Tanzania is an incredible destination, the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar are just a few of the amazing places that are packed into the country. Here, Mike Unwin, Africa expert and 2013 BGTW Travel …
Tanzania is an incredible destination, the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar are just a few of the amazing places that are packed into the country. Here, Mike Unwin, Africa expert and 2013 BGTW Travel Writer of the Year, describes his fascination with Tanzania.
“With a despairing snort, the first wild-eyed wildebeest launches itself from the steep riverbank. The dam breaks, as an avalanche of bodies plunges headlong into the river. Sensing their moment, the crocs slip beneath the surface. But now the crossing is unstoppable: a bobbing line of heads straining for the shore. The first animals emerge below you, shaking the water from their manes before galloping up to the fresh grazing beyond.
That night, as you relive the day’s drama around the lodge campfire, lions rumble from the surrounding darkness. The following morning you meet the pride lazing under an acacia, sated on one wildebeest that will never brave another crossing. Your drive brings other well-fed predators: a leopard stashing its prize in a fig tree; a cheetah sprawled beneath a granite outcrop.
The next day, after the immense savannas of the Serengeti, nearby Ngorongoro Crater seems almost confined. But nowhere else in Africa does wildlife come so wall-to-wall. Crisscrossing the crater floor, you watch bull elephants demolishing a fever tree, flamingos sieving a soda lake and a shy black rhino venturing out with her calf.
Later, overlooking the wild panorama of Olduvai Gorge, you reflect on the journey our own species has taken. It was here that archaeologists dug up our earliest ancestor, Homo habilis. Below you, a red-robed Masai herdsman leads his goats through the ravine in suitably timeless fashion.
These extraordinary sights – Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Olduvai – are the jewels of Tanzania’s ‘Northern Circuit’. And yet they are only the start of Tanzania’s wildlife spectacular. Head south and you can cruise the river gorges of the vast Selous, tramp the wild bush of Ruaha or track chimps through the forested hills of Mahale. And afterwards, where better than the white-sand beaches of Zanzibar to wash off the dust? With spice markets and coral reefs to explore, the Indian Ocean coastline offers the ultimate post-safari R & R.”
A Tanzania safari is among the very best travel experiences that Africa has to offer.
One of my favourite travel writers, Hilary Bradt, co-author of the Bradt travel guide to Madagascar (which is coming up to its 11th edition) regularly returns to Madagascar. Here she tells us what lures her back each year.
“Why do I still get a buzz out of Madagascar, no matter how often I go there? It’s not just the people, it’s not even just the wildlife, I think it’s that I’m reminded of the Malagasy saying ‘All who live under the sky are woven together like one big mat’. There are so many colourful strands to that mat. There is more variety in the animal and plant kingdoms here than almost anywhere else on earth; the people are also more diverse than you can reasonably expect to find in an island so relatively close to Africa, so is the landscape. And they are all connected, all dependent on each other, all hostages to fortune.
Except it isn’t just fortune. That’s where we, the tourists, come in. When I tell people that I’m planning another trip to Madagascar, they so often say ‘But isn’t it all being ruined? Aren’t they destroying the forests?’ Well, yes and no. Yes, this beautiful,astonishing, heart-warming island is constantly under threat from over-population and poverty, but no, it isn’t all being ruined and indeed, in the 35 or so years that I have been going there, I’ve seen huge advances in conservation. And a lot of this is due to the increase in tourism.
Tourism benefits wildlife; there’s no question that this is true – tourists want to see animals, and they are willing to spend money to do so. This brings jobs, but more than that, it brings an awareness of the value of wildlife. I love the way even experienced guides get as excited as I do when they spot a rare animal or bird. I remember the ear to-ear grin of a relatively inexperienced guide when he parted some twigs and found himself face-to-face with a tiny, dozing mouse lemur.
And it’s not just the rural people who are living near the national parks and reserves who are benefiting. All visitors want to purchase handicrafts, and on a Rainbow tour you will have the opportunity to buy direct from the maker. You’ll remember the delight in that lady’s face when you admired the hat she has just made as much as you’ll enjoy the hat.
So, yes, it is the animals that will stay indelibly in your mind. Of course it is – that’s why you are going to Madagascar. But don’t be surprised if, when you get back, you think as much about the shy smiles of children or the more confident giggles of the young market girls when you haggled over the price of lychees, as you do the round eyes and waving stripy tails of those lemurs strutting their stuff through the forest.”
We sped across Salar de Uyuni and as we found ourselves suddenly surrounded by the expansive gleaming white of the largest, and highest, salt flat in the world we fell silent and simply admired the surreal view. This wondrous landscape sits at an elevation of 3,653m and spreads out from you like a giant ice rink of which you can’t see the edge. I knew that this would be an amazing sight. My well-travelled colleagues’ ebullient insistence had convinced me of that, as had the photography that is becoming more and more prevalent within travel blogs and articles which focus on the must-see sites in South America – or on articles focused on the must-see sights in the world for that matter. Yet I was still taken aback, as no amount of forewarning can prepare you for quite how stunning this place really is – no superlative can truly do it justice.
