I hope you are well.
I know it’s been several months since our trip to Tanzania last October that you organised for us, but I wanted to drop you a belated note to tell you what a great trip we had……….our best holiday ever !
Despite the complicated itinerary, everything ran like clockwork with no hitches at all, so many thanks for getting the organisation absolutely spot on. Everything that we expereienced was exactly as you had described – this is such a great help when trying to organise a trip to somewhere that you haven’t been before and it’s rare for travel companies to have such detailed and accurate knowledge.
I know you take a pride in your knowledge of the places that you recommend, and put a lot of work into recommending the best combination for our trip, so we took some notes at the time to give our views and observations on each location and hopefully help add to your knowledge base of these venues, for the benefit of your future clients.
Despite the informal, chaotic and haphazard outward appearance, they actually run a very efficient and enjoyable service. Our name was on the clipboard for every flight, so no problems. I like the way that once everyone is there…….they just go, and don’t stick rigidly to their timetable slot !
I can confirm what you said to me before we went (and contrary to what it says on the itinerary and on their own website), they only weigh hold bags and never hand luggage, so as long as the hold bags are below 15kg, you are good to go………….and they only weighed these once at Dar on the first outbound flight, never on subsequent flights.
Ngorongoro &Beyond Crater Lodge
Great greeting at Manyara airport by our driver Davis with tea and a packed lunch. Very welcome after 18 hours of travelling! Watch out for the baboons at the entrance to the Ngorongoro Crater park………..they broke into our car in a flash when our backs were turned (Davis had left a window open!) and stole our unfinished lunch!
Fantastic location on the rim of the crater with great views. South camp definitely the best location with the best views. Tree Camp is closer to the edge, but the rooms are smaller and surrounded by trees so no view. North Camp’s view is blocked by South Camp.
Resident tame Zebra herd nice to see, grazing on the grass around the camps. Also saw Buffalo at night.
Unique room styles that fit well with the location. Very comfy beds. Great views from every room……….even the toilet! Scalding hot water! (watch out!) and nice to have a real fire waiting for you when you get back from dinner. Food was of a good standard for the isolated location………and seconds offered if first serving not enough!
Good butler system here to attend to your every need during your stay. Safari was our butler. Very helpful without being unnecessarily over attentive.
We had a slight problem as we left with a miscommunication on our arranged departure time which kept us hanging around in the sun for half an hour. We made our annoyance known to Albin, the South Camp manager who is very nice, but was out of his depth and unable to resolve the problem. In the end, we spoke to Beatha, the Lodge manager who apologised and made amends with a nice bottle of bubbly waiting for us at Mnemba !
One slight gripe is that they should get better organised so that you keep the same driver throughout your stay: airstrip pick up, game drives and return to airstrip. We had 3 different drivers (and a fourth at one stage who got reallocated prior to Azeeza taking over). Also, they should clean the dust out of the window seals so you can open the windows during game drives to take photos and get air (although once in the crater, the roof is opened)
Great experience and great wildlife, but frustrating to see so many vehicles, be restricted to staying on the roads, and all having to mob together at allocated picnic areas (only 2 in the crater) with crowded, dirty toilets. It’s a bit like a Safari Park experience sometimes. You were right to say that one day is enough in the crater. We’re very glad we did it, but were then ready to move on. Our guide in the crater was Azeeza who I would highly recommend. She was the first woman guide to qualify in Tanzania, is great fun, very intelligent and very knowledgeable. We had a good day with her……….and great picnic lunch including wine and cold beer! (despite the crowded location)
This was a great recommendation so thanks for that. We are so glad we went here as we had the best experience of our holiday and met some good people (including Usha, Bernice and Lyn who had also booked through you – we had great fun with them and flew to Zanzibar with them after our stay at Singita). Even though it was the least luxurious stay of our trip, the character of the place and the experience more than made up for this. We loved the informality of the camp which sat well with an underlying commitment to good service.
The food here was sometimes an eccentric mix, but all absolutely delicious – the best of our holiday……..including Alex’s special chilli sauce ! It was a great experience to meet the rest of the group each evening and share a cold beer around the camp fire and then dinner and lots of wine and Amarula together around a big round table.
