Tanzania Safari Tip:
Upon entry into Tanzania you have two options for a visa. The first is to obtain a visa in advance, via a Tanzanian consulate in the United States or your home country. The second is to buy visa upon entry. Buying the visa upon entry is actually quite easy and only takes a few minutes. I would recommend strongly against sending away your passport. Cost is the same, and the risk of losing your passport is much higher if you chose the visa by mail option.
Tanzania Safari Tip:
Don’t bring any blue or black colored clothes with you. The sleeping bugs, attracted to wildebeests are also attracted to those colors. Stick to lighter colors, such as tan or light grey.
Tanzania Safari Tip:
There are many companies that offer a Tanzania Safari. If you are looking for a high level of service but love a great deal, check out the company I traveled with: Love and Dove Africa. Love and Dove offers many itineraries from which to pick – or you can create your own, an option many bigger companies don’t offer. The following is the trip created for me – 6 days, 4 national parks.
Tanzania Safari Tip:
When bringing cash to Tanzania, its important to check the year of your currency. US dollars are welcome, but currency published in 2006 or prior has a lower value at the exchange than currency published in 2007 or after.
After you make your way through arrival and customs, your tour operator will likely pick you up in the airport and take you to Arusha, the local town from your Tanzania safari will start. It’s usually a good idea to stay overnight in Arusha and one of the best Arusha hotel is the Mount Meru Game Lodge. This small, family run wildlife reserve and hotel is only a twenty five minutes from the airport and is the perfect respite for the weary traveler. You are in a big and noisy city, but inside the reserve you’ll never be able to tell. The lush green grounds are home to your first set of African native animals. As the sun sets, get your first glimpse of Africa at Mount Meru Game Lodge. Here, you will find zebra, buffalo, ostrich and several species of wild, free roaming monkeys. Enjoy a leisurely dinner with a drink here before heading in for the night. After catching up on your sleep the driver will pick you up around 7 to 7:30 am. Its a 2 hour drive to the first national park, where your safari will usually begin. At Mount Meru Game lodge you should also get a boxed lunch, your first of many. There are no facilities to have lunch while on the road, and its efficient to have boxed lunches to save time.
As you drive to your first destination on your Tanzania safari, the Tarangire park, you will pass many people of the Masai tribe. This is the largest tribe in Africa, you will recognize them by their colorful blue and red robes, each signifying carrying a special significance in the culture. Blue robes is for the young and unmarried boys, black are for young men going through the transition of becoming adults, and red are for the older and married men. In this culture wealthy men (wealth is determined by how many cows your own) can select a bride and pay her family with cows. The women don’t have a choice. Masai practice polygamy and previously practiced child marriage, sometimes of girls as young as 12. This is quickly changing as the government interfered now demands they follow Tanzanian law – a woman must wait until she is 18 to marry. Tribe was decimated by an aids/hiv epidemic in the 90s and this too is quickly changing. Education, prevalence of condoms and new awareness of the danger, as well as mandatory tests for all Tanzanians have helped curtail the epidemic and the tribe to recover.
Each park you will visit has a different personality. The Tarangire park is well known for large herds of elephants, and if you are a fan of the species you will enjoy your encounter with many families here. Additionally, there are lots of free roaming males and interactions with them are common – but be careful, taking too many pictures of one might make for a fast drive out of the area as this male taught me. There are also hundreds of native bird species here so be sure to look up – you will spot more than you can count. Look out for the giraffes and their bird handlers as well. You will notice your driver communicating on the radio a lot. He is talking to other drivers who spotted animals. Drivers inform each other of latest sightings. This system of cooperation allows your driver to take you to the closest spot where more rare animals can be seen – including cheetahs and lions.
In this park, as in all others during your Tanzania safari, you are not allowed out of the vehicle, for your own protection and that of the animals. There are stiff penalties to those that violate these rules. There are designated picnic areas where you may leave your vehicle, but be very careful to watch your food. Feeding animals is not allowed. But don’t worry about pictures – the roof of your car opens and you can take plenty of amazing photos standing in your vehicle. And you never have to worry about other humans ruining your perfect safari vacation snapshot.
Every park you will visit has its own personality, and each its own ecosystem. The Ngorongoro Crater park, originally created by volcanic activity millions of years ago, is no exception. This breathtaking reserve sits literally at a bottom of luscious green crater. Once your driver makes the steep descent to the bottom, you will find no shortage of wildlife and no shortage of stunning scenery. Here, the African plains open in front of you, and hundreds of species co-exist peacefully, including predators and prey. Thomson gazelle, water buffalo, elephants, zebras, and lions all lounge within feet of each other with no one seeming too worried about dinner or becoming dinner. Naturally lions are still the kings of the park, but they hunt early in the morning or late at night and leave visitor hours the peaceful Eden you will encounter. There are 12 rhinos in the park, each of them named and heavily protected. The rhinos are supervised with cameras twenty four hours a day and, I am told, the park has beefed up its security for their protection. And woe be to the rangers if a rhino falls on their watch – the entire shift would lose their job. There are dozens of hippos and they are easy to spot as they tend to move very little. There is even a hippo that hangs out in the picnic area and greets visitors with a very loud cow like sound. Of course, since this is a picnic area there are no barriers of any kind between you and the surprisingly fast multi-ton animal, so be sure to prepare to move really fast if you are looking to get close for pictures.
