Before coming to Tanzania one of the first things that people would ask me was if I planned to go on a safari. Prior to coming here I was planning on climbing Kilimanjaro and not doing a safari because honestly $500 dollars seemed like a lot just to see a few animals. I never really understood the hype of going on a real safari.
Boy, was I wrong!
We left for our safari on Friday morning and drove for a couple hours to the entrance of Lake Manyara National Park. Within the first hour of our game drive we saw a few small animals, but nothing too amusing. Lake Manyara is mostly a forested national park, so it was really hard to see the animals unless they were literally standing in front of the car. We kept stopping to talk about the trees and environment, but didn’t see anything too special. Needless to say, I was unimpressed; I paid money for this? After about an hour of driving we saw an elephant crossing the road in front of a few other safari vans. We pulled up right as it was disappearing into the forest. The other vans began to drive away, but we stayed while our driver was telling us about elephants. After a few minutes we saw the elephant coming back out of the forest, but this time he was followed by his entire herd. Next thing I knew there were about 15 elephants surrounding our car! Our driver had to continually tell us not to touch the elephants because they were so close to us! After about 30 minutes and 1,000 pictures, the elephants eventually moved on. We continued to drive through the park spotting multiple giraffes, wildebeests, gazelles, and hippos, but nothing quite topped the total engulfment of the elephant herd.
After our overnight stay in Lake Manyara, we headed to the Serengeti National Park. Being one of the most popular National Parks in all of Africa, I was excited to finally be able to visit. The Serengeti plays host to one of the biggest migrations in the world. Every year thousands of wildebeest and zebras migrate from Tanzania up to Kenya for the dry season. During our safari we were able to see the tail end of the migration. Our driver kept telling us that the number of migrating animals we saw was nothing compared to the migration at its peak, but I can’t imagine that. As we drove around looking for various animals, I was overcome by the vastness of the park. As far as you could see, there was just land. No buildings, no people, just magnificent landscapes. On our first day in the park we saw lions, elephants, leopards, hyenas, and giraffes. The leopards that we saw were a mom and her 2 babies in a tree. Our driver told us that due to leopards’ very secretive nature, that was extremely rare to see. At one point we saw at least eight lions sunbathing on top of a rock right next to the road. If they wanted to, they could have easily hopped right onto our car. At the end of the day we headed to our campsite, which was in the very center of the Serengeti. We fell asleep under the most amazing stars that I have ever seen while listening to nearby hyenas and lions prowling for food.
Our second day in the Serengeti started at 5:00 AM. After being slightly delayed by a flat tire, we were able to watch the sun rise over the park. I’m pretty sure it was a real life scene from Lion King. After the sun was up and shining, we went on a search for cheetahs. We drove all around the park until at last our driver took a sudden turn off the road (which is slightly illegal). We drove a few seconds until we saw two young cheetahs casually lying down. I have no idea how our driver knew where they would be, but it was an indescribable experience to be able to see them so close.
After seeing our cheetahs, we were getting pretty tired of seeing so many zebras and wildebeests, so we left for Ngorongoro Crater. That night we camped on the rim of the crater and overlooked the valley. As we were eating our dinner an elephant waltzed through our campsite, and as we were going to sleep we could see zebras grazing next to our tents. The next day started once again at 5:00 AM. No one ever tells you how cold a safari can be, but let me tell you: it was freezing! After bundling up in many layers we set off to find what treasures awaited us in Ngorongoro. After descending into the crater and watching yet another beautiful sunrise, we immediately spotted one of the few rhinos in Tanzania. The pictures did not do this crater justice. With the sun rising over the mountains, the rhino grazing in the morning grass, a pair of elephants starting their morning trek, and the sky reflecting in the lake, no camera could capture the moment. The rest of the day consisted of driving through the crater, seeing lions, spotting elephants, looking at the massive amount of flamingos in the lake, and singing Lion King.
However, all good things must come to an end. As the day wore on, we were forced to pack up and head to Arusha. Needless to say, my four-day safari was an experience that I will never forget and always treasure.