Africa – My Serengeti – Trip Report
We recently (May 26 to June 9 2005) had been to Tanzania for a brief vacation. This is our trip report. Be warned that this report is rather lengthy (read extremely lengthy). Please proceed at your own risk . I hope this report helps you get an insight into one of the most beautiful countries in Africa – Tanzania. If you have a safari planned in the future, there might be some useful tips. If you have already been on a Safari, I hope that you can re-live your experience through this report.
How it all started – It was another (rather mundane) day at work. I am not good with dates, but I remember this day very distinctly. It was Valentines Day. Having decided which restaurant to go to (with my wife), I was casually surfing the web checking out something interesting to read. Failing to find anything interesting, I was contemplating on what’s the one thing that I have always wanted to see. Ah Africa… I had seen it in thousands of documentaries and read about the amazing wildlife. I wondered how it would be to see wildlife in its natural state. My search on Google for the words “African Safari” would lead me to one of the best journeys in my life. I looked at a few websites and called my wife to come and pick me up. I asked her “Do we have enough money”? Upon which she replied, I’ve got 20 bucks. I replied, “No we’ll need more than that we are going to Africa ”
Preparing for the trip – This part was a lot of fun, we had made our initial decision to go on vacation to Africa but that was only in theory. We had to first decide on which country we would go to and how many days we would spend on Safari. After reading quite a bit (Fodors, Lonely Planet and Rough Guides), we decided that Tanzania was the best place for a first time visit to Africa. In June, wildebeest migration would still be in Serengeti and we might be able to see it. We got quotes from various safari operators and after a month of research we decided to go with Roy Safaris in Arusha, Tanzania. We highly recommend them. Roy Safaris and Susan Wood from their US office helped us refine our itinerary and also helped us decide between camps and lodges.
Since I was planning to spend quite a bit of time on photography, we decided not to travel with a group. I spent a lot of time deciding on camera equipment and lenses/filters that I needed to carry. The Canon 100-400 USM IS L lens was a good lens for this trip. Looking at the results, I am really glad I bought this lens. All my equipment is from B and H -- http://www.bhphotovideo.com/.
Our Tanzania Visitors visa was issued in Washington DC. After getting the necessary shots (please consult CDC -- http://www.cdc.gov/travel/ for details) for our trip, we were all set.
Day 1 – Arrive at JRO (From SFO) – Mt. Village Arusha
Day 2 – At leisure to recover from Jetlag, Mt. Village Arusha
Day 3 – Ngiresi Village visit and Tarangire National Park/Tarangire Sopa.
Day 4 – Tarangire National Park and on to Lake Manyara/Lake Manyara Hotel
Day 5 – Full day at Lake Manyara/ Lake Manyara Hotel
Day 6 – Drive to Serengeti National Park. Game viewing en-route to Seronera Wildlife Lodge.
Days -- 7, 8 and 9 – Serengeti National Park/ Seronera Wildlife Lodge.
Day 10 – Morning game drive in Serengeti and depart to Ngorongoro Crater/ Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge.
Day 11 – Full day at Ngorongoro Crater/Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge.
Day 12 – Morning game drive at Ngorongoro Crater . Depart to Arusha/Impala Hotel.
Day 13 – Rest at KIA Lodge and fly back to SFO.
Serena Mountain Village – After 20 plus hours of travel, we arrived at Kilimanjaro International airport. Immigration was quick and we had no issues here. Thomas Mosha, our guide from Roy Safaris, greeted us at the airport. It was a 30-minute ride to Mt. Village lodge. We had a quick dinner at the lodge and called it a night.
We had decided to spend the next day at leisure to recover from jetlag. Our room at Mt. Village lodge overlooked Lake Duluthi. It was very picturesque and quite. Nice place to relax. We visited a coffee plantation that is walking distance form the lodge. The plantation manager explained to us the labor-intensive process of growing coffee. It was an interesting visit. The rest of the day was uneventful. We mostly relaxed in our room.
Ngiresi Village and Tarangire National Park – We checked out from Serena Mt. Village and were on our way to Ngiresi village for a cultural visit. On the way we passed through Arusha -- a busy and bustling town. I was born and brought up In India and it felt like I was going through a small town in India. It was a Saturday and the markets were buzzing with activity.
