JUN 20,2006 - JUL 11,2006 (22 DAYS)
At the end of 2006 we went on a 3 weeks trip to Tanzania. We spent the first week in a safari camp, and the rest of the trip in Zanzibar.
These are the things you have to bring with you to the trip:
My first tip is a general tip referring to the mental preparation one needs to do while considering visiting Tanzania.
We're talking about a third world country and one of the poorest continents in the world and it should be referred as such. Thus, it is not an indulging country. Don’t expect high level hotels, service can be frustrating (average time waiting for food serving is around an hour.) food is average (small dishes..) and forget about deserts. That said, it is still an amazing country, beautiful, savage and gets under your skin once you witness its hardship and poverty.
This is mount Kiliminjaro as seen from the plain landing in Arusha. One of the things I regret the most is that we missed the trek to the mountain peak. Bad preparation I guess... We didn't know about this trek...
We went on a safari with a male guide by the name of Sebastian. His Email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. He owns a travel agency by the name SOK ADVENTURE TRAVEL SPECIALISTS. He was a very helpful guy. He came to pick us up from the airport, arranged us a nearby hotel in Arusha for the night by the name of "Le Jacarande" (back then it was $45 a night including bf and hot water ). He also arranged us tickets to Zanzibar , and his lovely wife even gave us a ride a day after the Safari ended, and dropped us off in the local branch of "Precision Air" from which the airport shuttle leaves.
We were supposed to leave with him the next morning for a 7 days safari. Unfortunately due to his brother sudden death he couldn't join and suggested that the first 3 days our guide will be one of his employees a guy by the name of Keith, along with his amazing cook "Amani", and after 3 days if we still insist on him, he will join us and replace Keith. I must say he was more than fair with us, saying that if we don't be happy with the safari he wouldn't charge us for it , but the expanses. He introduced us to another Israeli couple that traveled with Keith, who replaced Sebastian the day his Brother died. After hearing their recommendations we decided to go along with Keith. Keep in mind that all arrangement's and equipment is still Sebastian's.
Turns out Keith were just fine, just a bit quieter and more reserved person then Sebastian (at least that was our first impression) so we stayed with him throughout all 7 days of the Safari. So I say if Sebastian is preoccupied leave with Keith, either way you will enjoy. Along with Keith also joined us Sebastian's chef "Amani " who cooked us the best meals one can ever have in a safari camp.
We chose the camping option and I highly recommend it. It is one of the best experiences you'll ever have, sleeping under the sky, hearing the animals at night. The tent Sebastian supplied was always the best tent in all camping areas we arrived to. The lack of shower from now and again (maybe every other night) weren't that bad. We spent a single night in a lodge.
The safari itself lasted 7 days starting with 2 days in lake Manyara and Serengeti park, then Ngrongro Crater , a visit to the Bushman and the Toga tribes and finishing with Trangirie national park . It was an amazing experience, we saw all "big Five" - a term which refers to the big African animals = lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape buffalo. We didn't witness any prey but we did see a lion and a lioness mating.
At the end of the Safari it is expected to tip the guide and the chef. It is common to give 10% from the general cost of the safari from which the guide gets 6% and the chef 4%.
Taking pictures: We took pictures with a DSLR camera and 18-200 lens. With its crop factor it gives you an effective size of 27-300mm, and still… we needed more zoom so many times.
Most of the people on the safari with a DSLR cameras came with a better lens than 200. I wouldn't recommend taking a mortgage on your house, but try to borrow one from a friend or a far relative… as memory cards go, bring a lot of memory card or sit every evening to delete photos (like we did).
We went on the safari with 2 batteries, and bought a universal charger that fit in all kinds of sockets, and the car spark plug as well. When one battery died, we just plugged it to the car and used the other one.
Keith and Amany came to pick us from the hotel after breakfast. All our backpack were loaded to a large spacious SUV, and this is were we spent most of our safari days.
in every camping area there is a designated area for the cooks ,where they prepare breakfast and dinner. For lunch we usually had a "lunch box" with sandwiches and fruits. The meals were awesome and Amany sure pampered us, though after few days it started to repeate itself.
