Safaris have become virtually synonymous with East Africa these days, and few places can lay claim to have as rich a tapestry of beautiful wildlife as Tanzania. Names such as the Serengeti and Ngorongoro have become bywords for abundant herds, prides, troops, flocks (you name it) of Africa’s astonishing array of animals in their natural habitat, and our fortune of being able to bear witness to them.
I went on Tanzania’s world-famous safari circuit as part of an expedition to Tanzania with my workplace, a girls’ School in London. The primary purpose of this trip was to build a library for a School near Moshi, but with our mission accomplished there we had time afterwards to explore the beautiful country that is Tanzania, and to go on a safari was undoubtedly top of the group’s ‘to do’ list!
This being an expedition all about personal development, a big part of it was getting by on a limited budget. This meant having to make certain compromises – we were there during the peak dry season too – and the main one was we didn’t get to go the Serengeti…
But we did get to visit the Ngorongoro Crater. Famed as one of the world’s largest unbroken calderas, even if there were no wildlife here the setting would be stunning. The soaring walls of the crater rim are draped with lush vegetation, and the wide open spaces of the grassland below on the crater floor shimmer with crystal-clear lakes, the biggest of which is home to thousands of flamingos. Undeniably, the overall spectacle is best appreciated from above, be that at the official viewpoint or on the drive descending in to the arena.
Having said that, the sheer density of wildlife makes the crater what it is, and earns its UNESCO heritage stripes (no Zebra-related pun intended). The wildlife only revealed itself to us gradually, with the odd teaser of a perched vulture here, and a grazing warthog there, but soon we beheld multiple packs of Zebras, Wildebeest and Buffalo. The lions are the things most people come to see, and we weren’t disappointed there either; perhaps the only small disappointment was that we only saw one of the crater’s famed black rhinos in the hazy distance.
The crater is not actually a National Park, as humans still reside here in the form of Maasai tribespeople. We saw one or two on the drive down, where our guide gave us a fun fact – the name ‘Ngorongoro’ comes from the sound of the cattle bells that ring from the herds that the Maasai shepherd through the crater.
As the name implies, Lake Manyara National Park has a vast lake swept across most of its surface area, and fittingly enough wildlife can be spotted grazing around it. This park admittedly lacks the drama and scope of Ngorongro – and the Serengeti, no doubt – but it does have two draws that Ngorongro doesn’t – a greater number of elephants (we spotted one or two hiding in the trees there, but no more) and giraffes.
It’s also easier to spot monkeys and baboons here – indeed, we were greeted by some when sat outside the park gates, waiting to cut through the red tape associated with safaris in general. One monkey even briefly jumped inside our jeep through the passenger door, carelessly left open by…er, me, when I stepped out of the vehicle to stretch my legs. Needless to say, the girls inside the vehicle were not impressed with me…
Last but not least, Tarangire National Park is a somewhat underrated park slightly further to the south. As well as having a particularly high concentration of elephants (plus plenty of lions, wildebeest and zebra), this park is good for bird watching. It also arguably has the best woodland of the three, with the baobab trees taking pride of place as a particular highlight.
The Northern Safari circuit is definitely a rewarding experience for anyone with even a slight interest in the wildlife and nature of Africa, and our group thoroughly enjoyed experiencing it. The only thing that would have enhanced it even further would have been a visit to the stunning Serengeti – something to try and fit in next time, perhaps!