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Tanzania, on a budget

Eagle Owl

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A rather late summary of a great trip I took with my girlfriend last October (2013) to Tanzania for her 30th.


I can’t really add much of value to the many good blogs on the northern circuit already on this site, and so will largely focus on one angle, cost (which we tried to keep down as much as possible).


We had long wanted to visit Tanzania (for a beach and safari trip) and so it was just a matter of timing, itinery and whether we could get the cost down sufficiently to make it work.


I believe we got the cost down as much as possible (at least for the safari part, by picking the cheapest operator we could find and camping – more on that later), but a Tanzanian safari is an expensive undertaking as we rapidly realised when we started planning it. Out went nice lodges, in came camping. Out went expectations of a nice new vehicle, in came an old rickety vehicle. Out went clean hot showers, in came golden showers. Out went romance, in came a sticky realism.


We got an open jaw Kenya Airways flight for about a $1000 from London to Zanzibar via Nairobi, and then out of Kilimanjaro Airport to London via Nairobi again just under three weeks later. We booked everything in between ourselves from the internet at home. We spent a lovely first week in Zanzibar at a few different hotels (with a little trip to Jozani Forest to see the beautiful Red Colobus Monkeys and a fleeting elephant shrew) before flying to Arusha airport (at $375 dollars for the two of us in a little plane with 7 others).


Sadly it was a cloudy flight so no view of Kilimanjaro, but the Jacaranda trees in full colour on the taxi journey into town partly made up for it. There was no need to pre-book a taxi, it was a matter of turn up and bargain.


We spent a night at an Arushan hotel before our anticipated early safari start, which I had asked to start two hours earlier than the 10am start the company offered (I hate to waste wildlife viewing time). They somewhat reluctantly offered a compromise start time, but then ignored that and turned up two hours late. Not a great sign and I seriously questioned our decision to give up too easily on my in-built preference for self driving.


Ten minutes into our safari (when still in Arusha) our guide told us how much he wanted in tips at the end of the trip and the tone was set. He barely broke into a smile for the next 6 days. I have been on wildlife trips all over the world and cannot recall someone who managed to project such a negative vibe. Fortunately, we were determined to enjoy our trip.


But enough of the negatives, we had a great time. The biggest downside was it went too quickly and the fact that our food was frequently riddled with vegetables. Oh, and the breakdowns.


To be continued.







Edited by Eagle Owl
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Love the monkey pictures! Looking forward to reading more!

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Hi @@Eagle Owl, very promising beginning, looking forward to seeing the rest of the TR and the photos. I am very intrigued with the low cost options for a safari in Northern Tanzania. Would you, please share the name (s) of the safari company (s), perhaps contacts and also the names of the hotels in Zanzibar. I hope that I am not asking for too much :) Cheers!


P.S. Love the style of writing and the images!

Edited by FlyTraveler
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Look forward to photographs of tents, vehicle and that miserable guide!! Pen

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Your outstanding photos contrast with your guide's attitude. Care to share the company you booked with?

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The monkey's expression is priceless! Love it and looking forward to more :)

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Can't wait to hear rest as I often get people talking about the cost of safari in Tanzania, some say you get what you pay for - can this be true? I've only travelled there using Leopard Tours through another agent and they were great. Others mentioned your monkey photos - most excellent indeed, but where is that beach, I want to be there, like right now!!!!!

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I think you can add something to the other reports on the northern circuit. Cost and your experience are linked since (and I am sure you are the same) it is not just about ticking somewhere off a list, but how you experience it. I thoroughly recommend that you share your experiences beyond mere cost..... but so far you are doing that. Don't stop! :)


And even if it turns out you can't add anything new, that never stopped me!

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@@Eagle Owl

I think every trip is different and every experience is diferent - so I would like to see as much as possible - especially after your opening writing and excellent photos

Don't hold back!

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  • 4 weeks later...

@@Eagle Owl you have got me excited with the start of your report; is there more to come?

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@@Eagle Owl - I am looking forward to seeing the rest of your trip report, too... A North Circuit budget camping trip report will be very useful for me.

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Thank you all for your kind comments. Feel free to ask any questions on any of this.


A recap, I has just embarked on a six day camping safari with my girlfriend around the Tanzanian northern circuit (this was October 2013). The trip cost $230 per person per day and so in total it cost us $1380 each fully inclusive (of transport and driver who doubled up as a guide, fuel, park fees, five nights tented accommodation, cook and food/water). This was a non-shared trip, so one jeep, the two of us, plus the driver/guide and cook.


We made one change to the usual six day northern circuit itinerary, cutting out Lake Manyara in favour of an extra day in Tarangire (so two days there in total – or an afternoon and following morning to be precise). I made this change simply on the basis of research I had carried out beforehand on which park seemed better at that time of year and because I wanted to cut down on time rushing between parks.


