Over the past couple of years we had been looking to make our way to Africa. Emily had been to Egypt (pre-Arab Spring), but Garret had never been on the continent. After catching a break on flights last year, we took it as a sign to get a trip on the books. We had seen friends’ pictures, and heard their stories on undergoing a safari, and all sounded incredible. We were not disappointed! It turned out to be one of our favorite trips ever – meeting new people, experiencing new culture, and being immersed in nature in a way we had never experienced. Similar to our trip to Cuba, this gave us a chance to see and experience something that is changing before our eyes, with climate change and human progression in this case. If you are wanting to read up on our highlights and scroll through our pictures, we hope you enjoy! If you are considering a safari, we are excited to share with you our experiences and especially our advice on the do’s and don’ts!
Friday September 2nd
How does one get to Africa from North America? Via flight, of course, but rarely with a direct flight. We flew out of JFK on KLM, booking through Delta. One of the main drivers that made the safari go from dream to reality was Delta credit we received in November last year upon returning to NYC from a weekend trip in Nashville. For stepping off an overbooked flight, and re-routing to Atlanta that got us in just an hour and a half later that night, we were given $2,000 in Delta vouchers! This helped ease some of the financial burden a safari adventure can be. The first sign we were in for a good trip was the gate we were at – right across from the JFK Shake Shack! We grabbed a to-go bag of goodies right before takeoff and enjoyed the feast as we soared over the Atlantic for Europe. Next stop – Amsterdam!
Great way to start the trip!
Saturday, September 3rd
After a very short flight, thanks to a tremendous tailwind, we got to Amsterdam before 7am local time. Neither of us were able to sleep on the flight, and further attempts at Schiphol Airport to sleep were not successful either. A couple of hours later it was time for the flight to Africa, and this time an attempt to stay awake so we could try to adjust with the time zone. Emily ended up sleeping a few hours, while Garret spent a fair amount of time looking out the window as we crossed over the Alps, Mediterranean, and Sahara Desert!
Flying over the Nile River.
We finally landed at Kilimanjaro Airport Saturday evening. The airport is small and simple, but definitely gets the job done. After getting through customs (FYI Americans need visas, which you can get at the airport but getting beforehand makes it much easier), we had Richard, a driver from the safari company, waiting for us. He drove for about an hour to the outskirts of Arusha where our hotel for the night was located.
For our first night, we stayed at the Lake Duluti Serena Hotel. The hotel consisted of private concrete huts, with large bathrooms, a king-sized bed, and of course mosquito nets. We settled in, had a late dinner, then called it a night thanks to an early start in the morning.
Nice first stop of the trip.
Sunday, September 4th
In the morning we were up before 6am and scarfed down a quick breakfast at the hotel before Richard whisked us away to reach the small Arusha airport in time for an 8am flight. We caught a glimpse of Arusha on our way to the airport, and later saw more of it on our last day. Our itinerary called for a roughly three hour flight from Arusha to the northwest part of Tanzania. From there we would have one guide for all of our game drives, making our way back east before ending back up in Arusha for the flight home.
The plane we rode was a “puddle jumper”, seating at most a dozen plus some luggage. Since our airstrip was the last one on the flight we had to make four stops along the way. It was interesting to see Tanzania from the air, especially the Maasai huts (more on this tribe later). Unfortunately the flight got progressively worse for Emily, as the flight became bumpy and eventually hot, with the sun rising and the (young) pilot failed to turn on the A/C. Just before we made our final landing Emily put to use one of the “sickness” bags! Finally on the ground by 11 am, our guide Jerry was waiting for us to get the safari started.
Arusha Airport – small, simple, and better than LaGuardia.
Emily in happier spirits before getting on the puddle jumper!
The Maasai tribe from overhead.
A good view of what dry season looks like.
Lake Manyara, where we later had a game drive.
Cattle herding by the Maasai tribe.
Kuro, one of our five airstrip stops.
You get a great view of the game paths from above.
Emily happy we didn’t hit any zebras on the runway.
We did not know what to expect from our safari guide, just hoping they would help make it a memorable experience. Turns out our guide Jerry has been guiding for over 18 years! He is from the Kilimanjaro region (hiking the mountain twice), has a wife, son and daughter, and his dad was a park ranger. Very early on it stopped feeling like the two of us on a trip being led by a guide, and instead the three experiencing the trip of a lifetime. We would be spending a majority of our time in a Toyota 4Runner (no matter the brand they call them all ‘jeeps’). It was a seven seater but we had paid a little more to have it to ourselves, which was a great choice. One of the first things Jerry told us was any jeep he was driving was nicknamed Wild Dog, so off we went from the airstrip, and into the Serengeti, riding Wild Dog.
“Wild Dog” served us well.
Thanks Hippo Creek! We definitely had a journey for our souls.
