Safari Drive – Ultimate Tanzania
Tanzania is one of Africa’s best safari destinations. Here are just some of the places to explore.
The Serengeti is probably Africa’s most famous National Park and is an absolutely outstanding place to see wildlife. Its name comes from the Maasai word ‘siringet’ meaning ‘endless plains’ and this is a perfect description; its vast expanse does indeed seem never-ending and the savannah is alive with game.
The Serengeti’s most prolific animal species is the wildebeest with an estimated 1.5 million spread across its plains. Also in great numbers are zebra, Thomson’s gazelle, Grant’s gazelle, impala, topi, kongoni, eland, giraffe, buffalo and warthog. There are dik-dik, klipspringer, roan, oribi, waterbuck and oryx too. The Serengeti is home to a few black rhino although they are in a restricted part of the park. Elephant tend to stick to the northern and western parts of the park as they do not favour the open plains. Predators here are prolific: hundreds of lion and a healthy population of cheetah and leopard. Spotted hyenas, golden jackals, bat-eared foxes and black-backed jackals, civet, serval, genet and African wild-cat are also regularly seen.
Measuring around 14 miles in diameter, the Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera and is home to a remarkable diversity of animals including dense populations of large mammals.
Owing to the splendor of this unique sanctuary and its location on the northern circuit, thousands of visitors flock here every year. It is therefore important to get onto the crater floor at first light before the crowds descend. Viewing the crater is an unmissable opportunity and nothing can spoil the scenic grandeur of this amazing landform and the abundant game that lives here. The fact that the animals are accustomed to their spectators means that they are far more likely to behave as they would were nobody present at all – a wonderful chance to see them acting very naturally.
Despite its 900 feet rim, the wildlife can come and go from the crater. There are around 25,000
larger animals in the crater, amongst them many zebra and wildebeest. Lion, buffalo and elephant are virtually guaranteed to be seen and rhino are regularly sighted. Leopard, cheetah and numerous hyena are just some of the other species to be found here. (Giraffe and impala are notable for their absence.)
The crater’s soda lake, Lake Magadi, attracts large numbers of colourful flamingos along with a wide variety of other birds.
One of our favourite parks in Northern Tanzania and frequently overlooked by people on the “Northern Circuit”. Tarangire is significantly less visited than its neighbour – Lake Manyara and yet is often the source of some excellent game viewing.
The ecosystem is like a smaller version of the Serengeti with everything from rocky kopjes to wetlands and open savannah. The Silale wetlands in the central southern area of the park acts an enormous magnet for elephants and plains game in the hotter summer months and naturally supports a good number of predators.
One of the joys of being on safari in Tarangire is that it frequently throws up surprise sightings – painted dog packs cross the park and check the flat topped acacia trees around the wetlands for nesting pythons!
Tarangire has a good range of luxury tented camp accommodation and they are well spread out meaning game drives are unencumbered. One of our favourite activities is to head out on a walking safari in one of the private concessions – this gives a completely different perspective compared to being in a vehicle and a much better sense of place.
Aside from the large mammals, Tarangire is a birdwatching paradise with everything from cattle egrets to migratory species using the Tarangire River and bee eaters nesting in the banks.
Lake Manyara sits at the base of the Great Rift Valley escarpment, the alkaline soda lake is fed by springs from the Rift wall. Famous for its blur of pink flamingos and tree climbing lions, Lake Manyara National Park is dominated by the basin of the lake itself and dense vegetation on the shoreline.
This dense foliage gives game drives here a feel of the “Jungle Book” as you can never be sure what is to be found crossing your path around the next corner.
Few people stay in the park itself but those who do get a much better experience than a quick drive in and out might lead you to think. It is a natural inclusion on the Northern Circuit. There are only a couple of accommodation options meaning that from mid-afternoon you tend to have the park to yourself – a very exclusive experience. As well as lion and leopard, Lake Manyara is consistently good for elephant spotting and the canopy of the trees resound with bird song.
