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TANZANIA: climb Mt. Meru; safari Tarangire, Ngorongoro, Serengeti

In Tanzania and Kenya, we delighted in two 6-day safaris and trekked two challenging volcanos at 15,000 feet elevation — summiting Mt. Meru and circumnavigating Mt. Kenya. Our trip climaxed at thunderous Victoria Falls, the world’s largest sheet of falling water, on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. Vacationing in Africa exceeded all expectations. Now I’ve visited every continent.

This African journey from February 4–March 7, 2024 is revealed in three articles: ■ TANZANIA (this article)KENYA ■ VICTORIA FALLS

TANZANIA CONTENTS: Map ■ ArushaTanzanian safari: Tarangire NPNgorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), Ndutu Lake, Ng. Crater; Serengeti NPMount Meru climb ■ Tours: Popote Africa Adventures & other companies

I customized our 27-day tour in Tanzania and Kenya for 4–5 travelers through PopoteAfrica.com, discussed at bottom.

Tanzania

Tanzania was created from Tanganyika and Zanzibar which unified in 1964 in East Africa, and has been a British Commonwealth member since Tanganyika’s 1961 independence. This authoritarian single-party socialist state with 65 million citizens (2022) has improved previously-suppressed civil and media freedoms since Samia Suluhu Hassan became president in 2021. 61% are Christian and 35% are Muslim. Over 100 languages are spoken in Tanzania, making it the most linguistically diverse country in East Africa. The unofficial national language is Swahili, but English is used in foreign trade, in diplomacy, in higher courts, and for instruction in schools, while Arabic is spoken in Zanzibar. Swahili — or Kiswahili to its speakers — is the most widely-used African language with over 140 million speakers and is considered a lingua franca of the African continent.

Americans should apply at least a month in advance online for Tanzania’s eVisa. Add 11 hours to Pacific Standard Time (PST) to get East Africa Time Zone (EAT), which covers both Tanzania and Kenya. Google Maps shows our driving route:

Images below are favorites gleaned from Tom’s PhotoShelter portfolios: TANZANIA safari | trek/climb Mt. Meru
Most images were shot on a 37-ounce Sony RX10 IV (Amazon) with versatile 25x zoom lens.

Arusha

Our four nights in Arusha Planet Lodge were very comfortable — a safe, walled-garden retreat in a quiet corner of bustling Arusha. The city is a major international diplomatic hub, hosting the capital of the East African Community and the African Court of the African Union. Its elevation of 4200 feet helps moderate the temperatures, at 3.4 degrees of latitude south of the equator. Arusha weather: in January–February, expect morning temps in the 70s °F, with afternoon high temps in the 80s to high 80s, and overnight lows in the 60s.


Above and below: We explored bountiful markets in Arusha, Tanzania.


Above: Fresh unrefrigerated fish cut up for sale.


Above: Carved in wood, a funny rhino sits at computer keyboard with a mouse, at the captivating Cultural Heritage Centre in Arusha, Tanzania.

Tarangire National Park

Tarangire National Park amazed us with its hundreds of elephants and baobab trees. Tarangire River is the primary source of fresh water for wild animals in the Tarangire ecosystem during the annual dry season.


Above: A safari SUV crosses a river in Tarangire National Park.

Most African safari vehicles are Toyota Land Cruisers specially-converted with a pop top for game viewing and an engine snorkel to avoid stalling in high water.


Above: The lilac-breasted roller (Coracias caudatus) is widely distributed in Southern and Eastern Africa. It’s unofficially the national bird of Kenya.

Below: The waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus, in the family Bovidae) is a large antelope found widely in sub-Saharan Africa.


Above: Staff members help us roll luggage to cabins at Tarangire Sopa Lodge, which features an inviting swimming pool and picnic tables, below:


Above: the sun rises behind an African baobab tree. Baobabs are typically found in dry, hot savannas of sub-Saharan Africa, where they dominate the landscape and reveal the presence of a watercourse from afar. They have traditionally been valued as sources of food, water, health remedies or places of shelter and are a key food source for many animals. Some baobabs live over 2,000 years. The African baobab is the most widespread species of the eight species of baobabs — genus Adansonia — native to mainland Africa, Yemen, Oman, Madagascar, and Australia, and introduced to Asia and elsewhere.


