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Monday, March 30, 2015

Be Wary of Circuit Routes and Name-Brand Hotels When Choosing a Safari

The last two weeks I had the privilege of traveling with Rob Barbour around northern Tanzania, with stops in Arusha and Arusha National Park, the southern Amboseli plains, Mwiba Wildlife Reserve, Ngorongoro Crater, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Kusini Camp in the southern Serengeti, the Grumeti Wildlife Reserve, and the Lamai section of the northern Serengeti, where the legendary wildebeest migration takes place across the Mara River. Rob not only serves as director of African operations for the safari operator, Epic Private Journeys, but he’s a native Tanzanian who formerly owned his own lodges in Lamai and Ruaha National Park in southern Tanzania. It seems like every restaurant, hotel, and airport stop we made, he ran into an old friend. What was invaluable to me was the wealth of information he shared on taking a safari in Africa, knowledge accumulated over a lifetime. This week, I’ll be sharing some of his tips to ensure that your next safari is indeed a once in a lifetime opportunity. 

 
Throughout the trip, Rob emphasized that you can’t pick a safari based on hotel name. You design a safari itinerary on where the wildlife will be that time of year and than combine 3 or 4 properties near the wildlife that will best suit your needs, whether an upscale boutique hotel or a mobile tent deep in the African bush. Actually, to get the true African flavor, it’s best to have a combination of both, like 3 nights at Alex Walker's Serian camps in Serengeti, combined with an exclusive stay at one of the private wildlife reserves say Singita Grumeti or the relatively new Mwiba Lodge
 
The most important thing is not to be seduced by name. Outfitters like Abercrombie & Kent or andBeyond will design a circuit solely based on their properties. That’s wonderful when staying at A&K’s Olonana Sanctuary on Kenya’s Mara River, where you wake up to breakfast with views of the hippos swimming. Not so great if you’re staying at A&K’s outpost near the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, where tents were lined up practically on top of each other. andBeyond’s Ngorongoro Crater Lodge and it’s over-the-top “Out of Africa” style is easily the best property in the region. But in Grumeti, andBeyond will put you in their own tents, which doesn’t offer the same privileges of staying at Singita Grumeti, like night drives and off-road driving to get closer to the wildlife. So it’s best to mix and match with a company like Epic Private Journeys who simply want the best experience and don’t have loyalty to one name. Also be wary of the big name hotelier. For example, Four Seasons Serengeti is located in central Serengeti in a locale far away from the both the wildebeest migration in summer and winter. It’s actually best in late February and March.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/30/15 at 06:00 AM
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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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