It had rained the previous night and the road to Ngiresi village was very slick. We admired the driving skills of Thomas as he navigated the wet roads. The drive to the village was very bumpy but very interesting. Upon arrival, we met the village chief who briefed us on his role in the community. After chatting with him for a few mins, we left with Faraja who showed us around the village. He briefed us about Masaai traditions and other cultural facts about the village. The village itself is lush green (lots of coffee and banana trees) because of the volcanic soil and has some amazing landscape.
Our next stop was a visit to a boma (a typical Masaai home). Since there were no roads, we had to go on foot. It was slushy and slippery and was quite amusing for the villagers to see us cautiously take each step and slip. The villagers on the other hand, walked normally, some even carrying a huge load on their heads. At the Boma we were greeted by smiling children. Faraja took us inside the boma. It was circular in shape and was quite small. We chatted with everyone for a few mins and handed out pens/pencils to the kids. Some of the villagers were surprised/amused to see their image appear on the LCD screen of our digital camera. Next stop -- The primary school. Since it was a Saturday, we were not able to meet any children. We took a look at the classrooms and headed back to the village. Faraja explained to us some of the hardships of being in the village. He walks everyday for two plus hours to get to his school in Arusha. I think its time I stopped complaining about my commute to work. We said quick goodbyes to Faraja and the village chief and headed to Tarangire National Park. Our visit to the village gave us an insight into life in an African village. If you have some extra time, I recommend that you consider a similar visit.
En-route to Tarangire National Park, we stopped to buy some rice (for my camera bean bag) and bottled water (In addition to what Roy Safaris had provided). The drive to Tarangire was interesting; we saw Masaai men and women working on daily chores. Well, only the women were working. The men were busy organizing meetings. It was quite hot when we arrived at Tarangire national park. After doing the necessary paperwork we headed for a brief game drive on our way to the Sopa lodge. Tarangire National Park has some unique landscape with Baobab trees. As we were driving along, Thomas pointed out to us – Giraffes. Wow what a sight it was. They (three of them) were standing a few feet away from us grazing on green acacia leaves. They stood and gazed at us wondering what we were up to. After taking a lot of pictures (Thomas must have wondered if we had seen a giraffe in our life), we headed back to the lodge. On our way we saw a group of impala, Baboons (near Tarangire River) and a group of elephants at a distance. We also saw a lot of birds in this park. I cannot remember most of them but I was able to capture the African Hopoee (on my camera).
We were greeted with friendly “Jambos” at Tarangire Sopa. The lodge itself is very nicely built with good amenities. Our room was pretty big. It also had a spacious bathroom with hot water shower. After a quite dinner, we decided to call it a night.
The next day, my wife had developed an eye infection that was bothering her quite a bit. Tarangire sopa lodge has a 24X7 doctor and nurse on call. The doc examined her and assured us that there was nothing to worry about. He also gave her an ointment to ease the irritation.
The game drive that day was very nice and we saw lots of Impala, giraffe and more birds (weavers, yellow collared lovebirds? Secretary birds, guinea fowl, marabou storks, eagles and other species I am not able to recall). The highlight of the day was when we stopped near a heard of elephants. There must have been at least 25 to 30 of them in all age ranges. They were playing around, eating and enjoying. A couple of the males were fighting with each other making a loud trumpeting noise. We stopped and observed them for quite sometime. The elephants were behind us and we were observing them from a distance. In a matter of a few seconds, a big male elephant charged at our safari vehicle. Thomas started the vehicle and drove to a safe distance. He later explained to us that this was very unusual. It’s quite possible that the group might have been attacked by Lions and must be upset. The sight of a huge African male elephant charging with his ears wide open, trumpeting loudly is something I will never forget. I could see the anger in his eyes. It was clear that we were invading its territory. The elephants stood around in a circle and made sure that all the young were inside the circle. Wow what parenting instincts. It was truly an amazing sight. Heeding the warning given by the male elephant, we drove away from them. The elephants then proceeded to cross the road. Lesson learnt – let elephants cross behind and not in front of your vehicle. We drove around the parks various roads and saw more giraffe. Thomas was on the lookout for elusive Leopards, which we could not find. Tarangire National park and its Baobab trees are very unique and beautiful. After having a hot lunch and reviewing the video of our elephant encounter, we proceeded to Lake Manyara National Park. (We saw more elephants just before exiting the park)
