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Skipping the Serengeti and finding Singida instead

Our planned route through Northern Tanzania was to head from Ngorongoro to Mwanza on the shores of Lake Victoria via the Serengeti, but that plan was forced to change when we discovered the ludicrous park fees for the Serengeti. We were aware that we’d have to pay $60 a day per person to get into the Serengeti National Park, fees we felt were high but would be worth it, but were not aware that in addition to this we’d also be required to pay a whopping $200 a day for our car to be in the park. The issue of park fees and their size is a matter for a whole other blog but the ethics of the matter were moot since our budget did not allow for such an expense, especially since camping, food etc. were not included.

We still needed to get to Mwanza though, since that’s where the next school food garden we were part of co-creating was scheduled, and so we worked out a new route around the park. This route meant heading south again before picking up the Dodoma-Mwanza Highway. The new route was approximately 800km compared to the 350km we would have traveled through the park. However after doing the maths we established it was still a much cheaper option than heading through the park and so we hit the road! We soon discovered we were completely off the beaten track and (I might add) were thrilled about this.

The road was in perfect condition and climbed and climbed closer to the clouds, to a point when we started to find it a little difficult to breathe and the car began to struggle. The highest point we climbed to in our trusty Nissan X-trail was just over 3000m and as you can imagine the views from up there were spectacular. Before long we found ourselves in a town called Singida situated on a salt lake of the same name and surrounded by huge boulders. Best of all this lake, listed as an Important Bird Area, even has flamingos in it! We headed towards a bar, always our first port of call if we don’t know a place, so we could get some advice from locals on where to stay and what to do. We ended up at the KBH Hotel bar right on the lake shore and asked the owner if he knew of any camping facilities in town. He laughed and replied that Mzungus (white people in Swahili) don’t really come here and only Mzungus camp (so no) but did say we could camp on the hotel grounds. However the difference in price for a room in the hotel versus the campsite in the parking lot was so small it made more sense to just get a room – especially considering the room rate included Wi-Fi, breakfast and spectacular views over Lake Singida. We soon settled in our room and then went for a wander on the lake shore.

The beauty of spending time in Singida is that you can just relax and enjoy small town life in Tanzania – afternoon soccer training, the daily homeward migration of cattle and their herders, the bustle of traders unaffected by tourists and an incredible sunset. This sunset though was nothing on the sunrise we were treated to the next morning, which was without doubt the best of our entire journey so far! The white deposits of salt around the lake enhanced the orange of the rising sun, contrasting beautifully with the green coloured water of the lake all finished off with a seemingly never-ending jumble of boulders and a sprinkling of flamingos which made just this moment well worth an 800km detour.

If you’re looking for more than just a few days absorbing your surroundings Singida does have more to offer like the Singida museum out past the J-Four Motel, plenty of bouldering opportunities (provided you have your own equipment), sunflower plantation tours, some excellent basket shopping – something the town is known for, tours of the 113 year old town Mosque (including its clock tower which visitors can climb for spectacular views of the town) and even some rock paintings 35km south of Singida at Mjukhuda or 50km north near Lambi Village. I have to admit we didn’t do any of these activities because we were stuck by the lake, entranced by the view, the birdlife and enjoying the company of new found friends.

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