Animal Kingdom, Africa: A Photo Tourby Donald and Bonnie Fink, contributing writer
Disney's Animal Kingdom is divided into six different areas. These are the Oasis, Dinoland, Discovery Island, Asia, Africa, and Rafiki's Planet Watch. Not all of these areas are "lands" in the normal sense, but each has an adventure waiting for anyone who wants to look. Some areas, however, have a unique and well defined land in the park and is well worth a specific trip to see.
In this Photo Tour we'll focus on Africa, which is located beyond Discovery Island. Africa is, in our view, the core of Animal Kingdom. With the ride called Kilimanjaro Safaris and the walking path called the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, Africa has the primary attractions to Animal Kingdom. If you could visit only one area in Animal Kingdom, it should definitely be Africa.
To get there from the main entrance, walk through the Oasis and cross the bridge at Discovery River. Continue through Discovery Island, bearing left as you approach the Tree of Life. You'll again cross Discovery River and enter the village of Harambe in Africa.
Harambe is a mythical east African Village. According to Disney legend, Harambe was originally a Dutch colony, but gained independence after a non-violent revolution in 1961. Swahili for "pull together," Harambe's theme is one of mutual cooperation, working together for a common goal.
The village itself is made to look like a sea port, where people would normally gather and make preparations for safaris into the interior of the African continent. There are of course shops and restaurants, as well as quick service meals and even a few artisans making and selling their art along the street. Cast members (villagers) are dressed in colorful African-inspired costumes, which continues the appearance and feeling of this vibrant east African settlement.
As you enter the village of Harambe from Discovery Island, you'll see Tamu Tamu Eats and Refreshments on the right. It's a good place for soft serve ice cream, Dole Whip, and other refreshing drinks and coffee. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
The Tam Tam Drummers liven up the streets of Harambe Village. They perform approximately once an hour during the mornings, but check a Times Guide for actual times. Photo by Bonnie Fink, Video by Donald Fink.
Much of the art for sale at the Mombasa Market Place spills out into street vendor carts as you might expect in an east African village. Some of this work is made locally, but most of it appears to be imported from Africa. All of it looks like serious art, worthy of display in any home. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
This carving is an example of some of the artwork available at Mombasa Market Place. It's certainly not a typical theme park trinket. We found these pieces to be reasonably priced too. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Behind Tamu Tamu Refreshments, this secluded area is a great place to sit down with your meal. It gets a little busy during peak times, but at other times it seems to be relatively unknown. We've had many lunches here and there was rarely a crowd. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
At first glance, you might think that the Dawa Bar is all that is on the corner on the left as you enter Harambe Village from the bridge over the Discovery River. But if you walk through the bar to the back, you'll discover the Tusker House Restaurant. This restaurant is a character buffet that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The Tusker House Restaurant is located in Harambe Village behind the open air Dawa Bar. It features a character buffet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is filled with African-inspired dishes. We recommend reservations. Photo by Donald Fink.
Harambe Market is a relatively new addition to Harambe village. It's an area one street over from the main street in Harambe towards Asia. There are several quick service restaurants here as well as seating for lunch. The area does not serve breakfast. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
We posted more about Harambe Market in an earlier article. You can see a few more images here.
Harambe Theatre and the Festival of the Lion King
Located just west of Harambe Village along the Discovery River is the Harambe Theatre, home of the Festival of the Lion King. The Festival of the Lion King is a musical and dance presentation based on the movie and Broadway musical, The Lion King. This might be the best show at Disney. We see it more than once a year and it never gets old. If you are going to Animal Kingdom, ever, you need to see this incredible show. We recommend reserving a Fastpass since it guarantees you'll get in and allows you to be seated first.
Floating on the Discovery River, a boat is docked at the Port of Harambe near the Harambe Theatre. The props in Africa—and all of Animal Kingdom for that matter—are so well done it's easy to believe you're really in an east African village. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Our best information about the literal translation of the sign on the left is that it's Swahili for, "They do not after dark." The English words on the right coupled with the graphic below make it very clear that you should stay off the beach along the Discovery River after sunset. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
As you walk through virtually all of Animal Kingdom, pay attention to the signs. This one, located in the Fastpass queue for The Festival of the Lion King, was too good to pass up. Photo by Donald Fink.
Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
As you leave Harambe Village and head toward the north, you'll encounter an area called the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. According to Disney legend, this was once a hunting trail when Harambe was under Dutch rule. After independence, the people of Harambe made it a game preserve. Today you can stroll along a three-eighths mile trail that's mostly shaded while you observe many of the animals found in Africa.
In one of the key enclosures along the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail is a colony of meerkats. These creatures live in large groups in underground burrows. There's always at least one meerkat on guard duty, watching the sky for predators. This one was watching us, no doubt wondering if we were fast enough to be a threat. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Near the end of the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail is the Gorilla Research Camp. The first stop at the camp is a covered area with a glass wall looking out into the gorilla family area. There is usually an adult male and female along with several juveniles. There are also Animal Kingdom cast members here who can answer questions. Further along, you will cross a suspension bridge and come to the bachelor area on the left. The image of this large silver-back is from the bachelor area. Photo by Donald Fink.
The showcase of Africa, and indeed all of Animal Kingdom, is Kilimanjaro Safaris. This is a short photo safari through the Harambe Wildlife Reserve through the Ituri Rain Forest, wetlands, and the Safi River Valley. The mythical Harambe Reserve is 800 square miles in size and has a good representation of many of the animals found in eastern and central Africa. The landscape looks authentic, right down to the acacia trees, which are really local Florida oaks pruned to the typical canopy of an African acacia.
The Kilimanjaro Safaris takes you on a two week safari—compressed down to just 30 minutes—into the African savanna where you'll see many different animals. Here, an Ankole cow crosses the road in front of the safari vehicle. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
The landscape along the route of the Kilimanjaro Safaris makes you almost believe you've left central Florida and entered the savanna in Africa. With the grasslands; the baobab tree, which isn't real; and the acacia trees, which are actually oaks trimmed to look like acacias, the animals probably feel at home too. Photo by Donald Fink.
This is a vehicle used for the Kilimanjaro Safaris. While this is a slow moving excursion into the African Savanna, it does make sharp turns and crosses some big bumps. If you have neck or back issues, you might want to think twice before taking this excursion. Photo by Donald Fink.
There is a backstage tour surrounding the Kilimanjaro Safaris that is worth considering. The Wild Africa Trek tour passes through various enclosures, including a rope and wood suspension bridge over the crocodile enclosure. Guests have the opportunity to stand on the very edge of a cliff overlooking the hippos. There's a private truck ride through the savanna to view the animals at a more leisurely pace, and a modest lunch at a remote camp overlooking the Safi River Valley.
This tour is a bit expensive, but it's three hours in length and provides a unique view of the main attraction at Animal Kingdom. We've made this tour once, and it's certainly on the list to do a second time at some point in the future. Mark Goldhaber posted an article about this tour entitled Hangin' With Hippos and Crocs: Wild Africa Trek. Mark does a good job describing what to expect on this great adventure.