Decide what you want to see
Basically, you can do a safari in Tanzania all year long. There are enough national parks and lots of animals to see, including the Big 5. But there is also the Great Migration, one of the top reasons to do a safari trip in Northern Tanzania. We did ours in the beginning of July in anticipation of the Great Migration. But this is also the high season so everything is relatively more expensive. You can find our 10-day itinerary in this link.
Sometimes where you choose to stay while travelling is a destination in itself. While I do not mind booking myself in a standard hotel or a camper in the middle of a Dutch farm, indulging in hotels where the view is breathtaking and the wine overflows, makes my travels a little more memorable. Through the years, I have stayed in many unforgettable accommodations, some cost me a fortune, others not even €10 a day. What they have in common are their amazing locations and top of the class service – two of the most important factors I am looking for in a hotel. I am sharing five of my favourites here:
There’s a kind of high when you are staying in the Serengeti. That high slowly fades away as soon as your Land Cruiser touched the asphalted roads. And when you realized that you are not staying in luxurious tented camps anymore, without the sounds of the hyenas and lions in the evening, a kind of sadness overwhelms you. Serengeti is a paradise. It is a special place that unfortunately is exclusive to those who can pay and whose backs are still strong enough for its tough terrain.
We had a limited time in the Serengeti. The next day, we headed to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
In the early morning, the crater was enveloped in thick clouds, making the ascend treacherous. You cannot see farther than 50 meters and the thick clouds rising from the ravine make you feel that you’re driving to the unknown. If we’ve fallen into that ravine, could have said “She died and went straight to heaven.”
When we reached the lake and the crater opened, it revealed a panorama that I was afraid to see – a breathtaking landscape peppered with hundreds of safari jeeps. There was a line of 4×4 for anything that is exciting – a pack of lions feasting on a kill, some hippos lounging in the sun, a herd of buffalos assembling themselves in a defensive position against a pack of hyena. Robin and I had to think of a zoo.
But there was one highlight that we would not miss for the world, seeing the elusive rhino a little bit closer than two kilometers. He was alone, munching on his vegetarian breakfast and hoping to cross the road to the river to drink. But there were just too many cars. After 15 minutes, he went away to hide. There were only 13 rhinoceros left in the NgoroNgoro Conservation Park. Their number dwindled down rapidly due to poaching. Rogarth said we were lucky that we’ve seen one so close.
This was our last safari drive. The next evening, we caught the plane back to the Netherlands. For the last time, the wild life of Tanzania gave me something to make me smile. I left with the very funny video (above) of a zebra scratching himself silly on a piece of rock.
I will miss this country.
Day 7 – Our last day in the Serengeti
I didn’t take as many pictures as I probably should have. I wanted to experience this trip with my soul and all my senses – looking a lion in the eye, smelling the lemony whiff of the freshly cut grasses made by the elephants, tasting the dust and sand during game drives, hearing the hyenas roaming about during the night and feeling the chilly air in the morning and biting heat of the Serengeti. Not behind the small frame of a viewfinder. So when I am old and my eyes becomes bad, my heart will still remember how beautiful this was.
In addition to the searing heat and sea of dust, in the Serengeti, you’ll also be assaulted by annoying tsetse flies that stings as painful as fuck (even through your long sleeves). I notice that instead of whacking them to death, Rogarth would open the windows to let them out. I am not sure if tsetse flies are just generally mean and want to sting people to death or they just get confused flying inside a 4×4 with tourists who have thick guide books to slap them flat.
Tsetse flies are good indication of getting nearer to the herds of migrating wildebeest. On our 6th day, when we saw our first big herd, the tsetse flies were all over the Land Cruiser.
We didn’t really see the river crossing, the image that usually represents the Great Migration. What we saw was a big herd quenching their thirst on a small river. There were thousands of them, littering on the plain, some running to the other side of the road, some coming back.
These wildebeest are funny animals. They look like some mindless cows running around not knowing where to go. Like the zebras, they would run back and forth until one of the leaders would chase each one into the line when it’s time to move. Slowly you would see them forming a long que. A lot of people could really learn a lot about queuing from these wildebeests.
