Day 1: Lake Manyara National Park
Day 1 – 3: Sanctuary Ngorongoro Crater Camp, Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Day 3 – 6: Sanctuary Kichakani Serengeti, Southern Serengeti
Day 6 – 8: Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel, Volcanoes National Park
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) extends from the crater highlands all the way past Olduvai Gorge and onto the short grasslands of the southern Serengeti and Lake Ndutu. But the wildlife does not adhere to these boundaries and there is very good wildlife viewing, especially during peak calving season when the NCA plains play host to the Great Wildebeest Migration and the birth of hundreds of thousands of wildebeest in a short span of time. This brings predator action, especially with large hyena clans, cheetah, and the return of African hunting dogs.
The NCA is a protected area and a World Heritage Site located 180 km (111 miles) west of Arusha. The area is named after the Ngorongoro Crater, a large volcanic caldera whose name derives from the sound made by the cattle bells of the local Maasai pastoralists.
Sanctuary Ngorongoro Crater Camp is located in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and is situated in the Ngorongoro Crater rim valley, close to the access road into the crater, giving guests unrivaled access to the crater floor. Ngorongoro is home to a large assortment of animals including zebra, buffalo, warthog, wildebeest, hippo and elephants; and an amazing population of predators – lions, hyenas, jackals, cheetahs and the elusive leopard.
The camp offers ten classic safari tents – each with its own en-suite bathroom and a small sitting area in front.
Visit Lake Manyara National Park on day 1. Lake Manyara National Park is only 325 km2 (125 mi2) in size and yet offers a unique wilderness experience with an incredible diversity of habitats, from its Acacia forests and dense woodlands to its soda lake and steep escarpment. This spectacular setting, within easy road access from Arusha, makes Manyara a popular stop off on the way to the crater highlands.
The park is famous for its tree climbing lions and some of the largest baboon troops in the country, as well as for often having large numbers of flamingos at its shorelines. Great herds of buffalo can also be found, alongside general plains game and excellent birding.
A veritable Garden of Eden, the Ngorongoro Crater is only 260 km2 (100mi2) in size yet has some of the highest densities of lion and spotted hyena found anywhere in the world. The view from the crater rim at 600 m (1970 ft) is nothing short of breathtaking. The thick mountain forests of the crater highlands strike a sharp contrast with the short grass plains of the crater floor with its yellow fever Acacia woodlands and streams. The soda lake Magadi in the center of the crater floor sometimes attracts lesser flamingos, and the area is known for very large tusked elephants, black rhino, and great predator action.
Easily accessible from Arusha, the three million year old Ngorongoro Crater was once a gigantic volcano that some suggest was even higher than Mt Kilimanjaro. It is the largest intact caldera in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Walks are available on the rim in certain areas, but game viewing on the crater floor is strictly by vehicle and on designated game drive routes. Local Maasai pastoralists and their villages surround the western side of the crater whilst the eastern side is heavily forested up to the farming town of Karatu.
Enjoy thrilling game drives lead by highly qualified guides in closed 4×4 game viewing vehicles. Game drives are conducted in the early morning and late afternoon in the Ngorongoro Crater and on the rim. An optional game drive in Lake Manyara National Park is available as an extension.
Guests can also enjoy cultural activities in a nearby Maasai village, with an additional entrance fee per vehicle payable to the village.
The vast open plains of the southern Serengeti offer insight into why Serengeti was so named, being derived from the Maasai word for the endless plains. To the east the plains stretch out to the picturesque Gol kopjes, imposing ancient granite outcrops that are islands of biodiversity and provide refuge from the open plains for all the cats. The Maasai steppe in the east is home to huge clans of spotted hyena who are probably the apex predator in this area.
The Serengeti is perhaps the most famous African wilderness area, its name synonymous with the notion of safari for nearly a hundred years. This UNESCO World Heritage site covers 14,750 km2 (5,700 mi2) of premiere game viewing in Acacia woodlands, open grasslands, and undulating savannahs interspersed with seasonal rivers. The park on the northern side borders the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya and, together with several other smaller reserves and conservation areas, forms the larger Mara-Serengeti ecosystem.
The Great Wildebeest Migration
Between the months of December and March the southern Serengeti and neighboring Ngorongoro Conservation Area play host to the Great Wildebeest Migration in incredible numbers. During February and March, close to 300,000 baby wildebeest are born within a six week period, and the bush teems with new life.
Predatory action is at a high and this is one of the best areas and times to look for cheetahs. Lions and leopards can also be found, generally around the Lake Ndutu and Acacia tortilis woodlands in the middle of the plains. The extremely rare African hunting dogs have also made a return to the south near Kakesio and Maswa.
