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Just back from a two week trip to Amani Nature Reserve and Mkomazi National Park. This will be a report very lacking in photos as I quickly gave up photographing birds in Amani. More on that later. It's more about the logistics, where to stay, what to do etc. One of the most enjoyable vacations that I have ever taken despite the lack of mammal viewing.



Depart June 26 with KLM

June 27 Arrive Kilimanjaro Airport; overnight Airport Planet Lodge

June 28 Drive to Amani Nature Reserve. 7 nights at Amani Resthouse

July 5 Drive to Same, Tanzania 4 nights Nzoroko Hotel

July 6, 7, 8 Mkomazi National Park

July 9 Return


Booked with George Mbonea Mbwambo and his company Destination Serengeti



I had been to Amani several years ago with a friend on a trip to Saadani and Pangani, but only for a couple of nights. We loved the reserve so much that we said we need to come back and spend more time. However, this turned into a solo trip with just myself and George.


The plane arrived slightly late (about 9 pm?) for several reasons. There was a last minute plane change so all seats had to be reassigned. And just as we thought we would leave, it was announced that 19 passengers had failed to board but their luggage had been loaded and it would take at least 30 minutes to find and unload the luggage. But we made up time in the air so we were not that late. On arrival you are always asked for your boarding pass as you are walking toward the airport. Many people are not prepared for this and have to stop and search their stuff. As you get to the building there are windows and you are asked for Covid and Yellow fever documents. I had both. The passenger at the next window asked "do I need yellow fever if just coming from Europe" and he was told no. You then enter the airport with the immigration form in hand that we were given on the plane. I was acquiring a VISA on arrival.  I was in about the first 10 people off the plane and only the second in line for VISA on arrival. Three windows. One takes your passport and inputs the info. The next is where you pay. $100 for US residents.  I paid with cash. Not sure if credit card is accepted now. The next window is where you get the passport stamped. The person in front of me was through this in less than 5 minutes. 15 minutes for me because when I got to the last window the stamp didn't have enough ink on it. So get out the ink pad. Ink pad dry. Call someone to find ink. Try to load some ink onto an ink pad, etc. :D But regardless this was much faster than the online VISA line. When I did finish there was only one person going through the VISA on arrival process and many people in the VISA online queue.


My luggage was out quickly and I left and was greeted by a driver from Airport Planet Lodge. The transfer is free unless you wish for a private transfer and don't have to wait for other guests. The fee for this is $10 and I had opted for this and was happy I did. The driver was surprised I was out so quickly. He said sometimes they wait for up to 2 hours. I can highly recommend the Airport Planet Lodge. I have used KIA in the past but the last time I stayed there using a day room (May 2021) it was badly in need of some care. It may just have been that I turned up without a reservation and it was still low travel from Covid. Regardless the Planet Lodge is a much nicer option, although more expensive, and since I was heading south there was no need to stay closer to Arusha. The hotel is ten minutes from the airport.








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Your first two pics are uncannily similar.  Glad they found some ink to let you into the country.

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Picked up at 8 am by George and headed south. It was 3 hours to Same, Tanzania where we stopped at the bank to pay the fees for Mkomazi. Normally George would have done this before but when, and how long we were going to be in the park hadn't completely been decided as it was dependent on some park accommodations. More on that later. Well, if you've ever done a bank stop in Tanzania you know it's not a quick thing. And to make matters worse apparently it was pay day. Lots of people with checks going in. So. Two hours later, we are on our way. We had planned to stop in the park office to check if the park bandas had been completed but now we were in a bit of a hurry, as we wanted to be up the road to Amani before dark. We stopped at a road side bus stop and grabbed take away. George ate his quickly and we proceeded on. We reach Amani around 5:30 I think. I had it that it took us 4 hours but it certainly was longer on the way back so I may be in error. The road from Muheza up to the reserve is vastly improved from our previous time here. 