Our visit to the Salar fell in the middle of a tour of Bolivia. We had started in tropical Santa Cruz, saw beautiful white-washed Sucre and discovered underground history in Potosi before our four-wheel drive adventure on the flats. Afterwards we were to visit the bustling markets of La Paz, the moon-like landscapes of Valle de la Luna and spend an incredible couple of days exploring Lake Titicaca in the sunshine. I had a fantastic time everywhere I went in Bolivia, but the Salar de Uyuni really is a ‘once in a lifetime’ kind of place. This was a unique and eye-opening trip which turned utterly psychedelic on the flats. In only one day we spotted James’s flamingos strutting in a shallow pool that sat atop the salt, saw small rabbit-like creatures – viscachas – bouncing through the towering cacti as we climbed to the top of Isla Pescado, and pulled hunks of glistening, crystallised salt from bubbling holes in the salt’s surface. By sundown I began to wonder whether I had wandered into the wardrobe or fallen down the rabbit hole.
We spent a couple of days exploring the flats with our drivers, who navigate the landscape (rather incredibly) using unassuming landmarks by day and the beautiful, clear night sky in the evenings. In the day we drove into the Salar’s vast, seemingly impenetrable and remote expanse and saw the mounds of salt sitting in uniform lines, waiting patiently to be collected, bagged and sold. We saw sulphur pools and bubbling geysers, and plunged our arms into the freezing water in the cracks in the salt flat to root around for lumps of beautiful crystallised salt that we could steal into our backpacks as a unique souvenir from Bolivia.
On day two our driver took us to Isla Pescado, an island of cacti which sits in the heart of the Salar (or ‘Fish Island’ which is said to resemble a fish when reflected in the Salar). This island is covered in towering Trichocereus cactus and is a welcome burst of life dropped in the middle of the vast nothingness of the plains. This was once a desolate and lonely place, but is now a major draw for tourists on the flats. There were many Jeeps at the island, and people were gathered at the foot of the trail to the top of the hillside, but it was still serenely quiet. To the Bolivians this was busy, to tourists such as ourselves, a few backpackers passing you on a trail is less busy than a walk in the British countryside.
There is the chance whilst out in the expanse of the salt flats to take some very distinctive photographs. The clear blue sky and the fact that there is nothing on the horizon means that you can really play around with perspective in your snaps.
The serenity of the Salar gave me space to reflect on the beauty Bolivia and time to think about the lack of tourists that the country receives in comparison to many other destinations in South America. I think that has allowed Bolivia to retain a lasting authenticity and many who have travelled extensively in Latin America, as the Rainbow team have, will say that Bolivia is the most genuine country, a place that has managed to grasp on to its traditions and customs. This is Latin America’s most indigenous nation and it is officially a Plurinational State making it the perfect country in which to meet and learn from a huge range of people. The traditions and beliefs that are still alive and practised here date back to the days of the Incas; there are languages and cultures that are under threat of extinction. But for now, a pride in Quechua, Aymará and Uru roots can be seen and heard in the voices of the people, in the brightlycoloured woven clothing and in the ancient teachings and traditions that they may, if you are fortunate enough, choose to share with you.
How the Salar was formed
This part of the Altiplano was covered entirely by water until fairly recently in terms of geological history. Our guide explained to us that around this ancient lakeshore there are two distinctive terraces visible which indicate the succession of two lakes, with fossils of coral in limestone. Some 40,000 years ago, Lago Minchin occupied much of Southwestern Bolivia. Once evaporated the area lay dry for around 14,000 years and rose to 3,720m before ephemeral Lago Tauca which lasted around 1,000 years, occupied the space and rose to 3,720m. Two large puddles were left when this second lake dried, Lagos Poopo and Uru Uru and two huge salt concentrations, Coipasa and Salares de Uyuni. The Antiplano here is drained internally, with no outlet to the sea and the salt deposits are the result of the minerals leached from the mountains and deposited here, at the lowest possible point. It is estimated that there is at least 10 billion tons of salt in the Salar de Uyuni and around Colchani. Campesinos use picks to hack the salt and pile it into small conical mounds. The salt dries quicker in these mounds and it is then collected to be bagged and sold, mostly to refiners, although some is traded with locals for meat, wool and grease – a trade practice which has been alive since as far back as 1612.
If you are thinking about going to Bolivia, check out our Bolivia holidays or chat with one of our Latin America team on 020 7666 1260.
Tales by Kirsten Woolley
After touching down in Tanzania it was straight off to Arusha to rest for the night and prepare for the trip. This served as an ideal introduction to Tanzania as I saw a little of the main city before dipping my toe with a taster safari while visiting Arusha National Park.
Starting out in a canoe
The safari was canoe-based and provided some absolutely enchanting sights. Perhaps the most memorable of these would be when we canoed past a flock of flamingos and they took flight, skimming over the water in a beautiful pink haze at very close proximity. Our guides were also extremely knowledgeable about the birds and snakes around the park; they drew our attention to a baby green mamba and a baby python which rested languidly on the branches just above us. The highlight of the entire experience was watching a mother and baby hippo entering the water as we looked on from a safe distance. It was incredible to watch such a powerful animal behaving so gently with her young.
