I’d always thought, one day I’ll go on a safari in Africa, but was a bit overwhelmed by the enormity of it all—choosing the “right” safari company and even just deciding which country to visit. So I put it off. But recently, I was invited to Tanzania on a tour with Shadows of Africa. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
So after a small bit of research and a check of reviews, a $100 entry tourist visa, a couple updated vaccinations and a bottle of malaria pills, I was ready. Like any big trip, it may seem daunting at first, but the prep always falls into place rather easily and getting a few shots and a visa aren’t difficult tasks, just sometimes worrisome (more the visa, as I always have an uneasy feeling sending my passport away).
Choosing a Safari Company
I didn’t have to choose the company as it chose me, but with anything, I think word of mouth and friends’ and bloggers’ reviews go a long way in narrowing down a safari company that will work for you. And of course you can narrow it down even more by looking at the price point of their tours compared to your budget.
I would mostly look at:
- Style (luxury or camping?)
- Reputation/Trusted reviews
Not only was I ready, I was more excited than I’d been in quite awhile about traveling. I’ve recently talked about travel burnout and how I had grown a bit tired of traveling myself which made me want to slow down so I didn’t lose that special feeling I once adored.
But, Tanzania! Just the sound of it excited me. A whole new place. A whole new culture. I think I was most excited for my first impressions and how it struck me at first glance. What would it feel like on my skin? What would it smell like? How would the people sound? Yes! The wonder and awe of travel was back. Yay!
And Tanzania delivered. Big time.
Arrival in Tanzania
I stepped off my plane and onto the tarmac after a 15+ hour travel day (from Chicago to Amsterdam and then Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro International Airport). First off, you know you’re somewhere “else” when you are outside right away on tarmac instead of going from one sealed tube of the plane to another of the jetway. It’s more real to just go out the door of the plane and into the outdoors to soak in this new land.
It was dark and I was tired, but a smile crept across my face as the warm Equatorial air hit my skin.
I was in Tanzania.
I took a deep breath. The air smelled like a campfire on a warm summer night. Everything was new to me, like an unwrapped gift that I knew nothing about.
Geographically, Tanzania is in a region known as East Africa. It’s most famous for its crowning mountain and Africa’s tallest: Kilimanjaro. It’s also well known for the wondrous Serengeti spanning 12,000 square miles and Lake Victoria, the largest in Africa. It’s a poor country, but has also had the fortune to avoid any major civil strife like many of its neighbors.
It became an independent nation in the 60s and shortly after merged with the island of Zanzibar to become one nation.
Safer Than You Think
The media tends to lump this humungous continent all into one place. The continent of Africa is the second largest in the world. It is so massive, in fact, that it occupies the same landmass as the United States, China, all of Europe, India and Japan combined. Each country is vastly different—in culture, language, landscape and more.
Not only does Tanzania not have any internal conflicts, it has NO Ebola. Neither does Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Ethiopia, Eritrea…I could go on…
The problem remains largely limited to three tiny countries all the way over on the west side of the entire continent: Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Two other countries, Nigeria and Senegal, have had cases, yet are now Ebola-free.
And then there’s the fact that this isn’t easy to catch. Unlike the flu, Ebola is not an airborne virus. A person who has Ebola is only contagious once they show symptoms, and then only direct contact with their bodily fluids can spread the virus. And just being close to someone with Ebola will also not spread the disease. The virus is only spread by direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected Ebola victims. The collateral damage to Africa’s economy as a result of irresponsible reporting about the Ebola outbreak is significant. Tour operators and travel companies are reporting huge losses from cancellations due to fears about Ebola.
It was tangible in Tanzania. The safari company with which I was traveling, Shadows of Africa, had already taken a hit as they’d seen a big tourism drop compared to the previous year. Many hotels and lodges in which we stayed were virtually empty. I even stayed at one lodge and was THE only guest.
These places and people depend on tourism. They already have a much lower income than we do, so go visit and don’t let the media wrongly scare you — all you have to do is a small bit or research on the facts.
Stay tuned for my series of posts on Tanzania. Coming up…the biggest reason I was there: the animals!
More info on Tanzania:
Disclosure: During part of my time in Tanzania I was a guest of Shadows of Africa. As always, all writing, content and opinions are my own.