By Kevin Callaghan
What is Africa? What is a safari? Like so many regions and activities, Africa and safari are rich in connotation, but looking more closely we discover many wonderful attributes that lie hidden beneath such generalities.
Take Tanzania for example. It is arguably the one country in Africa with the single greatest variety, and yet it is often thought of in terms of simply East Africa, Kilimanjaro, or the Serengeti. These are all certainly iconic, but they mask many of the unique attributes that in all of Africa, only Tanzania has—and it’s a long list! Here are my top five:
1. Let’s Start at the Top—Literally!
Tanzania has Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro. Soaring above the surrounding plains at an impressive 19,340 feet, Kili has beckoned adventurers, pilgrims and romantics for decades. And among the overlooked highlights of Africa’s shining beacon are the little explored but highly diverse ecosystems (and their resident wildlife) on Kili’s flanks and around its base.
2. Into the Great Rift
Where to go next? How about the Great Rift Valley? One of the earth’s most profound geologic formations, the Great Rift Valley is an enormous trench that stretches some 3,700 miles from the northern tip of Syria to the heart of Mozambique in southern Africa. It contains most of East Africa’s great lakes, including Lake Victoria and Kenya’s Lakes Naivasha, Nakuru, and Bogoria, as well as most of the regions high mountains and sprawling wildlife preserves.
Not only is the Rift Valley of great geological and geographical significance, in Tanzania it is also home to Oldupai Gorge (formerly Olduvai Gorge), an outwardly unassuming depression between Ngorongoro and Serengeti National Park where evidence of some of our earliest ancestors was discovered. Many geologists, archaeologists, and anthropologists have examined the sediments of Oldupai and nearby Laetoli, most notably the celebrated couple Louis and Mary Leakey, who discovered the famous Laetoli footprints, evidence of man’s presence on earth as long as 2.5 million years ago.
3. A Conservation Success Story
Not only is Tanzania home to an incredible diversity of amazing wildlife, but also is doing a marvelous job of preserving all these magical natural wonders. Its extensive National Park and game reserve system—one of the finest in all of Africa—includes both the expansive grass plains of the Serengeti and the singularly unique Ngorongoro Crater and its surrounding highlands. Ngorongoro’s crater floor covers about 103 square miles, and is a veritable Garden of Eden where wildlife of all shapes and colors abound. And the Crater highlands are home to the legendary Maasai, pastoralists who live much the way they have for hundreds of years. On the northern side of Ngorongoro one can still experience the genuine Maasai tribal experience, far away from the well-trodden tourist path.
4. The Great Migration
I mentioned earlier the varied ecosystems surrounding Kilimanjaro—well, that extends to the incomparable Serengeti. Home to a rich variety of animals, large and small, it is here that millions of wildebeest, zebra, and other game species migrate more than 500 miles every year, traversing a wide swath of savanna from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, through Serengeti National Park, and into the Serengeti ecosystem’s northernmost corner, Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. This unimaginable pilgrimage occurs during calving season, and this coincidence of high numbers of animals with a higher than usual percentage of young, vulnerable individuals attracts a dedicated following of big cats, hyenas, and other predators, providing one of the wild kingdom’s most moving spectacles ever.
5. More Than Safaris
And perhaps best of all, Tanzania offers a wide array of ways to experience all its rich and varied magnificence. Of course safaris are the leading activity in this part of Africa, and for good reason. But as I mentioned earlier, Tanzania is home to legendary Kilimanjaro, one of the world’s celebrated “Seven Summits” and the highest peak in Africa (as well as the tallest free standing mountain on Earth). Many travelers consider a climb of Kili a “must do,” and we’ve even designed our “Climb Kilimanjaro” and “Rooftops of Africa” trips to include a traditional safari after the climb.
Tanzania’s coastal areas offer a very different picture of this rich and varied country, from the colonial charm of Zanzibar’s Stone Town to the island’s fragrant spice plantations and oh-so-relaxing beach resorts, where you can swim and snorkel, learn to dive, or simply lie back and soak up the Indian Ocean sun. (Click here for details on a special Zanzibar and Lamu extension offer for select Tanzania and Kenya adventures)
And accommodations in Tanzania run from the most elegant of lodges, hotels, and permanent safari camps to basic trekking camps on our Kilimanjaro adventures, as well as pretty much everything in between!
From the heights of Kilimanjaro to the lush forests of the Ngorongoro Crater highlands, and from the Serengeti’s vast high plains to the spice-scented beaches of Zanzibar, Tanzania truly has it all—rich culture, indescribable wildlife viewing, the deepest human history and dramatic, breathtaking landscapes.
Other areas of Africa have absolutely fascinating features, and I have visited and reveled in many of them. But I find my imagination returning again and again to Tanzania for its particularly rich set of wonders that, in combination, no other country can claim.
For more information on these safaris or to book your adventure, email us or call 1-888-831-7526 today.
Photos ©Christopher Bettencourt