Located halfway between Arusha and the Ngorongoro Crater, the lake is the perfect place to stop for lunch. Although a game drive around the lakes shore followed by lunch at the top of the escarpment with the incredible panoramic views is mighty fine alternative.
Remote and wild are two excellent descriptions for Ruaha National Park. Set at altitude to the west of the Selous Game Reserve in Southern Tanzania, Ruaha is an untouched wilderness that abounds with wildlife.
This is the second largest national park in Tanzania and yet has some of the lowest visitor numbers of any park in East Africa.
Those intrepid enough to travel here, will be rewarded with a truly wild and authentic safari experience. This area boasts phenomenal plains game and all the predators you would expect from a more famous park. The outfits operating in Ruaha are some of the most professional we have found, with excellent guides and tented camps and lodges which blend seamlessly into this landscape. Walking safaris here rival Zambia.
The landscape is a patchwork of open clearings and miombe scrub. Sand rivers fill in the rainy season and then drain just as quickly and impressive baobabs dominate the skyline. This mixture of vegetation supports a wide range of bird and mammals as well as impressive numbers of predators.
When used in combination with the delta-esque landscape of the Selous, the contrast is incredibly marked. Being at higher altitude and with its own endemic species, Ruaha feels like a much wilder prospect. The most elusive creatures here are other safari-goers.
If Ruaha is off the beaten track, then Katavi is practically off the map. Set way out in deepest, darkest south west Tanzania, Katavi is a place that appeals to dedicated safari adventurers.
The landscape is thankfully unfettered by human encroachment meaning that the wildlife is totally unhabituated and offers incredibly wild and authentic encounters. The best game viewing area is a wide savannah appropriately named Paradise Plains. Here, huge herds of buffalo and antelopes graze, under the steady gaze of predators. The open savannah offers perfect conditions for cheetah.
Close to the river, large areas of grass are so finely clipped by the enormous hippo population that the banks resemble a golf course. This is one of the few places that hippos casually saunter around out of the water during the day, a most unusual sight.
Crocodiles hibernate in caves dug into the river banks and the air is filled with a staggering array of bird species.
There are only two places to stay in Katavi and they are well spaced – it is truly possible to spend days here without encountering other vehicles. Chada Katavi is a fine camp with excellent hosts and guiding. The emphasis here is on incredible game viewing and an authentic safari experience rather than OTT luxury. Works extremely well in conjunction with a stay at Mahale.
This national park is like no other. It feels like a sizeable chunk of Eden. There are no roads in, through or out of the park. To reach Mahale you have to fly to a small airstrip bordering Lake Tanganyika, then cross the lake by boat to reach your destination. But what a destination it is. Framed with the backdrop of the mountains, with cloud forest swathing the hillsides to the lake, this remote park is straight out of Tarzan.
The waters of the lake are deliciously pure and clear and the forested mountains are home to chimpanzees and lions.
Your lodge stands proudly on a white sand beach, with echoes of a voodoo talisman about its structure. This is nature’s playground and it is a privilege to be able to immerse yourself within it. Most visitors (of which there are amazingly few) are here primarily to trek to the chimpanzees but then realize that Mahale offers so much more. The canopy of the rainforest reverberates as monkeys crash through the branches overhead. Tropical and improbable looking birds with iridescent crests and plumes fly awkwardly through the branches. At night you can hear the leopards sawing and rasping all whilst the lake laps onto the beach just feet from your bed.
Located in southern Tanzania, this is Africa’s largest game reserve. To put this into perspective, it is twice the size of Denmark. One of the advantages of visiting a game reserve rather than a National Park is the relaxed rules meaning you can head out on walking safaris and boats safaris as well as the more traditional 4×4. Even though the accessible parts of the park only account for around 5% of its total size, the Selous is a fantastic place to visit. Comprising dense tracts of miombo wilderness, palm-fringed channels of the meandering Rufiji, sweeping sandbanks and marshy islands it is a pretty park and attracts a plethora of exciting game and stunning birds.
