How to avoid crowds in the Ngorongoro Crater

How to avoid crowds in the Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro without the crowds…

 

Its wealth of natural attractions make the Ngorongoro Crater a particularly sought-after spot for wildlife enthusiasts coming on safari in northern Tanzania. As a consequence it can get very busy – but there are ways to avoid the crowds!

“Its wealth of natural attractions…”

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a Unesco world heritage site in northern Tanzania. The focus is the outstanding Ngorongoro Crater which, at 16kms diameter, is the world’s largest caldera (the remains of an extinct volcano).

As well as savannah grasslands and acacia forest there is a freshwater lake and a soda lake. The ancient landscape is dramatic and very photogenic, and within the walls of the crater live a diverse range of species including hippos, elephants, zebras, antelopes, hyenas, lions, cheetahs and even black rhinos. The birdlife here is also excellent.

In my opinion the Crater is still worth visiting even with the large number of visitors that you’ll be sharing the sights with.

However much you pay for your safari you should always expect people and other vehicles to be around, but there are ways to give yourself the best chance of keeping away from the crowds.

 

 

Consider travelling in the low season

Low generally means rainy, so that’s from about mid-March to the end of May when the long rains are due. Certainly the rain puts a lot of travellers off coming, and of course game viewing is never quite as wonderful in the rain, but it doesn’t always rain and the hotels and lodges that stay open at this time also tend to offer some very good deals on prices. Grab yourself a bargain and hope for the best.

Stay overnight close to the Crater

There are two entrance roads to get into the crater. More people use the one in the west, and it tends to take longer to get down from that side. If you stay in a lodge on the east side, you can use what is generally known as the Sopa road and you’ll be one of the first into the Crater if you set off early. This might give you at least an hour (or more) before the main crowds arrive as many come from much further away.

Choose a guide/driver who is not lazy! 

Some drivers simply look out for other vehicles stopping and then head towards them assuming that they’ve seen something good (or they radio to them to ask). This way of game driving inevitably leads to bunches of vehicles around sightings – not good for the animal and not good for most true wildlife enthusiasts. Whilst you won’t be able to avoid some of this, and will have to share viewing experiences, we tend to advise our drivers not to head for masses of vehicles, but rather head away from them. There is always something else to see, and you might see it by yourself if you allow for that chance to happen.

Book a private picnic

The Crater has a few (very few) private picnic spots. These are a really wonderful way to enjoy the Crater without other people around. They can only be booked in advance and all drivers know that they are not allowed there if they have not reserved the spot. How perfect to sit in a beautiful area of the Crater enjoying a gorgeous brunch or lunch with just you, your party/family and your guides. Certainly this is added expense, but we highly recommend this as a special treat!

CAN WE HELP YOU AVOID THE CROWDS?

We’d love to help you take in the Ngorongoro Crater but leave out the crowds.

Our Tanzania experts can tailor-make a holiday for you or you might like to consider one of these itineraries:

A Taste of Tanzania

On this eight-day holiday you’ll have your own driver/guide, stay in good quality camps and lodges and visit three key areas for wildlife – Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and Manyara or Tarangire.

Tanzania Family Safari and Beach

 This 11-day holiday is a real family-pleaser, combining safaris in Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire with five nights on the spice island of Zanzibar. 

4 good reasons to visit Chile

4 good reasons to visit Chile

4 good reasons
to visit Chile

“The length of Chile equates to the distance between Moscow and Lisbon,” a guide told me, as we stood on Santa Lucia hill looking down at the capital, Santiago, ringed by mountains.

This was my first time in Chile and, though I had some notion of what I was coming for – stunning scenery, good food and wine – the reality was twenty times better than I expected.

I will write more detailed blogs about the country, but this is my initial overview offering my views as to why you should definitely make the journey to this wonderful, skinny country.

01 – Truly awe-inspiring scenery

In a country as long as Chile, you’d expect there to be some diverse and fabulous scenery. I expected some good desert scenery in the Atacama in the north, but this was far more varied than I ever thought possible, with weird and wonderful rock formations, sand dunes, salt lakes, oases, geyser fields … and with the volcanic Andean mountains giving the most perfect backdrop.
In the south, Patagonia is a raw place ranging from miles of windswept, often waterlogged lowlands where sheep are king, to the stunning icefields, glaciers and rock monoliths of Torres del Paine National Park. It is jaw-droppingly beautiful.
I spent less time in the central area, but here you have winelands and lakes, traditional islands and, of course, off the mainland there is also Easter Island. These are more gentle landscapes than those at the country’s extremities, but nonetheless wonderful.

