A Magical Symphony for the Senses
Lisa and I have been back for four days now and we still cannot stop talking about how incredible our safari to Tanzania was. When combined with ADS’ attention to detail, the people, parks, conservation areas, animals, and accommodations of Tanzania really became a magical symphony for the senses. I could easily copy and paste from almost any other travelogue or testimonial because based on our experience, everything said by others is undoubtedly true and bears repeating. Here are some key highlights from our trip …
Day 1 – We landed in Tanzania where a visa expert had us processed in minutes while hundreds of others floundered around the passport control line. The local ADS crew was standing by with our bags and gave us a warm welcome, informative ride to the swank Mt. Meru Hotel in Arusha, a safari briefing and a lovely welcome gift in the form of a Masai beaded -bracelet which Lisa wore every day of the trip. It became immediately obvious to us that it would be unnecessary to think or worry about a single detail during our trip as everything was taken care of for us, including check-in.
Day 2 – After a relaxing evening, we spent an extra day in Arusha to recover from jet lag. The ADS team took us on a leisurely afternoon tour of the city which was very informative and interesting. We returned to the hotel for some poolside lounging. That evening, a private dining area was set up for us outside under a pergola and a special meal was prepared so we could celebrate Lisa’s birthday and our anniversary – the reasons for our trip. This was one of the many unexpected and thoughtful touches provided by the ADS team throughout our Tanzanian adventure.
Day 3 – We took an early flight into the bush as it was finally safari time!! We had one stop for a passenger pick-up at Lobo airstrip where we were joined by two crying women who were ending their trip. Lisa and I thought they were nuts until about day 5 when we both realized we too might have the same reaction on our way home. On final approach to Grumeti airport, we were glued to the window of the aircraft as a huge zoo emerged below us. After landing, we were greeted immediately by the highlight of our trip – our guide.
This man proved to be one of the warmest, funniest, and most knowledgeable people we have ever met. Within 15 minutes of being out in the bush, he spotted a lion that we watched from 5 feet away! We literally had chills because THIS is why we came to Africa – to experience up-close all the wildlife and natural beauty. In the first half of the day, we snapped over 200 photos of lions, zebra, giraffe, topi, eland, buffalo, elephant and ostrich.
We regained our composure at lunch on some rocks overlooking a vast plain where were were provided an introduction to the Serengeti and a detailed description of what we could expect on our safari. We continued our game drive all the way back to the Soroi lodge, where just before sundown we stumbled upon a billion (okay, maybe just a few thousand) wildebeest in migration running across the road in front of us. Awesome!! The Soroi was a magnificent property and our room was pure colonial luxury. We had an amazing dinner including a surprise birthday cake for Lisa and were then off to bed for an early game drive.
Day 4 – We awoke for a 6:30 breakfast and then were off to the bush. Our second day provided extremely diverse wildlife viewing again including hippos, monkeys, baboons, crocodiles, turtles, impala, gazelle, lizards and oh yes, the wildebeest. We marveled at how the landscape is ever-changing and always awe inspiring, from the lush tree-packed areas around the rivers, to the vast plains, to the sporadic rocky outcroppings that emerge – the countryside is simply breath taking. We went back to the lodge by 4 p.m. so we could enjoy our spectacular balcony view, outdoor shower, beautiful sunset, and another great dinner.
Day 5 – After a 6:00 am wake-up call and breakfast, we game drove our way to the central Serengeti. Not long into our day, we had a close encounter with a huge elephant. Noticing an unusually large amount of droppings on the road, our guide had a hunch that more elephants were looming, so we drove a few more minutes and – sure enough – stumbled upon a herd of 40+ elephants! We spent an hour just watching them – it was an absolute joy to watch these creatures unencumbered by artificial boundaries.
We continued through areas of dense game which included zebra, wildebeest, buffalo and giraffe, then stopped for lunch at the Serengeti Visitor Center and took an informative walking tour. In the afternoon, we found ourselves driving among the kopjes gawking at lions of every size and shape. The day ended with our guide spotting a cheetah from at least a ½ mile away (we still have no idea how he spots these creatures). After taking a few dozen photos we looked 5 yards to the right and found a cheetah cub sitting in a rut below the grass line. That was good for about another 50 photos!
We arrived at our private camp just before sunset and were greeted by a friendly staff, warm towel and cold drink. The decision to camp was not one we made lightly as this usually isn’t our speed. Suffice to say, we would do it again in a heartbeat as it was one of the highlights of the trip and provided the most amazing views of the sunset and night sky. Dinner was followed by a camp-fire chat and a visit from a “friendly” hyena that was eventually chased away. We drifted into sleep accompanied by the sounds of the “friendly” hyena and tons of other game in the area.
Day 6 – We had a 5:30 breakfast in the Serengeti and headed out on another “fishing” adventure. In the morning we spotted a hyena trailing a few lions, a pair of cheetah unsuccessfully stalking prey, and two lions mating – now that was quite a show! Shortly after we spotted another lion stalking a group of zebra drinking by the river. Our guide instinctively knew this would result in a kill, so he drove us a little distance away so we could have prime viewing of the entire event unfolding. That was by far the most exhilarating show of the trip!
