Rwanda & Tanzania

For Stewart

November 2016.

Safari: grasslands and great apes

Dear Stewart,

The United Republic of Tanzania is a country of geographic diversity; from the lofty heights of Kilimanjaro, the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, to the rolling plains of the Serengeti and the tropical beaches of Zanzibar, the spice island, Tanzania offers a unique African experience.

Two of Africa’s most celebrated wilderness areas—the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti—are located in northern Tanzania and boast some of the largest concentrations of game on the continent. The latter acts as a stage for annual migrations, when close to two million wildebeest, zebra and gazelle move through the Serengeti ecosystem. Within these areas of untraveled wilderness, preserved by limited accessibility, the land truly belongs to the animals. Mahale is situated on the sandy shores of Lake Tanganyika, the second deepest lake in the world, and offers an opportunity to trek with wild chimpanzees.

Tanzania is home to some of the earliest known human development: it was at Olduvai Gorge that the Leakey family made revelatory anthropological discoveries, and at Gombe Stream that Jane Goodall began to unlock the secrets of our cousins and our evolution.

Day 1: Arusha

Your guide, Salaash, will meet you today in Arusha, Tanzania, and you will have the evening free to enjoy dinner and settle in. Your lodging at Legendary Lodge offers a really comfortable night’s rest after your long flight.

Day 2: Sasakwa

Today you will fly from Arusha to Sasakwa and stay at Singita Sabora Lodge for three nights, where you will be able to visit with the apes.

In the northern reaches of Tanzania lies the Serengeti National Park and ecosystem. Covering a total area of 27,000 square kilometres, the Serengeti is a world heritage site with grasslands stretching from horizon to horizon, interrupted in places by acacia woodlands, huge granite outcrops known as kopjes, tree-lined rivers and, to the north, rolling hills and hidden valleys. Per our discussions, you will relish the chance to fall into the rhythm of life in this ecosystem, exploring remote and beautiful areas each day and returning to camp by night.

Each year, during the dry season, mighty herds exhaust the grazing in the southern areas of the system and migrate west and north in search of food. This leads them across the Grumeti River, and if successful, across the Mara River in the Lamai area, both of which are home to crocodiles. In addition to these animals, more than 500 bird species inhabit the Serengeti.

Based on your interests, I have arranged for you to stay at Singita Sabora Tented Camp, which is located in the Grumeti reserve and offers limited accommodation, ensuring that the environment is not severely impacted by human interactions. Singita Sabora uses canvas tent accommodations, reminiscent of the old-style explorers, but complete with modern amenities.

Activites will include dining in a wilderness setting beneath lamp-lit trees while immersed in the sounds of the African night. Sabora Tented Camp is ideally located to witness the drama of the annual Great Migration, which passes through this reserve in this time of year.

Days 5-9: Katavi

Today, you will take a charter flight from Sasakwa to Katavi, arriving in Chada Katavi for four nights.

In the remote far west of Tanzania lies Katavi National Park. Isolated and remote, Katavi extends across 4,471 square kilometres of flat alluvial plains, miombo woodlands, and surrounding rugged hills. The third largest park in Tanzania, it is named after a legendary hunter, Katavi, whose spirit supposedly rests within a tamarind tree near Lake Katavi.

Seasonal floodplains (known here as lakes), such as Katavi, Chada, and Katisunga, provide a focal point for game viewing. However, as the dry season wears on and water recedes, the large herds of buffalo, elephants, and plains game are forced towards the few remaining rivers that provide the sole source of drinking water. One of the more extraordinary sights in Katavi are the huge numbers of hippos that crowd into these pools of fetid water, as well as the crocodiles that pile on top of one another in caves along the river banks.

East of Lake Tanganyika, Chada Katavi is located in the heart of Katavi National Park. Discovered in the 1980’s, Chada was appreciated for its unequivocal beauty, remote location, and untouched quality. Beneath the dense shade of acacia and tamarind trees, the camp is situated on the edge of the Chada Plain and provides a view of passing elephant and buffalo herds. In the evenings, the animals wander through the camp separated from travelers by only the canvas tent walls. During daylight hours, a wide viewing deck provides a place to observe birds and other wildlife.