Alex is a fantastic host and we were fortunate enough to have him as our guide for the whole of our stay. I suspected this may be something you had helped influence as I know he usually charges extra for this, so thank you if that was the case. He’s very down to earth and relaxed but with a great sense of humour and strong propensity for banter which we enjoyed. He has a good attention to detail without being over dramatic when things go wrong……just takes everything in his stride. Alex has great enthusiasm for the wildlife and photography (a hobby of mine too………..but not to his standard!) and was always prepared to let us lead the agenda on what we wanted to see and for how long, there were no rigid timetables. His loyalty to his staff is good to see as well, including to Singi, his elderly tracker who came on game drives with us and was still a good spotter despite his failing eyesight.
One unfortunate situation during our game drives was that the radios never seemed to work properly between the three cars that were operating, so we weren’t able to find out about the good stuff that our fellow guests were witnessing, and vice versa. Consequently, we never actually saw a river crossing during our time there………..the one thing that we’d gone there to see ! This was a real disappointment………even though we saw lots of other fantastic sights. Our fellow guests all saw several crossings……….and we almost saw one on our last morning after a 3 hour wait, but had to leave before it actually happened to catch our plane to Grumeti ! Alex needs to get those radios fixed.
During our stay, it became apparent that the future for this unspoilt area of the Northern Serengeti may be in jeopardy. Apparently a new road is planned into the area which will bring many more game vehicles (we only saw a handful each day while we were there……..a pleasant contrast to the Ngorongoro Crater). It was rumoured that the Tanzania government may even look to block the migration into Kenya so they can steal tourists from their great rivals !
There was a particularly obstructive new warden who had recently started patrolling on Alex’s patch and seemed set on making his life hell, preventing any driving off track and imposing heavy spot fines and bans if he caught drivers doing this. It was apparent that Alex is singled out more than local indigenous drivers, and has even had to move the location of his camp once for no good reason.
One of the attractions of this area was the freedom to roam anywhere and stop anywhere for meal breaks……..but on our last morning, the new warden decided that he was going to impose two or three demarcated picnic areas and not allow parking up anywhere else. He even put signs up and moved everyone on as we were parked waiting for a river crossing to happen as herds were gathering on the far bank of the river.
I hope this area isn’t ruined by mass game drives in the future. That’s where it looks like it may be headed.
Singita Lodges – Grumeti Reserve
It was always going to be difficult to match the density and variety of wildlife in the Northern Serengeti, so our stay at Faru Faru lodge was a bit of a disappointment by comparison, despite the lodge being a higher level of luxury.
Faru Faru lodge is in a great location, but we found it a bit soulless and lacking in character. It’s difficult to explain why as the architecture and design is impressive, but the huge suites were a bit sterile and had the feel of a locker room because of their stark furnishings and design ! We weren’t impressed that the only shower was outside which is a bit off putting when it’s raining or dark. The huge electric opening feature windows also broke down in the rain.
We concluded that the thing that really lets down Faru Faru is the poor quality of staff. They all seemed to be poorly trained and over attentive but mostly useless. We were introduced to a number of them, but never really worked out what their roles were supposed to be, including Zedi, who was supposed to be our butler, but only ever waited on us at meals and did no more. We felt constantly pestered and rushed, particularly around buggy pick ups to take us to dinner as they have an obsession with not allowing guests to walk along the paths alone after dark (no such restrictions at Alex’s camp!). The irony was that they drove the buggies so painfully slowly (again a safety obsession no doubt) that it was quicker to walk !
Other problems encountered were an impressive looking but freezing cold swimming pool, a small and unimpressive spa (I didn’t even bother taking advantage of the free massage that we’d agreed as part of our package).
We got the impression that they have problems attracting and retaining good staff in this isolated area. Bjorn, the very pleasant young manager told us he had been drafted in from Sabora to try and resolve the issues at Faru. He certainly has his work cut out for him………..and he appeared he might be slightly out of his depth (this may be unfair as he’d only recently come across and looked after us very well).
