By Maxine Albert
Picture a boundless plain covered with animals marching as if on pilgrimage, past rivers and flatlands, the sound of hooves kicking up clouds of dust punctuated by grunts and snarls. The breadth and scope of this endless procession on the African landscape is primal, almost surreal.
I’d heard about the migration in Tanzania, where every year two million wildebeest, zebra and antelope trek across miles of the Serengeti plain in search of water and grass. But to experience it, to bear witness to the greatest show on earth was something else again. Naturalists speculate that climate change may affect this amazing phenomenon, so go now because it is surely not to be missed.
In addition to the migration, a number of national parks and nature reserves with an abundance of wildlife offer an unparalleled safari experience in Tanzania. You’ll see not only the sought after ‘Big Five’ - lions, elephants, Cape buffalo, rhinos and leopards - but the region is rife with giraffe, cheetahs, hippos, ostrich, eland, hyena, gazelle, and flamingos. To have a front row seat to these striking creatures in the natural beauty of their own habitat connects you to nature, the earth and the whole chain of life.
Tanzania, the largest country in East Africa, home of the legendary Mount Kilimanjaro, the majestic Serengeti and the famed Ngorongoro Crater, is focused on wildlife conservation and sustainable tourism. Everyone involved in the tourism industry, from the guides, rangers, hotel employees and tour operators to the airlines, participates in conservation programs for the animals and environment, and promotes ways for the villagers who live alongside the animals to benefit from tourism and have a better life.
This concerted effort clearly comes out of a love for the country, its precious natural resources and its people. I found this every place I stayed and visited. To the question ‘How did you get involved in your profession?’ the answer would always come back to a passion for nature and helping the community. I was smitten with the country and its people who are warm, smart, proud, courageous, giving and sweet. I got used to saying the traditional greeting – jambo – which was always met with a huge smile.
Every luxury lodge I visited fostered a variety of conservation and sustainable programs and it transformed the way I both think and act when I travel now. My first time visiting Africa I was enthralled with the idea of safari; it was romantic and adventurous. This time, I saw a way to both enjoy the experience and be an active participant in helping this beautiful country and its people. Wouldn’t it be nice to incorporate that when we travel and enjoy our luxurious vacations?
The view of the bay against the starry African sky looked almost mystical from my room at The New Africa Hotel. I awoke to spiritual songs coming from the church down the street and saw my first Tanzania sunrise.
After a short flight to Arusha on Precision Air, my group was met by expert ranger/guide Ephata, who hails from the Maasai tribe. He studied at the university and is a member of the Friedkin Conservation Group. Not only did we see wildlife, we learned about the animals. We drove past acacia and baobab trees, villages and Maasai dressed in traditional blue and red garb herding goats and cows against the backdrop of the magnificent Mt. Kilimanjaro. We headed to Gibbs Farm for tea, a colonial farm house that’s been transformed into a charming lodge, each of the rooms uniquely decorated with furniture and art by local artisans.
Onward to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a 3,200 square mile World Heritage Site with mountains, savannahs and forests teeming with wildlife. The centerpiece, Ngorongo Crater, the eighth Wonder of the World, is the collapsed cone of a volcano 12 miles wide and almost 2,000 feet deep. We began our descent, circling down the rim, passing lush rain forest and vegetation until we reached the grassy plains on the crater floor. We saw lions, hyena, guinea fowl, monkeys, zebra, the elusive black rhino, buffalo, elephants, gazelles, and other wildlife, some of which will stay in this ecosystem and never ascend out of this steep crater in their lifetime. We continued on to Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge which sits right on the craters rim with amazing views of the landscape .
Another day of spectacular game viewing included a leopard sleeping on a tree branch next to its kill and a pride of lions playing in the grass within a few feet of zebras. We stayed for a night at Ngorongoro Manor in luxurious cottages with private decks. The owners support the hotel school and employ local villagers. After a day at the Karabu Fair where I met a medicine man and rode a camel, I headed to Lake Duluti Lodge where I savored a delicious dinner of steak and perfectly spiced vegetables. Afterwards I retired to my plush cabin tucked away in the woods, with a porch perfect for star-gazing.
An early morning flight on Regional Air took me to Serengeti National Park, Tanzania’s largest and most famous park, home to the biggest concentration of migratory game animals in the world. This 5,700 square mile region borders Kenya’s Masai Mara Reserve and constitutes a single ecosystem. The migration was in full swing when I arrived and it was hypnotic, like witnessing some epic evolutionary ritual.
It was here that I met Toti, expert ranger/guide from the Singita properties. Like Ephata, Toti is also a Maasai who studied at the university. His earliest dream was to work with animals. When he wasn’t tracking cheetahs and leopards, he told us that he returns to his village and encourages people to release old traditions and seek modern ways. I learned about the Grumeti Fund which supports conservation and the community.
I loved staying at the Singita Explore Tent, a mobile luxury tent that moves with the migration and offers the ultimate nature experience. It’s magnificent to go to sleep with the jungle sounds and wake watching the sunrise from your bed. But the biggest surprise was the superb cuisine prepared sitting around the campfire. The manager/guide talked over dinner about his activism in conservation, anti poaching programs and deep regard for animals and the land.
My last night in The Serengeti was spent in high style at Singita Sasakwa in an elegant colonial style suite with an infinity plunge pool overlooking the vast plain. As I soaked in the heated water and took in the African sunset, a saying I recently heard, echoed in my heart:
“ There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered. ”
- Nelson Mandela
How To Go:
South African Airways offers non stop service from New York to Johannesburg with connecting flights to Dar Es Salaam.
Tanzania Trip Arrangements By:
Africa Adventure Company
For Further Information On Travel To Tanzania Contact:
To Participate In Conservation/Community Programs In Tanzania:
Africa Adventure Company supports a wide array of programs such as Tumaini Children’s Foundation
Singita Properties formed The Grumeti Community Wildlife Conservation Fund