Our journey to Tanzania began on a Friday afternoon. We flew from Denver to DC, stayed overnight near the airport, boarded a plane the next morning for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and THEN took a connection to Kilimanjaro International Airport in Arusha, Tanzania. Whew! It was brutal. Absolutely brutal. But, as I say all the time to naysayers about traveling with kids, it was all worth it! Because shortly after arriving, we were fortunate enough to experience Tarangire National Park’s Kuro Tented Camp with family.
We planned our trip really carefully to make sure everything was taken care of – no being stranded without a ride at the airport in the bush for us! We booked with well respected safari company, Rothschild Safaris. On the ground in Tanzania, they work with Nomad, a company with 25 years of safari experience. Nomad owns several amazing camps, including Kuro tented camp. Kuro allows children ages 8 and over, so take that into consideration when looking into safaris. To be honest, children under 8 might be a stretch on a safari…..it’s a lot of activity, and not a lot of “little kid” entertainment. Don’t expect TVs or even wifi at a decent safari camp. We loved it, but had the kids been two or three, it might have been a different story. The ages they are now – 8 and 11 were perfect. Just old enough to be totally fascinated, but not teenagers with the bratty attitudes to match.
We stayed at Rivertrees Inn on our first day in Tanzania (more on that later) and the very next morning, we caught a small, 8-seater plane to Tarangire National Park. The “airport” in Tarangire is literally a long strip of dirt with Warthogs and Zebras running across it. The descent was magical…..the pilot going lower and pointing out groups of elephants near the trees and laughing with the kids about a warthog running away from the airstrip at top speed. The door popped open upon landing and we were greeted by Rem, our guide. Literally the best guide we have ever had on any trip we have ever had. Rem made our trip perfect in every way. He told us he would be with us the entire week.
From the airport, Rem took us straight on our first game drive, where we saw elephants, impalas, zebras, warthogs, waterbucks and numerous birds. While this first glimpse into African wildlife was thrilling, we were very tired and really excited to get to the camp. Rem obliged and we headed off. He announced we would be there in “ten minutes” and within 20 seconds, we came around a bend and a group of smiling Tanzanian’s greeted us (“Ten minutes to the camp” became a running joke between Rem and our family – every time he said “ten minutes”, we knew we were within 30 seconds to the camp). Exiting the safari vehicle, we were greeted by Masillah, camp manager and given a cool, scented towel to refresh ourselves with (because riding in a comfy vehicle with a cooler full of beverages and seeing wildlife is hard work ya’ll). Each and every one of the camp employees (about 8) greeted us and told us their name. It was amazing. When was the last time you arrived at a resort and had all the employees greet you with such friendliness? The friendliness of the Tanzanian people can’t be stressed enough throughout these posts regarding this country. Such a warm and welcoming people.
Masillah asked us to drop our bags in our tents and come back to the main lobby to go over the rules of the camp. We quickly dropped our bags and gathered in the main “lobby”. This main area consisted of two rustic, open air rooms – a sitting room with couches and chairs with a decidedly Tanzanian feel, and a dining room with several tables. Both rooms were totally open air and looking out into the bush. We could see impalas and elephants walking in the distance. Dotted around the room were African knick knacks, handmade footstools, beautiful art hanging from the walls, animal skin lamps and a bar with plenty of liquor (woop!). Soft, off-white curtains hung on the verandah blowing in the breeze. Beaded placemats and gorgeous china awaited us on the dining tables. We gathered around Masillah after being served an afternoon cocktail.
Rules of the camp: No leaving your tent without an escort after dark. No walking from the main area to the tents without an escort after dark. If an animal comes onto our verandah at night, don’t scream and be loud. If we come upon an elephant on the path, stop and slowly back up. No running. If we need an escort after dark, shine our flashlight into the sky and a camp employee will show up. There is always an employee on watch. Finally, if something bad happens and there is an emergency, we had an airhorn on our tent to alert people to an emergency. Lastly, they told us they would wake us each morning with coffee and hot chocolate delivered to our tent prior to our morning game drive. Yum. And total luxury. We were pinching ourselves.
Next came the tours of the tents we were in. Although “tent” is a pretty loose word. There were no hardships involved in this stay. We definitely weren’t camping in Colorado with a tent from Target. These tents had beautiful hardwood floors layered with African textiles. Thick, clean canvas walls, African themed hanging lamps, amazing African art hanging on the walls, gorgeous beds surrounded with mosquito nets and bedside tables with custom made lamps. The bathrooms had hammered metal above-counter sinks, running water, a separate toilet area (in front of a screened in window so you can watch elephants while taking care of business) and an indoor and outdoor shower. Showers with hot water were on request. Tell an employee you would like a shower, they bring a bucket of hot water to you, pour it into a bucket outside of your tent and, viola, hot water comes through your shower head. We had a family tent – two tents that were connected by an open air hallway. It was seriously insane.