We had booked rooms in the Amani Conservation Centre Rest House. George had been trying to call the "guy in charge" for several days before my arrival just to confirm but no answer. Turns out he had been in an accident and there was now someone else responsible. But there was no problem. They showed me several rooms and I was allowed to choose. My room this time was a bit better than my previous stay. For starters there was a bathtub. Not that I had any intention of using it, but it meant that the water from the shower head would not be all over the bathroom floor. The other rooms just have the shower head on the wall and a drain in the floor, but not necessarily at the lowest point. So there will be water everywhere. Also my sink wasn't falling off the wall.:D There was always hot water. Extremely hot! If you are particular about accommodation, these might be too rustic for you. They are very clean. Well, at least as clean as you can make a room in an extremely old wood building that's in a rain forest. There are limits. The building we were in several years ago has been gutted and is being remodeled. So it will be interesting to see how that turns out. There is also a new guest house that has been built at Zigi gate (8 kms before Amani Research Station) but it is not in use yet.


The fee for my room was 35,000 Tz shillings per night. George was given free accommodation as a tour operator.  Board was another 25,000 per person per day. The Reserve entry fee is a one time fee of 25,000 shillings for me. I can't remember what it was for George. Our entire bill for a 7 night stay was 615,000 which translates to about $270 US dollars. Which left plenty of money for gratuities for the 3 awesome staff that took care of us. The only other accommodation here right now is Amani Forest Camp Emau Hill and I think one night there would be almost what our entire stay cost.


The meals are served  in a nice new building. The food is very much Tanzanian fare but well prepared. Fish or chicken most nights with rice, potatoes, or ugali and some vegetable. Usually spinach or a cabbage dish, then some fruit. They will cook eggs of your choice in the morning. There is an outdoor, covered seating area next to this that used to be the bar but since Covid no longer functions as a bar. Just the seating and a fairly large TV that locals will come and watch either some movie (generally in English) or sporting event. 


I always forget to take pictures of the room before I mess it up, but at least you get the idea.






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Hope the guy in the accident ended up ok.

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Welcome home!  Interesting that you considered this one of your best vacations ever.  We will be interested to hear more.

Does George own the  Destination Serengeti Company?  I looked at the website and it doesn't mention anything about the guides.

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Hi @mapumbo

Yes George owns Destination Serengeti. He still freelance guides for several companies but you can now book directly with his company. I come with greetings and gifts for you and Mama Ndege from George. I will send you an email.

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You can hike pretty much anywhere in Amani Nature Reserve without a guide. We had decided to do a few days by ourselves and then potentially hire a guide for the last couple of days. I downloaded maps of various trails from the website



I actually printed each of these off as well and was happy i did. It was easy to care the small pamphlet of each trail and check it. Trails here are NOT well marked. There may or may not be a marker at the start of a trailhead, but beyond that not much and many of the trails have not been used for some time now because of the pandemic.


On our first morning out, we had just decided to bird along one of the roads and see where we wound up. We would frequently divert to what looked like a promising path, only to wind up at someones house. We were modestly successful with our birding. However the forest canopy in the 100 plus year old forest is so high and my bird photo skills so poor that I quickly gave up most any effort, although we did take our cameras on all but the last day, which I of course, came to regret.


On day 2 our goal was the Kwamkoro forest trail. This involves a 9 km drive through what the trail guide describes as 'beautiful agricultural landscapes of the East Usambaras" and it is exactly that. Several small villages along gorgeous hillsides growing cinnamon, cloves, and cardamon.



At the end of the drive you 'turn off the main road over a concrete bridge to Kwamkoro Forest Office". Well, you don't do this now because the bridge isn't there. What was there was a group of construction people building a new bridge. So there is no place to cross. And really no place to leave the car and walk over. We discussed driving back to the nearest small village and walking up, but George was just a little leery of leaving his car. Can't blame him. So we started the drive back down and George spotted Colobus monkeys leaping from tree to tree but by the time cameras came out no more leaping.


We stopped on the way back down for George to make a purchase. There were some cinnamon tree seedlings in a bucket for sale. He called to the woman in the house and purchased all 4 of them. We also stopped at the office of the district chair woman. I had brought two large duffel bags of coats for children with me. I asked George if he though kids would want or need these here and he said absolutely. He had asked a couple of the women at the rest house how best to give these away and they said we should contact the district chairwoman and she would help us. And she was very helpful. A woman truly committed to her community and not impressed with her political office. Hadija was delightful and she said she would get in touch with some teachers because they would know who would need these and that it was the perfect time of year because it is so cold. We then drove back to the rest house and spent the remainder of the morning looking for more birds. Lunch. Then a hike to Mbomole Hill trail which starts right behind the rest house. A 4 km trail with a 150 meter climb up to a view point.











