We so much appreciate the Tanzania tour that you arranged for us. We thoroughly enjoyed it from the first to the last.
We were met on time at the Kilimanjaro airport, and the Kibo Palace hotel was lovely - including a great restaurant. After being taken to the Arusha airport the next morning we enjoyed our small airplane ride to the Serengeti area, overflying the Ngorongoro Crater. We arrived at the airstrip (no airport, there) and were met by Exaud who turned out to be a fabulous guide, driver and travelling companion. His low-key manner belied a vast knowledge of all things Tanzanian, both animal and cultural. With a dry sense of humor he kept us informed and enchanted the whole way. We had been to South Africa where game viewing was arranged by the individual camps. Your suggestion of having the same driver throughout was exactly right. We had a much more relaxed, but in-depth experience, at our own pace. It seemed extravagant to have a driver just for ourselves, with him staying at the same facilities as we did but this allowed us to dine with him for most meals, a definite plus. It was the right way to go.
We enjoyed the Mara Under Canvas Lodge, but as you recall there was a mix-up on the two facilities. It is a tough call which we liked better. The Lake View was more luxurious, and had the view. But the Mara Under Canvas was a much more intimate experience with better, more individualized food -- truly excellent cuisine.
As I said, we had been game viewing in South Africa and had seen the Big Five animals -- in fact all of the larger animals we saw in Tanzania -- but the viewing was so much better in Tanzania. The sparse trees of the savanna, and the bare grass of the plains made for superb viewing from close up (never leaving the vehicle, of course). The fact that we could leave the roads for close up views was spectacular. We saw: all forms of antelope and gazelle; zebra; wildebeest (including a birth - 30 min from labor to walking !); lions (mating!); hippos; elephants with babies; many giraffe; lots of large and small birds (including storks, flamingos, feeding vultures, eagles, owls, and the magnificent crested crane); cheetahs hunting; a leopard; a black rhino in the Ngorongoro (so rare); cape buffalo; hyenas lunching on a carcass; jackal; wart hog; mongoose and a lonely crocodile on his island.
After three days in the Serengeti we went to the Ngorongoro Crater -- called a "crater" because of its shape but it is not volcanic. It was a collapsed mountain perhaps as big as Kilimanjaro (which we never saw due to the clouds -- but we did see its little sister next to it at "only" 15,000 feet, a massive uprising out of the plains -- I can't even imagine climbing it, much less the 19,000 feet to the top of Kili). The more correct term for Ngorongoro is a "calderon", but no one calls it that. The rim hotel was lovely, but it felt "big", feeding quite a few people at once. After being in the crater, the next day we went to the Coffee Plantation back down on the plain. We loved this place, with a great pool, and an intimate atmosphere despite having quite a few rooms itself, and feeding a large number of people (we had gotten used to the 12 or so for dinner at the Mara Under Canvas). The next day we went to the local park and saw baboons and other wildlife on our way back to Arusha.
People said we did it backwards, you usually go to the small park first, then Ngorongoro second and Serengeti third, and fly back in a small plane. We can see the logic, but we loved the way we did it. We had no worries making it back to the Kilimanjaro airport for a 5:00 pm flight.
By the way, we went to the cultural center in Arusha and visited the "king" of tanzanite, the beautiful blue-purple gem stone. We bought a lovely ring there.
Your planning was superb, and all details worked beautifully. Thank you so much for arranging an unforgettable trip!
Scott and Kassandra
San Mateo, California, USA