We went back to the camp for a delicious lunch and siesta, and then headed back out in the afternoon to watch a pride of lions frolicking and a leopard return to the impala it had stashed in a tree – mission accomplished. We had another great dinner at the camp with warm birthday wishes and another cake for Lisa! We were briefly awakened at 2 a.m. when a zebra stampede moved through the camp, but quickly fell back asleep to the softer sounds of night in Serengeti.
Day 7 – We woke up very refreshed and compared notes about the stampede and accompanying cacophony. We thanked the crew for a great stay and headed back out to game dive our way to the Bilila Lodge. We checked on our leopard friend again before we left the neighborhood and spent some time with the pride of lions from the day before. We drove us past some ancient Masai cave paintings and we had a great lunch on a large outcropping where there was a musical rock – the “gong rock” – that was totally fun to play.
Our guide wisely thought we would enjoy spending a little more time at the lodge after camping in the Serengeti, so we arrived at Bilila around 2:30 – he was right. Bilila is a beautiful full-service property with amazing views, great food and delicious drinks.
Day 8 –We decided to sleep in since we were only staying one night, and began our leisurely drive towards Ngorongoro Crater at 8:30 am. We saw the usual diverse array of wildlife including a huge python that we spotted off the road. It is really true what everyone says – there is always something new and unexpected to see in the Serengeti. We stopped for lunch at the Serengeti Park exit and continued down to Oldupai Gorge. We visited the museum and listened to a presentation. It was amazing to witness this cradle of humanity first-hand.
After the requisite photo ops, we continued towards the Crater. On the way we delighted in the change of landscape and in the sightings of Masai villages as we climbed to the top of the Crater. Crater Lodge was beyond amazing and to describe it is to short change it. The staff was super professional and we had our own butler. Our room was magnificent and bigger than most apartments in Chicago, complete with a wood burning stove to combat the chill from the altitude. Champagne greeted us upon arrival and dinner was served to us in our room with rose petals scattered all around. This was a very nice end to a long day’s drive from the central Serengeti.
Day 9 – We were up at 5:30 am, grabbed some coffee and claimed bragging rights as we were first to enter the Crater that day. The view from above the Crater is matched only by the spectacular diversity of wildlife that unfolds from within. The terrain changes are just as diverse. We had an amazing breakfast overlooking a hippo pool and were treated to the last of the big 5 – an awesome close encounter with a black rhino that crossed directly in front of our vehicle. Of course, our guide had spotted two rhino earlier (with his unaided eyes) which were literally black specs at over a thousand yards, but proved to have the characteristic horns when viewed through binoculars.
We watched some lions frolicking around and caught sight of another rhino as we were headed to our lunch picnic spot – awesome! On our final rest stop within the Crater, a very precocious monkey jumped into our vehicle and stole an apple because we inadvertently left the cooler opened – oops! We headed back to lodge for some afternoon tea and were pleasantly surprised that a hot bubble bath had been drawn – adorned with rose petals! We had another delicious dinner – this time in the opulent dining room next to the fireplace – followed by another tasty cake and cheerful birthday song! We were off to bed for an early drive to Lake Manyara where we would fly out to Faru Faru for a few days to end the safari.
Days 10-12 – After some coffee and saying goodbye to our excellent butler and the staff, we took a slow drive down the fog enshrouded mountain road – and, of course, came across a leopard! We arrived at Manyara airport and exchanged goodbyes and well wishes with our guide. Though we were sad to be parting with our new friend, we felt confident we would see him again as we already were talking about our next trip to Tanzania.
Our plane arrived on-time and we were shuttled off to Sasakwa airstrip for the private Grumeti Reserve. We were met there by a friendly member of the Faru Faru staff who shuttled us to a resort that needs to be experienced to be appreciated. I’ll simply say that Sharon from ADS was right – this was the perfect way to end a safari, completely immersed in unpretentious luxury with a staff that was exceptional. We spent three incredible days here, experienced amazing cuisine, met interesting people, went on exciting game drives – a cheetah hunt and kill comes to mind – and enjoyed incredible sunsets. We were totally rested and relaxed when it came time to head home.
Day 13 – It was now our turn to get teary eyed as we were about to head home. We had a beautiful flight back to Arusha and could appreciate the Serengeti even more now that we knew what was contained in the landscape beneath us. Once again the ADS staff was there on arrival, shuttled us to the Cultural Heritage Center for some souvenir shopping, got us situated at Mt. Meru Hotel for lunch and made sure we got back to Kilimanjaro in a timely manner for the trip home. We spent the next 30 hours reflecting on our incredible trip and how there was literally nothing we would have done differently.
People who know us have heard us say that the birth of our daughter is the first thing in life that has truly exceeded our expectations. The safari that ADS arranged for Lisa and me is the second. We both agree that this was by far the best trip we have ever taken. We cannot wait to do this again with our daughter. Thanks again Sharon and the rest of the ADS Team!
Michael and Lisa Boffa