We spent 7 days climbing the Machame route to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The next 5 days were on safari. The first day of safari was a day trip to Arusha National Park where we toured by LandCruiser, walked 2 hours with an armed ranger, and canoed for two hours on Small Lake Momela. The next four days was a camping safari to Tarangire, Serengeti, and Ngorongoro National Parks, camping a night in each of them. The three of us (men ages 27, 46, and 59) were very pleased with the whole experience.
The trek and safari were well planned, outfitted, and supported by owners and staff of African Scenic Safaris. Customizing the trip for the three of us was perfect! The regular correspondence from Amanda helped tremendously with the planning and arrangements and our comfort in doing something novel. None of us had been to Africa or been on a supported trip of this magnitude. The detail in responses and willingness to meet our schedule was very helpful. Also, having the trip costs detailed far in advance, including the recommended range of tips for each staff (guides, cooks, porters, etc) assisted in preparation and in making sure we were able to thank and tip each of the 20 staff personally and appropriately at the end of the trips. I think the pre-trip planning was great. Greeting each of us at the airport and the friendly reception was appreciated (especially when one is carrying thousands of dollars). Meeting Simbo and the lead guide (Dennis) to go through trip logistics and on-site gear check the day before the trek was beneficial. I have spent enough years leading field crews and boy scout trips that I appreciate the need to double-check gear and people, even for those well prepared.
The climb was great. Spending 7 days on the Machame route was clearly the best option. Walking up the southwest side to the western ridge, trekking across the southern slopes, and climbing the eastern ridge to the summit allowed us to experience not just the vertical change in landscapes and vegetation (tropical rain forest to high alpine tundra and volcanic landscape), but the variety of scenery across the southern half of the mountain. Every morning and evening the clouds cleared off for perfect views. Despite the winter weather on summit day, the clouds lifted enough to see the whole interior of the crater with its icefields, glaciers, and volcanic landscape. I thought the three of us were well prepared (both gear and personal fitness) and as a result, we thoroughly enjoyed every day on the mountain. Why someone would cut the trek to 5 or 6 days is beyond me. The extra day to acclimate and enjoy Karanga Camp, and to shorten the 5th day of hiking to Barafu Camp prior to summit night was a bonus. A 6 day trek on the Machame route requires a long day 4 (7-10 hours climb: 5 miles, 3,500 ft up and 1,200 down) followed by a couple hours sleep at 15,331 ft before climbing 4,000 ft to the summit at 19,341 ft, and a 9,276 foot descent to the day 5 camp. The guides, cook, and porters made it possible to experience the mountain at it fullest, so might as well maximize the time.
Dennis and Richard were excellent guides. They set a good pace, kept us on schedule (to avoid the afternoon rains), were very informative regarding plants and animals, and a pleasure to talk to. The schedule was, in my mind, beneficial to breaking camp early to give the porters time to clean up, walk to the next camp and set up. David (the camp master) did a great job of setting up camp. We were always comfortable and dry. The crew worked well together. It is a tough job yet they were very efficient and never seemed in a rush or too busy to greet us on arrival in camp. We appreciated their dedicated efforts. Alfred was a great cook, and Dennis John (DJo) a very pleasant meal host. The fresh fruit and veggies (pineapple, papaya, mango, oranges, bananas, etc) were a real treat, even though it represented a lot a weight for the porters. Alfred had lots of variety in the soups and main courses. We enjoyed all of it. The cook staff obviously cleaned the fruits and veggies (and dishes) well because we did not have any issues with intestinal distress - we were able to fully enjoy the trek. Our only suggestion (and only one) is that a chair with a back would be nice if the weight (I am not recommending the 4 kg folding type chairs) did not create an added stress to the porter or require another porter. I will admit, the personal tent and toilet were quite the luxury (thanks to Luigi).
The safari with David (the Bushmaster) and Aidano (Mr. Delicious) exceeded all our expectations.Turns out January was a great time to come because the migratory birds and animals were in the area. The light and occasional rains kept the temperature nice without making the roads too challenging. The modified Toyota Landcruiser was the perfect rig for negotiating the highways and gravel and mud roads. We had lots of space and the platform worked well to view the animals. I think a max of 4 people in the vehicle allows everyone to stand the whole time. We saw some vehicles with 6 people but it was cramped and camping gear had to be carried on the roof. We enjoyed the camping and the closeness to the animals and land. Elephants, hyenas, and Cape Buffalo are not common sites in camps in the U.S! Good choice of tents for the safari - lots of space to sleep and stand up to change clothes. The day in Arusha National Park was nice. I would do it again. The walk to view Cape Buffalo and giraffes up close and to talk to the ranger and wildlife student was a nice addition, and the canoe trip allowed us to see the hippos up close (safely) and to see the shorebirds (including flamingos and crowned cranes). Plus we saw the Colobus monkey.
David (the Bushmaster) made it possible to see and appreciate all the mammals, birds, and trees. He is extremely knowledgable and articulate. I am sure most guides know all the big mammals and big birds, but David also knew all the songbirds as well. It was clear that he worked hard to put us in position to see everything possible. I do not believe we missed seeing anything. We saw lions (males, females, and cubs), leopard, cheetah, and serval; elephants, rhinos, hippos (even a baby), hyenas, jackal, bat-eared foxes (cute), thousands of wildebeests and zebra, and gazelles, dik-dik, impala, waterbuck, elands, topi; every manner of eagle, hawk and kite, storks, ibis, flamingos, and songbirds. The list goes on. His knowledge of the animals and plants, as well as the human and geologic history, was quite commendable. In addition, he was a very enjoyable person to spend 5 days with. David was a good driver. It is tough to cover the distance we did in the amount of time allotted but he managed a good balance of covering distance when needed to maximize the time viewing. Under an ideal scenario, we could have spent one more day in the Serengeti and one more in Ngorongoro crater, but then more time is alway better. The distances are greater than we realized. Aidano (Mr. Delicious) whipped up wonderful breakfasts and dinners. We were spoiled! The BBQ’d pizza and quiche were quite the treats. Our hats off to him for raising the bar on car camping cookery.
The Hibiscus B&B worked well for us. Though pretty basic, the location was good, the staff friendly, the accommodations comfortable and clean, and breakfasts were good. It was very helpful to be able to duck in and out at three separate times and stash our extra gear when not needed for either the trek or safari. It is also an easy walk into town for dinners. It is a far calmer and more pleasant town than the big and busy Arusha. We would stay there again. Please pass our compliments along to Rebecca and her staff.
Also, we appreciate your support of the KPAP (Kilimanjaro Porter Assistance Project) and Path to Africa Charity. We prefer to see our funds go to a local outfitter and benefit the community.