Above: At sunrise we look for game under African baobab trees, such as this native black-backed jackal (Lupulella mesomelas, also called the silver-backed jackal), below:


Above: In Tarangire National Park, the high density of African bush elephants (Loxodonta africana) was delightful. One young elephant repeatedly ran, slid in the mud, and splashed joyfully in a pond, all caught on video.

Elephants, the largest living land animals, are the only surviving members of the family Elephantidae and the order Proboscidea; extinct relatives include mammoths and mastodons. The trunk is prehensile, bringing food and water to the mouth and grasping objects. Tusks, which are derived from the incisor teeth, serve both as weapons and as tools for moving objects and digging. The large ear flaps help to maintain constant body temperature and to communicate. Calves are the center of attention in their family groups and rely on their mothers for as long as three years. Elephants can live up to 70 years in the wild. Due to ivory trade, habitat destruction and conflicts with local people, African bush elephants are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).


Above: Commonly observed on our safaris in East Africa, the superb starling (Lamprotornis superbus) is a medium-sized passerine (perching) birds in the family Sturnidae, common name of Sturnid.

Below: The southern ground hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri; formerly called Bucorvus cafer) is found in woodlands and savannas from Kenya to South Africa. It’s one of two species of ground hornbill, both found solely within Africa. The female lacks red coloration. These carnivorous birds eat insects, snakes, other birds, small vertebrates, amphibians and even tortoises. Their nests are often found in shallow cavities in high trees or cliff faces. These birds breed slowly and can have long lifespans, from 50–60 years in the wild or up to 70 in captivity. The male’s throat is pure red and the female’s is a deep violet-blue. Due to persecution, habitat destruction, cultural beliefs, and other human factors, these birds are listed globally as Vulnerable by the IUCN as of 2018, and as Endangered in South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia and Eswatini.


Above: The impala or rooibok (Aepyceros melampus) is a medium-sized antelope found in eastern and southern Africa. Impalas gather in three distinct social groups: the territorial males, bachelor herds and female herds. An annual, three-week-long rut takes place toward the end of the wet season, typically in May.

Below: Dik-diks include four species of miniature antelope in the genus Madoqua that live in the bushlands of eastern and southern Africa. They’re named for the alarm calls of the females, which are somewhat larger than males. Both males and females also make shrill, whistling calls. The males have small horns. A bare black spot below the inside corner of each eye contains a preorbital gland that produces a dark, sticky secretion which is rubbed on grass stems and twigs to scent-mark territories. Dik-diks stand about 12–15.5 inches high at the shoulder, weigh 7–13 pounds, and can live for up to 10 years.


Above: After evening dinner in the Tarangire Sopa Lodge dining hall, the whole staff welcomed us with a heartfelt chorus lasting 30 minutes.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA)

is named after the renowned Ngorongoro Crater (below) and is well-honored as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve. The NCA hosts abundant wildlife, nomadic pastoral Maasai, and the cradle of human ancestors. Early hominid footprints here date back 3.6 million years, and hominid fossil evidence found at the Olduvai Gorge dates back 3 million years. Pastoral tribes replaced hunter-gatherer groups from 2,000 years ago through the 1700s. By the 1800s, earlier groups were displaced by Maasai — fearsome warriors and cattle rustlers — migrating from what is now South Sudan. In 1928, hunting was prohibited on all land within the crater rim, except the former Siedentopf farms. From 1948–2024, the native pastoralists have been increasingly disenfranchised and forcibly displaced by park authorities. The NCA is part of the Serengeti plains and ecosystem which span the Mara and Arusha Regions of Tanzania plus Kenya’s Maasai Mara game reserve.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area hosts The Great Migration — the world’s most massive land animal migration (in terms of total body weight). Every year, millions of wildebeest, zebras, gazelles, and other herbivores circle from the NCA clockwise through Serengeti National Park to Kenya’s Maasai Mara and back. The herds cross the Mara River twice: northwards around late July to August then southwards around the last two weeks of October through early November. Our February safari featured impressive herds in the NCA.

