*Our Top Picks:
Serengeti National Park · Ngorongoro Conservation Area · Zanzibar · Mount Kilimanjaro National Park · Arusha
EXPERIENCES IN TANZANIA
Serengeti National Park
As with Kenya’s Maasai Mara on its northern boundary, the Serengeti plays host to arguably the world’s most famous annual animal migration, that of over a million wildebeest, accompanied by lesser numbers of zebra and gazelles. Shadowed by predators, the migration is a spectacle that all nature lovers and Afrophiles should witness. For travellers wishing to catch the legendary river crossings, made famous by National Geographic (and those lurking crocodiles), timing is crucial. However, nature rules, and the animals' movements cannot be predicted far in advance. All we know is that the smell of thunder - and the impending rains - keep the wildebeest moving, attracted to the fresh grazing ahead.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Descending into the Ngorongoro Crater from one of the mostly luxurious lodges up on the crater rim is like entering a wildlife playground. Driving down through thickly forested crater walls in the game-drive vehicle, guests suddenly find themselves on the crater floor, about 610 metres deep and 260 kilometres squared, packed with probably all the wildlife species the traveller would wish to see. The area outside the Crater is known as the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, in which around 30,000 animals are found - leopard, cheetah, elephant, black-maned lions and if you are extremely lucky, black rhino. Once apparently a volcano as high as Kilimanjaro, it is thought that Ngorongoro collapsed on itself, giving the world’s its largest inactive, unbroken, and unfilled volcanic caldera. A World Heritage Site, the Ngorongoro Crater is regarded as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa.
Beyond its history and evocative name, rooted in legend, Zanzibar has compelling attractions, among them white sandy beaches and gentle waters, diving coral reefs, trawling Stone Town’s quaint and Swahili-designed cobbled lanes for cafes and sundowner rooftops, and... seafood, seafood, seafood. Stone Town is an old trade centre packed with history; the 1883 House of Wonders is a former sultan’s palace, connected by winding alleys to the Old Fort, now housing a cultural centre and a stone amphitheatre. The underground aqueducts that piped hot water to the late-19th-century Hamman Persian Baths are a remnant of Zanzibar’s ancient Arab culture and Swahili influence.
Mount Kilimanjaro National Park
‘Kili’, as it is known to Africa enthusiasts, is a dormant volcano and the continent’s highest mountain, and at 5,895 metres above sea level (roughly 4900m above the plateau), the highest single free-standing mountain in the world. Yet it is not the statistics, rather the variety of routes to the summit - in terms of duration and difficulty - that makes Kilimanjaro popular with both experienced hikers and first-time adventurers. Because of its unique location, on the equator and at such high altitude, Mount Kilimanjaro enjoys five different climatic zones, which means the plant, animal and birdlife is compelling.
Most importantly, Kili is safe, with vastly experienced guides and seven different climbing routes accounting for varying levels of skill and fitness. More than 25,000 travellers a year were attempting it before lockdown, providing employment while achieving their own personal milestones.
Arusha is Tanzania’s safari hub, a temperate city situated beneath the peaks of Mt Meru and Kilimanjaro, and the base from where most climbers set out to begin their climb of ‘Kili’. It is also the gateway to Tanzania’s northern circuit of game reserves, the Serengeti, Tarangire and Ngorongoro Conservation area among them.
For travellers with time pressure, there is the under-rated and less-visited Arusha National Park just north of town. Surrounding and protecting Mount Meru, Africa’s 5th highest peak, the park features habitats ranging from open savannah to rainforest with wildlife species to match: hippos in the wetlands, colobus and blue monkeys in the forest and elephant, buffalo, giraffe, and plains game in the woodlands. Leopard and spotted hyena are the major predators, with a typically impressive bird list of nearly 400.
This national park's main characteristic is a salt pan so large it can be seen from space. At over 22 000 square kilometres this is one of southern Africa’s iconic safari destinations, up there with Botswana’s Okavango Delta, South Africa’s Kruger, and Zimbabwe’s Hwange national parks. It is home to nearly 115 species of mammals, including four of the Big Five (no buffalo). Game-viewing anywhere in Africa is best during winter or dry seasons when the vegetation is at its thickest and water restricted to waterholes where animals gather. August and September, when the animals are forced to move to natural and artificial water holes, is regarded as the best game-viewing time in this park. During the rainy season, the game spreads into the more remote areas of the park.