Fortunately, we had some really good game drives with our guide, Braya. Although young and recently qualified, he was intelligent and had good knowledge and found some good stuff for us to see. This was helped to some extent by the good radio communication between vehicles from all three Singita lodges and the central radio station at Sasakwa. This meant that all sightings were quickly shared, but it did mean there was a constant radio babble all through each game drive which got irritating. Fortunately, they carefully manage how many Singita vehicles gather round each game sighting and restrict it to a maximum of two. Because they own the land, Singita vehicles can also drive wherever they like and are not restricted to tracks as in the Crater (and increasingly in Northern Serengeti).
Braya found some truly wonderful locations for us to stop for breakfast and sundowners. These were a highlight……….as was the birth of a giraffe that we witnessed (after 2 hours waiting and lots of photos !). There is a good variety of game in Grumeti, particularly birdlife, but the wildlife isn’t as numerous as in Northern Serengeti. Good to see that Singita have a black rhino introduction programme in operation here, to help replace what was whiped out when Grumeti was exclusively hunting territory.
We wanted to see the other two Singita lodges for comparison during our stay at Faru Faru, so Braya took us to visit Sabora for lunch and Sasakwa for breakfast.
We were absolutely enchanted by Sabora camp. A real Out of Africa style location and feel. The whole place, including the huge tented accommodation is beautifully furnished and has bags of character. We had a fabulous lunch there and peaceful, relaxing afternoon. Also, the calibre of the staff were head and shoulders above those at Faru. We received a genuinely warm welcome from Florida (Acting Manager) and Apollo (Head Waiter I think). We really enjoyed the short time we spent there and wished we could have stayed longer instead of having to return to Faru Faru.
We would highly recommend Sabora to anyone thinking of staying there, particularly in July when the migration goes right through there. One caution is that we noticed a lot of bush mice scampering around………not a problem for us (the camp is after all set in a wild area), but potentially off putting for others. The best tent locations for privacy are Nos. 1, 8 & 9.
Sasakwa is in a very different but equally spectacular setting, high up overlooking the plains below. It’s a lovely place with hand manicured (literally!) lawns and a real colonial manor house feel, but we found it a bit stuffy and unwelcoming. This would no doubt appeal to many, particularly the numerous rich Americans in residence, but we preferred the more informal and homely feel of Sabora.
Staying on Mnemba was the perfect way to end our holiday. Even though it’s probably over priced for the standard of the accommodation (I’m glad we got two free nights in our deal !) you’re paying for the peace, isolation and privacy. We were looked after very well by the island manager, Peter and had a truly delightful butler, Tunaimi who was permanently cheerful and nothing was ever too much trouble for him……….he would actively look for things to do for us. I would highly recommend people to ask for him if staying at Mnemba. He was clearly the best butler.
Getting to Mnemba is even more challenging than all descriptions that we’d read before going. The road is not just bumpy (far worse than any game drive track)……….it’s like sitting in a washing machine for nearly an hour ! Peter did make a valid point when we arrived that it helps discourage other hotels from opening up on the coast opposite Mnemba. We did find out from our driver on the return trip though that there is actually a smoother route, but they don’t tend to use it as it’s longer…….but we asked to try it and although it was longer, it was quicker as he could drive faster ! I also don’t understand why they don’t just do the boat pick up at the start of the rough road rather than at the end of it and make the sea crossing longer. It may be because of tides or reefs. I know the owners of Mnemba have tried to negotiate with the Tanzanian government to improve the road, even offering to contribute to the cost, but with no success yet.
The bandas on Mnemba are well equipped but quite rustic and open (no air conditioning, doors or windows, just optional blinds to cover the holes at night) but full of character, homely, and perfectly suited to the natural environment of the island and relaxed lifestyle that they are encouraging there. Our shoes were taken off us as we arrived and we never wore them again for the whole time we were there. The bandas are however a bit too close together in relation to the cost of the accommodation. Fortunately, all other guests that we met were quiet and discrete……….except a wealthy Texan family who arrived with their own pilots and guides after an extensive flying safari all around Africa. Luckily they were located at the other end of the island and although fairly loud, they were good fun.
