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Kenya and Tanzania: the really wild show

31 May 2022

Kenya – where a Princess became Queen in 1952 – and Tanzania not only offer incredible animal encounters but also epic landscapes and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Sarah Baxter takes in their wild splendour.

Leopard up a tree

Dawn out on the savannah. A delicate orange-pink glow is spreading over the endless plains, kissing the flat-topped acacia trees, creeping over the distant rocky hills. The air smells of fresh herbs, warming dust and untainted wilderness. And, with the Jeep’s engine turned off, the only sound is a light breeze tickling the long, pale grass. That is until, from somewhere in this epic scene, there comes an earthshaking, spine-tingling lion’s roar…

Nothing quite matches the raw drama of an African safari – with glimpses of big cats before breakfast; elephants almost close enough to touch; plains packed with wildebeest; and an unfathomable profusion of stars.

While there are many places to experience intimate wildlife encounters on this vast continent, the classic parks of Kenya and Tanzania remain some of the best. Every year the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which form one huge cross-border expanse of wilderness, play host to the largest migration of animals in the world. It is here that you’ll also discover pristine bush teeming with creatures and encounter some of the earliest evidence of our human ancestors. It’s also where you’ll find supremely comfortable lodges and expert guides who can spot a leopard from a thousand paces.

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Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, also has a wild nature. Yes, this is a thrumming hub of skyscrapers and commerce, but it also has a national park, an elephant orphanage and a giraffe centre.

Just a few hours south of the city – and just off the road to Ngorongoro – is Amboseli, which arguably provides the finest photo op in all of Africa. This national park lies in the shadow of mighty Mount Kilimanjaro; take a game drive into its rich swathe of swamps, wetlands, forests and grasslands to marvel at troupes of elephants parading in front of the 5,895-metre peak.

There’s plenty more to see in Amboseli – from Cape buffalo and cheetah to around 600 bird species – and its highlights can be included in a round trip from Nairobi of the classic parks, with transfers by road, in less than two weeks. This is also a good place to learn about the rich heritage and current lifestyles of the indigenous peoples of East Africa, particularly the Maasai, who live and herd cattle around the park, and who have shared their lands with the lions for centuries.

Tanzania lies just beyond Amboseli. Travelling on from the park, across the border, squeezing between the peaks of Kilimanjaro and the 4,565-metre Mount Meru, the Great Rift Valley continues to unfurl. Here you might see antelope prancing between the tussocks, trees heavy with weaverbird nests, lush coffee plantations and fields dotted with bulbous baobab trees.

Eventually you’ll reach Ngorongoro Crater. Over 20km wide and 600 metres deep, this UNESCO-listed volcanic feature is a showpiece for Mother Nature, featuring a cast of some 30,000 creatures. Driving over the rim to the crater floor, this is probably the best chance you’ll ever have of seeing the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) in a single day. There are endangered black rhinos nibbling the grasses, portly hippos wallowing in the pools and black-maned lions lazing in the shade. Pause for a picnic and you might be entertained by a dazzle of zebra or a cackle of spotted hyena.

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Ngorongoro was formed about two million years ago, when an exploding volcano collapsed in on itself. Olduvai Gorge, a few hours’ drive north-west, has been a similar amount of time in the making. The fossilised bones and stone tools of upright-walking hominins found here provide the most continuous and oldest record of human evolution. Standing in the gorge, amid the leopard tortoises and wild sisal, you can almost hear the scuff of those ancient feet.

Olduvai is a humbling stop en route to the Serengeti. In the Maasai language, Serengeti means ‘endless plains’, an apt name for nearly 15,000 sq km of wilderness hosting a bewildering array of animals. On game drives, all of life is played out, red in tooth and claw, with you in the front-row seat.

Time it right and this could include one of the most dramatic wildlife spectacles of all. The Great Migration is the year-round movement of a million-odd wildebeest – plus zebra and gazelle – into, out of and around the Serengeti ecosystem in search of good grazing. The river crossings in the northern Serengeti and Kenya’s Maasai Mara – which peak from June to October – are particularly intense when the migrating animals leap en masse into the water, battling hungry crocodiles to make it to the opposite bank.

Moving north, via bird-flocked Lake Victoria and clusters of Maasai villages, will see you back into the Maasai Mara. Joining game drives with good guides will reveal everything from the family of cheetah and the dash and thrash of the wildebeest to the tiny, long-trunked elephant shrew (one of Africa’s ‘Little Five’, along with the leopard tortoise, buffalo weaver, ant lion and rhinoceros beetle).

Indeed, there is magic of all sorts on a safari, be it ticking off the Big Five or Little Five, exchanging tales with new friends around a campfire, drifting off in a tented suite while listening to the grunting and howling nightlife outside, learning to decipher footprints, or watching heart-in-mouth as two alpha lions tussle in the dust. An African safari doesn’t just entertain and enthral, it gets under your skin, sinks deep into your soul.

Tip

Have a go at learning a few Swahili phrases – even if you only master jambo (hello) and asante (thank you), it’s polite to make the effort.

Take me there

The wonders of the nature reserves of East Africa can be experienced on Saga’s tour The Best of Kenya & Tanzania: Great Migration & Big Game Safari. The holiday takes in the Serengeti National Park and the Maasai Mara National Reserve, and guests stay in lodges and tented camps. There is also a visit to Olduvai Gorge.

The details

12 nights; holidays departing from 8 October 2022 to 4 November 2023; from £3,699 per person

Saga includes

  • 14 excursions
  • VIP door-to-door travel service
  • 31 meals
  • Return flights and transfers
  • Porterage at hotels and lodges

Book today

saga.co.uk/greatmigration or 0800 068 14190

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Disclaimer

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.