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Serengeti National Park

SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK

Serengeti is without doubt Tanzania’s most famous national park, and it’s also the largest, covering 5 700 mi² of protected area that borders Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Park. Its far-reaching plains of endless grass, tinged with the twisted shadows of acacia trees, have made it the quintessential image of a wild and untarnished Africa. Its large stone kopjes are home to rich ecosystems, and the sheer magnitude and scale of life that the plains support is staggering.

The park’s vegetation ranges from the short and long grass plains in the south, to the acacia savannah in the center and wooded grasslands concentrated around the tributaries of the Grumeti and the Mara rivers in the park. The western corridor is a region of wooded highland and extensive plains reaching the edge of Lake Victoria. In the early morning and evening light, the Serengeti landscape is stunningly beautiful.

Serengeti National Park is at the heart the larger Serengeti ecosystem, which is defined by the area covered by the annual migration. The property is contiguous with the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The entire ecosystem also includes the Maswa Game Reserve in the south, Grumeti and Ikorongo Game Reserves in the east, Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya to the north, and Loliondo Game Controlled Area in the west. This entire ecosystem is intact and no barriers hamper the migration.

The ecosystem supports 2 million wildebeests, 900,000 Thomson’s gazelles and 300,000 zebras as the dominant herds. Other herbivores include 7,000 elands, 27,000 topis, 18,000 hartebeests, 70,000 buffalos, 4,000 giraffes, 15,000 warthogs, 3,000 waterbucks, 2,700 elephants, 500 hippopotamuses, 200 black rhinoceroses, 10 species of antelope and 10 species of primate. Major predators include 4,000 lions, 1000 leopards, 225 cheetahs, 3,500 spotted hyenas and 300 wild dogs.

The park has varied zones in which each ecosystem is subtly different. Seronera in the center of the park is the most popular and most easily visited area. The Grumeti River in the Western Corridor is the location for the dramatic river crossing during the wildebeest migration. Maswa Game Reserve to the south offers a remote part of the park rewarding in its game-viewing and privacy, and Lobo near the Kenyan border offers a chance to see plentiful game during the dry season.

The annual migration through the Serengeti and the Masai Mara has been declared as one of the Natural Wonders of Africa. This migration into Kenya of more than 1.5 million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebra and gazelle is triggered by the rains and usually starts in May, at the end of the wet season. As the dry season intensifies, the herds drift out towards the west, one group to the north (to Lake Victoria, where there is permanent water), the other northeast heading for the permanent waters of the northern rivers and the Mara. 

The sound of their thundering hooves, raising massive clouds of thick red dust, has become one of the legends of the Serengeti plains. The instinct is so strong that 25 mile long columns of animals on this 600 mile pilgrimage, plunge through crocodile-infested waters on the annual exodus north. The survivors concentrate in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve until the grazing there is exhausted, when they turn south along the eastern and final stage of the migration route. Throughout the migration the spectacle of predator versus prey dominates the Serengeti. Golden-manned lion prides feast on the abundant plain grazers. Solitary leopards haunt the acacia trees lining the Seronera River, and on the other hand, a high density of cheetahs prowls the southeastern plains. All three African jackal species occur here, alongside the spotted hyena and as well as a host of more elusive small predators, ranging from the aardwolf to the beautiful serval cat.

Tarangire National Park

TARANGIRE NATIONAL PARK

Tarangire National Park, the 6th largest national park in Tanzania covers an area of 1 096 mi². It’s particularly famous for its huge population of elephants as well as tree climbing lions. Located in the Manyara Region just 73 miles from the town of Arusha, the park extends into two game controlled areas where wildlife moves freely.

Before the rains, droves of gazelles, wildebeests, zebras, and giraffes migrate to Tarangire National Park’s scrub plains where the last grazing land still remains. Tarangire offers unparalleled game viewing, with breathtaking views of the Maasai Steppe and the mountains to the south.

Day after day of cloudless skies, the fierce sun begins to sucks the moisture from the landscape, baking the earth with a dusty red and the withered grass as brittle as straw. The Tarangire River has shriveled to a shadow of its wet season self. Nonetheless it is choked with wildlife. Thirsty nomads have wandered hundreds of parched miles knowing that here as always, there is water.

Herds of up to 300 elephants scratch the dry river bed for underground streams, while migratory wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, impala, gazelle, hartebeest and eland crowd the shrinking lagoons. It has the greatest concentration of wildlife outside the Serengeti ecosystem – and a smorgasbord for predators – and the one place in Tanzania where dry-country antelope such as the stately fringe-eared oryx and peculiar long-necked gerenuk are regularly observed.