An important tip : inform the cook from advance if you are a vegetarian or have other special food preferences so he can be prepared properly prior to the leave for the safari.
Serengeti is an amazing park. We spent there 2 full days. if you're not tired of sitting all day in SUV , searching for animals you can stay there even more.
as for the animals - It's all a matter of statistics - the more time you spend there -the more chances you have of seeing and witnessing the amazing nature.
At the and of June the great migration starts, so we had the chance of seeing huge hordes on the move.
African street - the way to Serengeti
And this is what we saw 20 meters right after the entrance of Serengeti park..
"Love is in the air...."
The area camp at Serengeti...
As you might have noticed - no fences. That means you actually sleep with the animals close by. You get to hear their wailing sounds , and sense their presence.
If you need to go the toilet (hole in the ground...) at night, you need sto light the way with a flashlight, and If you see eyes string at you, you're supposed to freeze and chase the animal away with the flash light. One night I wanted to use the toilet. I listened very carefully and heard a very distinct low roar... needless to say I passed the sudden need and stayed at my tesnt :-)
Ngorongoro is a crater which holds huge variety of wildlife. As we understood the crater has a unique eco system. Anyways, it was an amazing place...
Wildlife Lodge Ngrongro Crater - we took one night in this hotel mostly to indulge ourselves with one decent shower during the Safari.
It was $170 for the night (keep in mind we're talking about Africa) and it was a big disappointment. An old Hotel with archaic rooms, facilities and a poor bf. To quote one critic of the place who stayed there : " the best thing in it was the view" . so if you insist on a Lodge I heard a good recommendation about Serona Lodge : http://www.hotelsandlodges-tanzania.com/properties/en/seronera_index.php).
Another option which can come cheaper is to dress up warm - it's quite cold on the crater edge because of it's height - (fleece will come handy) and go camping outdoors. Nothing can be compared to a true nature experience.
That said I must emphasize that Ngrongro was the only place which was cold at night.
View from the hotel
The Visit to the Buchman and toga tribes is A must. Without it one can't comprehend why Africa is so poor and faltering. Its a 3 and half hour drive in a rough and bumpy roads (each way). It is a surrealistic visit - visiting a tribe who lives in the bushes (Bushman's) joining them in their hunt. Make sure you come with high shoes and a lot of energy, these guys sure knows how to run bare foot. After 2 hours of running and zero catch we got tiered and asked to return. fortunately they finally caught a dove ,built up a fire , cooked it and ate the dove right there and then. They offered us a bite but we kindly refused.
The next tribe we visited was the Toga – went inside their mud hats, watched them dancing for us. In every visit you'll be joined by a local guide, who knows their language and whereabouts. You are expected to give something to the people which can be old cloths or shoes, food, candies etc. Children were fascinated with pens. We just gave some money. Insist on giving it to them people directly and not to the local guide. I saw him dividing the money in 2 pockets so I am not sure what they got in the end.
Dinner, after a long day...
In Tangerine Park you mostly see elephants. It can be a nice attraction for a first day safari trip but when it's on your last day it simply not interesting any more. We traveled at the end of June; the flora was too high so even if there were other interesting animals it would have been really hard to track them down. At the end we did managed to see two lionesses watching after a buffalo body that they probably killed a day before, and we also saw their cubs from a distance. In retrospect we could have given up that day and end the Safari a day earlier or add another day at Serengeti which is a huge park with unexpected surprises.
We had a flight from Arusha to Zanzibar. There's also a ferry from Dar Es Salam, but it'll require you to get to Dar Es Salam.
Zanzibar is an amazing island which in my opinion is best for couples in a romantic vacation. Family or bunch of friends may find it boring. It has amazing virginal beaches and in some areas almost secluded, just you and some local fishermen. In other areas you'll find other visitors like you , scattered on an enormous beach strip. All you have is this endless beauty, great crystal clear water and a sense of freedom.
Even in the northern beaches which are considered busier than the others there's nothing much to do, therefore I don’t recommend it if one seeks action.