The next day we were off to Chem Chem which is situated mid-way between Tarangire and Lake Manyara. This is the perfect base to strike out from if you want to explore both parks but would prefer not to stay in too many different camps. The views from the lodge are spectacular and you can participate in a wide variety of nature walks at the lodge.
Tarangire National Park
We spent the next day exploring Tarangire National Park where we drank in a spectacular vista full of Baobab trees, elephants, warthogs, zebra, antelope, ostriches with their chicks, a banded mongoose family and not to forget the huge green mamba hidden among the branches. Our guide Serevule was incredibly knowledgeable but how he even spotted the snake was beyond me as it was so well camouflaged. He explained everything there was to know about the park’s inhabitants and answered all of our questions no matter how serious or silly!
Next on the list was the Ngorongoro Crater. We entered the conservancy area from which you start to climb the crater, catching glimpses of the summit as you ascend higher and higher. Our guide halted us at a viewing point which allowed me to look back and properly appreciate the stunning expanse laid out before me. Unfortunately, none of my pictures actually do it justice; until you see it for yourself you will not understand the unique beauty of Ngorongoro.
As we made our way down the western road we had to travel very slowly due to its steepness. However, as usual our infallible guide knew every corner and turn and before long we found ourselves safely back on the crater floor. Ngorongoro is quite small so the area often becomes crowded by midday so put your trust in your guide when they say “let’s be there as the gates open at 6am”. This is sound advice that will enable you to make the most of your time there.
We were very lucky and caught sight of a cheetah that had just had its prey stolen by a hyena. Other incredible sights included a lion carefully stalking some unsuspecting zebra, buffalo and rhino grazing at a distance as well as a lone elephant that had moved to the crater in search of soft marsh area to graze as it was old and had lost its molars.
That evening was spent in pure luxury at the &Beyond Ngorongoro crater lodge. The views from the lodge were spectacular and I couldn’t resist pouring a glass of champagne to sip quietly as I sat on my balcony drinking in the view of the crater in the dying rays of the sun.
Heading for Serengeti National Park
I was up early the following morning at the balcony again to marvel at the light coming in over the lodge before breakfast. On the way to the Serengeti we stopped over at Olduvai Gorge (or Oldupai Gorge) to learn about one of the most important paleontological sites in the world. It was instrumental in finding out more about the nature of early human evolution.
The next three nights were spent in three different lodges; Pioneer Camp, Dunia and Chaka Camp. As we approached the Serengeti I was struck by the grandeur of the seemingly endless open plains that spilled out ahead of us.
As I am South African, I have a lot of safari experience but this would certainly rank in my top three. We saw no fewer than ten different prides of lions, many of them hunting zebra, lions mating, a serval cat catching a mouse, the closest sighting of a leopard I have ever had – lots of hippos lazing in the drying river and more zebra that I even knew existed! We were even fortunate enough to see a cheetah killing a gazelle – although it was all over before I could even think of picking up my camera. At one point I was standing in the vehicle watching the cheetah to my right while in front of us was a herd of elephants and to my left were some lions just relaxing under a tree being watched by a herd of buffalo.
Such an exquisite sight featuring an abundance of wildlife in their natural habitat has to be the highlight of my entire trip.
Travel tale by Leila Kassam
Having grown up in Uganda, I’ve been on safari a fair few times and have seen the exceptional wildlife that Uganda has to offer. In June this year I saw another side to Africa as I spent a week in the Masai Mara in Kenya on an educational trip. I do have to admit that the game viewing in the Mara conservancies is truly spectacular and Kicheche Camps have got the safari experience down to perfection.
A week in Masai Mara
My first night was at Kicheche Mara Camp and what a delight it was! Kicheche Mara Camp may be the introductory camp out of their three properties in the Mara conservancies but it is definitely not the “cheaper” option by any stretch of the imagination. With only eight luxury tents, each room overlooks the valley which means you can view wildlife right from the comfort of your room.
After two nights we moved onto to Kicheche Bush Camp which is smaller still, with only six tents and my favourite of the three. It truly is a wild experience; with so many bushes surrounding the tents I had no idea what could be lurking just a few metres outside. Because I have been on safari before and know that the camp was safe, I loved the feeling of knowing that we were amongst nature. Although it was not for everyone; my roommate who was on her first outing to Africa had many a sleepless night imagining all manner of animals were lurking around our tent!
Another reason Bush Camp stood out for me was because in all my years of going on safari I had never seen a leopard. Serendipitously, it was the next morning that I was to finally experience my first sighting of this magnificent creature. Fortunately, it wasn’t just a quick flash of a tail in the bushes; this was a mother with a cub out in the open playing with each other and then breakfasting on some left over impala up in a tree. We stayed with them for over an hour and I can definitely say that it was one the best wildlife experiences I’ve ever had.
Excellent guides and luxurious experiences
The thing that makes a safari great is not just that you get to see wildlife: that is pretty much a given. It’s the manner in which you observe them and the contextual information supplied by your guides that brings the experience to life. What makes Kicheche Camps stand out are the truly excellent guides that know how to give you the best wildlife viewing experience without making you feel like you are intruding on the animal’s space.
