Bwindi Impenetrable National Park lies in southwestern Uganda on the edge of the Rift Valley. Its mist-covered hillsides are blanketed by one of Uganda’s oldest and most biologically diverse rainforests, which dates back over 25,000 years and contains almost 400 species of plants. More famously, this “impenetrable forest” also protects an estimated 320 mountain gorillas – roughly half of the world’s population, including several habituated groups, which can be tracked.
This biologically diverse region also provides shelter to a further 120 mammals, including several primate species such as baboons and chimpanzees, as well as elephants and antelopes. There are around 350 species of birds hosted in this forest, including 23 Albertine Rift endemics.
The Masai Mara lies in the Great Rift Valley, which is a fault line some 3,500 miles (5,600km) long, from Ethiopia’s Red Sea through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and into Mozambique. Here the valley is wide and a towering escarpment can be seen in the hazy distance. Most of the game viewing activities occur on the valley floor, but some lodges conduct walking tours outside the park boundaries in the hills of the Oloololo Escarpment. The animals are also at liberty to move outside the park into huge areas known as ‘dispersal areas’. There can be as much wildlife roaming outside the park as inside. Many Masai villages are located in the ‘dispersal areas’ and they have, over centuries, developed a synergetic relationship with the wildlife.
There are four main types of topography in the Mara: Ngama Hills to the east with sandy soil and leafy bushes liked by black rhino; Oloololo Escarpment forming the western boundary and rising to a magnificent plateau; Mara Triangle bordering the Mara River with lush grassland and acacia woodlands supporting masses of game especially migrating wildebeest; Central Plains forming the largest part of the reserve, with scattered bushes and boulders on rolling grasslands favoured by the plains game.
In a short stay during the wildebeest migration you could see thousands of animals, at other times there are still hundreds. The plains are full of wildebeest, zebra, impala, topi, giraffe, Thomson’s gazelle. Also regularly seen are leopards, lions, hyenas, cheetah, jackal and bat-eared foxes. Black rhino are a little shy and hard to spot but are often seen at a distance.
Hippos are abundant in the Mara River as are very large Nile crocodiles, who lay in wait for a meal as the wildebeest cross on their annual quest to find new pastures.
Every July (or sometimes August), the wildebeest travel over 600 miles (960km) from Tanzania’s Serengeti plains, northwards to the Masai Mara and the Mara River is the final obstacle. In October or November, once they have feasted and the grass has all but gone, they turn around and go back the other way.
The Mara birds come in every size and colour including common but beautiful ones like the lilac breasted roller and plenty of large species like eagles, vultures and storks. There are 53 different birds of prey.
Altitude is 4,875-7,052 feet (1,500-2,170 metres) above sea level, which yields a climate somewhat milder and damper than other regions. The daytime rarely exceeds 85°F (30°C) during the day and hardly ever drops below 60°F (15°C) at night.
Rainy Season: It rains in April and May and again November and this can cause some areas of the Mara to be inaccessible due to the sticky ‘black cotton’ mud.
Dry Season: July to October is dry and the grass is long and lush after the rains. This is a good time to come and see the huge herds of migratory herbivores.
Hottest time: The warmest time of year is December and January.
Coldest Time: June and July are the coldest months.
The Masai Mara is one of the best known and most popular reserves in the whole of Africa. At times and in certain places it can get a little overrun with tourist minibuses, but there is something so special about it that it tempts you back time and again. Seasoned safari travellers, travel writers, documentary makers and researchers often admit that the Masai Mara is one of their favorite places. So why is that? Perhaps it is because of the ‘big skies’, the open savannahs, the romance of films like ‘Out of Africa’ and certainly because of the annual wildebeest migration, the density of game, the variety of birdlife and the chance of a hot air balloon ride.
Also because of the tall red-robed Masai people whose lifestyle is completely at odds with western practices, and from whom one learns to question certain western values.
A combination of all these things plus something to do with the spirit of the place – which is hard to put into words – is what attracts people to the Mara over and over.
Serengeti National Park (14 763 km² or 5 700 miles²) is the biggest, the oldest and one of the most famous National Parks in Tanzania.
The park is situated near Kenyan border and it was founded in 1951. Serengeti National Park is listed by UNESCO as one of the World Heritage Sites and it has also been recently proclaimed as the 7th Natural Wonder of the world.
