Sorry I've taken so long, but here's part I of my trip report...! I'll forewarn you - it's long, which is probably why I've chosen to write it in parts. Here goes...
My husband and I headed on our very first trip to Tanzania on December 26th… and loved every minute of it (well… almost every minute!). Just as a bit of background, our trip was a private one (just the two of us), organized with East African Safari and Touring Company, and involved not only seven full days of game viewing , and a week on the island of Zanzibar, but also a lot of trekking, camping and mountain hiking in between… Our trip was extremely remote (if someone told us that there were no tourists in Tanzania, we would probably have believed them based on what we were seeing!), and also extremely varied (not only in terms of the things that we saw, but also in the places that we stayed [from a tiny 2-man hiking tent, to the most luxurious luxury camp to a paradisiacal beach resort…])… it was magical. Also, as context, I should tell you that my husband and I are from Toronto, Canada, are in our late twenties, and absolutely love to travel.
From the animals, to the landscapes, to the people… honestly, our trip to Tanzania was the most wonderful and memorable trip we’ve ever taken! And the funny thing is, before we left (as some of you may know!), I had done a lot of research and reading of various opinions, travel reports, etc.; and I was reading over and over again that once you’ve been to Africa, you’ll constantly want to go back… and I can tell you this: it didn’t take long for that feeling to hit… we’ve already been on the web in search of our next African destination
But before I do any further research into our next trip, I want to share with you the wonder of the trip just past (oh, and you guys asked for details, so be prepared for details!!!!) So here goes, but for you first-time travelers, please keep in mind (as you well-traveled African-travelers certainly know well) that it’s hard to truly describe the feeling of being in Africa… It felt surreal the moment the airplane touched down, and continued to feel surreal throughout the various parts of our trip…
Part I: The Serengeti
We arrived at Kilimanjaro airport at night, in the sweltering heat (it must have been 28 degrees, much more than we had expected from Arusha at night…). There was a bit of a mix-up with our transportation on this first night; we ended up having to drive a local Arusha family home before heading to our hotel… We were supposed to stay at the Jacaranda hotel (our reservation had been made and confirmed 6 months ago!), but when we arrived (by this time, it was 12:30a.m.), we were informed that someone behind the desk had given away our reservation because they didn’t think we were coming (we were later told that this is not uncommon at the Jacaranda, so be forewarned). When all was said and done, we spent our first night at the Impala Hotel. The Impala is quite a nice place, and certainly nicer than where we thought we’d be staying… we enjoyed a hot shower and a very warm night’s sleep…
And then the morning came, and before we knew it: we were driving through the Serengeti! Okay, in reality, perhaps it took a little bit longer than that… Waking up in Arusha is quite an amazing feeling. The best word for the town: bustling. The city is truly alive with trucks, wagons, and most of all: people walking in all directions at all times! I wouldn’t ever want to drive there, that’s for sure… Our morning was full of paperwork at the company office, where final payment was made, and then we headed to the grocery store to pick up any extras that we wanted to bring along… After filling up the Landrover with gas, we were off!
We were just the two of us in the landrover with our guide and driver. The main road into the Ngorogoro Conservation Area really isn’t bad – in fact, it is paved until you reach the gate. But from the gate on: bumpy, bumpy, bumpy. Oh, and dusty, dusty, dusty!
