In an effort to enhance my working knowledge of Tanzania, I traveled with my new supplier, Takims Holidays, to explore the parks I’d never visited – the Southern Circuit and Tarangire. Owned and managed by a third generation Tanzanian family, the Takims have offices, vehicles, driver/guides, office staff and mechanics in both Dar es Salaam and Arusha. More on them later!
As educational trips go, this trip was as hectic and designed to expose my colleague, their Scandinavian rep, and me to as much as possible in a short time, like all FAM trips….
Dar es Salaam: I was delighted to visit Dar as I’d never disembarked there en-route from Kilimanjaro Airport to Amsterdam. After visiting the Takims’ office I had a lovely tour of the city with my guide, Rosemary, who has worked for the Takims for over 30 years. She was lively and fascinating to listen to her stories. She is in her 60’s, had grown up there and witnessed much change. I enjoyed brief visits to the art and village museums and was pleasantly surprised at how clean Dar was. She explained the new president had instituted trash clean-up days and I would say all but a few remote villages seemed to be participating.
Indian Ocean Coast: Close to Dar, only a 10-minute flight or 2 different drive options that include a longer drive via bridge or for those wanting a truly ‘local experience’, a short ferry trip then drive out to this beautiful beach.
Ras Kutani: This hidden gem is built around a lagoon and steps away from the Indian Ocean. The rhythmic sound of waves crashing on the beach will lull you into a blissful state whether you’re lounging in your private hammock or falling asleep in the very large bed, with room enough for you and two of your best friends! This beach lodge is beautiful, comfortable, has a delightful staff, delicious food, filtered water in cottages (no plastic bottles) really hot water for showers, small touches like q-tips, cotton balls, 4 hair dryers available from the office, and great wifi at the pool area. You can enjoy long beach walks, swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, village visits, bird watching, dinner on the beach and incredible star gazing with your glass of wine. It’s a little slice of heaven for those who don’t want to go to Zanzibar but still want an incredibly relaxing and exotic beach experience.
Selous Game Reserve: Africa’s largest wildlife sanctuary with its different ecosystems, rivers and lakes is stunningly beautiful. The northern part of the Selous is for photographic safaris, way down south still has hunting concessions and along with the poaching problems years ago, have not always made the Selous popular. Home to Africa’s largest Cape Buffalo population, elephant, sable, wild dog, lion, hippo, crocodile and over 400 bird species, the Selous was declared a World Heritage Site in 1982.
Siwandu Camp: Charming and comfortable safari tents with outdoor showers (my favorite), verandahs overlooking Lake Nzerakera, hot water bottles for warmth at night, small touches like q-tips, cotton balls, 4 hair dryers from the office, cheerful and charming staff, delicious food. Full disclosure – I’m a vegetarian and was impressed with the variety of vegetarian meals served. The campfire for pre-dinner drinks was great for socializing with other guests, the dining and bar areas were beautiful. Delightful guides, open sided game vehicles with real canteens instead of water bottles, filtered water in tents (no plastic bottles) amazing sundowners on the river bank, walking and water safaris, lunch on the pontoon boat – what wasn’t to love here! I did have a few things go awry in my tent and management made sure things were promptly and efficiently fixed. Hey, things go wrong in the bush but as long as things are rectified in a timely manner, hakuna matata. Can’t say game viewing was my favorite as I saw no predators other than one hyena – I’m paws-and-claws all the way! Did see plenty of crocodiles, hippos, giraffe, colorful birds, and beautiful scenery with no vehicles. Other camp guests had a great lion kill sighting and a few days prior to our arrival, there were multiple wild dog sightings. Due to the size of the Selous, it is recommended to stay 3 or 4 nights here for maximum game viewing thrills. (Note: sundowner drinks charged to guests unless drink supplement is purchased.) Amazing birds of the Selous:
Mikumi National Park: Tanzania’s 4th largest national park, part of the Selous ecosystem and the most accessible via vehicle from Dar for those who don’t have much time. Wildlife viewing is good with lion, buffalo, elephant, zebra, hippo, giraffe, warthog, eland, kudu and sable. We had 2 different lion sightings, hippo, elephant and other wildlife en route to Udzungwa Mountains National Park.
Vuma Hills: This 3* tented camp was the first of our two budget lodges to get a feel for variety. While I did not care for it personally, it seems to be popular with budget travelers and families as a double and 2 single beds are permanently set up in each tent. Views are the best thing to report about this camp.
Udzungwa Mountains National Park: Beautiful, lush mountains with incredible biodiversity – over 800 plant species and 10 different primates. This is a ‘walking only’ national park for those who want a completely different experience. It’s a 2-hour drive from Mikumi over deeply rutted roads but through interesting mountain villages and many sugar cane fields. If your clients have been on too many safaris and want time away from game drives, larger wildlife, and instead want to hike in the mountain forest and visit the local village, this out of the way park is a unique option.
Hondo Hondo: Lodging in this park is very basic as is this camp with both tented rooms and camp sites. 3* basic, ensuite tents but with surprisingly good food and service, far better than the accommodations suggest at first glance. Totally surprised by the avocado and tomato salad and its artful presentation.
