Tanzania in a Time of COVID

Oh my, to see the beauty of Tanzania and its abundance of wildlife was glorious!

Is it safe to travel to Tanzania? Yes! (Please note, I traveled in November, 2020 and 7 days upon my return home, tested negative for COVID.) I felt safer there than being back in the States. Mask compliance was very good in all the airports and on the planes but not so great in the lounges. Wearing a mask for 29-31 hours turned out to be not as bad as I expected and certainly worth being able to travel.

Tanzania only requires a temperature check and health form for entry. My Takims Holidays’ guide showed up in a mask and with hand sanitizer in the vehicle. At both Arusha properties, Gran Meliá and Onsea House, none of the staff wore masks, including at Hatari in Arusha National Park. Driving through Arusha, no one seemed to be wearing masks. From two different sources, there was a presidential mandatory mask mandate from March – May. In June, COVID seemed to disappear and everyone went about their normal activities.

Out in the bush, the staff at all safari lodges that we stayed in or did site inspections at, wore masks at all times when guests were present. Our fam group wore masks at site inspections and upon arrival at our camps. These ingenious hand washing stations with foot pedals were at all the tented camps and lodges. Hand sanitizers were in the tents/rooms and throughout the dining and lounge areas. Bottom line, we felt very safe and decided our “travel bubble” could go mask-less in our vehicle and while lounging….not that there’s much down time on a fam trip.

Without you seeing the huge smile on my face, I can’t adequately describe the joy and relief to be in the bush again and away from the daily reminder of all the COVID deaths in the US. It was truly a lightness of being and balm for the soul!

The Gran Meliá is a beautiful, new hotel in Arusha with all the Western comforts if that’s what your clients would like after a long flight from the States. No mask wearing but some in-room things like the remote and body lotions are in plastic.

Tarangire National Park is one of my favorite parks with Silale Swamp one of my favorite spots in the park. You’ll find a varied ecosystem with elephants and baobab trees being highlights. This is the first time I’ve been to Tarangire and not seen cheetahs, but our leopard sighting was amazing as she was in the tree, then down, and tried three times to take her baby zebra kill up the tree. She really wanted to, but it was too heavy. Birding was quite good with several types of hornbills, flying secretary birds, hamerkops and eagles. We also saw 10 tortoises and were trying to find the animal-spirit meaning of that unusual occurrence.

Tarangire is famous for its majestic baobab trees. I asked if that was a baby baobab tree as I had never seen one? (Apparently there is such a thing as a stupid question!) When Yusuf finally stopped laughing, he backed up and made me look more closely – it was a bush growing on top of a termite mound. He then explained that yes, I had never seen one as there are none, or very few. Elephants devour them as quickly as they sprout….a good laugh was had by all.

It’s always a little slice of heaven to spend two nights in the same place on a fam trip so luckily our two nights at Nimali Tarangire were delightful. With large en-suite, well-appointed tents plus a nice lounge, dining tent, good food, and attentive, friendly staff we were sad to leave. They also have two family tents with a plunge pool. The Nimali team performed the most energetic birthday song and dance I’ve ever seen – most fun!

It was my first time to visit Lake Eyasi and the Datoga and Hadzabe tribes, two of the few remaining bushmen tribes in Tanzania. Takims Holidays uses an informative, charming local guide for these experiences. It was fascinating to watch the Datoga blacksmiths in action – from melting metal items, making arrows and cooling them down in relatively short time.

Visiting and hunting with the Hadzabe tribe the next morning was also a new experience. They’re Tanzania’s only remaining tribe speaking a “click” language. Listen below:

Our Lake Eyasi accommodation was at Ziwani Lodge, a beautiful Moroccan style property with expansive views from the rooftop decks. My recommendation to Takims is this is a dry-season booking unless a few changes are made. Staff was limited which affected service but the few staff were friendly and did the best they could.

On to the Crater! I know some in the trade don’t go a second time but it’s always fun to see first-timers enjoy the world’s largest caldera and the diversity of wildlife. Of course it’s an even more enjoyable experience with fewer vehicles right now! Several lion sightings, an incredible serval cat by the side of the road, flamingos, hyenas, zebra, wildebeest and a distant rhino which completed our Tanzania Big Five.

