Africa represents the final frontier of adventure travel. It’s the place where human life originated but it’s also the place where human intervention has (for the most part) yet to spoil the environment. Planning a trip to Africa presents a unique set of challenges. Between vaccinations, prepaid safaris, travel agents, and finding your super cliche safari hat, the preparations can be enough to drive any compulsive planner (like ourselves) into a frenzy. This article will hopefully serve as a good guide for others wishing to follow in our footsteps, as the treasures and experiences that await you are more than worth the preparatory efforts.
This particular trip was set up in BEACH/BUSH/BUSH/BEACH format, which you have to be pretty nuts to even attempt. Most people opt for bush then beach, so you can rough it in the bush then chillax on the beach, which is what we recommend at this point.
before we get started heres a ridiculously impractical itinerary (ours) that is a great example of what NOT to do:
Let us start with the BUSH portion first. Few things induce such a sensory overload than a proper African safari, and this trip did not disappoint in that respect. Setting it up can be a fair bit of work, and it’s pretty easy to get hustled by travel agents throwing ridiculous prices at you. Be prepared to get surprised by some insane prices if you are sent a pre-arranged itinerary from a travel agent. Yes they set up your itinerary for you, but they often abuse you in the process If you’ve got deep pockets, perhaps the peace of mind is worth it. For the Tanzania portion of our trip, we used Lemala tented camps, which operate four beautiful private tented camps in Ngorongoro and Serengeti.
These camps are mobile camps which are required to move location every year, as to go easy on the terrain. They are fully inclusive, with impeccable service, and they are set in remote locations with usually no more than ten tents total. All the services are personalized and your every need is catered to. Your mornings start with fresh coffee delivered to your tent at sunrise, and your day finishes with a hot bucket showers in the evening. These camps are so deep in the bush that you are required to be escorted by a Masai warrior at all times for protection. Once you’re in your tent you stay there till the morning. While we were there we had hyenas howling nearby, and an elephant that attacked one of the water coolers. We also had some “bush babies” scurrying around our tent but I never saw them. It’s an intense natural experience but at the same time your experiencing this amongst extreme luxury. Lemala arranges a land cruiser for you, a private driver, and an arranged custom itinerary featuring their tented lodges.
Before we head north into the Maasai Mara reserve, lets make a stop at a Maasai village. No trip to this part of the world is complete without an experience in a Maasai village, and it gives you a chance to buy a a lot of Masai hand made art and accessories. We could write ten additional pages on our interactions with this tribe and how much we enjoyed learning about their way of life. We were completely enthralled with our visits to the Maasai villages, and were impressed at how well these tribes were adapted to live without any need or desire for traditional western lifestyle.
Bellow are some photos from our incredible journey with LEMALA through the Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater :
SERENGETI VS MAASAI MARA
Common question: how does Maasai Mara in Kenya compare to Serengeti in Tanzania? Good Question, and a hot topic! The only people who can answer it properly are those who have been to both. First of all they both part of the same nature reserve, however Serengeti is over ten times the size. It seems the rules are a bit more strict in Tanzania in terms of development, and the Tanzanians take enforcement of the rules much more seriously. Maasai Mara is more accessible and the lodges are more built out and densely located on the Kenyan side of the reserve. Things are a bit more spread out in the Serengeti, and you’re more likely to find yourself alone, in the wild, having a moment with some majestic beast, if thats what you’re into.
