Tanzania Camping Safari Experience

I contacted Anssi Rantamaa by telephone to ask him about his fantastic Tanzania camping safari and these were some of his answers...

Safari Location: Tanzania
Safari Company Used: African Servalcat Safaris
Duration: 6 days, October/November 2006
Traveller Details: Anssi Rantamaa, Canada
Rates & Availability: Plan your own safari. Make a Tanzania camping enquiry

Table of Contents
Safari Operator
Typical Day
Road Conditions
Tips, Advice & Rating

Which safari company did you travel with?

African Servalcat Safaris

Was it a pre-designed itinerary or tailor-made for you?

I think they actually created the Tanzania camping trip for us. It was serendipity because the British outfit called Explore, we had actually booked with them and they had just cancelled it almost at the last minute. Where as these guys were very nice and built the trip for us in our time slot.

What was Explore's excuse for cancelling the Tanzania camping tour?

They didn't have enough people. But I mean, we had paid them in April. And then in September while we were on holiday, they contacted our travel agent. We had all our air… everything was basically hinged around this trip; we had planned other things around it because it was sort of the central point and they pulled out and we were in a bit of a panic there.

How did Servalcat Safaris perform on the tour itself?

Well, we're not safari people. We were going to kayak and hike, so we had no standard to judge by but we thought they were wonderful. We think they were very useful, very friendly, accommodating, very warm people to deal with.

For example they met us at our hotel - the head honcho - we had done some e-mail correspondence with him so by the time we got there he wanted to come and say hi. Very nice, warm, friendly, African duo - Sylvester and his friend Peter they were very good.

Was their knowledge on the wildlife and the area any good?

It was way past very good. They understood everything. There wasn't anything they didn't seem to know about. Their knowledge was unparalleled. I'm a school teacher so I'm always full of questions and the two guys we had were wonderful. The first guide we had was Matthias on the Tanzania camping safari and he'd been guiding for over 20 years, so he knew his stuff. He knew where to find game, all the ins and outs, the little stuff that someone else might not know.

Would you recommend somebody else use them for their Tanzania camping safari?

Oh, without a doubt. Their prices weren't really cheaper but the service that we got was so individualised and suited us. We thought later, if we'd gone with Explorer they would have crammed us into one of those vehicles with 4 other people. And with Serval we got basically individual attention from our guide and cook.

How big was the group you travelled with?

It was myself, my wife the driver-guide and the cook that was on the Tanzania camping safari. And in Kenya it was just a driver because we were in the lodges at night. It was excellent.

Another aspect altogether - we were thrilled that the money that we put into the thing basically stayed in Africa. Where as if we booked with Explore, the British outfit, I'm sure some of the money would have gone there and Africa would get less of it. And I found out that Africa is pretty needy! We were almost forced into it; we went into the local company with some trepidation but then it turned out it wasn't warranted.

Where did you stay on your Tanzania camping tour and what was it like?

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We stayed in a village near Lake Manyare, it was actually the service we got was quite remarkable. It was a Tanzania camping thing right, so we put our tent up in a lawn in their little resort. It turns out they hired a Maasai to walk around all night to make sure that we weren't bothered.

I'm sure it didn't cost them much, but it was a nice touch. I heard some footsteps during the night and wondered who it was and it turned out we were guarded all night. We were near a village… my wife and I like to get in touch with locals so we didn't really worry but they worried on our behalf.

Then we went into the Serengeti and camped right in the Serengeti for 2 nights; and we stayed at the Ngorongoro Crater.

Tanzania camping sites are primitive. They weren't anything to write home about but we expected that kind of thing. One of the camps wasn't for the faint of heart, it was sort of right in the middle of the Serengeti, in the open. They had people with guns walking around at night because we were basically in the middle of the Serengeti. No fences… very wide open. I never saw a hint of anything except lovely little birds and a mongoose. The Serengeti is so big, I think as long as you camp near a sort of frequented game trail… I'm sure it's fine. I never felt any fear there.

I highly recommend visiting the Serengeti and going on a Tanzania camping safari. It's so immense; the immensity is what takes your breath away. It just goes on and on and on and on… even though there were concentrations of game in the different places. Also, wide open spaces where there's nothing like this camp. The nice thing about the camp, even though it was primitive, you could see in 360 degrees. If anybody had come in, you'd have known about it.

