Perhaps no place is more synonymous with safaris than the Serengeti. When most people think of the Serengeti they think of the seemingly endless savannah plains which are home to the Great Migration – herds of wildebeest and zebras in their millions, immortalised in many nature documentaries.
This landscape has inspired writers and filmmakers. It is one of the oldest ecosystems on Earth which has remained unchanged for millennia and its patterns of life, death, adaption and migration are the same as they were four hundred thousand years ago. There is nothing compared to the thrill of experiencing this spectacle for yourself.
The term covers more than just the Serengeti National Park and includes surrounding areas such as the Ngorongoro Crater and the Olduvai Gorge where fossil evidence of our earliest human ancestors has been found. Apart from the Great Migration, the Serengeti is known for excellent sightings of predators, including lions, cheetahs and leopards. It is home to large herds of buffalo, giraffes and elephants. The Serengeti is one of the best places to enjoy a safari vacation. The Serengeti is home to all the Big Five. The region also has some of the best luxury safari camps in Africa.
Due to its ecological role, areas of important historical and cultural impact, the region has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Revenue generated from tourism plays a vital role in funding ongoing conservation work in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Footprints Safaris works with partners who offer the highest level of service while giving back to local communities and conservation efforts in the Serengeti.
The world-famous Ngorongoro Crater is one of the highlights of an East African safari. The crater is an ancient caldera formed 3 million years ago by a collapsing volcano. The breath-taking sides of the crater, as well as its picturesque lake, make an impressive backdrop against which to enjoy game drives. The crater is home to over 25,000 resident large animals, one of the greatest densities in Africa. It is one of the most popular destinations in Africa for tourists. As such, it can get extremely busy. For this reason, the number of vehicles is limited, and guests can only travel one route through the crater.
The Ngorongoro Crater is one of the best places in Tanzania to see the Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard). The crater is home to a population of black rhino and is renowned for its big-tusker elephants. The crater is home to herds of wildebeest and zebra. Thompson gazelle and buffalo among other wildlife.
The region has been inhabited by man for millennia. Archaeological finds at nearby Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli provide fossil evidence of the earliest hominid species. Due to these finds, as well as the cultural significance of the region to the hunter-gatherers, the Dotoga and Maasai tribes, the entire area was given UNESCO World Heritage Status and forms part of a larger conservation area – the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
Tourism provides much of the funding for conservation and research in the region. Much of the wildlife cannot migrate out of the crater due to the steep slopes of the walls. This has led to many of the animals becoming genetically inbred. Scientists are studying how animals are affected by this and looking at ways to introduce animals to diversify the genetic pool of the different species.
Tarangire National Park
The Tarangire National Park is a popular stop on Tanzania’s northern circuit. The park is famous for its landscape which is dotted with huge baobab trees. It is also known for its many herds of elephants, especially in the dry winter months when the Tarangire River is one of the only sources of water in the region and large concentrations of wildlife gather. Despite this, Tarangire is not as visited as the Serengeti which means that there are fewer crowds.
Tarangire is famous for its tree-climbing lions which lounge in trees, an unusual habit in lions. Guests can see all the species that they would see in the Serengeti as well as desert-adapted species like the long-necked gerenuk. Peak season also sees good numbers of wildebeest and zebra as well as giraffe, buffalo, Thompson’s gazelle, greater and lesser kudu, eland, leopard and cheetah. Birders will enjoy visiting Tarangire as the park is home to over 550 species.
Lake Manyara National Park
Lake Manyara lies between Ngorongoro and Tarangire. Described as “the loveliest sight in Africa”
this picturesque park is dominated by the 300km square lake Manyara. This soda lake attracts thousands of greater and lesser flamingos which turn the edges of the lake a vibrant pink colour. This is one of Tanzania’s most scenic destinations, the perfect place for a photographic safari.
Manyara’s lush banks and forests support large numbers of wildlife including elephant, wildebeest, buffalo, hippo, flamingo, zebra, warthog, waterbuck, giraffe, dik-dik and impala. Guests visiting Manyara also come in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the park’s famous tree-climbing lions lounging in the branches of a tree. The forests are also home to a large troop of baboons which are known for delighting visitors.
Birders will delight in a visit to Manyara is also well known for its waders, water birds and tree-dwellers. Storks, pelicans and cormorants are a common sight alongside the flamingos. The park is home to over 400 species of birds.