Have a look for yourself.

02 – Diverse activities

In my 11 days in Chile I have hiked up a mountain to watch condors at eye level, and visited remote rocky outcrops to see ancient petroglyphs. I have been horse riding around a glacial lake, and watched in awe as hot water and steam shot out of innumerable geysers surrounded by snow-capped Andean mountains. I have watched the night sky lit up with more stars than I’ve ever seen before, and watched lenticular clouds encircle perfect volcanoes. I’ve met llamas, guanacos, vicunas, vizcachas (which look like rabbits), condors, flamingos, rheas (like small ostriches), caracaras (a raptor), black-necked swans and caiquen (upland geese always seen in couples) – sadly we just missed seeing a puma. I’ve toured a city where street art has become the main reason for visiting, and I’ve eaten great meals and tasted special wines.

03 – Excellent food and wine

Chile is obviously known for its wines and, after an evening’s wine tasting, I now know that I like quite a few of them! What I didn’t know, though, was that the food would be so good. I had some memorable meals here, with, perhaps surprisingly, my standout meal being a beetroot salad starter courtesy of Remote Patagonia hotel in Puerto Natales. It tasted as good as it looked, which was gorgeous.

04 – Great people

Shaking hands with the guide who had just taken us for a magical day in Torres del Paine, he said to me with a serious face, “Just think how brilliant it would have been with a good guide!” Then winked and walked away.
This is just one example of the reason I like Chileans; they have a great sense of humour and don’t take themselves too seriously. They are easy to spend time with, have an infectious love of their country, and they love wilderness (at least many of the people I met).

See anything you like? I hope so. We’d love to make your holiday extra special – you only have to ask!

Trying tailor-made

Trying tailor-made

Trying tailor-made

Tailor-made holidays are all about getting to do what you want, when you want, for as long as you want, and where you want. Fancy giving it a try?

…a personal holiday planning service…

It’s a personal holiday planning service. A tailor-made travel company such as Tribes will talk to you about what experiences you’re hoping for from your time away, and work with you to get as close as possible to your dream.

This flexibility means that you could, for example, choose to have a few days in a luxury lodge on the beach, but follow that with some real adventure trekking in the rainforest.  Or you might want to join a group trip for the first week of your holiday then have another week doing your own thing.

A tailor-made holiday also allows you to choose the specific accommodation and methods of transport that you fancy (subject to availability of course) and pick the most appropriate activities and experiences for your interests.

In comparison with a group holiday you will probably be paying extra, as you don’t get the economies of scale when it comes to sharing costs of transport, guides and so on.  However, you can still very much expect value for money.

Tailor-made doesn’t have to be all about taking a luxury trip. Sometimes set (or even flexible) itineraries, however great, just don’t fit what you need, whether that’s in terms of activities or even just timing. Recently, for example, we had a client who needed two mini-breaks tailored to sit either side of a conference her husband was attending in Costa Rica – she struggled for weeks to find a company to create these for her until she came to Tribes.

You get to talk to one of our friendly consultants.

Tailor-made with Tribes

When you talk tailor-made to us we start by getting a picture of what you want, whether that’s a set of parameters to work with or a highly-detailed wishlist, along with an indication of your holiday budget.

You’ll be dealing throughout with one of our friendly consultants, someone who loves, specialises in and really knows the region you want to travel to, and who can suggest improvements/amendments that might make your dream trip even better. They will know all about those added extras, such as bespoke experiences or excursions off the beaten track, that make a good holiday into a trip of a lifetime, and, once they understand how you tick and the specific requirements you and your fellow travellers have, can suggest things that you may never have thought of but that add immeasurably to the whole experience. And they don’t work on commission, so can give you truly impartial advice.

To help us get a clear picture of what would work best for you, in addition to bearing in mind your approximate budget, we’d need to know things like:

 

  • How many of you will be travelling – and will there be any children or travellers with specific needs (e.g. disabled travellers) in the party?
  • How long would you like your holiday to be and when (or approximately when) would you like to travel?
  • Is there are particular country orregion that you want to go to?
  • What you hope for from this holiday – is it for deep relaxation, an action-packed adventure, or perhaps you want to immerse yourself in culture?
  • If there is something specific you want to do – perhaps you’ve always dreamed of horse riding in Patagonia, hiking along the Inca trail or mastering the art of a particular cuisine?
  • Whether you’ve set your heart (and budget) on luxury hotels and spas throughout or have a yen for rustic lodges or perhaps wild camping in the African bush, and whether you want beach, mountain, desert, rainforest, city – or a bit of everything!

