2015 self-drive northern safari report

Johannes writes:

My wife, my 6-yr old son and me returned yesterday from a 2-week selfdrive journey through Northern Tanzania, and took your book with us(latest edition from May 2014 reprint). We have lived in Mbulu / Manyara for some years about 10 yrs ago, so we know the area a bit.

Thanks a lot for your book, which was very helpful for us, as it provided good and actual information! Here are some inputs, maybe you would like to include them in the next edition.

Accomodation in Karatu: we stayed in St.Catherines monastery, which I would rather sort in the „moderate“ section instead of „budget and camping“. To my knowledge there are not many alternatives in this price range in Karatu (only the high-price lodges and inexpensive local guest houses). We payed 90 US$ for a Double, including breakfast, dinner, tea/coffee and lunch box. Our son did not have to pay extra. Food is extraordinary fine, vegetables are taken from the own extensive gardens. Guests are accomodated in a tract separate from the nuns, and meals are also served in a separate room.

The location is perfect for those who are on the way to Ngorongoro and Serengeti – just 4 km before the gate, thus about 12 km west of Karatu town centre. Good especially for those who want to visit the crater only with an early morning start and return on the same day. Perfect also for those who look for a rural, quiet location and don’t have any concerns with the special, religious athmosphere.

The head nun (Sr. Scholastica) would obviously be happy about more guests. Her coordinates are: stelamatutina2002@yahoo.com, or matutinastela@gmail.com, (or the website http://www.safaringorongoro.com or tel.nr 0753-497886, as mentioned in your book.

Absolutely recommended in this price range!

Mbulu: we used to live there for 2 years, so we know the town and area very well. Only local guest houses, of which one is a little bit above the local standards: Sanu lodge, about 1 km out of town eastbound (at the old stadium). Rooms are 20-30’000 for a double, breakfast is 1-2’000 for a simple one (Chai, Chapati or toast) up to 5’000 for a complete. Meals are around 5’000. Hot water, self-contained bath rooms. Car can be parked inside.

you mentioned the „lovely setting“, which is absolutely true! We have done wonderful walks and hikes, especially in „Mama Issara“ (the highlands East of the town). A good stopover for those who are on their way to Haydom / Southern Lake Eyassi.

Self drive: I found it an attractive option, as we were absolutely independent. It’s expensive, though, and it doesn’t make a big difference to have or have not a driver.

We had good experiences with Fortes (http://fortes-safaris.com/car-hire/). We had a landcruiser with pop-up-roof, old but reliable, 7 seats, for about 170$ plus comprehensive insurance (about 30$), plus fuel, unlimited mileage.

At the end of the sort rainy seasons many routes were muddy, we never got stucked anyway. Although it is absolutely advisable to stay on the tracks, especially in the National parks where off-road driving is illegal anyway. In the NP’s but also outside the unpaved roads, especially in the morning after a nightly rainfall, can be challenging. Traffic in Arusha is annoying, but manageable. In the country side West of Arusha there’s not much traffic any more. The road until Ngorongoro is paved, same as to Tarangire (and now also South of Tarangire towards Babati).

self-organised safari: especially your information about Ngorongoro (273-274) was helpful. After depositing the exactly pre-calculated amount at the bank (Exim bank, or the mentioned Barclays bank) we did not manage to get the smart cards in the Arusha office of NCAA. For this we needed to go to the NCAA office in Karatu, which is about 2 km West of the town near Bougainvillea Lodge. There is also a Exim bank branch in Ngorongoro.

For the NP’s we also received the TANAPA cards from Exim bank, in order to avoid high credit card charges. Probably though it is easier to use the Credit card at the NP gates, as it gives more flexibility.

It was great to drive in the NP’s by ourself, without a guide. Thus we had the possibility to remain on interesting sights as long as we wanted to, and to explore remote areas – which has been sometimes a little bit „scary“ in the Serengeti, in case of a breakdown it could have taken time until someone would come for help. On the other hands we probably might have missed some „spectacular“ sights like lion prides, as the guides know where to go and communicate with each other by radio. A congestion of cars seen from far always means that there is something to see. Our best nature experiences we had though by ourselves in remotes areas, without a bunch of neighbouring cars around us.

I found little information about supplies and food in the Serengeti. We used public campsites. It’s definitely wise to stock up before, in Arusha or Karatu. There are local eateries and shops in the Serengeti (and also Tarangire and probably the other NP’s), as the rangers and their families live within the park. We were allowed to take lunch once in Ndutu lodge, and in Tarangire at Tarangire Safari Lodge.

Public campsites were much better maintained than expected. In Serengeti there were about 5 functionable in the Seronera cluster. Running water and cold showers were available. In Tarangire there are 2 public campsites nowadays, both in the northern part of the park.