A conundrum. When caught short on safari, where does one relieve oneself? In the bush toilet of course – aka behind the back of the jeep. The first time we all had to do this on our Tanzania trip we were (justifiably, we felt!) terrified. “Just make sure you leave your door open in case you have to get back in quickly” instructed our guide, Abdul. Miss Gallivant couldn’t relax enough to do the deed. “I’m too scared that a lion will suddenly pounce on me” she said.
By the end of our safari, however, we had no such qualms. Hell, we even put out a portable table, chairs and a table cloth under an acacia tree in the middle of the bush to eat our breakfast one morning.
It’s moments such as these that gave a real frisson of excitement to our safari trip this summer, during which we toured some of Tanzania’s most iconic wildlife watching areas.
It was a family adventure we will never forget . We booked with Safari & Beach, a small and friendly outfit who know Africa (both co-owners grew up there). They also know all the camps and and can help you tailor an itinerary to suit. They have a few suggested itineraries if you need some guidance– we chose their Northern Parks & Zanzibar one.
Now, a two week trip to Tanzania including five or six days on safari followed by some time on the beach can cost you an arm and a leg – not literally (unless you are very unlucky with those lions). A family of four could very easily splurge northwards of £30,000 if opting for luxury lodges all the way.
The trip we did works out at less than half of this (even cheaper if you can travel out of school hols). We stayed at small, seasonal campsites in rather lovely tents – complete with proper beds swathed in mosquito nets, showers and loos and wonderful staff who cooked dinners, provided packed breakfasts and lunches and generally looked after us.
The real luxury for us was having our own guide/driver, Abdul, who stayed with us, and us only, for our entire trip . I can highly recommend this. It means you can follow your own schedule. Some people like to do an early morning and late afternoon game drive, coming back to the lodge for lunch and a snooze. We decided to do full-on safari, however, and were out every day from dawn to dusk and cramming in as many experiences as we could.
And there were so very many. Some highlights… A male lion cuddling and snuggling up with his badly injured brother before heading off to hunt for dinner for the two of them; the tiniest newborn elephant running to keep up with his mum; a leopard stalking a hare in the undergrowth; a cheetah with her two cubs; graceful Maasai giraffes munching solemnly from the trees; muddy hippos snorting in the water; a bunch of baboons playing and fighting, comical wildebeest trotting along, their tails aloft…
Master Gallivant had a bucket list of animals he wanted to see – and by the last morning we had ticked off every one of them, apart from crocodiles. “Well Abdul, you’ve failed us” we joked. “ We didn’t see any crocs!”. “It’s dry season” he said. “They are much harder to see”. Five minutes later I spotted one in a pool. “God Mum, it’s a log”, the kids said scornfully. But it was indeed a rather huge croc, lying menacingly in wait for…who knows what!
There isn’t a moment to be bored on safari as, even when you’re not ticking off animals from your wish list, there is always something to see… including some incredible birdlife –we loved the cartoon like secretary birds, which are huge and look like they’re wearing breeches, the flocks of lovebirds in vivid green, yellow and orange swooping overhead and lilac crested rollers , which show flashes of iridescent pink, teal and blue.
Abdul was, of course, a mine of information and Master and Miss Gallivant kept him very busy with question after question. We found out that the amazing African Baobab tree is hollow inside (see below for a picture of us inside one!), that male lions do not hang out together unless they are from the same family, that a vulture can see for many miles. And, the one that really got Master and Miss Gallivant excited – the fact that Simba means ‘lion’ in Swahili and Pumba means ‘foolish’. Who knew?
And, as well as the animals there is the African scenery that will linger long in our memories –vast blue skies, theatrical sunsets, dusty red earth, plains, forest, woodland… landscapes so pristine they feel almost prehistoric. There can be few better feelings than watching the sun rise and this heavenly cornucopia of creatures wake up –we felt truly privileged to be witnessing it all. And, with no phone signal and no internet, we really did feel as if we’d stepped into a different time in history.
We started our trip in Tarangire. It’s less well known than some of the other parks and reserves and you’ll get to see all the usual safari suspects including tons (quite literally) of elephants.
Then it was on to Lake Manyara with its swathe of water shimmering with flamingoes, marabou storks and bathing hippos, its trees noisy with the chatter of monkeys. It’s supposedly famous for its tree climbing lions but we didn’t see any – and our guide commented that he hadn’t seen one there in five years although he sees them all the time in the Serengeti (where we also saw one).
The volcanic Ngorongoro Crater was next. It’s the largest unflooded, unbroken caldera in the world. There are few trees so it’s easy to spot animals. An unfortunate downside of this is that you can also easily spot other safari vehicles. As soon as someone spots something interesting they stop, to be joined by another jeep, then another, as everyone wants to see what all the fuss is about…. resulting in jeep jam! That said, geographically the crater is definitely an amazing sight to behold.
A bone shakingly bumpy drive down the world’s worst road (honest!) then took us to the country’s most famous National Park – the Serengeti. Lions are aplenty here, but we also saw black rhinos, hyena and much, much more.
Each evening we would return to our campsite, tired, dusty and happy and ready for dinner and a drink and bush stories around the campfire before bed.
Again we were aware of what was all around us– we had a herd of ten elephants hanging out just behind our tent the first night (we could hear them breathing and chomping the trees!). Another night we saw orange eyes glinting in the undergrowth. “Hyenas” declared Yuzzo, the member of staff who was escorting us back to our tent. Gulp! On our last night there was a drama in the kitchen tent when a honey badger suddenly appeared and caused havoc, diving into the bin and knocking saucepans flying. The staff knew better than to stop it. They all seemed very relaxed about it all and reassured us that, no, elephants tend not to trample guests, and, no, lions do not bite through the tents to eat them either.
To be honest, I was so wiped out at the end of each day that the whole of Noah’s Ark could have paraded through our tent and I would not have stirred.
After five exciting days we were definitely ready for some downtime on the sensational beaches of the nearby island of Zanzibar. And if you want to read that post, click here
The 13 night Tanzania: Northern Parks and Zanzibar itinerary with Safari & Beach costs from around £12,000 for a family of four, up to around £14,000 in high season The price includes international and internal flights, all transfers, services of a dedicated driver/guide throughout your safari, park entrance fees, accommodation in stylish camps and lodges, full board with all drinks whilst on safari and half board for five nights in Zanzibar. For details call 01548 854125 or visit www.safariandbeach.com