Tanzania is a big country. At almost a million square kilometres, it is four times the size of The UK. As such, it is extremely varied and we were about to find out just how varied it is.

We crossed the land border from Kenya into Tanzania with relative ease, picked up a local SIM card, fended off a few of the hawkers, and headed to the town of Arusha.

Arusha is a busy, little town, mainly because it is the gateway to the Serengeti National Park, which is one of the most famous safari spots in Africa. It is huge and we planned to spend 3 days and 2 nights exploring the Park and the adjoining Ngorongoro Crater. Access to some areas of The Park were not practical in the big truck so we split into smaller 4×4 traditional safari jeeps for the trip.

Our transport in The Serengeti

It turned out to be 3 days of unbelievable game viewing. We were certainly thrown in at the deep end. From start to finish we had a fantastic time. There were animals everywhere.

Buffalo gather on the plains.

Zebra having fun.

To be honest we didn’t really know what to expect. We had done a safari before on one of the much smaller, private reserves in South Africa and we had seen a few animals there. At the time it had been a thrilling experience, but The Serengeti was on a whole different level. Herds of elephant, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, buffalo roamed the plains. We saw a cheetah, a pride of a dozen lions, hippo and a few hyena, prowling around for scraps.

Never been a hyena fan since The Lion King

The time just flew by. Ten hours in the jeep was gone in a flash. At night we camped in the park, with strict instructions on how to listen and scan with a torch for eyes if we had to get up in the night for a pee.

Adjoining the vast plains of The Serengeti is another fabulous location, the 12 miles wide and 2000 feet deep caldera known as The Ngorongoro Crater. It has a strong water supply in the form of Lake Magadi and lush vegetation compared to the dry, arid plains of The Serengeti. Although the Serengeti was fantastic, Ngorongoro Crater was probably a little higher up the spectacular scale, if only for the scenery and the sheer numbers of animals.

Thousands and thousands of wildebeest, buffalo, impala and zebra were wandering along to the lake, keeping a careful eye out for the predatory lions in the long grass.
It was particularly scenic in the morning as the thick cloud cleared to reveal the blue sky and any remaining cloud rolled gently over the rim of the crater like a huge, long waterfall. It was easy to feel that you were in some sort of Wildlife documentary.

Pretty well disguised.

After being in The Crater for a few hours, it was obvious at some point a comfort break would be needed. There is a safe area in the Crater but when that isn’t in range and you have got to go it makes for a very careful and super observant time. Steve said he can now definitely relate a little to how the impala feel, being out there and very vulnerable, always on the look out.

We did make the ‘safe haven’ in The Crater and were surprised to find a guy parked up with an espresso machine and a selection of cakes in a trailer behind his 4×4. He also had a fold out table and 4 chairs. We took advantage drinking coffee and eating cake while watching hippos in the water.

Very civilised.

The Ngorongoro Crater would definitely make it into The Top 10 of places we have ever visited. This had been a great start and we hadn’t even been in Africa a week.

This guy is a biggie!

We now had a couple of long drive days, East across Northern Tanzania towards Mount Kilimanjaro. We weren’t going to be able to climb the mountain as that is a 5 day plus hike and we only had a couple of days there, so we would have to make do with the foothills.

We camped in the small village of Marangu, which is the starting point for one of the several routes up the mountain. Steve found us a guide from the village who, for a couple of pounds, would take us on a hike around the base of the mountain, through a couple of villages and to a waterfall. We were joined by an Aussie couple and we had a great day.

Our guide was getting on a bit, but he was still sprightly and obviously knew everyone in the area. As we walked through the heavily wooded area, we came across a group of villagers working to clear a pathway to create a road wide enough for vehicles to access. This was going to improve their ability to get supplies in and out of the village.

A few of the men were taking turns on a big two person saw, working their way through a tree blocking the way. Sarah was straight in there to take a turn and started sawing away, to much clapping from the locals.

Sarah lends a hand.

We were learning fast, that in Africa many things are run on a cooperative basis on big and small scales. On our walk we passed several immaculately kept allotments which the villagers worked to produce food for everyone and also to sell at local markets.

