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Adventure travel and African beauty abound in Tanzania

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November 20th, 2012

Often dubbed the adventure of a lifetime, travel to Tanzania brings the promise of nature s most majestic scenes lions, elephants, and Serengeti sunsets. Situated on Africa s east coast, south of Kenya, Tanzania indeed delivers a humbling spectacle. But unexpected, less-iconic encounters with mischievous roadside baboons, brilliantly colored birds at lunchtime, immense but shy giraffes, fluorescent lizards, and blooming rainclouds add up to a truly unforgettable, unconventional experience. Tanzania is home to 15 national parks, including the Serengeti and Mount Kilimanjaro National Park, and the island of Zanzibar. Innumerable tour operators and safari packages exist, but choose carefully based on your goals.

Childlike fascination in Serengeti National Park

The drive north from the city of Arusha to the Serengeti begins on paved road but turns to dusty gravel. The scenery changes from fruit markets and bustling villages to herds of cattle led by the indigenous and semi-nomadic Maasai people. Consider spending a night in the Lake Manyara region to break up the journey and begin fresh in your pursuit of the wildebeest and zebra migration. Wake early and set out with binoculars, cameras, and patience. Your reward will come as dozens of animals and representatives from more than 500 bird species reveal themselves. Guides have an uncanny ability to spot prized predators in the grass, even while driving over unpaved road. Few passengers can resist becoming wrapped up in the childlike excitement of exploration.

New world at the Ngorongoro Crater

Spend at least a day within the Ngorongoro Crater, one of the world s largest calderas, formed by the collapse of a volcano. An abrupt change from the vast plains of the Serengeti, the crater has an otherworldly feel to it. Just 14 miles wide, it is a contained home to thousands of animals, including the elusive rhinoceros. Morning mist curves along the crater walls like an ocean wave and a mostly dry ground gives way to a saltwater lake and flamingos. Lush vegetation surrounds a freshwater lake that is home to hippos, and across the makeshift road it s not uncommon to encounter a handful of lionesses sunbathing on the rocks.

Inspiring climb up Mount Kilimanjaro

Four or five full days of animal watching is plenty, as Tanzania has much more to offer. Just outside of Arusha, Mount Kilimanjaro Africa s highest mountain and the world s tallest freestanding mountain attracts hikers of all ages for its accessibility as a non-technical climb. The oldest hikers to reach Uhuru (Freedom) Point at 19,336 feet have been in their 80s. The adventure is grueling, usually tackled over a week, but one need only look up from the route through five levels of vegetation from lush forest to glacial arctic to see inspirational, unparalleled beauty abound.

Beachfront bliss in Zanzibar

Less than an hour flight and yet a world apart, the island of Zanzibar offers white sand beaches and azure water. Nestled among the modest homes of the island s inhabitants, Nungwi village in the north offers plentiful beachside accommodations and restaurants. Flame Tree Cottages restaurant serves inventive seafood dishes on a romantic, tree-lined beach, while the Marhaba Restaurant at the Langi Langi Beach Bungalows also offers an expansive and inviting menu of Zanzibari options. Drive south to Stone Town for a look at the Arab-, Indian-, and European-influenced architecture and a lesson in the island s history as a nexus in the spice and slave trade, along with its early opposition. From history, return to the beach for a boat ride and snorkeling in view of the white sand bliss of Mnemba Island. Savor the unconventional beauty of Africa. setarreh.massihzadegan@erickson.com

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