Tarangire Pictures -- http://www.photo.net/photodb/folder?folder_id=502795
Lake Manyara – The drive to Lake Manyara was quite nice. We stopped at a couple of local stores to do some shopping. We chit chatted with Thomas and exchanged stories. The road to lake Manyara is very nice and has been funded by various foreign countries (Japan, Netherlands etc). On the way, we passed the village of Mto Wa Mbu. It was quite hot (high 90’s) when we arrived at Lake Manyara. Once we entered the park, we saw a huge group of Olive Baboons. We observed them groom and play with each other. A couple of male baboons were fighting and displaying their huge teeth. We saw blue monkeys and hornbills in the lush forest. On the way to the lake, we saw a group of 5 elephants dusting themselves with mud. One of the elephants came close (5 feet) to our vehicle. Thomas assured us that the elephants here do not charge. Close to the lake we saw a huge group of giraffe (13 of them) looking in the direction of the woods. Possibly looking out for lions. After taking some pictures, we proceeded to the hippo pool. From here you can see the flamingos (with a binocular). The lake itself is very saline and supports a huge population of flamingos. Thomas explained that the lake was shrinking because of lack of rains in Tanzania. After observing the hippos and other birds near the swamps, we proceeded to Lake Manyara Hotel.
Lake Manyara Hotel is located at the top and has some amazing views. Our room was ok. This is the only place we felt was a bit mediocre. The comforters in this lodge are quite old and need to be replaced. Since it was quite hot, we got rid of the comforters and managed without them. Dinner was a buffet and was similar to what was available at other lodges. Being vegetarian, our choices were limited.
The next day we took picnic lunches and proceeded for our game drive. We saw plenty of giraffe (Masaai and regular), Elephants and groups of Impala. Near the lake we saw a lion guarding a buffalo kill. It was at quite a distance. There were 5 lions (one male) in total. An elephant chased the male lion away. The king of the jungle had to give way to the two-ton giant. We waited here for a bit to see if any of the lions would come closer. One of them did, but there were many vehicles in our way and we could not see much. Having seen more giraffes and elephants, we made our way back to the hotel. I got stung by a couple of Tsetse flies in Manyara. I have to admit that their bite stings and is quite itchy. The anti itch cream came in quite handy here. We did more shopping at the local stores and returned to our hotel room. Lake Manyara is a very nice park with lots of opportunity for game viewing. We were very satisfied and recommend it.
Manyara Pictures -- http://www.photo.net/photodb/folder?folder_id=503160
Serengeti National Park -- On our way to Serengeti we stopped at the Ngorongoro gate and visitor’s center. There is a vista point here for taking pictures of the crater. On a clear day (after 12:00) you should be able to see the end of the crater. Once you cross Ngorongoro, the landscape starts to change. The road to Serengeti National Park is quite ok. It’s a bit bumpy and quite dusty. On our picnic lunch we met some Masaai kids who were taking care of their cattle and goats. The kids were very quite and were not able to communicate in Swahili.
Park Information -- The word Serengeti is derived from the Masaai. They called it Siringitu - "the place where the land moves on forever." OR “Endless Plains”. The Serengeti region encompasses the Serengeti National Park itself, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Maswa Game Reserve, the Loliondo, Grumeti and Ikorongo Controlled Areas and the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. Ref – www.serengeti.org. At approximately 13,000 square kilometers, it is a super huge park. It is also home to the largest concentration of animals in the world.
We entered Serengeti through the Naabi gate. The size of the park becomes quite apparent as you start driving. Initially we did not see any wildlife. After driving for a while, it started; As far as the eye could see, we saw Zebras and Thompsons gazelle. The zebras were standing opposite to each other watching out for predators. I cannot even guess the numbers. In between them were ostriches and Kori bustards (These birds are huge!). No sight of any wildebeest. We stopped at a few places to observe the Zebras and to take a few pictures. Thompsons gazelle were really shy and would dart at the sight of a camera. On our way to Seronera wildlife lodge, we passed by some rock formations (Kopjes) that were really cool. At a waterhole, we saw two lionesses sleeping. We stood there and awed at them. Reluctantly, we said goodbye to the sleeping beauties, as we had to get to the lodge before sunset. We reached the lodge a few mins after the sun had set. It was a very overcast day and we did not miss much of the sunset.