During the rainy season, the seasonal visitors scatter over a 12,500 mi² range until they exhaust the green plains and the river calls once more. But Tarangire’s mobs of elephant are easily encountered, wet or dry.

The swamps, tinged green year round, are home to more than 550 species of bird including the heaviest flying bird, the Kori bustard. These swamps are the focus of the largest selection of breeding birds anywhere in the world. Tarangire is almost famous for termite mounds that dot the landscape. Many of these disused and abandoned mounds are home to colonies of Dwarf mongoose.

Lake Manyara National Park

LAKE MANYARA NATIONAL PARK

Located beneath the cliffs of the Manyara Escarpment, on the edge of the Rift Valley, Lake Manyara National Park offers varied ecosystems, incredible bird life, and breathtaking views. Located on the way to Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti, Lake Manyara National Park is 127 mi², of which up to 77 mi² is the lake when water levels are high. Its ground water forests, bush plains, baobab strewn cliffs, and algae-streaked hot springs offer incredible ecological variety in a small area, rich in wildlife and incredible numbers of birds..

The alkaline soda of Lake Manyara is home to an incredible array of bird life that thrives on its brackish waters. Pink flamingo stoop and graze by the thousands colorful specks against the grey minerals of the lake shore. Yellow-billed storks swoop and corkscrew on thermal winds rising up from the escarpment, and herons flap their wings against the sun-drenched sky. Even reluctant bird-watchers will find something to watch and marvel at within the national park.

Lake Manyara’s is famous for tree-climbing lions. The only kind of their species in the world, they spend most of the day spread out along the branches of acacia and mahogany trees 20 feet above the ground. In addition to the lions, the park is also home to the largest concentration of baboons anywhere in the world, and is also noted for its huge herds of buffalo and elephant.

Stretching for 31 miles along the base of the rusty-gold 1 969 foot high Rift Valley escarpment, Lake Manyara is a scenic gem, with a setting extolled by Ernest Hemingway as “the loveliest I had seen in Africa”.

Upon entering the park, the road winds through an expanse of lush jungle-like groundwater forest where hundred-strong baboon troops lounge nonchalantly along the roadside; the blue monkeys scamper nimbly between the ancient mahogany trees; dainty bushbuck tread warily through the shadows, and the outsized forest hornbills honk cacophonously in the high canopy. In contrast with the intimacy of the forest, is the grassy floodplain and its expansive views eastward, across the alkaline lake, to the jagged blue volcanic peaks that rise from the endless Maasai Steppes. Large buffalo, wildebeest and zebra herds congregate on these grassy plains, and so do the giraffes – some so dark in coloration that they appear to be black from a distance.

Manyara provides the perfect introduction to Tanzania’s birdlife. More than 400 species have been recorded, and highlights include thousands of pink-hued flamingos on their perpetual migration, as well as other large water birds such as pelicans, cormorants and storks.

 

Ngorongoro Craters

NGORONGORO CRATER

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and International Biosphere Reserve” it covers 3 205 mi² with altitudes ranging from 3 346 feet to 11 736 feet. Described as one of the greatest natural wonders of the world, as well as having been declared one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa, it is a protected area where only indigenous tribes such as the Maasai are allowed to live within its borders. Lake Ndutu and Masek, both alkaline soda lakes are home to rich game populations, as well as a series of peaks and volcanoes that make the Conservation Area a unique and stunning landscape. 

The centerpiece, and major landmark, is the breathtaking Ngorongoro Crater, which at 7 500 feet above sea level, is the largest unbroken caldera in the world. Accounting for just a tenth of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, it’s surrounded by very steep walls rising 2001 feet from the crater floor. This natural amphitheater measures 12.4 miles in diameter and 120 mi² in area. It is home to up to 30,000 animals, almost half being wildebeest and zebra. Buffalo, elephant, hippo, hyena, jackal, lion, ostrich, serval, warthog, bushbuck, eland, hartebeest, reedbuck, waterbuck and huge herds of both Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle are easily seen on the crater floor.

Close to the Ngorongoro Crater there are two less famous craters. Empakaai Crater is about 3.7 miles wide with steep walls rising to almost 984 feet. Nearly half of the crater floor is covered by a deep salt water lake but eland and waterbuck may been seen. The trail down to the crater floor offers spectacular views of a still active volcano, Oldoinyo Lengai, and, on a clear day, the snowy peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro. On the way down to the lake there are buffalo, bushbuck, blue monkeys and rare birds, such as sunbirds and turacos. Olmoti Craters's floor is shallow and covered with grass where, in addition to the Maasai and their livestock, buffalo, eland and reedbuck may be seen. The Munge River crosses the crater before falling hundreds of yards in a spectacular waterfall.

