In November of 2016, we set out on a Tanzania Safari adventure! Our stops included Arusha, Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Serengeti, and Ngorongoro Crater. It was an incredible experience to say the least, and one that we will never forget.
Accommodation: The African Tulip
Duration: 2 Nights (1 at the beginning of the trip, 1 at the end of the trip)
Recommendation: Fine hotel if you need to stay in Arusha.
The African Tulip was an oasis in the densely populated city of Arusha. It was a large hotel with nice rooms, a cool outdoor bar/pool area, a quaint downstairs gift shop, and good food.
It was here that we met with Urio from Roy Safaris. Laura had been communicating with Urio, planning our African safari, for months and the weeks leading up to our trip. Most of all, it was really nice that we were able to put a face to a name. We confirmed details of the trip and made a few last-minute changes that may not have been possible otherwise. We were in good hands with Roy Safaris!
Urio introduced us to the man we would share the safari with — Othman, our driver — a very nice man and an excellent safari guide! We recommend requesting Othman as a driver if you choose Roy Safaris. Othman got us loaded up in his land cruiser and we were off to Tarangire!
Accommodation: Tarangire Safari Lodge
Duration: 2 Nights
Recommendation: This place was awesome! Stay here if possible!
The Tarangire Safari Lodge was an incredible place to stay while on our Tanzania safari. It had sweeping views of the Tarangire valley, excellent food, a swimming pool, friendly staff, a night drive, and glamorous “tents,” each with their own toilet, shower, and sink. It furthermore served as a great home base during our stay in Tarangire. Highlights from our time in Tarangire include:
First Baobab tree sighting. Upon entering Tarangire we saw the first of many Baobab trees. These trees are massive, and are hollow on the inside, unfortunately serving as good hiding spots for poachers. Their sprawling branches resemble roots, earning this tree the nickname “upside down tree.”
First wild animal sightings! Having visited Giraffe Manor and the Elephant Orphanage in Kenya, we were exposed to animals in a more controlled setting. Tarangire was our first time actually seeing animals in the wild and it was so exciting! Our first sighting was an Impala (or as Othman referred to them, MacDonalds, because they have an ‘M’ on their backside). We saw so many other animals here as well, including zebras, wildebeest, baboons, dik-diks, lions, cape buffalo, elephants, warthogs, and giraffes, to name a few.
Midnight elephant water party. On our first night at the Tarangire Safari Lodge, we were rudely awaken in the mddle of the night by an elephant terrorizing a tree no more than 10 feet from our tent! We could just barely make out his outline in the darkness, but the cracking of the tree and the heavy breathing and chewing was unmistakable. Being so close with so little in between us and him was equal parts exhilarating and terrifying!
He continued to demolish this tree for several hours. Once done, he moved to the tent next to ours and went to work on their water pipes. He was joined by several other elephants who ripped the pipes to pieces and enjoyed a nice bath in the flowing water for most of the night. It was impossible to sleep, and was truly an incredible “welcome to Africa” moment!
Male ostrich love dance. This one was fun! While driving one day, we came across two ostriches running around. One of them, a male, was flush red in the neck/head. Every few steps he would sit down on the ground, spread his wings, and sway side-to-side. Othman told us that it was his mating dance and he was trying to attract a partner. It was so cool to see!
A well-hidden leopard. We all would have missed this beautiful animal had it not been for Othman’s eagle eyes. She was about 50 feet off the road, lounging at the base of a dried bush. Nearly impossible to see if you weren’t looking right at her. The perks of having a great safari guide! We watched for a while in awe as she moved from one bush to another. We eventually let her be, but man, what a sight to see!
A cheetah and her cub. Shortly after we left the leopard, we came upon a cluster of safari vehicles which usually means something cool is nearby. This was no exception! Shading themselves under a tree were a cheetah mom and her cub. The cheetah was taller and much leaner than the leopard, but equally as beautiful.