Then we start to plan your trip – always remembering that it is your trip.

You’re never presented with a ‘take it or leave it’ itinerary (unless there is a lack of availability), we work closely with you to truly create a bespoke itinerary that gets as close as possible to what you’ve set your heart on. And, once your trip is booked, we are still there for you, making sure you have everything you need both in the lead-up to and on your holiday.

 

© Shutterstock – Joseph Mortimer

A client who travelled tailor-made to India with us recently commented, “Paul put together a great holiday for us – he listened to what we wanted and made the itinerary accordingly”, while a client for whom we tailor-made a holiday in Ecuador said “It was planned to be a memorable and unique holiday and that’s how it turned out so we were delighted.”

Going tailor-made – what you need to know

Finding a really good travel company and consultant that you trust is key.  You need someone who is going to listen to you carefully so that they understand clearly what you are wanting from your holiday.

A consultant that has a good range of destination knowledge is also important, as they are able to compare different places for you, and so get you closer to the experience you are looking for.  Hopefully they have visited many of the places which are on your wishlist, and maybe also know quite a few of the lodges and hotels you could consider.

Obviously, for a really special and luxury holiday, you don’t want to worry about your services. You want to know that everything will run like clockwork, that the services are high quality, and that you also have good backup in case of unforeseen problems.  So, choosing a reputable company is critical. Look for membership of trade organisations such as AITO (Association of Independent Tour Operators) who have quality standards for their members.  And testimonials can give you a good idea of a company’s reputation, as long as there are plenty of them, so it’s obvious they’ve not been made up!

Here is a checklist of things to look for in a travel company:

  1. Has the company been going for some time?
  2. Are they members of AITO or other industry associations which promote quality?
  3. Do they have all the required licences? Are they bonded with ATOL (5802) and ABTOT so able to provide 100% financial protection?
  4. Do they have any regard to social and environmental responsibility?
  5. Are there testimonials from previous clients you can read?  Or perhaps even an actual client they can put you in touch with? Or maybe verified client satisfaction ratings?
  6. Do they have consultants who really know their destinations well?
  7. Do the consultants work on commission?  On the whole, you might expect a more honest service from those not on commission.
  8. Is the company independent and can therefore sell any services and properties they wish, or are they tied to certain hotel chains etc?   Don’t limit your choices unwittingly.
  9. Does the company put enough store on your health and safety?
  10. Do they have adequate back up services in case you have a problem?

Any good company should be able to answer all of these questions easily and positively.

So, for a very special holiday, don’t risk your money and your precious time. Get help from a good tailor-made holiday company. There are lots out there – and one right here!

Meeting Darwin and Gremlin

Meeting Darwin and Gremlin

Meeting Darwin and Gremlin

Tribes’ Amanda Marks goes chimp trekking in Tanzania

“What?! They’re right up there?” I said.

A mountain of impenetrable green forest loomed in front of us. There was no doubting the beauty of this national park – the remote Mahale Mountains rise up from the deep waters of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania – but the thought of trekking along the ridge that lay ahead of us to get almost to the summit of one of the peaks … well, it was daunting to say the least. I’m not a big fan of ‘uphill’.

I should have known, of course. Six of us had come to see wild chimpanzees and at this time of year (June) they still tend to frequent the higher reaches of the mountain range since that is where they can find food until the trees and shrubs lower down start to flower and fruit from about July to October. And the chances of us actually finding the group?

“The tracker who left earlier this morning has spotted them, so we know where they are.”

Wonderful!

“But they’re on the move and if they head into the gully over that ridge, we’ll lose them. It’s impossible to get down there.”

Not good.

At first, the forest was quite kind to us. Yes, our guides had to hack a few vines and help us to cross a couple of streams and we had to watch out for stinging nettles, roots and other plants with nefarious intentions, but it’s a beautiful place to be, the birds were singing and the incline was not too strenuous. Soon, though, we were not hacking vines but using them as ropes to haul ourselves uphill, and roots were no longer seen as trip hazards but steps to be grateful for as we tried to conquer precipitous inclines. The guides were incredible with us. Helping us find footholds, carrying bags that had become too heavy, pulling us up particularly difficult bits, and encouraging us with word from the trackers that the chimps were still within our reach.

“A mother chimp, Kupi, was sitting there on the rock grooming her boisterous baby in the sun….”