Game Drive: Central Serengeti
Game Seen: Multiple Lioness, Cheetahs, Leopard (in tree eating a gazelle), Velvet Monkey, Gazelle, Wildebeest, Warthog, Elephants, Giraffes, Zebras, African Water Buffalo, Rock Hyrax, Hippo, Hyena, Banded Mongoose, Secretary Bird, Gerenuk, Gazelle, Vultures, Eagle, Silver back Jackal, Owl with pink eyelids, Superb Starling, Ostrich, Lilac Breasted Roller, Mwanza Flat-headed Agama. (Most of these we will only name here but we saw them every day)
Game Highlights: The coolest part of the day was just experiencing all of the animal sightings for the first time. As soon as we landed Jerry got us into the action and we saw a lion resting under the shade of a tree within an hour of being on the ground. Seeing a giraffe in the wild for the first time was also a really neat experience. Sure, many of the animals we saw on the trip we had seen in a zoo as children, however that is obviously not at all the same. The giraffe is such a beautiful animal and quite the sight to see when running in action (it looks to be in slow motion!).
Later in the day we saw our first confrontation between two animals. We had spotted a cheetah in the middle a field and a hyena further away but wandering into the cheetah’s area. Soon they were very close to each other and the cheetah hopped up and “bluffed”. According to Jerry, the one hyena could definitely take down one cheetah, however this cheetah flexed her muscles and told the hyena to stay away. This was an interesting strategy for the cheetah to take and Jerry thought it was indicative of it being a mother cheetah with cubs nearby. Soon the hyena moved along and sure enough, several cubs appeared out of the tall grass! The cheetah started walking the opposite direction with her cubs in tow. We followed the mother and cubs for awhile, and watched the cubs play around and climb up on a dead tree in their path. Adult cheetahs have dull paws and therefore cannot climb most trees, however the baby cheetahs still have very sharp paws and are able to climb.
We finished our first day visiting a couple of watering holes to see if any animals were looking for a final drink before the night. That is where we spotted our first elephant! These creatures are fascinating to watch, not only because of their size but also their need to continuously eat and stay cool. Jerry explained a lot of the animals actually sleep very little (2 hours a night in a lot of cases), since they are either always looking for food or are trying to not become food for someone else. We do not envy this lifestyle to say the least!
She was panting and had a full stomach – wonder what she was up to during the night?
Terrified lion selfie.
The face-off between a mom cheetah and a hyena.
After a successful defense, mom and cubs are on their way!
Can you spot the cub?
The beautiful and ever-present Lilac-Breasted Roller.
A visit to the watering hole, one of the best ways for us to spot game.
Lodging: We planned our trip so our lodges would get progressively nicer, starting at a tented camp and ending at a luxury lodge. The first night in the Seregeti was spent at Kati Kati Tented Camp, which can aptly be described as “glamping”. While we were staying in a mobile tent, the tent did have a flushing toilet and a shower…but by this we mean you informed one of the camp staffers you wanted to take a shower and they stood outside the tent to dump water into the shower’s gravity tank. The water was warm, but we had no idea how long until the water ran out! The first shower Emily took obviously ended much quicker than a normal shower at home to which Garret asked, are you finished already? “Not voluntarily” was Emily’s enthused response.
All of the camps are set up with separate lodging for the guides, as almost everyone on a safari comes with a guide. Some of the camps, such as Kati Kati, have a mess tent/dining room where the guides can join the guests, whereas other camps have completely separate dining facilities for the guides. We enjoyed the dinners which we were able to eat with Jerry, as it was always interesting hearing more about his life and the Tanzanian culture.
When we checked in at this lodge they provided us with a battery operated lantern and a whistle to blow in case of an emergency. There were 12 tents at this lodge, and about as many men keeping the camp running, and if we blew the whistle they would quickly respond to our tent. After dinner we relaxed in our tent before turning off the lantern to go to sleep. Within a minute we heard a rustling outside the tent. Each tent had a bucket of water, which was covered, in order to wash clothes. Garret reassured Emily that it was one of the men grabbing the water. It quickly became apparent that this was not the case but instead there was an animal a mere feet away trying to get into our laundry water bucket. As we breathlessly laid in bed gripping each other and whispering, “is this a whistle blowing situation?!?”, we heard the lid pop off and the animal take a big gulp. By the sound of the tongue lapping the water it was instantly obvious that we weren’t dealing with a small animal. A second later the animal loudly huffed, and we waited for the animal to tear through the thin tent lining. Luckily that was not the case, as the animal moved on. In the morning we talked to the camp staff who informed us it was most likely a hyena, as they are very interested in the water and that is actually the reason the buckets have a lid.
Not pictured: the late night hyena visit.
Simple digs but complete with toilet and shower!
Monday, September 5th
Game Drive: Central Serengeti
Game Seen: Hippos, Elephants, Lions, Leopard, Cheetah, Southern Ground Hornbill, Baboons, Pink Flamingos, Zebras.
Game Highlights: We kicked off the day bright and early and almost immediately came across a couple of lions, one of which (a male) was sleeping right on the road. As we approached the lion woke up and started his morning stretch before looking at his lioness and starting to pursue her. Not far away was a family of elephants eating some breakfast, and the matriarch of the group was not happy with the lion and his lioness being so close to the elephant family. The matriarch made herself known and repetitively grunted and came at the lions, telling them to move along.
