Southern Tanzania Safari Written by Andrew Muigai
Tanzania is one of Africa's top wildlife safari destinations. Wildlife lovers have a choice of two very different safari routes- referred to as northern and southern circuits. The contrast is most obvious in topography, habitat and climate. On northern Tanzania safari circuit, which I have talked about in another article, you visit such renowned wildlife havens as Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Tarangire and Lake Manyara. The southern safari route is anchored on Dar es Salaam, and covers Ruaha, Mikumi, Udzungwa Mountains National Parks and Selous Game Reserve.
The southern circuit is more discreet, less accessible and has fewer visitors. Adventure lovers and those who seek closer contact with some of Africa's most complex ecosystems will be rewarded. Here you can view game in a variety of new ways- walking, riding and boating. If you have not had privilege of getting up close to wild animals in their natural habitat, it is an exciting and refreshing experience. For this encounter, park authorities require that an armed ranger escort you. It is therefore not as dangerous as it may first appear.
Mikumi National Park is most accessible of southern game sanctuaries.It is 283 km to west of Dar es Salaam - Tanzania's coastal commercial capital. Occupying 3,230 sq km, it carries a variety of wildlife including elephants, lion, giraffe, impala, warthog, zebra, buffalo, wildebeest, hartebeest and eland. Wild dogs- considered an endangered carnivore species -are found here in good numbers. Other resident animals are crocodiles, hippos, and monitor lizards. Birds are most plentiful in wet season when up to 300 species gathers here. Many of these are Eurasian migrants, exercising to full, freedom that comes with wings.
The Mikumi flood plain is dominant feature of park, which is bordered on one side by Uluguru Mountains and on another by Lumango range. Mikumi forms northern border of Selous Game Reserve and is part of a vast wilderness ecosystem covering 75,000 sq km. Open grasslands stretch on plains, while miombo woodlands cover higher ground.
The park is accessible year round- unlike some of sanctuaries in southern circuit. To get to Mikuni from Dar, you spend 4 hours on road or 1 hour by air. Budget travelers take a bus ride to park gate, from where game drives are organised. There is limited accommodation at a few luxury lodges and tented camps and at 3 campsites. If you find yourself in Dar on a weekend, this is where you head to see wildlife.
The 1,990 sq km Udzungwa Mountains National Park is 348 km west of Dar and 65 km southwest of Mikumi. The mountains are part of Eastern Arc Mountains that fall southeast of Kilimanjaro. The park is unique in Tanzania, having been created primarily to conserve plant life. The pristine mountain forest habitat hosts numerous rare plants. There are six primate species, out of which two species are endemic - Iringa red colobus monkey and Sanje Crested Mangabey.
At plateau area, you find elephants, lions, hunting dogs and buffalos, though not in as large numbers as in some of other Tanzania parks. Birds also do well here, and indeed park ranks as one of Africa's most important bird conservation areas. Scientists have in recent times come across at least four previously unknown bird species. The best time to visit is over dry season between June and October. The hiking trails over wet season are slippery, which can be quite a nuisance.
The Ruaha National Park is rightly named after its lifeblood- Great Ruaha River. Occupying 12,950 sq km, it is Tanzania's second largest national park and its biggest elephant sanctuary. Home to numerous crocodiles and hippo, Great Ruaha draws many thirsty waterbuck, leopard, buffalo, reedbuck, wild dogs, lion and hyena to its banks. Plain animals such as zebra, greater and lesser kudu, sable and roan antelope, impala and giraffe are found on plains stretching from rivers edge.
The topography is agreeable to hiking and walking safaris are allowed. In wet season months of March to April and October to November bird population peaks and park has over 370 bird species, including some Eurasian migrants. The flora is very diverse and over 1650 plant species flourish here. The Ruaha has unique distinction of having plant and animal life found in both eastern and southern Africa. The climate here is hot and dry and temperatures can reach 40°C in October.
Ethiopia TourWritten by Andrew Muigai
Ethiopia is an enchanting country whose delights are unknown to most travelers. And yet this is a truly unique destination with such attractions as can be found nowhere else in world. The biggest draw is rich Orthodox Christian heritage. Ethiopia was one of very first nations to embrace Christianity, way back in 4th century AD. The wonderful churches, monasteries, icons and relics to be found here is a reminder of central role Church has played in history of country. The painstaking effort summoned to produce some of these tokens of mans faith in God is very impressive, especially for non-believers.