Seronera wildlife lodge is quite old but very nicely maintained. We had a room with a sunrise view looking out into the woodlands. The place is full of curious vervet monkeys looking out for food. It is best to keep your windows closed. You can also see a lot of Impalas and a few storks. The restaurant area is built near two rocks and is quite impressive. The staff here is friendly and helpful. The bar area overlooks the woodlands and is a nice place to see the sunset. Overall we were very please with this lodge. After ordering picnic lunches and having dinner, we called it a night.
Game Drive Day 1 – We left the lodge at around 6:00 am to catch the sunrise near the Seronera. It had rained at night and some parts of the roads were slick. We managed to reach just in time for the sunrise. Being close to the equator, sunrise happened quite quickly. We observed the sun rising next to a lone acacia tree. Everything was blessed in warm golden light. I panicked a bit when I saw that my camera would not turn on. Removing the battery and turning it on again resolved the issue. But man!! what a scary moment. We enjoyed the rest of the sunrise with vultures flying above us. The balloon safari had just started and we waved to the lucky (read rich) tourists. We drove around in pursuit of wildlife and did not find much. Having reminded ourselves that we were not in a zoo, we kept trying. The guides generally exchange information (via Ham radio) regarding any wildlife they have seen. Thomas told us that someone had spotted lions 40 kilometers from where we were. Since lions don’t move too much during the day, we decided to drive. After an hours time, we were reached the place to be greeted by a pride of 7 lions. There were 3 cubs and 4 adults. Three of them were on trees (Proving that lions climb trees everywhere not just Manyara). We stood there amazed and watched/admired them for about two hours. Satisfied, we left for some hot lunch at the lodge. After taking some rest, we left in search of the wildebeest. Thomas mentioned that he had seen the big heard at Seronera but we could not locate them now. After driving for an hour and a half, we could locate them (west of Seronera (I think)). Initially it was just black dots. As we drove close, we could hear the sounds. We drove closer to the herd and it was obvious, this was one of the big ones. Words cannot describe what we felt when we saw so many animals. There must have been thousands of them. All around you until the horizon, it was wildebeest. In between the wildebeest were zebras. Wildebeest or Nyumbu (in Swahili) is called the “spare part” animal. It is quite evident when you see them. It’s a funny looking animal. They stop for a second, stare at you. Once assured that you are no threat, they go back to what they were doing. The wildebeest were grazing, playing, fighting and having fun. We could not locate any predator near the herds. This is the Serengeti I had seen in pictures and in documentaries. Here I was seeing it with my own eyes and realizing that a dream had come true. I had spent a lot of time taking pictures of Nyumbu’s. It was time I put down the lens and create memories of my own. Memories that cannot be captured in pictures. I had seen the greatest spectacle on earth. What a spectacle it was.
Ref -- http://www.photo.net/photodb/folder?folder_id=503482
Reluctantly, we said goodbye to the Nyumbu’s and drove towards the lodge. On our way back, we saw the most amazing sunset. Sunsets at the equator do not last for a long time. You see this huge ball of fire drop down in a few minutes. It is one of the best sunsets I’ve seen so far. Kanyakumari (in India), Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Hawaii are other places with grand sunsets. We invited Thomas for dinner and had a good time talking to him.
Game Drive Day 2 -- Packed with picnic lunches, we left for our game drive. We were looking for cheetahs but could not find any. In the morning, we saw baboons and a few elephants. In the afternoon, we were able to locate a super huge herd of zebras. This was a subset of the herd migrating with the wildebeest. It was interesting to see them sniff the air for predators and confirm to the others that there was no danger. After an hour, another group of wildebeest joined the zebras and they merged to form a huge group. A mini stampede happened here and it was an amazing sight.
Ref -- http://www.photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=3453927
Suddenly Thomas pointed to us – Cheetah. Wow!! The camouflage was amazing. You could barely locate it in the grass. It was crouching and for a kill.