After lunch (which was amazing by the way), the family went for an afternoon game drive and I opted to stay behind, take a shower and read and relax in the lobby area. After a relaxing shower watching impala walk by the tent, I walked over to the lobby area and settled in. Other than a camp employee who magically appeared every time I needed a glass of wine or a water refill, I was alone, reading and looking out into the bush. A monkey meandered by. Two impalas ran through. A warthog snorted. I also heard some snarling from somewhere. It was absolute craziness. And now that I think back on it, a little scary that I was sitting in there all by myself. What would I have done if a lion happened through the lobby? I later found out that you’re supposed to be still and quiet if you see a lion – their vision is mostly based on movement so no running and screaming.
After enjoying an amazing meal in the main dining area, complete with wine and after dinner coffee, our first evening passed uneventfully (with the exception of a bat inside our tent, which completely freaked Keith out because it was clinging to outside of the mosquito net on his side of the bed). The next morning, we were woken by an employee softly calling “hello, coffee is here”, leaving the coffee and hot chocolate on our verandah. We enjoyed 1/2 hour of drinking coffee, looking out over Tarangire and hoping for wildlife. In all my years of traveling, nothing can compare to sitting on a verandah in a tented camp enjoying coffee with my family. Two days at Kuro tented camp with family is seriously magical.
We set out for our first morning game drive at 6:30 and immediately came upon a fresh kill – a Wildebeest. Rem, guide extroirdinaire, got out of the vehicle, examined the footprints and bite marks and declared that it was a leopard kill, but the leopard couldn’t manage to drag the body into a tree so he ate his fill and left. Rem told us that by the time we drove by a few hours later, this body would probably be picked clean. And he was right on the money.
Our first officially morning game drive yielded a leopard in a tree, a tree climbing lion, too many birds to count, giraffes, elephants, an entire pride of lions and hyenas. It was a treasure trove of wildlife and I can understand why Kuro choose that area for their tented camp. I can’t imagine a better location for a first safari.We ended up being out for almost 7 hours. Normally a morning game drive is around 5 hours. During the drive, Rem took us to a picnic area with spectacular views and laid out an amazing breakfast spread for us. French press coffee, sausages, bacon, pancakes. Several cereals (including sugar for complaining kids – “Moooom, I need sugar for these corn flakes”). It was awesome and so tasty. We felt completely spoiled as we chatted with Rem about his life in Tanzania.
As we drive home from our game drive, Rem told us stories about Kuro Tented Camp. The wildlife that walks through, the staff members and general life in the bush. We asked if lions walked through and he told us a story that we’ve been dining on ever since. Two weeks prior at around 5am, a zebra was running from 3 lionesses and ran onto tent 4’s verandah, where she bumped into the tent wall and had nowhere to go. The lions pounced and ate their fill. The couple inside the tent heard the entire thing – the roars, the tearing, the crunching of bone. They somehow managed to stay quiet. 1/2 hour later, one of the staff members arrived to deliver their morning coffee and came around the corner to set it on their verandah – only to find 3 lions munching away. He dropped the coffee, shattering everything, slowly backed away and ran to the camp staff quarters, screaming “Lion!!” The camp drove a vehicle near the lions and revved the engines to scare the lions away and dragged the zebra body 400 yards away. We were fascinated. And a little scared 🙂
The remainder of the day was spent napping, reading and spending time enjoying the scenery. I admit I was a little trepidatious about the downtime at the camps. What would we do with the kids? They don’t nap and I was afraid they would be bored. But we needn’t have worried. Keith and I napped on our side of the family tent and the kids read and wrote a song about Africa on their side of the tent. It was really realxing and they didn’t complain once – not even about the lack of wi-fi. It was really sweet to listen to them having fun together unplugged.
Our last night in Kuro was another spectacular dinner, with our guide, Rem, joining us. It was amazing to talk to him about his life and meet a few other people on safari. We met 4 ladies on a girls trip (who went on a walking safari with a guide carrying an AK-47), a well known documentary film maker and a few really serious bird watchers. The last night was perfect for everyone – except for one lady who accidentally sat on a scorpion when she went to the toilet, which probably wasn’t too much fun for her. We definitely didn’t want to leave the next morning, but we had another camp and national park to visit! Tarangire rewarded us on our last morning driving out of the park – a cheetah sighting. The one and only cheetah we saw the entire trip! Next up, Ngorongoro Crater and Entamanu Camp! For more information on Tarangire, check out my friend Jim’s post on Travel Stories and Images!