When we planned a trip to Tanzania, three themes emerged: climb Mount Kilimanjaro, go on safari, and chill out on Zanzibar. The Tanzania Encompassed tour seemed a like a great fit, incorporating it all, and as it turns out, in perfect sequence.
During the tour, we joked to one another that we felt like we’d been traveling through Tanzania for weeks. So many dimensions: mountains, safari, villages, people, food, spices, jungle, and beaches. You experience a great deal, but we never felt like we were running. Instead, the organization and pace left us time to relax, reflect and do our own thing.
Here are our highlights.
Mt. Kilimanjaro: Epic
You come off climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and whether or not you had it on your “bucket list,” you are likely to add it to list of the most satisfying accomplishments of your traveling life.
The first couple of days are relatively easy; a slow pace took us from from lush, green rainforest to alpine moorland to high desert. At the end of the third day we found ourselves at Kibo hut (3,720m/12,204 ft) where the air is thin, the landscape barren, and our minds swapping adrenaline and anxiety in anticipation of the climb ahead.
Summit day. What a doozy. We set out at midnight and made our way up a long switch backed path of volcanic scree. It felt like the climb would never end, that the peak would never emerge. Somehow, putting one foot in front of the other, we found ourselves at Gilman Point (5,681 m/18,638ft), but Uhuru Peak lay ahead.
From Gilman and Stella Points to Uhuru Peak, daybreak does visually stunning tricks on the glaciers.
Everyone in our group made it to the top within minutes of one another is something that we’ll never forget for the remainder of our lives.
Safari: Way Better than Animal Planet
Could our Kilimanjaro experience be outdone? It’s like comparing apples with oranges. But let’s say that we were about to blown away on the veldt.
For the next four days, we spent our days riding around Lake Manyara, Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater national parks. Each had its own flavor and pace. Lake Manyara was easygoing; a place for elephants, baboons, giraffe to graze in a relaxed environment.
The Serengeti, however, was life in the wild at its most raw. Each day held something different: early morning was a time for the big cats to hunt when the day was still cool and animals grazed. Animals lazed around in the mid-afternoon sun and heat. Early evening was another time for hunts.
The big cats stole the show. Each time we thought we had seen Serengeti’s “best of” show, we were surprised once more.
On our first evening, we saw a leopard in the tree; something many safari veterans have never seen. Over the next two days, we encountered cheetahs three times — once during mid-afternoon playtime, and twice in the morning on hunts, including a successful one where in a matter of 20 seconds, a cheetah mom found and took down a gazelle.
And although we had seen plenty of lions in previous days, just as we were exiting the park we were treated to a scene of a pride of ten lions (including two males) gathered together to nosh on a buffalo they’d teamed up to take down. You couldn’t script this any better.
At Ngorongoro Crater, the theme was zebras; thousands of them on a cross-park migration. On our way out of the park, we saw the was the last of the “Big 5″ sightings, an elusive rhinoceros with her baby in the distance.
It was as if the experience were orchestrated in full. But it was not; this is just life in the wild. And thanks to the help of our skilled leader and driver, we’d seen everything we’d come for…and more.
Masai Village: Iconic
Most safari tours don’t do cultural walks and tours – they send you into the game parks and out again. But our Tanzania tour reminded us of the human aspect of travel.
We began with a cultural walking tour of Mto wa Mbu, a small town near Lake Manyara National Park. This town features 120 different tribes that live and work together in agriculture, business, and crafts. Our walk ended with a delicious local meal cooked by a member in the community. The visit helps connect travelers to local residents and to support the people of the community.
The next morning, we visited a nearby Masai village, allowing us to put a human connection to the iconic Masai images in paintings and woodcarvings throughout Tanzania.
The Masai are indeed that tall, they are indeed that iconic. And indeed that photogenic.
During our visit to the Masai village, we danced (and looked rather silly, we might admit), we shared photos, and we very unexpectedly watched the village dispatch an unwelcome Egyptian cobra from one of their huts.
It was a moment that underscored that despite our cultural differences, we are all frightened of things that bite, and ultimately we are all human.
Stone Town, Zanzibar: A Crossroads
After catching our breath from the adventure of Kilimanjaro and our safari, it was island time.
On Zanzibar’s Stone Town, we set off with one idea in mind: get lost on those windy streets. Stone Town stands as a testament to the fact that it was a trading (and slave-trading crossroads): African, Indian and Arabian influence is clear. You can see on the streets – in the architecture, in the food and the people.
For us, we enjoyed the laid back feel of the town, it’s picturesque turns and corners and ultimately, the friendly nature of locals. At sunset, we enjoyed drinks overlooking the sea at Africa House.
We had been warned about the aggressiveness of touts, but for the most part found most people rather easygoing. Head to Jaws Corner for local coffee with locals and Luukman for the best Zanzibari food on the island (cheapest, too).
Kendwa Beach, Zanzibar: Chill Out
After a visit to a spice plantation in the middle of Zanzibar, we were delivered to the world of sea and sun – Kendwa, a white sand beach outpost on the northern side of the island. Stunningly blue crystal waters and sea breeze anchored the final chapter of our Tanzania experience.
The most difficult decision of the day, passion fruit or pineapple shake.
Relaxation was so complete that we almost struggled to pull out the camera to capture all those thatch umbrellas in the day’s end afterglow.