One of my long-time clients, Open Heart International, provided me with the opportunity to travel to Tanzania with their team of volunteers in November 2019.
Open Heart International is a humanitarian agency that facilitates surgical best practices in disadvantaged communities so that the help provided lasts lifetimes.
As a team, we provided life-changing cardiac surgery to desperate patients in Dar es Salaam, who had travelled far and wide to seek treatment.
My role in the team was the media liaison; recording and reporting on each day’s activities and sharing powerful stories.
While I have been working with Open Heart International on a monthly basis, providing social media marketing services, I was excited to have the opportunity and privilege to document all of these stories first-hand.
You can read my day-to-day blog entries in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania with the Open Heart International team by clicking below.
I couldn’t travel more than 24 hours from Sydney, Australia all the way to Tanzania, Africa, and not experience an African safari!
Want to watch our African Safari and Zanzibar adventure? Click the video below:
Safari Day 1: Dar es Salaam – Arusha
My sister, Aimee, met me in Dar es Salaam at the end of my work trip with Open Heart International, to embark on our African safari together for six days with Majestic Kilimanjaro.
We took an Uber to the airport and caught a flight from Dar es Salaam to Kilimanjaro airport, where we were picked up by our Safari tour guide, Reginald, in a decked-out khaki 4WD.
It definitely felt like our Safari had well and truly begun now.
After a one-hour drive getting to know our guide Reginald, we arrived at Outpost Lodge in Arusha, where we would stay for the night before heading out on our first full day of safari.
The Outpost Lodge is a great place to stay for a night or two. While it’s definitely not a five-star hotel, you get what you pay for – with comfortable beds and a nice open-area restaurant where you can choose from a wide variety of meals.
Safari Day 2: Arusha – Tarangire National Park
We enjoyed a quick breakfast at Outpost Lodge in the morning, before Reginald picked us up at 8am to embark on our two-hour drive through Masai Villages and other towns within Arusha.
As you drive through the towns, the safari 4WDs definitely stand out like a sore thumb. The locals sitting at their storefronts or on the side of the road watch as you drive by in these huge vehicles.
We arrived at the entry point for Tarangire National Park, where Reginald sorted out the paperwork. Meanwhile, Aimee and I spoke to some school kids who were on an excursion at the park.
They raced over to us, asking if we were twins. We told them we were sisters, two years apart. The students had fantastic English and there was one girl in particular who asked whether “white people are offended by the term mizungo“.
As you travel throughout Tanzania, you will find that the locals tend to point out and call white people, ‘mizungo’ meaning foreigner or white person.
I found it quite interesting that younger kids were privy to the fact that this term left an uneasy feeling within tourists.
There was a beautiful big baobab tree that Aimee and I walked over to in order to get a picture. However, as we walked over, a young man wearing cultural attire and tribal headwear gestured for me to come over and take a photo with him.
He looked amazing wearing his bright colours, so I jumped at the opportunity. I quickly realised that I had been stitched up. All of a sudden, a group of his mates appeared, all dressed up as well, and asked for a tip after the photo was taken.
Living in a country like Australia, we aren’t used to tipping people. So it is good to recognise that this is almost expected in countries like Tanzania. In order to save yourself from embarrassment, I’d suggest ensuring you have a few US$1 bills with you or some smaller Tanzanian shillings so that you can tip people when needed.
As we drove through Tarangire National Park, we began to see the first few sightings of animals. Within a few hours or so, we had seen zebras, warthogs, gazelles, ostriches, giraffes, elephants, monkeys, and a leopard.
The highlight of the day was definitely the close-up experience we had with a huge elephant, less than one metre from the car.
We checked in to Ngorongoro Farm House for the night, which had incredible views of the 500-acre coffee plantation. There was a cultural dance which we participated in, before choosing which meal we would like to eat for dinner.
The staff at the farmhouse were incredibly friendly and attentive, making sure that you enjoyed your stay.
Safari Day 3: Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park
We packed ourselves a lunch to take on the road and left Ngorongoro Farm House. As we entered the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, we were amazed by the number of baboons there were to welcome us in.
As we drove uphill toward the entrance of the crater, I was amazed by the incredible views outside our window. We stopped at a beautiful lookout where we were able to see the entire Ngorongoro Crater. It honestly looked like a desktop wallpaper.
