Has an African Safari been on your dream list of vacations to do? Not sure how to go about it? Where to go? What to expect? Should you bring your children? The only thing I can recommend to you is...GO! We chose Tanzania and it was an experience like nothing we could have imagined. Honestly, your senses will be on overdrive the whole time. Imagine a herd of elephants walking right in front of you, a lion hunting down its dinner, walking through lush forests, eating things like banana soup, and meeting local tribe people that you have only read about in books. For us, Tanzania was an experience that we will never forget. Below is our trip broken up by location, Kilimanjaro, The Serengeti, The Ngorongoro Crater, and Tarangire National Park. Click on the location name, have a read and take a look at the photos. I'm sure you are going to be inspired to go yourself. Do it!Read More
It was time to leave the Ngorongoro Crater and make our way, by car, to the last stop on our journey. Tarangire National Park. So far, our stays in Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, and the Ngorongoro Crater were so much more than we had ever imagined. We couldn't wait to see what Tarangire National Park had in store for us.Read More
The Ngorongoro Crater
Thankfully, after many hours of driving the bumpy, dusty, gravel road from our adventure in the Serengeti, we started our climb to the ridge of the Ngorongoro Crater. Our accommodations were on the opposite side of the Crater so we had to drive up, along the rim, and then back down the other side to reach our lodge. Although once again I wasn't a fan of the drive through the crater, the scenery was something out of a movie. Vast open land with rolling hills in the background, five girraffe walking by, Massai herding their livestock, baboons sunning themselves on the side of the road. For a girl from Canada, this was all very surreal.
Our Beautiful Accommodations in the Hills of the Ngorongoro Crater
As we turned down the path to our lodge, the dusty memories of our long drive that day were quickly erased. We were staying at the Farm House Valley Lodge, perched in the lush hills of the crater. To be surrounded by such greenery, after a day of seeing nothing but dust and rocks, was divine. The setting for the lodge could not have been more dreamy. We loved our previous stay at the Katikati tents in the Serengeti but we did not hide our excitement to see the luxury of the Farm House accommodations before us :-)
We had our own little unit consisting of two adjoining rooms. Large mosquito-netted beds, enormous bathrooms, beautiful windows looking out onto all the greenery-it was really special. A jackfruit tree and a banana tree in full bloom sat outside our front door and even better, was the large open football like pitch just waiting to have three boys practice their skills on. To top it all off, there was much needed laundry service and the all-important "wifi" in the lounge area.
Our walk With the Eccentric BabaDingy
Right from our first introductions, I knew our time spent with BabaDingy would be memorable. He was funny when I'm not 100% sure he was trying to be funny, strange in a way that was sometimes awkward and often found a way to give an answer to a question that wasn't asked. To start off with, he told us his tribe name and made us all try to repeat it. "Eera "gcluck" tribe. The "gcluck" is a weird noise you make in the back of your throat like a clucking sound. BabaDingy was a unique character to say the least. He led us on a beautful walk of the Farm House grounds, showed us where the lodge grew all their own organic fruits and vegtales, and let us sample some of their own Arabica coffee beans.
So many beautiful flowers spectled throughout the greenery.
Game Drive in the Ngorongoro Crater
Our game drive in the crater was a completely different experience to our days spent in Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti. It was much colder than the previous locations, very overcast, and quite a few more safari jeeps than we had seen the days prior. The road down to the bottom of the crater was long, very steep, and winding. But we made it down and back up again at the end of the day for that matter
Before you start your descent into the crater there is a lookout spot to see the enormity of this massive sunken volcano. However, you don't really get a proper sense of scale until you are at the bottom looking up.
There are plenty of animals to see in the crater, wildebeest, hippos, birds, rhinos, lions...But after just visiting the Serengeti it was hard to compare. We did see plenty of interesting animals- the hippos were really fun to watch. We witnessed a lion stalking her prey and then make a failed attempt at a kill. We saw the hard to find Rhino way off in the distance. We saw the weather patterns change multiple times throughout the day. We saw a huge cobra swimming in the lake. We saw, we saw, we saw!
