Twelve adventurous guests joined me on safari in the enchanting land of Tanzania in East Africa. Our adventure included a relaxing night in Kilimanjaro, seven nights in two magical national parks and two nights on the unexpected island of Zanzibar.
Our flight from the U.S. to Kilimanjaro arrived on schedule. It only took about 30 minutes to get our entry visas, collect our luggage, and meet our transfer for the drive to the Siringit Golf and Safari Lodge. What a pleasant surprise that was.
After traveling along a dark, one-lane, bumpy road, we came upon this 4-star lodge with beautifully-appointed rooms and spa-like amenities — a real treat after a long flight. Following a delicious 3-course meal, we retired to our suites, showered and went to blissful sleep.
Morning came too soon, and after breakfast, we started our road trip to Tarangire National Park. One of our guest’s suitcases went missing between Nairobi and Kilimanjaro (later delivered to our camp) so we stopped in Arusha for a bit of shopping. Some of us took a little nap on the way, but many in our group took in the sights of everyday life in Africa as we passed through village after village.
We arrived at the park gate, checked in, and ate a box lunch prepared by the Siringit staff. We spent the next 3-4 hours on a game drive through the park en route to our first camp.
The first-timers were excited to see zebra, impala and warthogs, but clearly they were thrilled to see their first elephant (a big one at that). The biggest thrill was yet to come as we had a close-up view of a Cheetah and soon after a lioness. The safari was off to a great start.
We arrived at Kikoti Safari Camp, which is just outside the eastern boundary of the park. Camp manager Jon and his staff greeted us with refreshing juice and hot hand towels. Jon gave the normal guest briefing and handed out room assignments for our 3-night stay. Everyone was pleased with their accommodations — permanent chalets on raised platforms with en suite facilities and electricity.
Our friendly and expert guides led us through daylong drives in the park, even thrilling us with a splashy 4-wheeling romp across a challenging gully.
We saw several lions, including a mating pair and one taking a siesta on the branch of a large tree. I had only seen lions in a tree once before on the Western Serengeti years ago. Zebras, antelope, ostrich, eland, giraffe and elephants were also in abundance.
We had picnic lunches each day in tree-shaded spots inside the park, one overlooking the Tarangire River and another along the Silale Swamp. For me, this park is second only to Mana Pools in its natural beauty. For photographers, it is a dream because all the backgrounds show up so well on photos. I took many scenery shots.
Kikoti Camp is on Maasai land and is staffed and managed by people from a local village. It provides jobs and a source of income to the community. However, a recent National Park decision – limiting access to once per day from camps located outside park boundaries – will have a long-term negative impact on the camp’s future in my opinion.
One of the things my guests and I enjoyed was an appearance by a group of the Maasai. I had witnessed their dance on earlier safari trips so I arranged a surprise performance for my guests. It was awesome. After the Maasai performed, they invited each male to perform individually with them. (I was less than awesome but tried to make up for lack of skill with enthusiasm). Then everyone was invited to join in and dance. What fun!
On Friday, we packed box lunches and drove to Kuro airstrip for our flight to Kogatende in the Northern Serengeti. On arrival, we found out our small plane could only accommodate 11 passengers. Two of us caught the next flight and rejoined the group at Kogatende. I was amazed at the number of guests and vehicles at the airstrip.
The Northern Serengeti has become very popular with safari tourists who are eager to see the Great Migration of wildebeest. I always book a remote camp inside the park near the Mara River, which is very private. Other camps are located near the airport, which means long drives to the Mara River to see a crossing.
The longer drive to Serengeti Safari Camp was well worth it as we had our second up-close cheetah sighting. We were able to watch a large male cheetah, scanning the plains for prey.
Serengeti Safari Camp is a tented camp that changes locations five times a year to follow the wildebeest on the continuous route of the Maasai Mara (in Kenya) and Tanzania.
Most people do not realize the migration is a continuous cycle of movement to take advantage of rainfall, green grass and safe areas for birthing calves. The river crossings take place in March and August, although the wildebeest maintain their own schedule of organized chaos.
Wildebeest were gathering in massive numbers on the Serengeti very near our camp, and we had high hopes that we would see them cross again this year.
The lions, hyena, and other scavengers such as jackals and vultures were enjoying the plentiful supply of food. At night, as we lay in bed inside our zippered heavy-duty tents, we could hear the sounds all around us.
We were able to view wildebeest cross twice, once at Sand River, and again the next day at the Mara River. The crossing is a truly amazing sight. The animals mass in herds, numbering in the thousands. They will approach the river, halt, mill around, and then retreat.
This occurs many times until suddenly a few start to cross and the rest scramble to follow the leaders. The chaos that follows is a challenge to watch because so many things are happening at once. My guests were able to photograph and record the sights and sounds of the event. Video is really the best way to capture the scene.
Everyone loves to see lions, and the Serengeti is the best place to see them. We had 46 sightings over four days. We could hear lions every night near our camp. One evening while we were having dinner, three lions approached within several yards of our tents. We were in no danger, as the camp staff knows how to handle situations like this.
As if lions were not enough, we also saw two rhino (mother and calf) albeit at some distance. On our last day, we saw a leopard cub. Seeing these beautiful creatures is always a treat because they are shy and difficult to spot.
On our drive to Kogatende airstrip to catch our flight to Arusha, we observed two lions sunning themselves on a large rock outcropping. What a nice finish to our terrific safari.
From Arusha, my guests and I boarded a flight to Stone Town, Zanzibar for two days of beach, pool, shopping, and an historical tour for those interested. Our stay at the Serena Stone Town hotel was delightful. The staff at the hotel is exceptional. It is located on the beach with views of the Indian Ocean, a great pool, and very good food. Souvenir shopping is nearby, and guests can find special mementos of Africa to take home. (Tanzanite was a popular item).
I have been doing safaris in Africa for nearly 25 years and never tire of the experience. I consider a safari in Tanzania, including Serengeti, to be one of my most memorable experiences. I always tell my guests no one can promise they will see every animal they want to see, but Tanzania did not disappoint. You take what Africa gives you. If you come to Tanzania, she will usually show you her best.
My guests on this safari were terrific. Five of them were repeat guests and seven were new to Africa. All were great travel companions. I thank them for their confidence in me. It was my pleasure to share Africa with them.
My thanks to our safari staff from Africa-based Nomad Tanzania, Tash Cocker, and our excellent game guides: Ally, Festo, and Philip at Tarangire and Nathan and Geoffrey at Serengeti. Asante sana.
If you would like to experience the thrill of a safari in Africa, now is the time to start planning for 2017. We can arrange a safari adventure to suit your schedule and budget.