The Ngorongoro Crater is a 600m deep crater that was the result of a large volcanic eruption when it collapsed on itself.
As we began the descent into the Crater, we saw more baboons, zebras, gazelles, mongoose, plenty of birds, impalas, lots of wildebeests, a few elephants, buffalos, some lions, flamingos, one black rhino, hippos in the pool (including a baby one), warthogs, ostriches, and hyenas.
Just to name a few.
As you drive around the Crater, you honestly feel as though you are in an oasis, where all of these animals are enjoying life together.
We enjoyed a picnic at Hippo Lake, where we ate our packed lunch in the car and watched hippos splashing about in the water in front of us.
After a few more hours of driving in the Crater, we began our ascent to continue our game drive in Serengeti National Park.
The many bumps and undulations in the dirt road made for a long (and itchy) drive. Our driver, Reginald, often referred to this as an ‘African Massage’.
We finally arrived in Serengeti and noticed lots of mud, rain and long grass with flat terrain. The vastness is overwhelming. It was as if you could drive for hours in one direction and get lost within the horizon.
Hot tip: We travelled in late Novemmber, during the wet season, and I wouldn’t have it any other way! Everything was green and lush, and you had beautiful weather for the first half of the day, before the rain hit almost exactly mid-afternoon each day.
Above all though, we were able to witness the great migration in full swing. As we drove through the Serengeti, you were able to witness quite literally thousands of animals migrating together – at some points, the animals just looked like spots.
Eventually, we arrived at Kati Kati Tented Camp. This is where we would be staying for the next three nights.
Our tent was fitted out with two single beds, a shower, and a flushing toilet. There were specific instructions to follow when it came to showering.
You needed to tell the camp guides what time you planned on having a shower so that they could organise to bring 20L of warm water to you in a bucket. You would stand in the shower room, completely nude, waiting for them to return.
They would then ask, “Is shower #1 ready?” and once you responded with a ‘yes’, they would begin pouring this water into pipes that were connected to your shower head within the tent.
The craziest part about this campsite was that you could literally hear wildlife roaming around you as you were showering, peeing, changing or sleeping. Definitely a different experience compared to our other accommodation.
There was zero reception at all, minimal lighting and you had to be escorted to and from the dinner tent to your sleeping tent when it was dark.
The dinner tent was riddled with bugs, due to being in the middle of the wilderness and the lit candles attracting them to our tables. There were countless times over the next few nights where we almost experienced eating more than what we bargained for – if you get where I’m going with that.
Safari Day 4: Serengeti National Park
This full-day game drive in Serengeti National Park brought us a myriad of adventures. It’s funny how you can be driving for what seems like hours seeing nothing, then all of a sudden the most exciting thing appears right before your eyes.
It’s honestly a game of hide-and-seek with wildlife.
We saw a leopard sitting casually in a tree, and saw a rare sighting of a sebau cat, which looks like a miniature leopard.
There were some giraffes awkwardly walking down the road, almost slipping over in the mud; their legs looking like jelly.
Aimee spotted a lioness who was crossing the road a few hundred metres ahead of us, so Reginald put his foot down and we raced over to where she was about to cross to get a closer look.
However, the highlight of the day (and probably the entire safari trip) was when a cheetah jumped on top of our safari car.
I won’t beat around the bush. It was hands-down the most terrifying thing I have ever experienced.
The roof to our car was down at the time and we watched the cheetah jump onto the spare tyre on the back, before proceeding to jump onto the roof.
I have never tried to pull down a roof so quickly in my life. While we knew the cheetah only wanted to use the top of our car as a vantage point to look for prey, being less than 1m away from her definitely didn’t fill us with confidence.
Once the adrenalin wore off, we continued on our game drive, where we were able to witness a beautiful group of zebras near a water pool. We also managed to find two lions sunbaking on some rocks, before we had lunch about 150m away at a bush picnic site.
The frustrating part about a safari, particularly as a female, is that there aren’t many toilets in the wilderness. I’d highly suggest going to the bathroom whenever the opportunity arises, whether you feel you need to or not.