Things with Wings
The Hungry Hippos
The Lioness on the Hunt
Finally, the Wildebeest
Rift Valley Children's Village
On our last day in the Ngorongoro area, we had the privilege to visit a nonprofit organization caring for the needs of many on a variety of levels, called Rift Valley Children's Village (RVCV). I had contacted RVCV prior to our trip and had requested spending half a day with them so the boys (and Rob and I) could experience first hand, the importance of organizations like this. What we learned that day about vision, perseverance, compassion, care, drive...the list goes on and on, will not be forgotten.
RVCV literally is a small village of children. It gives a loving home for nearly 100 children who are either orphaned or whose parents are unable to care for them at this time. There are two government schools- a primary and a secondary, that RVCV helps support financially and with staff. They cater to not only the children at the village but also to the children in the surrounding rural areas. The "pass" success rate is almost 100%- a gigantic leap from the Tanzanian government school average.
On top of educating and housing hundreds of children, RVCV provides medical care to over 10,000 individuals in the surrounding rural area through an onsight nurse as well as partnering with Foundation for African Medicine and Education (FAME) for more complex treatments. RVCV also runs a microfinance program to help adults have the opportunity to have "the necessary tools and support to empower local entrepreneurs to break the cycle of poverty."
The scope of this organization went far beyond what we had originally thought when finding it on the internet. You really need to see something to get a better understanding of it. After being in Tanzania for over a week and seeing other local and private schools, the lack of medical supplies and hospitals for the public, and the overall extent of poverty in the country, we had a far greater understanding and appreciation for the need of organizations like RVCV. They are crucial to the bettering of so many families. Please check out their website for more information about all the great things they are doing.
Trying to Find the Remote Rift Valley Children's Village
A Place to Call Home at RVCV
A Place to go to School at RVCV
A Place to Play and be Loved at RVCV
The Neighbouring Villages Desperatly Depend on RVCV
Goodbye Ngorongoro Crater
We would have loved to stay longer at the RVCV but time did not permit us. I am fairly certain one or more of us will return again one day.
It was time to leave the Crater area and start our drive towards our last stop for this trip, Tarangire Park. On the way, we drove through a big town called Karatu. I loved watching all the action on the street as people went about their daily activities. I wish we could have pulled over for a while to take it all in. Truely fascinating.
Serengeti National Park
After two days in the Kilimanjaro region, it was time to head to Serengeti National Park. The drive from Moshi to Serengeti Park is a long bumpy haul so we opted to speed things up and travel by air. We chartered a very small, ten seater prop plane that took us safely on an exciting ride into the Serengeti game reserve. Landing in the Park was a different experience for us as we had never landed on a dirt runway before. Liam had the best view as co-pilot. The airport was small, easy to get in and out of, and our Safari guide Danny, from Access 2 Tanzania greeted us with the familiar "Jambo!" Our safari jeep was easy to spot and we were on our way.
Our Safari Camp in the Serengeti
Our Safari Camp in the Serengeti was called KatiKati camp. This camp was park of a bigger chain called Tanganyika Wilderness Camps. Thankfully, the park has really restricted what can be built in order to help protect the wildlife but on the flip side, this means there are very limited accommodations within the park. We decided to go with Katikati camp as we wanted to try a true tenting experience while in Africa. In all honesty, these were not typical tents that we had to pitch ourselves, sleeping in sleeping bags on the hard ground, with no functioning toilet in sight. These were luxury tents all the way. The camp consisted of ten, army style tents, with comfy beds, a bathroom, and a bucket shower. There was a large common tent for eating and a cooks tent behind. Each night we were invited to watch bush TV before dinner (for a moment my children's heart skipped a beat when they actually thought there would be a tv brought out into the bush to watch) where the staff served the kids hot chocolate and popcorn. After dinner, it was mandatory to be walked back to your tent by a staff member in case of an encounter with a lion. Oh my!
The dining area was in two large tents in the middle of the camp. All the meals were really well prepared and the service was top notch. The staff at Katikati camp could not have been nicer. Everything about the camp was very peaceful, except at night. It seemed turning our lights off for bed was the signal for all our nocturnal friends to start making their noise. The boys and I lay in the dark trying to identify what we were hearing. Each night, we also heard the lions and hyenas rustling around our site. It was a little intimidating, but nothing that kept us from falling asleep.
There are two main options on how to plan your safari day. One, go on your game drive from early morning straight through until sundown at six o'clock (taking a box lunch in the jeep with you.) Or two, get up early and go on your game drive until roughly 1 pm, go back to camp for a hot lunch and rest, then back out from 3-6pm for the rest of your game drive. As Rob was very tired from many long weeks traveling for work, and the boys had just finished an exhausting end of school year, we decided on the slightly less rigorous day and went for option two.
Dining Tents and Bush TV
The Landscape of the Serengeti
We were prepared, or maybe we were focused, on seeing exotic wildlife but we were not prepared for the vast beauty of the Savanah on its own. Driving around the game reserve for hours looking at the golden orange hues of the blowing, long grass was mesmerizing. The skies changed from shades of purple, pink, and blue in the morning to dark amber colours in the evening. Combined creating a very dramatic backdrop for the animals.
The Animals of the Serengeti
We climbed into our Safari Jeep and were excited to start the hunt for the big five we had heard so much about. Lions, elephants, rhinos, buffalos, and leopards were on our mind. Little did we know that every animal we came across would leave us speechless with its beauty. Not only was each and every animal spectacular but to see how well they adapt and blend in with their environment was simply amazing. Most of the time, the animals were so well camouflaged that we didn't notice them until we were practically on top of them.
We immediately came across our first animals in the wild- the Thompson gazelles. They were so beautiful. Dozens of them right in front of us. We thought it couldn't get better than this. Oh boy, it got better. Much much better! (Even the fact that we missed seeing the great Wildebeest migration by one day seemed irrelevant with all the majestic animals surrounding us.)
Thompson and Grant Gazelles, Impala, Topi, Hartebeest
The Funny Baboons
A Few Birds
Hippos and Crocodiles
Lizards, Mongoose, Hyrax and the Jackel
Zebras (but no Wildebeest)
The Massive African Buffalo
The Very Sleek Cheetahs
The Mysterious Leopard
The Scavenging Hyena
The Elegant Giraffe
The Kids Favourite- "Pumba" (AKA the Warthog)
The Lovely Ostrich
My Favourite, The Magnificent Elephant
The King of the Serengeti, The Lion
The Drive from Serengeti National Park to Ngorongoro Conservation Area
On our last day in the Serengeti, we had to wake up very early and start our drive to the Ngorongoro Crater. Honestly, this drive was pretty exhausting. It took most of the day, driving on very rough, bumpy roads to get to the crater. It was incredibly dusty as we were driving on unpaved roads so it was impossible to roll the windows down for fresh air. The landscape was pretty much barren for the entire drive. Occasionally Masai people would appear beside the jeep, herding their sheep, dust circling them. We took one pit stop at the small tourist centre as we were leaving the gates of the Serengeti Park, otherwise, we were in the car for many hours.
Once at the crater we made the climb up and around its rim. The drive was getting more nerve-wracking for me. Thankfully we reached our hotel at the Crater and it was beautiful! The drive was pretty much forgotten (until the next day when we had to drive the crater again.)
The Drive from the Serengeti to Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Choosing the Right Safari
The great African Family Safari! What could be better? We had never been to Africa and decided that Tanzania was the best place to start. There were many reasons for Tanzania, including hopes of seeing the Great Wildebeest Migration and experiencing the Big 5 on safari. We also wanted to see Mt. Kilimanjaro and take a hike in its lush foothills. So with all this in mind, we planned our trip through Access 2 Tanzania. Our trip would include two days trekking/walking the foothills around Kilimanjaro (we did not in anyway climb Kilimanjaro) near Moshi, Tanzania and a week on safari in the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater, and in Tarangire National Park.
