East Africa Overview

African Safaris to East Africa

East Africa

Why Visit

It’s for good reason that an African safari is high on many an adventure traveler’s to-do list. The vast savannah of the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater’s ancient caldera, nature’s fascinating migrations of zebra and wildebeest, and the mystique of ancient cultures combine to create an awe-inspiring experience.

Nature lovers will be thrilled by the sight of elephants, cape buffalo, lions, leopards, giraffes, cheetahs, and colorful birds throughout East Africa. In Ethiopia’s many national parks you won’t see any giraffes or buffalo, but you might spot oryx, bat-eared fox, caracal, aardvark, colobus and green monkeys, Anubis and Hamadryas baboons, klipspringer, bushbuck, hippopotamus, Soemmerings gazelle, kudu, 450 species of birds and more! Ethiopia boasts some of the highest and most stunning places on the African continent—including the Simien Mountains, one of UNESCO’s first designated World Heritage Sites. These mountains are home to rare species like the walia ibex, found nowhere else on earth.

Uganda is known as the pearl of Africa, both for its dramatic natural scenery and its fascinating cultures. Here you’ll encounter the Batwa and Bambuti Pygmies, descendents of ancient hunter-gatherer cultures that once occupied much of East Africa and whose culture has changed little in thousands of years. Near Kumi, the mysterious Nyero Rock Paintings of their ancestors will perplex and delight you.

Kenya’s Samburu Reserve has its own “big five:” Grevy's zebra, gerenuk, Somali Ostrich, Beisa Oryx, and the reticulated giraffe. You might also see baboons, grazers called dik diks, cape buffalo, crocodiles, birds, and elephants. After visiting the natural wonders of Kenya’s Massai Mara plain—including hippos, gazelles, wildebeests, lions and more—you’ll have the unique opportunity to visit a Massai village. Tour a Massai mud home, view jumping demonstrations and hear songs and stories about the lives of these nomadic shepherds who tend to their herds of cows on the vast East African plains.

Experience the wild wonders of East Africa among its grasslands, blue lakes, and high mountains. Marvel at the humans whose history here dates back millennia. An East African adventure is an unforgettable extravaganza of wildlife, photography, culture and scenery.

History

Humans and their direct ancestors have inhabited East Africa for millions of years. Some of the world’s oldest remains of humanlike species have been found here, and the area continues to be a hotbed of anthropological and archeological research—especially in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia, Koobi Fora in Kenya and the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. Current studies speculate that all human beings can trace their origins back to East Africa.

The roots of civilization are found here as well. As early as 7,000 B. C., the peoples of the Ethiopian Highlands developed agriculture to sustain themselves. Organized kingdoms formed around 1,000 B.C. By the first millennia A.D. the area’s coastal regions were buzzing with ships traveling along trade routes between Europe and Asia. Vessels sailed from here to India in search of cotton, grain, oils and sugar. Traders returned from abroad with textiles, copper and tin, which they traded in East Africa for aromatic gums, tortoiseshell, ivory and slaves. East Africa itself was famous for exports of spices, coffee, cashews, tobacco and tea.

In 1498, a Portuguese expedition led by Vasco de Gama brought the first Europeans to explore what is today Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique. Additional merchants, explorers and missionaries soon followed. Trade continued to flourish for centuries as the Portuguese, Arabs, Dutch and British vied for control of these valuable trade routes. Europeans didn’t reach Uganda until 1862 when British explorers John Hanning Speke and James Grant went searching for the source of the Nile there. To this day, East African culture is a product of African, Arab, European and Indian influences.

The 19th and 20th centuries saw nearly every present-day East African country come under European colonial rule. With the rise of the industrial revolution in Europe came the demand for cheap raw materials, and East Africa proved to be a treasure trove of precious minerals, rubber, animal skins, ivory, cotton and other goods.

As colonialism came to an end after World War II, each East African country had to discover an effective way to govern itself despite a lack of national unity, collective identity or, at times, a common language (many of the national borders having been developed by Europeans in the last decades of colonialism). The unfortunate result for many East African countries was a string of political coups, ethnic violence and oppressive dictators, like Uganda’s infamous Idi Amin. After decades of struggles, many East African governments today are fledgling democracies with popularly elected presidents. Kenya and Tanzania, however, have enjoyed relatively stable governments since their independence.

Despite centuries of outside influence, more than 160 ethnic groups live in Eastern Africa, many with their own languages. Ethiopia alone has more than 70 unique languages, Amharic being the official one. Swahili and English are widely spoken throughout the region. Tribes like the Batwa and Bambuti Pygmies have managed to preserve their culture and live much as their ancestors did thousands of years ago. They are hunter-gatherers who do not farm or keep livestock.

Today, aside from tourism, East Africa sustains itself on agriculture. Much like in days past, the region exports spices, coffee, and tobacco. Certain areas are rich in mineral deposits, precious gems, and gold.