MOVING ON TO MAASAI MARA
Getting from the Serengeti to Maasai Mara wasn’t easy. Typical tour companies suggest a long drive East or bush plane, back to Arusha, and then a flight to Nairobi, then another bush plane out into the Mara. Long drives on really bumpy bush roads can be pretty tiring, but the sights to be seen along the way make it all worth it. Exiting the western gate of Serengeti and traveling west towards lake Victoria gave us our first opportunity to see a side of Tanzania that most tourists never see. These roads were completely devoid of cars altogether. The roads mostly were used for people walking or perhaps using bicycles to push heavy loads of supplies. Once we got into areas devoid of tourists, the people became very interested in us. Simply looking out the window into small towns were universally met with huge smiles and waves from people of all ages. Most of these towns consisted of basic concrete dwellings with dirt floors. You would commonly see a butcher shop with a single side of meat hanging, a store selling basic manufactured goods, an MPESA dealer, and a place to buy phone minutes. We really wanted to photograph these towns, but in the interest of time and out of respect for the townspeople, We just decided to wave and smile back. Interestingly, there was almost no trash alongside the road in any of these towns, since they haven’t been blessed with the magic of single use disposable plastics. A six hour drive West got us to the Lake town of Musoma, where we posted up at a lakeside accommodation for the night. We won’t get into details, but that night might have been the most interesting and authentic of our entire trip. The next day was another two hours to the border town of Sirari where we were shuttled from one safari car to another once we got stamped into Kenya. Another six hours of driving back east into the same nature reserve made us realize why the tour guides suggest that you fly. Along the way we passed an old border crossing that used to connect the two parks. It turns out that competition over tourism is the reason they make visiting both sides so difficult.
From the minute we saw our next lodge, it became certain that the two day trip was worth it. Nestled along a hillside overlooking a huge swath of Mara country side we made out the outline of a few tents where we would stay for the next three nights. Cottar’s 1920 camp was the first safari camp on the African continent, settled by an American legend named Charles Cottar back in 1919. Charles survived two leopard attacks and walked with a limp until eventually being killed by a rhino in 1940. The camp is still operated by the Cottar family and maintains many of the original furniture and photographs on the wall. At the time these were some of the first photographs taken of the wild African wilderness. It was originally a hunting lodge but then transitioned to cater to photo journalists. Peter Beard shot much of his work there in the 60’s. To be spoiled by such luxury and service like this amongst a wild and untamed environment was truly an indelible experience.
For the last leg of the trip we grabbed a bush plane this time (as most do) and cruised back to Nairobi and made an easy connection at Wilson Airport to Zanzibar. To be honest, after seeing Seychelles, we were initially not entirely blown away by the beauty of Zanzibar. Stone town was cool, but the swarms of street hustlers called “beach boys” made it a little hard to relax and take in the street scene. We did visit an exceptional island off Zanibar called Chumbe Island, which is one of the last places in the world to see the early extinct COCONUT CRAB. This crab is a delicious looking cousin of the hermit crab and exists almost entirely on a diet of coconuts. At night you can encounter these monsters if you’re brave enough to embark on the infamous CRAB WALK of Chumbe Island. Chumbe island is a proper eco resort with exceptional cooking with seven rustic beach huts with nearly zero carbon footprint. The toilet is a compost dirt pile, the shower water is rainwater collected off the hut and hand pumped into a basin. All lighting is done via solar panel. The attention to sustainability was beyond impressive and on top of that the communal food in the evenings was mindblowingly delicious. I really regret not having spent more time here. If you go, ask for hut7. See photo below, hut7 is the hut the furthest to the left, its the most secluded and might be the most beautiful hand built beach hut I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in. Other than Chumbe island I would really recommend making a visit to Mnemba island for snorkeling and some time on the beach. This tiny island sits atop a coral atoll and perfect white sand beach that expand and contract with the tides.
Chumbe Island and Zanzibar:
Lastly we have to mention Seychelles, which was actually our first stop on this trip, and for some reason Im adding it in at the end. Im hesitant to even mentioned these islands, since I found it to be so beautiful and unspoiled Id rather not let the secret out. These may have been the most visually spectacular islands I’ve ever laid eyes upon, not to mention jungles, mountains, and dense vegetation where you can find speciation unique to these isolated islands. We didn’t really get into any of that as we were pretty busy just getting our mind blown on the beach and catching views, breezes and gentle waves. We recommend renting a car and going to check out the premium and pure uncut nature with no one else around.
The Seychelles are an isolated African archipelago right in the middle of the Indian Ocean. There are easy flights from Nairobi or Dubai, and you could easily spent two weeks exploring the outer islands. In our four days in Mahe island we saw enough to make us want to return asap and visit LaDigue and Praslin. We had two nights at Banyan Tree that were incredible.
The Seychelles :