The Heart of East Africa and the Soul of Photography
Dates: January 29 – February 8, 2023
Details: 12 Spots
Time in the Field: 11 days, including Ngorongoro and Serengeti, Tanzania, and Masai Mara, Kenya
Designed for wildlife and photo enthusiasts who want an immersive experience, as well as wall-worthy images of the animals and terrain of East Africa. You don’t have to be a photographer to join, but you must want to spend time in the field with wildlife.
There’s no place on earth like Africa, and Wild Departures caters to avid and enthusiastic shutterbugs from beginner to pro on this once-in-a-lifetime photo safari.
We start with your instructor, Michelle Theall, who was just profiled in Oprah Magazine and is an award-winning photographer whose work has been published around the globe and in the US in over thirty titles, including Alaska, Backpacker, Outdoor Photographer, Sierra, and others. Her stock work is handled by several agencies, including Getty, and several images have been purchased for private collections and galleries. She’s been teaching photography for 12 years and prides herself on helping clients capture “the moment,” the unique miracles that happen in the field that take a photo beyond a snapshot to something more sublime.
Ping, a Massai, was born in and has lived his entire life in the Masai Mara, the famed heart of Kenya’s wildlife population. He was named one of the top 25 guides by Conde Nast Traveler and, as a big cat biologist, knows the locations and behaviors of the animals in the Mara intimately, often predicting hunting, nursing, and other interactions. Ping is also a professional photographer, and as such, positions Wild Departures guests in the best locations with the best light.
The vehicles used by Wild Departures on this tour are specially designed for photographers. They are open on all sides and stair-step up in height for ultimate viewing from all seats. Bean bags are provided for extra stabilization. We stay at one site in the Mara in order to maximize our time in the field with the animals in different types of light and pursuing desired behaviors.
This is “glamping” at its best with modern amenities, including power, hot water, private bath and shower, queen-sized beds, and food cooked by a culinary chef. Alcoholic beverages are included at camp as we observe cocktail hour by the fire overlooking the river.
On this trip, our plan is to go on photo safari twice per day, a morning and a late afternoon drive, with workshops, editing, and image review during the afternoon hours. In the workshops, we’ll discuss everything from composition and post-processing to going from snapshot to gallery-worthy images. We’ll review and critique shots from the day and give one-on-one instruction and answer questions.
This trip offers immersion into the heart of Ngorongoro, Serengeti, and Masai Mara in an intimate setting away from the masses. From your bed at night, you’ll listen to the lions and hyenas, along with the crunching grass beneath the feet of giraffes marching through camp.
But more than anything else, we guarantee you’ll leave with a few unique images worthy of hanging on any wall or being published in any magazine, as we go beyond technique to practice photography as an art.
Arrive at Kilimanjaro airport and be met by our driver who will take us to our hotel in Arusha, the boutique luxury lodge on a coffee plantation, Arusha Coffee Lodge and Spa. There, we’ll enjoy dinner that evening as a group. Please let us know if you’d like to arrive a day early so we can book an extra night.
Day 2: After breakfast, we’ll take a tour of Arusha, including the Maasai Market, Shanga Workshop, and Cultural Center. Afterward our local guide, Fadhil, will drive to Ngorongoro Crater for our first game drive. The Ngorongoro Crater in Northern Tanzania, once a gigantic volcano, is the largest intact caldera in the world. Some maintain that before it erupted, it would have been higher than Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. Today, long since having collapsed and eroded, it is an extensive highland area with the famous 600 m deep Ngorongoro Crater as its focal point. Nearly three million years old, the ancient caldera shelters one of the most beautiful wildlife havens on earth.
Endangered black rhino are protected within its rim, giant tusked elephants wander the forests, black-maned lions stalk the grasslands, and flamingoes crowd the soda lakes. An estimated 25,000 large mammals are resident in this bowl of plenty, including a population of highly endangered black rhino and around a high density of lions and hyenas. After a full-day game drive, we’ll settle in for the night at our Lemala Tented Camp as close to the crater as possible to beat the other tours to the rim of the crater in the morning and to capture morning light.
Day 3: We’ll be among the first to enter the iconic Ngorongoro Crater this morning for a game drive on the crater floor and a picnic lunch. Afterward, we’ll travel back up the Crater wall and game drive to the legendary Ndutu area for our stay at Njozi Ndutu Camp. Typically at this time of year the great migration herds are beginning to gather in the Ndutu region for calving. The area is also outstanding for big cats and a wide variety of other wildlife.
