If you have always wanted to go on a safari, Tanzania is a great option. By visiting both the massive grasslands of Serengeti and the lush vegetation in Ngorongoro, you are sure to spot a lot of wildlife.
In the week between climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya a few years ago we took advantage of being in Africa and went on a few safaris. Even though its incredibly touristy, being able to see the vast amounts of wild animals up close was an incredible experience. In Tanzania we went to Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater.
Serengeti National Park
Serengeti is a huge grassland park with a wide-open landscape that allows you to see wildlife in every direction. Elephants, giraffes, zebras, buffaloes, gazelles and impalas could be seen grazing in the distance. As we drove through the park we were surprised at how close we could get to some of these animals without them seemingly noticing our presence.
We were not in Serengeti during the famous wildebeest migration, but felt as if we were. We were near a large herd of wildebeests when, for no apparent reason, the whole herd frantically raced across the plain. It was very impressive, and allowed us to imagine how incredible it would be to see the migration.
The park has many cats including lions, cheetahs and leopards. Lions were often on rock outcrops called kopjes. One large male sat on top of the kopjes as if in a scene from the ‘Lion King’ movie. Others were seen resting under the shade of a tree.
Leopards were more difficult to find. Serengeti can be a busy park but our safari driver was usually able to keep us away from the crowds. However things changed when the location of a hard to spot leopard was announced on the CB radio. Our jeep along with many others raced to descend on the cat’s location. This was probably our biggest disappointment and left us feeling ashamed for getting caught up in the excitement. The leopard was high up in a tree, and we could only see his waging tail.
Even though the majority of the Serengeti is grassland, there are a large number of acacia and other trees. Acacias have the distinctive flat top frequently seen in pictures from Africa. We also saw a few baobab trees with their awkward large trunks holding up a large canopy. The park also has a few small lakes and ponds. These were places where various birds and hippos can be found.
As part of our safari package, we camped for two nights inside the park. The campground had an armed guard patrolling the perimeter and a fence around the dining hall. Even still, we were not completely safe. During one dinner, a wild elephant came storming inside the campground and headed toward the dining tent. There was a mad scramble to get out of the way. Our guide said the elephant was likely searching for water. That night Richard heard lions roaring and swears they was right outside our tent. And then, after sleeping two nights in the same spot, we packed up the tent and spotted a crushed scorpion under the place where Maggie slept!
Ngorongoro Conservation Area
The Crater Highlands is an interesting part of Tanzania. It gets its name from the collapsed volcanoes that are found here. One of these craters has a unique ecosystem and is the perfect setting for a safari. Ngorongoro Crater is 20 km wide and is filled with grasslands, forests, freshwater lakes, swamps and salt pans. We stopped on the crater’s rim where we could see the tall, steep wall. Animals are able to walk in and out, however most don’t leave because of the rich source of food and water inside. Compared to the Serengeti, Ngorogoro is very green and lush. It felt like the garden of Eden.
Again we found a park full of wildlife who carried on with their day as if we weren’t watching.
After our safaris we traveled to Zanzibar Island. It is also called ‘Spice Island’ as it was an important trading post on the spice route. It has seen rulers from Oman and Yemn and later by the British and Portuguese. Indians came to the island as traders. All of these left their influence on the area so today it has a rich and unique culture.
The main site of interest in Zanzibar Town is Stone Town. Narrow streets are bordered by old whitewashed buildings with interesting doors and windows. Its a great place to wander. The streets have many small shops selling fabrics, crafts and spices.
Unfortunately, its location means that it also has a disturbing history. In the centre of Stone Town is a reminder of how horrible humans can be to one another. Old holding cells used during the slave trade are now a part of the museum. We walked down a narrow, steep stairwell to reach the small, suffocating cells. The outer walls have small slits instead of windows that don’t allow much fresh air or light to enter. It was very hot and humid inside. The low ceilings and stuffy air made us feel claustrophobic. We could only stand it for a few minutes. It was difficult to think of the people who were kept in these cells for days. Many didn’t survive. Those who did were sold at the slave market.
At one end of Stone Town is a colourful harbour with wooden dhow boats which are brightly painted. Old stone buildings line the harbour and add a unique texture.
The best part of Spice Island is the food. Their Indian heritage comes across in the flavourful curries and chutneys.
After summiting Kilimanjaro, we felt we deserved a reward and treated ourselves to a few nights at a beach resort on the east side of the island. The sand is perfectly fine, the water refreshingly warm and the cool ocean breeze kept us comfortable during the day.
Coming Next: Climbing Mount Kenya
To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.
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