June 18

An East African Safari: Four Countries. One Continent. Myriad Discoveries.


By Amy Knight-Dawson on June 18, 2024

An East African safari conjures up visions of ancient sepia-stained maps, pirates plundering, and safari plinths donned by the explorers of yore. The modern spirit of East Africa that now thrives has eclipsed a past peppered with conflict and colonialism. We take you on a journey through four of our favourite countries for an East African safari...

View over the Masai Mara from the balcony at Angama Mara

Maasai Mara is a wildlife paradise to explore on your East African safari, Image Credit: Angama Mara

The Essence of an East African Safari 

Nowhere else on our planet will you find the same solace than in the vast great plains, rainforests, sky-scraping mountain ranges, seething volcanoes and enriching cultural exchanges of East Africa.

Imagine floating away in a hot air balloon safari silhouetted against an apricot blush dawn. On a walking safari, you may encounter a tower of giraffes browsing elegantly on flat-topped acacias while peeping at you beneath their impossibly long eyelashes.

Find nirvana in an outdoor yoga session in the untouched bush. Dine under a star-spangled sky by cheerful lantern light, making new friends while tightening the ties that bind. And much more.

Hot air balloon safari with Governors' Camp Collective over the Masai Mara

Image Credit: Governors' Camp Collective

An Unforgettable East African Safari Destination

Tanzania is home to Mount Kilimanjaro, and the Serengeti National Park located here is host to part of the Great Wildebeest Migration. From late June to October, driven on by their thirst-quenching quest, roughly 1.5 million blue wildebeest run the gauntlet, crossing the mighty Mara River littered with giant crocodiles lying in ambush, into Kenya with zebra and other grazers following suit. 

Year after year, they chase billowing rain clouds across the vast grasslands, driven by instinct, ostensibly oblivious to the dangers posed by hungry predators – lions, leopards and cheetahs – that shadow their every move. 

The Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania 

The Ngorongoro Crater provides a self-contained backdrop against which unique wildlife encounters unfold. Bear witness to the scale of animals sharing the world's only unbroken caldera, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, laying claim to UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Be mindful that the seasonal rains dictate the area's vegetation level, seasonally becoming something akin to a larger-than-life salad bowl. 

&Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge

Admire wildlife roaming the crater, Image Credit: &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge

If you're after verdant backdrops that are easy on the eye, travel after the rains when the lush landscapes emerge, roughly between November and May. 

Not to be outdone in the heart-capturing department, the sought-after violet-hued Tanzanite gemstone holds its own. The stones belong to the zoisite species unique to Tanzania, found near Arusha. First discovered in 1967 and given its name by Tiffany's, who bore exclusive marketing rights for the first few years after its discovery, the gems are said to have mystical qualities. 

A short bush plane flit from Tanzania's mainland lies another gem, the Zanzibar Archipelago. The collection of tropical islands set in the tourmaline waters of the warm Indian Ocean is lauded by sun worshippers, especially in the Global South, for its affordable fly-and-flop holiday packages. 

A Ngorongoro Crater safari is not limited to the crater itself

The crater is only one part of a much greater thriving ecosystem

Spice Islands, Zanzibar 

Scattered like gemstones across the Indian Ocean, the Spice Islands hold great allure: powder-white beaches, crystal-clear warm, serene ocean scenes, plus captivating culture and heritage. 

Lying 22 miles (35 kilometres) off mainland Tanzania, the coral, limestone and sandstone Zanzibar Archipelago comprises Unguja, the largest of the islands, also known as Zanzibar Island and its smaller counterpart to the north, Pemba. 

Unguja is a treasure trove of historical and cultural experiences. Walk the streets of the famous East African trading hub, uncovering centuries of history shaped by influential Middle Eastern sultans, African chieftains and leaders of Western dynasties.

Zanzibar in East Africa

Zanzibar is the perfect bush-meets-beach destination

Visit Freddie Mercury's Hometown 

The UNESCO World Heritage Site, Stone Town, is famous for many reasons. Notably, it claims to be the location of the shortest war waged in recorded history and the birthplace of British rock star legend Freddie Mercury, respectively.

The intricately carved wooden doors that stand out amongst the ancient labyrinth of alleyways and lanes are also a drawcard, each a quixotic local piece of art revealing a unique story. 

Pemba is less commercial. If you aspire to a less commercial Zanzibari experience punctuated by secret cove discoveries, authentic community encounters and off-the-beaten-track adventures, you'll likely enjoy Pemba or Mafia Island. The latter is an islet off Unguja's southerly coast adjacent to the bustling Dar es Salaam, the mainland gateway to the Zanzibar Archipelago. 

Visit Stone Town in Zanibar on your East African safari

Stone Town is a cultural hub

The Sweet Zanzibar Life

Life in Zanzibar is centred around the ocean, agriculture and, in recent years, tourism. Fishing is an important local industry. Cloves and, recently, seaweed have been the main cash crops exported from Zanzibar. 

