Lonely Planet put Rwanda’s Akagera National Park in the top ten of New in Travel 2016, its miniguide to the world’s best new places to visit in 2016. The park came in third out of 31 incredible destinations.
In mid-2015, lions were introduced to the park after a 15-year absence from the country. Lonely Planet editor Matt Phillips writes that 2016 will be ideal for watching these magnificent creatures: “Once the pride establishes its stomping grounds sometime in early 2016, it will be easier for safari guides to locate lions for visitors.” And since Rwanda is more well-known for its mountain gorillas than its other safari creatures, crowds at Akagera are unlikely, leading to a wonderful experience out in the wilds.
Enjoy this music video of highlights from my recent trip to Tanzania! It was tough narrowing hours of video down to just a couple of minutes, but somehow we managed to get dozens of animals and five national parks in there. I think my favorite capture is the cheetah stalking and chasing its prey in the Serengeti. What’s your favorite footage?
Today I bid farewell to Tanzania’s mainland. I was sad to leave such a beautiful place, but excited for my next destination: Zanzibar, a Tanzanian island in the crystal blue waters of the Indian Ocean.
I spent this morning in the Serengeti in Pioneer Camp’s lounge, talking with the camp manager about local wildlife and enjoying the antics of the yellow-spotted rock hyraxes on a neighboring outcrop. One of them even climbed up toward the edge of the lounge platform to wish me a pleasant trip. (At least that’s what it looked like the creature was trying to communicate, going by the smile on its face.)
On our way to the Seronera Airstrip in the heart of Serengeti National Park, we came across a herd of hundreds of buffalo crossing the road in double- and triple-file. It was an astounding sight, with buffalo trailing toward both ends of the horizon as far as the eye could see. It’s the most buffalo I’ve ever seen at once. Our guide Modi said that they were all heading toward a watering hole down the hill. Cape buffalo don’t always travel in such large groups. But since the dry season has been long, watering places are fewer and farther between, so they were all headed to the same place.
We also saw a young male lion guarding a recent kill. Although adult males generally don’t hunt for themselves — leaving it to the females of the pride to do the work — young ones that haven’t yet found females to support them do hunt for themselves. We also saw two very well-fed female lions by the side of the road; they had eaten so much that their bellies were distended. Other members of the pride were scattered here and there in the grasslands behind them.
Last but not least, we saw a cheetah on the hunt. Unlike the cheetahs we say successfully hunt the other day, this one was by itself. When we first saw her, she seemed to have its eye on a group of mongooses that were running around under the trees. But as they came closer and she looked away, it became apparent that she was holding out hope for more substantial fare. There was a lone Thompson’s gazelle in a tree grove one- or two-hundred yards away, and she set her sights on it, moving so stealthily that we were certain she would bag this prey. But we were wrong: the Thompson’s gazelle managed to bolt away just in time.
And then it was time to say goodbye to our guide, Modi, and to the Serengeti. We got on our 13-passenger charter plane with Excel Air and flew to Zanzibar via Arusha, enjoying incredible views of the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and the Indian Ocean on our way.
The midday weather in Zanzibar was a change from the Serengeti. Not surprisingly, it felt like a tropical island: a bit hotter and more humid than the mainland, but with a refreshing ocean breeze that made up for the difference. The culture is different here, too. While the majority of the population here is ethnic Swahili, Zanzibar was colonized by Portugal, Oman, and Great Britain before becoming an independent state in 1963. In 1964, it merged with Tanganyika on the mainland to form Tanzania. Zanzibar holds an important port on the spice route, so Indian and Persian traders have also influenced the culture. Ninety-nine percent of Zanzibar residents are Muslim.
Upon our arrival in Zanzibar, we took a brief driving tour of Stone Town, the island’s historic and cultural center. With narrow streets and white building, the architecture is reminscent of a Middle Eastern market. There are plenty of shops where visitors can purchase art from the island and mainland, as well as restaurants that reflect the variety of cultures that are part of Zanzibar’s history: Indian, Persian, East African and Middle Eastern. Music fans take note: Stone Town is where Queen’s Freddie Mercury grew up, so make sure your guide points out his childhood home to you!
We drove along the coast to familiarize ourselves with the island, then checked in at Shooting Star Lodge for the evening. Located on a hill above a private beach, Shooting Star has a relaxed, bohemian feel that encourages guests to slow down and enjoy the island beauty. As the locals here say in Swahili: “Pole, pole!” (“Take it easy!”) Rooms are simply appointed with Indian, Persian and local fabrics, and most include a veranda with an ocean view. Next to the open-air lounge, an infinity pool for swimming overlooks the beach. It’s a great place to watch the sun rise over the ocean.
After the sun set, we had a great view of the southern sky. Thanks to the ocean, there weren’t a lot of lights to interfere with the view, and I saw many constellations that we don’t get to see in the northern hemisphere this time of year.