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East Africa

Tropical Rainforest, Savannah Grasslands, Dramatic Semi-deserts, Stunning Wildlife Migrations, Indigenous Cultures, The Great Rift Valley, Soda and Fresh Lakes, Deserted Beaches and Coral Reefs shape the extraordinary landscapes that make up East Africa.

Climate
Eastern Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi), is probably the first option for a safari destination in Africa. Its spectacular range of altitude offers climatic diversity; its wildlife spectacle is unparalleled and varied, its wild places with a wealth of wildlife unspoilt and natural, with nothing contrived, and it harbours some of the world’s oldest and most colourful cultures, all of which fuse together to form the richest African tapestry.

East Africa has two rainy seasons a year. The “long” rains normally set in towards the end of March or early April and last through until the end of May, whilst the “short” rains usually break in mid October and last until the beginning of December. However, during the East African rainy seasons, it is unusual for rain to fall every day or all day, but rather in heavy thunderstorms in the afternoons and at night, with beautiful clear sunny spells in between. During the intervening dry seasons road conditions are more predictable as is the game viewing, since the animals are concentrated within reach of permanent water sources. During the rains, the animals disperse, no longer dependent on their dry season feeding grounds. Then inland waterholes fill with rainwater, releasing the pressure on their dry season range and enabling them to enjoy lush vegetation further afield. At this time of the year, however, the country looks its best, everything green and beautiful adorned with a profusion of wild flowers attended by myriads of butterflies. It is the vibrant season of plenty – the season of renewal. In short therefore, it can be wet in April and May and again end of October through to the end of December, and dry from January to April and again from mid October to the end of December. Higher temperatures are experienced in East Africa during the Northern hemisphere winter and vice versa, due to the positioning of the sun, but altitude also influences temperature, cooler at higher altitudes and hotter at the lower altitudes.

East Africa has so much to offer that it would be difficult to combine all five countries in one itinerary; they need to be considered separately and carefully before settling on an itinerary that will include all the options on offer.

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Kenya

Kenya is the heart of East Africa, and is wonderfully diverse in every respect. With an altitude range from sea level to 17300 feet above sea level, being the summit of Mt. Kenya, and despite being on the Equator, Kenya enjoys a very comfortable temperate climate and as such is a prime year-round destination. Its many different ecosystems include probably the most spectacular section of the Great Rift Valley, dotted with extinct slumbering volcanoes and beautiful saline and fresh water lakes.

Other habitats include the rolling grasslands associated with the great grazing hordes of wild game, such as the Maasai Mara, whilst the highland steppes and walls of the Great Rift Valley are clothed in montane forest with an interesting outlier of the vast tropical forests of central Africa occurring in the West of the country. Coastal lowland forests harbour many endemic species and the warm waters of the Indian Ocean bathe a beautiful palm fringed coastline where early Portuguese and Arab influence is of historical interest graphically reflected in the towns of Mombasa, Malindi and most notably, Lamu.

A highlight of a Kenyan safari experience is the opportunity to interact with the colourful and proud Maasai and Samburu tribal people whose culture has changed little over time.

Kenya’s tourist infrastructure is sophisticated and developed to international standards, offering everything from deluxe hotels and lodges, to tented lodge destinations and mobile camping safaris, plus home stays in private houses that reflect Kenya’s colonial era.

Tanzania

Lying just South of the Equator, Tanzania is the largest of the East African countries, having stagnated during almost three decades of post independence communist isolation, and having been wrestled from the Germans after the First World War, remained only a mandated British territory rather than a colony.

Mount Kilimanjaro, towering over the country’s northern border with Kenya is the highest mountain in Africa, (over 19,000 ft) and dominates the northern landscape of the country, with Mount Meru a close second. The Ngorongoro Crater, the largest volcanic closed cauldron in the world, 12 miles across, cradles an amazing concentration of wildlife that indulge in their own mini migration around its basin.

Nearby the famous Olduvai Gorge provides an opportunity to view finds of early man and beyond the plains of the famous Serengeti National Park offer a wonderful opportunity to witness one of the grandest spectacles of nature, the annual wildebeest and zebra migration which spills into Kenya’s Masai Mara at the end of the dry season in July/August. For the more adventurous the Ruaha, Katavi and Selous National Parks are more remote, more secluded and well worth a visit. Just off the coast lies the lush and beautiful spice island of Zanzibar, still permeated by the scent of cloves, as well as the islands of Pemba and Mafia, famous for their fishing.

Uganda

Uganda, known as the Pearl of Africa, is best known as one of the last refuges of the rare mountain gorilla, where visitors can make the strenuous trek to visit several “habituated” groups.

The famous Ruwenzori Mountains are one of the most ancient mountain ranges in the world, encompassing the Virunga volcanoes which are still active. The chimpanzees of Kibale Forest offer an insight into the habits of man’s closest living relatives, while Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls National Parks are scenically spectacular with a full range of African wildlife including the Uganda Kob and Rothschilds giraffe.

