A Tanzania Family Safari
By Margot Black
You don’t undertake a family-friendly safari in Tanzania without doing a ton of planning first.
It’s a long way to go with a small human in tow and everything from scheduling to clothing to vaccinations needs to be attended to closely.
Our Tanzania family safari adventure was to be a magnificent cultural immersion in nature and a wonderful way to unplug not just my son from his iPad but myself and my husband from our phones.
Before we left I overheard my son tell another child: “My Mom is taking us to a place so far away we probably won’t have Wi-fi.”
I used a travel planner, International Expeditions, opting for an organized tour and it was exceptionally relaxing for me as a working mom to have everything taken care of.
For additional planning and assistance, we turned to their partners Elewana Lodges and Sky Safari and I was grateful for the help, guidance, and assistance.
We’re all seasoned travelers – even my ten-year-old son who has been as far afield as Japan and Machu Picchu – but there are always concerns when you step so far out of your comfort zone you feel you might need a compass to find your way back.
I’d call myself an intrepid traveler, and usually do all travel planning myself, but there’s no way I could have undertaken this family safari without travel planning assistance.
I’m happy to say that our Tanzanian African adventure ran like clockwork and we truly enjoyed exploring this fascinating country.
We felt safe at all times, were driven in immaculate cars, flying in small, neat planes and nothing during our entire stay was unpolished including our glorious safari picnics.
An astounding amount of wildebeest and zebra move along this route yearly as they migrate in search of water, in what is often referred to as “the great migration.”
A former German colony, Tanzania was ceded to Britain after World War I.
It’s a big country that borders with northern Kenya, and home to some 55 million people, although to give you some idea of scale the States is approximately ten times bigger in terms of landmass.
Politically, it’s more stable than other African nations with its President John Magufuli acting as both head of state and head of parliament.
English and Swahili
The most common languages are English and Swahili, so we knew we’d at least be understood. While we were there we also learned a few words in Swahili including ‘shukrani’, which means thank you. Let me tell you, we used it often and always heartfelt.
We arrived at Kilimanjaro International Airport, and there, for $100 per person (cash, and bring it with you, there were no visible ATM’s), we obtained our Tanzanian visas.
We were met by our cheerful and welcoming International Expeditions driver for our road transfer to the Arusha Coffee Lodge, which is situated on the foothills of Mount Meru and nestled within one of Tanzania’s largest working coffee plantations. website
We collapsed upon arrival and awoke to some amazing Tanzania coffee in a lovely Plantation suite. The compound is decorated in – you guessed it – coffee colors and the varieties of tans, browns, and creams made it a delicious sanctuary of relaxation. This lovely coffee lodge, which bookended our trip, served incredible food and great coffee.
Suite Life on Safari
We immediately loved it and our gorgeous suite. To really hit home we were in Africa, on arrival, as they were serving us a welcome coffee, another lady traveler had an apple she put down for a second stolen by a monkey who snatched it!
We fell soundly asleep that first night and on our second day after breakfast at the lodge, we enjoyed a tour of the coffee estate.
After lunch, we were driven to the Kuro Airstrip where our safari took to the air. The tiny little airports with one or two small planes are a travel adventure in themselves.
And these small planes is where you see the general need and importance of a 35 lbs. luggage limitation.
Upon landing, we drove through the breath-taking Tarangire National Park to the wonderful Tarangire Treetops Hotel, which is a luxury treehouse fantasy come true, for a two-night stay.
Centered about a Main Lodge – which itself encases a thousand-year-old baobab tree – Tarangire Treetops comprises of 20 rooms all of which are above the ground with great views over the tops of marula and baobab trees.
Ostrich Egg Soap Holders
Our shower contained soap and shampoo holders made from ostrich eggs, the most exotic bathroom accessories I’ve ever encountered. We arrived just in time to feast on a Traditional Maasai Boma Dinner. Many of the lodges employ men from the Maasai tribe since they are so knowledgeable about the surrounding animals.
The tallest one there stood at around 6′ 3” and had a name that translated to “Lucky” so that’s what we called him. Our son enjoyed being shown around the camp by his new tall buddy and watching them walk off together made me giggle.
The next day after breakfast at the Treetops we visited a Maasai tribe in their village. We were welcomed with a song and a good deal of curiosity from a few little ones. I wish I had brought a Polaroid camera to leave them with some photos of themselves, plus pens and pencils to leave behind but we were only allowed to carry 35lbs each.
