Into (the Inexpensive) Africa
|HIPPOS IN ZEN: Two of Ngorongoro Crater's inhabitants (Corbis)|
Safari is actually Swahili for "journey," and a two-week journey through Tanzania doesn't just cover vast physical landmass, it traverses some serious metaphorical terrain as well. The names of the country's main attractions evoke childhood's dreamland lexicon: Mount Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, Zanzibar, Lake Victoria... From climbing the highest peak in the entire continent to delving into the Serengeti, the mythic awaitsand at fantasy prices during the off-season.
Here we concentrate on two of Tanzania's many allures: the expansive Serengeti, which will satisfy your safari aspirations, and ascending Kilimanjaro, which offers bragging rights for conquering one of the world's seven summits. And while Kili's 19,344-foot summit may be smallest and most accessible of the seven-tallest peaks, the extreme shifts in altitude means spending from five to seven days slugging uphill.
Given that half your itinerary will be swallowed by your climb, the most efficient method of travel in Tanzania is via a commercial tour, but rather than opting for a $3,000+ package trip (one that excludes airfare), the DYI approach may work best. In other words, sign up with a local trekking outfit for Kili (guides have been required since 1991), rent a 4x4 for the Serengeti, and score a good guide book (we like Lonely Planet's Trekking in East Africa).
For Kilimanjaro, try to hook up with a local trekking company either before arriving in country, or shortly after touching base. You could go with an independent guide for around $500-but that means taking the mainstream route, dealing with sub-par meals and lodging. The real decision, though, is your preferred route. There are five approaches, some requiring mountaineering experience, others requiring littler more than will power and hiking boots. Of them, we recommend the Machame Route, renown for its views. While it is not the easiest, this route is accessible to hikers without prior climbing experience and it can be done in five to six days. Machame is all tent camping, so it isn't as cushy as the Marangu Route-the most tourist-frequented route-which provides cots and mattresses. For a shorter and more intense climb, check out the Umbwe Route.
Our approach to this tour of Tanzania has you at the ceiling of the continent before heading across its plain, but if you have problems locating an outfitter before arriving, just swap the Kili and Serengeti portions and that should free up the time you need.
Fly into Kilimanjaro. Flights from JFK to Kilimanjaro run about $1300 (Northwest Airlines, Kenya Airways, and British Airways all fly to Kilimanjaro). Stay in Arusha, where you can arrange for a guide if you haven't already.
Head to Kilimanjaro National Park and start your climb.
Ascend Kilimanjaro via the Machame Route. Your guide will set a pace that'll ensure steady acclimatization, the biggest barrier on this summit. Just remember, slow and steady will get you to the top . Getting down, refreshingly, is a much simpler matter: descent takes only one day.
Head out of Kili National Park and off to Ngorongoro Crater (about 3.5 hours). Make a 2,000-foot descent to the crater floor. The 100-square-mile crater provides a healthy introduction to the Tanzanian wildlife (especially known for lion and black rhino viewing). Most lodging in this area is crater-side with exceptional views.
Drive to Serengeti National Park for a two or three-day trek. Lucky for budget travelers, the biggest animal migration begins in late spring when all the critters start their trek toward greener pastures in Kenya.
Return to Arusha (6.5 hour drive) for the flight home.
There is plenty to do and see should you decide on a trip extension. The Serengeti is massive (5,757 square miles), and travelers can easily spend six days or more exploring its depths. Another option is to drive north into Kenya's Masai Mara or head west to Lake Victoria, or for a taste of the truly exotic, hop over to Zanzibar for a taste of Africa-style island life.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication