Tanzania is a land full of wonder, beauty, and intrigue. With over 22 National Parks and countless other conservation and reserve areas, around 30% of Tanzania is protected land. This fact alone is enough to persuade tourists from all over the world to visit Tanzania, and we haven’t even touched on this country's people, culture, and food! Many of its visitors come to climb the epic peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro, which is undeniably a bucket list item for many people. While this trek is popular, Tanzania has so much more to offer than Kilimanjaro! With unique and less-traveled locations like Lake Natron, Moshi, and the Ngorongoro Highlands, our new trip, “Tanzania Journey: Ngorongoro Highlands Trek and Safari,” has been crafted for the adventurous souls seeking to hike and safari through this beautiful country without the dawning pressure of an intense mountain trekking experience.
In May, I went on a scouting trip to Tanzania to see how Adventures in Good Company could create a Level 3 itinerary that includes plenty of wildlife, local culture, and a hiking trip that was fun and comfortable at the same time. While in this country, I found not just adventure but the warmest people, a wide variety of ecosystems, and native cultures and traditions that are flourishing to this day! From the moment you step out of the airport, your senses begin to tingle. You smell the fresh air and savory food cooking over charcoal, the bright blue of the sky contrasts stunningly with the red soil, and everywhere you hear voices; children playing and singing and adults gossiping with their neighbors. This is how our journey begins in the old town of Moshi. Located at the base of the coffee-growing regions of Kilimanjaro, we start with a cultural tour of Old Moshi, learning about the Chagga peoples that have inhabited this area for centuries and how the German and Indian influences shape daily life and culture. After learning how to make (and taste!) coffee in the traditional way, we get the chance to beat the heat and hike to Materuni Falls, the local swimming hole.
The next portion of our journey heads to Arusha National Park, the location of Tanzania’s second tallest mountain, Mt. Meru. On this day hike, we get a chance to stretch our legs on a walking safari throughout the area. Arusha National Park is normally much less crowded than hiking around Kilimanjaro, but it is just as beautiful! Hiking through the naturally lush and wooded landscape, we will have the opportunity to encounter wildlife such as giraffes, zebras, antelope, monkeys, and many species of birds. Don’t worry; animals enjoy their distance from humans. We will be a very safe distance away, and we always trek with an armed guard for safety while in the national parks! This trek will give you a little taste of what to expect on your 3-day Ngorongoro Highlands trek.
What I really tried to create in this trip itinerary was the perfect balance and timing of the multitude of activities we do on this trip. We will be hiking one day, on a safari the next, and then maybe a day of cultural tours, followed by an afternoon hike. I find that this style of travel keeps you excited and looking forward to the next activities, but not burnt out by too much of a good thing all at once. Therefore, after our first hike, we start our first safari experience in Tarangire National Park! Tarangire is what all African dreams are made of, as this park is known for its population of elephants and huge baobab trees scattered throughout. More often than not, you will be able to spot a herd of elephants and a tower of giraffes (yes, a group is really called a tower) at the local watering hole, located directly below the Tarangire Safari Lodge. A favorite pastime while traveling through Africa are sundowners. A sundowner is the perfect opportunity to relax after a long day, have a drink, and watch the sunset and take in the beauty all around you.
Before dinner at our lodge, make sure you have your sundowner on the famous Safari Lodge patio and contemplate the miles of savannah plains and Tarangire River in front of you. That night, we stay in luxury permanent tents at the Safari Lodge. These tents are equipped with comfortable beds, ensuite bathrooms with showers, and charging stations for your devices. Tonight will be the only chance you will have to go on a night safari. Tarangire National is one of the few parks that allow night safaris inside the park. After a delicious dinner at the lodge, you will head out on a 3-hour excursion to see the nocturnal animals in the darkness of the night. So many animals are more active at night, including the nocturnal bushbaby, civet cat, porcupines, and even larger animals like elephants! This is an amazing and unique experience to be in the wild when everyone else is asleep.
After a brilliant first safari drive, we will spend the next few days in the Lake Manyara area, about an hour and a half drive from Tarangire Safari Lodge. Here, we will find the little village of Mto Wa Mbu, where the community has taken an active role in eco and community tourism of their hometown. Many of the local residents make their income as banana farmers, artists, cooks, and wood carvers, and they allow tourists to come in and explain what they are working on and the significance of their art. Each day is different in the village, and on our walking tour, we gain an understanding of the daily lives of people living around this area. During our two days here, we will be fed a home cooked meal by some local women, learn about traditional herbs and elixirs on a medical herb walk, or help create a woven mat made with materials collected from Lake Manyara. To cap it all off, we spend two nights at the Escarpment Luxury Lodge, which boasts magnificent views of Lake Manyara from the top of the valley, chef-prepared meals, and a refreshing outdoor swimming pool.
The next day begins our journey into the Ngorongoro Highlands and the Ngorongoro Crater, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a natural wonder of the world. We are also changing into a completely new ecosystem, as we will gain around 6,000 ft of elevation. The rim of the Ngorongoro crater is always misty and a little rainy, but that creates the perfect environment for a rainforest-esque landscape. Begin the day with a game drive through the crater, where thousands of animals live inside the caldera. This caldera was formed around 2.5 million years ago when the volcano erupted, thus imploding the rim to create the world’s largest inactive, intact, and unfilled volcanic crater. If you are lucky like I was, you will be able to spot the critically endangered and very rare black rhino grazing on the savannah grasslands. This once-in-a-lifetime experience is one I will cherish forever.