Uganda’s wildlife was depleted by years of mismanagement and army plundering during Uganda’s turbulent post independent period, but the country is now recovering, and although still largely under-developed, boasts some excellent tented camps and up and coming lodges.

Whilst the clock has been turned back in Uganda, it is still “The Pearl of Africa” a lush and fertile country, home to the headwaters of the Nile.

Rwanda

Rwanda is one of Africa’s newest success stories – having come out of one of recent history’s most devastating genocides, this young country has effected a complete transformation – thanks in no small part to their president, Paul Kagame, who has single-handedly changed the way a nation thinks.

Rwanda’s jewel in its tourism crown is the Parc National Des Volcans (Volcanoes National Park), where they have nine separate habituated gorilla families living in one of the most beautiful mountain setting you will ever witness. One thing not to miss on your trip to East Africa is the gorillas, and Rwanda is the perfect place to see them.

Apart from the gorilla experience, Rwanda has two other parks – one is called Akagera National Park which is a small grassland and scattered bush park, where one can view palins game, grassland primates and the occasional leopard. The other Park is Nyungwe Forest National Park. Nyungwe Park is the largest block of montane forest in East or Central Africa, and one of the most ancient, dating back to before the last Ice Age. It is most alluring for its primates -13 species in all, including humankind’s closest living relative the chimpanzee, as well as the handsome L’Hoest’s monkey and hundred-strong troops of the delightfully acrobatic Angola colobus. The most important ornithological site in Rwanda, Nyungwe harbours almost 300 bird species of which two dozen are restricted to a handful of montane forests on the Albertine Rift.

Burundi

There are no significant conservation efforts in Burundi, however there is some interesting cultural diversity, and a nation addicted to colorful fabric, and francophone music.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia is Africa’s second most populous nation, with a 82 million inhabitants, and is the tenth largest by area, occupying 1.1 million square kilometers of the continent.

Ethiopia was a monarchy for most of its history, and the Ethiopian dynasty traces its roots to the 2nd century BC. Ethiopia is also one of the oldest sites of human existence known to scientists today, having yielded some of the earliest hominid remains. It may be the region from which Homo sapiens first set out for the Middle East and beyond. Alongside Rome, China and Persia, the Ethiopian Aksum Empire was considered one of the four great world powers of the 3rd century.

The country is a land of incredibly diverse natural formations, boasting some of Africa’s highest mountains as well as some of the world’s lowest points below sea level. The largest cave in Africa is located in Ethiopia at Sof Omar. Ethiopia has one of the largest number of rivers in the world while the country’s northernmost area at Dallol, Afar is the hottest place year-round anywhere on Earth. It is a multilingual, multicultural and multiethnic society of around 80 groups, with the two largest being the Oromo and the Amhara, both of which speak Afro-Asiatic languages. The country is famous for its rock-hewn churches in Lalibela, as the place where the coffee bean originated, and also for its incredibly spectacular mountain ranges – particularly the Semien Mountains and the Bale Mountains. Currently, Ethiopia is the top coffee and honey-producing country in Africa, and home to the largest livestock population in Africa. The Ethiopian Aksum region was the first major empire in the world to convert to Christianity and it was one of the first countries to officially adopt Christianity as a state religion in the 4th century. Ethiopia has a Christian majority and a third of the population is Muslim. Ethiopia is the site of the first Hijra in Islamic history and the oldest Muslim settlement in Africa at Negash. Until the 1980s, a substantial population of Ethiopian Jews resided in Ethiopia. The country is also the spiritual homeland of the Rastafari religious movement.

Ethiopia is also famous for its highlands being the source of the Blue Nile, flowing out of the Choqua Mountains and into Lake Tana, then onwards on its long journey to the sea.

A trip to Ethiopia is not your classic safari – the tourism infrastructure is very undeveloped, and is very more geared to budget travelers. Four and five star hotels only occur in the Capital, Addis Ababa. However, if you are interested in getting off the beaten track, or going to up-and-coming destinations before they get famously busy, then this is one place to go.

There are three main highlights in Ethiopia – the Mountains for rare wildlife and fabulous scenery; the Ancient Churches in Lalibela, Bahir Dar, Aksum, and Gondar for a view of their ancient Orthodox Christianity – many of the churches are many hundreds of years old, and the priests still use the bibles written on lamb’s hide parchment in Ge’es (ancient Ethiopian language); plus some fascinating ethnic groups, especially in the South, such as the Mursi.

Get in touch with us to propose an itinerary should you be interested in visiting Ethiopia, or hearing more about it.

(Photos Courtesy & Copyright of Stephanie Freid Perenchio – SFP Studio)

Africa Map - East Africa
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