The highlight of the day was when we came across a leopard sitting on top of a large rock, sunbathing in that early morning sun. He seemed to enjoy the sun, but kept getting up and stretching in boredom, showing off his gorgeous spotted coat, so Jerry thought we should stick around for awhile to see if the leopard would go in search of a shadier spot as the heat of the day was advancing. Jerry was right, of course, and soon we saw the leopard jump down from the rocks and follow the dirt road a half-mile or so to a nearby tree. As the leopard made his trek along the road we would drive the jeep a few feet ahead of him and watch him walk right below the jeep. Then we would drive ahead again and watch him walk under our noses again. There was one other jeep doing the same thing and it was incredible to see how the leopard did not even look at the jeeps. Soon he made his way to his spot for the rest of the day, a large beautiful tree, where in a single pounce he was up in the tree and posing on a branch, basically waiting for us to take several pictures (and leopard selfies) before moving on. Other guides later told Jerry unsuspecting lions had camped out at the bottom of the tree, putting the leopard in a bit of a pickle.
Later in the day Jerry had an unbelievable spot, spotting some lions from hundreds (seemed like thousands) of feet away, chilling in the afternoon sun in thick grass. He drove us right up to the lions; we had to be no more than a dozen feet away from the lion and three lionesses who were enjoying an afternoon nap. The lion soon woke up and fidgeted around, including trying to arouse one of the lionesses, who wanted nothing to do with him. At one point Jerry told us the lion was not happy with us and moved forward a few feet before turning off the jeep so we could watch in awe for several more minutes. Later in the trip Jerry would tell us this was the most threatening situation we were in during the safari, to which we asked why didn’t we just move along?! But what an experience!!
Early morning is when the hot air balloons take flight.
Small family of elephants working their way to the river.
Same family – mom, elder daughter, two babies, eating their way by us.
This lion and his lioness were looking to mate when the family of elephants showed up.
Another showdown: mother elephant not happy with how close the lions were to her family.
We first saw the leopard sunbathing on a large “Simba” rock as they call it.
Staring contest, me and you.
A leopard and his paparazzi.
We weren’t the only ones on the road.
We don’t know this couple, but we do know that is one close leopard.
Will admit this is our first leopard photo-bomb experience.
What a beautiful animal. This was the “money shot” according to Jerry.
A tired yawn or a mighty roar?
A hippo out eating in the daytime, a rare sight.
Two cheetahs keeping a lookout while snacking on their catch.
A great week+ of sunrises and sunsets.
Lodging: Kati Kati Tented Camp – we enjoyed our second night at this camp, having Jerry at our table again for dinner and splitting a bottle of wine as we recollected our favorite parts of the day. No hyenas outside the tent this night!
The large center tent was for all of the meals – have to be careful with food out in the wild!
Tuesday, September 6th
Game Drive: Central Serengeti/Serengeti Western Corridor
Game Seen: Lions, Hippos, Zebras, Giraffe, Warthog, African Water Buffalo, Elephants.
Game Highlights: We experienced a slower morning than the first two days, so by 11 or so we had seen some of the usual animals but none of the big cats. Since it was a partial traveling day, to move to our next camp, we packed lunch boxes and ate in the jeep to save time for travel to the next camp. Just before noon, we happened to see some other 4runners in the area and went to check it out – a pride of 11 lions under a tree!! Jerry thought they were actually in from the mountains, were mostly young (some males but no manes), and they all seemed abnormally attentive, either in hunger or because they were not in their territory. We decided to eat our lunch by them and see what they would do, as they eyed giraffe a mile away and seemed intent on some action. All the other jeeps had left by the time we finished lunch (plus a huge, obnoxious bus), and we were close to moving on when the lions spotted two warthogs by the river. It was incredible to see them all spring into action, walk literally in front of our jeep, to spread out in the tall grass, victims unaware. It was over within seconds; the first warthog never even got a chance to squeal, and we heard just one squeal from the second. It occurred in the bushes so we did not witness it, but the lions all emerged with pieces of warthog, which they quickly consumed. Vultures appeared hoping for (but not getting) any scraps of this light lunch. As soon as we thought the action was done, two water buffalo stumbled out of the bushes, and the lions went after them with a pincer move. They managed to split them up, but the water buffalo escaped! 1) The lions were not in the mood, in a hot afternoon, to use the amount of energy required to bring down a large beast, and 2) The water buffalo impressed us with their fight and camaraderie. The first one did a dead sprint out of the area to outrun the lions. The second one turned the tables and actually chased a lion! The first one was isolated but managed to break through a weak “picket line” created by the lions. This was all in a matter of minutes, but one of our most memorable parts of the trip.
After that eventful lunch we spent the afternoon traveling to the next campsite, Mbalageti Serengeti. It was a faster-paced drive, except a few minutes with some elephants cooling off, and still encountered numerous animals on the way, including hundreds or zebras, as a rare dry season rainfall fell.
This is titled “Quenching one’s thirst”.
I spy, with my binoculared eyes, a pride of lions!
When you got the whole squad together and are looking for some eats.
On the hunt. Not pictured: the two warthogs who didn’t have a chance.
It was amazing having 11 lions walk right around the jeep, solely focused on the hunt.
Cooling off with the elephants.
Stuck in the mud but eating her way through it.
Chew your way through the day!