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Very interesting to read a TR about some of the less visited areas in Northern Tanzania. I am planning to go to Mkomazi end of October. Have not booked any accomodation yet, so your report is very timely @kilopascal.

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Hi @BikoGlad to hear you will be visiting Mkomazi. The rangers here are very keen to get visitors and its an interesting park. I will try to stay on task and get this report done. I definitely have opinions on where you might stay. Certainly one opinion on where not to stay.

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During our afternoon hike George got a text and then said "so, we have a program for tomorrow".

Me: "Program"?
George: Yes, Hadija has sent us a schedule of where we are going and when. We will pick her up at 8:30. 

Okay, sounds good.


So the next day we load the two bags of about 70 coats into the car. Thee are childrens coats I buy from Goodwill stores for 2-3 dollars each. Some of these coats I don't think have ever been worn. We eat breakfast then pick up Hadija at a road junction just a short drive from our pesthouse. Hadija does speak English fairly well, but the more complex conversations are with George in Swahili and then he fills me in. Things about tea plantations which are all privately owned. Discussion about the effects of the Ukraine war on the tea export as apparently a lot of it was sent to Ukraine. Harvesting of cloves, cinnamon etc. so was an informative drive. The first school was very remote. About 30 minutes drive through beautiful hills with tea and spices. Occasional small and very clean villages. Hadija told George that most of the students in this school live with grandparents as their parents have died or no longer reside here. We didn't get any more specifics. Coat fitting was fun as usual. Less chaotic than it was with Masai. These kids are very reserved and polite. Many of the very young ones may have never seen a white person given that tourism has fallen off and this place is fairly remote. The head teacher and a couple of other teachers help us out and I tour their school.




We repeat this at Amani Primary school. 




But the best part was next when Hadija took us back to her office and we met with several disabled children and the woman who cares for them. Unfortunately I do not have her name written down but she is truly amazing. She had a disabled child and told us of how difficult it is to access care when you live so far away from Dar, or Moshi, or Arusha. She would drive him many hours each week to get medical and physical therapy. He died when he was twenty. At this point she made it her mission to help other disabled children in the community and now cares for 22 children. I don't know if all of this children live with her or if they reside with family and she helps out. The kids we met live with her and range from a child that is about a year up to teenagers. She recruits funding for this. Often having to go door to door when money runs low. We left the remainder of the clothes with her and Hadija.






Hadija is on the far right. I am shaking hands with the woman who is in charge of these children. At the end, I leave her with some money and then George appears with a donation as well. I hope to see her again next May when we take vet students. Fortunately George took Hadija's contact info so I should be able to arrange a meet up.


In the afternoon we hike another one of the trails and add a bit to our bird list. 

Edited by kilopascal
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The next day we are going to do one of the longer hikes, the Derema Trail  which is divided into 3 section so that if you so choose you can have a car meet you and pick you up after one of these. Its a total of 12 kilometers estimated to take 5-7 hours. The beginning of the trail has a marker, with a narrow foot path down into a valley. The directions are interesting to follow with things like  "after Mbomole village, further ahead when the road flattens out, take a small path to the right on a small ridge through the tea. In about 20 meters, turn left again down into the tea field, then left at the first terrace and in 50 meters zigzag through more tea, down a drainage toward a road at the bottom of the valley".  Or "follow the downwards winding road through tea for about 1 km after which you come to a junction with three large trees". But, we did fairly well and only had to back track a short bit once where we must have zigged instead of zagged. We met some tea pickers along the way who were very enthusiastic to see us. Much of the trail has not been used in a very long time and at points we were not sure we were actually on a trail.  In retrospect this was probably a bold choice for a person who had just had her second knee replaced in March. There are a few sections that are, as described in the guide, very very steep. Going up these was fine, but usually it meant that at some point there would be a 'going down'. Thank god for vibrum sole boots, hiking poles, and a hiking companion who would just say 'pole pole' (slowly, slowly). We did the first 8 km in about 4 hours and it was beautiful. Past some tea pickers quarter. Over several small streams. Hiking between old forest and tea. As we start section three the statement is climb steeply to your right. George says, 'uh, I see the trail".  I say, "ugh".  So do I.  They weren't joking about steeply but up we go to get to Makandara village at the top of a hill with beautiful views. I'm looking forward to this part as we are going to hike to the river and across some rapids that we had visited last time I was here. But then it starts to rain. George looks up and says "it is going to pour with rain, I'm not sure this a a good Idea". The hike down to the river is quite steep. He says I think we should go back to the road and try to find Derema village. As he speaks the rain is picking up so I agree. We stop for directions from a woman who is very welcoming, telling us they used to see lots of hikers and they would have tea in her house but since corona, no one. She takes us down the trail a bit and gives George directions how to get to the road we are seeking. So back down we go, get to the road and it is raining hard now. We get to Derema and George sees this old house that we recognize from the day before because there is a wheel that looks very much like a water wheel but in fact it is an old coffee grinding factory. We both say uh oh. As well know we are way more than just 4 kilometers from our rest house by coming this way. So.George says "well we can walk or we can take a boda boda (motorcycle)".  The prime mode of transport here.  I've seen them drive and I'm not excited about it but I am less excited about a long walk back. George gives a loud New York taxi hailing whistle, shouts "mbili" (two) and two boda boda arrive. The price is 4000 each. (Less than 2 dollars each). He tells them slow please. And we are off. Once I relax it's kind of fun. At one point they stop because mud is flying up and each driver builds a mud flap out of ferns. We get to the road junction about half a kilometer from the rest house and get off. Pay them each 10,000 and they are ecstatic.


