What We Learned in East Africa

Jambo Africa

Jambo Africa

In the summer of 2012, Mathew and I traveled with gAdventures on a spectacular ten-day East African journey through Tanzania and Kenya. Our overland camping adventure began in Zanzibar, Africa’s spice island, safaried through the Serengeti & Ngorongoro Crater and ended in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. With two weeks, few showers, heaps of wildlife seen and a whole lot of squat toilets…here’s what we learned.

Our transport through the Serengeti & Ngorongoro Crater

Our transport through the Serengeti & Ngorongoro Crater

Advance Planning

  • Get your visas in advance (& keep a copy if you can on email)
  • Check with your travel doctor regarding vaccinations and test out anti-malarials before you go
  • Carry your Yellow Fever card with you at all times
  • Check flight times and connections when trying to get from Dar Es Salaam to Zanzibar
  • There’s little to do at Dar Es Salaam airport so be sure to pack snacks/books/cards/journal if you have a long layover
  • Precision Air flies from Dar Es Salaam to Zanzibar a few times a day and comes highly recommended
    Wildebeasts in Ngorongoro Crater

    Wildebeasts in Ngorongoro Crater

  • Be prepared to be outside of your comfort zone-it’s the best!
  • Bring baby wipes & anti-bacterial lotion to each squat toilet outing
  • Always have your accommodation’s address written out and if possible have it in English and the native language
  • It’s Africa-enjoy and embrace it! Bring a positive attitude and BE FLEXIBLE!
  • Lock your passports/valuables in safe on the bus/truck if possible-carry a copy of the front page of your passport with you at all times
  • Invest in and wear clothing of light and khaki coloring so as not to attract Tse-Tse flies
  • Carry: Benadryl (for allergic reactions), Immodium/Cipro (traveler’s diarrhea), and Gravol (for nausea)
    Giraffe in the Crater

    Giraffe in the Crater


  • Karibu=welcome
  • Asante/Asante San=thank you/thank you very much
  • Rafiki=friend
  • Simba=lion
  • Jambo=hello
  • Pole pole=slow, slow
  • Upon asante=no thank you
  • Pole=sorry


Local Culture

  • In Zanzibar, be prepared to see the varying disparity of wealth
  • The Indian Ocean is gorgeous
    Zanzibar's Indian Ocean

    Zanzibar’s Indian Ocean

  • In Stonetown – a traditional Islamic area of Zanzibar- women should be sure to wear conservative attire & always keep shoulders covered
  • Sunsets: visit The Africa House in Stonetown for a fabulous sunset, cocktails and one of the most photographed palm trees in the world
    Sunset at The Africa House-Stonetown, Zanzibar

    Sunset at The Africa House-Stonetown, Zanzibar

  • If you can, visit with a Masai tribal community who will show you their traditional way of life
    Mathew at the Masai school house

    Mathew at the Masai school house

  • Masai tribal houses are made out of 2 rooms: one for mother and children and other for the father; houses are made out of cow dung, acacia trees & elephant grass
    Masai home

    Masai home

Food & Drink

  • Beers: Kilimanjaro, Tusker
  • Do not drink the tap water, but you can eat the vegetables
  • Best bottled water: Kilimanjaro
  • Take recommendations and give street food in Zanzibar a try; your senses will be assaulted from all sides
  • Try the chapatti (delicious unleavened flatbread)
    Zebras in Ngorongoro Crater

    Zebras in Ngorongoro Crater

Wildlife and Beyond

  • Honey Badgers are elusive and fierce creatures;  even in their small size they can take down a buffalo on their own
  • Serengeti is known as ‘the endless plain’
  • An elephant’s penis weighs 60 kg
  • The male ostrich is black and white while the female is brown and their necks turn pink during mating season
  • When looking for a leopard-all trees are suspect
  • Elephants are vegetarians and live a very long life
  • Ngorongoro Crater is named because of the sound of the bells around the necks of the Masai cows
  • Animal’s share responsibility:
    • Birds sit on the buffalo to eat parasites out of their eyes
    • Elephants can send a signal to other animals through a step/thud of their feet
    • Stripes on zebras look all blurry when they run as a herd so lions can’t see them
    • Blue & black flags around the Serengeti catch the attention of the Tse-Tse flies so they are less likely to bite people
      Elephants in the Serengeti

      Elephants in the Serengeti

  • Find the Ugly Five: Hyena, Maribu Stork, Vulture, Wildebeest & Wardhog
  • Seek the Small Five: Buffalo Weaver, Ant Lion, Rhino Beetle, Leopard Tortoise, & Elephant Shrew
  • Search for the Big Five: Elephant, Buffalo, Rhino, Lion, & Leopard
    On the prowl in the Serengeti

    On the prowl in the Serengeti


  • Bug spray, bug spray, bug spray (Clothing containing insect repellent is quite helpful)
  • Carry a pashmina, buff or scarf with you-the red dirt is gorgeous but gets everywhere
  • Always check in, under/around your tent for snakes & scorpions (especially when setting down & folding up)
  • While camping in the wild if you open your tent and see eyes staring at you-GET BACK INSIDE!
  • Contact lens solution and tampons are quite difficult to find outside of the main cities
  • Try a spice farm tour (it’s amazing what natural remedies can do)
    Growing vanilla bean on the Spice Plantation

    Growing vanilla bean on the Spice Plantation

  • Enjoy sarong/pareo shopping on Zanzibar’s beaches
  • Tanzanite is only mined in Tanzania and is more rare than diamonds. It is mined in only four mines just north of Arusha and will soon be extinct.
    Tanzania's Tanzanite

    Tanzania’s Tanzanite

  • If nauseous: try a tea made from ginger, cinnamon & cardomum
  • Always wear shoes while in a squat toilet
  • Depending on the time of year-hats, gloves & hand warmers are helpful in the Crater
  • Taste red bananas
  • If the weather accommodates, the views of Kilimanjaro are priceless
    Sunrise at Kilimanjaro (we enjoyed s'mores off the truck)

    Sunrise at Kilimanjaro (we enjoyed s’mores off the truck)

Africa holds wonders all its own. A trip to the continent will get into your soul and the memories will forever stay there. The tug of Africa has seen us journey there a few times and each time we leave we can’t wait for the chance to revisit. The Serengeti & Ngorongoro Crater have a magic all their own. Once bitten it will be hard not to want to return.

Hakuna Matata-It Means No Worries

Hakuna Matata-It Means No Worries


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