In Serengeti, you can see all the key African animals living in the savanna. It is estimated that 2 million big wild animals live in this park. Especially unique to the Serengeti’s nature are its open grasslands where the wildebeest herds migrate annually, followed by thousands hungry predators such as lions, hyenas and giant crocodiles.
There are several varieties of wild cats, including cheetahs, leopards and serval cats, in Serengeti. Though leopards are a rare sight, Serengeti is the best place in Tanzania to spot them. You can also see the bateared fox, jackals, genets and at least five different species of mongooses.
For bird watchers, you will find all the most common bird species and also some very rare birds, even one species which is found only in Serengeti. At Lake Ndutu, on Serengeti plains, you can see the marabou storks, herons and flamingoes. There are also many predatory birds in Serengeti, with five species of vultures, several species of eagles and many types of hawks.
The most unique feature of Serengeti is the migration of the wildebeest through northern Tanzania and into southern Kenya. In addition, Serengeti is one of the rare places where you can see rhinos. The road network in the park is in good condition and well organized.
For your safari mid July you will be able to spot the migration in the northern west of the park as it heads to Maasai Mara slowly so the migration just passes near your accommodation.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), measuring 8,300 square kilometres, is also the only place on earth where mankind and wild animals co-exist in harmony. The NCA became a Man and Biosphere Reserve in 1971 and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979.
Originally part of the Serengeti National Park when the latter was established by the British in 1951, in 1959 the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) was formed, separating NCA from Serengeti. Land within the area is multi-use, providing protection status for wildlife while also permitting human habitation. Its uniqueness lays in the fact that the NCA is where man, livestock and wild animals live in peace: Maasai cattle can sometimes be seen grazing alongside zebras on Ngorongoro’s grassland.
The NCCA’s wildlife and land has been a UNESCO site since 1979 and now its cultural heritage is to be included. The NCA is the only site in the world with a high concentration of wildlife living in harmony with human communities. The multiple land use systems in this area are among the earliest to be established around the world as a means of reconciling human development and conserving natural resources. The NCA also contains numerous paleontological, archaeological, and anthropological sites of exceptional quality.
Had it not become the world’s sixth-largest unbroken caldera, then what is now known as the Ngorongoro crater could have been a towering volcanic mountain, as high as Kilimanjaro. The crater is the flagship tourism feature for the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. It is a large, unbroken, un-flooded caldera, formed when a giant volcano exploded and collapsed some three million years ago. The Ngorongoro crater sinks to a depth of 610 metres, with a base area covering 260 square kilometres. The height of the original volcano must have ranged between 4,500 to 5,800 metres high. Apart from the main caldera, Ngorongoro also has two other volcanic craters: Olmoti and Empakai, the former famous for its stunning waterfalls, and the latter holding a deep lake and lush, green walls.
On the leeward of the Ngorongoro highlands protrudes the iconic Oldonyo Lengai, an active volcano and Tanzania’s third highest peak after Kilimanjaro and Meru. Known to local people as the Mountain of God, Mount Lengai’s last major eruption occurred in 2007. At the mountain’s foot is Lake Natron, East Africa’s major breeding ground for flamingoes.
The area contains over 25,000 large animals including 26 black rhinoceros. There are 7,000 wildebeests, 4,000 zebras, 3,000 eland and 3,000 Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles. The crater also has the densest known population of lions, numbering 62. Higher up, in the rainforests of the crater rim, are leopards, about 30 large elephants, mountain reedbuck and more than 4,000 buffalos, spotted hyenas, jackals, rare wild dogs, cheetahs, and other felines.
The legendary annual wildebeest and zebra migration also passes through Ngorongoro, when the 1.7 million ungulates move south into the area in December then move out heading north in June. The migrants passing through the plains of the reserve include 1.7 million wildebeest, 260,000 zebra, and 470,000 gazelles. The Lake Ndutu area to the west has significant cheetah and lion populations. Over 500 species of bird have been recorded within the NCA. These include ostrich, white pelican, and greater and lesser flamingo on Lake Magadi within the crater, Lake Ndutu, and in the Empakaai Crater Lake, where a vast bird population can be observed.