With a host of new routes connecting the UAE to Africa, it is easier than ever before to make the journey to the continent with almost everything to offer.
Modern infrastructure and good roads, improved in recent years, help in getting around, making it much easier to travel around than other neighbouring countries.
Tanzania is still fairly expensive compared to its neighbours, but less crowded with just a fraction of the beds and lodges per square mile than Kenya. Masai Mara has three times more beds than Serengeti and Ngoro Ngori combined; Tanzania’s two most known parks, making it much less mass market.
Vinay Sapra, from Lifestyle Safaris and Holidays, said: ‘It’s a very diverse ecology and experience for travellers. The northern circuit has the national parks, all very diverse in terms of habitat, the flora and fauna are all quite different to each other, so if you do a safari circuit. Serengeti is very flat, but Tarangiri is very forested, so the terrain differs hugely from national park to park. Tarangiri is known for elephants while Serengeti is known for the wildebeest migration.
Zanzibar evokes exotic, so in a way, it has created a good spark to Tanzania, but with Serengeti and Ngorongoro, it makes it worth the visit.’
Boniface Veshut, a tour guide from Tanzania has seen the growth. ‘Tourism is growing so fast compared to around ten years ago,’ he said.
‘Katavi National Park is my favourite place, because it’s very isolated and not easy to access. You only fly in from Arusha. It has everything you see in Serengeti, but for people who like privacy, that’s the best park to go to. The great [wildebeest] migration is very unique, when they leave from Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya. That’s something unique and you can’t find it in other countries. The animals give birth in Tanzania so they really are from Tanzania.’
With FlyDubai, our journey started in Kilimanjaro, where we drove half an hour away to the town of Arusha for the night, staying at the recently refurbished Arusha Hotel, a colonial building still oozing character, but with the cleanliness and modern sheen of a new hotel, in the heart of Arusha, before heading to Tarangiri National Park, a forested park with the Tarangir river running through it.
Tarangiri National Park is 2,850 sq km and would take a day to do just a quarter of that, but really, the golden time to go is the early morning, when the animals are on the prowl. Not only is the wildlife incredible, but getting a glimpse of life for the local Masai tribes is also precious, seeing them herding their animals, going about their daily lives as life drives by.
The silence is deafening and other than the chatter of birdsong, there is little else like this. The park is famous for its large numbers of elephants, and if you’re lucky, you can find lions; what’s known as the ‘golden safari’, the lions are known to hide in the thick bush lands and are rarely visible.
The park is littered with an array of colourful birds, 400-year-old baobab trees, more than 550 types of birds, and over 20 species of animals including wart hogs, black face velvet monkeys, baboons, and impalas in herds of up to 50 at any one time.
Though dry season – between June and October – is when the tourists arrive, the end of the rainy season also has its benefits. Boniface Veshut, a tour guide from Tanzania says: ‘Everything becomes so alive and busy when the grass is high and it’s rainy season.’
For lunch, a must do is a stop at the Tarangire Safari Lodge. Its buffet of fresh, local delicacies is far better than any lunch box a hotel will sell you and the same price ($50 seems to be the number for almost everything like this) and the views are spectacular across the horizon. An array of fresh salads, fruit and hot meals are served, and it’s a good opportunity to step out of the truck.
Staying overnight is not cheap, but one option which offers both luxury and a boutique feel without the boutique price, is Lake Manyara Kilimamoja Lodge, part of the Wellworth Collection, a Tanzanian owned small chain of luxury lodges.
Designed with a feel blending colonial grandeur and hunting tradition, the sprawling estate is in the heart of nature. With views for miles, the hillside villa development is far enough away from the big five (some lodges you find really come a little too close to the wildlife) to give you peace of mind, but close enough to truly feel a sense of escape. Its infinity pool overlooks the hilly scenery where you can relax in the midst of nature.
Holding tightly onto local tradition, guests are greeted by a traditional African performance and the rich wood construction blends perfectly into the surrounds. Some villas have their own pools but all offer the same sweeping views across the landscape with expansive verandas to enjoy the solitude of nature. The restaurant service is five star, with a wide range of local and international delicacies on offer.
Combining a trip to the mainland with a hop over to the beautiful and still relatively untouched island of Zanzibar is easy with plenty of daily flights from Air Tanzania, less than an hour away. Hafsa Mbamba, founder and managing director of Destination Zanzibar, says with its cultural and historical ties and proximity, Tanzania’s mainland and Zanzibar, are ‘perfect get-aways for the UAE market’, whether for leisure or business travel, with extensive activities from nature to climbing, relaxing to kite surfing.
The preconception that Zanzibar is purely a beach destination is still somewhat challenging however, in spite of its national park, heritage and watersports. ‘Zanzibar more than just a beach destination. Most people don’t know that Zanzibar boasts a wealth of history and cultural heritage, reflected in over 85 identified heritage sites. Based on recent archaeological investigation, it was confirmed that Zanzibar was once a Stone Age settlement between 30,000 – 3,000 BC. Heritage sites dotted across the two main islands of Unguja and Pemba are a relic of this distant period.’
It is also a plus now that the island has been declared malaria free.
The 19th century port town, Stone Town, has a wealth of history and culture to offer. A merging of Indian and Omani culture, with a hint of Portuguese, a hangover of colonial rule over the centuries, there is much to see and do. From its mosques to its churches, museums and forts to the street food, it is a feast of the senses.
The coral stone houses, from which the town takes its name, evoke a time gone by, and now many of the buildings are in fact heritage sites, including former consulates of the British and Germans. The museum of slavery has some amazing guides to unravel the darker history of the slave market site, offering insights into the horrific conditions of the slaves from the 15th century through to the abolition of slavey in the 20th century.
For many, the food culture is the highlight in Stone Town. A haven for foodies one of the more popular joints is Mashallah restaurant in Mkunazini. Prices are not too different to Dubai and there is not much room for bargaining. Better prices can be found on the mainland for gifts, local art and souvenirs.
Doubletree by Hilton offers affordable, quality accommodation right in the heart of the town too, just a stone’s throw from all the action.
Stepping off the island and getting on the water is a must, and the best way to soak up its magical blue seas which are truly as captivating as the photographs might suggest. Safari Blue offers trips including snorkeling, island tours, and a hearty lunch, with no more than 10 to 12 people on a traditional dhow boat. A plentiful barbecue lunch is served on one of the nearby islands, after a morning on the sea, with an array of local seafood and meat to choose from.
A 20-30 minute boat ride from the island is the famous Prison Island. Though there are some extremely picturesque spots which will do wonders for your Instagram page, there is not much to see other than its tortoise sanctuary which homes tortoises some of which are 200 years old. But these animals are not native and need extra special care to survive, a relic of colonialism where animals were brought over as gifts.
A testament to the dark history of slavery, the island, with its 19th century prison and hospital quarantine, help tie together some of the more historical sites found in Stone Town. The slavery museum is one.
The 50 square kilometre Jozani National Park, Zanzibar’s only national park, is a monkey lover’s haven. You won’t find any of the big five here, but there is plenty to see on its nature walks and trails through its mangrove and jungle areas.
This forest reserve is in the heart of the farmlands, with green as far as the eye can see. The drive there alone, through the local farms and villages, is a beautiful way to see more of the island beyond its blue seas. With villagers still dragging water from wells and tending crops, it is a testament to the country’s roots.
After the hustle and bustle of Stone Town, it is a must to enjoy the picturesque coast. Just beyond the Jozani National Park, around an hour from the airport, is Upendo Villas. Tucked away discretely on the south east coast, shielded by palm trees and overlooking the famous The Rock restaurant, this beachside hideaway blends both luxury and nature. With its palm thatched roofs and villas surrounded by the ocean waves, it has the feeling of a Robinson Crusoe castaway island.
With just 12 villas, from one to four bedrooms, there is no shortage of privacy. Pathways are still sandy, and with the tide, the surrounding area changes from morning through evening. One minute the tide is so far out there is sand as far as the eye can see, while at other times of the day, it is possible to hear the lapping of the waves outside the villa door.
For those wanting a little more activity, it is easy to book water sports from snorkelling to kite surfing, all just a short trip away.
Quite different from the mainland, Zanzibar and its motherland have a lot to offer the more discerning travellers. Almost a year round destination, it has everything from the idyllic beaches to the rugged mountain terrain, relaxation to extreme adventure. Still maintaining its untouched charm, it is a place very much worthy of exploring.
Flydubai has regular flights to Tanzania. Fares start from Dh1,548