Near Ndutu Lake within the NCA


Above and below: A wildebeest runs with a calf, in Ndutu Lake area of Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Wildebeest (or gnu, genus Connochaetes) are antelopes native to Eastern and Southern Africa. They belong to the family Bovidae, which includes true antelopes, cattle, goats, sheep, and other even-toed horned ungulates. We noticed zebras and wildebeest with newborn calves concentrated on the safer lands of the Maasai, who actively remove predators.


Above: Wildebeest often graze symbiotically in mixed herds with zebra (subgenus Hippotigris). Zebras excel at sight, navigation, and defense and eat long grass. Wildebeest have superior sense of hearing and smell (to locate water and predators) and crop short grass with square lips.


Above: A leopard (Panthera pardus) hides in a tree. It’s one of the five species in the genus Panthera. It initially evolved in Africa during the Early Pleistocene, before migrating into Eurasia. Leopards formerly lived across Europe, but became extinct there at around the end of the Late Pleistocene-early Holocene. It hunts mostly ungulates and primates, relying on its spotted pattern for camouflage as it stalks and ambushes its prey, which it sometimes drags up a tree. It’s a solitary animal outside the mating season and when raising cubs. It is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List because leopard populations are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, and are declining in large parts of the global range.


Above: The marabou stork (Leptoptilos crumenifer, in the stork family Ciconiidae) is a large wading bird native to sub-Saharan Africa. Its nickname of “undertaker bird” comes from its scavenging on carrion and its distinctive appearance: long skinny legs, cloak-like folded dark grey wings, a slow, deliberate gait, and sometimes a large white mass of “hair.” It breeds in both wet and arid habitats, often near human habitation, especially landfill sites. It can reach a height of 5 feet and a weight of 20 pounds.


Above: Our safari encountered three cheetah brothers in the Ndutu Lake area of Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA). Although cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) are the fastest land animal, they’re threatened by habitat loss, conflict with humans, poaching, and disease susceptibility. IUCN lists it as Vulnerable. In 2016, the global cheetah population was about 7,100 in the wild.

Below: Dung beetles roll a ball of feces for use as food or a breeding chamber. All dung beetle species belong to the superfamily Scarabaeoidea.


Above: The lion (Panthera leo) is native to Africa and India. The IUCN Red List indicates lions as Vulnerable since 1996 because populations in Africa have declined by 43% since the early 1990s. Habitat loss and conflicts with humans are the greatest causes for concern.


Above: A lioness gnaws her wildebeest kill, while her cubs lick wildebeest blood from their chops, below:


Above: A pride of lions lie relaxed together in a cool culvert under a road in Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA). A lion’s pride contains a few adult males, related females, and cubs. Groups of female lions usually hunt and scavenge together, preying mostly on large ungulates.


Above and below: Native to East Africa, Masai giraffes (Giraffa tippelskirchi) are the tallest land animal on Earth. They’re the national animal of Tanzania. Masai giraffes have the largest body of the four genetically-distinct giraffe species. Masai giraffes are distinguished by their jagged, irregular leaf-like blotches (resembling jigsaw puzzle pieces) from hooves to head. Bulls are generally larger and heavier than cows, growing up to 18 feet high. A giraffe’s neck contains seven vertebrae making up one third of its body height. Its long, muscular, prehensile tongue, up to 20 inches long, can grab leaves from tall trees. On top of the head are two bony clubs for fighting, called ossicones, covered by thick skin with dark hair on the tips. Bulls usually have an extra ossicone between the eyes. When galloping, Masai giraffes can reach speeds of40 miles per hour. As of 2024, the IUCN considers Masai giraffes as endangered due to poaching and habitat loss.


Above: We paid US$10 per person for a worthwhile Maasai village tour and dance on the outside slopes of Ngorongoro Crater, in Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Ngorongoro Crater

lies within Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which is part of the Serengeti plains and ecosystem. The Maasai people named Ngorongoro Crater after the cowbell sound, “ngoro ngoro.”


