Kenya? South Africa? Tanzania?

It was almost overwhelming thinking about all the places we could go on safari. But once we decided to also see the gorillas…setting the rest of our itinerary was easy.

Here are the questions we asked ourselves:

When and where can we see the gorillas?

Rwanda and Uganda both offer opportunities to hike into the forest to visit the gorillas.

We started planning in April, and wanted to go on our trip that same year. But there are only a limited number of permits available each day, and the first permits available were for October and November. In Uganda, you hike into the “Impenetrable Forest”. We’re in decent shape, but this sounded slightly ominous, so we elected to do the relatively easier hike from Rwanda (which can still be a nine-hour hike).

 

So, in November… where is the Great Migration?

From Rwanda, the closest places to go on safari would be Tanzania and Kenya. No one can forecast exactly when and where the wildebeest are going to decide to graze each year. But since we’d be in Africa, we knew this would be a good chance to also see the Great Migration. In November, we understood there was a good chance the wildebeest would be in the Serengeti. So we chose Tanzania. Read more about the Great Migration.

 

Visit Rwanda first, then Tanzania?  Or Tanzania, then Rwanda?

We planned our trip over the Thanksgiving holidays, allowing us to extend the trip by a couple extra days, without having to take more time off. It was a toss-up between going to Rwanda first, or Tanzania first. We ended up going to Rwanda first, which was great. But if we were to go again, we would go to Tanzania first (by a small margin) – mainly because Rwanda was higher altitude (more time to get used to it), and also more comfortable (not that Tanzania wasn’t – but in Rwanda, they even cleaned our shoes after we went hiking!)

 

How long, where, when?

We were in Rwanda for two days of gorilla trekking, then headed to Tanzania for an eleven-day safari. We had the following itinerary in Tanzania:

  • Arusha upon arrival, then Arusha National Park (2 nights)
  • Tarangire (2 nights)
  • Lake Manyara (1 night)
  • overnight between Manyara and Ngorongoro area, at Seronera (1 night)
  • Serengeti (3 nights)
  • Ngorongoro (1 night)
  • overnight at Arusha before flying out (1 night)

This was a great itinerary, because it felt like the parks became increasingly more exciting. Arusha, for example, has no cats – but it’s a really cute park, with lots of giraffes, and we enjoyed doing a bush walk there. Tarangire had lots of elephants. The Serengeti had lots of cats (lions, leopards, cheetahs), and we would have been delighted to spend more time there. Ngorongoro was filled with animals.

 

What would we change? (aka Why wasn’t Lake Manyara interesting?)

In hindsight, we might re-consider the excursion to Lake Manyara. I’d heard that Europeans love Lake Manyara because of the bird-watching; Americans think it’s dull. We’re Americans, we like bird-watching, we wanted to go to more places, so we decided to go. Unfortunately, there weren’t very many birds when we were there. There was a small hippo pool, but there were far better hippo pools in the Serengeti and at Ngorongoro Crater. Lake Manyara is also famous for the lions sleeping in the trees – but in November at Lake Manyara, it was cool enough that none of the lions were in the trees.