Me: "So George. Did we stop short because you didn't want anybody to see us come back on a boda boda?"

George, laughing: "Yes. I don't want them thinking these people got lost"


Sorry about the lack of photos. The small villages are particularly interesting but I am always reluctant to photo people  It is a brilliant trail and we have resolved to try it again on a return visit next May. Added to our bird count including a Fischer's turaco which was one I really wanted to see.  





Old tea factory. 



George in one of the bamboo forest areas

Edited by kilopascal
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The last two days in Amani we hired a local guide for birding. We spent the first full day with him, even to the point of walking back in the dark. The second day about 5 hours in the morning, then again that evening to look for owls and chameleons. I forgot to write his name down. The resthouse arranged it. He works for them in the restaurant every now and then. From my perspective he was very good, but then we know what kind of birder I am. He worked very hard for us and took us to areas where certain birds like the long-billed tailorbird have been seen. His English was reasonably good but sometimes failed him when describing to me where I would see a bird. But George would usually quickly find the bird as well and then it went something like this:


George or guide: "So you see that tree" with their arm waving indiscriminately in front

Me: Yes

Them: so that branch that curves left then right after the fork

Me: which fork

Them: the one that curves up then down

Me: um okay

George: do you see it?

Me: not yet ( I have learned not to lie because there can be a quiz)


The most enjoyable part of this first day for me was all the small villages or farms we walked by. Interesting to see the different houses. Talk to a few locals and kids. At one point we recognized a man, Kajiru, who was our 'bird'guide from several years back. He was riding on a boda boda and George waved for him to stop. A very interesting guide with lots of information on the history and plants but not much of a bird guide. Turns out that's because he's a botanist.


At the end of the day, nearing dark, the guide says there is an area with African violet just a short way further would you like to go. 'Short way further' is rarely short but I said I would love to. And it was a beautiful walk with the reward of the flower at the end.  The blurry picture is with me balancing on a slippery log and probably panting a bit from the hike.




On the second day we drove down past the entrance gate to bird along the road in hopes of finding some birds not seen yet, particularly the southern hyliota (which we did not find). This was the day I regretted not continuing to pack around the camera as there were some good birds a bit closer, like the green-headed oriole pounding a chameleon to death and the Narina Trogon that George spotted and was ecstatic because it's one of his favorites. This was also the day I managed to see a bird first; a yellowbill, although I didn't know that's what it was. Now it was my turn:

Me: So, see that tree directly in front of me?

George: Which tree, the green one?

Me:  Really???

George: I mean the dark green one

He eventually found it and we both thought it was a particularly nice bird.


While there are few (no) pictures of birds I did attempt a list at George's request.


