Rwanda doubles gorilla permit fees

In an extraordinary move, and with almost no notice, in early May Rwanda doubled the cost of their gorilla permits for new bookings from an already expensive $750 per permit, to a truly eye-watering $1,500!

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We can only assume that their belief is that the unique attraction of the gorillas will outweigh the huge increase in cost and visitors will keep coming.  In a move to extend visitor stays in Rwanda beyond the usual 3 to 4 day gorilla visit, you can get a 30% discount on the gorilla permit if you also stay a further 3 nights in one of Rwanda’s other parks such as Nyungwe Forest or Akagera National Park.

We are hugely disappointed by this move as it restricts a unique wildlife experience to an even fewer selection of even wealthier visitors; visitors who go back and tell their friends and gorillas really do need all the friends they can get.  In some wildlife and conservation areas, fewer numbers of visitors paying higher fees may have environmental benefits, but it’s hard to see this being the case here, with visitor numbers already restricted to 8 visitors per gorilla family per day for one hour only.  I imagine all the lodge, service industries, porters and other people reliant on a good stream of visitors are extremely nervous looking forward.

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Gorilla watching.

Given we would normally encourage guests to do two gorilla treks over two days to see two different families, the new cost would be $6,000 for a couple for the permits alone!  Interestingly, Uganda has immediately responded by confirming they will be keeping their permit fee at $600 each, for at least 12 months and there is already evidence of Uganda being booked in preference to Rwanda, so Uganda could well become the gorilla destination of choice – you’ll need to book early to guarantee a permit.

And what of the most important factor of all – the gorillas?  The mountain gorillas of the Virunga Mountain range, found only in a small pocket of Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo, number only some 900 or so in the world, but they are also the only population of great apes on the planet whose numbers are actually increasing.  There is no doubt that this increase is due to the protection from poaching, the veterinary care and the habitat preservation that is all funded by gorilla tourism.  We can all just hope that Rwanda has not ‘killed the goose that laid the golden eggs’.  Fingers crossed!

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Fingers crossed!

Gorilla family

Silverback with family.

 

Do get in touch on Andrew@journeyintoafrica if you want help and advice on seeing the magnificent mountain gorillas and other classic African wildlife.

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The Great Migration 2015 Update!

It’s been a tough year for the migrating herds so far this year. Those hundreds of thousands of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle who had marched down from Kenya and Tanzania’s northern Serengeti towards the end of last year found that the short rains of November had been poor and whilst some expected rain fell in December and January, by February things were really drying up.

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If that wasn’t enough February is probably the most important month in the wildebeest calendar as the ‘synchronised’ calving takes place and around 250,0000 calves are born in a four week period. Along with the gnus, it’s peak time for zebra foals and gazelle fawns, not to mention lion and cheetah cubs and hyena and jackal pups.

It’s supposed to be a time of plenty when the herds can wander around the nutrient-rich short grass plains, following the rainstorms for the best grazing and water.   Not moving far gives the mothers the best chance to produce the most milk and for the young calves to gather their strength before the main migration north in May and June. But not this year as 2 million large animals quickly ate all the grazing available in the vicinity of the Ndutu woodlands and then were forced to move north in search of new pasture.

Large scale movement of the herds at this time is dangerous for the calves for two reasons: they are not yet strong enough move such distances and still thrive and the very fact of moving means that more young are likely to be separated from their mothers. In March we tracked the big herds to north of Seronera,, way beyond where they should have been, and even after this long trek, the grazing there was worse than the plains they had left to the south. There were some truly miserable looking calves!

And it wasn’t just the grazers, 3 five month old lion cubs among the rocks of the Gol Kopjes were also hungry and forlorn. They’d been born at the right time of the year, in what should have been the right place but the once lively plans were now empty of the great herds and it’s always the cubs that suffer first.

Fortunately the ‘long rains’ started in the second week of April, only slightly late and the herds immediately smelt the rain and moved south and are now back on the short grass plains. The calves will be happy, as will the lion cubs, but undoubtedly in years like this, the survival rate will be lower than the average – it’s al part of nature’s way of maintaining a balance.