This extraordinary escape, based in two set locations across the Serengeti, invites guests to intimately experience the movement of a million-plus wildebeest and zebra as they follow the fresh grasses across the Serengeti plains during the annual migration cycle. Being a part of Kichakani — translating from Swahili as ‘in the bush’ — means staying in remarkable luxury tents which can be packed up and moved along in a style evocative of the pioneering explorers of the 19th century, yet with all the modern comforts. Handcrafted luggage, easy chairs with an air of mid-century modern, and characterful cabinets and desks, have all been designed to be perfectly portable.
Ten five-star tents with a wooden deck and ensuite bathrooms that feature authentic bucket showers.
Sanctuary Kichakani Serengeti Camp’s two set locations throughout the year are based on the natural migration path offering wildlife viewing from open plains, sweeping grasslands and rocky kopjes. The stars of this seasonal path are wildebeest, zebra, thomson’s gazelles, and the predators that this migratory journey attracts. The Serengeti is known for having the Big Five; cheetahs are a highlight, along with wild dog, giraffe, waterbuck and impala.
Sundowners are a must on any safari, and the perfect way to end the day and take some time to enjoy the magnificent sunsets of Africa. Enjoy a refreshing drink or a signature cocktail as you celebrate the end of the day; all while being surrounded by thousands of wildebeest and zebras.
Hot Air Ballooning
A balloon flight over the Serengeti is widely considered a bucketlist activity that offers a serene and spectacular experience floating over the vast, lush, and game filled plains.
A lift off at dawn means you watch the sun rise as you head in a generally western direction. Flights usually last close to an hour and depending on the take off spot you float over riverine woodlands, watching hippos return to their daytime refuges and crocodiles basking on sandbanks. Sometimes predators and large antelope herds can be spotted below, pointed out by your experienced captain.
After the flight you will be met by the trailing transfer vehicles and taken to a pre-prepared picnic breakfast, beautifully set up in an idyllic spot on the plains.
Just a three hour drive from Kigali, Volcanoes National Park encompasses 160 km2 (60mi2) in a rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, with evergreen and bamboo forests. The national park includes five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains, with Karisimbi being the highest at 4,507 m (14,785 ft). The lush slopes of these volcanoes provide a dramatic natural setting for one of the most thrilling and memorable wildlife experiences: seeing the mountain gorilla in its natural habitat. Roughly half of the world’s wild population of mountain gorillas reside on the Rwandan slopes of the Virungas massif.
This is also the setting for the film Gorillas in the Mist, an autobiography about Diane Fossey, who set up the Karisoke Research Center and dedicated her life to these wonderful animals.
Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel in Musanze (Ruhengeri), located on the road going to Kinigi, is the perfect starting point for activities in Volcanoes National Park, but also gives lots of opportunities to rest and enjoy in the relaxing atmosphere of the lodge. 8 Deluxe bedrooms (double/twin), a family suite, and the Volcano Manor, a restaurant, a pool, and a beautiful garden await your visit. The staff looks forward to making your stay a pleasant one.
The deluxe double is a spacious room with a king size bed or two separate beds. It has a self-contained bathroom with a “rain fall” shower and a bathtub. It has additionally a changing room which gives space for the luggage. The rooms are equipped with a mini bar and a tea/coffee station.
Enjoy an unforgettable hour with the mountain gorillas and a great hike through the forest. Rent a bike and make a tour with a member of the Africa Rising Cycling Team. Have fun watching the golden monkeys jumping and climbing through the bamboo forest. See the Rwandan countryside while gently floating in a canoe through the thousand hills.
The Virunga Mountains straddle the borders of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and are home to around 480 mountain gorillas, more than half of the world’s entire population — the rest live in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
In Volcanoes National Park, which encompasses five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains, twelve gorilla groups are now habituated for tourism and offer one of the world’s most awe-inspiring natural experiences. To be in the presence of these gentle giants at such close quarters is truly a once in a lifetime experience.
Although the immense size of the silverbacks might be overwhelming, these 400-pound creatures are actually extremely accommodating to human presence amongst their family. The guides might even teach you a few words in ‘Gorilla’ so you can greet them and show that you are, in fact, friendly!
The day of the trek usually begins with an early start at your hotel and then a drive to park headquarters at Kinigi. Here, park officials assign you to a gorilla family and you meet your gorilla guides. After being briefed on protocols, you head over to the specific starting point, where teams of porters are available for hire. Remember, you are trekking for around 2,500m and so any help is welcome.
Groups are limited to eight guests. The initial trek is usually through rural Rwanda’s open fields of potatoes and pyrethrum, until you reach the rough wall boundary of the park itself. From here, your guide will be in communication with the trackers and you will begin the hike through the forest to meet the gorillas. Your permit allows you one hour with the gorilla family, after which you say goodbye to your trackers and hike back down to meet your awaiting vehicle.
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