Awkward family photos.
Baboons staying cool in the afternoon’s heat.
The little one hitching a ride.
Interesting to see how many different animals intertwine at the watering holes.
When I was a young warthooooooooog!
Views of the Western Serengeti!
Lodging: Our second camp, Mbalageti Serengeti, was a step up from the first, just as we had planned in our itinerary. Instead of a tent we had a permanent hut, including a large porch where we spent the first hour of being there watching hundreds of zebras, water buffalo and wildebeest pass by. A light afternoon storm went through (cue Rains of Africa song), and it was extremely enjoyable sitting on the covered porch and soaking it all in, if you will. This place had wifi, spotty at best, in the lobby building, which we used to tell make sure our families knew we were alive and well.
A small canvas hut for our second place, and mosquito netting for the bed.
Not a bad view for lunch.
On the porch to witness firsthand the rains of Africa.
Wednesday, September 7th
Game Drive: Serengeti Western Corridor (near Kirawira Mountain)
Game Seen: Topi, Cheetah, Lioness, Elephants, Crocodiles, Black and White Colobus, thousands of Wildebeests, Silverback Jackal, Golden Jackal, Pink Flamingos.
Game Highlights: The day started with a bang when we witnessed the first moments of a baby Topi after birth just minutes outside our camp! As we passed the mother Topi, which looks very similar to the American deer, we noticed the animal was picking at something on the ground. At first thinking it was eating something, we slowed down to give it a closer look. It turned out to be a newborn. The mother was licking the baby, trying to get it to stand. Jerry explained the baby had been born just moments before we arrived and would likely be walking within 5 minutes. We spent a few minutes watching the mother nudge the baby and eat the afterbirth (which is full of nutrition) before the baby finally stood on its wobbly four legs. After a nearly instant fall to the ground, it quickly tried to stand up again and take its first steps. Watching the progression of being able to walk within a few minutes of birth, versus it taking nearly a year for humans, was incredible! The mother was also fine right after birth, and got the newborn walking so they would not become an easy meal.
The rest of the day we explored Western Serengeti, seeing a variety of other animals, highlighted by a site of the extremely rare black-and-white colobus (monkeys). Another amazing experience involved seeing a mother lion and her two grown cubs. The lions were all relaxing under a tree, trying to escape the mid-day heat, when we stopped to watch them. The mother become annoyed with us hanging out and decided it was time to find shade somewhere else. We held our breath (Emily) as the mother walked right by our jeep while throwing a few side glares our way. Jerry said she wasn’t that annoyed with us, but seemed rather unsure of us. He thought due to their location in the park it was likely they had previous bad encounters with humans – poachers – and therefore she wanted nothing to do with us. The mother would stop to look back at her cubs every few steps, seemingly yelling with her eyes to follow along, before the cubs finally got up and trotted after their mom to another shady spot much farther from us.
A mother Topi and her newborn!
Encountered this zebra with a hurt leg, probably from river crossing. Hope he was able to heal up and avoid becoming a meal!
A lion with a high point to search for breakfast.
Remarkable how long some of the elephant tusks grow.
Pink flamingos balancing on one leg for maximum warmth!
This giraffe had survived a serious necking incident – the male giraffes often “neck”, or fight with their necks, when they have high levels of testosterone.
The Southern Ground Hornbill in flight.
Hippos swimming in what we thought was mounds of mud, but Jerry corrected us in that it was mounds of hippo poop!
About as close as we got to the crocodiles, and for good reason.
A cheetah resting in the shade, and looking quite full!
The jeeps were excellent for game spotting, especially when standing up.
Mother (on the right) and cubs; she was not too excited to see us hanging around.
Mom throwing shade our way as she walks to a new shady spot.
The cubs finally getting the hint and following mom!
Lodging: Mbalageti Serengeti – we enjoyed our second day at this lodge. Our game drive ended early, so we had a chance to relax by the pool for the afternoon. The meals here were good as well, and we started to pick up on a theme at all the camps – lots of soup!
Yet another beautiful sunrise!
Breakfast usually came with a complimentary sunrise.
An afternoon spent by the pool with a view.
Thursday, September 8th
Game Drive: Ngorongoro Crater
Game Seen: Bat-Eared Foxes, Hyenas, Silverback Jackal, Lions, Elephants, Zebras, Wildebeest, Hippos, Ostrich, Black Rhino.
Game Highlights: It was an exciting morning as we knew the crater awaited us! We spent the early morning driving through the Serengeti, spotting a few animals along the way, including three lioness. The Ngorongoro Crater is a separate park, right next to Serengeti, meaning we had to stop for Jerry to get the paperwork in order with the rangers. This gave us an opportunity to climb the small hill at the park entrance to see one of the best views of Serengeti (which translates to “endless plains”) – miles upon miles of plains in every direction.
As we drove to the crater we had our first encounters with the Maasai tribe, who have for the most part kept their tradition of herding and limited farming alive. Many of the children would run up to the side of the road and wave, hoping for the jeeps to stop, have tourists take pictures with them, and then make a few dollars. The problem with this lies in the herding required; children are the primary caretakers of the herd, so they abandon the cattle constantly to try and get the jeeps to stop.