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In spite of some struggling calves, the game viewing was as good as ever, a pack of 25 wild dog in Tarangire a particular treat and whilst most of the wildebeest may have been further north, the sight of tens of thousands of gazelle in the early morning light at Ndutu made for a stirring sight each morning, and the cheetah and the leopard were as photogenic as ever and these young cheetah eventually managed to dig out the hare that they’d chased into a burrow.

Elephant viewing in Tarangire was excellent and the rhinos in the Ngorongoro Crater very helpful, whilst Masai dancing at sunset in a remote rocky kopje will always make the hair stand up on the back of your neck —there is never a bad safari in Tanzania!

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Join me to see the second part of Tanzania’s great migration, the river crossings, in September of this year, get in touch soon for further details – just 4 places left!

Andrew

Contact us at  info@journeyintoafrica.com for help in planning your perfect safari.  Bespoke safaris arranged for from 1 to 14 people – the options, and opportunities, are endless!

The Top African Safari Destinations!

I hope you enjoyed my Top Ten safari destinations, and maybe you disagreed with some of them?  Of course. it’s all subjective and why didn’t I include Etosha? Or Mana Pools or Kruger?

The truth is there’s just too many great places to go on safari in Africa and so much depends on what you want to see, how you want to travel and whether the most wildlife, the fewest people or a mix of culture, scenery and animals is most important to you.  And don’t try to fit too many destinations into one trip, you could fit three of my Top Ten into a safari to Northern Tanzania, but trying to combine East Africa and Southern Africa is just too much unless you have a momth free and even then spending much more than two weeks actually on a regular safari is enough for most people.  If you have enough time and money at your disposal, breaking up your long safari with other actitivities such as mountain trekking, time at the coast or gorilla trekking, makes a good change.

Wherever you go, get expert advice, plan it well and just do it – you’ll have  memories to last a lifetime!

Contact us at  info@journeyintoafrica.com for help in planning your perfect safari.  Bespoke safaris arranged for from 1 to 14 people – the options, and opportunities, are endless!

Masai on Serengeti Plains

Masai Morani crossing the plains in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

The Serengeti National Park

Those of you who have spent time on safari with me will not be surprised by my final choice: no. 10 out of 10 on my Top Safari Destinations is Tanzania’s magnificent and awe-inspiring Serengeti National Park!12764

Where: Situated in north-western Tanzania, bordering Kenya’s Masai Marra to the north which is part of the same ecosystem, and reaching almost to Lake Victoria to the west and contiguous with the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to the east, the Serengeti  itself is over 5,500 sq miles but its complete ecosystem is very much larger.    You can fly in and out of the Serengeti via around a one hour scheduled flight from Arusha, but I generally advise driving one way in and flying out at the end, to see the people and cultures of northern Tanzania and take in a number of its other great wildlife destinations.

Why: Simply unmatched for sheer numbers of wildlife and spectacular and varied scenery.  The largest migration of large animals on earth is to be found here with an estimated 1.4 million wildebeest, 400,000 Thomson’s gazelle, 300,000 zebra, Grants gazelle, topi, impala and giraffe amongst many others.  This attracts plenty of predators and the Serengeti is an excellent place to watch lion, cheetah, leopard, hyena and jackal during the day.  Irrespective of the wildlife, including terrific birding, it’s the sheer size, scope and beauty of the Park which makes it so memorable.

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When: The Serengeti is dominated by the great migration, which is a year-round search for food and water, so the great herds can be found at any time of the year, but there are easier and more dependable times than others.  Most people choose to avoid the ‘long’ rains of April and early May and the ‘short’ rains of November into December, and the most dependable times for finding the big herds are on the short grass plains of the south in December to May and the dry season grazing grounds to the north in July to September. Having said all of that, one of the most exciting times is the movement off the plains during the wildebeest rut, in late May to June, when the herds form massive groups and collect on the edge of the woodland.  The difficulty is that the timing of the movement is weather-dependent, making it a matter of luck when you’re arrangng a safari many months ahead.  Calving time for the wildebeest is in February, when around 250,000 calves are born in a four week period, making February and March one of my favourite times.

