Answering the Call of the Wild: The Top African Safaris

Tanzania: The Ultimate Safari

Kenya may boast the fame of starting the safari, but Tanzania trumps it with some of the best game viewing on the continent. Bordered by the fantastic extremes of Lake Victoria (the world's second largest freshwater lake) and Mt. Kilimanjaro (Africa's highest point at more than 19,000 feet), Tanzania's numerous game reserves will fulfill most if not all of your safari fantasies.
The Serengeti is the site of one of the greatest animal migrations on earth. Vast herds of zebra, buffalo, and antelope, plus lion, leopard, and cheetah (and thousands of wildebeest for dinner) storm across more than 500 miles of "endless plain," usually in May or June. (It's impossible to predict the actual movement, since it depends on the rainy season.) This is probably Africa's best-known and most-visited safari destination for the international visitor.

The Ngorongoro Crater may be the best place on earth to see lions, not to mention the endangered black rhino. The largest unflooded volcanic caldera in the world, this 12-mile-wide valley surrounded by 1,500-foot cliffs has especially heavy concentrations of said lion, elephant, hippos, and buffalo.
The Selous in the southern region is the second-largest game reserve in Africa (and the largest in Tanzania), yet virtually undeveloped for tourists. Perhaps because it is difficult to drive in—it's only possible in the dry season. So most visitors take charter flights from Dar Es Salaam. The reserve also has heavy concentrations of large game, though more spread out than in other regions. This is the choice in Tanzania for off-the-beaten path types.
The Tarangire is a wildly diverse park known for its elephants and huge gnarled baobab trees, which give it a prehistoric look.
Mt. Kilimanjaro provides the striking backdrop to many of your trips (its peak is visible from hundreds of miles away), and can be a destination in itself for those more interested in a mountaineering accomplishment rather than the more passive nature tour.
The mobile tented-camp safari is always our recommendation, as opposed to the permanent lodge. You'll sleep in large stand-up tents and move from place to place each night or two. Obviously, this requires portable tents, but the level of luxury can still be ridiculously high—huge, multi-room, stand-up tents, with private shower and toilet, sterling silver tableware, waiters keeping your wineglass filled. More typically, there is a communal shower and toilet tent, but the food and service is still very good. Mobile safaris get you off the beaten path, away from the lodge vehicles (which tend to do standard loops), and make close encounters with game—an elephant strolling through camp, a lion roaring in the night just outside your tent—much more likely. The deluxe version runs $400-$600 per person per day for a party of four. A notch down on the luxe scale, with slightly smaller tents, separate (although still private) showers and toilets, and not-quite-white-glove service, are $250-$375 per day (save about ten to twenty percent more if you share). Rock-bottom mobile "fly-camping" safaris, where you stay in small two-man pup tents at public campgrounds, help out with camp chores, and ride well-used vehicles with minimal staff, typically cost $75-150 per day.
There are other options, however, such as a balloon trip, a great way to view the migration in all its thundering glory. An accent to your stay in the Serengeti is an hour-long float above the vast herds in a hot-air balloon; the advantage here is the quiet (except for the intermittent roar of the propane burner) and mobility, although you follow the whims of the wind rather than the animals. Or the walking safari, the best way to live among the animals. The Serengeti prohibits them, but a few private game areas do allow you to walk along the plains.

David Noland is a full-time professional freelance writer specializing in adventure travel, sports, and science. His book, Travels Along the Edge , published in 1997 by Vintage Books, is now in its fourth printing.

Published: 30 Nov 1999 | Last Updated: 20 Nov 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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