Our First Impressions of the Foothills of Kilimanjaro
After a plane cancelation in Nairobi, we finally arrived at Kaliwa Lodge in the dead of night. We quickly were escorted to our rooms and without much effort fell fast asleep. Occasionally we were woken in the night to a screeching noise but luckily exhaustion took the better of us and we quickly dozed off again. In the morning we became aware our beautiful surroundings! The lush, cool, green forest was studded with beautiful bright flowers. They were all the colours our eyes so desperately miss living in the desert. It was gorgeous! We quickly ate our breakfast and were ready for our big day ahead walking the Machame Trail.
Walking the Foothills of Kilimanjaro
We started our walk off with an explanation of the four different types of bananas that are locally grown. We instantly learned a lot about something that we've been eating daily for decades! We took in all the information possible on the banana trees, the different types of bananas, their multiple purposes, and how they are removed for regrowth. Rob especially enjoyed being educated on the ins and outs of banana beer.
As we walked on, it was stunning to be surrounded by the dense, lush, forest. Just beautiful. Our guide began the explanation of the Chaga Tribe - the most common and prevalent tribe in the area. We later found out that there are a staggering 120 local tribes in Tanzania. We passed by a graveyard while learning about the transfer of land between the Chaga family members. Land is almost never sold or leaves the family, even after death.
The Chaga Tribe
As we walked through the forest, we saw Chaga people busily doing their work for the day. It was almost exclusively women working, including carrying almost everything and anything balanced on their heads. It was incredible. Most of the time you could not hear a sound from their walking and then they would silently appear from the thick forest. They looked incredibly graceful to me even while working so hard. We did see a few men along the way. One had scaled a very high tree and was hitting avocados out of it. He had scaled about 10 meters up the tree and was balancing on a limb while hitting avocados down to the ground with a long stick. He thought it was funny how nervous we were for him. Apparently this is a common activity for him. We also met many small children playing who would cautiously gaze at us and then smile and wave. Seeing how people live and work in other places is so incredibly interesting. Probably my favourite thing about traveling.
Visiting A Local Tanzanian School
The next stop was at a local school solely funded by the Tanzanian government. Meaning there was no funding from outside sources, such as NGO's. This instantly was a major eye-opener for our family. Even though the majority of us know children are not treated equally around the world, it becomes a lot more real when you are staring the inequality directly in the face. To see children not being given an adequate standard of education was really hard to see. We are well aware of the huge privilege of education our children enjoy in Dubai (and in our stays in Canada and Belgium as well) but visiting the Tanzanian school and learning about their education process was a humble reminder just how fortunate we are. The school's "classroom" had no real markings of any classroom we would recognize. There was no electricity, no grouping of tables and chairs, no supplies, no proudly displayed works of accomplishment on the walls, no fresh coat of paint, no sources of play, no athletic equipment, and more. School in Tanzania is only obligatory (and I use that word with a grain of salt) until the age of 12. At this point, the majority of kids must drop out because the language of learning switches from Swahili to English. Most children do not know enough English so are unable to attend secondary school. But...
The kids we met at the school were much like any other children you would meet around the world - happy, playful, curious, smart, funny, shy, gentle, loud...the list goes on. When we first arrived, the school children cautiously eyed our boys as ours did with them. But very quickly they were taking steps towards each other and the laughter and playing began. (The children were fascinated by our boys G-Shock watches). They happily led us into their classroom, walked with us around the property, and played games with the boys. We could not speak more than a handful of Swahili and they could not speak English, but we communicated just fine. Earlier in the morning, the boys learned how to say "hello, what is your name" in Swahili which was returned with gales of laughter when they used it on their new friends. We really liked meeting the children and we appreciated them showing us their school. A lifetime memory without a doubt.