The location of our Banda, No.8 was on a great section of the beach right in front of the house reef which was excellent for snorkelling…….just a few steps into the sea. The best snorkelling is actually on the far edge of the reef where the coral is cleaner and more varied. The beach is soft, clean white sand, right into the sea, so no sharp rocks or coral to stand on (no need for reef shoes). I can recommend Bandas 8-10 for location in relation to the reef, but no bandas are in a poor location, although we were told that at certain times of the year that side of the island gets very windy – the dive centre relocates to the eastern side at that time of year.
The bandas are regularly visited by the small, introduced Suni Antelope. They are quite tame and seemed constantly thirsty ! – so we put water out for them and suggested to Peter that water bowls be provided for guests to use. It’s nice to have these charming little antelope around, unlike the crows that we were told they are quietly trying to eradicate. We were also very fortunate to witness a turtle hatching on our last evening which was a real highlight and great to see the turtle conservation programme that they have on Mnemba, run by one of their longest serving staff members who’s been there over 20 years.
One downside of having a good reef so near to shore is that, even though Mnemba’s territorial waters stretch 200m out to sea with the intention of keeping outsiders away, every morning several boatloads of loud Italian snorkellers would appear from Zanzibar. They often intruded within the 200m limit, and were frequently having to be driven back by Mnemba staff in boats. They have occasionally been known to set foot on the island and have even been discovered using the toilets in the bandas !! Fortunately the boatloads always disappeared again by lunchtime but were a regular nuisance that shattered the peace of the island for a couple of hours each morning.
We had great food on Mnemba, cooked by the English chef, Richie. You are shown the suggested menu for lunch and dinner when you go to breakfast each day and choose what you went to eat, or change it to something else if required…….there was complete flexibility. He cooked us a great curry one night. Dinner on the beach under the stars each evening was a great way to end each day. One exception was the beach BBQ which was quite limited in its food choice.
We did initially have an issue with the complimentary house wine and brought this to Peter’s attention. He was a bit defensive initially but then addressed it well by allowing us to order anything off the full wine list for one day, and then brought in wines of our choice from Zanzibar the next day. These were made available to us as our house wine for the rest of our stay. A good solution. Unfortunately, cocktails were not the barman’s forte and these were the worst that we’d ever tasted………so we stuck to beer and wine !
Also, we took a sunset dhow trip one evening. This however was a waste of time. The local two man crew were miserable for the whole trip and returned us to the shore half an hour before the sun set !
There is an excellent complimentary watersports service on Mnemba run by husband and wife team Jason and Karen. They make a great team and are extremely accommodating and helpful to all guests, even non-divers. They took us on a couple of great snorkelling trips on the reef off the south eastern side of the island and we also had the opportunity to swim closely with dolphins……..until the Italians scared them away !! Karen said the dolphins are showing signs of stress from all of the boats that pursue them. The dive centre is well equipped and snorkelling equipment is available to loan to all guests, including prescription masks for the short sighted.
We spent our last night here at the Serena Inn which was much better than we were expecting and we would recommend it. It’s in a nice quiet location and the staff are welcoming and friendly. We were upgraded to a suite which was very well appointed. Stone Town was interesting to walk around on our last evening and a real contrast to Mnemba……….but one night was enough. We didn’t manage to find a decent restaurant for our last meal in Tanzania. Richie had recommended an Italian restaurant which we went to, but they were running a set price buffet as it was their anniversary that night which was popular with the locals but disappointing food quality. It would be useful to have a Stone Town good restaurant guide
Thanks again Julian for your recommendations and help in organising a really fantastic holiday. I’m sorry it’s taken so long to send you this feedback, but there was quite a lot of detail to get down as you can see, so it’s been difficult to find the time ! We will be in touch again when we are planning our next safari (probably Botswana/Namibia) so please keep sending us e mail updates of your latest travel offerings and developments.
Best wishes and kind regards,
N Godfrey 2011