“The largest unbroken volcano crater in the world”, “The Garden of Eden”
If coming from incredible Zanzibar was already a top experience in life, coming for the first time to a safari this completes a fascinating trip to Tanzania. Not only a safari, but two. Two of the most spectacular safaris you can do in the world. However with great disappointment, we had to let it go the top safari in the plane, the Serengeti. This was unfortunately requiring for a longer stay and at least a 3 day safari. We did only count with 2 full days therefore that we had to make a decision. While Ngorongoro was out of question the MUST-DO, the second was more an option in what we wanted to see most. Tarangire would be our best bet. Why? Well, with Ngorongoro we knew we will see most of the animals and landscapes of truly Africa, but not so much elephant-wise, while for Tarangire, it is the park with the most elephants and the incredible huge baobab trees so, so characteristic of “real Africa”. Making this decision was quick. After all, the other option would have been Lake Manyara, also an spectacular national park by the huge lake. Costs were the same, including one or the other, that was not a problem not constrain.
For you to know, we are talking about an expensive business here. The entire trip to Tanzania is splashing money by the hundreds of $. You are squeezed from every side. Lucky for us, we found one of these flight error fare all the way to Zanzibar, so what we saved in the flights used it for getting the internal flights, the safaris and part of the hotels, otherwise this could have turned into a very expensive holiday considering we were not that many days altogether.
So switching our base in Zanzibar for that in Arusha was easy. It’s just an hour’s flight. To this point it all sounds easy, but it was not. We had to play with the flight times in order to maximize the time in Arusha for being able to arrive, spending the first night there and then have the following 2 full days free for both safari, returning to Arusha in the evening so having to stay overnight as the last flights leave for Zanzibar quite early in the afternoon, and then finally making the way back into Zanzibar the following morning. In our case, we needed the earlier flight possible to then enjoy Stone Town which we left for this very last day, before the early morning following day’s flight returning to Muscat and into London.
Our only possibility was not flying back from Arusha, but from nearby Kilimanjaro’s airport, some 50 kilometres east. It was not just the better flight time, but also lot more cheaper than from Arusha, considering we would have to spend another $50 on the taxi to reach that airport. And of course, praying to get a clear day and a seat on the left of the plane in order to see the mighty Kilimanjaro! Another excitement about this flight. As last, searching for a good tour operator to book the safaris from. I rather create a separate section below for this as there’s a lot of information to bear in consideration. At the end, there it was, our trip was all set and ready.
For more facts and further information about Ngorongoro check this Wikipedia article, and this one for Tarangire National Park. Tanzania’s currency is the Shilling (TZS). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
How to get your visa for Tanzania:
Unless few nationalities which do not require visa to enter Tanzania and are allowed to stay for a maximum of 3 months. Here is the official website with the list of countries and the needs for each of them. Other nationals do need to apply for a visa, preferably before their trip. However at the main entrance ports in Tanzania (Dar es Salam, Zanzibar and Kilimanjaro) you can obtain a single entry visa upon arrival, costing 50 Euros. Remember to bring with you some passport size pictures. Proofs of your return flight and hotels are requested, so have this printed and ready to provide to the border officials. Doing the visa application beforehand will save you time at the border and be hassle-free. It is very straightforward if you are living in a capital city of your country or if your city has a Tanzanian Consul, and can also be done at easy online sending the documents and passports. From the UK, it costs £40, which equals to 50 Euros, as you can see it is a normalised price across. This was one of the easiest visa’s we’ve ever requested.
Which safari, what’s included, what to avoid and how to book:
This is the worst part on any trip to Tanzania, or wherever the country in Africa famous for their national parks and safaris. There is too much information, there are countless agencies providing this services, some you can book online, other you can simply pop by on the day and book it, and of course, too many kinds of safaris with any level of comfort and luxury. You have the option to stay overnight in a tent, or of course at a top exclusive lodge. From a one day safari, to 2 or 3 being the usual, and even more days. There is an incredibly great flexibility to accommodate anyone desires. But, when to book or how to make up your mind for which tour agent to chose from the hundreds available? Well, that is a heavy research time over the internet, sending emails to these agencies and querying with them, a lot of follow-ups and a lot of tripadvisor feedback reading.
To simplify you from complications, in Tanzania there are the 5 great national parks standing out of any other: Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro and the world’s top Serengeti; these 4 in what relates to animal park, and the 5th, the Kilimanjaro Mountain. of course there are many more, but majority of people is in search of any of these. Now, from location, the 5 parks are having as the major pivotal city Arusha. This is the centre for any safari and tour, the door to wilderness Africa. It’s the 3rd largest city in Tanzania too. This is your entrance point for a safari where all the agencies and tour operators are based. Reaching Arusha is straightforward by plane from Zanzibar or Dar es Salaam, where booking in advance mean low fares. There are many frequencies through the day. A secondary but smaller airport is 50 kilometres east from Arusha, this is Kilimanjaro, making more sense to fly here if you have among your plans the mountain.
Any tour you book from Arusha will pick you at the airport at at set time, and will drop you off at your hotel again, even if you start at a hotel and you return to a different one. Make sure the tour DOES INCLUDE the entrance fees to the parks, because the cheaper tours you can find, when reading the small print, not all include the fees which are quite high and you can end up in paying actually more than a better tour already including this all. Check they also include, if staying at a tent, the bedding and all staff needed. Some tours charge this extra, around $10 per night per person. Check if you get water included, and make sure to check the precise tour in detail. What are the timings set, and if lunch included (most tours will have this included anyway). Once knowing these starting point details, you have more freedom in which tours you can keep for reference and make a list of possible good ones, and which ones to discard.
While our original (and failed) choice was with Asante Tanzania Safaris, here their website, I would say and strongly recommend you to AVOID at all means. At the time you start querying prices they are very fast answering you until the time you send over the payment for the deposit amount (20%), then right after if you have any further queries or want to know more they will NEVER reply you. The day before our safari starting date as we arrived in the hotel in Arusha we tried to contact them again and again, the hotel staff helped us incredibly, however we found out the phone numbers they provide are for different people, none of which having anything to do with this agency, the address they mark of the offices in Arusha does not even exist. We really though this was a scam! Very quickly and last minute we had to arrange for another tour operator which thanks to the hotel team it succeeded and was above our expectations. Then out of sudden in the evening we received a confirmation that a driver will come to pick us from Asante. We of course did not want to liaise with this people anymore and contact them for cancelling, and still as of today, disputing the refund of our deposit.
A very highly recommend tour operator you should consider is 3Wonders. This was recommended to us by the Front Office Manager and Security Personnel from the Mount Meru Hotel and therefore a trustful company. They made our safaris truly memorable!
What to bring with you and how to prepare:
It’s of imperative importance you take with you the following: sun cream, the strongest anti mosquito spray/cream in the market, a hat, good clothing considering both day and night temperatures vary a lot. Shorts and t-shirt are great for the day, but in the evening it’s chill and even cold. Water, or at least making sure you can buy it from the guys giving you the tour. Binoculars, a first aid kit and the necessary toiletries. While in the 4×4 all of this can be inside the vehicle, same as your luggage/backpack.
- Tarangire National Park Safari
On the edges of the Great Rift Valley. Famous for the huge area providing good viewing options to the game which is of great concentration between July and October (the dry months). Expect to see lots of elephants which are one of the main attraction; wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, buffalo, Thompson’s gazelle, kudu, eland, leopard, cheetah and many more. The landscape is famous for the towering termite mounds and giant baobab trees.
- Ngorongoro Crater National Park
One of the world’s most unchanged wildlife sanctuaries; the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled massive volcanic caldera, 20 kilometres across. It is home to over 25000 animal, among them black rhinoceros, buffalo, hippopotamus, blue wildebeest, Grant’s zebra, common eland; Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles, masai lions. The paradise of wilderness, and once in a lifetime.
If flights was pure logistics, searching for the hotels was even worst. As mentioned before, this is the entrance gate for anyone coming to Tanzania into the wilderness of Africa and the meeting point for all the safaris. This translates in hotels being fully booked well ahead in advance, and what’s left is either very low class and even dodgy places, or some of the top hotels at horrendously high prices. We had to use some of our rewards that we hold with some of our favourite sites in order to offset the total cost and enjoy in the other hand great hotels. A good and reasonable point to start your search would be checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
For our first night in Arusha we stayed at the Mount Meru, in Kanisa Road, northeast of the city and not far from the Clock Tower. An incredible 5* property, perhaps the best in the city. We needed a place with the most facilities possible since we were going to be enjoying the time relaxing before the next couple of busy days in the safaris; so this hotel came as the best choice without equal. Fantastic and immaculate staff, a beautiful well cared and spotless building, decoration and feeling. Large bedroom with a very high level of comfort, countless amenities and very quiet, perfect for a good rest. The breakfast was huge, with high quality of products and very professional waiters, always there smiling and making you feel welcome. The pool, medium size and great too, and so the overall landscaping of the gardens and communal areas. Absolutely recommended.
On our last night after the safaris, before taking our flight back to Zanzibar the following morning, we stayed at the Venus Premier, in Plot No. 15, Block D, Martine Street, right at the heart of the city centre. This 4* property was great and all we needed for a perfect stay and good resting time after such busy 2 days and almost no sleep in between. Simple and elegant interior decor, great staff very friendly and professional. Spacious and comfortable quiet rooms, and great quality of the breakfast.