My heartbeat went up. After locating its prey, it just took off at an amazing pace and chased the wildebeest. The circle of life was happening right in front of my eyes. It did not complete the kill as it realized the prey was too big for it to bring down. One kick from the hoof can disable it for a long time. The cheetah sat in the grass and the wildebeest could see it. It was amazing to see the wildebeest freeze and plan a route to avoid the cheetah. They did not move until it was safe. A few mins later, we were not able to locate the Cheetah. During the rest of the day, we saw another huge group of wildebeest (we never got tired of these animals) and a group of elephants. We returned to the lodge just before sunset. It was not as spectacular as the previous day as there were some clouds blocking the view. After making plans for the next day (Gol Kopjes), we called it a night.
Game Drive Day 3 – Gol Kopjes is a hot spot for locating Cheetahs/Lions and we had decided to travel there. It is quite a distance from Seronera but we were glad we went. On our way, we spotted 3 male Cheetahs, sitting on a rock. These are such magnificent animals. They are built for speed. Lean and very muscular.
Ref -- http://www.photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=3452660
On our way to Naabi gate, we saw a small pride of lions (5 Lionesses) near a waterhole. The lionesses were full (stomachs really bulging) and were sipping water. Makes for a great photo op. We waited and observed them until they all fell asleep. After a brief stop at Naabi gate for a quick lunch and some paperwork, we proceeded to Gol Kopjes.
We saw the resident Zebras and lots of Thompson’s gazelle. Some of the lions in Serengeti have radio collars attached to them. This way, the researchers of the Serengeti Lion Project can locate them easily. We got lucky and were able to spot a research vehicle next to a pride of 9 lions. (2 Males (one young) and 7 Females). They were active for about half an hour and all of them quickly went back to sleep. The male lion is a huge. Its mane is really beautiful. http://www.photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=3453666
At the Gol Kopes, we were not able to locate cheetahs, but we did see another Male lion, vultures, raptors, Hyena and lots of Thompson’s gazelle. We were also able to locate a huge group of Eland. These are shy creatures and we had to admire them from a distance. What a great day it had been (just like any other at Serengeti). Since we had to drive a long way, we took a few landscape shots and headed back to the lodge. En-route to the lodge, we located a huge group of Impalas. The light was great and we had to stop and take some pictures. My favorite one is this female http://www.photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=3442577
Game Drive Day 4 -- I had always dreaded this day and it had arrived sooner than I had expected. We had to leave Serengeti and head towards Ngorongoro. It was indeed a sad moment. I never wanted to leave Serengeti. After saying quick good byes to our friends at the lodge, we headed for a morning game drive to look for Leopards (this was the only animal that had eluded us). We were unable to locate and Leopards but we saw more Giraffe’s/Baboons/Ostriches and of course our Nyumbu’s.
Serengeti national park was amazing. Words and pictures cannot describe the beauty of Serengeti. According to me, this is definitely a must see for everyone. Tanzania has done a good job at conserving the Serengeti eco system. With hopes that Serengeti shall never die, we said goodbye to our favorite park.
Serengeti Pictures –
• Serengeti National Park -- http://www.photo.net/photodb/folder?folder_id=503159
• Serengeti Landscape -- http://www.photo.net/photodb/folder?folder_id=503576
• Serengeti National Park -- Zebra and Wildebeest Migration -- http://www.photo.net/photodb/folder?folder_id=503482
Oldupai Gorge – On our way to Ngorongoro crater, we stopped at Oldupai Gorge. It has a small museum with fossils of some extinct animals. It also features work of the famous of the anthropologist Mary Leakey. You can also see the gorge from here. We found a lot of Yellow weaver birds here. After a listening to a brief introduction from one of the museum guides, we headed to Ngorongoro wildlife lodge.
Ngorongoro Crater – Our stay at the Ngorongoro wildlife lodge was very good. The lodge and rooms have amazing views of the crater. Like the Serengeti wildlife lodge, this is also well maintained and has all amenities one would expect. We stayed here for two nights and enjoyed it.
Ngorongoro crater has a self contained eco system and game viewing is guaranteed. We did one full day game drive and an additional half day game drive. The descent to the crater is quite steep (4WD a must). We left early in the morning and the roads were covered with fog. Once you get to the crater, it is very clear. Ngorongoro was a bit cold in the morning and evening. Warm clothing is definitely recommended.