First things first – never ever buy any souvenirs in Mainland. There is nothing in Mainland that you won’t find in Stone Town, and since there are dozens, even hundreds of stores in Stone Town, you will be in a much better position to bargain for a discount.
Moving around the island is pretty easy. Most tourists take a sharing taxi, which leaves from Stone Town to the beaches and back. It usually cost $5 or 5000 TSH, depends on your bargaining skills. You can order a sharing from the hotels in Stone Town, or from the ones on the beach where you’ll stay. A taxi from the airport cost us $10, but on the way back we paid only 8000 TSH. We had better offers, but we preferred to order a taxi from the hotel, and not risk getting caught with a driver who had false license.
Money in Zanzibar is a tricky business, since almost no one accepts credit cards, and if they do – they’ll charge you a high commission of 10%. So you’ll have to rely mainly on cash. The local restaurants accept local currency of TSH, and many hotels only accept dollars. So sometimes the check was divided to 2 –food was in TSH, and the room in dollars.
In general - You can bargain on practically anything. We were able to cut the costs of the accommodation (a bit) and fruits on the beach, massage and souvenirs (a lot, sometimes by a third of the original price). Be patient and it will be worth your time.
ATM: There are no ATM machines near the beaches, so make sure to bring money with you. The minimum daily amount you’ll spend is 30000 TSH (assuming you will eat in restaurants and not at the beach), not including accommodation.
There are the eastern beaches and there are the northern beaches and they are totally different. The hotel manager in Kendwa explained us that there are also east coast people and north coast People. So what’s the difference? Well, the eastern beaches are secluded. The water is clear and unbelievable turquoise colored. There are palm trees, coconut trees, and there is almost nothing on the beach strips, hardly any hotels and no crowd. you’ll probably be all by yourselves. Besides reading a book, watching the water and the local fishermen, eating in the the hotel restaurant there's nothing much to do. Still you can rent a bike and paddle on the beach, get your hair braided or enjoy a relaxing massage. When the tide is low you can’t go inside the water but you can see some crabs, sea urchin etc.
In the northern beaches you can bath all day long, but they are not as beautiful as the easterns and they are packed with tourists. The hotels are close to one another, there are pubs and restaurants, and the beaches are more crowded (in Zanzibar terms, which mean that the closest person will probably be about 50 meters away). For a group of friends I recommend renting some motorbikes and drive to the east coasts just to check it out, but I think they will find it a bit boring. For couples, well, it’s up to you. If you feel like spending some time alone, start with the north and move on east. If you want to mingle a bit, start with the east and then make your way up north.
We spent 3 nights total in Stone Town - a day and half when we arrived at the island and another day upon our leave. The city itself is a maze of colorful alleys full of live, small shops, food markets and more.
We spent the night at hotel Baghani (email@example.com), which cost us 60$ for a small but very pleasant room with a T.V, air-conditioning, a decent shower with warm water, mosquito-net, a fan and a safe. We ordered the room in advance since we traveled at the beginning of the high season. I suppose that if you come at a less busy time you could get a better deal.
From stone town we took a "spices trip". There’s a short version (9:00-14:00) and a long version (9:00-16:00), which includes lunch and an hour visit to Mangapwani beach. We took the long version from the hotel, and it cost us $10 per person. The tour was very interesting, lunch was simple but very tasty, and the beach was amazing. After we returned we learned that there are special natural caves in the beach itself, which our guide failed to mention. Be sure to ask him about it, so you won’t miss it like we did.
One of the interesting stuff we learned on the tour (and didn't know) is that Zanzibar used to be the base camp for the Arab slave traders. They used to go to the mainland, kidnap young men and women and bring them to Zanzibar. There, they imprisoned them in small cells (you'll see that on the tour) and sell them for slavery .
We heard recommendations on Africa House's restaurant. The recommendations said you can sit in their balcony and watch the sunset. However, we discovered that there's a building blocking the sun... So this is not the place to watch sunset although it's very nice place - Pizza is nice, milkshake was horrible.
