Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Size: 1,500 sq. miles (8,300 sq. km.) Best time to visit: Anytime

The Ngorongoro Conservation area, home to the famous Ngorongoro Crater, is not a national park and members of the Masai tribe do live within its boundaries; however, the wildlife in the area is overwhelming.

Thousands of animals can be found grazing on the open plains of the conservation area and many more live on the slopes that lead up to Ngorongoro Crater. The crater itself is 11 miles (18 km) wide and contains over 25,000 large mammals alone. It is thought that before the eruption that formed the crater, Ngorongoro may have rivalled Kilimanjaro in size. Lake Magadi, situated at the bottom of the crater, provides good wallowing for the huge water buffalo that gather at its edges. As you move through herds of these massive beasts, their stares can seem more challenging than disinterested.

You won’t see many giraffe or zebra here as competition for food is high in the crater; however, it is one of the best places to spot the endangered African black rhino as well as large prides of lions whose males develop striking black manes. From the rim of the crater it is possible to get a bird’s eye view of the animals and, with a good pair of field glasses, you can identify many of them from afar. There is no accommodation in the crater and the ascent must be made by nightfall but from the many campgrounds and lodges on the crater rim you may be lucky enough to hear the night time activities of the animals as they go about their nocturnal business.

Many types of bird make Ngorongoro crater their home and at times the lake is overed with thousands of greater and lesser flamingos. (Lesser flamingos are smaller, but have brighter plumage.) Sand-pipers, storks, the ever-present vultures and other birds will often be found floating overhead.

Archaeological sites

Olduvai Gorge is the famous home of 1.75 million-year-old “nutcracker man” – known to the scientific community as Australopithecus boisei – one of the oldest known ancestors of man. The remains were discovered by Mary Leakey who was carrying out archaeological work there with her husband, Louis Leakey. The Olduvai Gorge site is extremely rich in fossilized remains and has yielded many types of ancient flora and fauna including 50 different hominids. The site consists of five layers, ranging in age from 15,000 to 2.1 million years.

Other archaeological sites in northern Tanzania include the Hominid track way at Laetoli (the track way is now reburied for preservation, a cast of the track way can be viewed at Olduvai) and the spectacular ancient cave paintings north of Kondoa which can be viewed in their original state. For archaeology buffs, a visit to the 27 painting sites is a must.

The Masai

The Masai tribe is the predominant tribe in northern Tanzania and many of them call the Ngorongoro Conservation Area their home. The Masai people have been given permission to live within the Conservation Area boundaries and as you drive through the area you will often espy the traditional red garb of the Masai. The Masai have never been a hunting people – they live from the milk and blood of cattle – and as a result get along splendidly in this large wildlife preservation area. The Masai are generally distrustful of photographs but some traditional villages have been opened up to tourism and a visit can be arranged for a fee.
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Accommodation

Gibbs Farm

Situated between Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater, Gibbs farm (link) offers charming accommodations in rustic cabins in the gorgeous setting of a colonial coffee farm. The grounds are immaculate and nature walks can be arranged to view a majestic waterfall and the serene east African countryside.

Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge

The lodge is built on the rim of the crater, offering a breath taking view. 90 bedrooms, a lounge with panoramic windows and an observation deck make the wildlife lodge a scenic choice of accommodations.

Ngorongoro Serena Lodge

The Ngorongoro Serena Lodge (link) is built into the rim of the ancient crater, its design of rambling stone walls covered with ivy and plants blends beautifully into the crater environment. Most rooms have private terraces with views of the crater floor on which on can sometimes discern groups of animals. An observation deck with telescopes is a favourite place to relax in the shade.

Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge

Like the others, this lodge offers breathtaking views of the crater floor and lake. As all Sopa lodges (link), the Ngorongoro lodge features suites with two queen size beds as its standard accommodation.

Ngorongoro Crater Lodge

This architectural wonder was inspired by the Masai Manyatta. Each suite is served by a personal butler, and are all include private bathrooms and showers with a private deck and lounge with fireplace.
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Serengeti National Park

Size: 5,700 sq. miles (14,800 sq. km.) Best time: Dec-July (wildebeest); June-Oct (predators)

The word “serengeti” is derived from the Masai word for “endless plains.” Without a doubt the vastness of the Serengeti, Tanzania’s largest national park, will leave you breathless. To the south and east, the plains roll unbroken for hundreds of miles, providing an ideal habitat for grazers like zebra, gazelle, and wildebeest who spend much of their lives migrating within the boundaries of the Serengeti. Literally millions of animals can be seen on the plains of the Serengeti; when the grazing is good, you’ll be sure to spot wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, ostrich, cheetah, hyena, jackal and vultures.