Where in the Park: Again, determined by the great migration, but in general in the early part of the year, December to May you should be on or around the short grass plains to the south, where the wildebeest calve, whilst in the dry season of July to September you should be in the northern Serengeti, where you can see the zebra and wildebeest crossing the Mara River and braving the crocs and strong currents.  The western corridor is good in the June to August time and central Serengeti around Seronera is particularly good in the dry season.  Don’t forget, being in the right part of the Serengeti at the right time of the year is critical.  It seems a lot of visitors are told ‘it’s all the Serengeti’ or even that Kenya’s ‘Masai Mara is part of the Serengeti’; that might be true in ecosystem terms,  but in terms of wildlife viewing, you should maximise your chances by being in the right place – you really don’t want to be a four hour drive from the heart of the action!

How long: You need at least 3 nights in the Serengeti, 5 if you’re going to visit more than one camp and area.  You could however spend a lifetime here – I’ve spent over 2 years of my life in the Serengeti and there are many, many places I have yet to see!

What to do : Game viewing by safari vehicle is the main activity here and it has to be remembered that walking is not allowed in most areas of the park.  Game viewing by 4 x 4 vehicle undoubtedly gives the best opportunities to game view the wildlife and to see as much of the  park as possible, but if you want a real wilderness walking experience there are now just a very few operators with a licence to guide walking safaris within certain areas of the park.  If you do this, you will see no one else for the whole of your walking safari – exclusive wild Africa at its best!

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My View:  Simply the best!  The variety, the scope and the sheer numbers of animals is unmatched.  The Serengeti has become more popular, so you don’t want to spend your time there in a large lodge, game viewing along the popular roads, you need a small camp and do your game viewing in the remoter areas – then you are in for an unmatched treat!  This takes planning and attention to detail but you will have seen the ultimate wildlife destination!

For more information on the Serengeti and Tanzania’s other destinations visit: www.journeyintoafrica.com

Or to see the Serengeti in the right way, contact us on : info@journeyintoafrica.com
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The Luangwa Valley

No 9 on my Top Ten African Safari destinations is Zambia’s Luangwa Valley, long renowned for its leopard sightings, range of reasonably accessible wildlife and the ‘home’ of the walking safari.

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Where: Head by light aircraft north-east of Zambia’s capital Lusaka, most visitors fly into the Mfuwe Airstrip on scheduled flights.

Why: Lovely secnery and plenty of wildlife, including good herds of elephant, some huge bufaalo herds, good lion and terrific numbers of hippo and crocodile.  The Luangwa is renowned for its leopard sightings, particularly at night using a spotlight and for its excellent walking safaris. Some small and very genuine safari camps add hugely to the safari experience.

When: The Luangwa Valley is at its best in the dry season, June to October and although later into the dry season before the November rains it can get very hot , (the brain-fever season!), the  game viewing is also at its best as the number of hippo and crocs in the rapidy diminishing Luangwa River can be astonishing, and much wildlife is drawn to the river banks.

During Luangwa’s off-season, the ‘Emerald season’, game viewing is harder, but to compensate there are plenty of young around, the vegetation is green and verdant, there are low season prices at the camps and the photography light and birding is at its best!

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Where in the Park: South Luangwa has the most visitors and probably the easiest and most accessible game viewing, but even here going further south away from the Mfuwe area gives some lovely wilderness experiences.  North Luangwa has fewer people, fewer camps and fewer roads and tracks, and hence is more of a walking safari destination.

How long: You need at least 4 nights in the Luangwa, 6 nights or more if you want to visit two or more camps properly.

What to do: Game viewing by open safari vehicle, including night game drives with a spotlight to look for nocturnal animals, as well as escorted game walks from many camps.  Zambia has a very well-developed walking safari system using licensed walking guides working in tandem with a park ramger scout.  From some camps it’s possible to walk to the next camp – a wonderful way to arrive at an African bush camp.

My View:  A great alternative to Tanzania or Botswana particularly for those looking for a real walking safari. Combining Luangwa with some of Zambia’s other great parks such as Kafue or the Lower Zambezi and  finishing at the incomparable Victoria Falls makes Zambia a favoured safari destination for many.

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For more information on the Luangwa and Zambia’s safari destinations visit: www.journeyintoafrica.com

Or contact us on : info@journeyintoafrica.com

Next on the Top Ten – the finale – No 10:  the famous Serengeti National Park.

