Dan Travels to Tanzania’s Safari Lands & Zanzibar

Visiting East Africa is something I’ve been dreaming of for some time. My first experience of the region is 10 days exploring the northern circuit of Tanzania’s famous wildlife reserves and Zanzibar Island.

Arusha Arrival

My first stop, Arusha, is reached via Nairobi (just four hours away from Johannesburg) on Kenya Airways and a short 1 hour hop to Kilimanjaro Airport. Timely connections, no delays and my luggage checked all the way through, made it all super easy and once through the yellow fever check and passport control, I’ve arrived.

Zanzibar sunset stone town -

My recognizable and friendly airport transfer driver whisks me away to my pre-tour accommodation and assists me with currency exchange at a good rate.

Ngurdoto Lodge’s host welcomes me with a cool juice, refresher towel and a brief orientation, before I catch up on some zzzz’s I’d missed out on during the overnight flight. Later on I check out the great atmosphere of the budget Meru View Lodge, which is right next door.

That night I headed out to dinner in jacket and jeans for the cooler evening that accompanies the altitude of the region. The Arusha office crew and my safari roommate Alex, prepare me for my adventure by teaching me a few Swahili phrases and providing an education on Tanzania’s beer.

Tarangire Elephants, Baobabs & Wild Things

The next morning around 09h00, after a full breakfast spread complete with earthy Tanzanian coffee, safari guide Anok collects me and three other safari companions.

The briefing by the head of operations is cheerful and thorough. Each group member is provided with a map and an explanation of expected road conditions, temperatures, traveling times/distances, animal sightings, highlights, park rules and etiquette; as well as details of meals, campsites and facilities. He also runs through a brief checklist to make sure that we all have a few of the essentials including: head torch, sleeping bag, adequate clothing and so forth.

With 10 minutes to get some last minute essentials, the fourteen strong tour group files into Nakumatt supermarket next door for toilet roll  - a minimum of 2 rolls per person for 7 days – some alcohol for those inclined and snacks. I wish I picked up wet wipes and lip balm. Africa is dry, hot and dusty.

The group is split into two converted Toyota Landcruisers, fitted with an inverter for charging batteries, and a small fridge for drinking water, which is provided for the entire seven days. Seven people in a vehicle is full, but there is enough space for daypacks and there are plenty pockets to stash cameras, nibbles and guide books, as we drive out of the bustle of Arusha. Our bigger luggage is carried in a support vehicle with the camping equipment, which goes ahead to the campsite to set up before our arrival. We reach our first campsite Zion, some seven km outside of the Tarangire National Park in time for lunch – tabouleh, kofte ,chicken kebab and tahini is served in a lunchbox prepared and packed by the Arusha office is a special one. Most days we are treated to a more than adequate lunch of sandwich, eggs, piece of chicken, fruit and biscuits washed down with juice.

The afternoon provides our first game drive and Anok pops open the vehicles’ roof for better viewing, whilst reminding us about tsetse flies. I put on my hat and sunblock as the sun is strong with the open roof.

Tarangire is famous for high elephant numbers and we soon encounter a large herd, of two or three families enjoying an afternoon drink and cool down. Some parts of the riverbed are dry and we watch another herd using their trunks to dig for water.

Bloat of hippos -

We spot zebra, wildebeest, waterbuck, birds, giraffe, warthog and our first pride of lions, doing what they do best. The landscape is peppered with iconic Baobab trees. After a good drive we head back to camp, leaving behind a dusty African sunset and the pesky tsetse flies. We are all keen for a hot shower before dinner, where we are treated to fried tilapia fish, rice, peas and side salad. One of the camp staff fetches cold beer from the village and we move outside and enjoy Kilimanjaro and Serengeti lagers under the stars.

Scenes of Lake Natron & Ol Doinyo Lengai

We rise bright and early at 06h00 for a breakfast of eggs, toast and pancakes and begin a long drive to Lake Natron at 08h00. The bumpy road, providing a “bush massage” passes several small Maasai villages and harsh scrub landscape. We bombard Anok with questions about the country, customs. Our guide is happy to share his vast knowledge.

Maasai warriors under acacia tree -

We stop for a view of Tanzania’s last active volcano and Maasai sacred mountain Ol Doinyo Lengai, which translates as "Mountain of God", unique among active volcanoes in that it produces natrocarbonatite lava.

Pelican ngorongoro crater -

We arrive at the campsite for lunch and are then introduced to a local Maasai guide for a 1 hour hike, through mountains to a waterfall. We swim and cool off before returning in the 35 + degree heat along a river to meet our vehicles. We drive to Lake Natron in the late afternoon to walk and view flamingoes. The lake is the site of Nick Brandts’ eerie images captured in the book Across the ravaged land, which depicts the affects of the water’s alkalinity on birds.