Three and a half hours later and we were nearly there. Suddenly, the air rang out with the familiar calls of chimpanzees. The sounds echoed around us like a welcoming fanfare heralding our arrival. We stood for a moment, thrilled by the obvious proximity, and we hardly noticed the last push to the top. And then, there they were!

We’d come out at a small clearing with a huge boulder in the middle. A mother chimp, Kupi, was sitting there on the rock grooming her boisterous baby in the sun. My heart was beating so fast I could hear it. We all put on the masks we’d been given so as not to infect the chimps, and then we simply sat with them, and watched, and laughed, and took photos. We were within 10-15 metres of them and, after an initial glance, they totally ignored our presence and carried on with life.

The baby’s father, Bonobo, came and sat with his family (which is apparently quite rarely seen); two adult males, Teddy and Orion, sat in the shade of the trees by the rock grooming each other; another chimp sauntered across the rock and headed off into the forest further up. Our guide asked me if I wanted to follow, and so, leaving the others, I followed further into the trees. It turned out that the big male we followed was Primus, the alpha male. He sat up a tree, just watching. It’s hard to explain why, but you could see in his face that this was a chimp with stature. He soon decided to move on and to my astonishment, walked right past me. I meant nothing to him but being in his presence meant everything to me at that moment.

 

 

We tried to follow Primus but he was too fast, and instead we came across a male called Darwin.

This gentle chimp had the kind face of a well-loved grandfather, with grey hairs and slightly watery eyes, and he just lay on his back on the forest floor with his head propped up on his arm and his feet on a nearby branch. He was the picture of Sunday morning relaxation.

The guide and I sat quietly with him for about ten minutes. He looked over at us occasionally. I just stared, drinking him in. It was one of those moments never to be forgotten.

“We were lucky this day as the chimps had come down the slopes.”

Two days later, I was sitting in another piece of forest further north, but still on the edge of Lake Tanganyika. This was Gombe National Park. You may know the name through the work of Dr Jane Goodall who was the primatologist who first habituated the chimpanzees in this area, back in the 1960s. She is in her eighties now, but still firmly involved and her foundation is still going and still a key force in the park.

Though the terrain at Gombe is very similar to that at Mahale, we were lucky this day as the chimps had come down the slopes. This made the experience here very different, and far more similar to the trek you would expect (even in Mahale) if you visited from about July to October. It took us only 20 minutes walking to find our first groups of chimps in the Kasakela community. The forest at this level is not so dense and there are more pathways that make the going much easier, though of course the chimps aren’t necessarily going to follow the paths – and they didn’t!

“You must keep to a distance of 10m and wear a face mask. You cannot visit them if you are ill – even with a cold – as you could wipe them out.”

We found a few different groups of chimps as we walked, as these chimps were not in such a sedentary mood as the Mahale chimps had been. We walked and stopped, walked and stopped for a couple of hours. We saw Gremlin and her high-spirited twins, we met Gaia and her family, we watched Google and Grendo having a chat on a log, we were there as Golden suckled her baby, as they all ate, squabbled, played and groomed each other.  I could have stayed all day.

All in all we had one hour with each group. I am more than thankful for the experience, for the fact that they still exist and that they accept our presence, that the forest is still here for them, that I was able to have the opportunity to come here, that they are being protected thanks to tourism. However, my heart was also full of concerns after leaving them: could the forest – their home – be protected from logging (either commercial or simply from nearby villagers needing land or wood); could the chimps be protected from poaching (wild meat poachers are known to still cross from DRC); will the tourists like us be the unwitting cause of the destruction of these incredible creatures through the transmission of disease; can these wild chimp populations be assured of a future?

Sadly, I don’t think anyone can offer a confidently positive answer to any of these questions. All we can do is do our best to ensure that forest creatures such as these magnificent chimpanzees are given all the protection we can afford them. They deserve it. This is their planet too.

So, is it worth the expense and the travel and the exertion to see these extraordinary creatures that are so like us?

Yes, yes, and yes again. Do not hesitate. Just come.

Can you help protect chimpanzees?

VISIT THEM IN THE WILD
Although tourism is a double-edged sword because it can bring disease if not carefully managed, in the view of most conservationists, it remains the strongest weapon we have in the protection of the species and their habitat. There are about 700 chimps in Mahale, but only around 100 in Gombe. The numbers in both communities are in decline. Up to 30 visitors per day can visit the chimps, with a maximum of 6 people per group for only 1 hour. You must keep to a distance of 10m and wear a face mask. You cannot visit them if you are ill – even with a cold – as you could wipe them out.