After an hour drive we got to the crater edge, and were awestruck by the scale – the crater is roughly 100 square miles and 2,000 feet in depth. Although it was the dry season, the beauty of crater was still visible; we encountered numerous animals and different settings as we spent the entire day inside the crater. There was a watering hole with hippos who sprayed water and turned over repeatedly, something Jerry said only happens at this spot for some reason. Right next to it, as we were laughing at the hippos, a teenage lion was hiding alongside the river, hoping the zebras and wildebeests would come over for a drink. This scene really hit home how there can be numerous (and unrelated) events/animals in such a small area, all the time! The lion ended up being spotted; it is said the lioness are the far better hunters.
Many of the animals in the crater do not migrate, and as a result are not as afraid of humans, since they don’t encounter the large human populations animals can sometimes encounter when migrating. Therefore we were able to get far closer to the wildebeests and zebras than at the other parks. The only large animal we did not see was the giraffe, as they tend to not enter the crater. Our most ridiculous sighting was the black rhino, the final of the “Big 5” we were wanting to spot. These endangered species can be found in the crater, where the ~50 of them are under 24 hour surveillance by the rangers. We ended up spotting one, but it was from afar (only managed a picture from the binoculars). The chaos from it, however, was a sight to behold. All of the guides heard there was a rhino spotting, and within minutes a couple dozen were jockeying for space on the road. After witnessing that we were more than ready to depart the rhino, but it took 30+ minutes just to get around the other jeeps.
By the end of the day we had seen so much in this incredible crater – elephants, a black rhino, lions, hippos, thousands of wildebeests, zebras, baboons, etc. It is amazing to witness this unique area, and we appreciated how it has been preserved over the years by so many people. The efforts by man to preserve the rhino, after years of efforts by man to hunt it into extinction, gave us hope people will continue to be able to come see all of the extraordinary things we did in the crater.
Large family of hyenas emerging from their dens.
We can attest to that!
What a lizard! The Mwanza Flat-headed Agama.
Overlooking the inside of the crater. The lake is far larger during the wet season.
The hippos in this specific watering hole would constantly turn over and then spray water. Very entertaining!
Zebras and wildebeests trying to decide if the watering hole is safe. Spot anything that might be dangerous?
He got found out! No fresh zebra or wildebeest for this lion.
The walls of the crater were beautiful, and where the (very few) rhinos tended to stay.
The wildebeest, seemingly a mashup of other animal features.
Just a couple of zebras in this selfie.
This African water buffalo declined to comment.
A family of baboons, including a baby catching a ride on the closest one.
Zebras! One of the surprising things for us were how many zebras we saw throughout the trip.
Stretching our legs and soaking up the landscape (+ hippos).
As close as we got to the black rhino!
When someone spots a rhino…it can get a bit ridiculous.
Just lion around.
Lodging: Our stay at at Ngorongoro Farmhouse, a farmhouse lodge, is what you might expect – a small farm which grows a variety of vegetables as well as coffee beans for use on site and to sell. In fact, you can do a coffee tour of the grounds (which we did not participate in) and buy some coffee beans to take home (which we did do!). The rooms at the farm house are small duplexes, a total of 52 rooms. Our room was larger than our New York apartment with two beds, a large living room space and humungous bathroom, as well as an outdoor patio.
The farmhouse also has a pool, which we laid out at one afternoon, but the water was too chilly for us to jump in. The dining facility was nice with a buffet, offering a large selection. The guides eat from the same buffet, however they sit at a table in an adjacent dining room; whenever we looked over the table of guides they were all laughing and having a good time! It was fun to see them come by the table and say hi to their guests, and we were able to enjoy a nightcap with Jerry the second night.
The beautiful grounds of the farm, including the main house where meals were served.
Our home for two days, quite large and comfortable!
Friday, September 9th
Game Drive: Lake Manyara National Park
Game Seen: Puff Adder Snake, Marshal Monkey, Marshal Eagle, Baboons, Blue Monkeys. Eastern Race Wildebeest (lighter coat than West), Zebras, Giraffes, Elephant, Ververt Monkeys, Pelicans, Lioness, Greater Flamingos, Pink Flamingos, Hippos, Mongoose.
Game Highlights: Our plan for the day was to explore the Lake Manyara National Park which, as the name suggests, covers part of a very large lake in Tanzania, Lake Manyara. We made a quick detour on our way to go through the town of Karatu in order to grab some more water for our jeep. Jerry was very familiar with this town and pointed out several interesting items. He said nearly all of the clothing worn by Tanzanians is purchased second hand (except for socks and underwear which are prohibited by law to be resold as second hand) and there are several different qualities of the second hand clothing. The “best” type being from the West, which usually lasts longer than original clothing from India or China (ironic since all are produced in Asia). He pointed out several people selling clothing and shoes, stating in an excited, incredulous voice, “all of these clothes are second hand!”
Lake Manyara is popular for its large pink flamingo population, however the flamingos migrate and due to the time of the year they were not currently in the lake. We did see a few along with other water birds, but not as close as pink flamingos we saw in the Serengeti.
