I am super excited today because we are going on the bucket list trips of all bucket list trips – an African Safari – Tanzania to be exact.
I recently had the pleasure of having Augustine Minja, Founder, Owner, Managing Director and Travel Consultant at Augustine’s Adventure Africa (AA Africa) join me for one of my video chats where he gave us an amazing overview of exactly what awaits you in Africa.
AA Africa is a tour operator based out of Arusha, Tanzania that specializes in custom and private run safaris to Tanzania. But it’s important to note that they also do extensions to Zanzibar – a beautiful island and part of the Spice Islands, Kenya, the southern part of Africa including South Africa, Botswana and Victoria Falls and gorilla tracking in Uganda. However today is all about Tanzania.
Now, are you ready for the adventure of a lifetime? Let’s head on down to Africa!
Tell Me About Tanzania? Augustine described it as a giant country – 365,000 square miles or the size of Texas and Oklahoma combined – with a population of 50 million including and 130 tribes. The main languages spoken in Tanzania are Swahili and English. Tanzania is regarded as the best African safari destination – and is among two countries in the world that have set aside 40% of the land for wildlife conservation – including national parks, game reserves, conservation areas, forest reserves, wildlife managed areas – you name it. Six percent of the surface in Tanzania is water including Lake Victoria – which is the largest lake in Africa and the second largest freshwater lake in the world – as well as Tanganyika and Nyasa.
Tanzania also has Mount Kilimanjaro and at 19,341 feet – it’s the tallest mountain in Africa and the highest free standing mountain in the world. If you’re a real adventurous traveler but you cannot do the whole hike – which takes about six days – you need to do at least a day hike. Here you will also find Mount Meru at 14,967 feet making it the second highest mountain in Tanzania and the fourth highest in Africa.
Tanzania is one of the most inspiring safari circuits in Africa with breathtaking scenery, lush vegetation, a vast and stunning savannah with exotic wildlife, diversity and abundance. There are also various national parks that you’ll be able to cover in the northern part of Tanzania – including Arusha National Park, Lake Manyata National Park, Serengeti National Park and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ngorongoro Conservation Area where the Ngorongoro Crater is located – giving you plenty of places to explore on this fabulous adventure.
How Do I Get There? When flying from the US there are many options as far as airlines – including KLM, Qatar, Turkish Air, Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airways and Emirates. Augustine noted that Emirates is typically the carrier of choice since they were the very first ones to operate there. Basically, what you’ll do is fly from your point of departure in the US, connect in Dubai and then land at the Kilimanjaro International Airport. And what a great welcome that’s waiting for you in Kilimanjaro!
The Kilimanjaro International Airport is about an hour away from Arusha so their driver will be waiting for you – in uniform – and holding a sign with your name. From there you’ll be driven an hour to Arusha, checking into the hotel to relax for the evening because in most cases the flights arrive late at night. So, your first night would be at a lovely hotel in Arusha and after a good night’s rest the adventure begins the next day!
First Stop – Arusha National Park. Depending on the number of days you choose for your private and customized trip, most people will start with Arusha National Park if the number of days allows for that. Arusha is nested right on the foot of Mount Meru about a 45 minute drive from Arusha City to the Arusha National Park. And what a lovely place it is. Augustine describes it is sort of like a rainforest and one of the highlights here is that you can actually do walking tours and explore things on foot. You can also do a normal safari where you are driven in one of their special vehicles.
What Will I See In Arusha National Park? One unique animal that you can see here is the black and white colobus. There are very few left in Africa, but this is one of the places where you can see them. As you keep exploring Arusha National Park, you’ll come across a series of salt lakes with tons of pink flamingos and other aquatic birds. In addition, you’ll see giraffes, zebras, buffalo, other birds – you name it. In addition to game driving and bird watching, you can do a hiking/walking safari on the lower slopes of Mount Meru where you can also see game animals, or you can canoe in Momela Lakes where you can explore things from the water – which by the way is among the very few places that you can do this!