Lappet faced vulture -

Serengeti - Land of the Maasai, Big Cats & Plains Game

On the third day, I wake up early to watch the sunrise and see an array of colours reflect on Ol Doinyo Lengai. We drive northwest to Serengeti National Park, passing several Maasai villages as we leave the concession area and enter through one of the lesser traversed gates.

Spice tour nutmeg -

Sightings are immediate and include mating lions and a bloat of hippos. Making good time the guides push on to the central Serengeti and Seronora areas in order to spend two nights deep inside the park. Arriving just before dark our set up camp is a welcome site as is another tasty dinner served under the African sky.

Maasai beadwork -

Bufallo serengti np -

Our guides warn that an elephant is in the camp, rifling through the bins for snack, we are surprised that we didn’t hear a thing. A few hyenas also stray into the camp looking for some easy pickings. We are advised not to get out and use the toilets at night but are also assured not to panic if we hear animals by our tents and to keep still and enjoy the sense of proximity.

Stone town beach bicycle -

The morning game drive around the central and Seronora areas provides an abundance of wildlife in the vast plains. The big cat sightings were particularly impressive including two separate leopard encounters and plenty prides of lions.

Leopard in tree with kill serengti np -

Lion serengti np -

The usual suspects – zebra, giraffe, elephants and buffalo were never far and the twitchers among us enjoyed spotting the Hoopoe, Marabou stork and numerous raptors.

Hike through river enroute to waterfall lake natron -

Captian zappy -

After a hot lunch spread of pizza, beef, quiche and accompanying salads we had a couple of hours siesta and entertainment from a band of mongooses doing battle with a Marabou stork over a bounty of bin scraps. The afternoon game drive rewards us with a sighting of an elegant Serval cat.

Serval cat serengeti np -

Ngorongoro Crater - Wildlife-packed Showtime

On Day 5, our camp is packed up as we head onto the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. We see some scavengers at work with the leftovers of last night’s kill, this time a vulture and a hyena. We also spot shy cheetahs that keep their distance and are surprisingly in a small group.

Leopard in tree serengti np -

The area hosts the world’s largest inactive but intact and unfilled volcanic craters, formed two to three million years ago after a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself. It is 610m (2000 ft) deep and 260 square km (100 square miles) surface area. The Maasai bring their cattle to the crater for feeding and water but are not allowed to stay.

Ol doinyo lengai (2) -

We camp on the rim of the crater at an altitude in the large Ngorongoro Simba campsite. At an altitude of 2400m, I’m glad to have my sleeping bag, warm clothes and hiking socks and beanie hat. Dinner is served in a canteen area and we all knock off to bed for an early rise.

At 07h00 we descend into the crater and the high density and constant sightings of the animals feels almost zoo like. Finally a black rhino, which attracts a lot of attention. Pelicans delight us with a graceful display of synchronized fishing and we spot Tanzania’s national bird the Grey-crowned crane. More lion action, a picnic lunch in the crater and we make our way out.

Serengeti sunset acacia tree -

Leaving the crater rim we make the easy journey to a viewpoint of Lake Manyara and to an overnight camp which feels like civilization, complete with swimming pool for our final night of the safari. It is an opportunity to buy some souvenirs and grab a couple of cold beers at a local bar.

Zanzibar Island - Rich Culture, Aromatic Spices & Dreamy Beaches

On the final morning we breakfast and depart, arriving at Arusha’s Kilimanjaro International Airport around midday, where we go our separate ways. Alex and I fly with Air Excel on a 13-seater Cessna Grand Caravan, on a 1-hour 40 minute journey to Zanzibar.

On arrival in Stone Town I’m transferred to the beautifully decorated Kholle House. Not wasting any time, I get out on foot exploring the narrow alleys, markets and relics. Steeped in history, Stone Town has a wonderful energy and locals are friendly, laid back and helpful. The seafood is exquisite, kingfish, red snapper and octopus dishes are all laced with aromatic spices from the island. 

View of kilimanjaro from plane -

My second day on the island is spent on the east coast at Jambiani, a picture postcard location with ubiquitous palm fringed white sand beaches turquoise waters.


There is a variety accommodation including Spice Island Resort, Bahari View Lodge, Casa Del Mar, Nur Beach Hotel all with a range of rooms that suit most pockets. Never fearing the reaper, I stay at Blue Oyster Hotel and spend the afternoon snorkeling (best at low tide) with Captain Zappy.  After dinner, Alex and I head to the local Zombie Bar for some cold Kilimanjaro lagers and sharing reggae and dub tunes. We return before the tide turns and escape wet feet.

Elephants at sunset serengeti np -

A spice tour by Spice Boys (Sporty, perhaps) en route to my final destination of Nungwi, was a great experience. An escapade into the heart of spice production on the island - the world number two producer of cloves. I learn how the spices are used for medicines, soaps, perfumes as well as food. I taste fruits, spices and fresh coconut water – collected by the Butterfly Man who sings “Jambo Bwana” as he climbs a palm! I buy a couple of soaps as a memento.

