Get a travel agent to arange this for you before you leave for your trip, if you know you'll stick to your schedule, or, just buy the ticket in Arusha). Then grab a cab to the port and take a ferry to Zanzibar. Spend one or two nights in Stone Town, then take a dalla dalla (the public transport; it actually is worth the experience of roughing it, or you can take a tourist shuttle) and head to Nungwi if you want gorgeous beaches and backpacker partying, or to Paje or Jambiani for beautiful relaxation. (If you want to scuba dive, that might influence your choice of beach town. Nungwi and Kendwa are your best bets.) You can probably just wing the accomodation here, and not worry about pre-booking. Try to eat some seafood on the beach at some point. Then ferry or fly back to Dar Es Salaam, and then home.

Once you give some budget guidelines, i can be more specific regarding hotels and such. But as for a general itinerary, after witnessing much trial and error, i've got to say the above formula generally leaves people pretty happy.
posted by Kololo at 8:50 PM on July 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I went to Tanzania last year for my honeymoon. We splashed out - flew everywhere, had a private safari with just the two of us, stayed in nice places, did the balloon ride etc.

We also booked through Africa Travel Resource who were great. They really knew their stuff and seamlessly replanned our itinerary when the camp we were supposed to be staying in burned down! It might be worth emailing them just to get some ideas and sample itineraries just to focus your mind.

A lot is going to depend on on your budget and how much time you've got. If you've got plenty of time but not much cash then you can hang around in Arusha for a couple of days and get a cut-price last-minute safari. If time is tight then you'll probably want to save a day or two by pre-booking the safari and flying straight from Arusha to Zanzibar.

Actually, I'd recommend taking at least one flight - especially if you don't get to do the balloon trip. The planes are usually small 12-seater affairs, and seeing the plains from the air will put the safari into context.
posted by roomaroo at 2:24 AM on July 7, 2008

I have done some freelancing for (who serve the whole of East Africa, including Tanzania), and can affirm that the staff are courteous, professional, knowledgeable, and they pay on time.

I have not, unfortunately, booked travel through them.
posted by notyou at 6:18 AM on July 7, 2008

take the Scandinavia bus (this is the best bus line BY FAR, only take other bus lines if for some reason you really want gain 'travellers cred' by enduring crazy driving and breakdowns)

I'm not sure how recent Kololo's info is, but as of a year ago Scandanavian had gone massively downhill. I also was given the advice to go with Scandanavian and despite the fancy booking office the buses were in horrible shape. That 30-hour breakdown I described was on a Scandanavian 'luxury' bus. I asked the locals on the bus about it and they said Scandanavian used to be great but it's really gone downhill in the past year (that would be two years ago now). I'm not sure what the current situation is. I think sometimes with bus companies it's the luck of the draw if you get a good bus or not. The bus I took from Arusha to Dar was not Scandanavian and it was great.

When I was there in July Zanzibar was totally packed. It was difficult to find a room at all just showing up. You can wing it like I did if you have time. I spent two hours walking the beach at Paje with my backpack trying to find a room under $100. Most of the places in Kendwa only had one room available and only for 2 days etc. I had to walk to the far end of the beach to find a place that I could book for 7 days in a row.

I think it depends on the season, but I suspect August would be very full as well. I drove through Nungwi and don't understand why people prefer it to Kendwa. It has a little town attached but hardly any beach. You'll find people disagree but I would definitely go with Kendwa over Nungwi because of the long, wide beach and more space. As of last year most of the beach had been developed, which has happened in the past few years. On the East coast Paje was also totally packed and toe to toe with people laying on the beach when I was there. Jambiani had a little more space. Both have more expensive, upscale places to stay then the far North. Eating seafood on the beach will be easy, enjoy!

At Jambiani (East Coast) I stayed at Blue Oyster for about 5 days. It was nice and clean and had nice rooms. They gave me a deal because I was alone and looked kind of pathetic. They had good food and a nice area to sit outside. At Kendwa I stayed at a hotel with a French-sounding name at the far end of the beach closer to Nungwi and the big resort. There may be more hotels built near there now, but a year ago it was the last place on the hotel row. All of the more popular places were booked out and it was fine and the cheapest in the area but it might be more fun to stay in one of the more popular places but I would advise booking ahead for those.
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:42 AM on July 7, 2008

Response by poster: Wow! I just checked to see if anyone answered my question and found a lot of truly great and comprehensive information.

I'm still reading through it all, and I will certainly post with what I end up doing (and what in reality happened once I was there, after I come back this fall) so that others searching in the future can benefit from the experience.

I wanted to address something that took me by surprise though - Kololo mentioned camping safari budget of less than $100/day. I have yet to see anything cheaper than maybe $160/day, and that's per person for a group of 4 or more. The more common "cheap" price I've seen or been quoted is around $200 for camping safaris.

Also, Bunglegirl, I'm going to talk to my friend about the Kenya option. We are actually flying in and out of Nairobi, so it's definitely feasible to safari there. I hadn't given it much consideration before, so thanks for bringing it up.

More later! And thanks again to everyone who's written back so far, this is really helpful.
posted by jacquilinala at 11:19 AM on July 7, 2008

Since you mention it, op, I checked and I actually had a 5-day safari, not 6 as I stated above. We had one day less in the Serengeti. I checked my records and I paid $650 USD for a 5-day safari (4 people in the car) which was the absolute cheapest going at high season one year ago. That works out to $130 per day, plus I gave the driver and cook tips. With fuel costs rising I'd guess it's more than than now. At the time it was possible to go in Kenya for around $100 or a little less per day but, again, that was a year ago. I suspect the other poster's info might be even more dated than mine. Check your mail, I'm sending you a link.
posted by Bunglegirl at 12:23 PM on July 7, 2008

I last took the Scandinavia buses in 2005, so if they've recently gone downhill, i wouldn't have known. My $85/day budget safari was back then too. It would make sense for prices to have gone up significantly since then, especially given the fuel price situation.

Jacquilinala, the much higher prices your seeing are probably the price you get charged when you book from outside the country. If you want to plan everything out so that you can relax more when you get there, then it might be worth paying the extra money. If budget is more of an issue, then you can save a lot of many by booking locally. (It only took me about 2 hours in Arusha to find a safari.) A good middle ground could be to book the safari within the country, but in advance, by booking the safari before you start your Kili hike. (There's tour operators all over the place, you could just approach one and have them book it, without having to traipse all over town. I personally think that's the best option.)
posted by Kololo at 11:01 AM on July 8, 2008

Oh, one more thing: Absolutely do not pay $200 for a camping safari. You're getting ripped off. That's the "muzungu price". You could stay in lodges for about that much instead.
posted by Kololo at 11:02 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

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