Amore Mio - Italian place, overprices. We order coffee (nice) for 2500 TSH and a chocolate cake (horrible) for 4000 TSH. Doesn't worth the money although it has a nice balcony.
Every night there's an open food market which starts at sundown and lasts till late at night, and is a real celebration for sea fruit lovers. There you can find the best catches of the day, and after spotting row of stands where all the locals were conducting their business, we focused on it and had an excellent time. The prices are ridiculously low (500-2000 TSH), and you can eat till you drop for a small amount of money. Even if you are not a sea fruit lover, you’ll probably enjoy the colorful market and watching the whole town coming out.
An important warning: buy directly from the stand owner and stay clear of people who walk up to you and try to sell you food or try to act as "mediators" between you and the sale. Usually it will be "Papasi", - drug-addicts who try to leach on the tourist and take them for a ride, money-wise.
In stone Town there is an ATM which is operated by NBC Company, but for some reason it never worked for us. Then, we found out there's a local branch of Barclay bank in the city, 20 minutes away from Stone Town. The owner of the hotel offered me a ride if I would pay him for the full tank gas fill but I declined the offer, instead, on our way to the beach, I asked the driver to make a stop there.
In "Amman" in Kendwa beach you can change dollars to TSH, but the rate isn’t that good.
At the time we didn't know the difference, so we started on the eastern coast, and spent the night in a beautiful beach called Jambiani. We stayed at a place called “Blue Oyster Hotel”, an amazing hotel with a German owner. We had a huge room on the second floor, 10 meters from the beach, and it cost us $50 a night. We could hear the waves, and in the morning the sun came up from the sea to wake us up. It’s was like a dream, worth every dollar and I highly recommend it.
If you are a couple – don’t miss it.
The hotel also operates a nice restaurant which serves decant food for a reasonable prices but with not much choices. it should be noted that if you do decide to eat in the hotel restaurant , you have to order your lunch or dinner in advance, so you can't be too spontaneous here.
After 2 nights at the Blue Oyster (on the second night we and another couple were the only guests in the hotel and on the beach) we planned to move on to Bwejuu beach, but we couldn't find a room in any hotel on the east side. My advice is to book from advance, surly if you travel in high season. Sadly we returned to Stone Town, and continued to Kendwa beach. We stayed at “Sunset Bungalows” hotel for 6 nights for 40$ a night, and it didn't came close to our beloved Blue Oyster. It was a simple room with hot water, a safe , a giant bed and it was cleaned on a daily basis.
View from the beach
On the northern beach all the hotels are located on a cliff overlooking the ocean, unlike the eastern ones, where the hotels are right on the beach. From most of the rooms you can’t see the ocean, unless you are willing to pay a lot of money. In Kendwa there is another hotel called “The Palms” (www.palms-zanzibar.com), where you can spend the night for the modest price of $500. For those who are fortunate it is a dream, but those who have modest budget like we did, are welcomed to take a pick inside the fantasy.
The hotel had a good restaurant with excellent atmosphere, and people from all the other places – White Sands, Kendwa Rocks, Amman Bungalos - came to eat there. We also ate at other places from which "Kendwa Rocks" was the worst. With appalling service, medium food and high prices. In "Amman" we ate a great fish & chips, which costs 5000-6000 TSH, depending on the fish, and received an excellent service. Other places offer a special dish which changes daily, and depends on the daily ocean catch that day. On the beach you can buy lobsters from the local fishermen, for 10000-20000 TSH (before bargaining), depends on the size of the lobster. If you are a lobster lover, you are in for a treat.
With the lack of real nightlife for days, we finally attended a Zanzibar version of a full moon party which was a big disappointment. It took place in Kendwa Rocks, and people came over from all over the island. The music was mainly Swahili, so if you enjoy dancing in a crowded pack of local men (the crowd was mainly males), you might enjoy it.
As for us, who woke up at midnight and dressed up to join the party , one pick was enough to returned to bed. The few tourists we saw there didn't do that much dancing either.
From Kendwa you can take a boat ride to watch the sunset, or snorkel in the island of Nemba. We heard from other tourists that it’s not really worth the time, so we decided to pass.