Naipenda Safaris Review (Tanzania)

by Joel Otte
(Ellerslie, Auckland, New Zealand)

Naipenda Safaris At Your Service

Naipenda Safaris At Your Service

Due to my work and travel schedule I planned to do a safari in December 2006. One of my key criteria was: Go where the animals are likely to be. I had never done a safari before, nor been to Africa, so I was open to where I might end up geographically.

At that time of year it appeared to me that my best opportunity to see all of Africa's "Big Five" (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino) was in Tanzania, particularly in the Serengeti and in Ngorongoro Crater.Given long distances and costs I wanted to get my first, and perhaps only safari, "right".


As I e-mailed various safari providers who did safaris in the areas I was interested in, my thinking evolved. Simply stated, in order of priority there were several key variables:

  • your guide

  • your vehicle

  • how many customers are with you

  • your accommodations

  • All of this, of course, at a good price when taking into account value received.

    Article: Choosing the right safari operators »


    I can't stress enough the importance of getting a really good guide. My guide was Chris Sebastian and his skills were excellent, personality very affable, wildlife spotting capability (particularly birds) outstanding. Most every day from before sun up to sun down we spent together, so importance of getting someone who works well for you is key. Chris had some amazing stories, including being taken on a wild underwater ride by a huge crocodile. Chris was very lucky to live through that experience and he's got the scars to prove it.


    Having a good/comfortable/reliable vehicle is also very important as is availability of a back-up vehicle if anything goes wrong. If your vehicle breaks down, you won't be seeing many animals! We saw all sorts of vehicles out on the plains. We had a Toyota SUV which was quite new and I didn't see anything else out there that seemed newer/better than the Toyota. Other safari companies were using Land Rovers (which I'd rate in second place due to the fact they were less comfortable to ride in). Then there was everything else including mini-vans that the more budget operators tended to use. I would not recommend a mini-van unless you have no other alternative for your budget.

    Excellent, very reliable and comfortable given rough driving conditions. Only vehicular casualty one tire (an extra) that was losing some air pressure.


    The next criteria turned out to be important: How many customers are with you? Frankly if you have other customers who are going to be with you, they'll have their own ideas about what they want to do. What will the guide do if they want to see lions, but you want to see birds? Or visa versa? You may luck out and find that the other customers are thinking like you, but maybe not!

    So, when I considered what extra cost was involved (not that much), I decided that I wanted to do my safari with just the guide and me. This gave me total flexibility; I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. As a result I had a much more intense safari experience than most people do. Chris said we spent far more hours per day out actually looking at animals and birds. From my perspective this was ideal, after all I had come to Africa to actually look at animals, not stay in my room!


    To me the least important thing, within reason, was my accommodations. I only stayed in two places during my safari experience and both were excellent. In the Serengeti/Ndutu Plains I stayed at the Ndutu Safari Lodge. This Lodge is off the typical tourist tracks and you have to travel many miles on a local dirt road to get there. I really enjoyed the authentic feeling of this place, seeming to me more of the "older Africa". Several wildlife photograph crews based here and had been there for more than one month.

    At Ngorongoro Crater stayed at the Sopa Lodge which is on the east rim of the Crater. Spectacular setting with fabulous sunset (and lightning!) views. Turned out that some of the best bird photographs that I got in Africa were right there at the Lodge. This lodge was more touristy than Ndutu and facilities were more modern, more hotel like. For people going to these locations I'd definitely recommend both.


    I sent out a bunch of e-mails to various safari companies. And I got some responses. It's interesting to me for companies who are in the safari business, quite a few never replied . . . ever! Naipenda was not only the fastest to respond, but also the most informative and responsive to the heaps of questions that I asked. The only other company that I had much of a dialogue with was Sunny Safaris, but it quickly became evident that they were into "packaged tours" and did not want to deviate from the norm.

    Top 3 operators for a Tanzania safari »

    Jo Bertone was my key contact at Naipenda. Naipenda maintained offices in both Arusha, Tanzania and in the USA. This turned out to be another important point. I wanted to be dealing with a safari company that actually did the safaris themselves with their equipment and personnel. Several of the "big names" that are very expensive actually contract their safaris out to others. So, I added to my list of requirements that my safari company must maintain an operating office in Tanzania (by number most are in Arusha that service the Serengeti and Ngorongoro).

