Last August, a Travel Agent friend mentioned a FAM Trip to Tanzania. (FAM = Familiarization Trip. These are trips that Travel Agents attend to become familiar with a destination or resort) She had applied a year earlier, and the trip was canceled, so they were rebooking her for 2023. She mentioned she knew other travel agents who may be interested, and they encouraged us to apply.
The trip was hosted by TATO – The Tanzania Association of Tour Operators in cooperation with the Tanzanian Government with funding from the United Nations Development Programme. Like many parts of the world, Tanzania was hit hard by COVID, and this FAM is part of their effort to rebuild tourism.
Fast forward to March of 2023, and I received word that I was accepted and would be going to Tanzania for 14 days! Yikes. What did I sign up for? 14 days is a long time to be gone. 14 days in Africa? What was I thinking?
By July, it had set in that I was going to Africa on safari. I was scared yet more excited. I started shopping for clothes and preparing. While Africa had always been on my bucket list, and I had many dreams of safari, realizing it was finally happening frightened me. I’m not sure what exactly I was afraid of. Being eaten by a lion? Catching some flesh-eating bacteria? Dying of malaria, cholera, dysentery? (Spoiler alert: it was all in my head – this is not the Oregon Trail!)
On Friday, September 15, my husband drove me to Chicago. The following morning I boarded a flight on Ethiopian Air to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and then to Kilimanjaro Airport in Arusha, Tanzania. Luckily I had my travel agent friend Erin with me, because it was quite an adventure!
It was a VERY long day of travel. The flight was a three-ring circus. The bathroom door came off on the plane, and it was carried through the aisle, a woman trying to steal someone else’s seat while that seat occupant was in the bathroom. People were yelling at each other across the cabin. Guests throwing their trash all over the floor. We made it to Tanzania safely (with lots of crazy stories )
Tears ran down my face as I stepped off the plane and saw the Kilimanjaro International Airport sign. Africa has always been on my list, and to be here is a dream come true. After a very long process of getting our visas approved, we made it through the airport to meet our guide Elisha.
We didn’t know then what a huge role he would play in our adventure or how lucky we were to have been placed with him. Seeing his smiling face, I was immediately at ease and knew I was in for the adventure of a lifetime.
Even though we hardly slept on the plane, it was nearly 4pm when we arrived at our hotel and we knew we needed to stay awake. Our hotel – Four Points Sheraton Arusha had a beautiful pool. (Watch a room tour HERE.) We decided to take a dip, and it sure woke us up…it wasn’t heated!!! While at the pool, we met another American. Tyler worked for the Commerce Department and was in Arusha for a conference. We ended up having dinner with him and many more meals over the next few days. We met our first friend of the trip!
Our First Full Day in Arusha
Like most hotels in Arusha, ours included breakfast. It was a great cold buffet with fruits, yogurts, cereal, and more. The hot station consisted of things like stewed vegetables, bacon, sausage, hard-boiled eggs, and potatoes. There was also an egg station where you could order eggs any way you’d like. I learned this is the norm throughout Tanzania.
Elisha picked us up, and we started the day at Sanaa. This non-profit organization trains and employs the marginalized in Tanzania to create arts and crafts. We were able to tour the facility and see everything from shoe, bags, clothes, rugs, and blown glass being made. A kind deaf gentleman even showed me how to make a glass bead. It was an experience that touched my heart and was simply amazing! I picked up some of the handmade jewelry pieces I will cherish forever. Probably the most incredible thing was the handmade safari bags. I purchased one for my husband and we both absolutely love it!
Then we toured the incredible Gran Melia Arusha a fantastic property that you would stay at upon your arrival in Arusha before you go out on safari or upon your return from safari before you head home. This luxurious hotel offered incredible views and plush accommodations.
We had lunch at the rooftop restaurant and met the other half of our group. I was traveling with Erin and Denise with our guide Elisha. Erin, Denise and I all met almost 3 years ago to the day on a FAM trip to Cancun. Denise is the reason we were all here together! The other half of our party was Mia, a travel agent from San Diego (my hometown); Francis, a travel agent from Philadelphia; and Vlado, a travel journalist and influencer from Croatia.
I sat next to Vlado, which would be a theme over the next two weeks. We enjoyed teasing each other but also enjoyed each other’s company and had lots of great conversations. Vlado suggested I try the fried crocodile – when in Rome right? Honestly, it tasted like chicken and I’m glad I tried it!
We finished the day with a networking event where I met with over 50 safari companies, resorts, and more. It was like speed dating! Afterward, there was a cocktail reception where we got to speak to everyone in greater detail and begin to form relationships.
While this trip had many amazing parts, the biggest takeaway was networking with owners and operators on the ground in Tanzania. I have people whom I’ve met in person who I can work with to give my clients a first-class experience. There was a news segment produced about the event that you can watch HERE.
Heading out to the bush!
On Tuesday, September 19th we headed out to the bush. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was excited! We were really going on safari. Little did I know what was in store for us.
We drove about two hours to Lake Manyara. Lake Manyara National Park is about 125 square miles and the sign said: “Home of tree-climbing lions” so that got me pretty excited. Then Elisaha told us that in all of his years as a guide, he’d never seen the lion in the tree. We didn’t either, so that was disappointing.
We saw lots of birds, tons of monkeys and baboons. Even a few water buffalo. The other part of our safari group saw zebras but we missed them
Knowing now what was to come, this park isn’t my favorite. I think I prefer to see animals that could potentially kill me. It’s way more exciting to me. But Lake Manyara is a great park to start your safari adventure.
Then we headed to lunch at The African Galleria. This was a bit of a tourist trap, but the lunch was tasty.
Then we toured the Galleria which was full of talented artists and beautiful art. The coolest thing was seeing the craftsman carve the ebony. There was also a huge shop where I purchased some jewelry and other items.
Finally, we headed to our accommodations for the evening – Kirurumu Manyara Lodge This is a tented camp with the most incredible views of Lake Manyara!
This was our first night in a tented camp. I think I’ve slept in a tent maybe twice in my life and honestly, I was scared. If you know me, you know this is WAY out of my comfort zone. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all. The tent is on a slab and has concrete floors. Our tent even had doors. The bathroom was attached and had concrete walls. We had a toilet, shower, and even double sinks.
The mosquito nets were a little frightening, but yet kind of exotic. Looking back now I can laugh. But at the time I was terrified of the mosquitos and other bugs that were going to eat me alive all night long. Add to that we were sleeping in a tent in the wild. With every gust of wind, the tent flapped, and I was sure a baboon was trying to break in. They weren’t. The Massai tribesmen stood guard all night. If we needed something they were right outside and we just needed to flash our flashlight or scream and they would be there within seconds. Remember that movie City Slickers? That was us but in the bush of Africa.
We had a wonderful evening with our safari mates and guides. This was one of my favorite dinners we had. The food was fantastic and it’s where we all started to get to know each other better. Even though we are all from different corners of the world, we shared a ton of laughs over a great dinner.
All of the details of my trip are saved as highlights on my Instagram.
If you would like more information on going on safari, click here to get started!