Tanzania: Planet Earth's Most Magical Paradise

Katie Li

05 Oct 2018

"Blessed with some of the most beautiful landscapes, fascinating cultures, friendly people and diverse wildlife, Tanzania has so much to share"

2018 has been my most adventurous year to date! Having made some good friends in Victoria Falls and Botswana (some being seasoned safari-goers), they all recommended Tanzania. And what a way to wrap up my travel adventures with a final big trip before 2019!

A huge thank you to the team at Natural World Safaris (NWS) and especially to Oliver Greenfield for creating another extraordinary tailor-made journey with high recommendations.

In summary, this blog will cover my adventures at:

An incredible one-to-one adventure of a lifetime!

After a 19-hour journey from London to Tanzania via Dubai, I was absolutely delighted to be greeted with a warm welcome ("Karibu") from Emanuel, who was my personal one-to-one guide for the entire adventure.

Emanuel was friendly, personable and considerate. He was an exceptional and knowledgeable guide, making the trip enjoyable and fun. It felt as though I was travelling with a good friend as we shared stories, backgrounds, cultures, and learned from one another.

Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru

Our journey started and ended with a stunning view of the highest (dormant volcanic) mountain in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro. I was impressed from the very first to the very last moments of being in Tanzania with its breathtaking landscapes.

And, just north of Arusha / west of Mt. Kilimanjaro stands a dormant stratovolcano known as Mount Meru, the second-highest mountain in Tanzania.

Did you know that there are over 127 indigenous communities (often referred to as tribes) in Tanzania? (Datoga and Hadza being the oldest to have lived in Tanzania, long before the Maasai settled in the country from Kenya.)

A traditional ritual among the different indigenous communities still exists today in the 21st century, where the indigenous people would climb Mt. Meru to perform offering ceremonies. Their cultural beliefs are that these mountains are sacred, and when unfortunate events occur – drought, for example – the people would sacrifice one of their farm animals to give back to the mountain, praying for good fortunes.

And, according to the people of Tanzania, there is a saying:

If you see the tip of Mount Kilimanjaro, this means that you will return to Tanzania again.

Having seen the tip of Mt. Kilimanjaro on my return journey to the airport, I am sure I will most certainly return to Africa one day, and Tanzania will be one of those places to experience again.

The country has so much to share; it’s blessed with some of the most beautiful landscapes, fascinating cultures, friendly people and diverse wildlife that you could spend a lifetime exploring.

African Cultural Heritage Centre, Arusha

First stop was at the African Cultural Heritage Centre in Arusha. The art gallery is dedicated to exploring the wonders of African culture; it was fascinating to see all the paintings, sculptures and history, and the stories of different masks created by local artists. It's an excellent way to be introduced to Tanzania and the incredible journey ahead.

Lake Manyara National Park

Lake Manyara is home to tree-climbing lions (although sightings are becoming rare with the population moving towards Tarangire National Park). Life surrounds the picturesque saltwater lake, making it a superb area for birdwatching. Its diverse ecosystem supports an extensive range of vegetation; for example, there are 62 different types of acacia tree (giraffes’ favourite), reptiles, birds and mammals (especially monkeys).

Our close encounter with nature was with a mischievous blue monkey who had mastered the art of stealthily helping himself to our banana during the picnic lunch! He then sat behind us peeling the banana and indulging himself of the tasty fruit. His eyes were very expressive, as if to say, "I won!"

Feeding animals is strictly prohibited in all national parks, as this would alter their natural behaviour; however, animals are intelligent and will take any opportunity to pinch your food. A tip to fellow travellers: hide your fruit!

This was definitely a great story to share with everyone while staying at Lemala Tented Camp.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Ngorongoro Crater

WOW – the Ngorongoro Crater was magical! As Emanuel said throughout the adventure, I was fortunate to experience so much. Mother Nature was very kind – the scenic view of the crater alone was enough to capture one's attention. I loved the trees, as they reminded me of the opening credits of a Disney movie and musical: The Lion King.

