A Tanzania safari in the time of covid-19

Ashworth Africa’s founder Patrick Ashworth visited Tanzania late July and early August 2021, to revisit some of our favourite lodges (to check that the highest standards are being maintained) as well as inspecting new ones for possible future use by our clients. A couple have been dropped from our portfolio of preferred lodges, while we discovered some exciting new camps that “make the grade”.

The 12 day itinerary began in the bustling city of Arusha, the starting point for the majority of Tanzania safari-goers, followed by a short flight to Tarangire National Park. From there, it was an overland journey from Tarangire to the far northern Serengeti National Park, via the legendary Ngorongoro Crater. A total of 24 lodges and camps were visited.

This is normally the peak time of High Season, coinciding with the Northern Hemisphere summer vacation period; cooler, drier months in Tanzania which make for more pleasant and easier game viewing; and the climax of the annual Great Migration as over 2 million wildebeest and 400,000 zebra stream north towards the Masai Mara in Kenya, braving crocodile-infested rivers as they go. Although tourist numbers were well down from pre-pandemic levels, there were still large numbers of European and American visitors travelling, enjoying one of nature’s greatest spectacles (lured no doubt by some fantastic travel bargains and a pent-up desire to travel).

Let’s talk about the C-word

It’s encouraging that the coronavirus pandemic is being taken seriously by the Tanzanian authorities, with vaccines being rolled out across the country. A negative PCR test is needed to enter the country; in addition, a compulsory rapid antigen test takes place at the airport on arrival. These tests are a (minor) hassle, but for us they are far outweighed by the soul-replenishing benefits of an African safari!

Before departing Tanzania to return home, one needs to undergo a second PCR test – this was quickly and efficiently handled by medical staff based at the local airstrip in the Serengeti two days before departure. The results are emailed to you well before you check-in for your onward flight.

Mask wearing is compulsory at airports and on flights. Hygiene and safety is taken very seriously at the safari camps, with all staff wearing masks and rooms deep-cleaned before the arrival of new guests. For now, communal dining is on hold, with meals being served at individual tables. On game drives, wearing a mask is not compulsory and it’s a relief to be unmasked outside, breathing in the freshest of African air while receiving a healthy dose of Vitamin D. During this time, the lodges are limiting the number of guests on game drives to ensure social distancing (if you’re especially worried, you can book a private vehicle).

Tarangire National Park

Tarangire is the closest major park to Arusha, an easy 2 hour drive (or 25 minute flight). It’s a very scenic park, especially in the area around Silale Swamp, and is known for its large elephant herds and ancient baobab trees. The park is also an ornithologist’s paradise with more than 300 species of birds including Africa’s heaviest bird that can fly, the Kori Bustard.

A Kori Bustard, Africa’s heaviest flying bird. They can weigh up to 19kg/ 42lb.
A day on safari would be incomplete without a stop for “sundowners”!

Ngorongoro Crater

One of Africa’s greatest natural wonders, this should be on the bucket list of every traveller. The world’s largest intact caldera, the crater formed when a gigantic volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two to three million years ago. It’s 610 metres (2000 feet) deep and its floor covers 260 square kilometres (100 square miles). A variety of ecosystems and plentiful supplies of water allow the crater floor to provide a home to an impressive number of animal and bird species. When staying on or near the crater rim, a visit to a genuine Masai village is a must.

Central Serengeti National Park

This section of the Serengeti is well worth a visit at any time of the year, due to its beautiful scenery and excellent, perennial game viewing. The Central Serengeti consists of open, long grass plains framed by rocky hills, and river courses fringed with yellow barked acacia trees. Here the great Serengeti plains gradually diffuse into gently rolling hills and the change of grassland brings a change in the balance of species.

Northern Serengeti National Park

An untouched wilderness region, the northern Serengeti’s Mara River area is relatively inaccessible. Comprising a vast, pristine area of wooded rolling hills interspersed with open grassy patches and large granite outcrops, the Northern Serengeti boasts stunning landscapes and optimal wildlife viewing.

From July to September, it’s the place to go to view massive herds of wildebeest and zebra as they head north towards fresh pastures in the Masai Mara in Kenya. With a bit of luck, you’ll see one of the famous and insanely exciting river crossings. This is also the place for an epic, sunrise hot air balloon flight!

The northern Serengeti is a fitting place to end off a Tanzania safari. It’s a relatively short flight back to Arusha, to board your international flight home (although if you have time, we suggest you spend a few days on the beautiful tropical island paradise that is Zanzibar!).

All images @Ashworth Africa

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