Lions on the night drive (OMG OMG OMG)! We scheduled a night drive with the Lodge during our stay. This consisted of getting in an open-air jeep and driving through Tarangire in the pitch black of night. Our guide for this excursion was a young man shining a spotlight as we drove, and he was accompanied by a gun-toting passenger. You can never be too safe while on a night drive!
The drive started out a little slow, seeing small, nocturnal animals off in the distance, but things quickly picked up! We saw a pride of female lions eating what appeared to be a wildebeest. There was also three massive cape buffalo very close to the jeep. We then came upon a giant herd of cape buffalo crossing the road in front of us. We watched for a while, waiting for an opening, and then headed back to the Lodge.
The lions and cape buffalo would have made the night drive worth it, but that was just the beginning. As we neared the Lodge, our guide hit the breaks and swiveled his spotlight right to left. Laying in the middle of the road were two male lions! It literally took our breath away! Here we were in this open-air jeep, at night, witnessing male lions in the wild for the first time! The guide put a red cap over his spotlight to reduce the harshness of the light and we watched for several minutes. The two lions walked across the road, directly in front of our jeep, and as the spotlight moved with them we could see several more female and baby lions come in to view. It was an incredible experience!
Accommodation: The Retreat at Ngorongoro
Duration: 1 Night
Recommendation: Stunningly beautiful hotel with incredible rooms and amenities. Long, bumpy ride to get there from Lake Manyara. Would be a perfect place to relax for a day or two mid-safari if you need a break.
We only spent a half-day in Lake Manyara and then drove to The Retreat at Ngorongoro for the night. Lake Manyara was much more dense and jungle-like compared to Tarangire. It wasn’t very big but did provide some excellent sights! Highlights from Lake Manyara include:
Red bananas. On our way in to the park Othman stopped and bought a bunch of red bananas from a woman on the side of the road. They were delicious! Much sweeter than a regular banana.
Hippopotamus encounter. As we drove through Lake Manyara we came across a pod of hippos! They were floating in a small pond, occasionally popping their heads up to snip at one-another or to chase the birds away. It was hard to appreciate just how massive they were since they barely came out of the water, but incredible to see nonetheless.
Eagle in flight. Just above the hippos was a large tree upon which an eagle was perched! We were able to get a few photos just as it came in for a landing.
Baboon banana thieves. As we exited Lake Manyara, we saw baboons lining the streets. Our guide, Othman told us about how locals walk their bikes up this steep hill from the market below, loaded with fruits and vegetables. The baboons wait for the locals to pass by on foot with their bikes and steal their food, mainly the bananas! Crazy!
Accommodation: Serengeti Sopa Lodge
Duration: 3 Nights
Recommendation: We probably wouldn’t stay at the Sopa Lodge again if we returned to Africa.
The Serengeti Sopa Lodge was adequate. It had a nice deck/lawn/pool area, and decent rooms. They do have limitations on water usage at this lodge (you can only shower during certain hours). We also did not care for the staff taking ~15 minutes during dinner each night to sing songs. After which they tried to sell us their CD. One song would have been fun, but 4 songs got old pretty quickly. I think we would look elsewhere if we were to return to Serengeti in the future. Accommodations aside, the Serengeti was absolutely incredible! Highlights from our trip through the Serengeti include:
Cheetah traffic jam. As with the cheetah sighting in Tarangire, the cheetah in Serengeti drew a crowd of safari vehicles. The cool thing about this traffic jam was that the cheetah actually walked right through the vehicles! We got to see it up close and personal!
Five legged elephant. While driving one afternoon we encountered a large male elephant eating from a tree near the road. It was incredible to sit there and watch him (and a much more enjoyable experience than our previous midnight elephant encounter)!
At one point he became engorged. And I mean seriously engorged! His member was a couple inches from touching the ground and almost the same size as his legs! It’s a wonder these magnificent creatures aren’t referred to as the kings of the jungle after witnessing that display!