    Jo was outstanding to work with and never once did she shy away from answering questions or putting me in contact with prior customers. Everyone that I spoke with by e-mail had extremely high and detailed praise for both Naipenda and Chris Sebastian. Many of the prior customers that I spoke with said that their standards of service were very high and that they were quite demanding. I'd definitely say that I fit this profile too! So, if you are demanding and really want a great experience than Naipenda would be a great choice!

    As I worked with Jo we developed a custom package, perfectly suited to my desires. In order to make the best use of my time, I elected to fly one-way from Arusha directly into the Serengeti. This effectively added one day to my animal viewing experiences as a drive from Arusha to Serengeti would be a very long day indeed. Over the course of my safari we worked our way back to Arusha going from the Serengeti to Ndutu to Ngorongoro and then back to Arusha.

    I just cannot sing the praises loudly enough for this extremely well run and professional safari company. Chris my guide was outstanding. Jo Bertone incredibly knowledgeable and patient as evidenced by the 92 e-mails that went back and forth before I took the safari.


    Over 90 different species of animals and birds seen, including all of Africa's "Big Five".

    Wildlife and bird viewing and photo opportunities: excellent.


    In addition to outstanding Naipenda staff including Chris Sebastian, Jo Bertone and Israel Mwanga, thanks also to other customers who helped me by sharing their experiences.

    My sense is that Naipenda pays its guides well. Treating staff well is, I believe, a key component in keeping and attracting good guides. When I asked Jo Bertone how I could best show my appreciation for an outstanding safari, she said that money/tip was best way to do this as the typical standard of living in Tanzania was very low compared to most other places in the world, certainly compared to the developed world. So, I left my Naipenda Safari thoroughly satisfied and I hope that Chris was benefitted by what I hope he felt was a generous tip as well as by the country and western CD's that I gave him.

    Joel's Safari Details:

    Rating: 10/10, the best!

    Safari company used: Naipenda Safaris
    (make an enquiry)

    Parks visited: Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater

    Date of safari: 6 December for 8 days

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  • Comments for Naipenda Safaris Review (Tanzania)

    Click here to add your own comments

    Dec 08, 2008
    by: sj

    hi there
    excellent and informative review. I'm sure others have asked, but would you mind divulging the price you paid for your safari or a rough idea? Thanks and great job!

    Jan 16, 2009
    Need email address
    by: Usha

    Can you please pass on the email address for the different tour operators you had considered for your trip.


    Feb 28, 2009
    Cost For Naipenda Safari
    by: Joel Otte

    SJ, The cost of the safari was $3232 US. This included all food, lodging and transportation from the moment I got off the plane at Kilimanjaro Airport until I returned there. The cost included a one-way airplane ticket out into the Serengeti. Libations, if desired, are extra.

    Hope this assists you in your planning efforts.

    Feb 28, 2009
    Safari Operators That I Contacted
    by: Joel Otte

    Hi Usha. These are the safari companies that I contacted:

    Africa Dreams Safaris
    Africa Exlusive Limited *
    African Mecca Safaris * (wanted $50 US before they'd provide any information)
    Amazing Tanzania
    Naipenda Safaris *
    Nigel Perks Safaris *
    Roy's Safaris
    Safari In Style
    Sunny Safaris *
    Tanzania Adventure *
    Tanzania For You
    Tanzania Safari
    Tanzania Serengeti Adventure *
    Tanzania Odyssey
    Zambezi *

    Only companies with a * bothered to respond at all to my e-mail (less than 50%). Interesting. Hope this information is useful.

    Mar 20, 2009
    Length of Safari
    by: GW


    How many days did you spend on Safari?


    Mar 30, 2009
    by: BT


    My friend and I are trying to do a kili/safari in Tanzania.

    We've contacted Naipenda bc they were recommended by the nonprofit we're working with prior to the hike/safari, but we were also looking at the companies recommended by "The Rough Guide to Tanzania."

