After spending a week in Kenya, we couldn’t fathom how the trip could get any better. We were in for a treat.
We drove back through parts of Amboseli as we made our way to Namanga, where we would cross the border into Tanzania. We were excited to get a new guide, but nervous because we didn’t know what to expect. Nickson met us as we got out of the vehicle, followed us through customs and helped us navigate all the lines. He quickly won Amanda over by making a few jokes.
After a bathroom stop, we left the customs building and made our way into the next part of our adventure.
Tanzania is the largest country in East Africa and within its borders, you can find Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa, Serengeti National Park, the most popular safari park, and three of Africa’s largest lakes! The country has a population of more than 47 million people, including 128 African tribes. It is also the only place in the world where you can mine Tanzanite.
Here are some of the highlights:
Our first stop was Lake Manyara National Park, which is approximately 125 square miles (325 square kilometers) and is situated between Lake Manyara and Tanzania’s Great Rift Valley. It is about two hours from Arusha. Since we spent most of the day driving, we didn’t have any game drives scheduled that day. We arrived at our next lodge around mid-afternoon and spent the free time drinking tea and enjoying the pool.
The following morning we headed out into the park for our first Tanzanian safari.
The park is beautiful: fed by water from the surrounding mountains, many areas of the park are lush forest areas even in the dry season.
A sign at the entry informed us Lake Manyara is home to tree-climbing lions, but Nickson told us that we were more likely to see them in the Serengeti; however, we were able to see some lions enjoying a freshly killed buffalo near the edge of the lake. We missed the kill but were able to see a female lion defending the feast and cubs with fresh blood on their faces (made us hungry too !… haha).
A female lion, with a full belly, walked right up to our jeep in search of some shade.
There is even an area where you can hop out of the vehicle to stretch your legs. A boardwalk juts out over the hot springs into the lake and here you can see many species of birds. There is a picnic area as well.
If you want to see baboons, this is your spot! There are so many baboons! We were even lucky enough to see some monkeys.
And lots of elephants!!!
Ngorongoro Crater is located within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. It is a park of more than 3200 square miles (8,300 square kilometers). The crater is actually a caldera since it was formed when the volcano erupted and collapsed on itself. It is the world’s largest, unbroken (the rim is circumferential) and unflooded caldera. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Inside the crater is one of the best places to see the endangered black rhino. Of course, Nickson laughed when we told him that was our goal for the day. Because rhinos have sensitive eyes and tend to spend the day lying down to avoid the winds, especially during the dry season, he told us we would be lucky to see the back of one with our binoculars.
The radio picked up, and we rushed off to see what the excitement was about. In the distance, we could see a dark spot in the grass. “Is that a rhino horn?”
After watching for a while and taking lots of pictures (who knows if we would ever see another black rhino in the wild?), we left to go to the hippo pool.
There, we watched a hippo leave his pool and start a fight with another hippo. He even tried to start a fight with a female and baby (we suspect it was a male baby since they are a threat to the adult males. The females usually hide them on the shore).
Fun/gross fact: male hippos swing their tails around while they’re pooping to impress females and mark their territory. (After I told my boyfriend about this, he tried it . . . I wasn’t impressed.
Just kidding! Can you imagine if human males did this?!)
We were making our way to a bathroom/lunch break when we noticed some commotion near the rhino. As we got closer, he stood up!
We all stood in awe as he marched across the grass and passed right in front of our vehicles!!! “Wow! Wow, you are the luckiest of lucky,” Nickson exclaimed. Even he was excited because he knew how rare this opportunity was.
We also saw some tiny baby jackals. The mother was very unimpressed when we stopped our vehicle to take pictures of them.
We finished off such a great day with a cup of tea and dinner with our guide, Nickson. The staff at the lodge even lit a fire to keep our room warm. It turns out the rim gets pretty chilly at night.
Our last park was somewhat bittersweet. Serengeti National Park was the part of Africa we had been looking forward to the most; however, it also signaled the end of our time there.
During the morning we left Ngorongoro, the rim of the crater was incredibly foggy. Despite warnings from friends and family back home about being safe during my travels, this was one of the only moments when I actually felt fear. We could hardly see the road in front of us.
