Tuesday, December 31, 2013



Safari was always on my bucket list, but it was Sumit who nudged me and then pushed me to plan an African Safari adventure! So, here I give him his due credit. And now my brief itinerary followed by the questions.

My brief itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive in Arusha. Full day in Arusha.
Day 2: Leave at 7 am for Tarangire. Arrive around noon. Full day game viewing. Overnight in Tarangire.
Day 3: Leave early for Serengeti. Game viewing on the way. Overnight camping in Serengeti.
Day 4: Full day in Serengeti. Overnight in the camp.
Day 5: Half day in Serengeti. Leave late in the afternoon for Ngorongoro. Overnight in Ngorongoro lodge.
Day 6: Early morning (starting 6 am) game viewing in Ngorongoro. Leave for Arusha in the afternoon to fly back.

Question 1. Where in Africa would you go on a safari and why?

Well, after a bit of research I settled down on three options. 
  1. South Africa - the country is quite developed, has exotic beaches and Kruger National Park is very popular. But it would also mean that it would be more expensive and I would see more tourists everywhere. 
  2. Zambia, Botswana - A very good option to experience wildlife in the wild! Some of the pictures I had seen were just breathtaking. I was skeptical about the safety and security in the country so I decided to stick with the third option.
  3. Kenya, Tanzania -  Many opportunities to see the big five (Lion, Elephant, Rhinoceros, Leopard and Cape Buffalo), a safer place and a varied landscape. Plus, a few of my friends had been here, so I was banking on their positive reviews as well. We chose to stick to Tanzania only though.

Question 2. When to go and where to go?

Now Sumit and I were constrained because of our PTOs, shutdown, airline credits, blah, blah and we had no choice, so we went in December.


December and January have short rains. So it used to start getting really hot around noon and then there was half an hour of drizzle and the weather became quite pleasant. February to April are heavy rains. June-October is dry and a peak tourist season.


The thin black lines are migrating wildebeest
The vast Serengeti plains in Tanzania, which are your main focus extend in to Kenya as the Masai Mara park. The wildebeest migration takes place in these parks. The animals move in a circular path along with rains and move from one area of park to the other depending on the season. So, when you go, make sure the park you choose to visit gives you a chance to witness this Great Migration. We chose to stick to Tanzania because Kenya had recently witnessed terrorist attacks in Nairobi plus the migration was going on in Serengeti.

The Parks

  • Serengeti Plains: This is where we spent our maximum time. They are vast plains spread over 5000 sq miles. Every day is a new day in the jungle. One day you might see a Cheetah and the next day you might see a pride of lions hunting and you can never have enough. We saw maximum variety of animals here, especially the big cats. One benefit is that the park is so huge, that we rarely bumped into any other safari vehicle. We saw them only when the guides spot a cheetah or a lion and inform other guides. Serengeti National Park is divided into three regions, Central, South and North. Depending on the wildlife movement and the season you choose to go in, you will have to take your pick. We were mostly in central and south Serengeti for good three days. We saw, gazelles, lions, cheetahs, leopards, buffaloes, hippos, giraffes, wildebeest, zebras, elephants, hyenas, warthogs and many more animals here. 
Our favorite cat- Cheetah

Tree climbing lions in Serengeti

Two horned rhinoceros
  • Ngorongoro Crater: The earliest footprints of human race were found in the  Ngorongoro Crater.The animals inside the crater are said to have evolved separately from others as they were self sufficient and could sustain themselves inside the crater and never moved out. Now, however, they move out as the new lions need to establish their own territories. We went early in the morning, around 7 am and had the park to ourselves. From a few places on the rim, you can see the entire crater and it is gorgeous. We drove down to the base of the crater and saw a plethora of animals. This place is your best bet to spot a rhino and the crater has a very dense population on lions. We saw baboons, zebras, lions, hippos, gazelles, fox, flamingos, etc here. I highly recommend going early. You get to see a beautiful sunrise too.
  • Tarangire National Park: This park is famous for its elephants. We saw a plenty of them in large groups. It has beautiful landscape but I think a day is just about enough here. 

  • Manyara National Park: This park is popular for its aquatic life. We chose to skip this as we were more interested in Serengeti :)

Question 3. Where to stay?

Kati Kati camp in Serengeti
All the parks have excellent lodges. We stayed in a tented camp in Serengeti and I am glad we did. It is an excellent camp with toilets and shower inside, so I am not complaining. The experience of sleeping in the natural white noise is quite pleasant. Plus the hyenas around our camp made the life quite exciting. I am going to list out the places where we stayed at. They were all very good. We had no choice but to go with them as many lodges were already full by the time we made our bookings.
Tarangire Park: Tarangire River camp - Beautiful views, a pool to relax in and a 5-star tent.
Ngorongoro Crater: Ngorongoro lodge - View of the crater, a nice resort plus delicious veg food.
Serengeti : Kati Kati Camp - Living with the hyenas, in middle of the jungle in good enough camp. Loved it.