We stopped at a Visitor’s Centre to go to the bathroom, before we continued on and saw a lioness with five cubs lying down on top of a rock quite high up. Shortly after, we came across a pack of four lions all huddled together under a tree less than a metre from the road.
Talk about the right place at the right time. It was insane!
As we headed back to the campsite for dinner, we found four cheetahs with low heads and hunched shoulders, on the hunt for their own dinner.
Safari Day 5: Serengeti National Park
Our last full day of safari in the Serengeti began with witnessing a mother leopard and her baby cub eating some prey together. We saw some more giraffes majestically walking across the road in all their lanky glory.
We took a quick toilet break at another Visitor Centre and took the opportunity to get some photos with our driver, Reggie, as there were some other tourists there.
Before we stopped for lunch, we saw a lion and lioness beside the road lying in the grass not doing all that much. There were a few more lions and lionesses scattered around on the other side of the road too.
It was quite amazing to see how relaxed they were with cars and people around. They weren’t phased in the slightest, which surprised me.
The next stop was a hippo lake, which was incredibly noisy. The lake was filled with hippos boasting their large mouths by opening them wide and guzzling water, then making weird noises. Definitely wouldn’t want to get too close to them, that’s for sure.
Suddenly, the heavens opened and it started bucketing down with rain; the norm around this time of day during the wet season.
We parked the car and watched a massive herd of elephants near a small creek, before we stopped for lunch at a picnic site and took some photos.
As we headed back to the campsite, we saw a baby leopard in a tree and almost witnessed three lionesses attack a zebra. Luckily, it only just managed to run away. While we were relieved, part of us wanted to witness it happen on our last full safari day.
Safari Day 6: Serengeti – Tloma Lodge
We checked out of Kati Kati Tented Camp and began our short morning game drive as we headed toward Tloma Lodge in Karatu.
Due to travelling in the wet season, we witnessed the most incredible migration of impalas, zebras, and wildebeests as we drove out of the park.
As we exited out of the Serengeti, we had a super close encounter with a few giraffes on the side of the road, which completely made our morning!
While Reggie checked us out at the exit gate of the park, Aimee and I climbed a short hill to get a good look at the migration. The thousands of animals we could see just looked like a myriad of ants. It was mindblowing seeing how many there were.
We made our way to Tloma Lodge, but due to the high volume of water during the wet season, the river was completely flooded and there was only one way in and out.
There was a queue of around 60 cars waiting to cross the river. We arrived around 1pm, but other people had been there since 6am trying to fill the river with rocks in order to create a makeshift bridge to get across.
Many people were out of their cars watching the commotion. Meanwhile, both locals and tourists were throwing huge rocks into a tip truck to try and fill the huge hole in the river, which was making it too deep for the cars to get through.
There were about 50-60 cars on either side of the river that had to get through, with most having waited for half the day. Every single wet season, they experienced the same issue. You would think the National Park would use tourism money to build a bridge!
After about three hours, we finally got past the river. However, not long after, we found ourselves stuck behind a bus that got bogged for another half an hour or so.
Needless to say, most of our day was spent in the car waiting in traffic! But we eventually arrived at Tloma lodge which was beautiful, and worth the wait! The accommodation boasted beautiful coffee gardens and a nice pool area.
Relaxing in Zanzibar
Day 1 in Zanzibar
After a two-hour drive to Arusha Airport, we checked in to our flight off to Zanzibar. The airport was outdoors with a tiny dirt car park. It was definitely a different kind of airport, that’s for sure.
We said goodbye to Reginald, which was quite upsetting after spending the last six days with him. We had gotten to know him quite well; learning about his family and where he lives. He had been a wonderful tour guide; incredibly knowledgeable and made us feel super comfortable the entire time.
Once we arrived in Zanzibar, our pre-booked taxi driver took us to Antonio Garden Hotel in Stone Town where we would be staying for the next three nights.
The alleyways in Stone Town are so tight that most of the time you have to park the car at a dead-end and then walk the rest of the way. This is exactly what we had to do.
The driver parked the car and helped carry our luggage to the hotel. Be mindful though, any locals wanting to give you a hand with carrying things or similar, tend to expect a tip afterward.
The hotel was beautiful. Super modern and quite quirky with funny sayings and signage all over the place. The staff at the front desk were very friendly and helped us feel welcome.