The Great Migration refers to the annual migration of about two million zebras and wildebeest in East Africa, mostly in parts of the Serengeti to the Masai Mara in Kenya, chasing the rain. Their most dangerous plights happen when crossing the Lobo and Grumeti rivers where hungry crocodiles await them. This is the most filmed moment in their journey. They would be also followed by the big predators. Most of these wildebeests would die in this annual plight for greener grass.
We were lucky to see two big herds in the Serengeti. One was during our 6th day and the second on our 7th day, just when we were checking in at the Eco Lodge Africa at the Grumeti Camp. You wouldn’t believe the kind of noise these animals make and it can last all throughout the day.
I’ve had the perfect bed at the Eco Lodge Africa, hard bed with lots of pillows. I felt like a million dollar although it is certainly not the best lodge. Since I was still sick and couldn’t sleep, I spent the whole evening listening to the wildebeest and the hyenas, hoping to hear the distress call of the zebras. But I didn’t hear any kill during the evening. Good for the migrating herds.
The next morning we went back to spend our last day in the Serengeti. In addition to the usual sights, we were treated to a haunt – a pack of lions trying to snatch a zebra from a small herd for breakfast. Unfortunately, they all missed. However after half an hour of spotting, we chanced upon lion feasting on a kill by a small river. But there were at least 20 cars around it and god knows how many other tourist snapping their cameras at the lone lion. We couldn’t enjoy it very much.
The same thing happened when we spotted some leopards. If there had not been too many cars, we could have enjoyed looking at the leopards even though they were still too far away. But I wasn’t disappointed as much as my co-travellers were. I felt like I was already so blessed by so all these amazing sights and missing some animals only gives me more reason to come back.
We had lunch near a salt lake after a failed attempt to get near a rhinoceros. But we could technically say that we’ve found the Big 5 in one trip to the Serengeti. At least for the people in our group who wants to tick it off their list.
As for me, I was just too happy being in the Serengeti – pushing the Land Cruiser when it got stuck in the middle of the Grumeti Camp, peeing in the open despite the danger of lions attacking you because you’re bladder is going to explode if you don’t (you know how they warn you NOT TO GET OUT OF THE CAR), lunching near a salt where you saw a rhino just a couple of kilometers away and seeing a lion attacking a zebra. Your heart would be pounding but at the same time, you were also wishing the moment never to stop.
We left the Serengeti after lunch, my heart filled with joy. All the money spent in this trip was worth it. But just when we thought we’ve seen enough, the Serengeti had one last surprise for us – a pack of hyenas and vultures feasting on the remnants of a kill. And here Robin took what for me was his best shot in this trip – a hyena running away with a big chunk of the kill.
This photo sums up what the Serengeti is – wild and free (up to a certain extent). Calling it the Last Eden is only but apt because here we could still see what paradise looks like, the one that we were taught God created.
However in the near future, when more people could afford a safari trip, would there still be enough space in the endless plain of Africa to accommodate all of us?
Day 6 – Soaking up the views of the Last Eden
We started early, just as when the sun was rising in the Serengeti. Our picnic box safely tucked away at the back of the Land Cruiser, our batteries loaded and our hearts filled with excitement for another game drive in the Serengeti.
The Serengeti. I let the word flow from my mouth, like a sip of a good Amarone, many times over during the trip. The Serengeti, a place that seemed so far away, so unreachable, so impossible to visit when I was watching it on tv. The Serengeti, the last frontier for the wild life of Africa, where lions and cheetahs roam in their natural habitat and where the rule of nature is above the rule of men.
Rogarth suggested that we should see a part of the migration in the afternoon. We all agreed. But first we would explore Central Serengeti.
