A Little Adrift… Dispatch from Africa: From Sand to Safari

The sky is lit with fiery fingers of color, the dense humidity and the clouds pulling the saffron flames across the sky. Zanzibar does not disappoint. I arrived last week in the wake of my safari, I needed a base for two weeks to work on a few new assignments and all signs (and recs from readers) pointed here as the best option in the region. Thanks, it’s beautiful.

Kendwa beach in Zanzibar

There is just something meditative and beautiful about sailboats on the turquoise-blue waters off the coast of Zanzibar.

On Safari: Spotting the Big Five

My week, though, started in the north of Tanzania, and the prevailing chain of conversation centered on the wildlife and Africa’s Big 5 animals. Travelers suss out which national parks everyone visited and what they saw, all in the hopes of finding the elusive faces of some of the most magnificent animals on the planet.

As a lone traveler, I was afraid that traveling off-season was a bad idea. Not wanting a package tour of the region, I had the unenvious task of finding a group willing to let me tag along, otherwise the cost of the safari would be too steep.

Lady Luck was feeling friendly this month—and quite frankly that was a welcome respite after the spate of bad luck last month—with the perfect timing for me to join a group of four Danes visiting in a college field-work program. I donned my wide-brimmed hat and threw my lot in with them for the four days and three nights of safari-ing.

On the road between the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serenteti

Majestic baobab trees dominated Tarangire, the tree bark worn away from the park’s many elephants satisfying their itches on the tree trunks throughout the park.

Cheetahs and leopards stalked through the tall grass of the Serengeti, their bodies sleek and fit from mornings spent hunting the thousands of impalas and gazelles grazing the plains.

Giraffe, graceful and gorgeous, tottered into our paths, casually munching from trees both tall and short.

Lions rested in the shade of our vehicle, and buffalo stood stoic and unimpressed.

The safari was incredible and awesome in the true sense of both words. April is off-season and we shared the park with just a handful of other safari vehicles, all willing to brave the occasional rain showers for the chance to sight these beautiful animals in the wild. With 2000 photos to process, it took a while but I have a proper photo essay of my time in Tanzania’s wilds.

On safari at the Ngorongoro Crater

A rich and complex history in Zanzibar

These two weeks in Zanzibar are a study in the blending of cultures and religions as history chose to throw a wide mix of influence on this tiny island in the Indian Ocean over the past 100 years. The Arab slave trade converged on the island, with the historic Stone Town as a primary staging ground. Also making an appearance in the island’s history were the Portuguese, British, Persians, and Indians, among others. The result is a chaotic mix of narrow, intricate corridors, mosques jostling with buildings of British and Arab architecture, and giant wooden doors that will forever stand out as my strongest memory of Stone Town.

In present-day, the island is an eclectic mix that has created a fierce island pride native Zanzibari. Though they are Tanzanian by passport, rumblings around the island insist on a need to separate from the mainland and take back their farms, trade, and island identity.

Conversations hum with the laid-back cadence native to island life anywhere in the world, and locals are just as likely to share a cheery greeting as they are to pull up a chair and sit for a chat. A week into my time here and I have yet to find a resident who doesn’t smile with pride and ask, as they always do, “So you like Zanzibar?” A question for which there is but one answer they expect.

“Oh yes, you live in paradise,” I always reply.

Next Steps

I am traveling back to Kenya this weekend to visit a cultural project, the Maji Moto Masaai camp, which came highly recommended. Scarce internet means I haven’t yet compiled my planned guides to local projects along the way, but if you’re looking for an ethical safari or Kilimanjaro trekking company on a mid-range budget, TPK Expeditions comes highly recommended. It’s operated by a Tanzanian and Canadian women duo committed to paying their guides fair wages and giving opportunities furthering their education.

Speaking of Kilimanjaro, I am saving the climb—the highest peak in Africa—to trek with my dad. Traveling through Panama last summer, my dad mentioned he would love to start retirement by climbing Kili. I’m holding him to it and hopefully in the next few years we will make it happen!

More soon,

~S

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48 Responses to A Little Adrift… Dispatch from Africa: From Sand to Safari

  1. Vagabonding Mike February 22, 2015 at 12:58 am #

    I’m going to be hitting up Zanzibar the week following my climb of Kilimanjaro. Based off your pictures, it look like its going to live up to everything that was promised!

    • Shannon O'Donnell February 22, 2015 at 10:24 am #

      It’s stunningly pretty — and best of luck on the climb! I would love to Kili one day and have promised myself I will make it back to Tanzania. I met a lot of climbers relaxing in the sun and sand after the climb, so you will be in good company. :)

  2. Lauren Hughes October 20, 2014 at 7:24 am #

    What a beautiful landscape, it looks like you had an amazing trip xo

  3. YaBoiAdam October 2, 2014 at 11:21 am #

    Very intersting trip Mrs. O’Donnell

  4. Tez Ferguson August 31, 2014 at 6:17 am #

    It truly is amazing how this country has the best of both worlds. Fantastic write up!