Migrations happen throughout the year, and there are small herds of zebra, wildebeest and buffalo (their numbers range from the tens to the hundreds) that reside in Tanzania during the dry season. To have seen hundreds of these zebra and wildebeest was spectacular. I could only imagine the Great Migration in their millions heading towards Kenya during the wet season.

You'll often find these travel companions together. This is because wildebeest are natural water-diviners, with an incredibly well-developed sense of smell that allows them to detect both water and predators. However, with their short-term memory, they are not designed to remember predators or even the migration route.

Zebra, on the other hand, have better memories as well as keen eyesight, allowing them to detect predators from a distance. They are also able to recall dangerous places, which helps guide the wildebeest on their migration route. The two species never compete and they even complement one another when it comes to food, as zebra graze on the long grass, exposing the short grass for the wildebeest. They rely on each other to survive in their environments.

The most emotional part of my journey was seeing a young spotted hyena mourn the body of another hyena. Although they say it is "nature", it was overwhelming to experience in real life – these mammals are known for their scavenger behavior, even feasting on their own kind. However, they are often misunderstood. Hyenas are socially intelligent pack animals and form strong emotional bonds with one another. The body language of this young hyena shows that animals are able to express grief, and I shed some tears for its loss.

Furthermore, we also:

  • Witnessed a pride of lions attempting to hunt a herd of buffalo – the chase was captivating
  • Saw a mother and adolescent black rhino from a distance
  • Observed a pack of 15 hyenas, black-backed jackals and vultures surrounding a pride of lions gorging on a zebra
  • Captured a bull elephant demanding everyone to make way as he passed the picnic area
  • Visited the memorial and tomb of Michael Grzimek, son of Bernhard Grzimek, the renowned German zoologist who dedicated his life to wildlife and counts of large-scale annual migrations
  • Enjoyed the moment of seeing a comical Egyptian goose perching on an acacia tree looking directly at us – even though these birds primarily reside on the ground, moments like these do make you laugh. It was also great to see my guide enjoying the moment.

Nature sure has a way to surprise you! There is much that we have yet to discover about the natural world. I would say always expect the unexpected.

Maasai Community

One of the most famous communities in Africa is the popular Maasai village. They accept polygamy at the one we visited, and are guided by the eldest son of the village chief. It was fascinating to learn that he had 70 siblings and his father had 10 wives!

It was interesting to learn about their culture, schooling, lifestyle and the significant meanings of each garment, face paint and colour of clothing. Men and women play a set role in their community; even when it comes to a welcoming dance where the men jump and women shake their shoulder. The Maasai settlements are permitted to live on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater without farming.

Fun fact: The word "Ngorongoro" is the name of a Maasai cattle-bell maker who once lived in the crater. Ngoro Ngoro is the sound the bell makes, and the crater was named after it!

Olduvai Gorge and the Shifting Sand Dunes

I absolutely adore this place! Olduvai (although pronounced and spelt "Oldupai" in the Maasai language, named after the Maasai plant) is one of the most significate paleoanthropological sites in the world, with discoveries of early human evolutionary history dating back over 2 million years.

This place has so much to offer. Masaki, a Senior Lecturer, provided an excellent introduction and articulated the history and archaeological findings that span across 48 kilometres (30 miles) and 89 metres (295 feet) deep. You'll find a replica of the Australopithecus afarensis skeleton "Lucy" – a key link to our human ancestry – and a complete Homo erectus skeleton known as "Turkana Boy".

Within Olduvai Gorge lie the Shifting Sands – they were "Pole", Swahili for the word "Cool"! The crescent-shaped dunes are a rare phenomenon, composed of magnetic volcanic ash and fine sand. This shifts around 20 metres (60 feet) every year towards Kenya, and seeing the movement of the dark grey sand was mesmerising.

It was a beautiful place to stop, and we saw an extensive range of Maasai giraffes, cattle, goats, donkeys and camels that originated from Ethiopia, when we made our 11-hour Africa Massage road journey from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to the northern and then the central/southern sections of Serengeti National Park.

Serengeti National Park

We finally entered from the northwest at Naabi Hill before passing through Seronera (Centre) and arriving at the Central Serengeti. Serengeti (pronounced "Sea-Ring-Geti") means “endless plains” in the Maasai language.

