Stone Town, the heart of Zanzibar

From Arusha, where our Kenya-Tanzania safari ended, we caught a flight to Zanzibar. We had booked with Coastal Aviation and didn’t realize the tiny plane would stop 5 times before getting to the island… it was like being on a public bus hehe. Stone Town, the old downtown of the capital Zanzibar, was a nice surprise. Our expectations of African towns were low after Nairobi and Arusha (later also confirmed by Dar es Salaam), but Stone Town proved to be a charming, lively city, with an exciting history. As the center of the Zanzibar Sultanate during the 19th century, it flourished driven by trade of spices and slaves, before suffering a revolution.

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A Garden of Eden called Ngorongoro

The Ngorongoro Crater is a volcanic caldera of ~20km of diameter and ~600m of depth. It is not only beautiful but also a unique redoubt of wildlife, with ~25,000 mammals. The name is believed to refer to the sound of bells of the cows that Maasais used to shepherd in the area before being “relocated to protect the ecosystem”. Our game drive in Ngorongoro was too short, as we had to deal with the issues derived from our guide loosing his entrance card (narrated in the post Arriving at Serengeti), but still intense.

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Arriving at Serengeti

The 5th day of our African adventure had started with a very early game drive in Manyara. After breakfast, we jumped into our jeep ready for a 4-5 hr drive to Seronera Camp, at the heart of Serengeti. The beginning of the road was really good and we made it to Karatu in ~45 min. Our guides deposited the National Parks entry fees and topped up their electronic safari cards. After Karatu, the road goes around the Ngorongoro crater (which we would descent into on our way back two days later) and turns into an uneven track. Suddenly, we saw a big herd of giraffes on our left, reminding us that in Africa, wildlife is all around. Since this was a safe area with no predators, we were allowed to step out of the jeep and walk close to the animals… one of my favorite moments of the trip!

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Every game drive is special

After a full day on the road from Naivasha, crossing the Kenya-Tanzania border in Namanga, saying goodbye to our great guide Charles, hello to our new guide Mike, and having lunch in Arusha, we slept in Mto wa Mbu. We included the Lake Manyara National Park in our itinerary for the same reasons as Naivasha, to break the long drive. It also was supposed to be a unique spot to see climbing lions, though we didn’t. Instead, we learned that every game drive, even when it’s looking unimpressive compared with the famous e.g. Mara, is special in some way.

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Up close and personal with Naivasha hippos

We included Lake Naivasha in our safari itinerary mainly because the drive from Masai Mara to Serengeti is extremely long. Even though they’re de facto the same ecosystem, tourists are not allowed to cross the border through the park. That means that you have to backtrack to Nairobi, cross the border in Namanga, and continue through Arusha. Over 800km, which in those roads ends up being 14-18 hrs, to guarantee that tourists leave their money in both countries.

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Maasai Mara, a wilderness dream

The first destination in our East African safari was Maasai Mara, the crown jewel of Kenyan National Parks. We had planned 1.5 days there, including a game drive in the afternoon of our arrival from Nairobi, and another full day of game drive. July is one of the best months to visit the Mara, as you can see the Great Migration, with 1-2 million wildebeest, ~0.5 million gazelles and ~0.3 million zebras. If you get lucky, you might even see the hordes crossing the Grumeti or Mara rivers, being attacked by crocodiles. Getting the timing right, however, is really hard, as it changes every year depending on the rains. We were one week late for the river crossing, but enjoyed the massive amount of grazers on the Mara plains.

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