Meals will take place at either a long wooden table or on bush picnics, which offer an opportunity for watching over 400 avian species. Aided by expert guides, bush walks, game drives, and fly camping will allow you to observe herds of zebras, wildebeests, and giraffes, as well as the activity of lions, leopards, hyenas and hundreds of grunting, wide-mouthed hippo basking in the muddy rivers.

Days 9-12: Mahale

You will arrive in Mahale via charter to stay at Greystoke Mahale for three nights.

The Mahale Mountain National Park covers an area of 1,613 square kilometres, including a vast stretch of tropical forest that meets the pale, sandy shores and clear waters of Lake Tanganyika in far western Tanzania. Accessible only by air and boat, the park is a completely isolated sanctuary. It is a primate haven, showcasing the Blue Cluster Monkey, Red-tailed Monkey, Red Colobus, and Black and White Colobus. More than 800 chimpanzees reside here, and a selected group has been the topic of one of the longest research programs in history. Since the early 1960s, a team from the University of Kyoto has observed these chimpanzees in the wild, providing research-based insights into the world of man’s closest relatives. Mahale provides an opportunity to witness chimpanzees in their natural environment.

Near the forest, Lake Tanganyika’s vast body of unpolluted fresh water supports an array of native fish species, mainly from the Cichlid family. Activities will include taking a morning hike in the forest and spending the afternoon boating or kayaking on the lake.

While visiting the park, you will stay at Greystoke Mahale, a group of lodgings (bandas) constructed entirely of local materials, including the wood of the old, wrecked fishing dhows previously owned by local fisherman. Each banda looks out onto the white sand beaches and the lake beyond.

The central dining area is found on the beach, while the bar sits on the rocky headland to the north, providing the ideal place for watching the descent of the African sun in the evening.

There are a variety of activities offered both on land and on the waters of Lake Tanganyika, including snorkeling, fishing, swimming, and hiking the many forest trails leading up to the peaks overlooking the camp. The highlight of Greystoke Mahale, however, is the chimpanzees that inhabit the mountain forests.

Days 12-15: Rwanda

After an amazing few days with the chimps in Mahale, you will arrive in Rwanda to stay at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge for three nights. Your sojourn here will include two days of Gorilla Trekking.

The Republic of Rwanda is a small, mountainous country surrounded on all sides by land that encloses the watershed between two of the largest river systems in Africa—the Nile and the Congo. The high elevation means that the climate is temperate, with two rainy seasons and two dry seasons each year. Often referred to as ‘Pays des Mille Collines’ (‘Country of a Thousand Hills’), Rwanda presents a far different landscape from the grasslands of Tanzania.

Nyungwe National Park in the west is home to thirteen species of primates and 280 recorded species of bird life: one of the most diverse forest ecosystems in Africa. Within this ecosystem, the critically endangered mountain gorillas—made famous by the work of Diane Fossey and George Schaller and depicted in the motion picture ‘Gorillas in the Mist’—are Rwanda’s main attraction. These majestic creatures are found in the forests flanking the slopes of the Virunga Mountains in the northwest of the country.

The Volcanoes National Park lies in northwestern Rwanda and encompasses an area of 160 square kilometres. The park’s biosphere ranges from dense evergreen rainforest to bamboo forest, and from open grassland to swamp and heath. The slopes of these ancient volcanoes overlook the forest and terraced hillsides characteristic of the Rwandan landscape.

A variety of wildlife dwells here, including Black-fronted Duikers, buffaloes, Spotted Hyenas, and bushbucks. Bird life here is diverse as well, with more than 170 species recorded, including thirteen species and sixteen subspecies that are endemic to the area. The park is best known as a haven to the rare Mountain Gorilla; only 750 of these gentle giants survive today, and eight families of gorillas are known to inhabit the park. So much to see, so much to savor—because you have three days here, you will be able to take the time to explore habitats and species that interest you.

Day 15: Departure

Your trip concludes today. As you doze off to sleep on your flight home, a heart-stopping array of birds, primates, and plant species, so recently part of your day-to-day life, may dance across your eyelids.

It has been my pleasure to plan this itinerary for your Grasslands and Great Apes Safari. Please feel free to contact me at any time, should the need arise.