Everywhere you looked and turned there was something to see, I could write an entire book about this place! We saw four hunts in this area; two were of cheetahs, and another two were of lions. Yet, out of the four hunts, only two were successful, one from a small pride of lions and the other from a cheetah. This gave you an indication of the harsh conditions these predators live in, allowing you to appreciate the patience and hard work of professional videographers and photographers who capture these precious seconds and share them with the world.

My all-time highlight was seeing not just one but two leopards (“chui” in Swahili) taking a big catnap in a tree by the side of the road! Nothing compares to seeing these elusive mammals in their natural habitat. The mother and her cub looked extremely relaxed, and as we left to head back to Kati Kati Camp we saw another cub playing in the distance – he was around 6 months old. It has to be one of the best days out of all my travel experiences.

Even though we didn't see the tree-climbing lions, we did see a cheetah on a tree branch! The big cats of Africa have to be some of my favourite mammals of all time.

Just as Mother Nature couldn't possibly share anymore, we also saw sunrise and sunset, and the herd of 50 elephants at sunset was a memorable experience. It was a tranquil moment to observe these gentle giants graze across the plains.

The second morning in Serengeti was spectacular; we saw approximately 150 buffalo making their way across the plains. I would recommend spending at least four nights here as there's so much to explore. If you have yet to travel to the Serengeti, this beautiful national park has much to offer throughout the different seasons.

Mto wa Mbu Community

My Tanzania adventure drew to a close as we began the 11-hour journey back to Kilimanjaro International Airport from the Serengeti on the last day.

There was even time to fit in one final cultural visit at Mto wa Mbu Village, located between Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The name Mto wa Mbu means "Mosquito River". From the introduction I learnt that male mosquitos feed on nectar from flowers in the day, whereas the female mosquito feeds during the night and uses the protein from animal blood to feed her eggs – only the females carry and pass on diseases such as malaria.

This is a very unique cultural experience with a local guide who takes you on a walk around the village where 120 tribes reside. As you can imagine, the mix of cultures and languages in this area are unique. The area is known for its banana plantation. Did you know there are over 30 different types of banana?

During the visit it was lovely to see the social side and learn the history of the village, including its youth art project that presents stunning paintings of various styles and techniques from talented artists across the village.

I also attempted woodcarving taught by a member of the Makonde tribe (who originated from Mozambique) who specialised in carving intricate masks, making art out of banana leaves, and figurines. This brought back memories of my study of Industrial Design and Technology at university in the wood workshop. It's hard work, and yet at the same time fun and satisfying when you achieve a fine product. They even offered me a job on their team!

Eventually, the tour moves you to their local brewery and a chance to taste the local and famous "Mbege" – a traditional banana and millet beer and banana wine introduced by the Chagga tribe. It's a delicate taste! Personally, my preference would be their delicious banana soup over the alcoholic version but for beer-lovers this is a delicacy to share with your friends.

The tour concluded with a visit to the authentic local markets. This reminded me of the traditional bustling markets that still exist in Asian countries such as India and China. You can find all sorts, from fresh fruit to bric-and-brac. It was a great authentic experience and a lovely way to finalise the trip.

Asante Sana, Tanzania

So, why Tanzania?

It's our planet's most magical paradise. A country blessed with some of the most beautiful landscapes, an extensive blend of cultures, a wealth of history, fascinating ecology and diverse wildlife that coexist with human settlement. Tanzania has so much to share that the list is endless – no matter what it is that you're after, there is something for everyone.

I conclude this blog on a note to say; Thank you so much to Emanuel – not only was he an exceptional guide, he was extremely thoughtful, a careful driver throughout and a great travel friend. It was an incredible adventure and I most certainly enjoyed relaxing/listening to the radio playing his favourite reggae music (in particular Bob Marley) on the drive before the long flight home.

My gratitude also extends to everyone at Lemala and Kati Kati Camp for their fabulous hospitality.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed my journey and I wish you a great adventure with Natural World Safaris and to share your stories.

Until we meet again Tanzania – Asante Sana and best wishes.

With love,
Katie Li

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