We sent Go2Africa Safari Experts, Jessica Lassen, Madelein Norval and Megan Vanderwalt on a 16-day journey through Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar island. They did a comprehensive tour, following a popular route that started with safaris in Kenya and Tanzania before hopping over to the tropical African island of Zanzibar for the perfect full-stop on an East African adventure.
Tell us more about your itinerary?
We started in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya and the oldest gateway city to East African safaris. From there we travelled to Kenya’s flagship reserves including Amboseli National Park and the famous Masai Mara. We then flew to Tanzania for visits to the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater. We were also lucky enough to visit some of Tanzania’s lesser-known parks including Lake Manyara and Tarangire.
We topped off our East African journey with a trip to the exquisite island of Zanzibar which is located just off the coast of Tanzania and a 15-minute light aircraft flight from the town of Arusha. It was fantastic kicking back on the beach after an action-packed safari, and flying from the Tanzanian mainland to this exciting African island was quick and easy. Once on the island, we spent time exploring the narrow streets of Stone Town – shopping, discovering old spice plantations, and finding out more about the history, art and architecture of this historic port town. It was then onto some of the quieter parts of the archipelago with stays at Kilindi Zanzibar, Matemwe Lodge and Jafferji House.
What did you eat?
We were treated to delicious seafood and unique fruits in Zanzibar. At Matemwe Beach House, you eat whenever and whatever you decide to. The chef will discuss the daily menu with you and adapt it to whatever special deliveries or fresh fish have come in.
As a tropical island, fruit is very popular in Zanzibar and it was awesome trying breadfruit and jackfruit for the first time. Breadfruit has a citrus flavor and jackfruit is a mixture between banana and pineapple – scrumptious! You also get plantain on the island, which is similar to a banana and is served as chips or nachos with a delicious dip.
At the safari lodges, there was a fair amount of fish and pork, which was a nice addition to the usual options of chicken and venison. Also, lots of soup as a starter! The food was all very tasty, not too outrageous and generally quite healthy with cooked veggies, potato and rice as the sides. Favourites were Tortilis Camp in Kenya which served amazing Italian-inspired cuisine, and The Manor at Ngorongorowhere we had an incredible 5-course dinner.
Most lodges have á la carte menus as opposed to buffet options. Lunches were often packed picnics which are popular in East Africa due to the full-day activities. These usually consisted of nuts, a salad, fruit juice, water, a piece of fruit, a wrap and a small pastry or chocolate for those with a sweet tooth.
What were the highlights of your trip?
Being licked in the face by a giraffe! At the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi you can feed the giraffes and even hold a pellet between your lips and go in for a ‘kiss’. Jessica's kiss wasn’t so quick and ended up being a bit of an exfoliating facial!
Hot-air ballooning over the Masai Mara was incredible even from before we took off. After an early morning pick-up from Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp we arrived 5:30am, had hot chocolate and cookies, and watched as they inflated the balloon. First, they used huge fans to blow cold air into it, and they allowed us to go inside and stand in the balloon for photos.
After filling the balloon with hot air, we floated so silently over the plains - seeing all the animals from above was something we'll never forget. At one point, we went really low to the ground to watch a pack of hyenas feeding on a giraffe, and then we went really high, to watch the sunrise. We also saw elephants, lions, buffalo and even came face-to-face with vultures at the top of the trees!
Another highlight was arriving in the central Serengeti. We landed at Seronera Airstrip and, after driving for only 10 minutes, saw a lioness walking through the grass. We soon noticed another appear, followed by more arriving from the other direction. Eventually when they all came together under a tree there was a pride of 17, 12 of which were cubs of different ages.
We then drove towards Sayari Camp but took ages to get there because over the next 90 minutes we had two separate cheetah sightings, a leopard sighting, baby jackals and another lion sighting – all before we even got to our lodge!
Snorkelling at Mnemba Island was a real treat. From Matemwe Lodge we headed out for a 3-hour snorkelling trip to the island where there is a pod of dolphins that frequent the area and have become quite habituated to people. They are known to come up and swim with the guests and we heard that there had been a baby dolphin with the pod when they visited the day before. Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky enough to be visited – they are completely free to come and go so it’s all up to luck and how they are feeling (please note that Go2Africa does not endorse swimming with dolphins in captivity or dropping in deliberately in the middle of pod – the dolphins must approach swimmers already present and never be chased or followed at any time).
The most thrilling safari experience we had was on our walking safari in Tarangire National Park. We did this at Sanctuary Swala and had a very good guide, Devon, who is also the manager of the camp. The walk was made very interesting by his extensive bird knowledge and ability to mimic calls but things took a surprise turn when we saw two male elephants out in the marsh drinking and splashing around.
Devon took us to a bush nearer to the elephants where we were going to wait for them to come closer and walk past us. We weren’t there for very long when Victor, the second guide, signaled that there was a herd walking towards us. We had to get low and leave, following Victor and making sure to keep quiet, unseen and downwind. Walking quickly from anthill, to tree, to anthill with an elephant herd in sight and following closely behind was absolutely exhilarating. It always felt safe, thanks to the very thorough briefing beforehand and expert guidance during the whole encounter. Once at a safe distance and undetected, we watched the herd, which had a weeks-old baby with them, go into the marsh and join the males for a splash around.
What were your best lodge or resort experiences?
Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp, located on a private reserve near the Mara Triangle, was modern with stunning tented suites and shared areas. Its pool area was especially enticing, located under a big tree and overlooking the Masai Mara plains.
Also located on a private concession in the Masai Mara is Naboisho Camp. The management team and service is really special here. The location also feels like you could have lions or something equally exciting walk past your tent at any moment!
In the Serengeti, we stayed at Sayari Camp. Its suites were beautiful and very spacious so can comfortably accommodate three adults. Serengeti Pioneer has an upstairs lounge area with the most incredible views of the Serengeti. Set on a rock face, there are little hyraxes that come and hang out with guests just an arm stretch away.
The suites at Kilindi Zanzibar are like private little villas with two plunge pools and incredible views. When they took us down for a dinner at the ocean’s edge, I (Jess) really wished I was there with my fiancé because I could not think of a better place for couples.
What are your top travel tips for East Africa?
Take binoculars with you, especially if you are going to visit national parks where it is not permitted to drive off-road. This means that there are times when you can’t get very close to the wildlife so your own binoculars come in handy. In private reserves and conservancies this is not usually a problem as 4x4 vehicles are permitted off-road.
Ask your guides questions and interact with them – they are all very knowledgeable, and generally lovely people with interesting stories. The more they get to know you and what you like, the better your safari will be.
Save that little bit extra and do as much as possible, like a hot-air balloon ride. The chances are you will not visit the same place again and an experience like this will be something you will never forget.
Try the not-so-obvious activities that are unique to the destination you are in. For example, I did a spice tour in Stone Town. Like me, you might not be particularly interested in something like this but these activities usually end up taking you pleasantly by surprise and often the locals’ and guides’ infectious passion, knowledge and lively personalities play a big part in this.
Last but not least, be sure to take all the appropriate clothing and gear for being in an open-sided vehicle during the day, and for the ladies - the roads can be bumpy so be sure to take a sports bra!
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