Question 4. Well now how do I make the bookings?

Yes, you should go with a tour company. No matter how big I am on "Do it Yourself" trips, but this one needs a tour company. You need an excellent guide for an excellent experience. Guides are certified here and go through an extensive 1-2 years of training. They can make a huge difference. Plus the tour company takes care of all the permits for the parks and the lodging.
We saw so many safari vehicles from different companies that I think most of them offer the same experience. But, from all the information that I got from my friends, I boiled down to two: Roy Safaris and Safari Infinity. We picked Safari Infinity because they were giving us better lodges and Lucia was quick with her responses and very helpful in planning the trip as per our preferences. The experience was great, be it animal viewing, food, lodging or the guide. Lucia gets an extra star because she emailed my mom everyday about my well being as I was out of network for 5 days!
Our guide, Fazal was also great, he had so much knowledge about animals and predicted their behavior accurately and spotted so many of them for us.
With our guide Fazal

This is how close we got to the Lion King!

Tip: We told our guide before we started what all were top of our priority list: Big Five and more cheetahs. He made sure we saw all that. We didn't mention we were keen on seeing a hunt, and I really regret that. We were stalking a cheetah as it was about to hunt, but had to leave as it was getting dark and we had to report to our camp.

Question 5. Flights?

We flew directly to Kiliminjaro airport via Ethiopian airlines. They were pretty good and even had bollywood movies in the entertainment collection! ;)
  1. If you plan on visiting Kenya as well, you can fly to Nairobi as there are quite a few connections to Nairobi. You can cross the border by land, in your vehicle, which is what a lot of tourists do.
  2. Fly to Kiliminjaro airport (KIA). It is an hour away from Arusha, closest town to the parks. Not many flight options, as the airport isn't that big, but quite a few connections from Kenya.
  3. Fly to Arusha airport(ARK). This airport is 5 minutes away from Arusha city. But, it is smaller than Kilimanjaro airport so really not many options.
  4. You can also fly from Serengeti park to Arusha. They fly small 6-8 sea planes between Serengeti to Arusha. It is a 3 hour long bumpy ride, so in case you are short on time, this can be a good option.

Question 6. What else can I do while on this trip?

Well, since you have come so far, you might as well:
  • Just tour around Arusha- May be an hour or so
  • Go to Arusha National Park - an hour away from Arusha city
  • Visit Zanzibar - If you have time on hand, must explore this option. We didn't.
  • Climb Kiliminjaro - why not? ;)

Other stuff


Not an issue. We are veggies and we had plenty of options to keep our tummies full. Arusha has an Indian restaurant, Bay Leaf, which had really good Indian food. But do keep some snacks for the day. You'll be on a safari in middle of nowhere, so you gotta be ready when the hunger strikes.

Masai homes

Masai are the local tribes. They still live in their makeshift homes and are not touched by civilization much. We totally opted out of a tour to visit them. We wanted to keep more time for the cats :)


Tanzania has visa on arrival option for tourists, but we got our stamped from DC, just to be safe.


I think yellow fever vaccination is required and some other are recommended. We already had quite a few on the list, so we just got what was left. Be careful of the mosquitoes. There are mosquitoes, not many, but yes, they exist and can cause malaria. We always used our mosquito repellents and sun block. 

Alright, this is all the gyaan I have to share.

Ahsante Sana,

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Jordan (Petra, Madaba, Dead Sea)

We had some unused airline credits with Royal Jordanian from our cancelled trip to Egypt. When we thought of using these credits, we realized that Royal Jordanian mostly flies in and out of Jordan. So, we decided to pay a short visit to Jordan.

Here is our brief itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive in Jordan. Transfer to Petra.
Day 2: Spend the entire day visiting Petra.
Day 3: Drive to Israel border. Stop at the Byzantine church, promised land to the Moses and the baptism site. Drive to the Dead sea hotel in the afternoon.
Day 4: Drive to Amman and fly out.

Where to fly?

Our only choice was Amman. Queen Alia International Airport (AMM) is a bit outside the city of Amman.

When to go?

We traveled in December. The snow storm had just passed. It was cold and windy in Petra and Amman but absolutely pleasant near the Dead Sea. 

What to see/do?

