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Planning a Safari in Tanzania

Tanzania is amazing. There’s no other way to describe it. We were always planning on going to Tanzania, but in our minds it looked more like a two week hiking expedition up Mount Kilimanjaro. When we actually found ourselves at the base of the highest peak in all of Africa, we were about seven months into our backpacking trip and wildly out of shape. The idea of climbing a 19,341 foot mountain was simply out of the question.

Instead, we were invited to go on a twelve-day safari in some of Africa's most notable national parks. This happened to be one of the most extraordinary experiences we have had on this trip and cannot compare it to anything else we have seen or done.

Africa is the land of diverse cultures, natural wonders and home to the world’s most amazing wildlife safari experiences. The United Republic of Tanzania is a mountainous country offering a wide range of spectacular experiences. Some of the most exotic sceneries, stunning beaches, luxurious accommodation options, great food and above all memorable moments are found within Tanzania.

There are tons of companies to book your safari with, and for the most part you can’t go wrong with a lot of them. When doing some research, we wanted to book with a company notable for their animal conservation work as well as overall knowledge and reputation within the area. We booked a private safari with Wildersun Safaris and Tours and as one of the most trusted names in the tourism industry, they gave us a truly unforgettable experience.

Word to the wise: book your flights way in advance.

The Mount Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania is quite small and not that many flights are arriving/departing on a regular schedule. We tried finding the cheapest way of getting to Tanzania from South Africa-which in the end, only cost us our sanity.

In short, this is what our nightmare trip looked like:

CapeTown - Johannesberg - Namibia - Johannesberg - Dar Es Salam -Mount Kilimanjaro

Though the airport may be tiny, the view from the tarmac was magnificent. As you land you can see Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance with snow just at the top before the peak disappears into the clouds. As we landed and stepped down from the flight onto the runway-a pink and purple sky greeted us with a beautiful sunset over the huge mountain.

We were met by our Wildersun Safari Guide, Omar who by the end of the trip became one of our good friends. He picked us up from the airport and brought us to the Arusha Serena Hotel for the night.

This beautiful lodge was set in the flowered gardens of a coffee plantation and designed as an authentic African village. Its rondavels offer wide timbered decks with panoramic views over Lake Duluti. The rooms themselves were beautiful hut-like villas with outdoor showers and canopy beds with draping mosquito nets. After a long two days of travelling, it was the best night of sleep we had in months.

The next morning we opened our doors to the beautiful surrounding jungle-like landscape and made our way to the main lodge for breakfast. We were able to spend our morning at leisure before we met with Omar again and set out for a two hour car ride to our next destination.

Travelling by car was a nice way to see many of the villages within Arusha. It is a bustling city and often serves as the starting point for safaris in Tanzania. Arusha has a lot of charm of its own and is a great place to experience everyday life in Tanzania for a few days.

The city lies at the base of Mount Meru (not to be mistaken for Mount Kilimanjaro-but just as beautiful). It is a challenging and rewarding hike, so if you have the time, we definitely suggest reserving some time to hike the mountain.

The town itself was full of life and bursting with culture. There was an open market on every street corner with beautiful artisan crafts laid out on colorful blankets. Women in bright and intricately designed clothing and headscarves carried fruit baskets on their heads and scolding the children weaving in between them trying to play soccer in the alleyways. We passed by the great Masai Market where many people pick up some souvenirs and little knick knacks. After a long and eventful two-hour car ride, we were brought to the Shanga House Restaurant for Lunch.

Shanga is a beautiful, unique and authentic market place that sells local fabric with beautiful hand crafted beads for people. Shanga employs more than 60 people with a range of disabilities to make creative products including weaving, glass blowing, beading, paper making and metal work using recycled materials wherever possible.

After meeting the wonderful staff of the Shanga Disabled Facility, we drove on a few more hours to Tarangire National Park. The roads started to become less populated and evolved into vast farmlands. We saw members of the Maasai Tribe carrying baskets on their heads while simultaneously herding cows, goats and even donkeys.

There are a total of 120 tribes in Tanzania and though each tribe has their own language, they communicate amongst each other in Swahili.

At the entrance of the Tarangire National Park, stood the most magnificent Baobob trees. Legend has it that the Baobob tree (aka the upside-down tree) had once angered God and thus was torn from the earth and planted upside down! They are known to last thousands of years and are inhabited by tons of wildlife.

Our lodge was located deep within the park, so it was here that we were able to fist experience Tanzania’s wildlife. We went through the park at sunset which is one of the peak times that the animals would come out..mainly to hunt. We saw herds of elephants, giraffes, ostriches, warthogs, buffalo and monkeys everywhere we looked. Eland, which are the largest antelopes were travelling among hartebeests, impala, and springbuck. Tanzania is known for their Great Wildebeest Migration so were excited to see hundreds of thousands within the next ten days. As the sun set on the horizon, we arrived at the Tarangire Sopa lodge.

Built to blend in with the vastness of its surroundings, Tarangire Sopa Lodge was hidden in the kopjes, ancient baobab and grasses of the Tarangire National Park. The park itself is home to the greatest concentration of elephants in Africa and many of them are seen around the lodge allowing us an alarmingly close encounter with some of them!

Welcoming us with a cocktail, we were ushered into the large lobby with its glistening marble floors, colorful hand-woven carpets and an intricate roof. A short flight of steps takes you up a level and to the lounge and bar with floor to ceiling windows, an outdoor terrace where we could enjoy the evening sundowner, and a beautiful pool outside.

We had to be escorted to our villas by security in case there were wild animals on the resort grounds or a lion made its way to our room...! Which should not be taken lightly because halfway through our dinner that evening three elephants were found by the pool.

We had an early 7:30 start time and were treated to a delicious buffet breakfast with an omelette station, fresh pancakes, cereal, fresh fruits and tons of pastries! We met Omar and prepared for a full game viewing in Tarangire National Park on a beautiful but dangerously hot day.

Covering an area of 2,600 sq km, Tarangire National Park teems with wildlife throughout the year with a dense population during the dry season (June-October). Home to some of the largest herds of elephants in Tanzania and symbolized by the baobab tree, the park is also an ornithologist’s paradise rich in birds of prey.

We saw more wildebeests, ,hartebeests, and waterbucks. Interestingly, whenever we encountered impalas, we have seen pretty much all females and one male. If there was a group of impalas that were all male, they were referred to as the 'the Boys Club'. The males often practice fighting amongst one another for a chance to actually fight later on to run the group of females.

Similarly, the buffalo normally travel in groups but once they grown old, they are chased away by the herd to live out their final months alone. Tanzanians often refer to them as 'retired generals'. By the watering hole we saw thousands of zebra, buffalo and elephants during the midday.

For lunch, we returned to our hotel for a prepared luncheon by the pool before heading out again for an afternoon safari.

We set back out at 4:30 to enjoy the colors of the sunset and because it was significantly cooler, many of the animals were making their way back into the open. It was during this time that we were able to see Dik-Dik which are basically miniature Bambis along with hyaenas and several jackals.

Enjoying another early morning breakfast at the Tarangire Sopa Lodge, we set out with Omar to our second National Park destination; Manyara National Park. On our way out of Tarangire, we were accompanied by over 60 elephants walking alongside us in a straight line...almost exactly like The Jungle Book.