Above: By road, the widest outlook across Ngorongoro Crater is at Crater ViewPoint within Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA). The crater is 2,000 feet deep with a caldera floor at 5,900 feet elevation, enclosing a 100-square-mile haven for wildlife. This inactive volcano formerly reached 19,000 feet above sea level until collapsing 2 million years ago.

Below: Sunrise over Lake Magadi inside Ngorongoro Crater.


Above: Observed inside Ngorongoro Crater, the common warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) is a wild member of the pig family (Suidae) found in grassland, savanna, and woodland in sub-Saharan Africa. Although the Swahili word for warthog is ngiri, many Tanzanians and Kenyans traditionally use pumbaa to describe a warthog — meaning foolish, ignorant, negligent and stupid — as the animals can mess up a garden or village. Pumbaa and Timon are the names of an animated warthog and meerkat duo introduced in Disney’s 1994 animated feature film “The Lion King” and its franchise.


Above: Thomson’s gazelle (Eudorcas thomsonii) is named after explorer Joseph Thomson and is the most common type of gazelle in East Africa. This small fast antelope runs 50–55 mph, the fourth-fastest land animal — after the cheetah (its main predator), pronghorn, and springbok.

Below: The kori bustard (Ardeotis kori) is the world’s heaviest flying bird — with males weighing 15-44 pounds, exceeding twice the weight of females. It’s a ground-dwelling opportunistic omnivore. The bustard family belongs to the order Otidiformes, found only in the Old World.


Above: The African spoonbill (Platalea alba) is a long-legged wading bird of the ibis and spoonbill family Threskiornithidae. The species is widespread across Africa and Madagascar, including Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

Below: An immature African fish eagle (Icthyophaga vocifer) inside Ngorongoro Crater. This bird species is found throughout sub-Saharan Africa near large bodies of open water with an abundant food supply. It’s the national bird of Malawi, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Because of its large range, it is known in many languages: Vis Arend in Afrikaans, nkwazi in Chewa, aigle pêcheur in French, hungwe in Shona, inkwazi in isiZulu, and ntšhu in Northern Sotho.


Above: Endemic to Africa, Guineafowl are birds of the family Numididae in the order Galliformes. Their meat is moist, firmer and leaner than chicken meat, and has a slightly gamey flavor.

Below: The African grey crowned crane (aka the golden crested crane or East African crane; Balearica regulorum) is found in nearly all of Africa, especially in eastern and southern Africa, and is the national bird of Uganda. They’re the only cranes that can roost in trees (because of a long hind toe that can grasp branches). Their breeding display involves dancing, bowing, and jumping. The IUCN listed it as endangered in 2012.


Above: The common eland (Taurotragus oryx) is a large savannah and plains antelope found in East and Southern Africa. It’s the world’s second-largest antelope (after the giant eland). Mainly a herbivore, it primarily eats grasses and leaves. Common elands form herds of up to 500 animals, but are not territorial. The common eland is used by humans for leather, meat, and milk, and has been domesticated in many areas. Eland is an Afrikaans word for “elk” or “moose.”


Above: A plains zebra foal and mother (Equus quagga) graze inside Ngorongoro Crater. Greeks and Romans called the zebra a “horse tiger” or Hippotigris — adopted as the name of its subgenus, which is closely related to horses and donkeys.

Below: An elephant’s skeleton head rests at a picnic area inside Ngorongoro Crater.


Above: Attended by cattle egrets inside Ngorongoro Crater, the African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is a large sub-Saharan African bovine having five subspecies. The Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer caffer) is the largest subspecies, found in Southern Africa and East Africa. The African buffalo is more closely related to other buffalo species than it is to other bovids such as American bison or domestic cattle, with its closest living relative being the Asian water buffalo. Unpredictable temperament makes it undomesticatable. As one of the Big Five game animals, the Cape buffalo is sought by trophy hunters.

A dead-end side road northeast from Ngorongoro Crater leads to the remote Empakai Crater lake (external blog). The required permit was fumbled by our guides — and fortunately skipped, thereby saving 4.5 hours round trip on rough 4WD roads. This scenic crater lake is a good leg-stretcher but features little wildlife. Hike 3 miles round trip, 800 ft down to the lake then back up (8200–7320 feet elevation), with daytime temperatures in the 60s to mid 50s °F.