Next Stop – Tarangire National Park. Next is Tarangire National Park – one of Augustine’s favorites among the national parks. Nicknamed The Elephant Kingdom of Northern Tanzania, there are an amazing number of animals here and it features a varied habitat dominated with Baobab Trees and Acacia wood. Now Augustine joked that if you don’t really love elephants this national park is not for you as there’s a tremendous number of elephants –at least 2500 – especially if you’re there during dry season which is July onwards. But everybody loves elephants – right? They also boast the highest concentration (in dry season) of wildlife outside of Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater – especially elephants – but also lions, leopards and more. It is an amazing place for bird watching too – so for those who enjoy birding – it’s one of the best spots in Tanzania – with more than 500 species to spot. And I personally love how Augustine highlighted the abundance of the giant upside down trees – the Baobab Trees. One of the very fascinating features is that these giant trees can live as long as 2000 years. When you visit during dry season after they have undergone defoliation it looks as if they’re dead – but they’re not – and elephants will go ahead and get the moisture from them. I love how nature takes care of itself!
Up Next – Lake Manyara National Park. What Can I See Here? Lake Manyara National Park has the distinction of being the second oldest national park after Serengeti. It is fairly small but has seven distinct habitats that are dominated by an expanse of a jungle-like ground water forest which houses a variety of wildlife. It’s home to the highest concentration of baboons in the northern circuit, tree climbing lions, more than 400 species of birds, thousands of lesser and greater flamingos, a hippo pool and is a prominent nesting site for yellow billed stork and pelicans in June and July. And – if your there at the right time you’ll also spot elephants, lions, giraffes and checked buffaloes!
What Can I Do In Lake Manyara National Park? Here you can partake in an hour and a half to two hour walking safari with an armed ranger where you will be close to the animals and have the amazing opportunity to discover nature on your own two feet – and view some things that you’re not going to see from the vehicles – including a walkway where you can actually walk across the river forest and ground water forest. Augustine noted that they also have night game drives, but they have a very limited number of people who can do it and here you have to stay at a certain lodge to participate. Augustine also shared that this is one of the parks that he regards as nourishing your own soul and if you stay in one of the lodges around the area you can also do hiking, mountain biking (adjacent the park boundary across the Rift Valley) and take a dip in a hot spring!
On To Serengeti National Park! Serengeti National Park is East Africa’s largest and most popular national park and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Fun Fact: The Maasai people immigrated there about 300 years ago from southern Egypt and Sudan and when they reached Serengeti and they found this massive, gigantic endless plane and proclaimed “this is Serengeti” – which means endless plane. Serengeti is known for its beautiful scenery dotted with giant rock outcrops (KOPJES) and is one of the only two game parks in northern circuit where the Big Five can be seen.
What Will I See In Serengeti National Park? Here you have the highlight of any African safari – wildebeest migration. The migration is a constant movement of at least two million plus animals led by wildebeests, zebras and gazelles who are in constant search of rain and hence green grass, so they’ll move from the north coming down to the south. When they’re there during January, February and March they give birth and spend time there and then when the air is not good again, they move down to towards Lake Victoria and what is called that western corridor. When that area is not good anymore, they go up north to Mara River where a percentage of these wildebeests crossover to Maasai Mara Game Reserve which is adjacent to Serengeti and is actually in the same ecosystem and interconnected. Augustine joked that wildebeest don’t really care about international boundaries – they don’t need passports!
So annually they do about 1000 miles, and this is one unique opportunity and itinerary that they offer as it is designed to follow this movement as it occurs. Not every company is doing this as some of the bigger companies only craft one itinerary regardless of where the herds are. But Augustine assured us that being a professional trained naturalist guide who has been guiding groups for more than 23 years (including a lot from US zoos) he understands what American clients and anybody else is looking for – the real adventure. And if you’re coming to Tanzania and you’re missing the wildebeest migration you need to come back for another trip – so AA Africa makes sure that they get where the herds are at the right place and right time.
Serengeti is known for having a tremendous number of predators and houses one of the best lion populations – more than any other national park in Africa – including tree climbing lions. In addition, there’s a good population of cheetahs, it’s a great place to see leopards which is very rare because they are really elusive, hyenas and more than 500 species of bird. You name it, almost every animal that you want to see you’ll see in the Serengeti – it’s just the best of the best.
What Can I Do In Serengeti National Park? There’s game driving of course, hiking and short walking safaris from some of the lodges and tented camps and canoeing in Lake Victoria. One really awesome option in the Serengeti is doing a hot air balloon ride. Just imagine being aloft and you have this tremendous number of animals down there like the migration or any of the other animals – this makes Serengeti the best place to do this. And when the wildebeest migration is up north in August, September and October the balloons can be done there, then when the migration comes back down in the central part / west and during January, February and March they do it in the eastern southern plains which is also an amazing experience.