Yet another attraction of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is Olduvai Gorge, the site where in 1959 the remains of what was regarded as man’s first step on the ladder of human evolution was discovered. 

 

Mount Kilimanjaro

MOUNT KILIMANJARO

As the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free standing mountain in the world, Kilimanjaro has proved to be a magnet to climbers, naturalists, travelers and explorers over the centuries. Only three degrees from the equator, the mountain has been known in African legends from ancient times. The local Chagga people believed it to be the dwelling of an angry god who punished anyone who dared to climb it.

Above the gently rolling hills and plateau of northern Tanzania rises the snowy peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro, its slopes and glaciers shimmering above the rising clouds. Kilimanjaro is located near the town of Moshi and is a protected area, carefully regulated for climbers to enjoy without leaving a trace of their presence. The mountain’s ecosystems are as strikingly beautiful as they are varied and diverse. On the lowland slopes, much of the mountain is farmland, with coffee, banana, cassava, and maize crops grown for subsistence and cash sale. A few larger coffee farms still exist on the lower slopes, but much of the area outside the national park has been subdivided into small plots. Once inside the park, thick lowland forest covers the lower altitudes and breaks into alpine meadows once the air begins to thin. Near the peak, the landscape is harsh and barren, with rocks and ice the predominant features above a breathtaking African view.

Kilimanjaro. The name itself is a mystery wreathed in clouds. It might mean Mountain of Light, Mountain of Greatness or Mountain of Caravans. Or it might not. The local people, the Chagga, don’t even have a name for the whole massif, only Kibo for the familiar snowy peak that stands imperious, overseer of the continent, the summit of Africa.

Kilimanjaro, by any name, is a metaphor for the compelling beauty of East Africa. When you see it, you understand why. Not only is this the highest peak on the African continent; it is also the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, rising in breathtaking isolation from the surrounding coastal scrubland – elevation around 2 953 feet – to an imperious 19 341 feet.

Kilimanjaro is one of the world’s most accessible high summits, a beacon for visitors from around the world. Most climbers reach the crater rim with little more than a walking stick, proper clothing and determination. And those who reach Uhuru Point, the actual summit, or Gillman’s Point on the lip of the crater, will have earned their climbing certificates. And their memories.

But there is so much more to Kilimanjaro than her summit. The ascent of the slopes is a virtual climatic world tour, from the tropics to the Arctic.

Even before you cross the national park boundary (at the 8 858 foot contour), the cultivated foot slopes give way to lush montane forest, inhabited by elusive elephant, leopard, buffalo, the endangered Abbot’s duiker, and other small antelope and primates. Higher still lies the moorland zone, where a cover of giant heather is studded with otherworldly giant lobelias.

Above 13 123 feet, a surreal alpine desert supports little life other than a few hardy mosses and lichen. Then, finally, the last vestigial vegetation gives way to a winter wonderland of ice and snow – and the magnificent beauty of the roof of the continent.

 

The Great Migration

The Great Migration

The Serengeti is famed for its annual migration when more than 1,500,000 wildebeest and 500,000 Thomson Gazelle follow some 200,000 zebra in a 2,000 km round pilgrimage in search of fresh grazing and water. It is “the greatest wildlife show on earth” and “a once in a lifetime experience”! 

Wildebeest feed only on new shoots and very short grass but do, of course, eat the longer grass once it has been ‘trimmed’ by zebra or buffalo. It is for this reason they follow the zebra. 

Eland and Thomson’s gazelle also migrate but instead of following the main migration they just alternate between the plains and the woodlands. Grant’s gazelle do not migrate as they are not so dependent on water. They move only locally and, in many cases, in the opposite direction to the migratory species.

Predator versus prey dominates the migration. Lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena and a host of other, smaller predators, watched by the ever present vultures, gorge on their annual feast while, in the rivers, giant crocodile wait their turn.

The best time to see the migration is between June and August when the wildebeest congregate and prepare to cross the Grumeti River. However both the route and timing of the migration are unpredictable so visitors must plan carefully to be assured of seeing the spectacle.

During December to May the animals are found on the short grass plains around Lake Ndutu, the Gol Mountains and the Moru Kopjes in the south of the park. December is a peak month for zebra foaling and February the main month for wildebeest calving. 

Then the migrations starts as vast herds, in columns over 40 km long, head north towards Kirawira and Mbalageti, in the Western corridor, before crossing the crocodile infested Grumeti River into the Grumeti Game Reserve and the Ikorongo Wildlife Management Area. Meanwhile some smaller herds move directly north through the Seronera area, while others travel up the eastern boundary of the park through the Loliondo and Lobo areas.