Serengeti National Park

was established in 1940 in the eastern Mara and northeastern Simiyu Regions of Tanzania and is honored on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Every year since the 1960s, the Great Migration has circled clockwise from Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area, through Serengeti National Park to Kenya’s Maasai Mara game reserve, then back to the NCA.


Above: plains zebras (Equus quagga, subgenus Hippotigris) graze in the Great Migration on the vast Serengeti plains.


Above: Grant’s gazelle (Nanger granti) mother and calf, in Serengeti National Park. Grant’s gazelle is a relatively large species of gazelle antelope, distributed from northern Tanzania to South Sudan and Ethiopia, and from the Kenyan coast to Lake Victoria. Named for 1800s British explorer, James Grant, its Swahili name is swala granti. 

Below: The topi (Damaliscus lunatus) is the world’s fastest antelope. This highly social animal is found in the savannas, semi-deserts, and floodplains of sub-Saharan Africa.


Above: The lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor) lives in sub-Saharan Africa and western India. It’s the smallest and most common species of flamingo, albeit tall and large by bird standards. The lesser differs from the greater flamingo by having more extensive black on its bill.

Below: The lappet-faced vulture or Nubian vulture (Torgos tracheliotos) lives throughout Africa. This Old World vulture belongs to the bird order Accipitriformes, which also includes eagles, kites, buzzards and hawks. It isn’t closely related to the superficially similar New World vultures, nor does it detect smell well.


Above: The tawny eagle (Aquila rapax, family Accipitridae) is a large bird of prey which ranges through much of the African continent and Indian subcontinent. Due to a variety of human-caused threats, the IUCN lists the species as Vulnerable.

Below: A rainbow shines over an Acacia tree in Serengeti National Park.


Above: An olive baboon infant rides its mother in Serengeti National Park.

Below: During daylight hours, olive baboons roam actively on the ground, but from dusk to dawn they roost in trees or cliffs for overnight defense. The olive baboon (Papio anubis) is the most wide-ranging of all baboon species, being native to 25 countries throughout Africa. It inhabits savannahs, steppes, and forests. Baboons are among the largest non-hominoid primates and have existed for at least two million years. All baboons have long, dog-like muzzles, heavy, powerful jaws with sharp canine teeth, close-set eyes, thick fur except on their muzzles, short tails, and nerveless, hairless pads of skin on their protruding buttocks called ischial callosities that provide comfort when sitting. Their omnivorous diet includes a variety of plants and animals. Their principal predators are Nile crocodiles, leopards, lions and hyenas. Most baboons live in hierarchical troops containing harems. Baboons live in the wild from 20 to 30 years — up to 45 years in captivity.


Above and below: Hippopotami fight with bared teeth in a river in Serengeti National Park. The hippopotamus or hippo is a large semiaquatic mammal native to sub-Saharan Africa. Its name comes from the ancient Greek for “river horse.”


Above: “Love thyself” — an impala grooms itself in Serengeti National Park.

Below: A banded mongoose scavenges food in the picnic area of Naabi Hill Gate in Serengeti National Park. This species is native from the Sahel to Southern Africa. It lives in savannas, open forests and grasslands and feeds primarily on beetles and millipedes. Mongooses use various types of dens for shelter including termite mounds. While most mongoose species live solitary lives, the banded mongoose live in colonies with a complex social structure.

Climb Mount Meru in Arusha National Park

The 14,968-foot volcanic cone of Mount Meru is the fifth-highest mountain of Africa and dominates the skyline of Arusha. It’s the second-highest mountain in Tanzania, after Mount Kilimanjaro (visible 43 miles east). Much of Mount Meru’s height was lost 7,800 years ago due to a summit collapse, creating some of the highest cliffs in Africa. Mount Meru’s caldera is 2.2 miles wide and most recently had a minor eruption in 1910. The movie Hatari! was filmed in the jungle at its foot.