My last few nights were at Kicheche Valley Camp, this is the camp to go to for the really luxurious experience. With only six tents, the luxury here means you get hot and cold running showers in a stylish large room with wonderful views of the valley. The highlight for me was a morning bush walk which was excellent and ended in a luxurious sit-down hot bush breakfast.
Delights for foodies
Being a big foodie, I was not disappointed by the quality of the food at any of the camps. Coming back to a hosted dinner every night was lovely and the conversation was always flowing which made for very enjoyable evenings fuelled by delicious wines from all over the world. The selection of food offered at the Kicheche Camps really is astounding, even more so when you consider just how remote their locations are and the logistical obstacles they have to manoeuvre past in order to supply the camps.
From my experience no safari would be complete without a vehicular incident and this safari was no exception! It was achieved in quite a spectacular ‘stuck in the mud’ incident that had us out of the car vainly trying to push while at the same time trying not to get plastered in mud. Finally, in true African style we were saved by fellow guide who of course happened to have a tow line in the back of his Land Rover.
It doesn’t matter how often I go on safari I will always be a little kid excited to see animals and I will always love enjoying wildlife from the comfort of a Kicheche vehicle. Having a soft bed to fall into each night just made the whole experience one of the best safaris I’ve ever been on.
An interesting development is occurring in Kenya of late that has sparked my interest as a conservationist. Birthplace to word “safari“, Kenya has long been synonymous with hunting and much latterly the preservation of East Africa’s wildlife.
It is amazing to think, back in the day, that European hunters set off with a vast caravan of porters, supplies and so called essentials (gramophones and Zinc bathtubs) for the wild plains of Africa. Shooting indiscriminately as they went for pure pleasure with the sole aim of returning with an important trophy. The porters went ahead of them and dutifully erected mess tents, sleeping quarters, sourced and gathered water, set out the bath and heated water to the perfect temperature so that the gentry did not have to rough it too much. Sipping scotch and G&Ts as they discussed the arduous days trek, these testosterone fuelled Europeans had no idea what precedence they were setting.
Kenya, the place to see wildlife
As the popularity of safaris grew in Kenya so did the tourism industry. It soon outstripped everything else and became their biggest commodity. Literally hundreds of lodges, international hotels groups and travel companies sprung up, seemingly, overnight and the Kenyan government cashed in on this bonanza. Kenya became known as THE place to see wildlife.
And that’s when the problem started. The government imposed strict measures on what could and couldn’t be done within the national reserves to try and control this rise in mass tourism. There would be no driving off road, no-one was allowed in the park after sunset and certainly no-one was allowed to set foot out of their vehicle.
With the modern invention of walkie talkies and CB radio (latterly mobile phones) local operators were able to communicate with each other with ease. This meant that if one guide saw, say a lion kill; he would tell the others who would all come rushing to see this macabre yet fascinating event. This meant that you had sometimes 20 or 30 vehicles all jostling for that all important view to allow their clients the best photographs and memories. This unfortunately began to sully the whole experience for tourists who did not want to have pictures of a blood soaked face of a cat with a wheel or radiator grill in the background and people started looking to other countries for more authentic experiences.
The effect on wildlife
What was not thought about at the time, though, was how this would affect the wildlife itself. To some extent the predators used this to their advantage, and anyone who has watched Big Cat Diaries would have seen the episodes when the female cheetah used the roof of the Land Rover as a look out point. But it has a dark side to it as well. Animals generally prefer their own company and were being disturbed by the constant click click of cameras, the stage whispers of excited safari goers and the constant starting of engines as drivers moved the vehicles.
Nothing scientific but this must have had an effect on natural animal behaviour.
The local tribes had no incentive to keep the wild animals and habitats as they were not benefiting from them. They were looking for grazing for their cattle, which for them is a sign of wealth, and there were constant battles fought when cats preyed on the livestock or elephants rampaged through vegetable patches in search of an easy meal.
The much needed change
It wasn’t till fairly recently that a group of forward thinking people looked at the problem and recognised that things had to change and they had to change quickly. Bordering the national parks were large swaths of land owned by local tribes. By approaching the tribe and negotiating for the use of the land as a private concession they set up exclusive and luxurious eco-camps with no permanent buildings and the promise to share the wealth with the local peoples.
The concept has really taken off, with other camps springing up in other areas and to date more and more are being set up using this unique business model.
The leasing of the land provides a long term income for the tribe and the daily concession fee provides a more immediate income. No one knows the land better than the people who were born on it, worked it and continue to live on it – so it made sense for the camps to train some of the warriors to become guides. To ensure future generations, local schools are being built and outreach programmes create awareness of the profitability of wildlife and promote a natural protective cordon around the conservancy.
Some of the core principles also include strict numbers of tents in the conservancy (about 1 tent for every 700 acres). Each camp can have no more than 12 tents and there is strict observance of the maximum number of vehicles round animal sightings.
