As one of the leading Tanzania travel experts in the country, Director and Co-Founder of Tanzania Specialist Epimark Bernard has led an extraordinary life. Growing up in the Usambara Mountains in northeastern Tanzania, Epimark paved a way for himself in the burgeoning Tanzania travel industry early on. Over the past 20 years, he has worked in every aspect of the business. From a private safari guide and driver to administration, accounts and management.
“No matter where you go in Tanzania, the variety of experiences, landscapes and cultures is incredible,” Epimark says as he looks back on two decades of exploring Tanzania. “It’s interesting. Most tourists who have never previously been to Africa or Tanzania have a few misconceptions about what travelling in this country will be like. Some may think that the country is total bush and that one can see a giraffe on the landing strip at the airport! Others may think that the country is underdeveloped with no smooth roads. Some still think that Tanzanians themselves are all Maasai Warriors. None of these things is true, and exploring the best of Tanzania is the only way to prove it!”
5 Questions with Tanzania expert Epimark Bernard
Here we talk to Epimark Bernard about life as Director of one of Tanzania’s most successful custom safari operators as well as his top tips on how to experience a taste of the local life on your unforgettable Tanzania vacation!
Tell us a little about yourself and describe a typical week as Tanzania Specialist’s Director.
I was born in 1970 in the Usambara Mountains in Lushoto, which is in the Tanga Region of Tanzania. Once I graduated, I decided to enter the tourism industry. In early 1996 I joined Sopa Lodges for hotel training. I then went to a small college in Dar Es Salaam for tourism studies in 1997 and conducted my first field trip the next year – I immediately loved it. This showed in my performance, and I was very happy to be offered a seasonal job as a tour guide in Tanzania.
After 20 years in the tourism business, I co-founded Tanzania Specialist in 2015 with Robbin Meulemans. As Director, my typical week is certainly not always the same, but I have some normality in my routine! My day always begins with a run. I arrive to the Tanzania Specialist headquarters in Arusha around 8:15 am, check on my emails and move on to new tour requests before following up with our quotations and reservation teams. I fill the rest of my day with a lot of operational duties that need my attention, from transport checks to liaising with each department in the company. As Director, I keep a constant overview to ensure a smooth experience for our clients every step of their journey!
What destinations do you recommend for the ultimate Tanzania experience?
In my opinion, all two week Tanzania vacations have to start at the Tarangire National Park for a few days on safari! The Serengeti is also a must on any Tanzania experience, as is the Ngorongoro Crater. Then it depends on what you like best. If you’re looking for more luxury safari experiences, then head south to Nyerere National Park and Ruaha National Park. If you’re looking for an idyllic beach setting to relax after 10 days of adventure, head to the sandy isles of Zanzibar or Mafia. Either way, Tanzania will not disappoint!
What are three Tanzania dishes everyone should try?
Tanzania is full of rich and vibrant culinary experiences. My top Tanzania food recommendations have to start with Ugali with a beef stew of fish and beans. Ugali is a type of maize flour porridge made throughout Africa, each country with its different take. The second Tanzania dish to taste is Pilau, which is Tanzanian spiced rice. The last is definitely Nyama Choma or Tanzanian barbeque! Goat is usually the main meat used in Nyama Choma. It’s absolutely delicious and is one of the most popular dishes in the country.
You co-founded Tanzania Specialist with Robbin Meulemans in 2015. Tell us the story behind the business.
I picked up Robbin with his girlfriend Mathanje de Jong (now his wife!) at Kilimanjaro Airport and took them to Lake Duluti Serena Hotel. Early in the morning, I transferred them from Lake Duluti Serena Hotel to Arusha Airport for their flight to Serengeti. We all immediately clicked – they were so young and shining and enamoured with the country.
While we were waiting at the airport, Robbin started asking me about the tourism business in Tanzania. I answered his questions and his interest was piqued. We kept in touch when he returned back to the Netherlands. Robbin made several more trips to Tanzania before we entered into business. We went on fam trips to inspect the luxury lodges available all over the country. We spent many days talking through the details of a new tour operator in Tanzania. In 2015, we established Tanzania Specialist.
Before Tanzania Specialist, you worked in the Tanzania tourism industry for almost 20 years. Tell us your journey to becoming one of Tanzania’s most knowledgeable experts?
I’ve worked in pretty much every facet of the Tanzania tourism industry over the last two decades. I worked for A&K till 2002 when I joined Ranger Safaris Ltd dealing with airline ticketing, transport and file auditing. I worked for 7 years at Ranger Safaris till I left to jump into a new experience with the Mount Kilimanjaro Safari Club (MKSC).
After I few years I joined the luxury Bilila Lodge Kempinski as the Assistant Reservations Manager and Guide. This luxury lodge is now the Four Seasons in Serengeti! I eventually decided to come back to Arusha to start afresh, joining Multichoice Safaris in the quotations department. I worked for Multichoice Safaris for 3 years till I decided to start my own business as a freelance Driver Guide.
Setting up my own business as a freelance Driver and Safari Guide in Tanzania was not easy. But I persevered and enjoyed a successful career. It was not easy because I did not do it before but I managed to do it. In 2014, I also joined Leopard Tours as a transfer driver. So from administration to management to guiding: I’ve done it all!
Are you interested in touring Tanzania? Get in touch with Epimark Bernard and the team of experts at Tanzania Specialist and start planning your bespoke vacation in Africa now!