Njozi Camp is Tanzania’s only camp to employ local wildlife biologists to research the areas big cats. Our guide Fadhil is one of the biologists researching the big cats so he can share the project with us. His expert knowledge of the area remains a priceless resource for getting us in the right place at the right time for intimate viewing. Our camp in Ndutu is a small and intimate camp with just six tents, making it one of the smallest in the Serengeti. The tents are spacious and inviting with lovely carpets and stylish wrought-iron beds decked out with high quality linens and duvets. There is a bedroom/living area, a dressing area with a sink that has running water and a small wardrobe, and then separate private shower and toilet areas. A solar power inverter system provides electricity for tent lighting and the charging of batteries and electronic devices. Each tent has a small veranda with safari chairs to enjoy the outdoor environment.
Day 4, Day 5: We’ll hit the Southern Serengeti with off-road game drives allowing us to get to the prime viewing locations. The famed Ndutu region is just outside of the Southern Serengeti boundary, within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. This location has a huge quality advantage as the area allows off road game driving, making this the best area in the Serengeti region for our guides to utilize their skills to find exclusive wildlife sightings. This freedom allows us to explore far and wide, and we often find active cheetah, huge migration herds, and much more in this quality wilderness setting.
The great migration comes to the shortgrass plains of the Ndutu region for the calving season. Huge numbers usually start arriving in December and utilize the area through early April. 400,000 wildebeest calves are born during a three week period, typically in February but varies from year to year. This irruptive birthing is a successful evolutionary strategy that ensures the survival of the majority of calves despite predators eating their fill during this time of plenty. Between the easy prey base and the open grassland environment this area is unmatched for the opportunity to witness predators hunting – especially cheetah, lion, and spotted hyena.
DAY 6: Depending on our successes in the Southern Serengeti on the previous days, we will likely head into the Central Serengeti for a change of landscape and various other photo opportunities, allowing us more variety with different topographical features.
DAY 7: We’ll enjoy a final game drive with Fadhil ending with a flight to the Mara Ol Kiombo airstrip. Upon arrival in the beautiful Mara, we’ll be met by our guide from Enaidura Camp, Ping. We’ll safari to our camp, getting our first glimpse of the Mara, before dinner and overnight.
Our Enaidura Camp is home for our stay in the Mara. Enaidura means migration in the Maa language and fits perfectly as this camp is set along the Talek River near its confluence with the Mara River – the absolute heart of the Masai Mara. This area is unsurpassed for observing big cats and is just a few minutes away from the main migration river crossing points. The camp is known for its night noises with lions and hyenas frequently broadcasting in the area.
Our legendary local guides, Johnson Ping’ua Nkukuu (aka Ping) and Paul Kirui, own the Enaidura camp. Both were named to the Conde Nast Top 25 Guides in Africa list. Paul is the Chariman of the Kenya Guides Association and guided filmmakers for the BBC’s Big Cat Diaries and Disney Natures African Cats. Ping is known for his extraordinary ability to locate big cats and predict their behaviors. The guides utilize the finest open sided vehicles in the Mara.
Enaidura is the ideal camp for Safari Purists. The camp delivers the classic Under Canvas safari dream, providing an intimate experience, and featuring flexible service that caters around the serious emphasis on wildlife viewing that our top guides demand.
DAYS 8-10: We’ll spend the next few days exploring the famed Masai Mara, which is unsurpassed for game viewing. Lion, leopard, and cheetah are all represented in high density, and it’s not uncommon for us to see all three species in a single day. Our guides know many of the individual cats by name and focus on observing natural behavior. We’ll watch for hunting, nursing, and playing. In addition to the big cats, we’ll photograph resident year-round wildlife include elephant, giraffe, hippo, eland, topi, hyena, zebra, and crocodile. Most guests will see around 30 different species of mammals, along with a stunning array of birds and other life.
As the camp is run by the Massai, we have the opportunity to practice portrait photography at sunrise with the Massai dressed in traditional vibrant clothing, as they dance and sing for us, carving a path through the waving grass of the plains.
DAY 11: We’ll enjoy a final game drive on the way to the Ol Kiombo airstrip for our bush flight to Nairobi’s regional airport, Wilson. Upon arrival, we’ll be met and transferred to a 4-star hotel near the international airport complex. Guests will enjoy a day room at the hotel and catch late evening flights home.
6 SPOTS LEFT