All routes eventually crossing the Mara River, where the animals face another life threatening experience, into Kenya’s Masai Mara. 

Finally, in November, the herds start their trek back through the Serengeti arriving at the short grass plains ready to give birth again.

And so the cycle continues! As it has for over a million years!

Zanzibar

ZANZIBAR – THE SPICE ISLANDS

Just the name, Zanzibar, evokes dreams of romance and mystery. Zanzibar is an archipelago made up of Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia Islands, as well as several other smaller islands. Collectively they are known as the Spice Islands, famous for the cultivation of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper.

In addition to its exotic white sand beaches and clear turquoise-blue water, the Zanzibar archipelago has long been a center of Swahili culture. Because of their location in the Indian Ocean, the Spice Islands have attracted explorers and traders from around the world and have been variously ruled down the years by Sultans of Oman and Maskat and, later, the British and Portuguese. The colorful history of these islands can be seen in the old forts and ancient buildings still preserved in Stone Town in Zanzibar and on Pemba Island. Moreover, the good crop-growing qualities of these islands brought incomers from India, the Middle East and other parts of Africa. Here, Swahili culture underwent a series of refinements as it absorbed aspects of other cultures.

Zanzibar Island (known locally as Unguja, but as Zanzibar internationally) is 50 miles long and 24 miles wide, occupying a total area of approximately 650 square miles. It is characterized by beautiful sandy beaches with fringing coral reefs, and the magic of historic Stone Town – one of Tanzania’s seven UNESCO World Heritage sites, as well as the capital and heart of Zanzibar. Little has changed in the last 200 years. A labyrinth of winding alleys, bustling bazaars, mosques and grand houses whose extravagance is reflected in their brass studded, carved, wooden doors. The Island is known for its unique population of Zanzibar red colobus, one of Africa’s rarest species, as well as the Zanzibar leopard and servaline genet. Another major attraction is dolphin sightings.

Pemba Island is known as the Land of Magic because of the number of waganga living there. An intriguing aspect of life in the Spice Islands is the belief of local people in the power of witch doctors. Known as ‘waganga’ in Swahili, they practice magic to help local people who claim to be possessed by evil spirits and to treat common ailments like the common cold, influenza and fever. The island is about 40 miles long and 14 miles wide and in the center is Chaka Chaka, the capital and main town. The island is well known for the indigenous flying fox - the world’s largest bat, as well as offering some of the best game fishing in the world with barracuda, billfish, blue marlin, dorado, kingfish, sailfish, tuna, wahoo, and hammerhead and tiger sharks all found in the waters around the island and, especially, in the Pemba Channel that runs between the main island and Pemba.

Mafia Island, although officially forming part of mainland Tanzania and not Zanzibar, it’s near to Zanzibar. The island was a regular stop for two thousand years for Arab and Persian dhows plying the coastal waters from the Gulf to Madagascar and Mozambique. Chole Bay, Mafia’s protected deep-water anchorage and the original harbor, is studded with islands, sandbanks and beaches. The clear, protected waters offer wonderful snorkeling, sailing and swimming. Outside the Bay, an unbroken reef runs the length of the island, from Tutia in the south to Ras Mkumbi at the northern tip. 

Zanzibar and Pemba islands are surrounded by more than 20 smaller islands. Most are uninhabited and are located to the west of the main island.

Chapwani, or Grave Island, is the closest island to Stone Town. It is home to a number of Christian graves belonging to British sailors. There is a small beach and a patch of indigenous forest which is home to blue duikers, enormous coconut crabs and a colony of fruit bats.

Changuu, or Prison Island, is the most popular island from Stone Town. It is only a short 10 minute boat ride and the snorkeling is excellent. There was a prison built on the island but it was never used for its intended purpose. One of the island's main attractions is the giant tortoises.

Bawe Island which lies south of Prison Island, has some of the best snorkeling spots in the archipelago. 

Chumbe Island is a rare example of a still pristine coral island. A UN Protected Area, it carries the accolade of “one of the most spectacular coral gardens anywhere in the world”. Tanzania’s first marine park, and the first privately managed marine park in the world, Chumbe offers the opportunity to snorkel through the shallow-water Reef Sanctuary; scuba dive the nearby reefs; explore the Forest Reserve with its nature trails and abundance of local birds and flora; or visit the historical monuments. These include a hundred year old lighthouse and the only ancient mosque, in East Africa, with Indian architecture. The island is also home to the rare giant coconut crab which is able to climb palm trees and eat young coconuts.

