Now that we’re home the warm beaches of Zanzibar are just a sweet memory. For any of you who are inspired to visit Africa (it’s wonderful, really), here’s how we did it:
How We Got There:
We flew with AirCanada to Heathrow (London) in one of those nice new 777 planes. Great entertainment systems, but an uncomfortable sleep. From Heathrow we flew Virgin Atlantic in a slightly less posh plane. Virgin wins for the funniest safety video – check out the frog suited baby in the crash position. We did the same thing in reverse on our home trip – only this time we had a 24 hr lay over in London!
What We Did:
We travelled independantly for the most part, booking things as we went and following only a rough itinerary. Here’s how it went… After sleeping off our jetlag in Nairobi for a day, we started out on a 6 day safari of Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru and Amboseli National Parks (our one arranged tour). On Day 6 we crossed the border into Tanzania, where we spent about a day and a half in Arusha. From there it was on to Dar es Salaam, and then Zanzibar. After a week on the island, we returned to Dar and then onto Mombasa in Kenya. From Mombasa we caught the train to Nairobi and spent a couple days exploring the city. We flew from Nairobi to London and just had enough time to ride the tube and have a pint. This took up just under 3 weeks, and we didn’t really miss anything that we’d wanted to see.
How We Got Around:
Our wonderful safari driver Joseph took us around through the parks. We used Riverside Shuttles to cross from Namanga (Kenya) to Arusha (Tanzania). The luxury bus company Dar Express took us from Arusha to Dar (complete with beverage service). We used Sea Star Ferries to Zanzibar, and returned with the Seabus III Ferry after a disastrous ticket experience. From Dar we used Falcon Bus to get to Mombasa (less than luxury). From Mombasa it was the train to Nairobi. In the cities we walked or grabbed a cab from the street (more expensive than you think).
What We Ate:
Street food wasn’t plentiful everywhere, so we ate more meals in restaurants than we would have liked. Breakfast was included at all places we stayed and ranged from poor (two stale pieces of bread – Arusha) to really good (eggs, toast, juice and pancake- Cristal Resort, Zanzibar). Typically we ate snacks for lunch or split a pizza. For dinner (our “real” meal) we recommend:
- Nairobi: Wildebeest Camp and food court at the near by Nakumat – both excellent
- Arusha – Backpackers Arusha’s roof top restaurant sold well priced food in a good location.
- Dar es Salaam – Jambo Inn Restaurant’s butter chicken is divine! Add some garlic naan, and rice for a full meal deal
- Zanzibar – street vendors near the Malindiround-a-bout sold some tasty (if spicy) street meat and a variety of fried dough snacks. One of our favorite meals.
- Mombasa – Chinatown Restaurant was a little pricey but great food and atmosphere. We like the sweet and sour chicken and spring rolls.
Where We Stayed:
We spent more on accommodation than we usually try to, but it felt more like a vacation than usual because of it. We always stayed in a double room, most with our own bathroom. We liked all the places that we stayed:
- Nairobi – Wildebeest Camp has very basic doubles (~ $30 CAD) and very nice self contained safari tents (~ $80 CAD). We looked at the mid-priced double rooms (slightly more space) but opted for the tent in the end. You can also camp, or stay in the dorm. The location was good for us – close to the airport and only a 10 min cab ride to downtown. Very close to the bank, grocery store and fruit market.
- Arusha – Backpacker’s Arushais a little far from the city centre (ab0ut 15 min walk) but close to the Dar Express Buses. Rooms are basic, but at $20 CAD they seemed ok. We never could get the hot water to function properly in the shared bathrooms, but the roof top restaurant made up for any short comings.
- Dar es Salaam – we stayed first a the Safari Inn(~$26 CAD) and then at the Jambo Inn (~$25 CAD) on our return visit. The hotels are located practically side by side. JamboInn would be our first choice if we were back there – better location and about the same price. Jambo Inn had brighter rooms (although we never did get the hot water working) but the bed was less comfortable.
- Stonetown – We stayed at the Malindi Guest House ($40 USD) and then the Warere Guest House ($40 USD). Both ok, but a little musty. We were the only people at both, probably more to do with the season than the quality of the accommodation. The furniture are Warere Guest House is pretty elaborate but you might have trouble finding the place since there are no roads to it.
- Paje (Zanzibar)- Cristal Resort($80 USD). The nicest place we stayed all trip. Beautiful beach bungalow, Queen sized bed and beautiful bathroom. And pool. And great lounge, although the attached restaurant was only so-so. Set on what we thought was one of the nicest beaches ever.
- Mombasa – New Palm Tree Hotel ($60 CAD). Some of the nicest staff we met. Close enough to everything, and they have AC. Looks like they were doing some renos, including a coffee shop.
What We Would Have Done Differently:
- Added a lay over on the way there – we were too tired after our flight to do anything other than eat a mango on our first day in Africa. We would have been better stopping in London for 24 hrs and actually getting some sleep!
- Skipped Arusha – yup, could have got to Zanzibar a different way.
- Spent less time in Stonetown- we spent about two days in the town itself, which was too much time. I’d head straight to the beach, and then spend a single day exploring the town
- Use the extra time to snorkel off the Kenyan coast – we would have liked an extra couple days in Mombasa to head out to the some of the near by marine parks.
What We Wouldn’t Leave Home Without:
Other than our standard travel gear, we loved
- The lightweight sleeping bags we brought – needed for safariing since its cool at night
- My “dressy” skirt – the macabi was great for travel days, but I really liked how nice I looked in my other skirt when we were out about town
- The digital SLR with telephoto lens- I’m sure you could safari with out taking a billion animal photos, but what’s the fun in that? We did see some people snapping shots of elephants with their camera phones, but we loved zooming in on things.
- Having taken Dukoral – I spent a grand total of 1 hr sick the whole trip, compared to 3 weeks last time we were in Africa. Its gotta be the Dukoral – I ate a ton of street meat and had no ill effects!
Why You Should Go:
If you’re not convinced already…
- While not cheap, its still not expensive – we did everything we wanted and lived it up for only $150 CAD/day (including tours, but excluding the safari)
- Elephants, elephants and then more elephants (plus a lot of other creatures) – safariing is cool!
- They speak English everywhere, no more lost-laundry-because-I-can’t-speak-spanish issues
- Its warm, and sunny, and they have palm trees – a far cry from Canada in March
- The beaches are amazing, and in the off season, pretty empty too