The other claim to fame for this national park are the infamous tree climbing lions. Jerry had warned us earlier in the day while the tree climbing lions are known for being in this park, it was actually more likely we would have seen one in the Western Serengeti, and therefore he did not want to get our hopes up. While we were excited kist to explore another national park in Tanzania, we told him it wasn’t a big deal but kept our eyes peeled just in case. A couple of hours into exploring the park we were turning a corner to the left with the boys focused on what was around the bend when Emily looked out the right window and shouted “Lion!! LionLionLion!!” Jerry slammed on the brakes and instantly tried to quiet Emily as she had not only startled the boys, but also startled the lioness sitting up in the tree. For about 20 minutes we watched in awe as this very big lioness switched from one uncomfortable position to the next a mere 20 feet away. We (ok, Jerry) suspected there were other lions nearby, possibly small cubs, but due to the thick grass and bushes we were unable to clearly see the bottom of the tree. After awhile she got antsy and started to jump down, just as another jeep turned the corned and pulled up next to us. Apparently one jeep was the max she was willing to pose for. We felt bad for the couple who had missed a tree climbing lion by seconds, but that is really how it is with safaris – right place, right time. There were many moments on the trip like this where we would see an animal magically appear from a patch of dense tall grass, or another animal crawl in plain few before instantly disappearing behind a tree. It made you realize how many animals were a few feet out of the road but amazingly camouflaged and therefore impossible to spot.
On our way back to the farmhouse Jerry stopped in Mto Wa Mbu, where Jerry claimed he was so popular he could be the mayor (we confirmed this during the quick stop, Jerry was loved by everyone!). The point of the stop: buy red bananas! While they tasted similar to normal yellow bananas, the red ones were fun to try! Every stop we made half a dozen people would come right up and try to sell trinkets or other souvenirs, which we felt bad but would turn them all away.
The entrance to Lake Manyara National Park.
It’s always nice to make new friends.
We loved the blue coats of the Blue Monkeys.
This shows how close and personal you get with nature.
Rare sighting of a Puff Adder Snake.
Bending branches and eatin’ greens.
Giraffes, constantly eating.
Emily spotted this beautiful lioness in the tree up hill from our jeep.
Mongoose poking his head out of an abandoned termite hill.
We could not stop laughing as the mom elephant cured the backside itch on this tree trunk.
Jerry stopped in Mto Wa Mbu to get some red bananas for us to try!
The “Hillary Clinton Shop”.
Lodging: Ngorongoro Farmhouse – after a late afternoon at the pool we enjoyed another dinner, and a glass of wine with Jerry afterwards. He told us about the politics and game sightings all the guides were discussing at the table, typical of when they all get together. Doing this for 18 years now, he knows most of the guides by name if not personally.
An afternoon pool-side was a great post-drive activity.
Opposite our lodging was a field of coffee plants.
Saturday, September 10th
Game Drive: Tarangire National Park
Game Seen: Baboons, Giraffes, Zebras, Elands, Leopards, Impalas, Elephants, Waterbuck, Lions, numerous Elephants, Leopard, African Bees
Game Highlights: We woke early to head southeast to our fourth and final Tanzanian park, Tarangire National Park. Along the way we drove through a Maasai weekend market, where the women sold goods and the teenage boys auctioned off the family cattle. They were still setting up as we came through, but we could see the Maasai along the rode making their way to the market. As we entered the park we saw a small group of jeeps around a tree and soon learned there was a leopard trapped in the tree, surrounded by baboons on the ground. Not only this, but the leopard had left a kill in a nearby tree and the baboons were currently unaware of the unguarded dead gazelle.
We moved along and perfectly timed our approach to a large elephant who had his trunk raised on a tree, the tree between his tusks, and strongly shaking it to knock off the ripe dates. The elephant then went around the tree grabbing each date and tossing it into his mouth. While it sounds like a simple concept,it was quite entertaining watching the elephant hover his tusk around the ground in search of the next date and then throwing it in his mount, similar to a human throwing back some peanuts at a baseball game. Even more so, when the elephant thought he had a date in his trunk but realized he had come up empty handed (or empty trunked?), the surprise/disappointment was a good laugh for us.
Perhaps the most impressive spot Jerry had during our safari occurred during our first day in Tarangire. We had a long afternoon with not many exciting animal spottings, and were about to call it a day, when Jerry stopped the jeep and said he thought he saw a leopard. There had been some joking around about spotting another leopard, so we were not sure if he was being serious. As we looked around for which tree he was talking about, Jerry grabbed his binoculars and confirmed that yes, it was indeed a leopard. Still clueless as to what he was talking about, Jerry pulled up to the tree and pointed to a leopard sitting on a branch, enjoying the late afternoon breeze. We were speechless and completely in shock Jerry had spotted this well camouflaged leopard from so far away. As we drove away from the leopard we continually told Jerry how impressed we were, to which he pointed at the tree and said, you can see the tail hanging down. Even with binoculars we had a hard time seeing the tail, much less with the naked eye driving down the road as Jerry had.
We stopped by the Maasai cattle auction.
Entrance to Tarangire National Park, our final park!
So many elephants in Tarangire, especially along the rivers.
Please don’t tell any of the big cats where we are!