Day 4 and (optional) Day 5:
By now you already probably noticed that your guide is much more than just a driver. In order to become a safari driver they had to finish a four year college with a degree which combines zoology, botany and earth science. In addition, they finish several driving courses and have practice on very rough terrain, such as the terrain you are likely to encounter on the safari. But even more than that, drivers need to know how to spot animals and predict their behavior – both to make your safari outstanding and to keep you safe. This is a natural ability much of which can’t be taught. As we were watching a cheetah by the side of the road, laying only a few feet away from the car, other cars stopped repeatedly asking us if we needed assistance. The drivers couldn’t spot the cheetah almost in their way even though my driver, Simon spotted it almost a mile away. Simon is one of many drivers employed by the company I traveled with – Love and Dove Africa. This small, locally owned business provides the same level of service as the bigger companies – at only a fraction of the price.
The Ngorongoro park is more than just the crater. It extends for hundreds of miles and borders another park you may have heard of – the Serengeti. Depending on when you visit during the migration, the majority of the animals might still be at the Ngorongoro or they may have crossed into the Seregenti. Your tour operator should know where the animals are likely to be during your visit and will schedule several days for you to stay either in Ngorongoro or the Serengeti. For my safari, we stayed at the Ngorongoro as we started at the beginning of the great migration. The great migration takes place during the dry season. As less rain falls on the plains, the animals move further south in order to encounter cooler weather, and higher grass. If you are traveling in the beginning of dry season, as I am you are likely to spend more time in Ngorongoro than the Serengeti.
Its during this portion of the safari that you will spend time in a temporary tent city, set up for tourists. Mine, the Heritage Serengeti moves further south together with the animals. The tents are large and host real beds and electricity. But if there was ever any doubt as to where you are, you will be given a walkie talkie and told not to leave the tent after dark alone. Instead you need to call and let the staff know you want to leave a tent and a Masai warrior will accompany you at all times. This is not for protection from people but for protection from animals: you never know what’s behind you in the bush. In addition, you shouldn’t bring any food back to your tent. Animals can smell it from very far away and may try to get inside – such as the elephant who almost knocked down a woman’s tent over a small piece of a watermelon, or the pack of hyenas who went after a sandwich.
The Ngorongoro park (or the Serengeti if this is where you visit during your Tanzania safari) is a vast area of land, and here your driver will be able to go off the road for a truly four-wheel adventure. If you thought the roads on the safari so far were challenging – you ain’t seen nothing yet. You will be crossing mini rivers and huge piles of mud, and driving so close to boulders you would swear you will roll over. After today, you will understand the purpose of a four-wheel drive like never before. But you will be richly rewarded with experiences of a lifetime here as well. Predators, including lions, hyenas and cheetahs will be only a few feet away from your car. They are so close, I dare you to resist the urge to slam your window shut when your eyes meet the eyes of the king of the jungle. The animals, however, are used to the tan colored SUVs which stalk them around the savannah and there has never been a case of an attack by a predator on a car. They simply do not view us as a threat, or even seem to notice us at all. The predators will likely go about their business, and even the prey will often not pay attention to you, as long as you stay in your vehicle. Leaving your vehicle is, of course, strictly forbidden. The predators do view the Masai as a threat and will likely run away upon seeing the prominent red or blue robes – or attack. Either way, I don’t recommend wearing bright red or dark blue around here.
Today you will spend the morning in Ngorongoro reserve area. Get up early again to make the most out of your time here and see if you can catch a lion or a cheetah hunt before you leave. If you are visiting in January as I am make sure to be on the look out for the babies, there are so many during breeding season – wildebeest, cheetah, gazelle, giraffe – you name it, they are having a baby. If you pay careful attention, you’ll be noticing many pregnant animals too. Just don’t look too close, sometimes the babies fall prey to the predators shortly after being born. But have no fear – the healthy ecosystem here ensures that far more grass grazing animals are born than taken out by the predators. After you spend your morning chasing the lion, its time to head back to your hotel near Karatu. You’ll get back fairly late, just in time for dinner. Tomorrow is one more day of amazing encounters.
Today you will visit the last national park of your Tanzania safari – Lake Myanara. Although this park is advertised as the home of the climbing lions it’s a bit of a misnomer. First of all, all lions climb trees. And second there are virtually no predators in this park. Still, this is a beautiful little park (little by Tanzanian standards which is still pretty huge) where you will see giraffes, elephants, baboons, several different species of monkeys, water buffalo, zebra and the hippopotamus. I suggest spending a half a day here and if you feel like it you can do a “tree walk” – a hike on an elevated platform accompanied by an armed ranger – for your protection from the animals. This beautiful park concludes your Tanzania safari. Back now to Mount Meru Game lodge, for an evening of relaxation with the animals you have gotten to know so well. Walk around the grounds a bit here – there is a river out back, and see if you can spot a few monkeys. You are only a short drive from the airport so your hotel can easily arrange a driver for you tomorrow morning. I hope you have enjoyed this Tanzania itinerary. Leave a comment – I love to read them