We picked the operator we did, ‘It Started in Africa’, largely based on the price (the lowest we found having done quite a lot of research) and their responsiveness to our questions.


To summarise, the trip started in Arusha and from there we went to Tarangire for two days, then on to the Serengeti for three days and then the final day in the Ngorongoro Crater before returning to our hotel just outside the main gate of Arusha National Park – an hour past Arusha itself.


Day 1: Tarangire


The first stop was at the supermarket in Arusha to allow the cook to finish his food shopping and for us to pick up a few essentials such as beer/cider and two kgs of dry rice to fill my camera bean bag (I didn’t want to bring a heavy filled one when I had an internal flight with a 15kg limit to negotiate).


The road to Tarangire was a mixed bag – constantly switching from newly laid smooth tarmac to a deeply rutted dirt track. I noticed a few sedans, but the majority were jeeps/trucks. We got stopped a few times by the frequent police stops, but they were more annoying than anything worse.


We arrived at our camp site (Wild Palm) in time for a quick lunch (although not quick enough for me as I was itching to get into the park) and a quick stroll around the site with my binoculars to get my first ever sighting of lovebirds in the tree above where our tent would later be pitched. Then off to Tarangire, about five miles away for an afternoon drive.


I can’t think of anything in life I would prefer to do than be in an African park, at least nothing my girlfriend would agree to, and so I simply couldn’t wait to get into Tarangire. It had been a year since I was last in an African park – the Kruger. This was also my first East-African national park and it proved to be everything I hoped it to be. We had previously only been to Southern African parks.


The park was tinder dry without too much vegetation to interrupt the view (compared to my beloved Kruger), with relatively few people to spoil viewings and teeming with life.


Within 45 minutes of getting through the main gate we saw lots of impala, wildebeest, elephant, zebra, ostriches of both sexes and a lone giraffe. During the rest of the afternoon we added warthogs, a large family of dwarf mongoose which we watched for quite a while, a pair of lions about 5 metres away which we watched for even longer and which were very lethargic (presumably at the end of a their mating period), dik diks, gazelles, waterbuck and banded mongoose. Only the lions attracted more than a couple of vehicles. On the bird side, there were numerous lilac-breasted rollers, guineafowl, marabou and black storks, hammerkops, bare-faced go aways, white-bellied go aways, bateleur eagles etc.


Out of the park at 6pm as the gate was closing and back to the camp for a shower in a concrete cubicle with a light that didn’t work, but the water was surprisingly warm and reasonably powerful. The facilities even included proper toilets and a sink, a welcome treat.


For someone who travels so much, I am surprisingly fussy with my food, avoiding vegeterribles, mucky sauces and anything too spicy whenever I can. So it was with some trepidation that I sat down for our first evening meal – my worries were soon rewarded as we kicked off with cucumber and pepper soup. Still, I have long honed my skills of swallowing and keeping down the most unpleasant of foods, as long as I have a beer or cider to help things along, and so the cook never knew. Medals have been struck for less.


As seems to be common when I camp, I barely slept the first night (a max of one hour) as I wrestled with the dilemma of staying under the covers and providing less of a smorgasbord to the mossies which I could hear but not see, or throwing off the covers to cool down but at the price of donating even more blood. Fortunately, as seems to be common when in an African park, the sheer delight of being there means I need very little sleep and can happily survive on just a few hours a night.


Day 2: Tarangire


Our guide was definitely made of laid back, uninterested, moody, building material and so he didn’t seem to enjoy my desire to make the most of every minute of daylight. Still, we were paying good money for this and so he had little choice. Up at 5.30am and out the gate at 6am just as the sky was lightening. Tarangire was even quieter than the previous day, we didn’t see a soul for the first half hour and unfortunately barely any wildlife to start either.


We stopped at a waterhole, with a lone black-backed jackal meandering around and a lone giraffe. I was conscious of a loudish animal call nearby but couldn’t work out what was making it, until I spotted a Verreaux eagle owl sat in the tree directly above us. Although I have seen many before (we saw 11 in a two-week trip to the Kruger in 2011 along with 4 other owls) I adore owls and so any owl sighting is a good one in my book.


Continuing on (standing up in the back of the jeep with the roof lifted, which we did for the whole 6 days when in a park in order to increase our chances of spotting wildlife) I soon spotted a lion 50 metres off the road. On stopping we realised it was two lionesses, one with three baby cubs and the other with one (the cubs being a couple of months old at most I imagine). We watched them for half an hour on our own with no vehicle in sight until they ambled away.


Our breakfast stop was at a lovely little place on an escarpment overlooking the river. From there we watched ground hornbills, waterbuck, zebras, eles, and egyptian geese (with lots of spotted babies) going about their business.