There were about 8-12 tents there, so we weren't by ourselves. I can't remember the name of it but it's one of the designated Tanzania camping sites in the Serengeti. The place seemed well organised; they took care of people. There were some presentations on the Serengeti that were very nice and very informative.

How about food… what was it like on the Tanzania camping safari?

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It was interesting - the fellow who was the cook had actually gone to a course for safari cooks and every day he put out a meal that was good, it wasn't 5-star dining but I can't think of anything that we didn't like.

It revolves all the time and usually some kind of flavoured soup and curried dishes. It wasn't the highlight but there were no negative things to remember about the food. It was very edible and many times delicious. It wasn't the thing I went there for … but I had no complaints about it.

How was the weather?

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My wife and I talked about that and thought we were so lucky. We were there for 46 days, but it rained one night and one morning on the way to the airport, and that was it. We just got back from another trip here at home, and had the same thing and I'm thinking one of these days we're going to go on a trip and it's going to be rain from start to finish!

That was a wonderful time of year - the end of the dry season. Maybe the plants aren't quite as luxurious, but I never used bug spray. I used sunscreen, but I never felt the need for bug spray. My wife got two or three bites somewhere along the way, but I don't remember getting bitten. And I was in Africa for almost 7 weeks. That was one of my great fears, you know in Africa - the bugs.

And did you take anti-malaria medication?

Yes, when we were in Malawi and on the Tanzania camping trip and Kenya we were taking Malerone. We had no side effects; we've taken it before. From what I understand it's the safest of the anti-malaria medication - it's a combination of two drugs and quite widely prescribed over here [Canada] anyway.

What wildlife did you see during the Tanzania camping safari?

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The very first day in the Serengeti, we watched a lion kill a zebra, basically right in front of us. We have shots of it, by the time the chase was over he was a little way away, but we still took pictures. It was just an incredible experience. It wasn't what we went there to see, but it was total serendipity to see it.

Our guide, who'd been doing it for 20 years, said he'd only see 3 kills in his whole time. So for us to see one on the first day was just unbelievable. It was so fascinating, you see it in pictures but to see it in real life was just amazing.

It was so close, the lion managed to snag a bit of the zebras tail and that slowed it down enough, it jumped on the back haunches, climbed across its back and then reached down and got it by the throat. It was amazing, absolutely.

And we were saying on the way there, we didn't have any requirement to see animals - if we saw them, good but if we didn't, no big deal. We were there, but we saw every imaginable animal. I think the only thing we missed, if you can imagine this, was watching a cheetah in full flight.

We saw cheetahs, we saw leopards, we saw lions, hippos, rhinos, everything. And the number of antelopes - these guys are incredible at spotting the antelopes, there are so many different kinds too.

Did the guides say this was out of the ordinary, or was it normal to them?

The kill was the extraordinary thing, seeing that but everything else seemed pretty normal that you would see lots of animals even in what they call the dry period, or the end of the dry period. There are just so many animals, and the guides seem to know where to look for them. He'd be driving out towards a hill and we'd be wondering where he's going and sure enough, there's something there.

Did you find there were lots of other vehicles that turned up at sightings on your Tanzania camping safari?

Yes, one thing that I noticed - in fact some of our guides eluded to it - some of the drivers that basically just listen to the radio and they go where others have spotted game. Now the two guides we had were genuine spotters. If someone would report something on the radio and it's something extraordinary they would go but normally they would find their own animals.

There's two different classes of guides you might have on a Tanzania camping trip: those who find the animals and those who listen to the radio and go to those who found them. We noticed while in Kenya, other guides went off in big groups but our guide went off on his own and we almost always found game that other people didn't see.

Describe a typical day of your Tanzania camping safari from the moment you woke up until you went to bed.

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I get up, and the cook is already making eggs or whatever was for breakfast. I'm a coffee addict, so I told them in the beginning, I need my coffee in the morning and I'd turn up every morning and there was coffee and juice and omelettes or scrambled eggs. Food isn't the highlight for me so I don't recall anything special.

We had breakfast and then around 8:30 or 9, we'd go for a game drive for 3 or 4 hours, maybe more and come back for lunch, let the food digest and go out for an evening game drive. Then come back, watch the sun go down and maybe chat with some of the people that were around the camp to find out what they had seen that day.

Did you ever get stuck anywhere, or break down?