We headed off towards Olduvai Gorge … The whole cradle-of-mankind thing is so surreal that I don’t think one truly realizes what they’re experiencing until after they’ve left… We enjoyed the little museum, spent about an hour at the Gorge, and then we headed off again… We picked up a local NCA ranger a few miles later… he was a funny guy, Maasai (our first experience with a Maasai) and had a big gun… We headed off in the direction of our camp… We were scheduled to stay at our tour company’s semi-permanent camp, which they call Ndutu camp; we found out from our guide that the ranger was in charge of helping us locate the camp, as it had only been put up the day before (in order to be closest to the migration), and therefore only the rangers knew where it was! Needless to say, we knew that we were heading somewhere remote…
This first day’s drive through the NCA and into the Ndutu area of the Serengeti was amazing. There was no more amazing a feeling than spotting our first animals! Our very first animals were 2 giraffe, who were very close to the road, munching away on some acacia. I fell in love immediately. They just contentedly stared at us, while chewing… I didn’t want to turn the car back on to leave... We dragged ourselves away and braced ourselves for more amazing animals to come… That first day, we saw tons of animals: giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, gazelle, water buffalo, and tons of birds. Finally, it was starting to get dark (which happened each day at approx. 6:30p.m.) and we spotted our camp. It was in the Ndutu area of the Serengeti, at the far end of a plain, just at the base of an approaching mountain… The camp consisted of four stand-up green tents (for the guests, of which we were the only ones!) with mesh screening windows on three of the walls, there was a zip-open flap to the “washroom” which consisted of a wooden potty toilet on top of a hole in the ground and a camp-bag shower, and a wooden double bed in the centre of the tent; there was another stand-up tent, which had a wooden camping table in it, which was the dining tent, and another stand-up tent which was set up to be a common area, with two small couches, a coffee table and a little makeshift bar where they were offering some spirits. It was beautiful. And the view from our tent was spectacular. Plain as far as the eye could see, with hundreds or maybe thousands of wildebeests grazing, along with hundreds of zebra as well. We couldn’t believe our eyes. The wildebeests were making a ton of noise and I questioned how we were going to be able to sleep!
We had a lovely dinner on our first night. Our guide ate all of our meals with us, throughout almost our entire trip. I don’t know if this is typical or not, but we truly loved it… it gave us a chance to speak with him at length about all kinds of issues … Our meals at this camp (where we stayed for 3 nights) were great – there was a staff of 5 at the camp, and they truly made sure that everything was lovely. Nothing overly fancy, but three-course meals each night for dinner… we started with soup (this seemed to be a custom in Tanzania to start dinner with a bowl of soup – one that we sorely miss now that we’re home!), then a main course, which usually consisted of a meat stew (very often beef, go figure in a country of cattle herders with rice or potatoes, and a lovely dessert and fruit plate. Since there was no power (nor generator) at this camp, it was so remote and peaceful. The dining tent was simply lit with a kerosene lamp on the table, the cool evening weather (it definitely cooled off a lot at night…) made it comfortable to sit in cozy clothes over a cup of tea, and then we’d usually head out to the firepit for a little while, before turning in (average turn-in time for bed during our trip was about 9:00p.m.(!), which is very unusual for us night-owls, but very necessary after full days filled with fresh air and tons of excitement).
I must mention, however, that my first night’s sleep in the African bush was: non-existent!!! I had read before leaving that one can freak themselves out during their first night out in the wilderness amongst the animals, but I honestly didn’t think that it would happen to me… During dinnertime on our first night, I spent half of the meal posing a thousand questions to our guide about the general habits and patterns of the animals… We crawled into bed, listening to the thousands of wildebeest standing only several hundred metres from our tent, and I think my husband fell asleep before his head even hit the pillow (we were, after all, still jetlagged I’m sure)! So, there I was. And I freaked myself out. I heard noises – I envisioned lions approaching our tent – I kept checking to see if the fire (which had been built by our ranger to keep away animals by showing human presence) was dying down – and it was – I broke into a sweat. Hours went by, and as I realized how early we’d gone to bed, I truly didn’t think I’d make it through the night! I lay there, thinking of how I had another 3 weeks of camping in the African bush, and trying to think of ways to get out of it! Looking back on it now, it’s extremely funny, but it certainly wasn’t funny at the time I must have fallen asleep in the early morning just as the sun was about to rise… But rest assured: as awful as that first night was, the rest of the nights in the African bush, I slept like a baby.
Our next three days in the Serengeti were wonderful. We would leave on game drives at approximately 7:30 or 8:00a.m., after breakfast, and wouldn’t return to the camp until just before dinner. And believe it or not, we did not see any other tourists during our whole time in the Serengeti! We were so lucky… it truly felt like it was just us and the animals. I had envisioned traffic jams of landrovers traveling through the Serengeti, and although it was more like that in some of the other parks, the Serengeti we seemed to have to ourselves (I guess that’s what happens when you’re in the largest game park in the world!).
