With no time to waste, we set off on our safari the morning after our return from Kilimanjaro with our guide Zamo. Our vehicle for the safari was a Toyota LandCruiser with a special pop-up roof for viewing animals in the parks.
Lake Manyara National Park
We drove West for a couple of hours before reaching our first stop–Lake Manyara National Park. The park is situated in the famous Great Rift Valley that runs through East Africa for approximately 10,000kms. Our game drive in Menyara was very exciting because it was our first day of safari but, in hindsight, it was just a warm-up of what was to come. We saw hippos, giraffes, impalas, zebras, warthogs, elephants, and wildebeests. The highlight of the day had to be watching countless baboons play, groom each other, and eventually crawl onto the hood of our car. To top off a great first day, we were upgraded to a beautiful hotel where we enjoyed the best meal of our trip so far.
Serengeti National Park
On Day 2 we continued driving west through Ngorongoro Conservation Area and finally reaching Naabi Hill Gate–the official entrance to the National Park because of its location on the only hill in sight on the Plains of Serengeti. On the plains, we drove past the group of 2 million wildebeests that are part of the annual Great Migration that moves through Tanzania and the bottom of Kenya. These Wildebeests move in the exact same pattern each year following the rain season to meet their food and water needs; they are followed closely by a group of 750,000 zebras who feed on the short grass left over by the wildebeests. After driving further into the park, we pulled up beside two large male lions bathing in the sun. Before long, the males decided they wanted to re-locate and chose our vehicle to walk right beside to cross the road. It should be noted that Maria had an undisclosed fear of large cats and during this episode she was on the verge of nervous breakdown. We continued our game drive and saw a leopard hanging out in a tree, different types of antelopes, and tons of zebras. The guides of all the different companies communicate via radio to share info about good animal sightings. Before calling it a day we got word that the two lions we had seen earlier had a kill. We raced to the scene to witness the lions tearing apart a hyena–so cool. Surprisingly, our guide informed us this was not because they were hungry, as lions don’t eat other meat-eaters. Rather, all cats share the instinct to kill things that move (like house cats killing mice).
We headed to our accommodation for the night–Serengeti Wild Camp. The camp is situated in the middle of the National Park and is comprised of 10 sleeping tents for guests and one large dining tent. The sleeping tents are a step (or ten) up from the ones we stayed in on the mountain. They are complete with a sun room with table and chairs, large bedroom with two double beds and armoir, and full bathroom with shower, toilet, and sink. After dinner we sat around the fire and spotted a number of hyenas out for a stroll come within 30m of us. Throughout the night you can hear the low roar of lions in the distance and the pitter patter and laugh of the hyenas right outside.
Our second day in Serengeti was action-packed to say the least. First thing in the morning we watched an impala guard her baby as it attempted to stand up for the first time (so cute). There were also a number of buffalos grazing just down the road from our camp. Vehicles are required by law to stay on the designated roads but, when no other cars were in sight, our guide didn’t mind bending the rules; Zamo said going off the beaten path is called “swimming” among the guides. Later that morning, we drove up and parked within one metre of a group of 12 lions taking a cat nap–awesome and exhilarating (too much so for mom’s liking). We did the same thing later in the day to come within feet of a cheetah! After lunch we saw another couple of lions in the distance and closer to our truck were their three small cubs in a tree. That night we had the peaceful campground all to ourselves–plus around eight staff making a 2:1 staff-guest ratio.
We set out early in the morning to head back towards Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Zamo explained that the difference between a National Park (like Serengeti) and a Conservation Area is that National Parks are strictly wildlife with no permanent human settlements, while Conservation Areas means wildlife and humans (within strict parameters). Essentially only members of the Maasai tribe are allowed to live in Ngorongoro because their way of life does not have any adverse effects on the environment or the animals living in the area. Maasai live a very simple and traditional lifestyle; they maintain large herds of sheep and cattle and live in small straw huts. They are easily recognizable because of their colourful traditional dress, big beaded jewelry, and iconic spaced ear lobes. Tourists find their dress and way of life rather fascinating and, as a result, there is now lots of tourism surrounding the Maasai ie. guided tours of Maasai villages. However, as with anything that gets commercialized, authenticity eventually comes into question. This was evident when we spotted four camels on the side of the road; our guide explained the Maasai had imported these non-native camels to Tanzania in support of their tourism business.
The inside of the crater is filled with an assortment of animals. Most notably, we saw our only rhinoceros inside the crater! Rhinos are an endangered species and under 50 remain inside the crater and the entire Serengeti combined. In Serengeti they are kept in a controlled area inaccessible by tourists for preservation but they roam free within the crater. The crater also proved to be the best spot for viewing hippos up close. There was actually a hippo pool right beside the designated picnic lunch area. I actually ran into my friend from McGill, who was safariing with her family as well, right beside the hippo pool during our lunch break!
Tarangire National Park
Our last stop on the safari was at Tarangire National Park. On day five of a safari in Tanzania you can’t help but start to feel like you’ve seen it all; however, it doesn’t take long to realize that each park is unique and the best for something. Manyara was bustling with baboons, Serengeti was a real-life Cat World, Ngorongoro is rhino and hippo haven, and Tarangire proved to be the elephant capital of Tanzania. At times there were over 100 elephants within sight! Most were in smaller groups of 10-20 with one or two babies in the group–our fav! The elephants’ favourite hobbies seemed to include eating, throwing dirt on themselves to keep the flies away, eating, rolling in the mud to keep the flies away, and occasionally locking tusks for a bit of rough housing. Another interesting scene we witnessed was a standoff between a lion and a pack of around 6 giraffes. Zamo explained that the only way lions would attack giraffes would be in large groups and if they were very hungry. Despite this the giraffes were extremely intimidated by the solo lioness and it was very entertaining to watch them squirm.
And with that, our safari comes to a close. We successfully spotted the “Big 5” and so so much more. Until next time, Tanzania!