  5. Ed August 28, 2014 at 11:11 pm #

    I did this same exact thing a couple of years ago. I called it “turf and surf”…do the safaris and then head to the coast to wash off.

    • Shannon O'Donnell August 28, 2014 at 11:35 pm #

      It was such a wonderful combination, to rough it in the safari and then just relax it all away on Zanzibar! Hope your trip was fantastic. :)

  6. Sarah Somewhere July 5, 2014 at 7:48 pm #

    Absolutely beautiful. Africa is high on my list of places to go. That water looks amazing!!!

  7. Passport Health June 6, 2014 at 5:34 pm #

    Very true Shannon! Africa has so much to offer from its safari adventures to the beautiful turquoise blue water. Before traveling to Africa it is important to look up safety tips and the recommended vaccinations. Here is some tips to ensure your trip to Africa is memorable in nothing but the best ways!

  8. Rebecca and the World May 23, 2014 at 9:04 pm #

    I have wanted to go to Zanzibar since, like, FOREVER!! It looks just as beautiful as I imagine it to be. One day!

    • Shannon O'Donnell May 24, 2014 at 12:44 am #

      It is stunning and has a unique culture in the area too that makes it excellent. Hopefully you can make it there soon. :)

  9. Drew Meyers April 27, 2014 at 8:28 pm #

    Happy to hear you had a bit better luck w/ this part of the trip than in S Africa :)

  10. theegetawaygal April 25, 2014 at 9:51 am #

    What an fun, interesting and incredibly beautiful journey you are on. Your writing always leave me excited for the next update, I can’t wait to see the rest of your photos, these ones are gorgeous.

  11. Escape Hunter April 20, 2014 at 6:16 am #

    Legendary Zanzibar!

  12. Rebekah Voss April 20, 2014 at 5:46 am #

    What an adventure! In my mind Africa is the last remaining promised land – I can’t wait to journey there someday and clearly my journey needs to begin in Zanzibar.

    • Shannon O'Donnell April 20, 2014 at 11:17 am #

      It’s been an incredible journey these last few months and I keep kicking myself asking why I waited so long to explore. Hope you can make it here soon! :)

  13. Lunaguava April 19, 2014 at 11:40 am #

    Really glad you enjoyed your time in Tanzania. We didn’t do Tarangire, opting to visit Lake Manyara, Serengeti and Ngorongoro instead. Like you mention in your post, we also thought our safari awesome, in the truest sense of the word. There are still times when I close my eyes and see the bewitching vastness of the Serengeti looming ahead. We also visited Zanzibar following our trek through northern Tanzania, but I left feeling ambiguous about it. I couldn’t shake off its history, even while gazing at a magnificent ocean. Anyway, looking forward to the safari photo essay! Good luck!

    • Shannon O'Donnell April 19, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

      Sorry that you didn’t quite enjoy Zanzibar — I was enchanted by the melding of cultures and history into the fiercely proud people I encountered throughout the island. And yes, oh those beaches. Lake Manyara looked beautiful too, I only saw it from a distance but would have liked to have the time to see it all. :)

  14. Jen @ The Trusted Traveller April 16, 2014 at 5:26 am #

    Incredible photos Shannon. I especially love the one of the giraffe, their such beautiful creatures.

    • Shannon O'Donnell April 16, 2014 at 11:30 am #

      Thank you Jen — they were one of my favorite sightings because they are so gentle. Thanks for reading! :)

  15. Corinne Vail April 16, 2014 at 5:24 am #

    What gorgeous photos. I need to get to Tanzania. I love going off-season, but I’m probably going to have to bite the bullet and go during the migration. Great post and keep having fun!

    • Shannon O'Donnell April 16, 2014 at 11:30 am #

      Thank you Corrine! While off season was nice because of the low tourists, I would love to come back one day and see the migration, that is going to be incredible — you will get amazing photos.

  16. Jimmy Dau April 16, 2014 at 5:10 am #

    Brings back memories of when I went on Safari. Can’t wait to see the photo essay!

    • Shannon O'Donnell April 16, 2014 at 11:26 am #

      Thanks Jimmy! It was more incredible than I imagined — going to the zoo will just never be the same now that I’ve seen the animals in their natural element.

  17. Veronica April 15, 2014 at 10:35 pm #

    What a beautiful post. I so love your blog. I’ve always wanted to visit Zanzibar. Nice to have gone there via your photos for the time being. The water looks unreal!

    I recently wrote about our journey to safari in Kruger (Sabi Sands) and meeting Tony Blair, random, I know. One of the best experiences of my life (the safari, not Blair). Seeing the animals in their natural environment has ruined me on zoos and captive environments forever.

