Our trip to Tanzania was the experience of a lifetime. Following the footsteps of Simba the Lion King to explore the stunning landscapes of Tanzania and meet the wild animals had been a dream for a long time. I did not expect to tick this one off my bucket list that early… but the opportunity to join friends to climb Kilimanjaro and for a safari in Tanzania is too rare, so I could not miss it!
It will be hard to do more exotic than a getaway with African wildlife. Surprisingly, it is not so far away if you live in Europe. Indeed, there are direct flights to Nairobi (Kenya) where many tours are available to start a safari. I highly recommend seizing this opportunity, even for a short trip.
There are many different options to choose from according to your budget and the experience you are after. We opted for a six-day camping safari with a driver to escort us. I love the outdoors so camping is always a great option for me. It was a luxurious camping style: we had chairs, tables and even a cook travelling with us so we really could relax as all the main chores were taken care of whether by Mindi (our driver) or Renato (our cook) who accompanied us during the trip.
The five of us all agree that the safari experience was fantastic – and well above our expectations – although it was more popular than we thought.
To quickly sum up our 6-day safari trip in Tanzania:
- We visited four different parks (Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater),
- We learnt about Paleoanthropology at one of the most important sites in the world,
- We had a disappointing experience at a Maasai Village,
- We did an interesting cultural tour of the Mto Wa Mbu village.
To find out more about what you can see at different times of the year, check out this detailed guide on Tanzania safaris.
The six highlights of our safari in Tanzania
Choosing the highlights of the safari is hard. Very hard. Seeing those animals in the wild – and so many of them – was incredible.
We were lucky enough to spot the Big Five – the most difficult animals to hunt on foot in Africa (the lion, the leopard, the elephant, the buffalo and the rhinoceros) – although the rhinoceros we saw was far away. But my favourite encounter – and discovery! – of the safari was the dik-dik: a tiny cute antelope (smaller than some dogs).
While the boys would speak more about the cheetah hunting, I agreed with the other girl in our group that the lion cubs playing were our highlight of the trip from an animal point of view.
It was special to explore Serengeti which had been on my bucket list for a little while. But from a landscape and atmosphere perspective, if I had to pick only one highlight, I would choose Lake Manyara. It is a beautiful and calm place with many different species of animals meeting there for refreshment. I enjoyed the time we spent there, watching all these animals evolve together in such a peaceful atmosphere.
Our visit to the Maasai village didn’t meet our expectations.
It was not planned and was a last-minute request from the group. I usually research activities of this type to ensure they are done in an ethical way, but it wasn’t possible on the go. But as my group insisted on doing it despite my objections, I had to go with the flow.
After the famous Maasai jumping dance – which was quite impressive – we got separated into couples to join a Maasai man in his small traditional house. He was there to answer all our questions without taboo, even for the uncomfortable topics where our Western culture opposes theirs – especially regarding women. It felt unreal to be in the middle of nowhere, in a remote Maasai village, listening to this man talking about his lifestyle that was so different from anything I had experienced before. This learning opportunity was the only positive thing about the visit.
The rest of the village tour was focused on asking us for more money, although we already paid a lot (US$50) to enter the village. The guide asked for a tip, the women were grabbing our wrists to attach bracelets that they sold more than 10 times the price we found them elsewhere, and we finally felt guilty not leaving a donation to the school… I’m usually happy to support poorer communities when I travel – and we bought many handicraft items from small merchants during our trip – but the way they were insisting in the Maasai village felt like a scam. At the school, the kids were in a loop, repeating the numbers up to 10 in English every time a new group of tourists entered. They looked very bored, and I really wonder if they actually learnt something else at this school.
If you want to visit a Maasai village in Tanzania, please search for information beforehand.
There are some villages that offer a great experience and where tourism creates great opportunities and has a positive impact on the tribe. And some others where the experience may leave you a bitter taste as it did for us – and you want to avoid these ones. I’d love to hear feedback about great tours to Maasai villages in Tanzania so do not hesitate to leave a comment below if you had a good experience. I’ve read positive things about the Maji Moto Maasai Cultural Camp, but it’s in Kenya.
Responsible travel tip: Researching tourist activities to check if they have a positive impact on the locals is a big part of being a responsible tourist. It’s not always easy. This story from more than ten years ago can open your eyes on some of the challenges of cultural exploitation in tourism.
On the other hand, the cultural tour of Mto Wa Mbu village was a real success.
A local guide from the village facilitated the visit so we could learn more about the different activities in the small town: agriculture (rice) and artisans (wood sculptors). We learnt that Tanzania is a melting pot of many cultures from nearby peoples fleeing conflicts. The guide said they welcomed everyone and it was a pleasure to see how they now form a unified community of more than 120 tribes.
We also got the opportunity to see how they produce banana beer and to share it with a group of locals. Everybody drinks from the same bowl, after blowing the foam that’s staying at the top. I only dipped my lips as I was worried about my stomach not behaving very well with the change in diet – and the production didn’t look like it followed the strictest food operations. We were starting our Kilimanjaro climb the next day, so I didn’t want to take risks. The rest of my friends happily drank the banana beer. I was the only one who got sick the next day… Seriously?!
What animal would you absolutely want to see during a safari in Africa? Leave a comment below!
Where is Arusha?
We started our safari from Arusha, in Tanzania. This was perfect to combine it with the second part of our trip: climbing Kilimanjaro. Arusha is in the north of Tanzania, not too far from the border with Kenya.
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