Enduring long hours on tough roads and sleeping on campsites is the only way to enjoy a true safari experience. When you get up close to one of the 'Big 5' while heading back from the showers, you will know why.
The word 'safari' literally means journey in Swahili and if you are interested in seeing the game parks and savannahs of Eastern Africa, you have to be prepared to do just that – and lots of it.
Exodus' 17-day (including flights) Kenya and Tanzania Adventure for solo travellers is a great way to enjoy a true African experience: Safari parks plus a lot more besides.
After an 8-hour overnight flight to Nairobi, the first stop at Lake Naivasha is a truly idyllic spot and a welcome destination after such a long journey. It includes a visit to Elsemere and the house of Joy and George Adamson. Contrary to what the notes say, this is not one of the highlights of the trip (you will have many more experiences that will eclipse it enormously) but the opportunity to enjoy tea and cake on tame lawns set amid vibrantly wild surroundings is a very pleasant way to be eased in.
The excursion also involves a breathtaking trip across the Naivasha Lake and affords a close glimpse of the impressive Colobus monkeys that live on the estate. A small price to pay is the 20-minute dated VHS copy of a documentary about the Adamsons, which sends most people to sleep but does prove interesting in retrospect!
One of the worthwhile downsides of a trip that covers so many kilometres of Eastern Africa is the number of hours you'll spend inside a truck, so the farm walk excursion on offer the next day is highly recommendable. You may never again get as close to wild zebra or giraffe except from the safe confines of your vehicle. You will see hundreds of both these species throughout the two weeks of the trip, but if you’re like me you'll never get tired of them. (This is especially true of the giraffes – particularly watch out for the Rothschild variety).
The game drives you'll do this trip are packed into the first week. You'll be ready for something different by the end, but boy are they impressive while they last. The first one, in the Lake Nakuru National Park, is stirring stuff. After two days spent in the Serengeti it may seem like little more than a prep run, but we never got up close to lions or rhino in the Serengeti the way we did at Nakuru.
Aside from the sheer quantity and variety of wildlife you will doubtless see in the Serengeti, the sheer vastness of the savannah (Serengeti means 'endless plains' in Swahili) will bowl you over. An area the size of Northern Ireland, the park encompasses luscious greens, arid browns and all the tones in between.
Despite camping out in the wilds of the Serengeti Park, it wasn't until Ngorongoro that we had our real brush with nature. After much anticipation, mixed with a healthy dose of fear, about the night we would spend camping out in the middle of the giant park, we found the Serengeti camping experience enjoyable though ultimately rather tame. This may have been due to the presence of another expedition like ours.
In Ngorongoro, however, a fully-grown elephant wandered into the campsite about ten metres away from our tent. This may not be everyone's cup of tea, but for me it was one of the true highlights of the trip.
At the Ngorongoro crater you get another look at wildlife with another sort of 'mini safari', which personally my husband and I could have done without (or at least, could have done with being shorter). More interesting by far was our first encounter with the Masais. We even managed to get a photo of ourselves jumping with them (all at a cost I might add!) as we waited to be transported from Ngorongoro to our next destination (our truck had broken down in the middle of the Serengeti and was under repair).
The Arusha Snake Park was probably the least favourite of all our camping stops (it is dusty and at breakfast we were attacked by bees – with hindsight serving up jam and marmalade was probably unwise!) but the trip to the Masai museum and village more than makes up for it.
Incidentally, one of my personal favourite camping stops was by Lake Victoria. The colour of the sky as the sun set over the water was spellbinding – it was just a shame we had to rush to get our tent up before night fall.
The final camping stops, including two very chilled nights at the Marangu Hotel and another by the beach at Tanga in Dar Es Salaam, are a welcome chance to wind down. You’ll even be glad of the 5am starts in Marangu when you get to see Mount Kilimanjaro ‘undressed’ (i.e. without a covering of cloud) and in the rosy dawn light.
In terms of optional excursions we chose to visit the local village, including coffee and banana plantations, and the school. Much like the visit to the Masai village, this is a fascinating insight into the way people live. I’d recommend planning ahead for the school visit, by taking along some school resources. They will also come in handy when the headteacher tries to get you to hand over cash – not advisable.
Though we were sad to say goodbye to the truck (and one of our guides Tutu and cook Sami) at Dar Es Salaam, getting to Zanzibar afforded a fantastic sense of liberation – the first thing my husband and I did when we got to Stone Town was go for lunch at Archipelago. We enjoyed some exquisite fish (freshly-caught Marlin, very recommendable, and Tuna) and felt very relaxed facing a spectacular view of the beach.
Stone Town is a buzzing little place and it is well worth taking a walk around. People are generally very friendly and though they may harass you to buy something, they rarely become aggressive. The white-sanded beaches and snorkelling of the north of the island are not to be missed, but I could have happily stayed another day or so in Stone Town.