Learning about the Maasai
Hitting the family travel sweet spot, we learned a lot about the Maasai way of life. Each man can have up to six wives and the women it seems do the bulk of the work.
Being in their village and touring their mud huts was mind-blowing. You wonder how we’re all living on the same planet, but it was astounding to see cultural preservation in existence.
We bought some coasters from the women and left the village very moved. I could tell it affected my son, who like many western children has many things, but who on that day saw children the same age with very little.
Back at Treetops, we enjoyed a delicious cocktail sundowner before heading out for a night time game drive.
It was thrilling to drive through Africa at night. We saw porcupines, lions, and several large elephants that just stared at us as they stood in the road seeming to ask, “going somewhere?”
The next morning, we drove to the Tarangire National Park which is 11,000 square miles of spectacular plain and home to elephants, zebras, and lions.
Standing in the Jeep
Our son loved standing in the Jeep as we whizzed along, which is something he can’t do legally in America. We ate a spectacular picnic lunch and before we knew it we were driving to the Manyara Airstrip for a short flight to The Manor at Ngorongoro, arriving just in time for High Tea.
This was a well needed, beautiful and much-appreciated stop because it had lots of activities that didn’t involve driving. The Manor, which is the definition of old-world charm, offers horseback riding, a large swimming pool, and mountain biking.
We indulged in a spa treatment here while our kid enjoyed a bit of TV and iPad time (our kid became a champion Wifi spotter!).
We stretched our legs, around the impeccably manicured grounds and lingered in our Cape-Dutch style room. The food was exquisite with a variety of menu choices each evening, and even our kid’s meals presentation was “fancy”.
There were other kids staying here and they had a billiard table and TV room so as a family we felt more than welcome.
We woke early to drive to the Ngorongoro Crater Safari and soaked up the sights as the morning mist lifted.
This crater is the pride of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and was formed when a giant volcano exploded and collapsed on itself some two to three million years ago.
It’s also a natural enclosure for the resident population of Ngorongoro lions, as well as abundant wildebeest, buffalo, zebra, and rhino.
Picnic in the Crater
Once in the crater, our guides set up another magnificent picnic complete with a table covered in a tablecloth, beautiful plates, proper silver cutlery and crates for chairs.
It was the kind of fantasy picnic you see in magazines but would never prepare yourself. We had to pinch ourselves at this feast of vegetables, chicken, salads, and sweets in the most picturesque of settings.
After the two-hour drive back to the Manor my husband and I savored a gin and tonic on the deck as we watched the sunset, and then as a family, we ate under the stars.
It was a truly magical day. The next morning, we visited Lake Manyara National Park, which is famous for its resident flamingos.
We also saw some incredible baboons and one family that had just had a baby. There is also a hippo pond at one end of the park where visitors can get out of their cars and observe from a safe distance. We took lots of pictures and waited hopefully for some of the hippos to emerge from the water, but they stayed in lazily soaking away.
Watch out for Crocs
We also noticed some crocodiles hanging around, this is certainly water you don’t want to be dipping your toes into. Back at the hotel, and with more to see, we checked out and drove back to the Manyara Airstrip, and flew to the Serengeti National Park.
The park is 5,700 square miles in size and known for its annual migration of 1.5 million wildebeest, zebra, crocodiles and internet meme favorites, the honey badger.
The next morning, we took a balloon safari across the plain. It was an incredible treat that requires a (well worth it) 4 am wake up call.
Sharing a basket with approximately ten other travelers, we glided across the early morning sky in our balloon over the Serengeti. A dazzle of zebras (yes that really is their collective name!) galloped below us.
Our balloon landing was easy and smoother than I would have expected (a few bumps and it was done).
And after our balloon ride, we were treated to a glorious bush breakfast buffet in a spectacular setting. One of the fun things about being in the wild is the lack of restrooms.
You have to make do with what you can, and someone had set up a hilarious balloon safari Port-a-Potty with just a sheet for modesty.
While on game drives, we were told that if wanted to pee en-route we would have to go and ‘check a tire’ which was code for stopping the jeep, stepping out and doing your business!
We have delightfully brought the term home with us but in many different surroundings. We then set out on another game drive spotting zebras for as far as the eyes could see who were migrating with the wildebeest.
Our guide told us that zebras and wildebeest make good travel partners as one eats the high grass and another the low, so they move together in total harmony.