Lions also frequent the open plains because of the abundance of food. The Serengeti is home to many lion prides that tend to live on and around the kopjes – rocky outcroppings that dot landscape. The rocks provide a shady place to lie in the hot afternoons as well as a nice place to hide and wait for unsuspecting antelope and wildebeest. Naabe Hill, one of the entrances to the park, has been the base for much of the lion research that has been conducted in the area. In fact, many of the lions you see will be wearing radio collars and you can read up on their personal histories!

In the centre of the Serengeti lies the Seronera Valley. This area is greener and wetter than the plains and is home to a different set of wildlife. Leopards might be sighted lounging in a sausage tree, hippos can certainly be found wallowing in the hippo pool and a variety of antelope bound in and out of the brush. At the brand new visitor centre (opened in 2000), you might be amused by the antics of curious vervet monkeys who will gladly steal your lunch if given a chance. Also in abundance are hyrax, mongoose, and baboons although these tend to keep their distance.

To the west, the Grumeti Western Corridor sees the great migration move through in June and July. The Grumeti river is home to the famous Nile crocodiles – giants that grow up to 18 feet (6 meters) long! As the migration moves through the area, the crocodiles snap up animals that stop to drink and cross the river. The crocodiles may not eat again for a full 12 months until the herds return again next year.

Of course, many of the animals of the Serengeti only come out at night and these are difficult to find since night safaris are not permitted. Early risers may be lucky enough to catch the “tail end” of nocturnal activities but some animals such as the genet cat, serval, bushbabies, and pangolins are a really rare treat.

Visitors to the Serengeti may arrange for a balloon safari and experience the wonders of the great ecosystem from above. Accommodations are available within the parks boundaries and along the edges. Excursions into the Gol area to the east can be made off road with a ranger specially trained in the behaviour of lions.

Why do zebras have stripes?

There are many theories about the zebra’s stripes. Some people say it is to confuse predators, others say it is a kind of display like the peacock’s feathers. The official website of the Serengeti relates a different story.

“While studying buffalo and wildebeest in Serengeti, Dr. Sinclair would watch these animals at night with ‘night vision’ goggles. On starless nights, the ground appeared black and the sky a greenish colour on the screen. Animals appeared as either black or grey shapes silhouetted against the sky. Strangely, every now and then, a wildebeest would just disappear and then re-appear a few seconds later. After watching this occur a few times, a powerful spotlight was brought into play. Standing among the wildebeest were a group of zebra, invisible on the goggles. Since then, technology has improved, but the zebra remain invisible at night.”
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Accommodation

Seronera Wildlife Lodge (TAHI group)

The Seronera lodge is situated in the centre of Serengeti National Park near the visitors centre and hippo pool. The lodge has seventy-five rooms with private bathrooms and offers a spectacular vantage point from which to observe the wildlife of the Serengeti; it’s central location makes it ideal for accessing various areas of the park.

Lobo Wildlife Lodge (TAHI group)

Deservedly earning a reputation as one of the most beautiful lodges in Tanzania, the Lobo wildlife lodge is built into a large rocky outcropping overlooking the Serengeti Plains. The Lodge features a swimming pool and is located ideally for game drives.

Serengeti Serena Lodge

Serengeti Serena Lodge is set atop a hill that provides awe-inspiring views of countless zebra, buffalo, gazelle, wildebeest, and other species. Big game feed in full view of the lodge. Inspired by traditional African architecture, the lodge design is charming, offering accommodation in individual cabins that are rich in atmosphere and indigenous touches.

Serengeti Sopa Lodge

The buildings of this Sopa Lodge (link) are inspired by the Maasai, with rounded corners and flat roofs. The lodge is situated in an acacia woodland near year-round springs. It’s elevated position provides scenic vistas and cool breezes.

Loliondo

Located just inside the north-eastern edge of the Serengeti near the Masai Mara in Kenya, Loliondo is a semi-permanent camp located in the shadow of massive kopjes where wildlife frequent the waterholes. Guests are attended by the permanent camp crew and can expect the highest level of service.

Grumeti River Camp

Located in a hidden valley in the western corridor of the Serengeti, the Grumeti Camp overlooks a tributary of the Grumeti River, home to hippo and crocodile. Ten self-contained tents are available, each with private shower and toilet.