We had our second flat tire on the way to Nomad’s Entamanu Ngorongoro so we enjoyed the sunset on our hike up the hill. A beautiful tented camp with stunning views, delicious food, great wine and attentive staff made our one night stay too short! The Crater can be a little cooler so fireplaces in the tents made for a cozy night. Our Maasai tribal visit nearby was sadly cancelled due to the pandemic.

On to the Serengeti! I personally love the drive from the Crater, through the Ngorongoro Plains into the Serengeti as it’s beautiful and a great way to see the country. Almost as soon as you pass through the Nabi Gate, you’re amazed with wildlife from topi to lionesses dragging an impala kill, to kori bustards, and then more lions. We got stuck in the mud twice, the second time we could not get out. On our way to Pioneer Camp for a site inspection and lunch, Yusuf called and they sent a rescue vehicle. It got stuck. Then a big yellow road truck showed up…..yep, it got stuck. We found shade under a nearby acacia tree, watched two early migration herds go by, and gave our own how-to-get-out input which no one listened to. With 9 Tanzanian guys seemingly having a good time helping, 3 stuck vehicles, snacks and water, we yelled, clapped and laughed at the unfolding OIA moments (only in Africa). A TANAPA ranger in a much lighter 4-wheel vehicle showed up and drove us to lunch which we ate at 5pm. The rescue vehicle finally got our Takims vehicle out and an excavator had to rescue the road truck. Of course this all made sense once we realized it was Friday the 13th!

Poor Yusuf was mud covered and exhausted but after a quick bite and clean-up, we made our way to the beautiful Lemala Nanyukie camp in Eastern Serengeti.  Another Takims vehicle was there with guests so Harry drove over to meet and escort us to Lemala. Tents are large with outdoor showers, plunge pools, charming bar / lounge area and separate dining tent, and lovely staff. Two nights there was heaven and on the second evening we enjoyed a sundowner with their Instagram famous Maasai askari, Mika.

Oh, the wildlife in the Serengeti is unsurpassed! The best hippo sighting I’ve ever had a Hippo Pool, a great cheetah sighting walking across the low-grass plains, 7 lionesses with 10 cubs playing in the drizzle after the rain that we waited out, this entire sighting to ourselves with no other vehicle. Stunning! in a short game drive on day 1, a full 2nd day and on the way to the Seronera airstrip the next morning, we counted 42 lions. Unbelievable!  Do keep in mind that Tanzania has the highest concentration of wildlife in all of Africa.

KLM cancelled all their Monday night flights out of Tanzania so I spent Sunday night at Onsea House, home of the renown chef, Axel Janssens. He was just arriving as we did and offered to whip up lunch which was delicious. I then had the pleasure of having dinner that evening, and thoroughly enjoyed the vegetarian 4 course dinner. Again, with limited guests and staff, the Machweo Wellness Retreat is closed and things could be a little sharper as I’ve seen in previous years. If clients are staying in Arusha for a couple of days, do book a lunch or dinner reservation at Onsea House.

I’d never been to Arusha National Park so Takims decided that’s what I should do on my extra day in country. What a pleasant surprise! It’s a mostly forested park and reminded me a little of India’s national parks. Famous for black and while colobus monkeys, giraffes, flamingos, and that magnificent fig tree, it did not disappoint. Yikes, I saw two venomous snakes there – the never before seen (by me) boomslang and beautiful green mamba! I stayed at Hatari Lodge which is charming old Africa style with each room different, and lovely views at the lounge / restaurant. One can canoe here, walk or hike up Mt. Meru. If you have clients who want a few days to get over jet lag, this is a wonderful place to start or end for a different safari experience.

Takims Holidays is one of Tanzania’s oldest licensed safari operators and one of the country’s best and most respected. A horrible year to be celebrating a 70th anniversary, nonetheless, 2020 is that anniversary! Third generation family owned and managed by three brothers, you will find them experts on all things Tanzania including the coast and all the islands. They own new vehicles, guides are experienced, well-trained full time employees and the family gives generously to many charities and the Serengeti De-Snaring program. As they own no lodges, Takims will customize itineraries geared specifically to your clients’ desired experiences and budgets. With strong connections to other boutique operators in East Africa, they can plan multi-country itineraries with one planner and payment.

I must add that no matter how rainy and muddy it is, your Takims‘ vehicle will show up spotless, inside and out, even between morning and afternoon game drives.

For more wildlife and lodge photos, please go to my Wanderlust Portfolio Facebook page.
kiki paris – 12/14/2020

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