A leopard left this tasty treat in the tree.
Some fatherly love/protection here after other baboons got into a fight.
When an elephant wants to eat some dates, he simply knocks them all down!
A Hyperlapse of the elephant going after those dates!
Jerry spotted this leopard with the naked eye over 50 yards away. Unreal how good he was at spotting animals.
Such beautiful landscape.
Lodging: What to say about Swala Camp?! As we mentioned, our lodges were designed to progressively get nicer as we went along, so we were very excited to see what Swala had to offer. Our “hut”, as we referred to it, consisted of an elevated base with the front of the hut being more of a tent structure (the “windows” or mesh openings had zipper covers so you could cover them at night, similar to a tent), but in the back where the toilet and shower were was a permanent structure. We also had an outdoor shower! Unlike our other lodges with running water, heated by solar and thus a delay for warm water to arrive, the water at Swala was instantaneously warm when you turned it on. A nice luxury many of us take for granted!
There were 12 huts at Swala, and we were lucky to have hut #1. It was a nice walk from the main facilities and also not the primary area for the resident monkeys. The monkeys are a fun addition to the camp, and were notorious for jumping on tables during meals to steal some bread. Since they also knew to push open doors we were instructed to lock the door to our hut (just with a turn lock, not a key lock to keep a human out) at all times regardless of if we were in the hut or not.
Entering the Sanctuary Swala camp.
Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!
Our final camp was a step up from the rest, and next to a beautiful Baobab tree.
Sunday, September 11th
Game Drive: Tarangire National Park
Game Seen: Lion, Elephants, [female] Kudus, Giraffes, Elephants, Water Buffalos, Hyenas, Cheetah, Zebras, Wildebeest, Ostriches
Game Highlights: Our game highlights this day began before event getting out of bed. During the night we heard an elephant eating very close to our hut (several people have asked how we knew it was an elephant – when an elephant trunk is thoroughly eatings its way through leafy branches in the middle of the night, you just know). When we met Jerry for the morning he told us there had also been lioness through the camp during the night and were still nearby, which you could tell as the monkeys were all in the trees yelling alert calls to the other animals letting them know the danger nearby. As we drove out of camp Jerry stopped several times to point out the lion tracks on the road. Soon enough we turned a corner and saw a large lioness sitting on a termite mound looking for breakfast.
We moved on and headed to a large beautiful swamp for the day. A swamp in our mind meant large, muddy, ugly area, but a swamp in Tanzania is actually a large beautiful shallow lake with lots of green life around it. The swamp was surrounded by so many zebra; Jerry estimated we saw over 2,000 zebras this day alone. We also witnessed two ostriches mating, which entails a wild dance by the male in order to impress the female and get her in the mood.
The swamp, and river, is a destination for all animals during the dry season (just think, Lion King) and it was interesting to see the animals use different drinking techniques. The giraffes, for example, spread their front legs and then lower their neck in order for their head to drink the water. Once they are done, the front legs suddenly snap back to their normal spot. Quite a humorous act to watch. Also, when elephants encounter a dry river bed they use their trunks to dig a narrow hole into the ground to get to water. After they are finished drinking and move on, other smaller animals are known to take over the newly created watering hole to quench their thirst. Nature running its course, pretty cool to witness!
This lioness and her friend roamed our camp during the night, upsetting the monkeys!
A hyena on the move.
This elephant dug through the riverbed to reach the water.
Just a lovely baboon couple.
Look at the giraffe’s front legs when he goes down for a drink!
Beautiful African Fish Eagle atop the tree.
Two teenage giraffes without their mother – not a good sign for them!
This ostrich wanted his picture taken.
The waterbuck has a high survivability rate thanks to it’s large size and stinky hide!
The picture does a great job summarizing our trip!
Lodging: We spent the afternoon back at Swala indulging in the lodge benefits, including a small pool and drinks in our hut! The last night at Swala dinner was set up in the open grass area near the dining facilities and we had a “bar-b-que”. We invited Jerry to dinner (the guides ate at a separate facility at this lodge) and were told it would cost an additional $25 for his dinner. It seemed silly based on what we were already paying to stay there, but we definitely wanted dinner with Jerry on our last night, so the $25 was an easy choice. That did not, however, prevent us from speaking loudly on how the lodge treated the guides.
Bees in the infinity pool and animals beyond. Plus a ridiculous termite hill!
The monkeys were all over camp, and jumped on your dinner table to snag a bread roll or two!
A barbecue out on the grounds for our final night.
It wasn’t Kansas City barbecue, but it was still tasty!
Monday, September 12th
Game Drive: Tarangire National Park
Game Seen: Cheetahs, Turtle, Giraffes, Wildebeest, Water Buffalo, Gazelle, Elephants, Mongoose
Game Highlights: Had leopard and lions last night, got up early to watch the sunrise one last time. 3 Cheetahs (2 on tree), Emily losing her phone
The last morning we got up extra early to watch the sun rise over Africa one last time. There had been both lions and a leopard around the camp last night, so never a dull moment. We left the camp with about 45 minutes padded into our exit from the park for one last bit of game watching. Based on our understanding, all of the parks require a permit to enter and usually last for a 24-48 hour period. Therefore since we had entered the park two days prior in the morning and had a 48 hour pass, we needed to be out by the same time we had entered. The nice thing (one of the many nice things!) about having a guide is he always dealt with the paperwork and timing. When we would get to the gate to enter or exit a park he would let us know we had 15 minutes to use the restroom and check out a walking trail to a looking point or check out a gift shop and then he would be ready to go.