It is interesting to note that sightings in the conservancies seem to be more than in the reserves and more and more reports come in of the more endangered species such as rhino are taking up residence on the private land. A real testament to the pristine habitats the conservancies have become, are the recent sightings of wild dog which have been on a drastic decline in numbers for many years – a true barometer.
Again without any scientific basis, it would appear that the animals know a good thing; and if they are happy, relaxed and safe then overall the visitors are going to see more than they dreamed of, thus increasing the income to the people most in need of it, who in turn are likely to value and protect it more. All round it is a win win situation.
Having trekked some of the finest trails in the world including the Classic Inca Trail, it was with great excitement that had I was given the opportunity to return to Peru in September for some more adventure.
My hosts for this fantastic experience were Mountain Lodges of Peru (MLP) and we started with a night in their new El Mercado Tunqui hotel in Cuzco. Located a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas (main square) the hotel is built on the site of a former market and retains many traditional features. Quirky Peruvian artefacts combined with traditional local textiles gives a warm, inviting feel. MLP are famous, and rightly so, for their lodge to lodge Salkantay trek and are now, their new Lares trail which I tackled during my time there.
Day One: Trekking the Sacred Valley
Leaving Cuzco behind, we drove along winding roads through the famous Sacred Valley and the stunning Andean scenery to the village of Chinchero, which is situated at an altitude of 3800. The village is famous for its handicrafts and traditional weavings and was the starting point for our first days trek.
Uphill trekking to around 4400m left most of us breathless but slow and steady is the key especially with such beautiful scenery. After a lunch stop at the ruins of Huchuy Qosqo it was a steep descent of around 600m to the village of Lamay.
Day Two: Peru from above
Day two was the most spectacular, challenging and by far the toughest on my (tightly strapped) old knees. Another slow plod up the mountain and, thinking back, it’s hard to describe how such a desolate area holds such beauty. From the jagged, snowcapped, mountain peaks to the glimmering lakes you feel like the only person in the world. Silence is truly a strange phenomenon.
Tired but happy we reach the town of Huacahuasi and our campsite. MLP are working with this local community to build the new refugios for their programme launching in 2014. At present we could only see the land which had been cleared but next year this will be a super comfortable base for weary trekkers and will provide a wide range of job opportunities along with income for the community. This Peruvian company is making a real difference to the lives of Peruvian people, meaning that MLP is a great way to explore the beautiful Andes in comfort whilst giving something back to the country at the same time.
In May this year I realised a dream that was born in Rio de Janeiro in March 2006. Rio had been the first stop on my seven month South America backpacking trip, during which time, I stayed in a hostel a couple of roads back from the oceanfront in the Copacabana area of the city. One day whilst on that trip I remember walking past a building which took my attention with its glamorous Art Deco façade. It was the Copacabana Palace hotel.
Positioned next to the celebrated beach, Copacabana Palace is often referred to as South America’s most famous hotel. It has played host to glamorous clientele since the Roaring Twenties including Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and The Rolling Stones.
I remember thinking then that if I ever went back to Brazil – I would like to stay in that hotel. My father even challenged me to make it my goal to work towards going back to Rio and make sure that next time it was a 5 star trip!
In May this year my chance came because I was sent to Brazil as part of an educational trip. I saw my chance and dropped the hint. Happily it was arranged for me to stay at the Copacabana Palace. I remember being driven to the entrance of the hotel, checking in, and feeling that I was realising the dream that I had created in my own mind just over seven years beforehand.
The Copacabana Palace remains to this day the place to stay in Rio de Janeiro
The suites are just magnificent, the pool is arguably the best in Rio, and the Cipriani Restaurant‘s incredible Northern Italian cuisine is mouthwatering. Staying at the Copacabana Palace really was a dream come true for me.
Full of beauty and charm, the glamorous Orient-Express landmark is nothing short of spectacular. Just let us know how it was if you ever decide to stay at the magnificent Copacabana Palace.
Zanzibar has been in the press for some of the wrong reasons recently, but when I visited the islands over the summer, I found them trouble-free, relaxed and the perfect place to soak up some sun as well as culture before setting off on a Tanzanian safari.
I spent two weeks in Southern Tanzania exploring the vast Selous Reserve and the Ruaha National Park, with a few days on the island of Zanzibar at the start of the trip.
History and Amazing Sights
I love going on safari, and the Selous and Ruaha were a new and exciting experience for me, but the surprise highlight of my trip turned out to be my day in Stone Town. Wandering through the ancient winding streets of Stone Town was a joy for the senses, with temperatures a balmy 28° C, and every corner bringing another ornately carved ancient door or historic building.
I flew overnight from the UK to Nairobi and connected with the Zanzibar flight in the morning, which was seamless. The last time I visited Zanzibar I’d caught the ferry from Dar es Salaam, so a quick hop by plane was a nice treat.
I spent a few days visiting beach hotels across the island with my guide, Job, but managed to save some time at the end with the intention of getting beneath the surface of Stone Town, a place steeped in history that has always fascinated me.