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No. The guide in Kenya… I still marvel and I tell the story to anybody that listens … we had a Nissan 2-wheel drive with summer tyres; I looked for little ridges on the outside - there weren't any. And he went through mud … there were times that we were sideways and he just kept that thing going! He was amazing and I have nothing but respect for that. I used to rally in my younger days so I've driven on some rough roads and this was way past anything I could hope to do. With 2-wheel drive and summer tyres… unbelievable.

We never got stuck on our Tanzania camping safari - I expected to get stuck many times but he pulled through it. That's one thing - the roads - that people should be prepared for when they take a driving safari in Kenya or Tanzania - get ready for an "African Massage" as they call it. You're going to get thumped around real good.

So if someone's old and fragile they should probably go first rate and fly into the lodges. But I mean we loved it, even that part was exciting. The Serengeti is huge and the drive there is thump-thump-thump-thump. You do see cars broken down; big trucks that try to drive miles with heavy loads. We saw a whole bunch of those broken down and for good reason I'd imagine.

Some people complain about the dust… was that a problem for you at all?

There was dust, but I don't remember people complaining about it. The roads were atrocious. I'm not complaining about them but just as a matter of fact, I have so much respect for those drivers and their toughness. One guide had an old Land Rover Defender and it took the pounding of its life and I thought this car is going to give in any time! But it just kept on going.

They basically drive with two wheels in the shoulder and two on the road because the shoulder is actually better even though it's undulating and stuff like that, it's sort of softer. We got used to driving at a 15 degree angle. At first I thought where's he going, but then I realised that's the standard way of driving!

So do the vehicles go off-road in the Serengeti?

That was a touchy point, they sort of discourage them but a more knowledgeable driver will take a little detour, go off and come back. But I don't remember that being necessary more than once or twice.

But there are roads criss-crossing and because the animals aren't shy you'd go by thousands of Thompson's Gazelles, they're just sort of grazing by the side of the road, that's just what they do. These vehicles have never bothered them yet, so they just carry on naturally. They do seem to move away a bit if you stop but if you just slowly cruise by they go about their business. It's wonderful.

I say watching the kill on our Tanzania camping tour was a highlight, but we actually watched six other chases or hunts, where you could see the lion was actively hunting. So that one time it was successful and five times, it didn't work out.

Was there anything that didn’t meet your expectations on the trip; any disappointments or regrets?

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The one thing that sort of bothered us, and it wasn't anything to do with the guides. You go to these craft shops and they have the same kind of stuff and a lot of it looks like it was made in some factory somewhere. After visiting a few shops with the same things you get the feeling that they are all mass produced somewhere. At least, it feels that way - maybe I'm wrong.

We didn't go on a Tanzania camping trip to buy trinkets and stuff but there was a lot of same-ness. It's kind of sad, we should support them, but we just didn't get the sense that much of it was authentic. I don't know, going to Africa and buying something mass produced just didn't do it for us.

Can you offer any tips and advice to others planning a Tanzania camping safari?

It depends so much on the person, what they're used to. I think, smile a lot … we were constantly approached to buy things and we found that the trick was to smile and say "thank you, no." Just keep on smiling.

I guess the thing is to remind people that you're going to a third world and that was what helped us to enjoy ourselves. We didn't have high expectations. We wanted to see the nature, the people and we sort of took everything as a plus. We didn't have a check list of things "oh we have to see this, we have to see that". We just went for the total experience and as it turned out we got everything we wanted, and more.

What was the most useful item in your luggage?

We did take too many clothes on our Tanzania camping safari; I think most people do that. Sunscreen, especially for people with fair skin like my wife and I. Oh and my Tilly, big wide rimmed hat.

Did you take binoculars with, or did they supply it?

We took our own small binoculars. We had some trepidations about Africa, about losing stuff so I didn't take my best binoculars so I took just basically "throw away" ones.

We got fairly close to things on this Tanzania camping tour, the animals have grown up with these vehicles running around and they are used to them. In the Ngorongoro Crater, we had a pride of lions sort of wandering around 12 vehicles, go into the shade of the vehicle and just sit there and relax while we're looking at them. So most of the animals have learned how to ignore vehicles. So binoculars are useful but not that necessary, amazingly enough.

The Serengeti is remarkable diverse… I mean there are big open spaces but there are also rocky areas, you get some variety in there but the animals… you have so many different roads you can take, you wind up being next-door to animals very often.

How would you rate your Tanzania camping safari, on a scale of 1 to 10?

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I'm an old teacher so I never give anybody a 10! But definitely a 9. 9 and a half! When I think back, anything that was weird just went away. I have no regrets or wish anything had been different.

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