Trekking Mt. Meru is not only great on its own but also serves as smart acclimatization before ascending Mt. Kilimanjaro, or trekking Mt. Kenya as we did. Summiting Mt. Meru involves “Type II Fun” — the kind that involves some misery in the moment but brightens fondly in hindsight. Reaching the non-technical summit requires a little scrambling at several places above Rhino Point. Views improve markedly the higher you go. My Altra Olympus trail-running shoes with comfortably-thick 33-mm stack height served well everywhere, for trekking, sidewalks, and cities. Our Mt. Meru adventure included:

  • a mandatory walking safari with an armed ranger protecting trekkers from wild buffalo up to both huts and back
  • breathtaking vistas of the summit crater and ash cone seen from the airy hogsback rim and from the summit
  • distant views of Kilimanjaro
  • lively fellow international travelers
  • overnight dormitory lodging with all meals included, full board (no tenting is allowed)
  • tropical sunsets and sunrises

Starting at Momella Gate, on the only official route, we looped clockwise to reach Miriakamba Hut. The trek normally climbs and descends 11,000 feet over 24 miles round trip over a tough four days. (To consolidate the ranger-led group heading up the mountain, a truck ride saved us 2.2 miles and 1050 ft gain.) On the way to Saddle Hut (11,700 feet), a member of our group became altitude sick for 24 hours, thereby preventing her from attempting the summit; she recovered but felt too discouraged to later attempt Mt. Kenya. Avoid the brutal 3-day version to Mt Meru’s summit, which stressed several fellow hikers and required evacuation of one person via ambulance from Miriakamba Hut. Hike slowly. Popote Africa Adventures, described at bottom, booked our trek.

  • Weather forecast for Mount Meru elevations. Starting on February 14th, uncomfortable afternoon temperatures climbed to the high 80s with high humidity.
  • Day 1: From Momella Gate, trekkers typically hike up via the Fig Tree Arch for 6 miles with 3050 ft up, 50 ft down to Miriakamba Hut at 8,300 ft elevation. NOTE: a truck ride saved us 2.2 miles and 1050 ft gain, thereby easing Day 1 to be 4 sweaty miles with 2000 feet gain. (Porters hike the shorter, steeper northern route 4 miles.)
  • Day 2: hike 3 miles 3650 ft up, 160 ft down to Saddle Hut at 11,700 feet elevation
  • Day 3: Starting at 3:30 am from Saddle Hut, headlamps lit our way up to the summit at 14,968 ft. Hike 10.5 miles with 4300 ft up, 7800 ft down to Miriakamba Hut at 8,300 ft elevation
  • Day 4: Hike directly down the shorter northern route for 4 miles with 400 ft up, 3100 ft down to Momella Gate. After trekking we bussed to the comfortable Lindrin Lodge in Moshi.


Above: On Day 1, the range-led mixed group paused for photographs at Fig Tree Arch.

Below: High in the canopy above Fig Tree Arch perched the eastern black-and-white colobus or mantled guereza (Colobus guereza) — a black-and-white monkey of the Old World, native to much of west central and east Africa. The Kilimanjaro guereza subspecies (C. g. caudatus) is found in the forests surrounding Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro. Active during daylight hours, this monkey lives in trees in social groups of three to fifteen, in both deciduous and evergreen forests. Known for their whooping dawn chorus (heard by us at Miriakamba Hut), the roar of the males communicates over long distances and reinforces territorial boundaries. The species can adapt to habitat disturbance, prefers secondary forest close to rivers or lakes, and eats leaves, seeds, fruits, and arthropods. This monkey is hunted by birds of prey, the common chimpanzee, leopards, and humans wanting its bushmeat or skin. A mantle of long white fringes of hair runs along each side of its black trunk. It has a large white tail tuft and its face is framed with white hair:


Above: Miriakamba Hut at sunset.


Above: see Mount Kilimanjaro at sunrise, 43 miles east of this viewpoint at Miriakamba Hut on Mount Meru, shown below:


Above: Trekking guides confer on the trail between Miriakamba and Saddle Huts on Mount Meru.


Above: The dormant stratovolcano of Mount Kilimanjaro looms 43 miles east of Mount Meru, both within Tanzania.