Awesome Animals All-Around
We were overwhelmed by the unbelievable number of animals and animal sounds.
This was one of the most awesome displays of animal behavior to witness on planet earth, watching this migration was bucket list indeed! Later, we enjoyed a refreshing and reviving sundowner.
You will do a lot of traveling in Africa, but we found that this fabulous tradition gave us time after all the to-ing and fro-ing to take a moment to soak up the country’s immense beauty.
We flew out of the Serengeti the next morning, heading back to the Arusha Coffee Lodge for one night before flying on to Zanzibar and then Amsterdam before heading back to the States.
I made sure to visit Arusha’s gift shop which is run by Shanga.org, who employ disabled people and teach them how to weave, blow glass and bead. This is where I did the bulk of my shopping. It was an easy African shopping experience with no bargaining and I felt like my money was going to good use.
The products supported a great cause. Before we had time to process most of what we’d seen we were flying out of Africa but not before learning a few things about traveling there as a family with a kid.
While many of the toddlers we saw in the Maasai village were colorfully dressed and always seemingly near wildlife, I discovered that there are many considerations that come in to play when traveling to Africa with your own children.
Some kids are afraid of bugs and there are plenty of bugs (large and small) on safari. In Tanzania, we encountered mosquitos (although not too many, it wasn’t rainy season) and sometimes pesky tsetse flies.
Our son’s dislike of bugs was our family travel challenge and we equipped our son with bug spray, mosquito repellent bracelets. The entire family wore essential insect repellent clothing from Insect Shield (www.insectshield.com), plus a $3.99 Coghlans Mosquito Head Net which he appreciated and wore often to keep the bugs from flying in his face.
Protection from Bugs
My son doesn’t like bugs (common around his age) so letting him know he was protected was good. I loved the insect shield scarves which I used as outfit décor and also to wrap our son in when he needed a nap. Additionally, we took precautions with both malaria tablets and drank only bottled water.
No one in our family got sick and we carried our own stash of anti-diarrhea pills with us just in case we did. My essential tip if you’re traveling with children and need to dispense malaria pills is to also travel with a jar of Nutella.
Once you squish the pill inside that chocolatey goodness, your kid won’t even notice the pill. Other parents commented on how easily our son was taking his medicine and now the secret’s out!
We’d also had our required doctor recommended vaccinations and Yellow Fever, which we carried proof of, although no-one ever asked for it.
Another issue for traveling with kids on safari can be the darkness. There’s not a lot of ambient light around safari camps, many are running on generators and it is indeed very dark at night.
If your kid(s) are at an age they are still afraid of the dark, this might not be the right time yet for them to travel on safari. Picky eaters could also be problematic, but we found Tanzania to be quite family-friendly and most places had variations of chicken nuggets (thank you Treetops), spaghetti and cheeseburgers on the menu.
Don’t Waste Food
That being said, we always encourage our child to not waste any food, not order or take more than he could eat, and we did the same.
Another consideration for your little humans is the amount of driving you do and the sitting still that comes with all that driving. Tanzania is huge.
The daily drives were much longer than in some areas of South Africa and neighboring countries I had experienced in the past. Your child (generally 10+ years old) must be able to sit still in a car for two, three or even four hours at a time (with abundant animal spotting excitement, of course).
And finally, it’s important to know that like America tips are a way of life in Africa, so prepare for your journey by having lots of small denomination bills available. You won’t be seeing ATM’s on safari. Our African family adventure was truly amazing and memorable.
The safari industry is a well-oiled machine in Tanzania, but you cannot do it alone. However, with so many wonderful people to guide you and so much to soak up, why would you even want to? Traveling to Africa as a family isn’t quick and easy and was worth every moment of advance preparation.
Unplugging for a Good Reason
A family safari provided us the opportunity to unplug from our devices and plug into the glorious and abundant animal life and different culture around us.
To watch a herd of elephants shepherd a new baby across the road in front of your eyes, to dance with a tribe that seems untouched by time, and to fall asleep in a tent to the sounds of hippos roaring in a nearby lake – these were magical family moments and deep travel immersion at its best.
Tanzania is a magnificent country that offers big game parks, big adventures, and big travel wins for adventuresome families.
Born adventurer and Los Angeles-based travel writer Margot Black focuses on outdoor family travel, family travel, cultural immersion and experiences in nature. Her goals in life include mastering Spanish, being the weight on her driver’s license, and learning how to travel with just one small suitcase.