After completing #Joburg2Kili and summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, Warrick and I went on a Tanzanian Safari Experience for a week visiting some of the world famous National Parks namely; Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Crater; Serengeti National Park and Lake Manyara National Park. Both of us are bushveld fanatics and it has always been on our bucket lists to visit these Parks so it was great to be able to tag on this trip at the end of our incredible journey to Tanzania.
Our tour was booked through Seagulls Travel Agency in South Africa but the local tour operator we went with was called Leopard Tours which are one of the largest safari operators based in Arusha.
We were driven by our guide, Ibraham, who looked after us for our weeks’ safari. Having been on quite a few safaris back in South Africa we were expecting to be driven around in a typical open-safari vehicle; however, in Tanzania most of the safari companies have Toyota Land Cruisers that are closed with big windows due to the large distances they need to drive between the National Parks. So when driving in the Parks we would then pop open the roof of the safari vehicle which would allow us to stand and view the animals.
Starting in Arusha we made our way to Tarangire National Park, which is about a 2-hour drive. We stayed at the Sopa Tarangire Lodge based in the North of the Park. It is quite a big lodge with 75 rooms but it was very decent and comfortable. Tarangire is a really beautiful Park with baobabs dispersed across the landscape of acacia forests and grasslands. It is known as the home of the elephants and we certainly saw plenty herds with lots of babies which was a treat. It was also interesting to note that the elephants seemed to be a lot smaller in size to the ones back home in South Africa. Sadly, the Park has no more rhinos left but it still has the rest of the Big 5 plus cheetah and wild dogs and large concentrations of general wildlife such as wildebeest, buffalo, zebras, impala, giraffe and waterbuck to name a few.
One of our favourite drives on our visit to this Park was to the Silale swamps, which is fantastic for bird-watching and picturesque scenery with hundreds of animals scattered across the expansive swamp area. We both enjoyed our two days in Tarangire National Park and will definitely be visiting the Park again sometime in the future to explore more of this incredible “best-kept secret” in Tanzania.
From Tarangire National Park we drove 3 hours to our next lodge, the Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge which is situated on the rim of the Crater. The lodge has the most incredible views looking down into the breath-takingly beautiful Ngorongoro Crater, especially from the bar and restaurant area and our room had a private deck with its own view. The Ngorongoro Crater is the worlds’ largest intact volcanic caldera that is home to the highest density of wildlife in Africa and it forms part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a World Heritage Site.
We went down into the crater for one day which was more than enough time to drive around the entire crater floor and see and experience everything this unique place has to offer. It was incredibly dry when we visited and so we found that most of the animals were situated around the areas that still have some water. We saw a large amount of wildlife including two separate sightings of lions, massive herds of buffalo, wildebeest and zebras. We also saw at least 30 spotted hyenas and numerous pairs of side-striped jackals. Although the birdlife was not nearly as vibrant as it is supposed to be in the wet season (so we were told) we still got to see a few flamingos, Kori bustards, Crowned Cranes and lots of Vultures. I was very amazed to see how many skeletons there are lying around in the crater especially buffalo horns but it is understandable as the crater is only 260 square kilometres with a very high density of hungry lions. As it is arguably one of the most famous places to go on safari, the Ngorongoro crater is very touristy and busy but it is without a doubt a once-off “must-see” for any wildlife enthusiast.
Next on our itinerary was a three night stay in Serengeti National Park at Migration Camp. It is about a 2-hour drive on a very bumpy, corrugated dirt road to the gate in the South. The name “Serengeti” is from the Maasai language meaning “endless plains,” which is a perfect way to describe the landscape in the Park. The grassland plains go on forever where big herds of Grants and Thomson gazelles, topi, hartebeest, wildebeest and zebras are seen grazing.
