An Investigative Safari to Northern Tanzania in August 2020 - is it possible to travel during Covid19?
The simple answer is yes! I have recently returned from a visit to Tanzania in August 2020. I wanted to travel to see how the country is welcoming back international visitors and the steps they are taking to ensure that visitors stay well and healthy during their safari.
We travelled with Ethiopian Airways via Addis Ababa – there are other options including KLM via Amsterdam and Kenya Airways (currently, if travelling with Kenya Airways you would need to have a Covid19 test 96 hours before you board the aircraft). You will have to wear a face covering at the airports and whilst on the aircraft. You can take off your facecovering to eat and drink.
There are now insurance providers who are offering travel insurance to travellers wanting to visit Africa and which provide full cover for Covid19. Perhaps the only other limitation is currently whether or not you can self-isolate for 14 days on return to the UK.
We were fully insured to travel, and the self-isolation was not a problem, so we flew on the 14th August 2020 landing into Kilimanjaro the next day. On arrival into Kilimanjaro international airport we had our temperatures taken and filled in arrival and health forms before passing through security – we had already purchased our entrance visa online and the airport experience was quick and efficient with all passengers keeping a good distance from each other.
We were met at the airport and our bags were sprayed with disinfectant and we were asked to gel our hands and wear our masks in the transfer vehicle. On arrival at Rivertrees we were again sprayed with disinfectant, asked to gel our hands and checked in. We arrived quite late in the evening and we visited the restaurant for a delicious meal before retiring to bed. All the staff were very aware of keeping a distance and wearing a face covering yet were very friendly and accommodating.
The next day we met our guide and set off on our 12-night odyssey around the northern parks of Tanzania visiting Tarangire, Lake Manyara, the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. We soon formed a ‘bubble’ with our driver guide as we were travelling together for some time. This was a mutual agreement and the guide would have quite happily worn his mask every day if we had asked him to. We wore our masks in camp and when meeting local people outside the vehicle.
Driving through the villages of northern Tanzania it was explained to us by our guide that there had been a small number of Covid19 infections, but the numbers were small and nowhere near some of the countries in Europe and the Americas. Local people were not required to wear face coverings when out and about but there were many hand washing stations in the street - it is a requirement to wash your hands before entering a market for example.
The vast majority of lodges and camps we visited and stayed at adhered to social distancing, the wearing of face coverings and insisted that we washed or gelled our hands before entering the camp. Out of the entire 12 nights there was just one camp where we felt that the rules were not being followed carefully.
Many of the camps we visited were empty apart from us so we had the whole camp to ourselves. This also applied to the surrounding areas whilst game driving which was a real treat for us – especially during August. The lack of visitors is not good news for Tanzanian camps and safari operators, and it has been an especially hard time for tourism in Tanzania. Many, many people rely on international visitors for their livelihoods and August is normally a time where the camps are full. Despite Covid19 Tanzanians are keen to work again as many people within an extended family can rely on one job holder as a source of income or education. Furlough just does not exist in Tanzania.
The other big problem when few visitors are travelling around the national parks is that poaching may start up again – the rangers in parks are having to cover more ground to ensure that the wildlife stays safe. But with little income from visitors the national parks are struggling financially, and rangers may not get paid for months.
Our first stop on our journey was Tarangire National Park - around 2 hours drive on a good road from Arusha. Once at the park gates we opened up the roof and the wildlife viewing commenced. Tarangire gets its name from the Tarangire River which flows through the park - being the only source of water for wild animals during dry seasons. The hilly landscape is dotted with vast numbers of Baobab trees, dense bush and high grasses and the park is famous for its huge number of elephants, buffalo and the tree climbing lions.
During the dry season thousands of animals migrate to the Tarangire National Park from Manyara including wildebeest, zebra, eland, hartebeest, buffalo and oryx. Giraffes, warthogs, reedbucks and other antelope maintain predators such as leopard and large prides of lion.
Home to more than 550 species, the park is a haven for bird enthusiasts who can expect so see dozens of species even in the dry season. The swamps are the focus of the largest selection of breeding birds anywhere in the world. Yellow-collared-lovebirds are a common bird sighting in the trees along the Tarangire River. We stayed at Kuro Tarangire, Oliver’s Camp and Lemala Mpingo Ridge.
After Tarangire we headed over to the Ngorongoro Crater, stopping at Lake Manyara for a game drive enroute. When we visited the lake was very full and areas around the lake side were flooded. The park has a large variety of habitats, making it possible to support a wealth of wildlife in its small area. The main habitats include the shallow soda lake itself which occupies 70% of the National Park total area, the ground water forest, open grassland, acacia woodland and the rift wall. The forested areas are stunning and provide shade during the heat of the day.
The most famous spectacle in the park are the tree-climbing lions, which are occasionally seen along branches of acacia trees. Other animals found in the park include buffalo, elephants, leopards, baboons, impala, giraffes, zebra, wildebeest, ostrich and hippos.
Lake Manyara National Park contains over 400 bird species found in most savanna and river habitats in east Africa. Common water birds to be seen here are pelicans, spoonbills, Egyptian geese, hammerkops and the migratory flamingoes, which arrive in hundreds of thousands creating one of Africa’s great natural sights over the soda lake.
