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Planning a Safari in Tanzania

Tanzania is amazing. There’s no other way to describe it. We were always planning on going to Tanzania, but in our minds it looked more like a two week hiking expedition up Mount Kilimanjaro. When we actually found ourselves at the base of the highest peak in all of Africa, we were about seven months into our backpacking trip and wildly out of shape. The idea of climbing a 19,341 foot mountain was simply out of the question.

Instead, we were invited to go on a twelve-day safari in some of Africa's most notable national parks. This happened to be one of the most extraordinary experiences we have had on this trip and cannot compare it to anything else we have seen or done.

Africa is the land of diverse cultures, natural wonders and home to the world’s most amazing wildlife safari experiences. The United Republic of Tanzania is a mountainous country offering a wide range of spectacular experiences. Some of the most exotic sceneries, stunning beaches, luxurious accommodation options, great food and above all memorable moments are found within Tanzania.

There are tons of companies to book your safari with, and for the most part you can’t go wrong with a lot of them. When doing some research, we wanted to book with a company notable for their animal conservation work as well as overall knowledge and reputation within the area. We booked a private safari with Wildersun Safaris and Tours and as one of the most trusted names in the tourism industry, they gave us a truly unforgettable experience.

Word to the wise: book your flights way in advance.

The Mount Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania is quite small and not that many flights are arriving/departing on a regular schedule. We tried finding the cheapest way of getting to Tanzania from South Africa-which in the end, only cost us our sanity.

In short, this is what our nightmare trip looked like:

CapeTown - Johannesberg - Namibia - Johannesberg - Dar Es Salam -Mount Kilimanjaro

Though the airport may be tiny, the view from the tarmac was magnificent. As you land you can see Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance with snow just at the top before the peak disappears into the clouds. As we landed and stepped down from the flight onto the runway-a pink and purple sky greeted us with a beautiful sunset over the huge mountain.

We were met by our Wildersun Safari Guide, Omar who by the end of the trip became one of our good friends. He picked us up from the airport and brought us to the Arusha Serena Hotel for the night.

This beautiful lodge was set in the flowered gardens of a coffee plantation and designed as an authentic African village. Its rondavels offer wide timbered decks with panoramic views over Lake Duluti. The rooms themselves were beautiful hut-like villas with outdoor showers and canopy beds with draping mosquito nets. After a long two days of travelling, it was the best night of sleep we had in months.

The next morning we opened our doors to the beautiful surrounding jungle-like landscape and made our way to the main lodge for breakfast. We were able to spend our morning at leisure before we met with Omar again and set out for a two hour car ride to our next destination.

Travelling by car was a nice way to see many of the villages within Arusha. It is a bustling city and often serves as the starting point for safaris in Tanzania. Arusha has a lot of charm of its own and is a great place to experience everyday life in Tanzania for a few days.

The city lies at the base of Mount Meru (not to be mistaken for Mount Kilimanjaro-but just as beautiful). It is a challenging and rewarding hike, so if you have the time, we definitely suggest reserving some time to hike the mountain.

The town itself was full of life and bursting with culture. There was an open market on every street corner with beautiful artisan crafts laid out on colorful blankets. Women in bright and intricately designed clothing and headscarves carried fruit baskets on their heads and scolding the children weaving in between them trying to play soccer in the alleyways. We passed by the great Masai Market where many people pick up some souvenirs and little knick knacks. After a long and eventful two-hour car ride, we were brought to the Shanga House Restaurant for Lunch.

Shanga is a beautiful, unique and authentic market place that sells local fabric with beautiful hand crafted beads for people. Shanga employs more than 60 people with a range of disabilities to make creative products including weaving, glass blowing, beading, paper making and metal work using recycled materials wherever possible.

After meeting the wonderful staff of the Shanga Disabled Facility, we drove on a few more hours to Tarangire National Park. The roads started to become less populated and evolved into vast farmlands. We saw members of the Maasai Tribe carrying baskets on their heads while simultaneously herding cows, goats and even donkeys.

There are a total of 120 tribes in Tanzania and though each tribe has their own language, they communicate amongst each other in Swahili.

At the entrance of the Tarangire National Park, stood the most magnificent Baobob trees. Legend has it that the Baobob tree (aka the upside-down tree) had once angered God and thus was torn from the earth and planted upside down! They are known to last thousands of years and are inhabited by tons of wildlife.