On leaving the breakfast spot, the driver suddenly stepped on the gas for about 15 minutes until we saw four vehicles stopped ahead and came across a cheetah sat on top of a termite mound probably about 80 meters back from the track. A stunning sight and only the second cheetah we have ever seen. We had five minutes to enjoy it before it slinked away.


Incidentally, this was the first sighting our guide had been instrumental in (he had spotted none of our previous sightings and, with the exception of radio messages telling him where animals were, he spotted virtually nothing with his own eyes after that). However, as frustrating as it can be for radios to lead to jeeps from all quarters converging on an animal sighting (as in Chobe), I must admit to liking it when the shoe was on the other foot as we saw a lot more, especially in the Serengeti, than if it had been just the two of us looking. But i am glad the Kruger doesnt go in for that too much, as the sheer numbers of people there would make it a complete nightmare.


The rest of the morning was made up of seeing a pair of mating lions (different to the ones of the previous day), some secretary birds, at least 6 more ground hornbills, the usual large herds of zebras and wildeebest and then a stop at Tarangire Safari Lodge for a drink from the veranda with a stunning view down the river.


Back to the camp for a late lunch before leaving at 3.15pm for the longish journey to Heaven’s Nature Camp on the top of the escarpment just above Lake Manyara, our stop for the night. We then broke down at 3.30pm – the drive shaft dropped out in the middle of the road.


Whilst we stood by the side of the road for an hour willing the sun not to burn us (there was no shade), a guy from a nearby ‘road mending crew’ fixed the jeep. The guy who mended it also deserved a medal, he spent an hour under the jeep turning it into a two wheel drive vehicle and came out covered in dust and oil to be rewarded by our guide with the princely sum of less than $2, which he was thoroughly unimpressed with. I doubled it, but frustratingly that was the only loose change I had in my pocket.


Then on to the camp with no further hiccup, a nice little permanent-tent place with friendly staff and most importantly, cold beers.


One of the more memorable things about the camp was when I first entered the communal bathroom and found a swallow about a metre in front of me clinging to the bottom of a mirror, admiring itself. It looked around at me for a few seconds and then obviously satisfied it had the advantage in the looks department, flew off through the glassless window.















Edited by Eagle Owl
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MORE MORE MORE!!!!!!!!!! I came on here to fantasize about booking another trip to Africa (if only I could afford it) but now that I've found your report, I'm just going to read it over and over. Such great writing and gorgeous pictures! Thank you! MORE!


"It looked around at me for a few seconds and then obviously satisfied it had the advantage in the looks department, flew off through the glassless window. "

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Thanks for continuing your report @@Eagle Owl, I almost gave up hope that you would proceed with it. I enjoy your style of writing and sense of humor - "...I have long honed my skills of swallowing and keeping down the most unpleasant of foods, as long as I have a beer or cider to help things along...". :)


Nice lion, waterbuck and riverbed with elephants photos! I am thinking of a budget Tanzania Northern Circuit trip in the future and your report is helping me quite a lot in terms of describing a budget camping safari in this part of Africa.


I would say that you have handled the situation with your guide really well, so far. Looking forward to seeing the next installment...

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Great trip report. I am thinking of doing a similar trip in the Norther Circuit next year.


What is the name of your safari organizer? And how are pricies for vehicle and guide and cook?


I feel for you about the grumpy guide.


Waiting for the next installment ...

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@@Sverker, I believe that @@Eagle Owl has covered your questions in the TR - "The trip cost $230 per person per day and so in total it cost us $1380 each fully inclusive (of transport and driver who doubled up as a guide, fuel, park fees, five nights tented accommodation, cook and food/water). This was a non-shared trip, so one jeep, the two of us, plus the driver/guide and cook."


"We picked the operator we did, ‘It Started in Africa’, largely based on the price (the lowest we found having done quite a lot of research) and their responsiveness to our questions."



@@Eagle Owl, did you contact Bobby Tours when you did your shopping for a safari? They seem to offer even lower price for a 6 days budget camping safari - $1100 per person (at least this is what is written on the website), so I wander if something has influenced your decision not to go with them...

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"vegeterribles" - shame on you.


The late start for animals in Tarangire seems to be common place. Although an early start can still be productive for predators or nocturnals who are still on the prowl. That Tarangire scenery with animals in the foreground is hard to beat!

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enjoying this TR. tarangire looks so brown and dry, contrasting when we were there when it was so green. but you saw lions galore while we found none. it is still a beautiful park.

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@@Sverker, I believe that @@Eagle Owl has covered your questions in the TR .

Ooops! Thats right. Sorry, EO.

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I enjoyed reading this, and looking at your wonderful photos. I am also planning a safari in Tanzania in February 2001, I'm a bit past camping, but even so you gave me some good information. Thanks Eagle Owl.