Job was also my guide for a walking tour of the old town. I had come straight from a stay at a beach hotel so was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. I always tell my clients to cover up a little when in town and thought this might be suitable attire, but checked first with Job. He was slightly hesitant so I decided that it might be best to put on some long trousers.
Feeling more comfortable all round, we set off on our tour. From the moment we started to the very end, everyone we met said hi and chatted ten to the dozen to Job as if he was a friend of every single inhabitant of Stone Town… this guy just knew everyone.
We visited many of the sights that I’d seen on previous trips and they were just as fascinating this time around. The House of Wonders has retained its grandeur with wrap-around external balconies on every floor, albeit a little faded now, and is still one of largest buildings in Zanzibar, with a commanding view of the sea and the Forodhani Gardens. A former palace, today it houses the Museum of History and Culture, and was the first building in Zanzibar to have electricity installed and the first in Africa to have an electric lift. Quite an accolade!
Next stop was the Old Anglican Cathedral, built on the site of the former slave market, for which Zanzibar was infamous in the 18th and 19th centuries. It has an unusual barrel shaped and mixes gothic and Arab styling. In the garden there is a very poignant monument to slavery showing figures emerging from a pit in chains.
The horrific extend of human suffering during the slave trade is brought into sharp focus by a visit next door to St Monica’s Hostel. Here a narrow staircase descends to a cellar where slaves were housed in large numbers, after coming ashore from the ships, before being taken to market. It was so claustrophobic, dark and dank, with narrow shelves on each side where the slaves were forced to lie in shackles. It was a very sobering experience, but important not to shy away from the role played by the ports all along the East Africa coast, and colonial powers that benefitted so handsomely from this appalling period of history.
A place to relax
I thanked Job and left him behind to head towards the dock for a 2-hour sunset cruise with refreshments on a traditional dhow. We passed the House of Wonders and it looked amazing in the sunset. We continued passed the main port where there was a huge container ship docked – I hadn’t realized that Zanzibar’s port was large enough to take such large ships.
After we returned and I was back on terra firma, I wandered back on my own as night was falling in the general direction of my hotel, nodding to the people I’d met earlier with Job. I found myself in the Forodhani Gardens, which were packed with a huge variety of stalls serving freshly cooked street food. I had a tasty pancake and watched the tourists and locals alike mingling in the gardens and enjoying the evening.
I suddenly felt tired and started to look forward to a warm shower as I quickened my pace and set off for the Zanzibar Palace Hotel. Another former palace, this is one of the best places to stay in Stone Town, and my spacious room had wonderful views over the city. Even as I showered, I could see out over the rooftops, and feel the warm breeze from the open balcony. What a perfect end to a fabulous day.
An African safari holiday is a thrilling experience and there is nowhere quite as impressive as South Africa for its mix of spectacular settings, world-class food and wine, and its rich wildlife encounters.
Rainbow Tours has an outstanding team of South Africa travel experts, and here Senior Travel Specialist, Kirsten Woolley, has hand-picked five of her favourite safari lodges, although she says it’s an almost impossible task as the quality of the country’s hotels and lodges is outstanding.
Where: Sabi Sand Game Reserve
Style: Moroccan style suite with private sala and plunge pool
Wildlife: Big-Five with good leopard sightings, rich bird and plant life
Activities: Game drives, guided bush walks
Treats: Armani spa, outdoor boma dinners
Community: Provides training and employment for the community
[Simbambili Lodge : from £485 per person]
Where: Madikwe Game Reserve, North West Province
Style: Exclusive, glass-walled accommodation, outstanding cuisine and award-winning wine cellar
Wildlife: Big-Five, wild dog, cheetah, hyena, giraffe, plains game and rich birdlife
Activities: Game drives and walks, sleep-out hide, malaria-free
Treats: Health and beauty treatments including massage and aromatherapy
Community: Initiates and supports local businesses such as laundry services
[Makanyane Safari Lodge: from £420 per person]
Where: KwaZulu Natal
Style: Romantic hide-away – authentic tented camp or exclusive safari lodge
Wildlife: Big-Five game reserve including rare species such as cheetah, wild dog and rhino
Activities: Game drives and walks, coastal trips to St Lucia for whale watching, fishing, canoeing
Treats: Africology managed wellness centre with Zulu spa treatments
Community: Winner of the Chairman’s Award at the 2007 Imvelo Awards for Responsible Tourism
[Thanda Private Game Reserve: from £220 per person]
Where: Green Kalahari
Style: Barefoot safari luxury
Wildlife: Desert black rhino, white rhino, Kalahari black-maned lion, cheetah, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, aardvark, aardwolf and pangolin
Activities: Game viewing, horseback safaris, walking trails, rhino monitoring, habituated meerkat colony, bush picnics, dune and boma evenings, Junior Ranger’s Programme
Treats: Gourmet dining, award-winning safari spa
Community: A staff village, crèche, sports facilities and healthcare clinic are provided
[Tswalu Kalahari Reserve: from £740 per person]
Where: Eastern Cape
Style: 4 to 5-star with lodges, tented camps and historical country houses
Wildlife: Big-Five, rich bird and plant life
Activities: Game drives, guided walks, malaria-free
Treats: Spa treatments, outdoor boma dinners, spectacular views
Community: Joint venture with Born Free Foundation, Animal Rescue Centre, Education Centre for local children and Greenleaf Environmental status
[Shamwari Game Reserve: from £390 per person]
You can read more about all these South African safari lodges on the Rainbow Tours website and see a comprehensive selection of tailor-made holidays to South Africa.
