I can personally attest that the animals in Tanzania while compelling to photograph, are merely just a component to what is arguably one of the most photogenic locations I have ever visited in my guiding career.
Nowhere on earth can you find all these apex predators that follow the worlds most massive land migration that has been happening since man has inhabited earth... the Wildebeest Migration. All in the beautiful area of Tanzania called the Serengeti.
It has been seven years since I first visited Tanzania. I remember people telling me before my first visit that Africa gets into your soul. It becomes this unquenchable thirst that you can’t ignore. I laughed then… I am a convert now. It is just SO true.
This year's trips were no different. In March/April of 2019, I had two workshops. Each with 6 enthusiastic photographers. Some had been there before; others were going there for the first time.
Both trips start as all my Tanzania trips do. A night at Rivertrees Lodge. While one night is sufficient, I would suggest coming in a day early. Spend a couple of nights at Rivertrees Lodge or another lodge around Arusha. Start to get acclimated to the time change you are going to encounter. Your safari days can be long and hot.
I like the Rivertrees Lodge as a starting point. Depending on the time of year there is some good birdlife. There are also Blue Monkey and Abyssinian black-and-white colobus Monkey that lives in and around the grounds.
And let's not forget…one of the best Wood Oven pizzas here… nothing better than a wood oven pizza and a Tusker on an outside patio at Rivertrees after a long journey from home. Below you will find a couple of images from Rivertrees Lodge.
You’ve got two options when you depart Rivertrees to embark on your safari. One – drive to one of the local parks for one-day game drives. Manyara or Ngorongoro Crater are two of the most popular. Two – Drive to the Arusha airport and fly directly out to the Serengeti.
On my first safari this year we drove out to Ngorongoro Crater and spent a day there before driving onward to the Serengeti. On the second trip, we flew directly to the Serengeti and skipped Ngorongoro Crater. If you have never been on a safari, a trip to Ngorongoro is a good idea to start your safari. Its a good introduction to all the wildlife in one area and a good way to get used to being in the safari vehicle.
If you are experienced going on safaris, skip the Crater and go right to the Serengeti. If you’ve been on safari in Kenya or Botswana etc., the Crater will feel like a Disneyland ride and probably bore you. But, that's just my opinion.
If you drive out to the Serengeti as we did on my first trip, chances are you are going to hit the Ndutu area. The Ndutu area is famed for its short grass plains which grow grass which is particularly rich in nutrients and sustains the migratory animals whilst they have their babies. Traditionally the wildebeest and zebra tend to calve on these plains with a peak around February. We were there in March.
This time of year makes for a beautiful natural spectacle and some exciting predator hunting behaviours. It is also an area where you can go off-road. Yep, I said, “Off-Road”. Let me explain this to those of you that might not know what I am talking about.
The Serengeti National Park contains a series of main roads and side roads that safari vehicles take you on to see the wildlife and landscapes. You just can’t drive anywhere you want. While the arterial road system is set up to try and maximize your wildlife sightings, you just cant go off the road and drive closer to that Lion you see 500yrds away.
The Ndutu area does not have the same kind of road containment restrictions. The grassy plains area that Ndutu is a part of extends from the Serengeti itself into the Ngorongoro Conservation area and far up to the Gol Mountains and the edge of the Rift Valley above Lake Natron (The Salei Plains). In much of this area, there are no more than a handful of arterial roads, and the majority of the area is open to off-road driving.
The off-road capability is a huge reason why I go to this area between December to March. The main reason is still the Migration and calving season.
Let’s stick on the topic of off-road access for a minute. This is something I always invest in when I am taking people on a safari. It allows the people that traveled with me this year to be able to have better access to the wildlife when we left the Ndutu area.
It is not cheap, and the prices just went up again. If you are looking at going on a safari with someone, ask them if they have off-road permits, ask them what their permit allows and make sure you understand what restrictions will be imposed on your Safari Workshop.
I am speaking from experience here when I say, “It could be the difference between getting good tourist photos and getting awesome Magazine caliber images.”
Getting a Cheetah on a termite mound like in the photo below does not just happen driving down the road. I mean, it can, but you will be with many other safari vehicles, and you may not have great lighting conditions. Doesn’t it sound much better to just follow a Cheetah off-road and be in the perfect position without any other cars in your shot?
Or take the shot below of the two male lions Chuffing and Roaring. They just don’t sit beside the road and wait for safari vehicles to come by in golden sunrise light. You need to have the freedom of the off-road permit like I did. good guides like my two guys I use and the secondary vehicles that are out spotting for you to ensure the photographic success you envisioned before you left on your safari.
Sorry to sound harsh. But if you are spending your hard earned money to go on a safari to Tanzania… You need to know the reality of a safari so you can make the right decision on who to go with.
Because both of my safaris in 2019 were in March, I focused on the area east and west of Ndutu. I wanted to make sure that we saw the Wildebeest Migration. Some years in March I have seen them before they have gotten down to the Ndutu area, some years they have already passed that area traveled to the west.
In 2019 the Wildebeest herds had already traveled well past Ndutu and started to head towards the Grumeti River. But the grass was dry because of lack of rains in the west. During my first workshop, the herds had turned back, and we were lucky to see large herds in excess fo 150,000 in Central Serengeti.
During my second workshop, we saw the same herds a little north of the Ndutu area. The group in the second week were lucky to see multiple herds of 100,000+ come together to form a massive herd that we ended up in the middle of. We estimated over 200,000 Wildebeest.
While I stayed in the south for this workshop, there are other options for you. You can go at different times of the year and see the Wildebeest Migration as it does its annual circle. Or, just pick an area and go see any number of predators and prey in amazing landscapes. People go in August and September to the north to see the famous Mara crossing of the Wildebeest, or they stick to Central Serengeti where there are lion prides, hippos, elephants, giraffe, and many other species while staying at a lodge.
There are endless options, including the different caliber of lodges and camps to choose from. I have my preferences; other tour leaders will have theirs. It is best to ask where you are staying to ensure that it is a standard of accommodation that you expect.
I have been to Tanzania many times now. I have my preferred camps that know me and what my groups need. Editing areas – Laundry Services – Sundowners – Bush Breakfasts – Three people per vehicle to give everyone access to both sides of the vehicles in their own row –Scouting help by other vehicles to help my groups maximize their time with animals. All the things I would be happy to talk to you about.
I could not lead successful safaris without the guides. For the last 4 safaris in Tanzania I have requested who I consider two of the best guides out there. Baraka and John. They are more than guides to me. they are friends. Seeing them on each safari is a pleasure. Lots of laughs, And if you’ve been there with me, you know Baraka always steals my bacon unless I get to the breakfast boxes first.
They take care of my groups. They have a wealth of knowledge and ALWAYS put us in front of the scenes people came to the Serengeti to find.
Baraka, John and I will be leading two more groups in February of 2021. These safaris will be centred around the Wildebeest Migration in three of my favorite camps. We will be announcing these workshops in October of 2019. If you want to know more before we launch them, please contact me here.