3 Days* in TANZANIA
An African safari might not be at the top of your wander list, but it should be. I was a safari skeptic… Traveling to the most remote parts of east Africa, spending thousands of dollars to sit in a car and stare at an ostrich? I’ll pass! If I hadn’t been living in Sudan at the time, I probably wouldn’t have made the trek all the way to Tanzania. But what an incredible experience I would have been missing! One that still stands out in my memory as one of the most unique, jaw dropping, perma-grin-inducing adventures I’ve ever had. One thing to keep in mind: Tanzania is expensive. Expect to spend a lot of money on hotels in and around the national parks and conservation areas. Fees to enter the parks are also pretty steep. Do your research before you go so you’re not caught off guard.
This guide is a very quick 3Day dash through two of the major destinations in the Tanzanian highlands: Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater. Note: if you’re there for high season (autumn), or even if you’re not, you should also try to make it to Serengeti National Park, only a few hours further down the road.
Day 1* in Tanzania
Flying into Tanzania is like arriving in a prehistoric shire with rolling green hills and lush landscape as far as the eye can see. You’ll arrive at either Arusha or Kiliamanjaro airport. From there, pick up a rental car (4WD is absolutely necessary) or connect with your safari group or private guide.
My husband and I were traveling with another couple from Khartoum and we were all hankering for a few days of agenda-free adventure, so we opted to forgo a guide and rent our own vehicle through an outfit called R&N Xplorer Africa Safaris.
Once you’ve secured your wheels, head toward Lake Manyara, about 75 miles from Arusha. All drives in the highlands are spectacular. The brightness of the greens is almost psychedelic, like some Technicolor African dream. Wildly shaped trees like Baobab and Acacia pop up from flat pastures and huge birds swoop and coast overhead. Think: Out of Africa, with no trace of irony. Though the distance to Lake Manyara is relatively short, the road is littered with thousands of speed bumps that make the trip take longer than you’d expect.
We stayed at The Serena Lodge, which I highly recommend. Rooms are spacious and well appointed, food is delicious and the pool overlooks Lake Manyara – a truly spectacular view that we spent many hours contemplating over Tusker beers and complimentary munchies.
If you're there during or after rainy season (March and April), you’ll see millions of pink flamingos on the lake… So many the lake’s water has a rose-colored tinge. This is a good way to wind down after your long journey, so settle in for sunset and replenish your energy for the next day’s safari.
Day 2* in Tanzania
Rise early and partake in the bountiful breakfast buffet. Offerings are standard but good: omelettes, crepes, cold cereals and yogurts, fresh juice and coffee. Then, hop in your 4WD and head to Lake Manyara National Park. You can pick up a map from the park services kiosk as you enter. Now, your job is to spot.
The park is teaming with zebras, elephants, lions, monkeys and birds that are wandering around, totally fascinating to watch and amazingly unfazed by cars and curious onlookers. You’ll be shocked how into this you’ll get: squealing like children every time you see a new animal, ooo-ing and aah-ing when a baby zebra trots or a giraffe bends its neck to eat grass. We probably spent 45 minutes watching an elephant bathe her baby. Obviously, keep all body parts inside the vehicle, at all times.
You’ll want to get on the road to Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) by early afternoon. Again, the drive is breathtaking and slow going. When you reach the NCA you’ll pay an entry fee. For us (4 people and one vehicle) it was 700 USD. Once in, there are no additional fees to drive in and out of the crater.
There aren’t a lot of accommodation options if you want to lodge inside the NCA (which I recommend). We chose the Wildlife Lodge, which was a mixed experience. The location is unbeatable, perched on the lip of the crater with a huge veranda from which you can spot herds of migrating wildebeests or zebras dashing across the plane, silvery lakes reflecting the impossibly huge sky. However, the rooms were noisy, the service inconsistent and the food mediocre, at best.
Where ever you choose, spend some part of the evening outside, watching the night sky. The lack of artificial light makes the stars look touchably close. Think: Melancholia
Day 3* in Tanzania
Eat a big breakfast, arrange for packed lunches and make sure you have a full tank of gas: you’ll want to spend the whole day exploring the crater and there is nothing inside but wildlife and safari vehicles. Once you’ve driven down the narrow, winding road that leads into the crater floor, you’ve kind of committed yourself – coming and going is not an option.
The crater itself is a volcanic caldera formed over a million years ago that now functions as a sort of natural wildlife reserve, home to over 25,000 large animals including black rhinos, lions, hippos, cheetahs, leopards, and so many more. The flat, mostly treeless terrain makes it easy to spot animals at great distances and the enclosed nature of the crater bed means the concentration of animals is huge. We had a staring contest with a massive male lion under a double rainbow, followed a Serval on his lunchtime hunt and watched a herd of elephants lumber toward us from across the grassy plane.
Unreal encounters like this are the norm. Eight hours in a car will seem like 20 minutes. Note: bathroom opportunities are few and far between, so be mindful of your fluid consumption.
A day inside the crater is enough to win over any safari skeptic. Have your camera (with zoom lens) and binoculars always at the ready and try to be present and absorb every moment – you’ll be thinking about this trip for years to come.
- A good camera with zoom lens
- Wildlife spotting book (or app)
- Out of Africa
- The African Queen
- Serengeti Shall Not Die