During my safari trip in #Tanzania, it was the female lions that earned my admiration above all wild animals. They are the hunters, the ones bringing food to the table, they keep the pride together, they are extremely tactical and they are are great mothers, fiercely protective yet very caring to their offsprings. @robinkuijs snapped this tender moment between a young cub and a lioness while I sat on the jeep for 15 minutes watching this loving moment between mother and child. Today is World Lion Day and this post is dedicated to all lionesses and the ones celebrating their birthdays under this zodiac sign. . . . #serengeti #tanzania #safari #animalplanet #travel #reizen #reisblog #travelblogger #afrika #natgeo #natgeotraveller #africa #lonelyplanet #lpfanphoto #wanderlust #destinations #gamedrive #lions #leeuw #worldlionday
A post shared by Dheza Aguilar (@girlfromthebarrio) on
Not even 30 minutes away from Tortillis Camp, we already encountered a group of about 12 lions, warming themselves up on a patch of sand. We watched them for about half an hour, about 10 of them sitting together, surveying the nearby hill where the zebras were grazing, and then after a while positioning themselves for an ambush. Not very far from the group were a cub and his guard, playing together like normal house cats. When another Land Cruiser pulled over beside us, we drove on.
A little farther down the dirt road, Robin spotted a small group he initially thought were lions. But they were cheetahs, a family of cheetah marching slowly, intently watching our car because they wanted to cross the road.
I find the cheetahs to be the most beautiful animal I’ve seen in this trip. Nature is really a design genius, splashing this big cat with black dots all over its fur, few circles at the end of its tail and that long line from the side of its eyes extending down the side of its mouth, giving the animal a melancholic face.
“At some point, you’ll stop taking photos because there’s really no other way to capture the beauty of this unique place but to see it with your eyes and feel it with your heart. Then the memory would live forever.” – Our 6th day of #safari in #Tanzania up on the blog now. Photo by @robinkuijs. Link in profile.
A post shared by Dheza Aguilar (@girlfromthebarrio) on
That’s why when we finally found the Leopard (ticking off the fourth in the Big 5’s list), I wasn’t so impressed. Also because the animal was so far away, I couldn’t appreciate it so much.
Leopards are called the “ghost of the Serengeti”. Together with the rhinos, they are the most difficult to spot. They usually lounge on their branches all day long. And because this is the Serengeti, we couldn’t get as close as we would want to. We needed to stay on the roads. Unless of course, they were out on a kill.
Some of these wild cats look so fluffy up close and I was imagining how it would feel like to stroke their soft fur. But of course that would be stupid because once when an animal like this gets comfortable being touched by human beings, they ceased to become wild.
Today I was so heartbroken about the murder of #CecilTheLion. Having seen these beautiful animals up close, I couldn’t understand why people would want to kill them for the sake of sports, for shallow virility and vanity. As I said in my safari diaries, “there is and should be a respected distance between wild life and humans because that’s the only way each could live harmoniously in this planet.” Killing of endangered wild life should be banned once and for all. It is very barbaric. Photo by @robinkuijs taken in the #Serengeti. #notopoaching #notosportshunting #savethewildlife
A post shared by Dheza Aguilar (@girlfromthebarrio) on
We continued searching for the herds of wildebeest joining the Great Migration this year. I think we must have driven two hours in the Central Serengeti to find them. This new experience and the difficult of the roads made me very tired so when we are not spotting animals, I was sleeping. Due to the rapidly changing temperatures in the savanna, I feel a bit ill with fever, chills and a bad sore throat. Thankfully the sight of different wild animals gives me an adrenaline rush every time.
At some point, you’ll stop taking photos. There’s really no other way to capture the beauty of this unique place than to see it with your eyes and feel it with your heart. Then the memory would live forever.
After a rather luxurious picnic lunch, we continued spotting for animals. But we didn’t get so lucky anymore. They were the occasional lions mating but for the rest, we saw only the usual packs – zebras, giraffes, wild pigs, elephants, gazelles, etc. We headed back to the camp early to enjoy the sunset.
P.S. I started writing this when the news about Cecil, The Lion broke out. I was so broken hearted that I couldn’t continue with the story anymore. That’s why it took me quite a while to finish the Serengeti series. I don’t understand how man can be so cruel especially after seeing these wild animals up close. But Nietzsche is right, men is the most cruel of all creatures. I hope that this disgusting trade of trophy haunting will be stopped once and for all.