Travel writer and freelance journalist Nick Boulos follows in Darwin’s footsteps to the Galapagos Islands and finds himself enthralled with the local inhabitants, like many before him.
“The young pup was sprawled across the sandy pathway, separating me from the golden beach beyond, where waves rushed ashore and other sea lions wallowed in the surf. Others rolled in the sand playfully, as though they too were enjoying the holiday of a lifetime.
Careful not to frighten the pup as I approached, I walked slowly and edged off the path and into prickly bushes to give him adequate space. But I needn’t have bothered. Fearless and unfazed, he spun around, inched closer and stared up at me intently with big brown eyes the size of saucers. For several special seconds we gazed at each other with mutual fascination.
Every now and then life delivers experiences that will forever be etched in our memories; unexpected moments suspended in reality. In the Galapagos Islands, such moments seem to come along every few minutes, whether it’s snorkelling with whale sharks (the gentle giants of the ocean), watching red-footed boobies feed their fluffy chicks on the northern island of Genovesa or sizing up to Santa Cruz’s giant tortoises.
This volcanic archipelago of 13 islands, formed some five million years ago from underwater eruptions, has become world famous, enthralling travellers for centuries.
Discovered entirely accidentally by a bishop from Panama who drifted off course en route to Peru, the islands – 1000km off the coast of Ecuador – soon sparked interest from those with a passion for the nature. Among them, Charles Darwin. He visited in 1835 on a trip that inspired his book, The Origin of the Species, which went on to secure his place in history.
Cut off from the rest of the world, many of the species here are found nowhere else on earth making these arid isles one of the world’s great wildlife destinations. The best way to experience it all is by boat, sailing around the 13 main islands, each of which is unique and often home to weird and wonderful endemic species.
Life onboard is a constant thrill. Days are jam-packed, filled with snorkelling with sea lions and turtles; exciting zodiac rides in the shade of towering volcanic cliffs and long walks through cacti-dotted bird colonies.
Unlike other wildlife experiences, tourism here is tightly regulated with boats carefully rotating between the islands ensuring each site is not overloaded with people. Other rules apply, too; like keeping a five-metre gap between you and any wildlife though the animals don’t always observe this one.
Smaller boats, like the 20-passenger flotilla of ships used by Rainbow Tours, offer a more intimate experience allowing travellers to truly get up close and personal with the landscapes and its diverse inhabitants.
Among the many highlights is a visit to the southern islands of Espanola and Floreana, the very first in the archipelago to be colonised.
On the northern coast is Post Office Bay. This sweeping stretch of shoreline is where a barrel was erected in the 18th century so whalers could leave letters in the hope they’d collected by passing ships and sent home.
The traditional lives on. But these days it’s filled with postcards destined for far flung lands.
Sailing around the Galapagos is an unbridled joy but don’t miss the opportunity to also spend some time on land. The highlands of Santa Cruz – an island with dazzling biodiversity – are rich with dense forests home to exotic vegetation, the bright red vermillion flycatcher and giant tortoises. Sadly these strange and slugging creatures, the endearing emblem of the Galapagos, are now endangered.
The original settlers and early visitors – including Mr Darwin himself – developed quite a liking for tortoise meat and numbers dwindled as they were hunted for food. Thankfully, help is at hand. Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station to discover how these treasured species are being saved from the brink of extinction.
Meanwhile, to the west is the island of Isabela – the largest in the group and one that caters for the adventure minded. It’s laced with dramatic (but gentle) hiking trails across blackened lava fields, lush slopes of colossal shied volcanoes and through eerie tunnels formed by flowing magma.
Alternatively, rent a bike and discover the island on two wheels. It was another effortlessly sunny morning as I cycled around quiet lagoons frequented by flamingos, along sandy streets and through the central square of Puerto Villamil, lined with alfresco cafes and shady palm trees.
Dominating the plaza is the local whitewashed church. A modern house of God, its large stained glass windows that pay homage not to saints or disciples but miracles a little closer to home: all creatures of the Galapagos’, great and small. The sun blazed through the window, illuminating the colourful depictions of land iguanas, penguins and blue-footed boobies.
It seemed appropriate, somehow. There’s no denying that the Galapagos Islands are indeed a blessing from above.”
See a range of holidays to the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador that focus on the unique wildlife experiences described by Nick Boulos in his blog.
Travel blogger Sherry Nothingam is a passionate fan of Tanzania, and here Sherry showcases the immense variety of experiences this East Africa gem offers visitors who want to see both iconic favourites as well as the lesser-visited corners.
A trip to Tanzania is an African safari that is unlike anything else on this planet. Tanzania and its rich natural heritage have inspired travellers and adventurers from across the globe to make an unforgettable journey of discovery. The great migrations of the Serengeti plains, the awe-inspiring sight of snow-capped Kilimanjaro and the visual spectacle of the majestic Ngorongoro Crater leave visitors spellbound.