    The one that looked good here was the Keys Hotel.

    Have you heard anything about Keys? This is a difficult decision.

    Mar 31, 2009
    Safari Length
    by: Joel Otte

    Hi Octoid - - -

    The length of my safari was 8 days.

    If you are short on time, I was, then flying at least one way into the Serengeti can add almost a full day of animal viewing if you get an early flight from Arusha.



    Mar 31, 2009
    Safari & Kilimanjaro
    by: Joel Otte

    Hi BC - - -

    I've not had any experience with Keys Hotel.

    From their web site it looks like they're a combination hotel chain and travel agency. Beyond that it is unclear to me what their expertise is regarding climbing and safari expeditions.

    I was somewhat surprised to see that they were not listed in the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators . . . further investigation suggested.

    I think a Kili expedition and a safari are very different things! I think it is unlikely that one company would do both very well. I'd consider booking the safari with someone who specializes in safaris and booking the Kilimanjaro climb with someone who specializes in that.

    I've also used Rough Guides to help in selection of travel related matters. Often I find that even with a recent edition that information can be outdated and that things have changed simply with the passing of time.

    Given the physical location of Keys, I'm guessing they have somewhat more expertise in Kili than they do in safaris. When I did my safari the largest number of Tanzanian safari companies were based in/near Arusha.

    Good luck in your decision making!


    Jun 16, 2010
    Tanzania Adventure
    by: Sharon Pye-Finch, Toronto Canada

    We travelled to Tanzania in June 2009. Our tour operator was also Naipenda Safaris. We chose them because they have an office in Texas and Arusha. Their guides are also all local.

    I have to say that we enjoyed Tanzania so much that we are going back. We went to the Serengeti, and to lake Eyasi. There we saw the Hadzabe tribe and even went on a hunt with them.

    We also went to the Ngorongoro crater, and Lake Manyara. It was the best Africa Safari experience of my life. We saw so many lions, and elephants that we lost count.

    The entire trip from start to finish was just perfect, and I have to thank Jo Bertone for her excellent organizational skills. I would definately recommend them as a tour operator for anyone.

    Jun 21, 2010
    Voting With My Feet - Naipenda Safaris Here We Come
    by: Joel Otte

    Hi Sharon Pye-Finch - - -

    Good to get your message that you plan to use Naipenda again . . . I do too!

    Less than 10 days away from leaving for Africa and another safari with Naipenda, this time with my children.

    It will be interesting to see the differences between my Tanzanian safari in early December contrasted with one in early July. On this particular safari we plan to place a little greater emphasis on bird watching and we're curious about what we'll see.

    Cheers and have an enjoyable trip!


    Jul 24, 2011
    Naipenda is Awesome
    by: Doug

    I have just returned from a nine day safari with Naipenda Safaris and it was unbelievably fantastic. I have been on Safari in South Africa (Kruger) and this was head and shoulders above that experience.

    Isreal Mwanga went out of his way to make us happy and we saw game in their natural settings, feeding and interacting with one another. Our driver Mansour Seng'enge was an incredible spotter and taught us so much Swahili and about the wildlife and life for humans in Tanzania.

    You will not be disappointed with Naipenda.

    Oct 03, 2011
    Napienda -- simply THE BEST
    by: John Dawson

    My wife and I did a 10 day safari in Tanzania in August 2011. Chris Sebastian Boya was our guide. HE IS AMAZING!! I know Africa wildlife--a wildlife college degree and a retired Game Warden. I know wildlife. Chris knew more than me and you've got to have a knowledgeable guide. We often times were alone viewing an amazing sight. He does not follow the herd of Toyotas that scurry back and forth following the radio chatter. He KNOWS where to go. LaMala Mara tented camp was the REAL Africa--awesome. Hemingway's Africa. Sopa Lodge is ideally located--but a big big lodge. Mbozi Mawee camp was luxurious awesome. Lions roaring nearby at night. Napienda was the brains behind our wonderful trip. They know the country, the distances and where to stay and what to see. Go Napienda if you go. Thanks Chris and Napienda.

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