Lion family, VERY close! A family of lions we saw from far away earlier in the day had moved very close to the road and we got an incredible view! We were literally ~10 feet from the lions, including a male who was lounging against a tree, and two cubs who were wrestling in the grass. It was, for us, the most amazing experience of the entire safari!
Lions dining on zebra. As we pulled away from the lion family, we encountered another incredible sight. A large pride of lions eating a recently killed zebra! Again, we were extremely close to these lions. So close that it was almost scary!
We watched for a long while, in complete awe at what we were witnessing.
Hyenas in the mud. The hyenas were one of our favorite animals we saw on safari. They were always so darn cute! And they loved to lay in the mud to cool off.
Safari BINGO. One day we set out in search of the illustrious rhinoceros. This drive was long and mostly uneventful (and didn’t result in any rhinos). To pass the time we created Safari BINGO cards that made things a lot of fun! We were searching high and low to spot items on our cards before everyone else, and even Othman got involved by going out of his way to find and point out items. It was a lot of fun and great for a quiet day.
Lion mom warm welcome. There was a family of lions consisting of a mom, dad, son, daughter, and two small cubs around a tree that was close to the road. At one point, the mother jumped up on high alert and walked off intently stocking a warthog. We could see her the whole time and she never got in a good position to attack, but she was gone from the family for about 20 minutes or so.
We were still parked there when she returned to what can only be described as a grand welcoming. It was as if she had been gone for days. All the lions were so happy to see her back. They all jumped up and started nuzzling her, showing her how much she was missed. She went around nuzzling every family member. It was so sweet and adorable, and we all loved it! Check out a video of the encounter here.
Accommodation: Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge
Duration: 1 night
Recommendation: Would probably try something different if we return to Ngorongoro.
We had a limited stay at this lodge so we didn’t get a great feel for it, but the rooms were pretty mediocre so we’d probably look elsewhere for a future visit. The crater itself, however, made for some excellent viewing experiences. Highlights from the Ngorongoro Crater include:
Lions eating, jackals waiting their turn, and a rabbit scared for it’s life. This was an interesting experience. There were two female lions with their faces buried in a fresh kill. ~30 feet away were two jackals, eagerly waiting for the lions to finish up so they could come in and scavenge the leftovers. ~50 feet in the other direction was a small rabbit, eye’s bulging, not moving a muscle, seemingly scared for it’s life. Luckily he was small and blended in well with the surroundings.
Male lion guarding wildebeest, hyenas crying nearby. Similar to the lions and jackals, there was a male lion guarding a wildebeest kill down the road while several hyenas stood nearby. The hyenas, faces covered in blood, were moaning or crying, making a terrible noise. Othman suggested that maybe the hyenas killed the wildebeest and the lion came in and stole it. That would explain the blood. We couldn’t help but feel badly for the hyenas. The lion wasn’t even eating the wildebeest, just sitting by it, teasing them!
Gazelle birth and abandonment. This one was sad so we’ll keep it short. We drove up just after a gazelle had given birth. The baby was stumbling around, just learning to walk. In the distance was a male gazelle stalking the female. He was attracted to the female and coming for her, and she wanted nothing to do with him. She eventually ran off as he chased her, leaving the baby alone to fend for itself.
Rhinos. There were reportedly rhinos in the crater. We drove to where they were, but they were so far from the road we couldn’t really make them out, even with binoculars. This was a little disappointing especially since that was our only rhino sighting of the safari! After our trip, we learned that this area does not have a large population of Rhinos.
Tanzania Safari Experience
Our time in Tanzania lived up to the hype. It was everything we thought an African safari would be, and then some! Seeing the animals, larger-than-life and in the wild, was a remarkable experience unlike anything else we’ve ever experienced. If we could afford to go on safari every year I think we would jump at the opportunity!
While we can’t say that every safari experience will be like ours, the potential to have the trip of a lifetime is so great that you just can’t pass up the opportunity! Start planning your Tanzania safari today!
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