Scuba diving, snorkelling and adrenaline-charged kitesurfing are popular watersports. The two monsoon seasons, namely, kaskazi and kusi in Kiswahili, sweep through the islands from March to May (the long rains) and November to December (the short rains), sandwiching the drier season. 

Watching traditional dhows' billowing sails silhouetted against the copper horizon is a rare, beautiful moment in time immortalised by amateur and professional photographers worldwide. 


Dhows gliding across the ocean

Land and Marine Wildlife Galore 

The Zanzibar Archipelago is home to a remarkable diversity of wildlife relative to its size. Zanzibar Island is known for the endemic red colobus monkey, inhabiting the Jozani Forest and the coastal mangrove swamps. Pemba's flying fox, so called for its fox-like face, is a fruitbat with an impressive wingspan of 1.6 metres. Mafia Island attracts wallowing whale sharks to its hospitable waters and is lucky enough to have a resident population of these beauties.

Like a tropical decompression chamber, the islands are an idyllic, soul-soothing sequel to an action-packed East Africa safari

Underwater photography red knobbed sea star and sea urchins zanzibar tanzania

Red knobbed sea star and sea urchins in Zanzibar, Tanzania

Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya 

Kenya, a familiar favourite safari destination in East Africa, brings all the enchantment of the "circle of life" and then some. Kenya's "Simba safari" reputation was cemented by Hollywood's "The Lion King", inspired by Maasai Mara's savannahs.

Nairobi is one of Africa's most connected countries in cellular technology, located on the equatorial bow. This fascinating country is home to the revered Maasai Mara National Reserve, the namesake of the proud Maasai tribe; it plays an integral part in the Great Wildebeest Migration saga spanning the borders of Kenya and its southerly neighbour, Tanzania. 

There's a high probability of human-animal conflict in communities that co-exist with wild animals alongside national parks and conservancies. Since becoming aware of the declining population of lions, some Maasai tribes have shifted their initiation customs toward a conservation-led approach that no longer mandates a Maasai moran (warrior) to hunt a lion on foot. 

Great migration river crossing in the Masai Mara

The Maasai Mara is host to part of the Great Migration, Image Credit: Mara Bushtops Camp

The Land of a Thousand Hills, Rwanda 

Rwanda, a lush landlocked country that has also found itself in Hollywood's searchlight for acclaimed films such as the emotive "Gorillas in the Mist" and sobering "Hotel Rwanda", has much to offer the politically aware, eco-curious traveller. 

Today, a buoyant narrative eclipses the country's complex past, encouraging the nation's rebuilding through the transformational power of tourism. 

Gorilla trekking with Singita Kataza House

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is an unparalleled experience, Image Credit: Singita

Volcanoes National Park is a drawcard for those wanting to observe mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Before booking, consider your budget, fitness level and mobility requirements to decide the best trekking option to suit your needs. 

Nyungwe Forest National Park offers a springboard to encounter humankind's endearing primate cousin, the chimpanzee. The future-forward ban on plastic packets since 2008 sees Rwanda making trailblazing strides toward its commitment to a litter-free country. 


The misty mountains gorillas call home, Image Credit: Wilderness

Africa's Amazon, Congo

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) became a member of the East African Community (EAC) in 2022. The country is famous for its vast, deep rivers and misty rainforests, home to forest elephants and primates. One of the most popular places is the Odzala-Kokoua National Park, recognised as a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve. 


The stunning landscapes of Odzala-Kokoua National Park, Image Credit: Odzala Discovery Camps

An Impactful East African Safari 

Before planning your East African safari, consider how to make your trip count. Going on safari – the word is said to be derived from the Kiswahili, meaning "to journey" – is as much about connecting with yourself, those around you and new horizons as it is about escaping your daily grind.

Research the local customs before you go, and find out which grassroots community-led projects you can support there. Consider whether any wildlife encounter is rooted in responsible tourism practices that hold the welfare of the animals paramount.

Be a travel protagonist, tread lightly, leaving only footprints behind and taking great memories away. Contact Rhino Africa's Travel Experts to start planning your own East African safari today, while leaving a lasting positive legacy on the continent.

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About the author 

Amy Knight-Dawson

Amy is a highly experienced figure in the tourism industry with a career spanning 25 years. She is a well-known and respected voice in the field and has authored several travel articles. Amy is passionate about sustainability and prefers to explore the less-travelled paths to seek out unique and unscripted experiences. Her love for nature draws her to coastal destinations, where she finds the raw power of the ocean most invigorating. She was born and raised in South Africa and now lives in the cosmopolitan city of Edinburgh, Scotland. As a member of the African diaspora and guest blogger for Rhino Africa, Amy shares her international insights and travel experiences, showcasing the beauty of the world and inspiring others to explore it.

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