Off the north-east coast of Zanzibar main island, the famous Mnemba Island basks in its own tranquil lagoon. Encircled by a large coral reef, this small island is sometimes known as Mnemba Atoll. Boasting, splendid beaches and spectacular coral reefs, alive with fish, it is renowned as the ultimate in ‘barefoot luxury’.

Tumbatu, the largest of Zanzibar's offshore islands, is located to the southwest of Nungwi and is inhabited by the Watumbatu people who speak their own unique dialect of Swahili. In the south-west are Uzi Island, which is only connected to Zanzibar by a causeway, and the Menai Bay Conservation Area which includes the islands of Kwale, Miwi, Nianembe, Pungume and Vundwe. The latter is a sea-turtle breeding area, also famous for its humpback and bottlenose dolphins, and is a

WWF Protected Area.

Tanzania’s geography is one of the most varied and unique in the world; it contains Africa’s highest point, Mount Kilimanjaro, as well as lakes, mountains and many gorgeous national parks.
Tanzania is a one of the most varied and unique destinations in the world, endowed with a vast and spectacular range of tourist attractions. It is a land of many wonders with an un-paralleled diversity of fauna and flora. Kilimanjaro, at 19 341 feet, the highest permanently snow-capped free standing mountain in Africa, the exotic Islands of Zanzibar, the finest game sanctuaries of Serengeti, Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, Ruaha, Selous and the Marine Park of Mafia Island are only a few examples. The scenery, topography, rich culture and very friendly people provide for excellent cultural tourism, beach holidays, honeymooning, game hunting, historical and archaeological ventures – and certainly the best wildlife photographic safaris in the world. Tanzania has 15 national parks, 29 game reserves, 40 controlled conservation areas and marine parks that are located throughout the country.
The north-east of Tanzania is mountainous, and includes Mt. Meru and Mt. Kilimanjaro, both of which are inactive volcanoes. Kilimanjaro’s natural beauty, as well as the fact that it has the highest peak in Africa that’s covered with snow even though it is so close to the equator.
West of these is the world renown Serengeti National Park, famous for its annual migration of millions of white bearded wildebeest, as well as its abundance of lions, leopards, elephants, rhinoceroses, and buffalo. Close to the park lies Olduvai Gorge – “The Cradle of Mankind”, where many of the oldest hominid fossils and artifacts have been found. Ngorongoro Crater, also located in the area is considered the world’s 8th wonder.
Further north is Lake Victoria, on the Kenya/Uganda/Tanzania border. This is the largest lake in Africa and is the source of the Nile River. In the west, separating Tanzania from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is Lake Tanganyika. This lake is the second oldest and second deepest lake in the world after Lake Baikal in Siberia.
The center of Tanzania is a large plateau, with grasslands and national parks to the south and north, and arable land in most parts. The political capital, Dodoma, is located in the center of the country, although much of the government work is still done in Dar es Salaam.
The eastern shore of Tanzania is hot and humid, and encompasses Tanzania’s largest city and commercial capital, Dar es Salaam. Just north-east of Dar es Salaam lies the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, a semi-autonomous territory of Tanzania which is famous for its spices.
The climate of Tanzania ranges from hot and humid on the coast, to a more temperate climate in the elevated parts of the country in the north-east and south-west. Tanzania has two rainy seasons; a long heavy one from March to May, and a shorter, lighter one from November to January.
Tanzania is divided into 26 regions; 21 on the mainland, 3 on Zanzibar Island and 2 on Pemba Island.
 
Tanzania at a Glance
Location:  Eastern Africa, bordering the Indian Ocean, between Kenya and Mozambique. Geographic coordinates 6 00S, 35 00E
Country Size:  Tanzania covers a total area of 364,900 mi² - land 342,101 mi² and water 22,799 mi² (area includes the islands of Mafia, Pemba, and Zanzibar)
Coastline: 885 miles
Topography:  Three main physiographic regions namely the Islands and the coastal plains to the east; the inland saucer-shaped plateau; and the highlands.
Capital:  Dodoma
Independence Day: 26 April 1964
Head of State: President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete
Population: 51 million
National Language:  -
Official Language: Kiswahili and English
Currency: Tanzanian shilling (Tsh) is divided into 100 cents.
Ethnic groups:  There are approximately 158 ethnic groups.  Among them there are Bantu, Nilotic, Khoikhoi and Cushitic speaking peoples.
Religions: The mainland - Christian 30%, Muslim 35%, indigenous beliefs 35%. Zanzibar - more than 99% Muslim
Major Exports: Coffee, cotton, cashew nuts, sisal, tobacco, tea, diamonds, gold
Electricity: 240 Volts AC, 50 – 60 Hz
 
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