Our Next Stop Is Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The only multiple land use area protected area in Tanzania, Ngorongoro Conservation Area is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Wonders of the World. Its landscape is made up of a series of extinct volcanoes – Sadiman, Oldean and Lemakrut and the Empakai, Olmoti, and Ngorongoro craters. Its savanna grassland connects with the southeast plane of Serengeti National Park to create the wildebeest calving grounds we talked about previously. So basically, part of what is in Ngorongoro – called Ndutu Plains – becomes part of the wildebeest migration you see during January, February and March, because again, this wildlife doesn’t care about the boundary line – they just want to enjoy their daily needs – green grass, water – you name it!
What Can I See and Do In The Ngorongoro Conservation Area? Home to the fearless Maasai people who still keep their culture and traditions intact you will witness the cohabitation between them and the wildlife. You will also see the the wildebeest migration across the Ndutu Plains if you are there at the right time – along with the Olduvai Gorges – which is known as the Cradle of Mankind. This is where Mary and Richard Leakey found the oldest skull fragment belonging to an early hominin in 1959. So, if you believe in evolution, this is believed to be at one point where we all came from.
As for activities there are visits to the Maasai villages for cultural interaction, game drives in the Ndutu area especially from December to March, hiking around the rim of the Olmoti and Empakai craters, a walking safari around Ndutu and hiking to the Zinj site at Olduvai Gorge. Also at Olduvai Gorge, you will find a museum that you can tour on your own and where you’re given an interesting talk on how all of these are hominids evolved from one state to another one – making it a complete educational visit.
Tell Me About the Maasai People. One thing that makes Ngorongoro Conservation Area incredibly unique is actually the cohabitation of Maasai people and wildlife. Maasai people do not hunt, and they don’t eat game meat – so there is a mixing up with wildlife in harmony taking place here. They are an amazing, culturally diverse people with their own language. In fact, in Tanzania there’s 130 tribes and each of the tribes have their mother tongue as well as Swahili language which is a national language that everybody speaks – so you will find that most people in Africa do speak more than one language. The Maasai is one of the tribes that are still very intact in terms of their culture and tradition if you compare them with the rest of the tribes. It’s very interesting to visit with them as you will you learn how to build with the Maasai women, you can actually dance with them and even play some basketball as they like to compete to jump as high as they can. And that mixing with them, Augustine shared that most of the guests actually remember building these memorable experiences more than even seeing the animals. What a great opportunity for cultural immersion because it shows how while we’re different, we’re all the same too and it’s great to share a smile even if we don’t understand each other – our body languages speak for themselves.
What About The Ngorongoro Crater? Measuring only 105 square miles – or the size of Washington DC – the Ngorongoro Crater is the nuclear of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Nicknamed the African Garden of Eden, the crater has a rich pasture and permanent water on its floor. It also has one of the largest populations of wildlife in Africa most of which are predominantly herbivores. This is also among the few places on the continent that you can find the rare and endangered black rhino. Because the crater floor is rather flat with some patches of trees, as far as your eyes can see, you’ll see animals. And these animals cohabitate and get their daily needs here and most of them don’t leave because the food is plentiful year round. Here you can game drive into the crater floor to view this amazing interaction of wildlife. Augustine noted that one of the things they do, especially for high end clients, is provide a bush lunch which is basically having a bush barbecue lunch catered down there in the open space while watching the animals in a distance.
What Are Wildlife Managed Areas or WMA? WMA are wilderness areas located adjacent to national parks and they are owned by the local villages. These areas are well protected under conservation principles and therefore have quite an abundance of fauna and flora. They also play an important role of acting as buffer zones to the national parks. The local villages concerned have made these areas available for interested investors to come and build facilities such as lodges and camps, and in return they get royalties as well as other benefits such as employment and markets for their various local products.
As Augustine further explained it – in all of these national parks you’ve got these wildlife managed areas and they’re all owned by the local villages. So, these are areas which technically are what you might call buffer zones or the spill over area. They’re wilderness areas next to the national parks but do not belong to the national park – they belong to and are owned by the local people who protect and conserve them. And since animals don’t know the boundaries as long as you keep your area as intact as you can, animals are going to be there.