Spotted hyena serengti np -

On the far north coast, Nungwi is more touristic than the east and the Z Hotel is a glitzy and luxurious end to my journey, especially sundowners by the pool. I walked into the local village to benefit from a better exchange rate and found good value restaurants on the beach. I decline offers of a party and opt for an early night ahead of an early start, I am already planning my next sojourn to the region as I retire to my room.

Zaznibar east coast jambiani -

If you liked this post, these trips cover similar ground…

Leave a Comment or Ask a Question

comments powered by Disqus

Places Mentioned in this Post

Similar & Related Blog Posts

Below you’ll find further reading and articles related or similar to this post.

East Africa: A Bucket List

Derek KeatsA bucket list of places to see and things to do in eastern Africa. These are just a smattering of the incredible sights, sounds and activities that Africa has to offer. Start planning your trip here!  Read on

Tanzania - Land of Legends

Not sure which country to explore on safari in East Africa? Tanzania comes out tops! Read on

Top 7 Reasons to go to Zanzibar Islands

Zanzibar IslandsZanzibar is an alluring beach destination ideally located off the coast of East Africa's Tanzania, one of the best safari destinations in Africa. Safari goers often combine their game viewing adventures in Africa with a relaxing getaway to the beautiful white sand beaches of Zanzibar and with good reason. Read on

Our top 20 beaches in Africa - an African Beach Bucket List

From East Africa to South Africa, the continent is blessed with a multitude of breathtaking beaches. Our ultimate beach bucket list will reveal the beaches that pump all summer long, the best-kept sandy secrets and the beaches not to be missed. Here we share our top twenty beaches, all worthy of a place on a bucket list. Read on

Sign the Online Petition to Halt Maasai Evictions in Tanzania

 Two Maasai men walk outside Enkereri village near Masai Mara Game Reserve.The Tanzanian government plans to evict some 30 000 Maasai people from their ancestral lands bordering the Serengeti, so that wealthy foreign tourists can use the area for big-game hunting. International protests last year helped to stop Maasai evictions, but now plans are being revived and urgent action is needed again! Read on

Cultural Africa: More Than Just The Big Five

Joachim Huber A short list of some of the cultural treasures that Africa holds. We're not just about The Big Five! Read on

Amazing Facts about Africa’s Big Five

Here are some interesting and amazing facts about lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalos - Africa's Big Five. Read on

3 Top Gadgets for African Safaris

Martin PrussThese are three of the best new gadgets you can take with you on safari in Africa, without weighing you down. These electronic devices can help you capture those unforgettable moments and get the ultimate wildlife footage, while staying in touch with folks back home and keeping yourself entertained on the road. Read on

Africa’s Best National Parks in its Top 5 Safari Countries

Serengeti by Leon BerlottiGet a snapshot of Africa’s Best National Parks in the 5 Top Safari Countries, from the legendary Masai Mara in Kenya to Namibia's unique Etosha Park. Read on

Top 6 Wildlife Apps for your African Safari

So there you are in the bush on safari in Africa and now you are wondering what animal you are actually looking at, or what on earth it is doing! Here are a handful of top mobile applications to help you get the most out of your safari, even where there is no internet access. Read on

Birds of A Feather: The Africa Edition

Lip Kee YapNot only does Africa offer spectacular wildlife, incredible scenery, great people and fascinating history and culture, it is also a birdwatcher's paradise. We introduce you to a couple of our feathered friends. Read on

Endangered Animals in Africa & How to Help

Gerry ZamboniniOn African Safaris you may be lucky enough to spot a few of these 11 endangered wild animals, roaming free. Face the facts about these endangered African wildlife species, and see how you can help to ensure their survival! Read on

The Ugly Five: Only Their Mums Could Love Them

Lip Kee Yap So you've heard about the Big Five, but did you know there's an Ugly Five too? These creatures are the ones who only their mothers could love. And us, we love them too. Read on

Foster a Baby Elephant in Kenya

Kungu and StephenFostering an elephant or rhino in Kenya will only set you back about R500 (50USD) a year! The fostering process is run online so you can select from either the adult or baby elephants and rhinos on the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s website. Read on

Good News for Wildlife Conservation

Gorilla Image by Chloe Cipolletta - WWFHere's some good news to start the week on a positive note - South Africa pledges to spend millions of rands on fighting Wildlife Crimes, UNESCO declares the tri-national park in Central Africa as the first multi-national World Heritage Site, a private South African company announces plans to take over several national parks throughout Africa to aid the game reserves and Namibia takes leading strides in Community Based Wildlife Conservation! Read on
Show us some FB Love
Follow @RealAfroSafaris