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.
Female elephants stay a part of the herd with their mothers and when juvenile male elephants become old enough, their mothers chase them away. Elephants live until they are about 75-90 years old and even though scientists cannot actually tell the exact age of an elephant, if one can fit under their mom's tummy, they are just a few months old.
Two hours later, we made it to Manyara National Park. A spectacular view awaited us as we made our way up the great rift valley wall. We checked into Lake Manyara Serena Lodge which included a beautiful infinity swimming pool perched on the rim of the rift valley wall.
The Great Rift Valley is a series of contiguous geographic trenches approximately 3,700 miles long, that runs from the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon to Southeast Africa.
Tanzania’s towering Mtowa Mbu escarpment provides a remarkable backdrop for a one-of-a-kind visit. The lodge welcomed us with a peaceful location amidst the rich wildlife and unsurpassed tranquility of Lake Manyara National Park.
The lake is home to over 300 migratory birds including flamingoes, long-crested eagles and grey-headed kingfisher. The lodge was designed to mimic this extraordinary birdlife, with an architectural motif featuring swooping avian curves and vibrantly coloured wall frescoes depicting the intricacy of bird migratory patterns.
The Lake Manyara lodge had everything we needed to relax, rejuvenate and enjoy the singular beauty of the region. Housed in a circular two-story hut, the accommodation pays homage to tradition, while also offering contemporary perks. Flamingo Restaurant, which was the central dining room, served delicious cuisine and included a veranda with picturesque views. Each night, the staff puts on a full acrobatic show for the guests in the dining room and by the pool. We've never been so entertained and relaxed at the same time.
Ready for a full day of game viewing, we set out to Lake Manyara National Park. Compared to the other parks, it is relatively small-only 330 sq kms in size and more than two thirds of it is the lake. That's not to say we would't get lost immediately if we were the ones driving. Its charm lies in the variety of ecosystems and therefore the diversity of wildlife that can exist in such a small area.
When we first arrived we were greeted by huge families of baboons. Manyara is a giant jungle-and the elephants make their way silently through the trees, so if you're not looking closely, you can almost miss them!
Along the lakeshore pelicans were perch in the trees overlooking the thousands of flamingos standing in the water. The open grasslands supports herds of buffalo, as well as zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, hippos, bushbuck and waterbuck.
When we returned to our resort for lunch, we had the option to go on a walking safari and guided nature walk along the rift. Along with learning about the animals and nature of the rift valley and its formation, we were able to see which plants were edible.
After breakfast at Lake Manyara Serena, we drove to Ngorogoro National Park. The entire trip was spectacular, but this park and lodge was our favourite. A meandering drive brought us to an altitude between seven and nine thousand feet. We reached the heritage site of the Ngorogoro Crater which was also branded as the eighth wonder of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We arrived at the Nogorogoro Serena Lodge for lunch. The dining area of the lodge overlooked the immense walls of the crater with a breath taking blue green landscape dotted with plains, lakes and forests. The land is thick with massive bull elephants, rhinos, wildebeests and the highest concentration of lions in Africa.
Nestled high above the plains into the Crater’s jagged rim, cloaked in river stone and indigenous vines, Ngorogoro Serena Safari Lodge is barely visible to the naked eye. Framed by arched stone passages and timbered decks, its torch-lit walls are adorned with stylised cave paintings. At the stone heart of the lodge burins a glowing fire, which is kept constantly alight. Our room was looped around the Crater’s rim with a rock-enclosed balcony and uninterrupted views of the volcanic amphitheatre far below. We got to actively watch a rainstorm come in over the crater, a place that was actually experiencing a drought.