The Selous is one of the best places in East Africa to find the elusive Painted Dog. The combination of the woodland. open clearings and rivers make it the perfect hunting ground for these apex hunters. It is also teeming with buffalo and its rivers are awash with hippo, whose numbers are estimated at 150,000 and 40,000 respectively. Lion, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, impala, greater kudu, hartebeest and eland are also abundant.
A visit to Selous, particularly to the western areas, brings with it a feeling of exclusivity. It is little visited compared to many of Tanzania’s northern parks with only 1% of visitors to the country making it to the park and seeing a beautiful bird or an exciting animal is infinitely more special if you are the only one there.
There’s just so much you can do in Tanzania and were full of ideas to suit you. In the meantime, here are three of our favourites.
The Great Migration is one of the most spectacular events of the animal kingdom and takes place across the Serengeti in northern Tanzania. We can recommend certain regions at various times of year so that you can experience a front row view of this extraordinary movement of game.
It is one of nature’s most astonishing phenomena as two million animals (mostly wildebeest but also zebra, gazelle and eland) head across the plains of Tanzania towards Kenya. They risk life and limb to complete this yearly journey in search of fresh grazing. Wherever the herds roam, they are followed by a host of predators leading to some dramatic encounters. The wildebeest must also cross the Grumeti River – a perilous task around June & July – as they become a moving feast for a seething mass of huge, hungry crocodiles.
The migration normally starts towards the end of April, as the great herds begin to amass on the southern Serengeti plains in preparation for their journey. After this time, the herds begin to disperse into the Maasai Mara in Kenya and across northern and western Serengeti. By late October, they begin to make the move south again for the start of the new cycle. The migration is dictated by local rainfall patterns and because it is a reasonably predictable occurrence, it is often possible to time a trip to the Serengeti to coincide with this fascinating event.
If you like to be on the move when on safari, travelling in comfort and style, seeing all there is to be seen in one fatal swoop, then a Sky Safari – a unique way of travelling Tanzania – is for you.
Normal itineraries to tend to include light aircraft flight transfers, which works well. However, these tend to be one drop off at the beginning of your safari and one pick up at the end, so you dont move around the country that much. Where with Sky Safari you move every few days, and get expert safari guiding, a private plane, the best pilots and an exotic itinerary, so you get the best of all worlds – and lets you get to see a lot of Tanzania in an incredibly stylish way.
SkySafari encompasses the very best of Tanzanias wondrous landscape. From the foothills of Kilimanjaros sister mountain, Mount Meru, to the magical tree houses in Tarangire, and from the drama and beauty of the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti plains to the island paradise of Zanzibar, SkySafari delivers the ultimate African experience – without exception.
SkySafari guests will travel in an executive-class Grand Cessna Caravan, and piloted by highly experienced and professional pilots. And with every transfer being provided when not flying, youll be in high-standard Safari Land Cruisers. Traveling to each and every camp and lodge will be an experience to be savored and enjoyed.
Tanzania is blessed with not only incredible safari highlights, but incredible beaches and islands (Zanzibar, Mafia and Pemba) too, which with no surprise makes it the perfect place for a safari beach holiday. Safari beach combos allow you to enjoy stark contrast in perfect harmony, after all, once the safari dust has settled, it only seems natural that you should finish your safari on white sand beaches with crystal clear waters!
The combination creates a sense of wow to your trip. Its hard to believe you’ll be hot air ballooning over the Serengeti one second, to snorkeling and diving the next. The change of scenery is mind blowing – this is a twin center holiday that’s almost impossible to beat.
Timing is everything, and when you choose to visit will play a huge part in the experience you have. Here’s some advice to help.
Olduvai Gorge is between the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti in northern Tanzania. Drs Louis and Mary Leakey discovered fragments of the skull of Australopithecus Zinjanthropus, an ‘ape’ man who lived around 1.75 million years ago.
A year later, they unearthed the skull and bones of a young Homo Habilis. Then in 1979, fossilised footprints of a man, woman and child were discovered close to Olduvai dating back around 3.7 million years.
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