In the jungle, the mighty jungle the lion sleeps tonight…After the Lion King Musical came to Theater Basel, the jungle melodies and daydreams of dancing animals would no longer let go of us. Some weeks later we started looking into safaris
We decided to take a trip over Christmas and New Year’s, which is why a local safari quest in Arusha was out of the question. In the high season, the good offers are mostly already gone. After a little investigation, I walked into a travel agency for the first time in my life—Kuoni Partner Private Safaris, to be exact, to book a weeklong safari.
Looking back on it, I’m very happy with Private Safari’s performance. To start, I was advised about the trip and could ask about anything, from hotels to the risk of malaria. The consultation cost CHF 70 and was deducted from the price. The trip was then conducted locally through Simba Safaris. We were lucky enough to have the jeep all to ourselves, along with a good driver-guide.
To Arusha on our own
On booking our safari, we were immediately also offered flights from Dar es Salaam to Arusha and back, or for us, on to Zanzibar. The price for that was 220$ per person. From our research on how to later make the return trip from Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam, we discovered that the flight cost around 80$, upon which we immediately booked our domestic flights online. The earlier you book, the cheaper they are. Precision Air is known for its delays. On the other hand, Regional Air won us over with its still somewhat more modern puddle jumpers. It’s important to keep in mind that these small planes will only let you carry on a maximum of 16 kg per person in softsided luggage.
On arriving in Dar es Salaam, you pay $50 per person for your visa. We had no departure taxes, even though it’s posted everywhere that you have to pay one upon departure.
The flight routes to Tanzania usually equate to round trips. Swiss flies from Zurich to Nairobi, then on to Dar es Salaam and back to Zurich. Our local flight from Dar es Salaam to Arusha made a stopover in Zanzibar. The flight from the Serengeti to Zanzibar was similar to airport hopping. I’m sure there are people who love small propeller machines with equipment from the last century, but for us, being plagued with fear of flying, it was sheer terror.
Once we arrived Arusha, we quickly realized that I’d forgotten the charge cable for our Nikon 750 and that we were supposed to take three weeks worth of photos with our fully charged batteries. Luckily, there’s a lot of stuff sold in Arusha. Along with assembled Nokia cell phones, we then found a device that would let us charge our batteries.
In Arusha, you should absolutely not walk around by yourself, and if you do, then don’t go too far from the hotel. Arusha is not a large town, but it does have a lot of residents, a market and, fortunately, ATMs. Arusha is the starting point for pretty much all of Tanzania’s safari tours.
Our safari route
Our plan was to do a tour that included three national parks. Starting with Lake Manyara National Park, it would continue on to Ngorongoro Crater, a protected paradise for every imaginable form of African wildlife, and it would then end in the wide expanses of Serengeti National Park, the most famous of the parks. This trip was to last five days, from start to finish in the same vehicle with the same driver. We spent the night right in the national park, which meant that we didn’t have to stand in line every morning before the park entrance. Our hope was to see as many animals as possible and to enjoy nature. That way we wouldn’t be disappointed if we missed the Big Five, even if that would be the climax of the trip. The Big Five, incidentally, are the elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, lion, and leopard.
From Arusha, it was a good three hours to Lake Manyara National Park. On the way, we drove through Mosquito River Village, as the locals call it. There we met several tourists who had their hotel there and used it as a starting point for their excursions to the national park. There we also learned from our guide about red bananas, which we’d never heard of before.
In Lake Manyara National Park, we came across a number of wild animals, including a herd of buffalo, hippopotamuses, impalas, baboons, and leopard tortoises. After visiting the national parks, we drove about another 2½ hours to our hotel at Ngorongoro Crater. Sopa Lodge is incidentally the only hotel from which you can admire the sunset.
On the second day, we visited Ngorongoro Crater, where you can also find rhinoceros, lions, and zebras. It wasn’t that simple, though, because the crater is a vast overgrown expanse where the animals can hide from the midday sun or from prying eyes. On top of that, safari jeeps have to stay on the road and aren’t allowed to drive out in the open. Our driver was really strict about that and also wouldn’t let us sit on the roof or get out. As far as that goes, for the animals to hang out by the side of the road is more of a coincidence than the rule.
But riding in an open jeep through the national park was a still a pleasure. The air tasted great, like summer, and the wind transformed the grassy spaces into a rustling sea. Nowhere did you need to stress, and you could really take your time watching a rhinoceros meandering slowly through the meadow or a family of elephants seeking out a shady spot.
For the third day, we’d scheduled a short visit to the crater before driving a good six hours to and through Serengeti National Park on our way back to the hotel. Along the way, we came across a lot of giraffes, which can’t manage the steep climb down into the Ngorongoro Crater and aren’t found there as a result. And in the distance we caught sight of the majestic, snow-covered Kilimanjaro volcano.
We spent the following two days in Serengeti National Park, along with leopards, elephants, giraffes, and every other animal species found in Africa. One of our best experiences was watching lions hunt. While the antelopes were busy eating their grass, three young lions, hidden among the tall grass, slowly and noiselessly made their way in their direction. Once in a while, they would remain seated, watching cautiously from the grass, and then continue silently stalking. But the antelopes sensed them in time and took off. The twenty safari jeeps at the edge of the happening didn’t seem to bother the animals.
Sadly, the return to civilization happened way too fast, and it was off with us on the plane to Zanzibar. Today I’d plan for a little more time and go visit another national park. For us, it was a huge stroke of luck to be able to see the Big Five more than once, although they were under way at the same time we were.
Watch out! Tsetse flies!
Within the Serengeti National Park, there’s a section that we would drive through in the morning and evenings where bloodthirsty tsetse flies would wait just for us. Who can blame them? Every day, a horde of tourists comes through and furnishes the flies with a feast. In spite of the speed with which our guide drove through there, the flies would manage to keep up with us—about twenty of them. Kevin and our driver were luckily equipped with fly swatters and were able to kill some of them. But a few did manage to get to our legs and get their blood.
Of course, we were outfitted with insect and tsetse fly spray, but that didn’t help at all. So in spite of the warm weather, the best thing is to wear long-sleeved and long-legged clothing and to pack a fly swatter. Although our safari agency didn’t believe there was any malaria in the region, I would pack something as a precaution anyway.
The right lens and the camera
Which lens should you bring along on safari? Doesn’t matter—we definitely had the wrong lens. With our 24–120 mm lens, we could do a good job zooming. But to photograph lions, which were sometimes 20 meters away, it was definitely not enough. Now I’d borrow a 300-mm or 600-mm lens for a safari. With wildlife, which you shouldn’t approach too closely anyway, you’ll enjoy the pictures more later.
For landscape photos, we brought along a 20-mm lens. I’m very happy with the results.
Who would have thought that the original inhabitants of Africa were real businessmen? Along with raising goats and cows, the Masaai also know how to earn money through an alternative source: tourists. Whether on the roadside, in their villages, or in the national parks, a Masaai won’t let himself be photographed or filmed without seeing some cash first. The rule is to first always ask the tribal elder and negotiate with him. A village tour that includes taking photographs can easily cost $150–200.