From the iconic spectacle of the Serengeti to the lesser known coastal National Parks, Tanzania offers the best of beach, bush and beyond. Mike Unwin discovers this adventure and what you could see on a cruise along the coast or by extending inland.
A shrill trumpeting pierced the tranquility of the late afternoon, like a police siren inside a hushed concert hall. I looked up, startled. We had been sipping our sundowners, enjoying the gentle murmur of doves winging to roost, but now there was no time to lose. We piled into thejeep, stowing glasses and grabbing cameras, as our driver Isack Mnyangabe bumped off towards the sound.Sure enough, we found them around the next corner: our first elephants. Isack killed the engine and we watched. Silent, except for two boisterous youngsters in their trumpeting dispute, the great grey beasts emerged like ghosts from the gathering dusk and trooped across a gap in the palm forest. As they caught our scent, each in turn began to raise their trunks, flap their ears, and quicken their shuffling steps. Soon the herd retrieved back into the forest, leaving dust to hang in their wake.
It was a magical moment and hard to believe that just hours earlier I had been walking along a beach, with the warm Indian Ocean lapping at my toes, watching the prawn fishermen cast their nets beyond the surf. Ghost crabs had scuttled away from my feet while dhows lined up along the horizon.
Bush or beach?
It’s a time-honored dilemma for the visitor to Tanzania. Do you chase after big game in the wild, dusty interior or slump on the sand beneath the coconut palms? The solution for many is to start with a cruise that allows you to embrace the beautiful coast and then head inland for a safari.
Our game viewing was not confined to a vehicle. Isack led us out on foot, stepping out from the lodge into the sun-bleached savannah. Here we played bush detective, identifying waterbuck and warthog from their cloven hoof prints. We also spotted hyena from its white-bone filled droppings and identified birds by their calls – from the liquid bubbling of coucals to the piercing whistles of a pearl-spotted owl.Giraffes watched us from the horizon, stock-still apart from their lashing tails, as Isaack squatted to examine a baboon skull beneath an acacia. ‘Leopard kill,’ he explained, running his fingers over the crushed cranium. Fresh lion tracks in a dry riverbed further on were confirmation that the predators were here, whether or not they chose to reveal themselves.
On day three we drove to the reserve’s southern boundary, passing soda lakes festooned with flamingos, and boarded a small motor boat to explore the winding Wami River. The dark water and thick overhanging vegetation had a suitable African Queen allure, with colobus monkeys dangling from overhanging mangrove trees and hippos popping up to snort their displeasure at our intrusion. The sight of a large crocodile basking on the bank, jaws agape, soon removed any idea of a dip.My final night saw us out on the beach around a driftwood blaze, encircled by lanterns, with the equatorial stars above. “Not too far,” called out Nick, the lodge manager, as I wandered down towards the moonlit surf. “Lions sometimes come down here after dark.” I looked down at a line of paw prints by my feet. Too small for lion. A civet, perhaps? Either way, the darkness beyond the camp suddenly seemed awfully dark, so I headed back to the firelight and laughter.
For the serious beach-goers, who also want to taste a little more of the local culture, Saadani is just a 20-minute hop from Zanzibar. Thus, in traditional fashion, I ended my Tanzanian tour on the historic spice island. From my lodge retreat in the quiet southwest, I could snorkel over spectacular coral gardens kaleidoscopic with reef fish. I could also brave the labyrinthine, spice-scented streets of Stone Town, with their ancient carved doors and chaotic fish market. Best of all, I could simply lounge on the beach and watch dolphins cross the bay at sunset.Of course, if neither bush nor beach is enough for you, there’s always the challenge of Kilimanjaro. Africa’s highest mountain lies close by the country’s northern safari circuit, equidistant between Serengeti and Zanzibar and – for those active vacationers– offers a five-day hike to the 5,895m summit and back. For my part, I was happy to admire the snow-capped crater from my window seat on the flight home. Next time, perhaps.
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