Ruins at Petra, Wadi Musa

Al Khazaneh (Treasury)
Magnificent and truly spectacular. We started at 7 am in the morning. Our guide walked us to the main entrance and kept talking about the history and significance of Petra. I was excited to know that Petra comes from the work "pathar" in Hindi or vice versa! and Wadi Musa stands for Valley of Moses. We walked through the sandstone canyon, Siq for about an hour or so to arrive at the treasury, Al Khazaneh, the most photographed spot in Petra. It is amazing how these structure were carved out in the rocks. One advantage of coming early was that we had the place to ourselves. We took a lot of pictures with no tourists photo bombing them.
We continued on to the amphitheater through the Street of  Facades. Amphitheater was built by the Nabateans, but had a roman feel to it.We kept walking through the royal tombs and many other structures till we reach the trail head for the Monastery.
Nabatean Amphitheater
We could have hiked up to the Monastery, but were too lazy and decided to enjoy a mule ride. It was fun and scary as the mules climbing along the steep edges and I was just hoping that they don't slip. My prayers were answered and we reached to the Monastery safe and sound! Monastery is much more prettier than the Treasury in my opinion. We spent some time here resting and taking pictures. Walked for another 5 minutes to another beautiful vista point. We walked back to the trail head and had lunch at the restaurant.
It was leisurely walk back to the entrance and to the hotel. There were a few more hikes in the ruins that looked pretty interesting. But we were jet lagged and decided to skip it. We were back by 3 pm.
We totally skipped Petra by the Night sound and light show as we have seen quite a few of them and they aren't much different from each other I feel. Their website.


6th century mosaic map of Palestine
Madaba is a city close to Israel border and dead sea. It is around 2 hours south-west of Amman. We visited the Byzantine church which has a 6th century mosaic map of Palestine. Some beautiful mosaic works inside this small church. It was Christmas the day we were here, so the city was all decked up for the day. We then went to Mount Nebo. This is where you can the land promised to the Moses. Pretty site. We could see Jerusalem and Jericho from here. Then we headed to the Israel border to visit the Baptism site. There are small buses that take you for a guided tour of the site. They leave the bus stop every 30 minutes or so. It was very hot and we had to get rid of our sweaters. Interesting places with interesting history. So much so that we got back to our hotel and searched internet to read in detail all about Moses and Abram.
Where Moses stood and saw the land promised to him

Dead Sea:

We got to our hotel late in the afternoon. Went to the dead sea and just floated. It feels weird how you can effortlessly float in this water. It looks viscous and leave salt residue on your body once it dries up. Of course you have to be careful and not go too far or try to swim or drink this water. We scrubbed ourselves with the dead sea mud/minerals and it is the best spa I have had! All the tan just vanished. Once we were done with all the dead sea fun, we spent time watching the sunset!
Floating in the Dead Sea
Sunset at the Dead Sea


We did not visit Jerash, but there are some ruins in the city of Jerash which are quite popular. For more info


Spend a day at a resort and go sea diving in the Red Sea. It is one of the best places to go sea diving at I hear. This will be helpful.


Jordan has some really beautiful trails to offer for hiking enthusiasts especially close to Wadi Rum.. It wasn't on the cards for us as we as usual were on a time crunch. But you may want to explore this option. This is a useful resource I had found.

Where to stay?

We stayed at the Petra Guest House right outside the ruins entrance and at the Holiday Inn near Dead Sea. There are other fancier resorts by the dead sea. The ones we stayed at were pretty good too.

Other stuff


Absolutely no issues finding good food. Falafals, hummus and Pita bread were in abundance for veggies like us. There was a particular falafal sandwich place in Madaba which had the best falafal sandwiches I have ever had. Sadly, I do not remember the name.

Getting around/tours

We had booked a two day tour with Petra Night Tours. I would recommend them. We were in a nice brand new car with wifi in it. Very comfortable and convenient plus a friendly guide. I would however do it on my own the next time. I know of some friends who had rented a car and driven around themselves. Jordan has a very low crime rate and driving around did not look difficult at all. So if you can drive around, this should be your pick.


Getting a visa wasn't very cumbersome, but a long process. I don't really trust visas on arrival concept, so we had sent in our passports to the Jordan Embassy in DC. They took a while to process it and we had to go back and forth a couple of times, but it took around 3-4 weeks for us to get our visa.


People were super nice, friendly and welcoming. It was amazing to see how much they respect the royal family. We saw pictures of the beautiful royal family almost everywhere. The queen especially has a great following and promotes the handicrafts and other artworks enthusiastically it seems. Our driver knew about Mithun da and Amitabh Bachhan as he had seen a lot of their movies in his twenties. Bollywood has quite a reach.