Mt. Kilimanjaro is the world’s highest single free-standing mountain above sea level — 5,899 m or 19,354 ft measured in 2014. It’s the highest mountain in Africa and the highest volcano in the Eastern Hemisphere. Kilimanjaro National Park is understandably honored on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Of its three volcanic cones, Mawenzi and Shira are extinct, while the tallest cone, Kibo, last erupted 360,000 years ago and could erupt again. In the 1880s, the mountain became a part of German East Africa and was called Kilima-Ndscharo in German. In 1889, Hans Meyer reached the highest summit on the crater ridge of Kibo and named it Kaiser-Wilhelm-Spitze (Kaiser Wilhelm peak). That name was used until Tanzania formed in 1964, when the summit was renamed Uhuru Peak, meaning “Freedom Peak” in Kiswahili. Kibo’s rapidly shrinking glaciers and ice fields may disappear by 2035 due to human-induced climate change.


Above: Sunrise seen from atop Mount Meru.

Below: Atop the summit, admire the pyramidal shadow cast from Mount Meru during sunrise.


Above: atop Mount Meru’s scenic summit in Arusha National Park, admire its Ash Cone at center, its subsidiary peak of Little Meru (outside the crater further left), and Mt Kilimanjaro on the horizon.


Above: Accompanied by the friendly ranger with a rifle, we completed the adventurous Mt. Meru trek with a fun walking safari via Tululusia Waterfall, seeing Masai giraffes just before reaching Momella Gate within Arusha National Park.

Below: A mischievous female blue monkey (Cercopithecus mitis), aka the diademed monkey, prowls Mount Meru’s Momella Gate picnic area in Arusha National Park, Tanzania. The blue monkey is a species of Old World monkey native to Central and East Africa, ranging from the upper Congo River basin east to the East African Rift and south to northern Angola and Zambia. It is mainly olive or grey. The small amount of hair on its face might sometimes appear blueish. The face is dark with a pale or yellowish patch on the forehead, appearing like a diadem or headband. The cap, feet, and front legs appear blackish. Typical sizes range from 50 to 65 cm in length, (not including the tail, which is almost as long as the rest of the animal), with females weighing a little over 4 kg and males up to 8 kg. It eats fruits, figs, insects, leaves, twigs, flowers, and here tries to covertly steal food from distracted humans.

This helpful Mt Meru blog convinced me to climb it.

Popote Africa Adventures

PopoteAfrica.com (click to their website) — a small locally-owned Tanzanian company based in Moshi — handily booked our private month in Tanzania & Kenya in February 2024 with two economical safaris plus two volcano treks. Our requested “mid-level-luxury” safaris exceeded expectations, with big, plush, private ensuite rooms in remote wilderness.

Popote Africa Adventures has expertly guided 10,000+ climbers up Mt. Kilimanjaro from their home base in Moshi, Tanzania since 2011. Popote’s four safari vehicles matched those driven by other companies — specially-rebuilt 4×4 Toyota Landcruisers with 5-7 roomy seats with hand rests, large sliding windows, a mobile fridge, 220V electric sockets, Wi-Fi via satellite, and pop-up roofs offering excellent wildlife views in safetyPopote offers a generous cancellation policy, boasts great customer satisfaction of 5/5 average from 489 reviews on TripAdvisor, and receives my recommendation. “No hidden costs.” Popote passes on to you their 4% bank fee to securely accept credit cards; and our banks charged 0.5–1% to irreversibly wire money.

Emails and a helpful Zoom call initiated contact with Popote founder Sabino Kweke — CEO and Kilimanjaro climbing guide. Sabino has created a family-like team who love their jobs and say Popote is the best safari employer. Assistant Cynthia Massawe booked our reservations with aplomb and mingled with us warmly at the start, middle, and end in Arusha and Moshi, Tanzania. Texting on WhatsApp bolstered the relationship. English is their second language — spoken clearly, albeit written imperfectly (but vastly superior to my Swahili knowledge). Popote’s responses were sometimes delayed due to commuting, guiding, and juggling tasks between Moshi, Kilimanjaro, and Arusha. Expect to be on “Africa time” — which implies a more relaxed attitude regarding time and details than found in the USA and northern Europe — good enough.

As uncertainties about the future inevitably arise in travel, patiently realize that all will eventually be resolved. Remember these core Swahili phrases: hakuna matata=no worries; pole pole=slowly; jambo=hello!