Kirawira Cam

Located on the Kirawira hills in the western corridor of the Serengeti, the Kirawira Camp also overlooks the famous Grumeti River – home of the giant Nile crocodiles. 25 double tents are available, each one with its own solar-heated shower.

Kliens Camp

This camp is at a private ranch on the north-eastern edge of the Serengeti and offers high standards of comfort to guests in eight individual thatched-roof cottages.

Migration Camp

Built into a rocky outcropping near Lobo, this camp also overlooks the Grumeti River.

Classic Camping

Classic camping can be arranged and is a truly rewarding experience for those who want a closer look at the Serengeti ecosystem. Generally, food and supplies are provided and you will be accompanied by a staff to assist with the logistics of camping in the Serengeti.

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Lake Manyara National Park

Size: 127 sq. miles (330 sq. km.) Best Times: July-Oct. (mammals); Nov.-June (birds)

Couched between the impressive Rift Valley escarpment and the sparkling waters of the lake, Lake Manyara National Park is a lush little wedge of paradise. Baboons, elephants, zebra, hippos, flamingos, giraffe, monkeys, many types of antelope and the elusive tree lions make for an exciting safari.

The variety of wildlife in this relatively small area makes a deep impression on visitors. The variety of wildlife is due largely to the variety of habitats in the area. Acacia forest, swampland, grassland, the shoreline, and the lake itself offer a livelihood for many different types of mammals, reptiles and birds. You can sit under the rich green forest canopy and watch the antics of the baboons or venture into the open air to observe giraffe, antelope and zebra grazing against the stunning blue backdrop of the lake. The animals can generally be found in close proximity to the roads and are easily observed and photographed at extremely close range.

Did you know?

The word “manyara” is Masai for a type of plant. The Masai tribe uses this plant to create living corrals for livestock. Once the manyara matures, it forms a thorny wall that keeps livestock in, and the lions out!
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Accommodation

Kirurumu Luxury Tented Lodge

The permanent tents at Kirurumu feature modern plumbing and electricity while retaining a charmingly rustic atmosphere. The verandah at the bar sits atop the escarpment of the Great Rift Valley and the view over Lake Manyara National Park below is spectacular.

Lake Manyara Hotel

Built on the edge of the great Rift Valley escarpment the lodge also offers magnificent views of the national park below. Each of the 100 rooms offers a unique view of the beautiful surroundings.

Lake Manyara Serena Lodge

This 5-star lodge, also overlooking the soda lake, will delight birdwatchers with an opportunity to observe many colourful birds. All 62 bedrooms and the swimming pool offer wonderful views of the countryside and park. (link)

Gibbs Farm

Situated between Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater, Gibbs farm (link) offers charming accommodations in rustic cabins in the gorgeous setting of a colonial coffee farm. The grounds are immaculately kept and there are plenty of shady places to relax and soak up the African sights and sounds; nature walks can be arranged to view a majestic waterfall and the serene East African countryside.
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Amboseli National Park

Size: 390 sq. km. Best time to visit: April – May

Amboseli is a popular destination and prime location from which to view and photograph Mt. Kilimanjaro. Directly on the Tanzanian border, the park lies near the road from Arusha to Nairobi. The park’s clean and constant water supply is maintained by melting snow and ice at the peak of Kilimanjaro that filters through hundreds of feet of volcanic rock. The ubiquitous dust is actually volcanic ash that remains from the eruptions of Kilimanjaro thousands of years ago.

Amboseli is one of the best places to view elephant, which congregate in large numbers and whose bulls sport some of the longest tusks in all of Kenya. Other wildlife includes lions, leopards, impala, dikdik, giraffe, wildebeest and many others. Bird life also abounds and bird enthusiasts will be happy to espy pelicans, bee-eaters, kingfishers, African Fish Eagles, Martial Eagles and Pygmy Falcons.

A curious attraction at Amboseli is the lake bed during the dry season, upon which visitors will be sure they see herds of zebra, wildebeest and gazelles; in reality these images are far away horizons projected as hovering mirages.

Did you know?

“Amboseli” means “salty dust” in the Masai language. Amboseli and the surrounding lands have been important to the Masai tribe for centuries. Today the Kenyan government works with the local Masai elders to develop eco-friendly tourism that will benefit local people.

Accommodation

Amboseli Serena Lodge

Situated in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Amboseli Serena Lodge features natural architecture and beautifully-kept grounds. 96 rooms in separate cottages all offer private bathroom facilities and a unique African decor. The Lodge also features a lighted waterhole and salt lick.

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