What Can I Do In These Wildlife Managed Areas? The big advantage available in camps found in WMA is that you can do hiking and walking safaris. The ability to explore things on foot is not available everywhere in the national parks but you can do walking in WMA’s and that is incorporated with seeing the local people around this area. And by the way – having this area protected actually helps a lot with poaching because in the past before the local people received benefits from these resources, they would kill the animals. But now they cannot because they know when we visit this area they get a royalty – we pay for that and that money helps them and it creates employment because they get employment in the lodges and camps, making it a win-win situation. And that’s one of the reasons I love working with Augustine because he has the same belief system that I do about sustainable travel. We are very much aligned and again guys this is one of the reasons why I bring you all of these different vendors on my video chats. So here you can see that AA Africa is really is in tune with and all about the social responsibility parts of things as well as making sure that we’re all aligned and we’re all taking care of mother earth.
How Do I Get Around Once I Am There? By Road: They use four-wheel drive Toyota Land Cruisers which are top quality four-wheel drive vehicles designed specifically for safaris. They feature pop up roofs for unrestricted game viewing and six window seats. They have a small fridge that keeps water cold and several charging outlets. It’s an extremely comfortable vehicle and the six seats are spread out between three rows and Augustine advised that the code of conduct is that they let the guests rotate seats to get views from all angles. He also noted that when they’re on safari the roof is popped up and the driver guides are extremely well trained – with the least experienced guide being there 15 years. They are all well-educated with some having up to 25 years of experience and they are deeply passionate about what they do and love to share Tanzania with you. This mode of transport is the most common for driving from one national park to another and doing game drives in each park. The advantages of this mode of transportation is that you will drive across the country and thus see a lot of the country, its people and what they do, it’s a more affordable mode of transportation than air and provides the continuity of keeping the same driver guide on your entire safari adventure.
Side Note: They also provide a naturalist guide (which is what Augustine has been doing for 23 years) who will be giving 25 – 30 minute educational talks in the evening on conservation, ecology, natural history, cultural diversity and more, as well as interact with guests in a very symbiotic relationship as they also want to learn from you. Coming from two different cultures means they’ll be very lively discussions for sure! Needless to say, this is a fully furnished package!
By Air: They use several airplane companies that are located in Arusha and operate in the northern circuit. The types of planes to be used depend on the route and the number of passengers involved. There are both scheduled and charter flights. The types of planes available include the Cessna 406 (Caravan) which is a twin engine jet prop and can carry 11 to 12 passengers, the LET 410 which is a twin engine jet prop that can carry 17 to 19 passengers and the Cessna 2088 (Grand Caravan) a single engine jet prop that can carries 13 passengers. There are three ways of using this mode of transportation. 1. Fly into a preferred airstrip in Serengeti depending on which side of Serengeti your lodging is located and then start your safari by road in reverse order. 2. Start your safari in Arusha by road visiting national parks as you go and finish your safari in Serengeti then instead of driving back to Arusha you fly back – you want to start low and end up high. 3. Fly from one park to another and use the camp vehicle for game drives. The advantages of this mode of transportation is that you spend less traveling time between national parks and if you are lucky you’ll fly over Ngorongoro crater or close to the active volcano – Ol Doinyo Lengai, across the great Rift Valley or over the great wildebeest migration and sometimes as you’re approaching Arusha in a distance you may see Kilimanjaro and Mount Mara – in other words you see things from the air that you wouldn’t see on land. And Augustine did note that 85% of their clients fly back – because remember the roads are not paved in the national parks so it serves them a bumpy ride – but hey it’s all adventure!
How About The Accommodations In The National Parks? A wide choice of categories are available to suit the budgets and interests of clients while visiting the northern circuit. Each of these facilities is beautiful in their own way and should not be compared to one another. Some of these properties are found inside the national parks and others are located outside the respective national parks. The choice of these properties range as such: Deluxe lodges and tented camps (semi-permanent camps) which are equivalent to three-star properties, Luxury lodges and tented camps which are equivalent to four-star properties and Ultra-luxury lodges and tented camps which are equivalent to five-star properties. The properties found inside the parks use generators and solar power as their main source of power while the properties found where there is electricity are connected to the national grid, but they also have standby generators. Most have solar power which is provided 24 hours a day to subsidize the generators especially for boiling water to take showers.
As you can see, there are lots of different accommodations – from deluxe to luxury to ultra-luxury so really, it’s going to depend on where your budget is and what you want to experience. So, as we build your itinerary and I ask you all of these questions this is part of me finding out what’s the best fit for you. Augustine also noted that the lodges and tented camps in the wilderness areas have been set to be as authentic as possible. And no matter which level you choose – even when you go deluxe level – you’re going to have an ensuite facility – i.e., your own bathroom inside and a spacious room. In addition, most lodges and camps have Wi-Fi (in the main area) and most of these also accept credit cards. However semi-permanent tent camps do not take credit cards for your extras, mostly drinks. Fun Fact: The semi-mobile camps are actually set up to follow the wildebeest migration and they give you a tremendous wilderness experience where you can hear lions roaring at night and you can hear wildebeests too – what else would you want in a wilderness experience!