Far less visited than Tanzania’s northern circuit, the Selous Game Reserve is Tanzania’s largest conservation area at fifty-four thousand square kilometres it is three times larger than the Serengeti and is the largest protected area on the African continent. The region was a legendary hunting ground for famous white hunters like Fredrick Courtney Selous which it is named after.
The Selous is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the range and diversity of terrain, habitats, ecosystems and wildlife that the region protects. The Selous is home to abundant wildlife and offers an authentic safari experience in one of Africa’s last great wilderness areas.
The Selous is one of the places in East Africa where visitors can enjoy walking safaris among the big game. The Selous has many lakes and rivers which are its lifeblood. The network of rivers and lakes offers some of the best boating and water-based safaris to be found in East Africa.
The Selous is home to over half the remaining African Wild Dog. The Selous is known for its lion sightings and large herds of buffalo. Other species include giraffe, eland, hyena, hippo, crocodile, kudu, baboon, wildebeest, zebra, impala, hartebeest, colobus and vervet monkeys
The Selous is under threat by ongoing poaching which has decimated the Selous elephant population. There are many hunting concessions in the region surrounding the reserve. These have an impact when wildlife wanders out of the reserve into these areas. There is also a proposed dam project which would have a devastating effect on local ecology and migration routes.
The Frankfurt Zoological Society, in association with the Tanzanian government, has implemented the Selous Ecosystem Conservation and Development Program (SECAD) which aims to strengthen and protect the Selous Reserve’s management. Tourism is a big driver of providing revenue to fund these conservation initiatives.
Ruaha National Park
One of the best-kept secrets of East Africa, Ruaha National Park is only accessible by plane. A remote wilderness area, it has unique habitats which are home to a mix of animals from East Africa but also animals found in southern Africa such as roan and sable antelope, greater and lesser kudu antelope.
Ruaha is also known for its excellent predator sightings such as lions, leopards and cheetah are often seen as well. It is one of the few parks in East Africa where the endangered African Wild Dogs are often seen. Much of the park’s wildlife activity is found in the vicinity of river courses and permanent waterholes, making for very a concentrated wildlife viewing experience.
Ruaha is often visited by returning clients to Africa who are looking for something a bit more off the beaten track and a wilder experience. The photographic opportunities in Ruaha are always excellent, but as it is a fly-in only destination, it is generally more expensive to visit than other Tanzanian safari destinations.
Most people think of Zanzibar as an island, but it is an archipelago of four islands. The largest, called Unguja, is generally referred to as Zanzibar. The archipelago is semi-autonomous but falls under Tanzania. The islands have a long, fascinating history as a hideout for pirates, a centre of smuggling, the ivory and slave trades. Today, and historically the island produces spices such as cloves and nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper. Visitors can enjoy tours of a spice plantation while visiting the island.
Zanzibar is the perfect add on to a safari in East Africa. Relax in one of the beautiful resorts on the spice island. Guests love exploring the winding alleyways of Stone Town. The city is an intriguing mix of Moorish, Arabic, African and European architecture. The streets are so narrow, there are no cars, only bicycles to get around. One of the main attractions is seeking out the stunning intricately carved doors. Other attractions include the House of Wonders, the Fordhani Gardens and the old slave market.
Another day trip on Zanzibar is visiting the Jozani Forest, one of the only remaining mangrove forests along the east coast of Africa. It is an important habitat between the worlds of land and sea. Jozani is home to the endangered red colobus monkey. The forest is under consideration to become Zanzibar’s second World Heritage Site for its incredible biodiversity. It is home to many endemic species and a guided tour offers a fascinating insight into the many medical uses of the plants found there.
With its snow-capped peak, Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, and the highest freestanding mountain in the world at 5,895m or 19,341 feet. Every year many people take on the challenge of trying to trek to its peak at Uhuru. There are several different routes which guests can take to attempt to summit the mountain. Some treks can be done in five days, but we recommend taking the longer seven-day trek as this gives time to acclimatise and gives better chances of summiting without getting altitude sickness.
Mount Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano and has three volcanic cones, Shira and Kibo (which is where the peak Uhuru is) and Mawenzi. There are various trekking routes offered form anything from four to seven or even ten days to reach the summit. In general, taking seven days is recommended, as this allows time to acclimatise to the altitude and prevent altitude sickness.
