Image credit: &Beyond
From the great migration to Africa's highest peak, Tanzania is a land of superlatives. Joanna Booth reports
Crowds aren’t usually a good thing when it comes to safari. Nobody wants to be just one of a horde of vehicles circling a kill, like motorised vultures. But there’s one occasion when sharing the Serengeti with over two million others is an utter thrill.
Every year 1.5 million wildebeest, 400,000 zebra and 200,000 gazelles gather on Tanzania’s Serengeti plains on their way north to Kenya’s Masai Mara, chasing the best grazing and water as the seasons turn.
Spectacular river crossings, with hundreds of wildebeest at a time taking their chances against the turbulent water – and the crocodiles -– are the focal point, together with plenty of kills as prides of lion and good numbers of cheetah and leopard flock for the rich pickings.
The migration is undoubtedly Tanzania’s biggest draw, but it’s only the beginning of the destination’s superlatives. The country boasts the largest herds and the highest concentration of predators in Africa, the continent’s highest mountain and the world’s largest caldera, not forgetting the sandy shores and warm Indian Ocean waters off the coast and the fascinating island of Zanzibar.
SEE: CHOOSE A CIRCUIT
First-timers tend to choose Tanzania’s renowned Northern Circuit, travelling either overland or flying between the highlights. These include the vast open plains of the Serengeti National Park, Lake Manyara, a small but rewarding park best known for its flamingos and tree-climbing lions, and the Ngorongoro Crater – the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera, filled with game and offering stupendous views – and home to the Olduvai Gorge, where fossil footprints of early humans millions of years old have been found.
Often overlooked, Tarangire National Park is only an hour’s drive from Arusha and is home to Tanzania’s lesser-known migration. Between August and October, 4,000 elephants descend on the park, and these huge herds and a relative lack of other visitors make it a good recommendation.
The Northern Circuit’s renown can make it crowded with people as well as animals, which is where the Southern Circuit comes in. The parks of the south don’t have the migration to attract tourists, but these vast wilderness areas have excellent game and few other people to spoil the viewing of it – a great sell for the more experienced safari-goer.
Almost twice the size of Belgium, the Selous is Africa’s oldest game reserve and offers a variety of safari experiences from walking to boating. A cluster of tributaries in the north of the park offers a permanent water-supply throughout the dry season (July to November), making it a great place to see elephants, hippos and crocodiles. The Selous is often twinned with smaller Ruaha, an hour-and-a-half’s flight west, where lion, buffalo and leopard are numerous. It’s a strikingly different landscape, with red soil and forests of baobab trees.
It’s not all about game. Tanzania also has a coastal circuit, with the island of Zanzibar its foremost jewel. In addition to the stunning beaches, clients can experience local culture in Stone Town, take tours of spice farms and enjoy watersports including diving. Africa specialist operators will also offer properties on the coast of mainland Tanzania. Those who stay in Saadani National Park, the country’s only coastal park, can take an early morning game drive and still be swimming in the Indian Ocean before lunch.
STAY: CAMP IT UP
Tanzania isn’t short of luxury lodges, with some absolutely world-class camps for wealthy clients.
Operator &Beyond’s Ngorongoro Crater Lodge is perched on the crater rim, but the views outside only just trump the luxurious interiors, where traditional Masai-style stilted suites are enhanced with teak panelling and chandeliers. Tarangire Treetops is equally luxurious, with some of the largest bedrooms in East Africa in its stilted treehouses. In the Serengeti, deluxe mobile camps such as Serengeti Under Canvas and Singita Explore are great choices as they track the movements of the herds throughout the season.
For clients with lower budgets, Serena Hotels has properties throughout Tanzania offering good value without sacrificing character. Locations tend to be good – the Ngorongoro property is right on the crater rim, the views at the Lake Manyara hotel are fabulous and the small huts at Serengeti Serena mean that it feels a smaller, more private type of property than it actually is.
New to Virgin Holidays is Dunia Camp, an eight-tent camp tucked among the rocky outcrops of the Moru Kopjes; it’s hidden from the crowds but still has great views.
Big spenders in the south should look at Selous Safari Company, which runs a trio of deluxe camps: Siwangu in the Selous, Jongomero in Ruaha and Ras Kutani on the Tanzanian coast. For the more price-conscious, Foxes Safari Camps include Ruaha River Lodge, and Rufiji River Camp in the Selous Game Reserve.
From secluded retreats to lively lodging, Zanzibar has a wealth of accommodation. Breezes Beach Club is a larger hotel and great for families; Ras Nungwi, on one of the island’s most secluded beaches, and with good facilities for its size, including a dive school, is better for couples.
A good budget alternative is friendly guesthouse Matemwe Beach Village, which has 16 rooms, five suites and a dive centre. At the very top end of the scale, &Beyond Mnemba Island Lodge is the only resort on Mnemba Island, with just 10 upscale villas offering the very best of barefoot luxury.
Image credit: Singita
SELL: HEADLINE SIGHTS
Notoriety and variety are key selling points. The migration, the Serengeti, and the Ngorongoro Crater are so famous they almost sell themselves, but these big ticket sights are just the start of the story.
The country’s better-known attractions appeal to first-timers and experienced safari-goers alike, but those who have already visited can return to explore the untouched beauties of the southern circuit. Those who enjoy a challenge can even climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak.
This diversity means Tanzania can cater to the whole spectrum of guests, and the same is true in terms of accommodation. The top end of the market is particularly well-catered for, but there are lower budget choices too. Remember, visitors need to take anti-malarial medication, which prevents many parents taking kids under eight.
The combination of game reserves and Indian Ocean coastline make Tanzania an easy sell for safari and beach twin centres – a fact not lost on UK honeymooners, who flock here with the same eagerness as the wildebeest. It’s worth noting that while many holidaymakers choose to go on safari first, adding a beach stay at the end of their trip, honeymooners often book the elements in reverse, recovering from the stresses of the wedding on the beach before heading off to search for the big five.
Additional reporting by Madelaine Winn
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