In terms of food – the selection is of western and local food – like Ugali which is the traditional Tanzanian food – and guests with different food allergies or needs are taken care of upon advance request. All you need is to tell me ahead of time so that I can contact Augustine with your dietary requirements. On each meal a vegetarian choice is available as well. And according to Augustine you certainly won’t starve – there are fresh fruits – including pineapples, mangoes, oranges, tangerines, papayas and most of the vegetables are organic as a lot of hotels and camps have their own little gardens where they allowed to. And of course, there are plenty of local drinks, local beers and wine – mostly South African wine which is amazing.
Then after a day of safari if you want to soak in a pool, you have that luxury too, so there is some level of wellness that we’re accustomed to. In addition, lot of the lodges have opportunities for connecting rooms for families which is another western amenity that we’re used to. While most of these facilities have king size beds, there are other options like twin beds or triple beds. All you need is to do is tell me ahead of time like, hey I need a room with two beds, or we just need one king bed, or we are a family, and we want interconnecting rooms or rooms next to each other – you know the drill – and I will make it happen.
Tell Me More About The Cultural Immersion Aspect Of It. These are cultural immersion opportunities that you won’t have anywhere else because these are specific tribes that you’re going to be visiting. You’re going to be participating with the local people in doing some digging and the weaving and things like that so again just learning their way of life which is something that we forget being in big cities. We forget what the old world is like, and this is a great reminder of that. Augustine also noted here that having been a professional naturalist and guide for the last 23 years, in the end 85% of the guests actually comment that the cultural immersion was their highlight of their trip. So yes – they have seen migration, they have seen the lions – but they do not forget the cultural immersion where they do a school visit, a market visit, an unplugged home visit, or even attend a mass today. So, it’s a complete package that immerses people so that when they go back home, they can proudly say hey we have been to Tanzania! The day to day activities – that day in the life – that’s what they provide, and its top notch and the guests really appreciate it because a safari is a bucket list item, and you need to do it right the first time because it may be your only time. Although – Augustine did note that once you do the first trip, you become addicted to it. He’s had clients visit several times because each safari is different from the other one even if you’re visiting more or less the same areas – what you’ll see each time – the pattern and the behavior is not exactly the same.
So Tell Me In A Nutshell Why I Should Book A Safari With BHGH? That’s easy!
- Customized and Private Run Safaris
- Itineraries are Designed to Follow Wildebeest Migration in the Serengeti
- Villages Walks for Cultural Immersion
- Professional Naturalist with Eight Plus Guests
- Participating in Local Peoples Activities to Learn Their Lifestyle
- Local Market Visits
- Hadzabe/ Tindiga Tribe Visit
- Maasai Village Visits
- Makonde Wood Carvers Visit Participating in School Activities Like Digging Trenches
- Weaving and Beading with The Locals
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing the CDC recommends you avoid travel to Tanzania. Because the current situation in Tanzania is unknown, even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants. If you must travel to Tanzania, make sure you are fully vaccinated before travel.
For the CDC’s most up to date information on COVID-19 click here. And for the most up to date entry requirements Tanzania click here.
What do you think? Ready to book a safari? I am! And that’s exactly the reason why I brought Augustine on because I wanted to make sure that everyone really knows that I’m working with the best of the best. That’s one of the reasons why I build itineraries with local folks on the ground because they know exactly what’s going on – they know all of those moving pieces and that’s important because I don’t want to send you to a destination where you’re going to miss out on a specific piece of the puzzle.
I look so forward to helping you guys craft an amazing itinerary based on the year of travel that you want to go. And the beautiful thing about this destination is that it’s almost year round – except for two months that they don’t recommend people to visit – April and May because it is the rainy season and its is pouring down like crazy which means the experience is really very small. Sure, it’s cheaper, but the experience is not as grand, and Augustine said he’d rather not bring anybody here in those months because their focus is the value for your dollar and the best experience and they – and me – are all about making your memorable experience. Per Augustine: “I call myself a memory doctor I’m here to create memories for you!”
For more details on things to see and do in Tanzania, where to stay, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!