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  • 1 month later...

After our grumpy driver had eventually solved the puzzle of how to fit the same amount of stuff into the same size space for the umpteenth time in his life, we managed to get going (the previous day’s vehicle problems meant that a different jeep, but identical model, with functioning four wheel drive had had to be delivered overnight).


Through the Ngorongoro gate and up to the rim of the crater. Such a stunning sight. As with the Galapagos Islands, my expectations were not that high after having seen so many tv programmes about them, but I was seriously impressed. After that it was down the other side to the Serengeti plains, very arid once past the crater rim trees and greenery, but beautiful scenery nonetheless. I would love to see the area in the wet season.




We stopped at a Masai village near Olduvai Gorge which was a rather strange experience. Our driver was quite keen we did so that we could see one of their villages and see how they live etc (it was expensive, although he didn’t appear to take a cut). The village and inhabitants were authentic, but it was clearly a money driven exercise and felt awkward.




We had lunch at the main park gate and then on to our camp site, initially driving km after km with no wildlife in sight (somewhat strangely the area up to the main gate had gazelles and kori bustards everywhere but as soon as we got past the gate it was seemingly lifeless despite the identical landscape) until we spotted a lone secretary bird in a tree and then two cheetah 30m off the road, but with only the top of theirs heads occasionally visible. The photo below shows the dusty road into the Serengeti as seen from the main gate.






The driver/guide then got a radio message and we were off and twenty minutes later we saw a few jeeps stopped ahead right next to three lions slumped down right by the road. Bizarrely, one of the lions was using a discarded tyre as a pillow. Goodness knows how it got there.




Shortly after that, we stopped next to another group of vehicles and after following the gaze of their passengers saw a young leopard in a tree 50m off the road. Its mother could then be seen another 50m away in a tree with a kill. We watched for quite a while as our guide occupied himself in his by now usual way, chatting away on the phone and texting. Amazingly, the adolescent leopard was then joined from further up in the tree by a sibling (that until then had been out of sight). We had reasonable views, but it was into the lowering sun and our photos (with only 300mm lens) are, as you can see, not great.




The scenery then got steadily greener with more trees and much more wildlife, including: zebras, giraffe, eles, buffs, gazelles, warthogs, vervets, baboons, hippo, helmeted guinefowl, marabou storks and a fish eagle. The river near Seronera was particularly stunning – see below. We then saw our first ever Topi just before getting to the public campsite at 5.45pm, 3 hours or so after leaving the camp gate. (There are actually a number of public camp sites in the area, ours was Nyani Public Campsite).




We quickly pitched out tent in a corner away from anyone else (unfortunately, not only have I been blessed with a body that is allergic to vegetables, but I also struggle to sleep with someone snoring close by), or at least as quickly as you can pitch a really old tent where the zip had stopped working and there are too few pegs. We then grabbed a very welcome, but cold, shower before the queues of people waiting got too long. (For information, in case anyone is wondering about doing a budget camping safari here, the ablution block not only had a couple of showers in both the men and women’s part of the block but also a couple of sit down toilets with just about passable levels of cleanliness early on).


Whilst waiting for our spaghetti bolognese, I was just remarking how nice it would be to have a cold beer and how there was a real business opportunity for someone (if they could get past the inevitable bureaucracy) to set up a stall with a solar powered fridge, when low and behold a van turned up at our campsite selling cold beers (and they say we no longer live in the age of miracles!).


We washed the cold beer down with warm red wine whilst watching the mice descend on to the tables to devour any crumbs left behind by fellow campers (in the rudimentary dining hut), before moving outside to watch the stars for a while (stunning).


The beauty and wildness of the place was then further reinforced by the presence of a hyena right by our tent as we retired for the night. Somehow it had got hold of some food debris that someone must have left out somewhere and had dragged it (in a cardboard box) to the corner of the campsite near to our tent. My girlfriend and I, along with a nice couple we had been chatting to, managed to chase it away, but I could still pick its eyes up in my torch light in the bush 20 or so metres from out tent, obviously waiting to return to continue its search for carelessly discarded food remains.


A few random photos of the park's wildlife:







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Love seeing these pics of Seronera, especially familiar spots like that hippo pool! And great picture of that angry lion resting on the tyre.

Lion, Cheetah and (two!) leopards in a row is pretty cool.


We might have been to the very same Maasai village, rubbed me the wrong way as well. Even though I knew it was authentic everything felt a bit "fake" for whatever reason.


Lovely shot of the crater, that handrail there must be new?!

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Love the two leopards in the tree.

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I'm glad you updated this, or I may have missed it altogether (currently trying to catch up on a bunch of TRs). Your sightings are good and your pictures are great (leopards included!), but I am particularly enjoying your dry sense of humor.

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