  18. World Travel Fiend April 15, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

    Wow, you’re certainly not lying when you tell the locals they live in paradise – based on that first photo in this post that’s exactly what Zanzibar looks like!

    • Shannon O'Donnell April 16, 2014 at 11:24 am #

      It lives up to it as well! I went to a beach in the south yesterday and it put this one in the post to shame. Everywhere I go, the island just gets more beautiful.

  19. Jilla April 15, 2014 at 5:23 pm #

    So what are the projects you work on? I am looking to get paid to travel…how do I do this?

  20. Travels with Tam April 15, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

    Wonderful post, as always. I’ve never visited Zanzibar….looks like I need to!

    • Shannon O'Donnell April 16, 2014 at 11:19 am #

      Thank you Tam — you definitely need to visit! Gorgeous waters and a welcoming culture, a slice of paradise. :)

  21. Staci April 15, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

    I’m so glad to read this post. We are traveling next year on our RTW adventure with our two teenagers and nearly every scenario places us in Tanzania in April – apparently a big no no if you want the safari experience. I am delighted to hear that this is not the case!! And we are so excited to expereince Zanzibar. Thank you for the lovely post, Shannon.

    Staci

    • Shannon O'Donnell April 16, 2014 at 11:23 am #

      It’s going to rain, and for a lot of people that is a deal breaker, but if you are adventurous and up for perhaps digging your vehicle out of the mud then you’ll be fine :) (we got stuck in the mud for a couple hours but just made an adventure out of it and chose not to let it ruin our day). I think your teens will have a wonderful time, the animals are still there and the guides all radio and call each other to share where the animals are — so, you will see them!

  22. Karyn @ Not Done Travelling April 15, 2014 at 5:49 am #

    I want to jump into that water! It must have been so hard to stay focused on work while you had all this beauty around you!

    • Shannon O'Donnell April 16, 2014 at 11:18 am #

      Oh you know it was! Even when it drizzled down rain the water was gorgeous and I wanted to swim. :)

  23. Maria Galloway April 14, 2014 at 11:26 pm #

    Beautiful pictures, I can’t wait for more!!! What a truly incredible trip you are having!!
    Looking forward to our next dinner so we ask you 9000 questions about Africa. :D

    • Shannon O'Donnell April 16, 2014 at 11:17 am #

      Me too!! I hope that dinner comes soon so you can update me in person on the adventures you’ve had in Asia, your photos make me miss it intensely.

      • Maria Galloway April 24, 2014 at 5:04 am #

        I would love that!
        We will be in your old stomping grounds soon. I’m going to start going through your old posts to find out all the wonders of Chiang Mai. :)

  24. steve April 14, 2014 at 8:19 pm #

    You have one of the best ” jobs” in the world. I say “jobs” because you get to travel to some of the most amazing places on earth and get paid to do it. I am truly jealous and excited for you and I don’t even know you. And I wait for each new story and adventure you post and I add each new destination to my bucket list. My first will be Panama this summer. Thank you for introducing me to so much of the world as seen through your eye and camera. And giving me the courage to venture out and experience life through travel.

    • Shannon O'Donnell April 16, 2014 at 11:16 am #

      Thanks Steve! I do love that I can work from the road. I hope that your adventure to Panama goes incredibly well — a beautiful country and welcoming culture, so it’s a great place to start. I so appreciate you support on the site! :)

  25. Lisa Bryan April 14, 2014 at 5:30 pm #

    I have travelled to Kenya and Tanzania (also in the “off season” – yet absolutely perfect!)…but never made it to Zanzibar. Based on your post, it looks like I’ll have to route back around one of these days. Thanks for the inspiration. :)

    • Shannon O'Donnell April 16, 2014 at 11:14 am #

      Thanks for reading Lisa — I do recommend that you route back here, it’s a gorgeous island with a unique culture from mainland Tanzania.

  26. My7Lives April 14, 2014 at 4:23 pm #

    Before reading this article, I had never considered Zanzibar as my next tourist destination. However, your experience as a lone traveler in the off season is incredible inspiring. Any advice for some off-beat local activities that one could engage in?

    • Shannon O'Donnell April 16, 2014 at 11:13 am #

      Glad you’re thinking of coming here, it’s a unique island with a lot of culture — def read up and see if it sounds like a place you would enjoy. :)

  27. Guest April 14, 2014 at 4:22 pm #

    Before reading this article, I have never considered Zanzibar as my next tourist destination. However, your experience as a lone traveler in the off season is incredible inspiring. Any advice for some off-beat local activities that one could engage in?

    • Shannon O'Donnell April 16, 2014 at 10:48 am #

      Glad you’re thinking of coming here, it’s a unique island with a lot of culture — def read up and see if it sounds like a place you would enjoy. :)

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