Please come and visit these remarkable creatures. You’ll be helping them to survive as tourism pays for their protection.

Tribes offers sample itineraries on the websites – Ruaha, Katavi, Mahale (11 days)Chimps, Serengeti and Spice (11 days) but we can tailor-make any itinerary you want.

DONATE FUNDS TO THEIR PROTECTION

If you are not able to visit, but still want to help, please consider donating to a charity such as the Jane Goodall Institute. www.janegoodall.org.uk
Their work is critical to the well-being of the chimps at Gombe National Park.

All images © Amanda Marks

Kaziranga and the Big Eight

Kaziranga and the Big Eight

Kaziranga and the Big Eight

AMANDA MARKS

“We have our own Big Five here: the one-horned rhino, elephant, swamp deer, wild buffalo and tiger. I think we should have the Big Eight though, and include the Hoolock gibbon, Malayan giant squirrel and giant hornbill.”

“A tiger just swam across the lake and went into the elephant grass over there”

Our guide, Hrishi, was obviously proud of his park, but I had come with few expectations of what we might see here; perhaps one or two rhinos if we were lucky and maybe a wild elephant – I would be happy with that. I assumed a tiger sighting wouldn’t even be worth hoping for since, although the park has one of the highest densities of tigers, they’re not easy to see here; you’re far better off in central Indian parks such as Ranthambore, Kanha or Tadoba for tigers.

We headed off with a guide and driver in our Gypsy. These are the jeep of choice for Indian wildlife parks since they’re small and light which makes them suitable for the narrow tracks, though if you’re used to African game vehicles you might be slightly shocked by the lack of suspension and space.

We didn’t care though. Within three minutes of driving through the central gate we saw our first one-horned Indian rhino … with a baby! We stopped and Hrishi pointed out that there were also 3 other rhinos in the distance, plus an elephant and three hog deer (one of the three species of deer in the park – swamp, hog and barking). 

“Within three minutes of driving through the central gate we saw our first one-horned Indian rhino … with a baby! ”

AMANDA MARKS

 

As we carried on along the earthen track that wound through a pretty area of broadleaf woodland, we stopped again. A handsome jungle fowl assiduously kept his back to us but there was no missing the striking plumage of this ancestor of our domestic chickens.  Less obvious was the little owl hiding deeper within the foliage but, as it turned out, our guide was a good spotter and didn’t miss much.

The park was a mix of grasslands, swamps and lakes, and wooded areas. It was mostly very flat but, on the western edge, the Burrapahar Hills offered a hazy backdrop in muted tones of grey. As we reached a lookout tower near a large lake, there was definitely some excitement in the air. A group of six people were training their binoculars on a stand of tall grasses at the edge of the water.

“A tiger just swam across the lake and went into the elephant grass over there,” said Hrishi. We had just missed seeing it. A matter of moments earlier and … But no, it wasn’t to be.

 

“We left Kaziranga very happy to have seen seven of his Big Eight!”

We might not have seen a big cat, but we were really lucky with our sightings of wild elephants. Sometimes they hid shyly in the tall grasses, but one family came to splash in a muddy lake and it was joyous to watch them. Wild elephant numbers in India are dropping at a staggering rate and it’s thought there are now only around 27,000, with 1900 in Kaziranga.

The following morning we went to the far west gate and the sound of gibbons echoed round the forest. I hadn’t realised just how rare Hoolock gibbons are, and this is the only ape to be found in India. They weren’t easy to photograph, but you could definitely see them and hearing them was no problem at all. It felt like a privilege to stand beneath them as they peered imperiously down at us.

But it was the rhino sightings that surprised us the most. In two days in the park, taking morning and afternoon game drives from our lodge on the edge of the park (Diphlu River Lodge), we counted 65 of these armour-plated mammals!  Kaziranga has 2400 Asian one-horned rhinos, which is about 70% of the world’s population, and that number is slowly growing. It is the best place to see them, and what an accolade for the protection teams working here; they are doing an incredible job.

Hrishi was disappointed that we’d missed the tiger, but that definitely didn’t spoil our visit as we’d not really coming expecting to see one. In fact, we left Kaziranga very happy to have seen seven of his Big Eight!

Remote North East India trip

If you would like to explore the forests and unique living root of bridges of Meghalaya followed by safaris in Kaziranga National Park, home to two thirds of the world’s one-horned rhinos, click here to view this unique trip.

See Amanda’s blog about the Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya, also in northeast India.