Seven routes are used to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. The most common routes used include the Machame, Shira, Lemosho and Marangu Routes which use the southern circuit. The Rongai Route starts from the northeast and approaches Uhuru Peak via Gilman’s point. The Marangu Route is the only route that has hut accommodation along the whole route. The same route is used for both ascent and descent.
The Machame Route is probably the second most popular route to ascend Kilimanjaro. It is very scenic and has a good success rate especially when the 7-day itinerary is taken. It is a good route for acclimatising as climbers climb from Shira Camp to Lava Tower and back down to Barranco Camp to sleep.
The route is challenging and passes through four diverse ecological zones from forest to alpine tundra. The route offers fully catered camping and is popular so can become busy especially near the summit as trekkers from Lemosho, Shira and Umbwe routes join the trail.
The Marangu Route is often considered to be the easiest route to try and summit Mount Kilimanjaro. It is often chosen by climbers who are less prepared which means that many do not make the summit. It was called the Coca-Cola route as the beverage used to be sold along the way. This reputation is deceptive. It is one of the shortest routes to the summit which gives little time for acclimatisation.
A minimum of 6 days on this route is recommended to acclimatise. It is the only route with dormitory-style accommodation in huts the whole route. The huts are equipped with mattresses and basic amenities.
The beautiful Lemosho Route approaches the summit from the West of Kilimanjaro. Climbers need 7 or 8 days to complete this route and allow for acclimatisation. The starting point is more remote than other routes, so the early stages of the route are less crowded with hikers. The route offers stunning views of the characteristic gorges of the western side of Kilimanjaro.
Hikers cross the Shira plateau, one of the highest such plateaus in the World. The route converges with the Machame Route at Barranco Camp, or climbers can head north and join the northern circuit via Gilman’s Point. The Lemosho route only offers fully catered camping.
The Rongai Route is the only route which starts on the north-eastern side of Kilimanjaro National Park. The start of the route offers opportunities to see wildlife like Buffalo, antelope and Elephants. This route is often drier which means that it is a better option during the wet season. However, as they are drier, they are often considered to be less scenic but often offers clear views of Kilimanjaro which is not as common from the southern approach.
Tanzania’s second-highest peak is Mount Meru (4,566m) which is situated in the Arusha National Park. It is a volcano and has the classic cone shape associated with them. It was last active 100 years ago and is thought to have had a major eruption 8000 years ago which created the rich fertile soil in the region which support diverse flora and fauna.
Hikes and trekking are offered to the summit. The routes are often less crowded with trekkers than nearby Mount Kilimanjaro. The routes start on volcanic plains before wending their way through beautiful montane forests on the lower slopes, before giving way to alpine moorland dotted with lobelia plants. This in turn gives way to a volcanic desert and sometimes snow-covered peak. These different habitats are home to a variety of animals, including elephant, rhino, giraffe, monkey, baboon, klipspringer, warthog, duiker and leopard. Mount Meru boasts up to 400 species of bird, and the mountain is usually a fixed item on birders’ itineraries.
Many trekkers climb Mount Meru as a practice run for Kilimanjaro’s more challenging climbs. Mt Meru can be scaled in 3-4 days. It is both high and demanding enough to prepare climbers for the effects of altitude – without posing risks to health – and nights are spent in well-equipped huts. It is worth noting that beyond Miriakamba Hut point (2,514m) the climb up to Rhino Point is steep.
Mahale National Park
On the eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika lies the Mahale Mountain range, which is home the world’s largest remaining population of chimpanzees. This remote destination is far less visited than the frenetic northern safari circuit. The park is reached by plane or boat via Lake Tanganyika. The 600km sq park contains a range of ecosystems from lowland miombo woodland forest to bamboo and montane forest at the height of 2,463m. Each region has its own species of fauna to look out for from the chimpanzees, colobus monkeys, duiker and grysbok in the miombo woodlands to lion, giraffe and zebra in the savannah plains.
Most of the chimpanzees here are not habituated and are left undisturbed. There is one habituated group of sixty chimpanzees close to Greystroke Mahale. Guests can trek to this group daily, to observe these fascinating creatures in the wild. Another attraction is snorkelling in the clear waters of Lake Tanganyika which is home to many colourful species of freshwater fish – it is like snorkelling in an aquarium. There are no roads in the park, but there are several beautiful hiking trails which allow guests to explore this untouched region of Africa.