Our next destination was the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and as we arrived at the gates we had time to stop and stretch our legs. We were going to visit two very different camps in the area – Ang’ata Ngorongoro is a simple but very comfortable tented camp on the rim of the crater and this was to be home for the first night before descending into the crater for a game drive the next day.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area spans vast expanses of highland plains, savanna, savanna woodlands and forests. Established as a multiple land use area with wildlife coexisting with semi-nomadic Maasai pastoralists practicing traditional livestock grazing, the park includes the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater which is the world’s largest caldera. The area is of global importance for biodiversity conservation due to the presence of globally threatened species, the density of wildlife inhabiting the area, and the annual migration of wildebeest, zebra, gazelles and other animals into the northern plains.
After our game drive we drove up out of the caldera and on to Entamanu Ngorongoro set high on the other side of the crater for a completely different perspective of the area. Entamanu is a luxury lodge set high on the crater rim with amazing views on a clear day. On the day we visited the cloud was low and the lodge was incredibly cozy and comfy with wood burners, delicious food and comfy sitting areas with veiws over the crater. A highlight here was walking with local Masai on the crater rim – even though the view down was obliterated by cloud and mist.
Our last destination was the Serengeti National Park – the drive down from the crater to the rift valley is one of my favourites in Africa. The wildlife viewing in the central Serengeti is outstanding due to permanent water sources year-round and within a couple of hours we had seen a pride of lions with young cubs and not very far away – a leopard up a tree with a kill. Visitors flying into Seronera are often greeted by lions within minutes of leaving the airstrip!
The Serengeti is usually described as being divided into three regions:
Serengeti plains: the endless, almost treeless grassland of the south is the most emblematic scenery of the park. This is where the wildebeest breed, as they remain in the plains from December to May. Other hoofed animals- zebra, gazelle, impala, hartebeest, topi, buffalo, waterbuck - also occur in huge numbers during the wet season. Kopjes are granite formations which are very common in the region, and they are great observation posts for predators, as well as a refuge for hyrax and pythons.
Western corridor: the "black cotton" (actually black clay) soil covers the swampy savannah of this region. Grumeti river is home to enormous Nile Crocodiles, colobus monkey, and the martial eagle. The migration passes through from May to July.
Northern Serengeti: the landscape is dominated by open woodlands and hills ranging from Seronera in the South to the Mara river on the border with Kenya. Apart from the migratory wildebeest and zebra (which occur from July to August, and in November), the bushy savannah is the best place to find elephant, giraffe and dik dik.
The Serengeti supports many further species, including lion, leopard, elephant, black rhino, African buffalo, cheetah, Thomson's and Grant's gazelle, topi, eland, waterbuck, hyena, baboon and impala. There are about 500 bird species, including ostrich, secretary bird, kori bustard, crowned crane, marabou stork, fish eagle, martial eagle, lovebirds and many species of vultures.
After a stop at Nimali Central Serengeti Camp we headed off to the northern Serengeti in the hope of seeing the migration and some river crossings. August in the northern Serengeti is peak season and the plains are normally riddled with vehicles with high concentrations at river crossing points. This year there was hardly any traffic – those who managed to travel were rewarded with empty plains and river crossings where absolutely no other vehicles were present. Camps in this area were marginally busier but there were still times when we were the only guests in camp.
The highlight of the trip must have been the first river crossing. Heading towards the Mara River we encountered a balloon safari operator who had just seen an enormous congregation of wildebeest at one of the river crossings just waiting to cross. As we arrived at the crossing the wildebeest were only just starting to enter the water - the drama was high, the noise and the dust dramatic. We looked around and at 8.05 am there were no other vehicles in sight – we had the entire crossing to ourselves for over an hour!
We were lucky to witness three river crossings on that first morning – feeling just a little put out when a handful of other vehicles joined us for the later crossings. A phenomenal experience which we were very lucky to have and a once in a lifetime opportunity.
It wasn’t just all river crossings – the wildlife viewing was superb with prides of lion, lots of elephants and some superb leopard action where we were so lucky to encounter a female with her two cubs on 3 consecutive days.
Again, we stayed at a variety of different camps in the northern Serengeti - Sayari Camp, Mara Mara tented camp, Nimali Mara and Lamai Serengeti. All were very different and very special in their own ways – all had superb access to the Mara River and the migration but allowed us to head off across the plains in different directions each day to enjoy the huge open spaces and the amazing wildlife of the northern Serengeti.
A light aircraft flight took us back from Kogatende Airstrip to Arusha where we enjoyed a day room and a fabulous lunch at the Arusha Coffee Lodge before being dropped off at the international Kilimanjaro Airport for our Ethiopian Airways back to the UK via Addis Ababa.
If you are thinking about travelling to Tanzania or indeed anywhere in Africa in the next few months or into 2021 then do contact me for more information and an update and current travel conditions and restrictions.
You can contact me by email [email protected] or by telephone on 01984 667420 - we are looking forward to talking to you!