We dropped our bags off in our room upstairs and decided to make the most of our afternoon by exploring the town quickly and getting something to eat.
A short walk down the alleyways brought us to Stone Town Cafe, which was not only easy to find but offered a wide variety of meals for us to enjoy.
After we indulged in a Mexican beef pizza for our late lunch (super yum by the way), we continued exploring the town, trying to find a small grocery store.
However, as the middle of the afternoon drew closer, the clouds also became greyer (and our regret for not having an umbrella became stronger). Before we knew it, we were huddled at the door of a stranger’s shop being semi-protected by his awning.
We waited there for about 20 minutes until the rain eased off and we walked quickly back through the puddles to our hotel.
After asking the concierge at reception where the closest grocery store was, he pointed us in one direction, which we followed and ended up near the spice markets. It absolutely stunk. The multiple stores seemingly sold the same thing, and yet everyone wanted you to buy from them.
As tourists, particularly white tourists, you stick out like a sore thumb. Every man and their dog calls out, ‘mizungo’ and gestures for you to come over to them.
The combination of the humidity and the stench was enough to make us call it quits and head back to the hotel. On our way, we managed to find a small store selling packaged goods. We bought some Pringles and chocolate (necessities) and headed back.
Day 2 in Zanzibar
Our first full day in Zanzibar was planned to be spent enjoying a tour to Prison Island with Colors of Zanzibar.
The prison on the island was built in 1893. Now, it is owned by a hotel with a private restaurant and pool. The original intention of the prison was to house both violent prisoners from the mainland and sick people.
We walked to Old Fort and embarked on our half-day tour with our guides, Amigo and Mwana. In order to get to the island, we set off on a little wooden boat called a dhow, which took us half an hour.
The water was crystal clear, reflecting the beautiful blue sky above us perfectly. As we arrived at the island, we learnt about the giant tortoises and were able to feed them – the oldest one being 198 years old!
After feeding the tortoises, we took a look at the old quarantine station, which had spectacular panoramic views of the Indian Ocean.
We finished the tour with some free time to swim in the ocean and sunbake on the island before we hopped on the boat and headed back.
The guides escorted us back to the hotel, where we changed and went walking to find some lunch. We stopped at Buni Cafe and enjoyed some tasty western food, before we walked to Emerson on Hurumzi to pay our US$20 deposit for our dinner reservation the following night.
Emerson on Hurumzi is well known for showcasing the many flavours of Zanzibar. We had heard great things about the place, so knew we had to book it in for a special dinner on our last night.
We stopped off at Tamu Gelateria Italiano to share some chocolate and mango gelato, which was super creamy and delicious, before heading back to the hotel to call family and friends for the afternoon.
Once we had worked up our appetite again for dinner, we headed out to the Forodhani Night Markets for dinner. What an experience! There were plenty of stalls selling meat from beef, chicken or lamb to seafood.
We weren’t game enough to try the meat from the open markets, so we decided to enjoy a light dinner at the Floating Restaurant nearby which had beautiful views of the seafront. Then we walked over to the markets and finished up our meal with a Nutella & Banana Pizza for dessert. It definitely didn’t disappoint!
I would also recommend trying sugar cane juice! It was mixed with lemon and ginger, and while it was super sweet, it was really tasty!
Day 3 in Zanzibar
After a big day of exploring, we woke up and had a slow morning where we ate our buffet breakfast at the hotel and booked in a facial at the spa downstairs.
Before it got too hot and humid outside, we figured we would make the most of the morning and explore other historical sites we hadn’t visited yet
The first stop was the Hamamni Persian Baths, which cost 5,000 Tanzanian Shillings (TSH) each to enter. The baths were quite small and not what I expected inside. It’s a beautiful building if you love architecture, but due to the low-entry fee, it was a self-guided tour and we were in and out within 15 minutes.
You can definitely waste some hours walking around the alleyways and looking at the different stalls run by the locals. Aimee and I found some nice handbags, so after bartering one bag for 45,000 TSH to two bags for 50,000 TSH, I’d say we got a bargain! (Equivalent of AU$35).