 

The Selous Game Reserve

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Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve has gained almost mythical status within safari circles, as the largest game reserve on the continent, home to the most animals and was always renowned as a place with very few visitors.  Great numbers of elephant and lion, as well as hippo and crocs on the Rufiji River.  Named after the famous hunter turned conservationaist, Frederick Selous, it was also home to some action during the First World War.

Selous

Where:   Located around a one hour flight or an eight hour drive west of Dar Es Salaam in southern Tanzania, with easy access by scheduled flights to the other southern Tanzanian parks or the island of Zanzibar.

Why:  The scope of the Selous is huge : over 22,000 square miles making it almost four times the size of the Serengeti, with many opportunities for game walks and, boat trips as well as game drives.  It is this range of activities along with the relative remoteness and exclusivity of the safari experience that makes the Selous such a draw.

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When: The Selous is more geographically and climatically similar to Southern Africa than the rest of East Africa, and so its game viewing is at its best during the dry season from June to October.  Even then, be aware that the sheer size of the Reserve makes statistics deceptive: the Selous might have the biggest populations of elephant and lion in East Africa, but the elephant herds are much smaller and often shyer than in other areas and there is a huge amount of cover to hide in – even for an elephant!

Where in the Reserve: Don’t be fooled by the size of the Selous.  Although it’s over 22,000 sq. miles in size, in reality it’s only the portion, around a sixth of the Reserve, north of the Rufiji River which is readily accessible to visitors, whilst much of the southern portion is relatively uninteresting and hard to get through, miombo woodland.   Most camps are therefore located along the river and beautiful floodplains that surround it,  This is also the most game-rich area with good numbers of predators including opportunities to see the endangered wild dog.

How long: You need at least 3 nights in the Selous, 4 or 5 if you want to visit two camps.

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What to do: Game viewing by open safari vehicle, as well as escorted game walks and boat trips on the Rufiiji River.  Longer walking safaris and fly camps are also possibilitiies from some camps.  Terrific bird watching particularly in the flood plain areas and along the river.

My View:  A place for the safari connoisseur!  You need to want to use the activities on offer in the Selous: walking and boats as well as game drives and to be prepared to work a little harder for your game than in the parks to the north. In short, that you are prepared to sacrifice the big herds and easier game viewing of the northern parks to enjoy a more pristine, wilderness safari experience  with extra activities.   Easy access to Zanzibar makes the Selous an ideal choice if you want to combine safari and beach and are short of time.
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For more information on the Selous and Tanzania’s other safari destinations visit: www.journeyintoafrica.com

Or contact us on : info@journeyintoafrica.com

Next on the Top Ten – Zambia’s Luangwa National Park.

Samburu National Reserves.

This is number 7 of my Top Ten, simply because it provides the opportunity to see some unusual species in comparison to the rest of East Africa!

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Where: Located in northern Kenya, a flight from Nairobi or a long drive that can take in Mount Kenya and other interesting areas.

Why: Unusually amongst East Africa’s parks, Samburu offers a number of dry area, or desert-adapted species more commonly associated with the deserts of northern or southern Africa.  These include oryx, gerenuk and the Somali ostrich, but also present are reticulated giraffe and Grevy’s zebra.  The proud and colourfully and exotically dressed Samburu people live in this area and are often employed in the camps, providing an interesting cultural aspect to the visit.   There are some wonderfully remote and scenically spectacular areas outside the reserve offering great desert-type vistas.

When: Samburu is open year round but game viewing tends to be at its best during the dry season, June to October when wildlife is drawn to the waters of the Ewaso Ng’iro River.  Unfortunately due to holiday season this is also the busiest time for visitors to Samburu.

Where: The Samburu Reserve itself is small at only 165 sq.km and does have the most dense concentrations of big game: elephants, crocodiles and all the big cat species can be found here, but it also has the highest density of lodges and camps, meaning it is heavily used by safari vehicles.  Staying in one of the more upmarket camps outside the reserce will help avoid the congestion, spending time in the more remote areas and coming into the reserve itself for your big game ‘fix’.

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How long: You need at least 2 nights in Samburu, preferably 3 if you have the time.

What to do: Game viewing by vehicle is the option inside the Reserve, but if you are staying outside walking safaris and balloon trips are possibilities.