After our crater game drive, we head up to the rim for our first crater rim hike and then on to the first night of our luxury glamping and trekking experience! We will have a short trekking orientation that night, then we will head to bed early to get our beauty sleep for our trek! The next morning will be brisk at the rim, which is a lovely little change from the heat of the lower altitudes! We will eat a hearty camp breakfast prepared by the cooks that will be trekking with us for the next two days. We join our Maasai trekking guide through the misty forests and rolling hills of the Empakaai Crater Rim. You will be rewarded with striking views of ancient and recent volcanic mountains, including Mt Lolmasin, Gilai, Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru.
There are always colorful Maasai trekking through these hills as well, either on a commute to another village or herding their cattle in their homelands. After about 6 hours of trekking, we make our way to Acacia Camp, a beautiful little campsite with scrub woodlands and plenty of local yellow-barked Acacia trees. We dine under the stars tonight, and get a well-deserved rest all ready to continue the trek tomorrow! Tonight’s campsite includes simple canvas tents with cots and sleeping bags included. There will be a toilet tent and hot water boiled for you to wash up in the morning and the evening.
The final day of our trek is hiking into the Great Rift Valley, or the valley of the East African Rift. Stretching from Lebanon all the way to Mozambique, the Great Rift Valley is the area where two tectonic plates collided, and are now slowly separating. It has created a beautiful landscape pulling water in from the ocean, creating soda lakes, and calling flamingos to feed. Fresh water sources for the people that have lived in this valley for centuries. We end in Lake Natron, at the Halisi Tented eco-camp, a camp run by Maasai from the local community, where a much-deserved al fresco hot lunch and cooling shower will be ready for you. A sundowner is much appreciated tonight, and will be prepared for you on top of a hill overlooking the Rift Valley floor below.
Lake Natron Halisi Camp is a luxury eco-camp, so they live an “off-grid” lifestyle by using compostable toilets and bucket showers. There is only solar power here, and we love that they care so much about preserving and sustaining our environment with such a low environmental impact. Our full day in the Lake Natron area is filled with cultural and nature activities like visiting a local village, walking to the lake to visit the resident flamingos, seeing 120,00-year-old preserved human footprints, and hiking to a beautiful waterfall where you can take an afternoon dip in the hot sun. We bid our adieu to Lake Natron and the hospitality of the Maasai tribe with a traditional goat BBQ whilst trying your hand at spear-throwing the Maasai way!
Our last stop of the trip is the famous Serengeti National Park, but not before we help and participate in the morning chores of the Maasai boma (homestead). We wake up early to see the women milking the cows, and maybe even give it a try ourselves! We can meet the community, and we may even be invited in for a morning tea in their homes. Nothing in this community is set up for the tourists; it is a real Maasai boma, so every morning brings a new adventure for us and the community. There will be time before we leave to purchase some jewelry and other goods crafted by the local women if you so choose. Now onto our final safari experience!
With a long drive ahead, we will venture into the legendary Serengeti, a wildlife sanctuary like no other. Prepare for thrilling game drives that reveal the mesmerizing rhythm of African wildlife. Witness the astonishing Great Migration, an remarkable spectacle of wildebeests and zebras thundering across the vast savannah. Spot majestic lions, graceful cheetahs, and elegant giraffes in their natural habitat. As the sun sets on the horizon, immerse yourself in the magic of a traditional Maasai camp, where stories and traditions are shared under a blanket of stars. We spend two nights inside the park at the Nyikani Tented Camp, the perfect central location for exploring all the Serengeti has to offer!
Alas, our amazing Tanzanian adventure has come to an end! With a quick flight from Serengeti airport to Arusha, you will be able to have a daylet room to freshen up before your nighttime flight home. Tanzania, with its amazing people, adventures, and trekking, will forever have a special hold on my heart and soon yours as well.
With a background in community development, Seema founded Tanzania Journeys in 2005, and since then has held a variety of roles at the company, sometimes very active and sometimes behind the scenes. Since 2019, she has been the one at the helm – actively running and directing the company on her own. Drawn to the industry by her love for her country – its history, people, and geography, Seema wants nothing more than for visitors to experience and love Tanzania as much as she does; to provide travellers with a deeper and more complex perspective than how the country is typically represented online, in guidebooks, and the like.
What challenges have you faced and/or do you still face as a woman in the adventure travel industry? Not being taken seriously as my male counterparts, having to prove yourself, people’s lower expectations of what a women can achieve in the adventure travel industry, juggling family commitments with an industry that requires 24-hour input (especially if you are a ground operator), and the isolation – it’s not always easy to find other women in Tanzania who are also in the adventure travel industry.
Have you seen changes in the way women travel? If so, how? Yes, solo traveling, more companies are focusing on women-only travel, more security, safety and acceptance for women traveling solo or in a group. Also, there’s more recognition by women in the industry that they need to forge alliances and appreciate the benefits of having a supportive network.
Have you seen changes within the adventure travel space in terms of how it looks to be more inclusive of women – be it as someone working in the industry or even in terms of attracting new customers (for example, more women-only trips)? Yes – women-only trips in Tanzania, and the wonderful surge of women mountain and safari guides that have come up recently. Even 10 years ago, this was virtually unheard of. The acceptance of women as guides here by all sorts of companies (not just women-owned ones), more women managers in lodges, camps and other such accommodation. There is also a growing understanding of people in the travel industry here around needs and concerns of the LGBT community.