We were interested in a guided tour of Old Fort, but the heat and humidity made the decision of doing a quick visit for us. Old Fort is the oldest building in Stone Town, being built by Omani Arabs after expelling the Portuguese in 1699.
The grounds at the back of Old Fort are quite open and in direct sunlight, so we quickly darted around the field, before heading straight to the waterfront to cool off in the sea breeze.
By that stage, we had sweated up a storm so decided to enjoy some time relaxing by the pool before our facial that afternoon.
Later that evening, we got ready for our last night out for dinner at Emerson on Hurumzi. The building was not only stunning, but it was the second tallest building in Stone Town!
A steep wooden staircase leads you through different levels including an artist gallery and a hotel room, until you reach the very top balcony where you enjoy dinner.
The decor and furnishings were stunning with bright blues and rich mustards. We were seated next to two different groups: a trio of Americans and a newlywed couple from South Africa. The seating arrangement allows you to chat with others, share stories and learn what they do and the purpose of their trip.
The food definitely didn’t disappoint. It was amazing! We enjoyed salted squid and beetroot tahini with flatbread for entree; pumpkin, potatoes, goat curry, rice, fish, salad and other side dishes for the main meal; and Zanzibar delights with fresh fruit and ginger tea for dessert.
Needless to say, walking back to the hotel with full bellies was difficult, but it was well worth it for our last night in Zanzibar.
Last Morning in Zanzibar Before Heading Home
After breakfast, we decided to quickly visit the Slave Chambers before we had to check out and head to the airport.
The Mangapwani Slave Chambers was a former slave market constructed around 1880, and used as a transit point for the captured slaves to be sold during the abolishment of slavery in 1873. Essentially, the chambers were used to conceal the slaves until it was decided what to do with them.
The Slave Chambers had an eerie feeling to them. Unfortunately, due to our time restraint, we had a 20-minute fast-paced tour with a guide named Elvis. He was incredibly accommodating and took us through the slave chambers, explaining that they held 75 slaves at once who would sleep on top of one another, with most dying from suffocation.
Next to the slave markets, there was a stunning Anglican cathedral built in the 1870s – the first in East Africa. It was a beautiful building and the architecture inside was incredibly grand.
I would highly recommend, if you have the time, to do a proper tour of the Slave Chambers. From the brief tour we had, I am certain we would have loved exploring it more.
After picking up our bags from the hotel, we took a taxi to Zanzibar Airport and hopped on a tiny plane to begin our long journey back home. Little did we know how ‘long’ it would actually be.
We flew from Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam, then to Doha where we had a layover for about 8 hours. We pulled an allnighter, with the intention of sleeping on the plane. However, multiple delays later, our flight left at 3:15pm instead of 7:55am, which we weren’t impressed by.
African Safari in Summary…
All in all, I loved Africa! The Safari trip was most definitely a highlight. While it was quite expensive when you converted the USD to AUD, it was well worth it as everything from accommodation, meals, bottled water, National Park fees, and a guide was included.
Aimee and I paid a premium for having a personal tour with only the two of us and our very own guide. This made the trip quite intimate and personalised, ensuring our plans could be accommodated.
A six-day safari was a great length. I don’t think I could have done one much longer, but anything shorter and we may have missed out on some amazing experiences. While the scenery is seemingly the same, each day’s game drives are definitely very different!
I would highly recommend booking your safari during the wet season, as the environment is so beautiful. While the mid-afternoon downpour can often put a dampener on your adventure (quite literally), witnessing the great migration is like nothing else!
Zanzibar in Summary
I enjoyed Zanzibar, but I also felt that the short time we had there was enough. Stone Town is quite small and while it’s jam-packed with history and architecture, there isn’t much else to do.
Apart from the island tours you can book, there’s no beach to swim at in Stone Town. You’re best off exploring a nearby island or booking a hotel with a pool. And let me tell you, you’ll want to – because it’s damn hot there!
If you are a history buff, I would highly recommend booking some guided tours as I am sure it would be incredibly interesting. We enjoyed the self-guided tours that we could do at our own pace but found that we were in and out of some historical sites pretty quickly.
Overall, exploring Tanzania, Africa was amazing! I was able to experience some incredible things – from cheetahs jumping on our safari car to amazing sunsets at rooftop bars in Zanzibar.