But alas, we had nothing to fear because Nickson could probably drive those curvy roads with his eyes closed. Within 30 minutes, he had us safely below the level of the fog and on our way. These guides are INCREDIBLE drivers.
After stopping at the sign for a quick photoshoot, we were on our way!
Our first 20-30 minutes in the park were pretty uneventful. The park is HUGE at 5,700 (14,750 square kilometers) square miles. Because of its massive size, the animals have plenty of space to spread out. We saw mostly dried grass for these first minutes. Finally, the radio chatter picked up!
The rest of our time in the Serengeti was essentially Animal Planet/National Geographic in real life. Forty-eight hours of insanity.
The first thing we saw was two male cheetahs sleeping under a tree. Shortly after our arrival, they got up, walked across the grassland…AND TOOK DOWN AN IMPALA!! So amazing. Turns out my videography skills are subpar, but you can enjoy some of the action below. Hahaha!
Then, as they were about to start eating, a large male lion emerged from the tall grass and stole it from them.
There. Were. So. Many. Lions.
We saw a lioness feasting on a dead elephant. She then ran off five hyenas who tried to steal it from her.
The following day, a hyena had taken over the elephant.
On our last day in the park, we made one last stop at the elephant. Imagine our surprise when we saw two male lions eating a hyena they killed to take back the dead elephant. Circle of life , eh?
Three leopards in trees. One with a dead gazelle.
A female cheetah with four babies who would likely make it to adulthood. (Cheetahs often have 3-5 babies. Though, usually only one or two make it to adulthood because hyenas frequently poach them).
Lions in trees. Twice!
Two large elephant herds.
An incredible sunset.
We even saw a pride of lions tracking a buffalo, but the lions quickly changed their minds. The buffalo often win this battle.
And finally, a lot of beautiful, spacious grassland.
Jambo (hello), Asante (thank you), Karibu (welcome/you’re welcome), Hakuna Matata (no worries!), and afya ( health…after somebody sneezes) are some of the most common words we heard on our trip.
After spending a week in Tanzania with Nickson, we learned many more. Kizito was surprised when he picked us back up at the border on our return.
Learning the animal names helped us pick up a little of what was happening on the radio. We could occasionally pick up the names of the animals that other trucks were spotting.
Eating dinner with Nickson on the rim of the crater changed the way of things. He began teaching us lots of new Swahili words, how to count to 1,000, and telling us about his life and family in Africa. We spent a lot of time together in the jeep and after dinner, exchanging funny face pictures and comparing life in both countries. Surprisingly, although there are many obvious differences between the two countries, I was heartened to realize how many similarities between Africa and the United States there are.
These were some of my favorite moments of this trip.
Manyara Wildlife Safari Camp
The Wildlife Camp at Lake Manyara is another tented camp. The views overlooking the lake were beautiful. It was a nice place to relax, and the pool was terrific. The food choices were somewhat limited compared to other sites.
Ngorongoro Farm House
The Farm House was much different than other places we had stayed in. They had a large farm with fresh fruit and vegetables, which they used in their food preparation. They grew and roasted their own coffee. On arrival, we were invited to attend a couple of optional activities. These included a coffee tour and live music and dancing by a local tribe. They even let us choose what to pack in our lunches.
The Rhino Lodge was, by far, our favorite place to stay. The temperature on the rim of the crater was much cooler than other places we stayed in. They even started a fire in our room to keep us warm. They had the best food, set up dinner so that Nickson could eat with us, and had the most comfortable beds.
Sound of Silence
Sound of Silence is a new lodge located within the borders of the Serengeti. Even though they are relatively new (they opened in June 2019), they seem to run very smoothly. The location is a bit further away than other camps. Silence is more upscale than some of the other lodges we stayed in as well. The food is served on trays with silver cloches. Inside, the tents are beautiful and spacious. While beautiful, overall, this was my least favorite camp.
I’ve probably said it too many times already, but this was the trip of a lifetime. I would absolutely recommend booking a trip with East Africa Adventure Tours and Safaris. They were great communicators (despite the 8-hour time difference), were willing to make changes to our itinerary (even last minute), and finally, provided better guides and game drive experiences than we could ever ask for. Please consider booking with them if you’re ever traveling to East Africa. Bonus: They have itineraries to more than just Kenya and Tanzania.