Our first day spent in Serengeti was probably one of the best days I have ever had game-viewing in my life. Our first amazing sighting of the day was a seeing a cheetah mother with five cubs lying on a “Kopjes” in the Southern Plains. This was followed shortly by another cheetah sighting and a leopard sleeping in a tree on the side of the main road. We then reached Central Serengeti where we viewed some big elephant and buffalo herds and another incredible leopard sighting. Our guide parked the Land Cruiser under the tree where the leopard was lying and we then ate our lunch there whilst viewing my favourite animal. After lunch, we came across a big pride of lions with cubs lying under a tree but as a herd of elephants passed by they all got up and scattered to hide the cubs. From the Central Serengeti we made our way up north to the quieter and open woodland area of the Park where we were staying at Migration Camp.
Migration Camp is part of the Elewana Collection and it is a beautiful camp hidden in a rocky outcrop looking over the Grumeti river. Interestingly it is managed by a South African couple, Ryan and Lauren. The rooms are luxuriously furnished elevated tents with a private deck looking down at the river and surrounding bushveld. This camp was by far our favourite on our trip as the staff were so helpful, the food was delicious and we even got treated to a private dinner with our own fireplace on one of the nights at the camp.
The reason we booked to stay in the North of the Park for our trip was because the famous wildebeest migration is meant to be based in Northern Serengeti during October as they return from the Masai Mara in Kenya. However, due to climate change and drought the migration has been erratic and they have not been following their usual cycle. Thus, most of the herds were believed to be situated in the Western Serengeti area which was too far a drive for us to go and view them.
Despite this we took a day drive to go see the Mara River where the famous crossing of wildebeest takes place. We still saw thousands of wildebeest scattered around the plains by the Mara river but we will return to the Serengeti one day to see the famous migration herd of over a million wildebeest. What fascinated both Warrick and I on our day drive to the Mara river was the quantity of wildebeest and zebra skeletons that are lying in the grass plains – it is mind-blowing! Our day drive to the Mara River was very rewarding as we got to see some great sightings of the Big 5 and the scenery in the area is very picturesque.
As part of our Serengeti experience we had pre-booked to go on a hot air balloon ride, which has been a bucket list dream for both Warrick and I. Unfortunately, our balloon ride was firstly postponed and then cancelled. We were very disappointed as we felt that the balloon safari company were very unprofessional as we were only informed that the ride was cancelled literally at 9pm the night before we were meant to go on the balloon ride; thankfully we are receiving a full refund. Looking back, it is in some ways probably better that we didn’t go on the balloon ride then as we both would like to see the migration whilst up in the air so this will remain a bucket list adventure for us both.
On our last day in the Serengeti we decided to rather go on two short drives one in the morning and one in the afternoon instead of a full day drive (Full day drives seem to be the norm in Serengeti). We saw a lot of general game on both drives but were very lucky to see a cheetah on the morning drive which was our own sighting with no other vehicles around and then in the afternoon we came across two aardwolves, which Warrick and I have never seen before.
From the Serengeti we had a very long day drive back to Arusha via Lake Manyara National Park. In hindsight, we probably should have considered chartering a plane back to Arusha but did not know at the time we were planning the trip just how long and far it is to drive. Although it was great to see Lake Manyara National Park, Warrick and I were tired by the time we got there and so after an hour of driving around we decided it was time to head back to Arusha. As it is the dry season the lake is very low and a lot of the animals migrate to Tarangire National Park in search of food and water so it is best to visit this Park in the wet season. What makes the Park unique is that you drive through different terrain from a rainforest through to the open plain area leading up to the lake. We enjoyed seeing the hundreds of Pelicans sitting in the Lake and got to see a few flamingos; although, we are told the best time to see the flocks of flamingos is in the wet season.
All in all, we had a fantastic week exploring these famous wildlife parks in Tanzania. The concentrations of wildlife in the Parks is phenomenal and the scenery is so picturesque; however, I do believe that the level of guiding in South Africa is of a much higher standard than what we experienced on our Tanzanian Safari. I am very keen to return back to the Serengeti one day to see the migration in a hot air balloon as well as spending some more time in Tarangire National Park.