Ruaha National Park: Tanzania’s second largest national park is stunningly beautiful due to the Great Rift Valley and the Ruaha River. Over 530 bird species and the rarer antelope like sable, roan, Greater and Lesser Kudu along with predators make this park great game viewing. I had a 7-pride lion sighting at the remains of the zebra kill from the day prior.
Ruaha River Lodge: 5* stunning views, built on the banks of the Ruaha River but 3* stone bandas huts, food, and service. Good for budget safaris.
Jongomero Camp: Beautiful luxury safari camp with bush feel, verandahs overlooking the dry Jongomero Sand River (flows only during rainy season), nice lounge and dining area, really hot water for showers, hot water bottles for warmth, small touches like q-tips, cotton balls, charming bathroom, filtered water (no plastic) delightful and friendly staff, charming wake up service, incredible food including tasty homemade falafels and oyster mushrooms (not button) with tomatoes for breakfast – deliciously different! Open sided vehicles with canteen water bottles, horse-hair flyswatters, good guides, beautiful sundowner on the river bank. Definitely did not stay here long enough! (Note: sundowner drinks charged to guests unless drink supplement is purchased.)
Tarangire National Park: One of the northern parks I had not visited and a short 3-hour drive from Arusha. Beautiful park with great wildlife viewing and fantastic photography with the green Silale Swamp as background. Oliver’s Camp: Delightful safari experience with charming tents, cool bathroom vanity, outdoor shower, verandah, hot water bottles, q-tips, cotton balls, wake up service with morning beverage, beautiful lounge and dining area, stunning curved table overlooking the endless landscape for sundowners and breakfast, yummy, yummy food, friendly and smiling staff who always seemed to know your name. All-inclusive including wine at lunch, dinner and sundowners. Loved that they invite your guide to join the group for sundowners (drinks also included for them!) and communal tables for dinner. Night drives and walking safaris available. They have open sided vehicles which I used for the spooky night drive that I love although I used my Takims Holidays’ vehicle and guide for day game drives here with fabulous sightings – 3-brother lions, 2 different cheetah sightings, zebra, wildebeest, fighting elephants, giraffe, huge buffalo heard, and more. Delightful to stay here for 2 nights!
Takims Holidays: Third generation family own and manage this boutique DMC with each of the three brothers actively involved in day to day operations. The Takim family actually started the first travel agency in Zanzibar, moved to the Tanganyika mainland during the revolution and were one of the first safari operators licensed by the Tanzanian government in 1980! As a safari pioneer, they know Tanzania and the safari business.
You will find Takims responsive to your itinerary requests and always ready to make expert recommendations on lodging, routes, infrastructure, and suggest creative ideas for your clients. One of the family’s companies specializes in air ticketing so they can assist with all internal flights.
With 15 vehicles and 15 driver/guides who are full time employees, your guests will travel in comfort and safety with expert driving and guiding. Takims provides ongoing training, both field and classroom to enhance better communication skills for guides on an annual basis. They also provide health insurance for all employees which is a rarity in Africa. Happy, long term employees make for happy clients! The two safari guides I had are nice human beings, great wildlife spotters, knowledgeable and friendly. Rosemary in Dar was a treasure! KLM lost both of my fellow Scandanavian travelers’ luggage, which came in from Europe on different flights on different days. Takims‘ employees did an amazing job getting both suitcases to them in the bush, on different airlines and involving other lodges….connections and good relationships are important.
All vehicles have an electric refrigerator stocked with water, charging points for camera batteries, iPads and phones, and pop up top for open game viewing with shade, binoculars, reference books on wildlife, birds, fauna and flora. Takims likes to innovate and one of their small differences is traveling with picnic baskets so that the dreaded ‘box lunch’ becomes a meal that can be eaten on plates with cutlery and not out of a greasy box/bag.
I visited both the Dar and Arusha offices, met the staff and toured the 1-bay garage in Dar and the 4-bay garage on the 4-acre office compound in Arusha. Each vehicle gets a full service checkup / tune up after every safari trip from their mechanic- employees. Takims Holidays is a well-run DMC dedicated to creating and operating amazing safari experiences for your clients.
The Southern Circuit does not get the same amount of safari tourism as the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Manyara and Tarangire parks, but is growing in popularity as safari enthusiasts want to experience wildlife in a less crowded environment. With varied and stunning landscapes, far fewer vehicles, boat and walking safaris, beautiful lodges, plus plenty of wildlife and birds, the Southern Circuit is an exciting safari destination. If you have clients who love Tanzania and are looking for new experiences, they will love the Selous and Ruaha parks, Mikumi and Udzungwa time permitting. They will appreciate the remote feeling and lack of vehicles as they game drive. Takims can combine the northern, southern and western parks or concentrate in the respective regions of choice. Driving the Southern Circuit is an option albeit the drives are long and often on bumpy roads. I recommend flying between the parks, budgets permitting. My flight from the Jongomero Airstrip in Ruaha to Tarangire was quick and easy. There are several airline options for the southern parks which Takims can navigate for you.
Don’t forget the beach! Takims can handle all beach trips including to the mainland coast, to Zanzibar, Pemba or the very private and secluded Fanjove Island. Don’t know that one? They do!
(kiki paris / june, 2016)
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