Ethiopia is a very worthy destination and many connoisseurs consider it to be Africa's best-kept secret. Since so few outsiders come here, tourist infrastructure is not well developed. But on plus side, there are no crowds of visitors, unlike at other historical destinations such as Egypt. The Christian heritage aside, Ethiopia is blessed with an astonishing contrast of nature's gifts. This ranges from heights of jagged peaks of Simien mountains- a UNESCO World Heritage Site, bird filled rift valley lakes, to under sea level lunarscape of Danakil Depression.
Travelers have plenty of opportunities to enjoy mountain treks, caving, camping, sailing and white water rafting adventures. Though not as abundant as elsewhere in east Africa, there is plenty of wildlife, and 31 rare species are only found in Ethiopia. This is also one of Africa's great birding destinations and 861 species have been recorded of which 16 are endemic. Due to relatively undeveloped tourist infrastructure, best way to see country is by buying a packaged Ethiopia tour.
Most overseas visitors will start off from Addis Ababa. Addis, as city is popularly known is capital city and home to Bole International Airport. The city rests at foot of Entoto Mountains. By Ethiopian standards, it is a new settlement and came into being in 1887. Addis Ababa means New Flower and its foundation is credited to Queen Taitu - consort to Menelik II. In Addis, make sure to visit Ethnographic Museum and National Museum. The Giorgis Cathedral, which was built in 1896 to commemorate victory over Italian invaders, is also worth a visit.
The Simien Mountains National Park is much favored by trekkers. The park has some of scenic sights in country. The mastiff reaches to 4620m, highest point in country. The park was created to protect Walia Ibex, which is found only in Ethiopia. Other endemic animal species in park are Gelada Baboon and Simen Fox. Bale Mountains in southeast, though less accessible, has trekking opportunities and some wildlife including a few endemic species.
Awash National park is one of finest and most accessible reserves in country. The Awash River strides park before heading to Dankil depression where it vanishes, never to reach sea. Some special attractions in park include Awash Falls, dormant Fantale volcano and some thermal springs. Forty-six species of wildlife have been identified here and bird life is prolific. The park is located just 211 km to east of Addis.
You will obtain best value for your Ethiopia trip if you have at least an interest in unique history of country. The country claims a history going back 5,000 years, and there are Bible episodes mentioning Ethiopia that are dated at least 3,000 years ago. The colorful history is a blend of fact, legend, and tradition. Some incidents dearest to Ethiopians and which they use to affirm unique their place in world, on close examination appear to be apocryphal. The legend that Ark of Covenant is housed in Axum is certainly controversial. But most of history is almost certainly correct and remains unchallenged.
Despite earlier contact with outside world, Ethiopia developed in relative isolation and was actually once known as "Hidden Empire". As a result, some of living culture is unique to country and has origins dating back hundreds of years. The Ge'ez language used in most modern day church services derives from Kingdom of Axum. Ge'ez alphabet has an amazing 231 letters. The country still uses Julian calendar, which has 12 months of 30 days each and an additional month of 5 days, with 6 days in a leap year. Relative to Gregorian calendar used in west, Ethiopia is 7 years behind between 11th September and 8th January and 8 years for rest of year.
Festivals of Orthodox Church are an ingrained part of popular culture. Timket, feast of Epiphany, is a colorful 3-day festival commemorating baptism of Jesus by John Baptist in Jordan River. Meskal, celebrates "finding of true cross" upon which Jesus was crucified, by Empress Helana -mother to Constantine Great. It is believed that a fragment of True Cross is to be found in a monastery in Gishen Mariam. Meskal has been celebrated in country for over 1600 years. Other Orthodox festivals include Ethiopian New Year (Enkutatash) and Christmas (Lidet).
Though a friendly people, Ethiopians are fiercely independent and even today appear to distrust outsiders a little bit. This may appear justified when you consider that foreigners such as British and Italians are guilty of looting historical relics. The Italians carried off to Rome a 150-tonne granite obelisk from Axum, when they occupied country between 1936-41. Mussolini had sought a rematch of 1896 defeat by Ethiopia that had greatly humiliated Italian patriots. The British had earlier in 1868 stolen priceless illuminated manuscripts, crowns, crosses, and other treasure. Ethiopia has been waging a campaign to have artifacts returned.
Most of historical treasures date from time King Azena of Axum converted to Christianity in 4th century AD. The highlights of "Historic Route" are Debre Libanos, Debre Markos, Bahar Dar, Gondar, Axum, Lalibela and Harar. You can reach these sites by air or car, or a combination of both. The route starts at Debre Libanos, 110 km from Addis Ababa. Here in 13th century, Saint Tekle Haymanot performed a fantastic feat- he stood on one leg for 7 years! A cathedral marks spot where this happened.