The morning of our flight out of Entebbe, Uganda, we checked online to make sure it was on time. The website told us it was running an hour late, so we told our hotel we would leave a little later, still leaving a couple of hours cushion. When we arrived at the airport, there was a long line just to get in the front door . Oh well, we had time to kill, we thought. When we had finally gotten to the first security check-in, they told us to hurry and jump the line asap. The Precision Air counter was closing as our plane had already started boarding! What? We stressfully made our way through the different check points and ended up making the flight. We learned later that they do this often (it happened again on our flight to Zanzibar) and leave whenever they feel like it, give or take an hour off of the schedule time! Our flight from Entebbe to Kilimanjaro was thankfully uneventful, although, once inside the terminal filling out immigration papers, we were singled out to produce our yellow fever vaccination certificates, which we had. We met some tourists later during our safari trip that had to pay a little gift to the immigration officer because their yellow fever certificate had “something wrong with it”. We were relieved that was not the case for us.
Our transfer driver, Baltazar, met us at the airport and drove us to Arusha where we would spend a couple of nights before starting our northern circuit safari: Tarangire park, Lake Manyara, Ndutu, Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater. We found Arusha worse than Kampala: chaotic, polluted and uninviting.
We stayed the first night downtown in a budget hotel we had booked on our own. It was fine except for the mosque praying or should we say shouting over the speakers that goes on late at night and early morning.
Sounds of the mosque at our hotel:
The next night we stayed in a much nicer place just outside of town that was part of the safari circuit. We met Achmed, the owner of the safari company, Basecamp, we had booked through, who went over the itinerary with us. We ended up spending 3 hours with him drinking several beers (at least James did). What an interesting character!
We met our guide the next day, Joseph, who seemed pleasant at first, and were off to Tarangire National park, our first stop for the next 2 days.
We realized right away how much nicer the roads and infrastructure were. Roads were paved or if not paved they were even with very few potholes, and bathrooms in tourist facilities nice and clean. A stark difference from Uganda. The countryside though we found not as lush and green.
It took us 2 and a half hours to reach the park and once we did, we started gaming driving and right away were met by a pride of lions chilling by some elephants. Beautiful baobab-studded Tarangire National Park stretches along its namesake river and covers nearly 3000 sq km. It has the second highest concentration of wildlife (after Serengeti). It is best known for its 5000 elephants that roam the park. Indeed we saw elephants everywhere and really close! Sometimes too close!
The weather was hot and humid and Sylvie started feeling a bit sick (stomach) so we shortened the morning game drive and headed to our beautiful tented lodge, the Tarangire Safari lodge, located above the Tarangire river with magnificent views. We took a swim in the pool and rested a bit before heading out for an evening game drive where we saw the usual suspects.
View from our lodge above and below overlooking the Tarangire river
The highlight was the next day’s late afternoon game drive. We were on our way back to the lodge when we spotted an incredible female leopard up in the tree. We had her all to ourselves and watched her (from really close and she did not seem to mind) for the next 45 minutes, sleeping, stretching, yawning and switching trees. What a sight!! Our first leopard!
That evening, we celebrated New Years with some Swiss folks who had just climbed Kilimanjaro. We all had a champagne toast and danced till 1:00am.
The next morning we set off for Lake Manyara National Park, one of Tanzania’s smallest national parks – basically a stopover to avert a long drive to Ngorongoro crater and the Serengeti. The park is heavily vegetated (except for the area around the lake), so we only caught glimpses of elephants, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, and pink flamingos. But we were able to see blue monkeys pretty close.
Our accommodations were nice though – overlooking the lake from a hillside.
Lake Manyara above and below with flamingos in the distance
Blue Monkey- Above 🙂
The drive to the Ndutu area (part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area) the next morning wound through some villages where we were able to capture a few scenes en route. We also passed many Maasai villages and bought some trinkets from them. They are quite the business people and negotiated very hard!
Local tuc-tuc (taxis) above
These guys were very shrewd businessmen
Ndutu was fabulous for wildlife viewing, partly because of its off-road policy and partly because the migration was in full swing there. We were torn between getting good close-up pictures and disturbing the wildlife, although they didn’t seem to mind.
Our first Cheetah!
Wildebeest migration- Above
Our accommodations at the lodge in this area included free wildlife entertainment right in the dining area! Apparently, a family of Genet cats makes their daily trek to get a handout only after they’ve performed for the primate guests dining there.
Genet cats at our lodge
Next on the safari circuit – central Serengeti. The king of Tanzania’s parks that has the “big 5” (lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo, and elephant). The Serengeti is believed to hold the largest population of lions in Africa (3,000) due in part to the abundance of prey species, and around 1000 African Leopards. We saw all but the rhino here. The luxury tents we were staying at inside the park were very comfy and included a visit by a pride of lions at 4:00am, roaring at full decibel levels right outside our tent! We froze in bed for a few seconds before getting the courage to unzip the tent for a peek and even tried to record the sounds on the camera. Unfortunately, the chorus had died down and we had a hard time spotting them in the dark. At breakfast, the manager of the camp said there were 5 of them and they were chasing a water buffalo between tent #4 and #5 (we were in #5). If we ever come back, this will be the camp we’ll stay in!
Tent #5 – Our tent in the Serengeti
Sunrise over the Serengeti
Serengeti Male leopard
Serval kitty above
One of the many hyenas
After 2 days in the Serengeti, we headed for our last stop – Ngorongoro crater. The crater is one of the world’s largest unbroken calderas without a lake. The main attraction in the crater, besides the expected assortment of animals we had seen already, is the black rhino. As they are very shy animals and there are very few left , we only spotted 6 of them through our binoculars, but it was still a nice treat since we didn’t see them in the Serengeti. We were hoping to finally catch a hunt & kill matinee by one of the large cats (or even hyenas), but they all appeared to have eaten very well and were content to lazily walk around and/or sleep.
View of the Ngorongoro crater from above. Below: in the crater game driving
We came back to Arusha and met with Achmed to review our safari experience. Our feedback was amazing wildlife, great itinerary, good accommodations but our guide was sub-par. Don’t really want to go into details here but we had a major argument with him midway through and almost canceled the whole thing! Despite our guide/driver being very “poor”, in the end it was still an amazing experience and we saw lots of wildlife.