My View: The game viewing in Samburu is unusual and can be terrific.  You have to decide if the crowds will bother you, if so, either give Samburu a miss or stay outside of the Reserve.  If you are a first time safari-traveller, seeing the spectacular oryx and gerenuk, not to mention reticulated giraffe will probably make the visitor traffic worthwhile!

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For more information on Samburu and Kenya’s other safari destinations visit: www.journeyintoafrica.com

Or contact us on : info@journeyintoafrica.com

Next on the Top Ten – the Selous Game Reserve.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest!   The name alone is enough to conjure up exotic images, and with gorillas, chimpanzees, other primates and a host of fascinating bird species, this is a safari destination for those looking for something different and is number 6 on my list of Top Ten African wildlife safari destinations.

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Where: Located in south-western Uganda, close to the border with both Rwanda and the Congo, with whom Uganda shares the last habitats of the endangered mountain gorillas.   A one and half hour light aircraft flight from Entebbe, or a nine hour drive from Kampala.  Alternatively Bwindi can be reached from Rwanda’s capital Kigali by road around four hours drive plus the border crossing.

Why: Gorillas!  The endangered mountain gorillas are the big draw of which almost half the world’s population live in Bwindi, with a number of habituated families allowing the fantastic and unique experience of sitting just 7 metres from a family of wild gorillas in their natural habitat for one hour.  Bwindi does though, have much more to offer, with a number of other primates regularly seen including red-tailed monkeys, L’Hoescht monkey, black and white colobus and grey-cheeked mangabeys.   Walking in the forest is fascinating and a number of waterfalls can be viewed in some areas.  In total Bwindi has 120 species of mammals and a bird list of 348 species making it a hotspot as a birding destination – even the most avowed non-birder is impressed by the Great Blue Turaco!

When: Gorilla viewing in Bwindi is year round, but avoiding the rainy seasons of March and April and mid-September to November is advisable.  As Bwindi is a mountainous area at around 6 to 8000 ft above sea level, rain is possible at any time of the year.

Where: The Buhoma area of Bwindi is the most visited with most gorilla permits available, whilst the Nkuringo area to the south is harder to get to, but is reached via very beautiful scenery, the ‘The Little Switzerland of Africa’, and has astonishing views over the volcanoes of Rwanda and the Congo.

Bwindi Forest walk

 How long: If you can afford the permits, allow time for two days of gorilla trekking to see two different families, you’ll enjoy both days and will give you the chance to watch these great apes more closely.  If you have time, and are looking for something unusual, it’s possible to arrange to walk with a ranger from the Nkuringo area to Buhoma.  With 2 nights and a gorilla trek in each area, and a fabulous 5 hour walk in between, this will give you a real view of Bwindi!

What to do: Gorilla trekking involves an early start and can take from half an hour to up to eight hours walking – if you find yourself on a longer day, you won’t have much time for much else!  If you find the gorillas quickly, walks to waterfalls and village visits on the edge of the Bwindi Forest are possible.   The park rangers try to put clients in the right group, maximum of eight, depending on their walking ability and fitness, but there are no guarantees you won’t have a long walk – the gorillas move!

My View: Viewing the mountain gorillas is undoubtedly one of the great wildlife experiences.  There is nothing like it, and combined with the stunning scenery and wonderfully friendly people of Uganda, it makes for a great destination which can fairly easily be turned into a longer safari taking in Queen Elizabeth National Park, with its elephant and lion and the relatively easily seen chimps and other wildlife of Kibale Forest.

Buhoma Lodge

For more information on Bwindi and Uganda’s other safari destinations visit: www.journeyintoafrica.com

Or contact us on : info@journeyintoafrica.com

Next on the Top Ten – Kenya’s Samburu Reserves.

Chobe National Park and the Kwando and Linyanti River systems.

Chobe National Park and the Kwando and Linyanti river systems is fifth on my list of  Top Ten African safari destinations   You could argue I’m cheating as they are not one place and certainly not one park, however as the Kwando River becomes the Linyanti River which in turn becomes the Chobe River before it flows into the mighty Zambezi River, I feel justified in putting them together!

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Where: Located in northern Botswana, the Chobe National Park borders the town of Kasane, easily reached by air or overland from Victoria Falls.  Access to the Linyanti or Kwando Rivers is normally by air from Kasane or Maun.