On our game drives , we saw a lot of wildlife – Lions, Cheetah, Buffalo , eagles , Ostriches, Zebras , Wildebeest, Cranes , jackals, bat eared foxes , Huge Male elephants , Storks etc.
The highlight of the crater however, was flamingos at Lake Makati. We saw quite a few of them. The sighting of Rhinos was also very interesting. Ngorongoro has a charm of its own. It is unique and has some amazing landscape. Definitely a must see. It can be a bit crowded at times (especially near lions).
Ngorongoro Pictures -- http://www.photo.net/photodb/folder?folder_id=503161
After a morning game drive in Ngorongoro, we departed back to Arusha. On our way, we stopped at the Maserani (?) Snake Park and Massai Museum. It is definitely worth stopping here. We rushed had to through it but could have spent some more time here. There are some shops/stores where you can meet the women who make the Masaai jewelry. After arriving at Arusha, we checked into the Impala hotel. That was it. Our trip had come to an end.
Vegetarian Info – Being vegetarian is not that bad. A typical lunch/dinner buffet consisted of soup (we double checked to make sure chicken broth was not used), salads and two veggie dishes. Most lodges have the native dish – Ugali with spinach. We really liked this dish.
Tip: If you have a particular diet or a particular dish you would like to have, please ask the chef they will gladly oblige.
Picnic lunches are just ok. I highly recommend that you carry energy bars. We carried a protein bar called – Tigers Milk and it really helped us. Unlike other energy bars I have tasted, this is quite tasty.
Photography Info –
My Equipment –
Cameras -- Canon EOS Digital Rebel and Nikon N65
Lenses – Canon 100-400 USM IS L Lens, Canon 17-40 USM L Lens and Nikor 28-80mm
Filters – Heliopan Circular Polarizer, Canon UV filters, Cokin P Series graduated ND filters 2/3 stops.
Memory – Two 1 GB cards, Two 256 MB cards. I bought a 1 GB card from Costco just before I left (as a back up) and returned (Unopened) it after I came back.
Wolverine Flash Pack – 7040 (40GB)
Lens Cleaning Solution and tissue.
Bogen Monopod – Rarely used
Tripod – Did not use as it is difficult to set up inside the vehicle. I did see another traveler set it up and use it.
Bean bag – According to me this is a must.
Bag to carry all this – Tamrac Expedition 5. I love this bag it is really neat.
African( UK Equivalent ) plugs for American electronics.
Canon Optura 30 camcorder.
1. If you can, please carry two bodies. Changing lenses for wide angle shots is a pain. It can also cause dust to deposit on your sensor (happened to me). It does not matter how careful you are while changing lenses.
2. Learn the process of cleaning the sensor in case you need to. Eclipse sensor swabs and solution is recommended in many photography sites.
3. Clean your equipment everyday. This is a must as dust will be sitting on your filters.
4. Carry a strip that has multiple outlets as lodges typically have only one/two electrical outlet.
5. Please carry additional batteries for all your electronic equipment. Be aware of the time required to charge the batteries.
6. Do not see everything TTL, stop using your camera for sometime and create memories of your own.
7. Watch Frans Lanting’s – Masters of wildlife. He explains the process of selection and composition. Though none of my pictures have anything close to what he has explained, it still helped me to a certain extent.
8. Be patient.
My Pictures are @ -- http://www.photo.net/photos/vjhanak
Safari Etiquette – There were a few incidents that irritated me a bit and hence this section.
1. In Lake Manyara, when the lions were walking towards the road, a lady in one of the vehicles was shouting loudly – “here kitty kitty, here kitty kitty”. Agreed that it is a cat, but for anyone who has a visit planned, I kindly request you not to do this. Whisper and do not shout.
2. Never drive off road unless allowed by the park.
3. In Ngorongoro, we saw that a pride of lions were surrounded by 10 vehicles. We were obviously disturbing them so they moved away. If you can, please avoid crowding the animals.
Wow, I have just realized that writing a trip report takes a lot of time and effort. If you are still reading this, I admire your patience. I hope this report was informative, accurate and helpful. Tanzania is an amazing country, go there.
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Africa – My Serengeti – Trip Report