Trumpeter hornbill

Pied crow

African citril

Amani sunbird

Collared sunbird

Green barbet

Scarlet chested sunbird
Amethyst sunbird
African pied wagtail
Brown hooded kingfischer
White-eared barbet
Bronze mannikin
Crimson rumped waxbill
Purple banded sunbird
Lesser honeyguide
Common waxbill

Namaqua dove

Black-headed apalis

Moustached green tinkerbird

Tawny-flanked Prinia 
Waller’s Starling
Black sawing nest
Long billed tailor bird i
Kenrick’s starling
Lesser swamp warbler
Lesser striped swallow
Mountain wagtail
Kenrick’s starling
Pale White-eye
Little rush warbler
Black headed apalis
Spectacled weaver 
Dusky flycatcher 
Red-faced cisticola 
Shelley’s greenbul 
southern black flycatcher 
Black-backed Puffback
Cabanis’s bunting
yellow flycatcher
Grey cuckoo-shrike
Green-headed oriole. Eating chameleon
Dark-backed weaver
Narina trogon
Tiny greenbul 

Zanzibar red bishop

Long-crested eagle

African harrier hawk

Black crake

Speckled mousebird

Silvery cheeked hornbill


This is just a list from a casual birder and I'm sure the serious birders on here would have a much longer list.      


The main mode of transport for pretty much everything here. Rarely see another car or truck.









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The evening of the second day we went out to look for owls and chameleons. Sadly no owls.



3 horned female



3 horned male



Flap necked



2 horned female?









Chameleon experts feel free to correct me. Very enjoyable evening. The cost of the guide for the two days was 80,000 shillings.


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Leaving Amani was tough. Was an amazing respite from everything. No WiFI and just enough on my Tanzanian SIM card to quickly check emails for anything super important which there wasn't. And there is always Whats Ap if someone really needed to get in touch. Lots of exercise. No vehicles other than the boda bodas so nice clean air. Mild temperatures. Lovely people.


There are old buildings and houses here built by the Germans in the early 1900's then later by the British. Interesting to walk through some of these especially the old malaria research lab. I asked our guide if people were allowed to restore these and live in them. He said yes. They can be rented and restored with permission from some government body. There was one house in particular that when I win the lottery (today, I'm sure of it) I would love to have as my vacation spot. The buildings from the German era are stone. Those from the British are built from a brick that looks similar to a limestone type brick we would have.


Then some buildings that are a bit newer (yet still very old) like this post office that is around the area with the research lab.




As we left our spice delivery arrived. At the rest house, the water for tea is often spiced with cloves and cinnamon. Sometimes some cardamon. George asked if there was someplace to buy the local spices. There is really nothing by the rest house except the 'dairy' where the locals bring their milk for sale and a small shop where you get more phone time. They told George to just let them know and someone would bring some for us. So a very large bag of cinnamon sticks arrive and smaller bags of cloves and cardamon.

On our way down the road to Muheza some very young school kids yelled to George that they wanted to by his car. He stopped to talk and asked them how much they had. 200 TZ shillings. Well, maybe next time but there was some

candy distribution and we were very politely thanked.

Two more stops. One to buy coconuts because George's 81 year old mother said 'bring back coconuts". And you don't just buy a few. It's by the bucket and then you have to see if you can find a big sack to put them all in. The other stop was when we saw what we thought were clove seedlings along the side of the road in a bucket. George called to the women across the road and they told him they would call someone for him. He arrived in 5 minutes and the sale was made. Now on our way to Same and Mkomazi. Which took about 5 and a half hours, so my timing on the trip up may have been off. There was more traffic but I don't think my 4 hours could have been accurate. I would plan on abut 5 hours.

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Old saw mill built by the Germans and the stream next to it







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So on to Mkomazi. We were both pretty excited about going there. I have never been. George had been once in his early guiding days over 15 years ago with the owner of the company he was working for. If you check the government park website it talks about Tanzanian park bandas that have been built there. George had tried to call numerous times to find out about staying there and the phone was never answered. He asked another guide who had been there recently and was told they are not open yet. We were going to stop and check on our way to Amani, but after the 2 hour bank visit we were running a bit late. We also talked about how to set up food there. Other TANAPA bandas I have stayed at are either self catering (Serengeti and Tarangire) or you arrange for local workers to make food. So we decided it might be just as easy to stay in Same, because it's just a 5 minute drive to the park. 