We made our way down to the river where a bridge separated two once feuding tribes. Now the tribes coexist peacefully on each side of the river and pass freely from side to side thanks to the bridge. Let's just say the bridge would not pass Western safety standards. That's probably why our boys loved running back and forth across it. It was a beautiful stop for our guide, Hilary, to explain more about the local people and customs and his many climbs up Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The Local Shops
We needed to leave the cool lush surroundings of the forest in favour of walking next to the road to get to get to our next destination. On the way, we passed by local shops, including hair salons, restaurants, supply stores, but the most interesting were the butcher shops. When there is meat in the shop to sell, a white flag is placed outside the door and a drum is beat signally meat is available. The butcher sat behind a small window (no glass) that displayed some hanging meat and skin (which did not look fresh). Two long, rusty, dirty, knives sat on the counter in front of him, ready to cut off "fresh" pieces of meat. Let's just say there is quite a stretch between this butcher shop and the local "boucherie" we love in Europe. But it was interesting to see none the less. Again, one of my favourite things is watching how people are carrying on in their daily lives, and there was plenty to watch on this part of the walk.
The Arabica Coffee Bean
Next stop was lunch located on a local coffee farm. While there, we were lucky enough to see the step-by-step process on how the beans make the transition from the bush all the way to your cup.
A Late Lunch in Kilimanjaro
After sampling the coffee, it was time to eat which was a good thing as we had worked up a healthy appetite. The lunch was at a local home beside the coffee farm. We enjoyed a beautiful setting while eating Al Fresco.
Anytime we leave on a trip to a developing country I am always concerned about getting sick due to food and/or water contamination. Miraculously, these fears tend to slip away once we are on location which is exactly what happened in Tanzania. Our lunch consisted of banana soup, banana curry, beef and rice, wilted garlic spinach, and vegetable salad - all prepared in an outdoor kitchen. At first when I heard "banana soup" I was skeptical but it was delicious as was the rest of the meal. Thankfully the boys are open to eating almost anything put in front of them and this meal was no exception. They really loved it - especially the soup!
Making Our Way To The Waterfall
After we finished eating it was time to make our way back to the lodge. On the way, we were going to stop at a waterfall that was promoted as one of the highlights of the walk. Although the waterfall was worth the stop, it was not the highlight of the walk for us. Meeting the children at the local school, seeing the Chaga people along the way, and experiencing local dishes at lunch in a beautiful setting were far more special.
A few local children joined us for the walk to the waterfall. They giggled and stared at the boys the whole way. It was really sweet. Once we reached the waterfall the children continued on their way and we took a few minutes to enjoy the crashing sound of the water over the falls.
The Forest Was Bursting With Colour
There were many things I was not prepared for in Africa. One of which was the many vibrant flowers we saw along the way bursting with the most vivid colours. When you live in the desert you forget how much colour can make such a difference. Breathtaking.
End of the Day Contemplation While Gazing at Mount Kilimanjaro
Our day came to an end around 6 pm as we made it back to Kaliwa Lodge. The lodge has a beautiful suspended deck, overlooking the foothills and offering the most spectacular view of Mount Kilimanjaro. It was the perfect place to sit and have a drink while thinking about everything we had experienced over the last day and a half. There was a lot to reflect on. We also found out what the screaming noise was we had heard the night before - howler monkeys were jumping from treetop to treetop below us! To finish the night we had a lovely dinner where we enjoyed the company of fellow travelers at the lodge. It was then back to bed to recharge for the transition to the Serengeti the next day.
The Hustle and Bustle on the Streets of Kilimanjaro
The next morning came quickly and it was time to leave Moshi and Kilimanjaro. We had a quick breakfast and started our drive back to Kilimanjaro airport. Seeing our surroundings in daylight was so much better than in total darkness as on our arrival night. I really enjoyed most of our drives in Tanzania (and there were many long ones.) They were generally quite slow and it was often possible to see all the action happening on the street. If I haven't said it enough, I love watching people doing their day to day activities.
Bye For Now Kilimanjaro
It was time to board the plane that would take us to the Serengeti. Did I mention that it was a ten seater prop plane? I thought I would be nervous boarding the plane but I really wasn't at all. We had never been in a plane like this before and it was really quite exciting. Liam was lucky enough to sit in the front beside the pilot. Super cool! And as we made our way up in the sky it was magical to see the top of Mount Meru pop up right beside us. Now on to see the Big 5!