First of all, let me say that, combining all of the national parks together that we visited, we were extremely lucky in terms of game viewing. However, we didn’t get the sense of rawness in the Serengeti that we thought we might… we didn’t see a kill during our whole time there, and although some might be disappointed by that, I was extremely happy. I don’t know if I could have handled watching one animal come upon another and kill it before my eyes (I know that if I continue to return to Africa, I will no doubt see that one day, but I’m glad it wasn’t on my first trip…) Instead, what we saw was truly a playground. A magical, fun playground filled with animals. We saw giraffes, zebras, gazelles, storks, ostriches, wildebeest, warthogs, hyenas… and the list goes on (oh, and be forewarned: with the vehicle windows down, dung beetles can and may fly in and smack you in the face! Not a fun experience…!).
It was so amazing to realize that all of those different species of animals were all playing on the same turf. And the true realization, the one where you realize that you’re in Africa, and not just at the zoo, is when you realize that you are in their world. It wasn’t them living amongst us, but instead it was us invading their turf. And you knew it by the way that they all stopped and stared at you. And although they kept playing, they continued to stare until you continued on your way.
We were lucky enough to spot a couple of cheetahs on our 2nd day. They were gorgeous! We spotted only one at first, walking along, scoping out the scene… We made sure to stay back far enough (as cheetahs are extremely shy creatures…), and he eventually headed over for a rest under the shade of a tree, joining a second one who was already lying there! We ended up getting very close to them… for me, I felt like I could have stopped and watched each and every animal for hours… I never tired of watching them, and although my husband had feared that he might get bored after many days of game viewing, he admitted afterward that he didn’t tire of it one bit! In fact, he was every bit as excited as I was to view the animals!
And it’s not that we didn’t get the “circle of life” aspect: we certainly did! We watched hyenas eating a corpse, and we also watched a most interesting scene where about 30 vultures descended upon the remains of an antelope. It was so interesting to watch: not just the eating of the remains, but the behaviours of the vultures as they fought for food and maintained a pecking order of their own… It was strange to think that that antelope had been alive and playing only an hour before…
We also got to see a lot of calves… We were unfortunately a little early for wildebeest calving season, but the gazelles were clearly birthing, and although we didn’t see a birth or anything, there were so many baby gazelles on the plains! It was a wonder that our driver could spot them, and not hit them, as they would just curl up in a tiny little ball in the grass… they were adorable!
And of course – the wildebeest migration. What can I say? It truly is a sight to be seen! Thousands upon thousands of wildebeest. As far as the eye can see (in fact, at any given moment, you think that you only see maybe a thousand surrounding you, and then, with a closer look, you see tiny little dots scattered on the plain, and you pick up your binoculars and realize that each and every little dot is actually a wildebeest and that you are actually surrounded by tens of thousands!!!). And how they move! First, they are all just standing and grazing, playing, fighting. And then, all of a sudden, one (and I mean truly one!) wildebeest decides to start running, and next thing you know: they are all running!!! Charging! In single file! It truly is the most fascinating (and frankly, stupid-looking!) thing you’ll ever see… And within minutes, the plain is taken up with a seemingly never-ending line of wildebeest… charging south towards the Ngorogoro crater… The funny thing about being there for the migration is realizing how empty the Serengeti must be when the migration isn’t in the area! And it was even funny right at our camp, because, as I already mentioned, when we arrived for our first night, tons of wildebeest were standing and grazing very closeby the camp… the next day, they were charging, and by the third day, they were gone from the area of the camp completely! In fact, the camp staff told us that as soon as we were leaving, they were going to take down the camp, and build it farther south for the next set of guests to properly view the migration!
At the end of those wonderful four days in the Serengeti, we headed out to spend New Years’ Eve at the Ngorogoro Wildlife Lodge on the Crater rim. I’ll be sure to post the second leg of our trip soon… I’m sorry that this is so long and detailed, but I’m just writing it as I remember it, and I know that it would take me even longer to try to edit it down… hopefully you’re not bored of the details…
Stay tuned for : the Ngorogoro Crater, our Crater Highlands trek and our climb up Oldoinyo Lengai, Tarangire National Park, our climb up the spectacular Mount Meru and the end of our journey on the island of Zanzibar…
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Trip Report, Part I: 26 Glorious Days in Tanzania
Sorry I've taken so long, but here's part I of my trip report...! I'll forewarn you - it's long, which is probably why I've chosen to write it in parts. Here goes...