We stayed at the Nzoroko hotel after a bit of negotiation on the price. The room fee for me wasn't bad but the price for meals was a bit high. In the end I paid $60 for room and board. For George it was 50,000 shillings.

However, I would not recommend the hotel. The room was fine and clean but the noise level was extreme. My room bordered the courtyard and the window between the courtyard and the room may as well have not been there. It's as if the people talking are right in your room. So the first night was a bit unpleasant and George suggested asking for a different room. But all my stuff was everywhere and I decided to stay put. Night two was fine, but then on nights 3 and 4 there was a large religious conference at the hotel and it was tough. The other problem was the inconsistency of hot water. First night fine. Next day no hot water all day. Then lukewarm the rest of the stay. Staff, with one exception was great. Food varied from very good to not edible because of the salt content. George had a room that bordered the parking lot. A little room noise he said but not bad. So if you find yourself at this hotel, make sure it is far away from the courtyard and the generator.


Well, it turns out that there are beautiful new bandas here at the park that are open. <_< One of the park people asked George why we did not stay there and he told them no one ever answered the phone. There were lots of apologies. George has proclaimed the rangers at this park the nicest rangers he has ever met.  We think the confusion when George asked the guide was the term banda. They are not called that here. They are cottages. We toured them the last day because I will be taking students in May 2023 and we want to stay here. They are VERY nice and if you stay in them the park fee works on a 24 hour clock as it does in the other parks instead of the day pass that we acquired. These are what we would call duplexes with two separate rooms per cottage. They are air conditioned, have a television, and a small room with a kitchen type sink. No refrigerator or stove in them. All but one have one double bed. There is one with 2 twin beds. The price per night is $42. And, there is food prepared for the guests. I think there is a small menu rather than a fixed menu. The price for full board is an additional $25. The grounds around them are very attractive with lots of birds. So. This is the place to be in my mind. I think George took the number of the woman in charge so if anyone needs this just send me a message and I will ask him.











Bar and area where food is ordered



Dining and lounging area




Bathroom near lounge and bar

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@kilopascalThanks for the positive feedback on the TANAPA cottages, I was indeed planning to stay there. I was in touch with them through email last year and that worked pretty well. Looking forward to the rest of your trip report.

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@kilopascalI had to laugh at your description of trying to spot a bird, we have all been there.


Some great shots of various species and flora that we normally don't associate with Tanzania.  Sparks ones interest in a visit there.

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I'm sure George would love to take you @mapumboand especially Mama Ndege since she shares his love and talent for birds.

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Very interesting and enjoyable report. 🙂

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I have been wanting to do an African Violet safari for the longest time.  You did!  Can you tell me anymore about the African violets and if there is a time of year they like to bloom?  Obviously you saw some in July, but maybe there is an "African Violet Season."  Another question for you...how long has Destination Serengeti been around?


The chameleons are fabulous.  I love your dialogue excerpts!  Congratulations on this off-the-beaten-path itinerary and safari, @kilopascal!   How/Why did you decide to do this particular trip?  Don't suppose the African violet played a role.  Maybe because you've been everywhere else in Tanzania.


Thanks for the unusual and informative report and for the African Violet!

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Hi @Atravelynn

I can tell you absolutely nothing about African violet growing season but I can easily find out from Amani people. 

I went back to Amani because we were there several years ago just for a couple of days and absolutely loved it. George probably loved it even more. And it's just nice and remote, few tourists, reasonably cool even at the warmer times of year. It does tend to rain a bit. Mkomazi was put in because I've never been. And it was excellent, although is probably nicer in green season. I will comment on that when I finish this report. Hopefully in the next couple of days.


The license for Destination Serengeti was issued about a year and a half ago but the website has not been up that long. A few months maybe? I think George took his first clients under the license last November? George would jump at the chance to go back to Amani Lynn.:D

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Hi @Atravelynn

George is going to call the botanist Mr. Kajiru and ask him. A quick google search was not helpful on when to go for violets. There was some suggestion that a bit of luck was involved. Kind of like whether you see a leopard on safari or not. I did find an old New York times article that mentioned Mr. Kajiru. He took the woman to a couple of different spots to see them. In October I think.





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Thanks, I saw that NYT article and she did go in Oct.  You're right that searching onlune for the best times does not produce much, as I have done that over the years.  Thanks so much for being the intermediary on this.  This place is a wealth of knowledge!

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