Add in the rich marine life and exotic location of Zanzibar and you have a safari and beach experience that rivals anywhere in the world. Diverse, distinct and unforgettable, a holiday in Tanzania is truly a ‘walk on the wild side’!
Great Migrations of Serengeti
A trip to the Serengeti National Park is an absolute must for anyone interested in African flora and fauna. The great migrations of the Serengeti are great for a reason. The sight of hundreds, if not thousands, of zebras and wildebeest making their way across these vast plains is something that must be experienced in order to be believed. Mobile camping trips provide an unforgettable glimpse into life on the plains where you can absorb the sights and sounds of vast migratory herds on the move.
Whilst nature documentaries can bring the Serengeti to life and showcase its principal characters, nothing beats seeing it for yourself and actually meeting the full cast of the animal world. Lion, cheetah, elephant, giraffe, hippo and a host of antelope are just a part of the majestic wildlife array that the Serengeti hosts in order to put on nature’s best nomadic show!
Iconic Mount Kilimanjaro provides the backdrop that graces many a picture-perfect scene in Tanzania. Africa’s highest peak and the world’s highest freestanding mountain, Kilimanjaro’s snowy cap gives it a unique and unmistakable appearance. Located in northeastern Tanzania, Kilimanjaro gives visitors a rare opportunity to view almost every ecosystem – ranging from the tropical to the glacial – all located in one country. Despite being dubbed by experts as one of the largest stratovolcanoes on Earth, Kilimanjaro is in fact easier to climb than many other peaks across the globe.
Even if you are not inspired to make the challenging ascent yourself, just the sight of Kilimanjaro on the horizon is unforgettable.
There is no better way to describe the grandiose Ngorongoro Crater than by its sobriquet, ‘nature’s most splendid amphitheater’. The world’s largest unbroken caldera, it was formed from a collapsed volcanic crater two or three million years ago. The high walls of the caldera offer perfect refuge to a very special selection of animals that are separated from the rest of Serengeti. Home to the endangered and extremely rare Black rhino, the Ngorongoro is an absolute delight for the avid photographer.
One of the many hidden wonders close to Ngorongoro is the Olduvai Gorge. Heralded by historical experts as the ‘Cradle of Mankind’, this 48-kilometer long gorge contains artifacts and fossils of the earliest human ancestors. Step into the Olduvai Gorge Museum and take the trip back in time to the foundations of the human race.
There is no shortage of national parks and wildlife reserves in Tanzania. However, Lake Manyara is arguably the best spot in the country if you are a keen ornithologist. The show of pink Flamingos in the migratory season here provides a spectacular splash of rich colour. Another superb spot for those who fancy their camera skills, Lake Manyara offers a refreshing contrast from the vast and seemingly endless plains of the Serengeti.
Ruaha National Park
Ruaha is one of the most secluded wildlife areas in Tanzania. The Great Ruaha River is the heart and soul of the region and many an antelope or zebra risk their lives daily to quench their thirst in its life-giving waters. Visitors can escape the tourist rush here and will not have to compete with others for a glimpse of that rare moment when a cheetah explodes into action as it pursues its elusive prey.
The rich collection of wildlife in this park includes wild dog, lion, leopard, elephant, cheetah, giraffe, zebra and impala to name but a few. Spend a night or two at the Ruaha River Lodge to experience Africa’s untamed side in regal isolation.
Mahale Mountains and Gombe Stream National Parks
Western Tanzania is one of the most isolated places in the world but also incredibly beautiful. The Mahale Mountains National Park and the Gombe National Park were made famous by pioneering primatologist Jane Goodall, and this is still the place to see these most human-like of all the primates, wild chimpanzees. One of the best places to stay is at Greystoke Mahale Camp set on the breathtakingly beautiful Lake Tanganyika. A population of around 700 chimps still resides in the confines of Mahale and Gombe Stream.
(image courtesy of Flickr user Roland)
Once visitors leave the mainland of Tanzania and head to the small but stunning archipelago of Zanzibar, they will experience marine ecosystems that are as rich and diverse as the ones found on land. Renowned for its white sandy beaches, turquoise blue waters and beach retreats, Zanzibar offers wonderful diving. If time is short Zanzibar may have to compete with the mainland attractions but it’s a wonderful place to kick off your shoes and relax if you can spare a few days.
The many delights of Zanzibar can justify a holiday on their own. On a small island found eight miles to the south of the main island, Chumbe Island Coral Park is another must-see for keen snorkelers and divers. The islands of Pemba and Mafia offer a further glimpse into the magical world hidden below the azure blue waters. Bare-foot style beach retreats and marine magic can turn a brief voyage here into a long-lasting love affair with the region that will have you longing to return.
It is hard to capture the diversity and the majesty of Tanzania in words alone. The country is home to three of Africa’s seven Natural Wonders and innumerable varieties of wildlife, and every time I visit I am reminded of the words from The Lion King’s Circle Of Life… there is simply “more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done!”