I began my trip to Tanzania with three days exploring Zanzibar. A common misconception with a beach destination is that it involves lying around, sun-bathing and not much else, but Zanzibar has so much more to offer than that. I found it to be such a characterful island with a real buzz and interesting mix of cultures.
Stone Town is well worth exploring with all the winding streets, mosques, restaurants and rooftop sundowner spots to enjoy, while you can also trek into the Jozani Forest to see the indigenous red colobus monkeys. Water sports available on the island are abundant, from snorkelling to fishing, from sunset cruises to swimming with dolphins and of course kite surfing and scuba diving. During my visit, I was lucky enough to spend a morning snorkelling with Matemwe Lodge, which is located opposite the fantastic Mnemba atoll which offers some of the best snorkelling and diving on the island. We spent the morning exploring the underwater world known locally as “the garden” with beautiful colourful pink and orange coral dotted around and then spent a few hours exploring the area known as “the aquarium”, with layers upon layers beyond belief of bright colourful fish gliding around below us.
After Zanzibar, I flew north to Arusha for the safari content. My first stop was Tarangire National Park. The landscape is beautiful, dotted with majestic baobabs, rolling hills and intersected by the Tarangire River. Travelling in early December, after the November rains had fallen, everything was lush and plentiful. Tarangire is brimming with elephants and I got to the point where instead of trying to spot an elephant, I tried to avoid seeing them, and failed!
Next stop was the charming Lake Manyara National Park, a small but interesting park and well worth a visit purely for its tremendous diversity and the contrast to the rest of the northern Tanzania. The lake shores are tranquil, and are a perfect backdrop for a break from the driving with a delicious packed lunch.
I then travelled through to the Ngorongoro Crater. There are two options to choose between when considering accommodation in this area. Firstly, one can stay at one of the charming and friendly farm style properties in the Karatu area, well located to enable you to visit both Lake Manyara and the Crater. Secondly, one can opt to stay on the Crater rim and really take in the beauty of the Ngorongoro Crater, particularly during the twilight hours of the day. Not only do you get the breath-taking views, but also have quicker access down to the Crater floor, which in peak season can really pay off as the Crater does get rather busy.
Undeniably, visiting the Crater is an exciting day. The early morning descent as the sun is rising and the mist is settling gives you a great sense of anticipation for what the day holds. As soon as you reach the floor, you’ll get the chance to spy wildlife everywhere – jackals, zebra, wildebeest , hyaena, bat eared foxes, hippo, ostrich, giraffe, elephant and perhaps even lion (I was lucky), leopard or rhino (I was not so lucky). But as the day grew on, I began to notice there were people and vehicles everywhere, and when we were queuing up to see a lion, I knew that it was time to move on.
Although I very much enjoyed the Crater experience, as we set off on the stunning drive to the southern Serengeti plains, I was glad to see huge open spaces in front of me, and leave the people and vehicles of the Crater behind me. During the drive, we watched miles and miles of wildebeest trudging forward in single file, all doggedly intent to get to their next destination, which coincidentally, happened to be mine too.
I spent three nights exploring the southern plains and thoroughly enjoyed my time there; the endless wide open plains were vast, empty and peaceful (apart from the continuous – and endearing in my opinion – gnuing of the wildebeest!). On my final morning whilst staying at Alex Walker’s lovely intimate camp Mobile Kusini camp (only 6 tents), I woke up to the sound of hundreds of hooves galloping along next to my tent. I crept outside and sat and watched as the wildebeest poured past, not 10 metres away, for the best part of half an hour. Most were oblivious to my presence although occasionally one would clock me, stop and stare for a few seconds, before continuing. It was a beautiful and surreal way to wake up.
Apart from the migration, the game viewing was amazing. Cheetah were everywhere and one even used our vehicle for some respite from the midday sun. I was so close that I made eye contact and disturbingly discovered his eyes were a strange red colour. We saw lion mating, lion cubs playing, and in general had a fantastic safari. It’s not hard to understand why the Serengeti is such a popular destination for so many people and will easily be a highlight of any safari to northern Tanzania.
Northern Tanzania is a beautiful, interesting and varied destination. You can easily visit four diverse safari areas on one trip and although for some, longish drives between destinations are not an attractive option, I loved getting to see some of the country, the local people, the bustling markets, and the Maasai children waving. It’s a very different experience to flying straight into the bush and out again and a distinctive characteristic of most safaris to this region.
All in a days work!
During my trip I stayed at Breezes Beach Club & Spa, Matemwe Lodge, and Ras Nungwi Beach Hotel on Zanzibar; Oliver’s Camp, Escarpment Luxury Lodge, Ngorongoro Serena, Olakira Camp, Sanctuary Kusini and Serian Serengeti Mobile Kusini on safari.
On Zanzibar, I also site-inspected the Serena Inn, Zanzibar Palace, The Palms, Baraza Resort, Echo Beach Hotel, Pongwe Beach Hotel, Shooting Star Lodge, Next Paradise Boutique Resort, Bluebay Beach Resort & Spa, Matemwe Retreat, Kilindi, Gold Zanzibar, The Z Hotel and Essque Zalu, whilst in the north included Tarangire Sopa Lodge, Chem Chem Lodge, Gibbs Farm, Kitela Lodge, Plantation Lodge, Farm House Valley Lodge, Neptune Ngorongoro Luxury Lodge, &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, Ndutu Safari Lodge, Kimondo Camp and Arusha Coffee Lodge.