Why: Unbelieveable numbers of large herbivores: buffalo, hippo and especially elephant gather along the Chobe water-front particularly during the dry season in vast herds – it’s a quite extraordinary sight!.   The Savuti area of Chobe and both the Kwando and Linyanti have good numbers of lion and leopard and offer great predator viewing.  Kwando in particular, has a consistent record of excellent wild dog sightings, the Painted Wolves of Africa, one of Africa’s most endangered predators.

The area has small and excellent all-inclusive camps, great guiding and the concession areas outside of the park allow for a very exclusive safari experience including night drives, game walks and off-road game driving

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When: Game viewing in Northern Botswana is at its best in the dry season from July to October when the wildlife is drawn off the surrounding areas to the permanent waters of the rivers and swamps, but beware it can be very cold at night in the June to August period and very hot in October in the day!  Vegetation cover is also low at this time making for easier game viewing; during the early part of the yeat December to March, you should expect to see fewer animals, but the light is clearer for photographs, bird-watching is at its best and some camps offer considerable savings of up to 60% on the high season prices.

Where: The Chobe waterfront is the most game-rich region in the dry season, but also has the most visitor traffic – it’s hard to get an exclusive game viewing experience at this time of the year by vehicle or boat.  The concession areas of Kwando and the Linyanti offer much more personalised and exclusive viewing, but are harder to get to, and in general offer smaller, more expensive camps.

How long: I recommend a 3 night stay at Kwando or Linyanti and 2 nights at the Chobe water-front area.

What to do: Game viewing by 4 x 4 and by boat is on offer along the Chobe River; during the dry season this is a great place for watching elephant in water who regularly swim across the Chobe River in fromt of the boats.  Birdwatching plus hippo and crocodile watching, amongst many other species, can also be excellent from the boats.  The concession areas of Kwando and Linyanti offer game drives, both day and night as well as game walks and boat excursions from many camps.

 My View:  Fantastic game viewing areas and terrific camps make this one of Africa’s top safari areas, with a great range of safari activities available.  If you can afford the high season prices at the smaller camps, you’ll get a truly pristine wildlife safari experience!

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For more information on Chobe, Kwando and the Linyantu and Botswana’s other safari destinations visit: www.journeyintoafrica.com

Or contact us on : info@journeyintoafrica.com

Next on the Top Ten – Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

Tarangire National Park

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Tarangire National Park is fourth on my list of  Top Ten African safari destinations, and is a firm favourite with many visitors, often surpassing its more famous neighbours the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti.  The combination of awesome scenery, baobab trees and the best elephant viewing in Tanzania is hugely popular.

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Where: Located in northern Tanzania, 1 & 1/2 hours drive west of Arusha along an excellent road., Tarangire is an easily accessible part of Tanzania’s northern circuit.

Why: Elephants and baobabs amongst others!  Tarangire is a fantastic place to watch elephant with many family groups visible in open parkland type habitat, and when coupled with the hugely characterful baobab trees offer great photographic opportunities.   Lion and leopard are present year round along with buffalo and giraffe with large herds of wildebeest and zebra entering the park in the dry season.

When: Tarangire is lovely at any time of the year and there are always elephants present but during the dry season, particularly from July into October, the game viewing can be truly exceptional, with grass cover lower and huge herds of wildebeest, zebra, buffalo and elephant coming to the waters of the Tarangire River off the Lolkisale and Simanjiro Plains to the east.

Where: Anywhere in the park is great, the camps to the north near the main entrance gate experience more visitor traffic.but are easier to get to and have less of the annoying tsetse flies particularly outside the dry season months.  Further south in the park the camps are smaller and more exclusive.  Personally I always choose a camp in the park over one outside, even allowing for some very lovely camps on the eastern side of the park – it’s just better to be at the heart of the action!

How long: A minimum of one night outside the dry season, but 3 or 4 is great during the July to October period.

What to do: Game drives are the main option in Tarangire, but some of the smaller exclusive camps in the more remote areas have licensed walking guides for walking safaris.

My view: Fantastic!  Go and see it for yourself!

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For more information on Tarangire and Tanzania’s other safari destinations visit: www.journeyintoafrica.com

Or contact us on : info@journeyintoafrica.com

Next on the Top Ten – Chobe National Park and the Kwando and Linyanti Rivers.