In the 21st century, as we text from Rio or tweet from L.A., it is hard to believe that a phenomenon like the Great Migration takes place. And it’s thrilling to realize that you can witness it with your own eyes – and in great comfort.
Every year, like clockwork, two million animals follow their hard-wired natural instincts and risk their lives – many do not make it – to travel enormous distances (1,800 miles, actually) in search of lush green grass and fresh water. This Great Migration is a rhythmic drumbeat moving across the land, an inescapable cycle of survival, surrender, and rebirth.
The Migration is a year-round event: the animals move in a large circle every year, traversing both Kenya and Tanzania. And like The Migration, our clients often combine both countries.
There are four distinct phases: the mating season (also known as the rut), the calving or birthing season in the southern Serengeti, the highly-dangerous crossing of the Mara River heading north into Kenya and the Maasai Mara, and what we like to call the “chill out” time, when the animals stay at home to rest up and roam the Serengeti before beginning the cycle again.
The Migration involves great herds of wildebeest joined by zebra, gazelle, and other animals. They won’t be left alone though, especially as they cross the treacherous Mara River. Lion, leopard, and cheetah will follow them and stake claim to their share of the spoils. Crocodile will patiently wait, hidden amongst the wet rocks of the river.
The Serengeti has it all – abundant wildlife and superb action and adventure – and all of this in a setting of sunburnt and lush plains, backdropped by towering mountains.
Many clients choose to combine Kenya and Tanzania. But as a place that shares with its neighbor Kenya one of the greatest natural phenomena of our time, it is, quite frankly, easy to overlook everything else. Even without the Great Migration, Tanzania would be one of the great draws of Africa.
Let’s begin with our favorite place to end – the idyllic, Indian Ocean spice archipelago that was once the Sultanate of Zanzibar. With influences from Arab traders, Portuguese fishermen, British pirates, Persians, Indians, Chinese, and of course Africans (we won’t even discuss the Assyrians, Sumerians, or Romans who all set foot on the island eons ago), Zanzibar is steeped in history, visible at every turn.
The narrow streets of Stone Town, its main city, are lined with well-preserved palaces and mansions that are a blend of exotic architectural influences in a rich array of colors. You enter them through oversized, elaborately carved doors. Markets are filled with the aromas of the spices that brought Zanzibar its wealth, freshly-caught fish, food stalls, and woven baskets overflowing with tropical fruits.
David Livingstone, the guy who stumbled across Victoria Falls, was a missionary who spent much of his life fighting against the slave trade. He based his campaign in Stone Town.
And once you leave the capital, you are in a virtually endless paradise of the sweet, soft sands of miles and miles of wide Indian Ocean beaches, clear waters, and fishermen’s dhows sailing in front of a setting sun.
It is hard to imagine a more perfect place to catch your breath after a week or two on safari, before you return to reality.
The challenge, though, is to find the time to relax. Mainland Tanzania has more than enough to keep you busy – and thrilled.
Not far from the Serengeti sits the largest intact caldera in the world. The 2,000 foot deep Ngorongoro Crater is known worldwide for its density of game, with a permanent population of more than 30,000 animals. From your lodge’s perch overlooking the crater, getting to its floor will be a twisting and winding adventure unto itself.
From the depths of that crater, to standing on the rooftop of Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro’s snowy summit, at 19,300 feet, is an open invitation for climbers from around the world. Besides being Africa’s tallest peak, Kilimanjaro is the tallest freestanding mountain in the world.
The chimpanzee that Jane Goodall has spent her life studying, completely changing our understanding of primates, are at Gombe, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania. Our closest primate relatives, chimpanzees, share 98% of our DNA. Yet, when Goodall started her work in 1957, they were still viewed as primitive. The chimps at Gombe helped us understand that they are our emotive, intelligent cousins. Also on Lake Tanganyika is remote Mahale, which has an even larger population of wild chimpanzee.
Western Tanzania also holds Lake Victoria, first discovered by Arab traders in the 12th century – the world’s largest tropical lake, the second largest lake in the world, and the source of the Nile.
The famous Selous is in southern Tanzania. The Selous is the largest game reserve in Africa and has large concentrations of the full spectrum of African animals, with especially large populations of elephant and buffalo. It also has populations of African wild dog..
The Rock Art in caves and overhanging cliff faces at Kondoa Irangi, in northern Tanzania, date back thousands of years. This art illustrates changes in the development of man from hunter-gatherer to the more domestic creatures we are today. Although it was discovered in 1908, its extent is not yet fully understood. It may hold up to 450 sites. Some are still used for ritual purposes by local tribal groups.
We can arrange for you to helicopter over the “Mountain of God,” a highly active volcano, as well as the nearby pink Lake Natron, a highly alkaline lake whose salt crust is often colored by the various salt-loving microorganisms that thrive there. The lake becomes even pinker towards the end of every year when up to 2.5 million flamingoes go there to breed.
With an expert, we can arrange for you to visit, Olduvai Gorge, a steep ravine in the Great Rift Valley, which is one of the most important human fossil sites in the world. Remains of 60 human ancestral species have been found here and the development of stone tools was established here. Finds date as far back as 2.1 million years.
Near Olduvai is one of the most interesting tribes among the 260 in Tanzania: the Hadzabe Bushmen. About 1,000 remain. The 400 who still live as hunter-gatherers are among the last true hunter-gatherers in the world. The Hadzabe are believed to have lived here continuously for tens of thousands of years. Their language bears no relationship to any other language, gene¬tic testing indicates that they may be one of the primary roots of our family tree – perhaps 100,000 years old. Moving back to the coast, we can also arrange for you to scuba dive among whale sharks, the largest fish in the world – over 40 feet at times – at Mafia Island off the coast. You can spend time with one of the world’s experts on these gentle giants.
Or visit the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Kilwa Kisiwani and Ruins of Songo Mnara, two islands off the coast. The Great Palace of Kilwa was once the largest building in sub-Saharan Africa.
There’s only one “problem” with Tanzania: it’s just too hard to find time for it all.
And if all of this isn’t enough for you, visit our Idea Lab.