On our way out of the park we stopped next to another couple of jeeps to see what they had spotted. They let us know there was a cheetah in the tall grass and we instantly pulled out the binoculars. Not only was there one cheetah, there were actually three! They were very interested in some gazelles grazing nearby, so we hoped to see some action. While nothing between the animals came about, we watched as one cheetah climbed a dead tree and then eventually a second cheetah joined him. We enjoyed the time, snapping several pictures of the two cheetahs posing for us on the tree before deciding it was time to go. We drove about 45 minutes to the park exit where Jerry once again told us we had a few minutes while he filed the exit paperwork. It was then Emily started looking around for her phone but it was no where to be found. After tearing the jeep apart to find it, we realized the last time it had been used was atop the jeep to take pictures of the cheetahs. Jerry asked the park rangers if we could reenter the park to look on the side of the road for the phone and they surprisingly said yes. After another 45 minute drive into the park, and stopping multiple jeeps to ask if they had seen/heard of a phone, we were back to the cheetahs, who were still lounging around in the same spot. Unfortunately, finding the phone had less likely odds than finding a needle in a haystack, and the phone was never found. Emily was a good sport about it, especially if that was the worst thing to happen to us, we were going to be just fine.
It was finally time to drive to Arusha, where we had a day room at The Arusha Hotel before catching the late flight out of Tanzania. The drive, which was a couple of house, took us by several markets with women in colorful clothing selling fresh fruits and the men selling cattle. It was interesting and educational to get one last glimpse of the local Tanzanian culture.
Soon we were at the hotel where Jerry dropped us off for a few hours. We had lunch at the hotel, laid by the pool for awhile and finally took a shower and freshened up before heading to the airport. This was very refreshing and we were glad Hippo Creek built this into our itinerary. On the way to the airport we finally spotted Mount Kilimanjaro – wow! The mountain towers over 19,000 feet above sea level, and does not have very many surrounding mountains, so it stands out even more so. It also slopes for a very long time, making it even more looming.
When Jerry picked us up our first day he had said his goal was to make this the trip of a lifetime. We informed him on our way to the airport that this couldn’t be the trip of a lifetime, because we hoped to come back to Tanzania again soon! But it was such an unbelievable experience!! Soon Jerry and the Wild Dog, which tallied 2200 kilometers driven for our trip, were dropping us off at the airport. After an emotional farewell it was time to wrap up another amazing adventure!
An elderly tortoise.
A classic Land Rover!
Hold on little baboon!
Spot any cheetahs in this landscape?
Nine days of game drives complete!
One of the Maasai markets alongside the highway.
Driving through the streets of Arusha.
Lodging: To freshen up before the flight we had a half day at The Arusha Hotel.
It was great having the afternoon at The Arusha Hotel to relax and freshen up before the long haul back home.
(De)Parting Words of Advice!
- The Do’s
- Do your research beforehand! Ask around on friends or family who have been on a safari before so you can work with a good travel company, know the seasons, understand the migration, and plan your itinerary.
- Pack the little things: you’re out all day most days and this includes no restrooms and eating in the jeep. Bring toilet paper/Kleenex, hand sanitizer, and wet wipes so you’re always prepared.
- A good pair of binoculars for each person! Jerry had a great pair for under $200, this purchase is so worth it, especially when you are paying so much to get there.
- Have cash! Not all the places take credit card (and have more than an AMEX).
- Almost all of the places have some way of doing laundry, so you just need a couple outfits you can wash once or twice to wear for the game drives (it gets dusty in the dry season).
- Bring the nice camera! Or borrow one from a friend. Most of our trips we only take pictures with our iPhones, but almost all of these were with the DSLR. This is a trip to bring the nice camera, and the larger the lens the better.
- Be smart about where you store the food you bring, no need to give the animals a reason to stop by!
- We really did not have much trouble with bugs which was probably due to the time of year but also that we were very prepared. Thanks to some helpful tips from our friend Lindsey, we pretreated our clothes with permethrin spray, used bug repellant lotion (this stuff was amazing!), and 100% deet. We also packed these wipes, but did not end up using them.
- Ask a lot of questions! Your guide has a vast amount of experience, not just on animal knowledge. Because of our continued curiosity and discussion Jerry explained the Tanzanian culture and took us through different villages.
- The Don’ts
- Do not think you can do a safari on your own, just renting a jeep and not having a guide. You can be way out of your element, and also will not know what to be looking for.
- Do not forget to tip!!! The people running these camps are working around the clock, in remote areas, to ensure you truly have a trip of a lifetime. You don’t need to leave money each morning for them, but instead there are tipping boxes at check out where you can leave some appreciation.
- Do not forget to take your shots and also get the anti-malaria pills lined up – you have to start them before your trip.
What a trip!!