Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the largest park in all of Disney World with much of the area being in the Africa section. This fictional East African port is a village named Harambe, which means “come together” in Swahili. As the story goes, Harambe used to be part of a Dutch Colony until a peaceful revolution in the early 1960s gave Harambe its independence.
The village of Harambe is packed not only with cool buildings but also unique souvenirs in the shops that can only be found here in the Mombasa Marketplace. There are also unique dining options like Harambe Fruit Market, Tamu Tamu Refreshments, and Zuri’s Sweets Shop where you can find snacks inspired by Africa. The Dawa Bar hosts live entertainment, and the Tusker House serves up delicious food with a side of Disney Characters.
Besides the neat shopping and dining, you’ll also find some awesome attractions in Harambe including the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail with black and white colobus monkeys, gerenuks, gorillas, hippos, Kenyan sand boas, Grevy’s Zebras, meerkats, chimpanzees, naked mole rats, okapis, tarantulas, and more. In the Harambe theater, you can see a live stage show presentation called Festival of the Lion King, which is based on the 1994 Disney film, The Lion King. While this show comes in a very close second, my favorite attraction in Africa is Kilimanjaro Safaris!
The original idea of Kilimanjaro Safaris came directly from Walt Disney who wanted real animals in his Jungle Cruise attraction in Disneyland. However, his Imagineers warned him that real animals were difficult and sometimes impossible to control and could pose a real danger to guests, so he decided to use audio-animatronic animals instead. Decades later, Disney’s Animal Kingdom was built.
Kilimanjaro Safaris is located on the Harambe Wildlife Preserve, and while this preserve is fictional and man-made, it is the very real home to several of the most magnificent and most endangered African species. In fact, Disney has partnered with other zoos to save endangered species either by repopulation or health care including 300 endangered sea turtles who were nursed back to health in EPCOT’s The Seas pavilion and then released back into the wild and the birth of ten rhinos, three of which were born in Uganda where white rhinos were previously extinct.
You can travel through this incredible wildlife preserve on open-sided vehicles custom built from 1990-2002 GMC Topkicks or Ford Super Duty Trucks and see various species spotted throughout 800 square miles of savanna, rivers, and rocks.
Disney has carefully crafted the area to look and feel very real, but it is, indeed, man-made. The washed-out, rutted roads, the rickety tilt bridge, and the cement “mud” spray-painted on the vehicles add to the reality of the attraction, but all of the animals including spotted hyenas, wild dogs, Watusi cattle, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, elephants, leopards, zebras, wildebeest, crocodiles, antelopes, ostriches, flamingos, and various bird species are very real. They’re kept apart and safe from each other with an intricate system of chains and natural barriers hidden among the dark brown concrete paths with permanent tire ruts on which the vehicles drive.
The safari guides are given a script to follow but are allowed and even encouraged to ad-lib as necessary making every trip on the safari unique and special. Plus, the animals are not staged and can, for the most part, roam freely.