TEDx Ambassador for Pakistan Irteza Ubaid was recently in Tanzania, attending the TED Global conference and experiencing the best of Africa as he travelled across Serengeti on a safari and found himself relaxing on the white sandy beaches of Zanzibar.
Photography: Irteza Ubaid and Pranav Chhikara
What a wonderful phrase
Ain’t no passing craze
I grew up hearing this song from one of the most iconic movies of my childhood, The Lion King.
Simba and Hakuna Matata were the first two things that popped into my head when I thought about travelling to Tanzania as Tanzania, or more specifically Serengeti, is the land that visually inspired The Lion King.
First thoughts about Tanzania:
I have been curating TEDx events for the last 7 years and this year I was appointed as TEDx Ambassador for Pakistan. As part of the ambassadorship, I was invited to TEDGlobal that was held in the beautiful city of Arusha in Tanzania.
I had a feeling from the very beginning that this would be a destination full of surprises and adventures. As I sat on my laptop to research about the country (the land of Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar and Serengeti), I was expecting it to be a mostly desert area but to my surprise, I discovered that Tanzania has a sublime blend of all kinds of landscape and biodiversity ranging from serene beaches in the island of Zanzibar, deserts, lakes and lush green parks that are home to nature’s wildest and beautiful species, to the highest point of Africa – the Kilimanjaro Mountain.
Choosing the places to visit in Tanzania:
The most difficult task was to come up with an itinerary that would allow me to experience the best of Tanzania in the 8-9 days that I had after the conference. I coordinated with my friends who were attending TEDGlobal and we decided to settle for two destinations.
First, a disclaimer; some of the places I am about to name are very hard to pronounce, but I hope at the same time they induce a sense of the exotic for those of you reading this.
Wildlife safari was the bucket list item for all of us and hence, we all unanimously decided to go Serengeti National Park. It is home to the highest concentration of lions in the world and a popular place to see lions and the other Big Five: elephants, rhinos, leopards and buffalo. The Serengeti is also home to the Ol Doinyo Lengai, the only volcano on the planet that is currently erupting carbonatite lava.
The second option was either to go to Mount Kilimanjaro or to relax at the beaches of Zanzibar. I always prefer beaches over mountains, hence the choice was simple and I stayed there for 3 days. Zanzibar is an archipelago situated at the Swahili coast of the Indian Ocean and is home to some of the most pristine white sandy beaches surrounded by coral reefs and swaying palm trees.
Where to stay:
- Ngare Sero Mountain Lodge – a small family owned hotel with the most scenic views and home to some beautiful birds.
- Mount Meru Lodge in Arusha – a lovely hotel with an excellent breakfast, friendly staff and good location.
- Mizingani Seafront Hotel in Zanizibar – a beautiful hotel at the beachfront that provides one of the best rooms with a view.
Top things to do:
- Arusha National Park Walking Safari
As part of the conference excursion, we were taken to the Arusha National Park for a day-long walking safari and game drive. The walking safari got all of us excited as it offered a teaser of what to expect at Serengeti. It is a three-legged safari trip; we were accompanied by rangers for the first leg, the walking safari. We spotted zebras, buffalos, giraffes (took a giraffe selfie as well – giraffie). The second leg was the game drive, where we spotted several kinds of antelopes, wild animals, monkeys and many birds including flamingos. Unfortunately, we could not spot any leopards or lions that day. We had our lunch at the bank of Lake Momella which marked the third leg of the journey; canoeing, and spotting buffaloes, hippos, waterbucks and a wide array of bird species. Arusha National Park Safari is a more practical option if you are travelling with kids or are short on time.
- Wildlife Safari and Game Drive at Serengeti National Park
There are two ways to reach Serengeti from Arusha, either by a private plane or a jeep ride. We took the jeep route and a 5-day safari tour package from Arusha after the end of the conference. The tour operators accommodate 4-6 people and a cook in the jeep, with the driver as your guide. Our game drives started early morning and continued until sunset for three days with endless sightings of lions, cheetahs, leopards, the Big Five and numerous wild beasts, along with birds and marine animals found in various lakes of the national park. Despite being in the jeep for the next few days, the sights of the magnificent animals and the amazing landscape kept us excited and upbeat. We were also successful in recognizing some of the locations from The Lion King animation in Serengeti but sadly could not locate the Pride Rock. Most nights were spent in safari camps getting a nightmarish shut-eye as hyenas would frequently roam around the open enclosures. The Serengeti safari definitely provides one of nature’s most unforgettable experiences – bucket list item checked.
- African Music and Dance Workouts
As part of the conference sideline activities, I took a Kukuwa dance workout class, and got a chance to explore the various African dances. Here, I learnt to move muscles I didn’t know I had! Kukuwa is your workout reinvented – break a sweat. It is open to all fitness levels and is a fun way to experience African dance routines and m usic.
- Experience Swahili Food
No trip is complete without experiencing the local delicacies. Being a foodie, I never miss any opportunity to try new cuisines. I tried the Swahili food available at various local restaurants and roadside joints, and found it to be highly influenced by South Asian flavours, albeit less spicy (compared to Pakistanis standards). Most of the main courses were served with rice or chapaati. (Yes, the locals call them chapaati!).
- Visit Masai Village or Market
Tanzania is big when it comes to handicrafts, especially textile and cane products. I visited local Masai markets in Arusha and bought some handwoven shawls, blankets and other handicrafts for personal use and gifts.
- Nightlife and Water Activities at Zanzibar Beaches
Zanzibar has a number of pristine white sand beaches that are perfect for relaxing or indulging in some water sports. If you are into clear waters, diving, snorkelling and coral reefs, Mnemba Island should be your base but for nightlife and buzzy nights, Nungwi is the preferred touristy spot on
Before You Travel
Tanzania is one of the few countries where Pakistanis have visa-on-arrival facility. Make sure you have an invitation letter and a $50 bill. It will take less than 5 minutes to complete the visa and immigration process. Tanzania is free from yellow fever now, but you could be asked to show a yellow fever certificate. Make sure you get it at least 10 days before you travel. Do not forget your sunblock, bug spray and good walking shoes. Keep a light jacket for the evenings as they can get chilly; learn some basic Swahili words and most importantly, get ready for an adventure of a lifetime. Asante saana (Thank you)!