  • Mt. Meru 4-day trek = US$265 per day ($1060 total) plus 18% for tips* (covering guide, assistant guide, cook, and porters) with lodging in dormitories
  • Mt. Kenya 7-day trek = US$220 per day ($1540 total) plus 8% tips*, with lodging 5 nights in tents and 1 night in a dormitory.
  • Two 6-day private safaris = US$285 per day, plus 8% in tips*, for single room accommodation with mid-level luxury, as part of a group of 4–5 people. Save 10% if sharing a room on safari.

* Tipping: On each 6-day safari, we tipped the driver-guide US$50–60 per passenger once at the end; plus US$8–10 equivalent in Shillings per traveler per day to each lodging in their communal tip box. Use local Shillings currency for tipping amounts of less than a US$50 bill (because US bills of $20, $10, $5, and $1 will exchange at progressively usurious rates for locals in Tanzania and Kenya). See Popote’s tipping recommendations for trekking. At the end of a trek, tip the guide, then ask him to help divvy the group’s pooled tips for the remaining assistant guide, cook, and porters. Shuttle drivers also may also be tipped.

More safari & trekking operators (2024 prices in US$ per person per day)

Tell the operator your desired safari style — from low-priced rustic to high-end luxury. Tented camps and hard-sided lodges can be requested from basic to luxurious. We requested “mid-level-luxury” from PopoteAfrica.com, who booked us into deluxe ensuite private-tented camps and premium lodges. Victoria Falls is easily booked independently.

  • Nairobi’s GoToMountKenya.com accepts credit cards for no extra fees, is cheaper than Popote, and may be of similar quality:
    ■ Safari US$290-230 per day ($1450 to 1150 total) “2023 Amboseli – Tsavo African Safaris 5 Daysplus tips* for 2 to 4+ people in safari minibus and in Double/Twin room.
    ■ Trekking $172 per day ($1200 total) plus 8–10% tips for “
    Round the Peaks” traverse in 7 days up the Chogoria route, down the Sirimon route, with 4 nights in mountain huts and 2 nights camping.
  • Kenya’s Mt Kenya Guides and Safaris Club | TranquilKilimanjaro.com = $290 per day = 7-day package includes a transit day from Nairobi to Mountain Rock Lodge on the mountain flanks, plus trekking 6 days on Mt Kenya.
  • Kenya’s MountainRockKenya.com gave no reply, after my 2 inquiries via email and website comment box.
  • Tanzania’s topnotch Altezza.Travel promptly quoted an impressively customized 2-week itinerary = $450 – $550 per day for private safari (but this cost twice Popote’s rate and excluded Kenya)
  • Northern Ireland’s AdventureAlternative.com international trekking company gave no reply, after my 2 inquiries via email and website comment box.
  • California’s WildernessTravel.com = $900+ per day for topnotch group safaris in Africa.
  • Colorado’s Natural Habitat Adventures at NatHab.com (partnered with World Wildlife Fund, WWF) = $1500+ per day for a topnotch flying safari**

** In Africa, to allay weary game drives entailing long hours of jouncing along rough four-wheel-drive roads, consider a pricey flying safari (to directly reach a safari vehicle inside each park). Alternatively, simply slow down (pole pole) and stay at least 2 nights in each park.

  • In Africa, ask permission before photographing people closely (as they may value privacy or expect payment).
  • The safe daytime streets of Tanzania and Kenya bustled with children going to school and throngs of women and men engaged in the developing economy — growing at the cost of littered streets and air pollution. Assertive venders overflowed from markets onto highways. If you want to buy something, start with a personable hello and negotiate kindly yet firmly. While humbly realizing that an average American’s income is 60 times higher than a Tanzanian’s, know that overpaying may inflate local prices.
  • In 2019, Tanzania admirably banned all plastic carrier bags to reduce pollution. Travelers shouldn’t bring in disposable plastic bags — which may be confiscated upon entry. But you may carry toiletries in reusable zip-lock bags intended to stay with you and be taken out of the country, as I did.

Our driver buys bananas from street venders through the vehicle window in Arusha, Tanzania:

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