We eventually arrived at the waterfall, where, if the cloud had broken, we would have had a good view of the mountain. Unfortunately, it didn’t, so our chance of seeing snow in Africa melted away.

Walking on the lower slopes of Kilimanjaro.

On the way back to Marangu we visited a couple of our guide’s friends. One had a small coffee plantation in his garden and he produced his own coffee beans. Coffee is obviously big business in Tanzania and we had been surprised by the standard and availability of coffee shops in Arusha. We thought it might be like Guatemala where 99% of the good stuff is exported and only the sludge is left behind to drink domestically.

We also visited a woman who had a small holding, keeping mainly goats. She used them as currency, trading goats with the local school for an education for her daughter. It is great travelling the world seeing all the famous sights and discovering some amazing not so famous places. But the interaction with local people and seeing their lives is equally if not more rewarding.

So we left Kilimanjaro behind. Perhaps it was there, perhaps not! We set off at 5am for what would be a huge 14 hour driving day South to the capital city of Dar es Salaam.

There was no getting away from it, no sugar coating it, and no pretending it was an alright day. It was hard going, baking hot, sometimes rough roads, slow traffic, smelly traffic, bad driving …. no, … terrible driving. Seeing overturned HGV trucks in a ditch by the side of the road was becoming a daily occurrence. Plus, all the time our progress was slowed by the ridiculous number of road blocks where Police Officer wanted to see relevant paperwork. The relevant paperwork was nearly always a note that had 5000 Schillings printed on it!

The road to Dar es Salaam

Dar es Salaam was a hell hole. We hit the city outskirts at 4pm and squeezed, bumped, and inched our way across the city until at 7pm when we rolled into our campsite, had a buffet evening meal, and headed off to bed. Sleep was impossible as deafening music blasted out until the early hours. What a day. But as they say here, many, many, many times a day T.I.A. This Is Africa!

The next morning we were once again up early, and although we were pretty tired it didn’t bother us as we were off to catch the ferry to The Spice Island of Zanzibar. Even the name itself sounds exotic.

This was effectively a four day break from the trip, where your time was your own. Almost everyone opted for Zanzibar, only one person stayed in Dar, why? I have no idea! Most people were heading to a company recommended hotel on the North of the island. Steve and Sarah headed East to the town of Paje as it seemed a better location to us.

The tour leader had organised the ferry tickets and, as with most other things up until now, he managed to mess that up as well. Once we docked in Zanzibar we were on our own and we were out, off the ferry, through the weird, chaotic Zanzibar immigration procedure, even though it’s still Tanzania, in a taxi and off to Paje before any of the rest of the group were out of their seats.

Pajè was fantastic with blinding white sand, ans the sea had a ridiculous number of shades of blue and green. The small town was rough around the edges but contained everything we needed and our little thatched cottage by the sea was perfect.

We really enjoyed Zanzibar

Steve managed to rent a fatbike for three days and explored the Southern part of the island. We spent a few hours walking along the seemingly endless, wide beach where there was always something going on. Kite surfing and full on 11 a side football matches were the most common. The food was good and the people were friendly. We loved it and could have stayed much longer. Although group overland travel has its advantages in certain parts of the world, it does have its draw backs and lack of flexibility is probably the biggest one. The lack of ability to stay longer in a place or move on earlier is something we do miss.

It’s hard to leave this behind.

After 3 nights in Pajè we moved across the island to its capital Stone Town for a night. We were surprised by Stone Town and it had more to offer than we had anticipated. A big, old Moor built fort, a myriad of alleyways to explore, and of course it has a strong connection to Queen singer Freddy Mercury, who grew up here. His house has been converted to a small museum and we made the almost obligatory visit.

Our time in Zanzibar was over way to quickly. We met back up with everyone to catch the ferry back to Dar and, you guessed it, the Tour Leader had messed up the tickets, this time so much so that it was a last second dash to get on board.

The truck was waiting for us at the port and with several people leaving after Zanzibar, we were now down to 14 passengers. With the seating situation and a few other things sorted out, hopefully a more comfortable trip lay ahead as we rolled on to the border with Malawi.

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