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Inside Tanzania: more than just a safari

When you aren’t tracking down the Big Five, you can meet tribal communities, try the local food, check out some sumptuous hotels and discover a host of outdoor adventures – as our Africa specialist reveals

Like most people on their first day of safari, I couldn’t contain my excitement for the thrill of a game drive. I was anxious to start ticking off my wildlife list. What I hadn’t bargained for, however, was the variety of luxuries and other activities that can enhance a Tanzania safari experience.

The bumpy drive from Tarangire to the awe-inspiring Ngorongoro Crater took me through a true African wilderness. Lake Manyara National Park was pointed out to me, and just before reaching the gate we pulled over to find three A&K tuk tuks, each with their own driver and guide. They took us through local villages, banana plantations, markets and craft centres. My guide explained so much about what was going on before me, giving a flavour of the daily lifestyles and routines, and we were introduced to a refugee tribe from Mozambique who’d found their home in this welcoming community. 

But the highlight of the morning was the local lunch provided for us at the end of the tour – the colours and smells of this plentiful buffet of traditional dishes were a feast for our senses alone. While the food in our lodges had been faultless, there’s something about going back to basics that made this meal stand out from all the others.

Following lunch, we headed to the gate of Lake Manyara. There, a motorbike attached to a rickety trailer waited to take us to our treetop adventure. 

We spied walkways towering above us, hidden among the trees. Full of anticipation, I made my way up the first ramp, creeping through the canopy. Torn between looking down at the forest below and focusing on the end of the bridge, I crossed. My heart was beating furiously but my courage grew with each step. From the highest walkway, the views of the many types of longstanding trees made me appreciate the diversity Tanzania has to offer. The forest echoed with the calls of birds I’d never heard before. The breeze was gentle and warm. Too soon, we were heading back down to earth to continue to the crater.  

Waking up to a sublime sunrise over the Ngorongoro Crater, I knew it was going to be another unforgettable day. We headed out on a drive through picturesque scenery, spotting local tribes and villages on the way. Our next destination was the Empakaai crater, less well known but equally as spectacular. With sweeping views over the crater floor, this is paradise for hikers. I watched a sea of pink rustling as flamingo bathed in the lake. It was tough going at times, but the warm feeling of accomplishment and the incredibly views which never left my side made the steeper parts of the climb seem insignificant. 

My final surprise in this region was heading out of the conservation area to the neighbouring town of Karatu, where a night at Gibb’s Farm awaited. The tranquillity as I rolled up the drive made me feel immediately at home. 

Close enough for an exciting game drive in the crater but far enough to feel as though you’re in a luxury retreat separate from the outside world, Gibb’s Farm offers more than just a safari. I was greeted by the refreshing sight of other guests practising tai chi on the lawn, the lush green hills and plantations behind them making the perfect backdrop. On the drive I wasn’t disappointed either, seeing elephant, cheetah and a tree climbing lion in one session. 

A delicious four-course meal was served in the evening, each course outdoing the last, making for a perfect end to a busy day – and with 90 per cent of the food served here coming directly from the farm, eating was one of the highlights of my stay. 

I strolled back to my cottage after dinner to be met by a warm fire and hot water bottle, and I settled down to prepare for tomorrow’s adventures. From sunrise bread making to lunchtime vegetable picking and afternoon biking, I knew it was going to be another unforgettable day in Tanzania.