Our lodge was located deep within the park, so it was here that we were able to fist experience Tanzania’s wildlife. We went through the park at sunset which is one of the peak times that the animals would come out..mainly to hunt. We saw herds of elephants, giraffes, ostriches, warthogs, buffalo and monkeys everywhere we looked. Eland, which are the largest antelopes were travelling among hartebeests, impala, and springbuck. Tanzania is known for their Great Wildebeest Migration so were excited to see hundreds of thousands within the next ten days. As the sun set on the horizon, we arrived at the Tarangire Sopa lodge.

Built to blend in with the vastness of its surroundings, Tarangire Sopa Lodge was hidden in the kopjes, ancient baobab and grasses of the Tarangire National Park. The park itself is home to the greatest concentration of elephants in Africa and many of them are seen around the lodge allowing us an alarmingly close encounter with some of them!

Welcoming us with a cocktail, we were ushered into the large lobby with its glistening marble floors, colorful hand-woven carpets and an intricate roof. A short flight of steps takes you up a level and to the lounge and bar with floor to ceiling windows, an outdoor terrace where we could enjoy the evening sundowner, and a beautiful pool outside.

We had to be escorted to our villas by security in case there were wild animals on the resort grounds or a lion made its way to our room...! Which should not be taken lightly because halfway through our dinner that evening three elephants were found by the pool.

We had an early 7:30 start time and were treated to a delicious buffet breakfast with an omelette station, fresh pancakes, cereal, fresh fruits and tons of pastries! We met Omar and prepared for a full game viewing in Tarangire National Park on a beautiful but dangerously hot day.

Covering an area of 2,600 sq km, Tarangire National Park teems with wildlife throughout the year with a dense population during the dry season (June-October). Home to some of the largest herds of elephants in Tanzania and symbolized by the baobab tree, the park is also an ornithologist’s paradise rich in birds of prey.

We saw more wildebeests, ,hartebeests, and waterbucks. Interestingly, whenever we encountered impalas, we have seen pretty much all females and one male. If there was a group of impalas that were all male, they were referred to as the 'the Boys Club'. The males often practice fighting amongst one another for a chance to actually fight later on to run the group of females.

Similarly, the buffalo normally travel in groups but once they grown old, they are chased away by the herd to live out their final months alone. Tanzanians often refer to them as 'retired generals'. By the watering hole we saw thousands of zebra, buffalo and elephants during the midday.

For lunch, we returned to our hotel for a prepared luncheon by the pool before heading out again for an afternoon safari.

We set back out at 4:30 to enjoy the colors of the sunset and because it was significantly cooler, many of the animals were making their way back into the open. It was during this time that we were able to see Dik-Dik which are basically miniature Bambis along with hyaenas and several jackals.

Enjoying another early morning breakfast at the Tarangire Sopa Lodge, we set out with Omar to our second National Park destination; Manyara National Park. On our way out of Tarangire, we were accompanied by over 60 elephants walking alongside us in a straight line...almost exactly like The Jungle Book.

Female elephants stay a part of the herd with their mothers and when juvenile male elephants become old enough, their mothers chase them away. Elephants live until they are about 75-90 years old and even though scientists cannot actually tell the exact age of an elephant, if one can fit under their mom's tummy, they are just a few months old.

Two hours later, we made it to Manyara National Park. A spectacular view awaited us as we made our way up the great rift valley wall. We checked into Lake Manyara Serena Lodge which included a beautiful infinity swimming pool perched on the rim of the rift valley wall.

The Great Rift Valley is a series of contiguous geographic trenches approximately 3,700 miles long, that runs from the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon to Southeast Africa.

Tanzania’s towering Mtowa Mbu escarpment provides a remarkable backdrop for a one-of-a-kind visit. The lodge welcomed us with a peaceful location amidst the rich wildlife and unsurpassed tranquility of Lake Manyara National Park.

The lake is home to over 300 migratory birds including flamingoes, long-crested eagles and grey-headed kingfisher. The lodge was designed to mimic this extraordinary birdlife, with an architectural motif featuring swooping avian curves and vibrantly coloured wall frescoes depicting the intricacy of bird migratory patterns.

The Lake Manyara lodge had everything we needed to relax, rejuvenate and enjoy the singular beauty of the region. Housed in a circular two-story hut, the accommodation pays homage to tradition, while also offering contemporary perks. Flamingo Restaurant, which was the central dining room, served delicious cuisine and included a veranda with picturesque views. Each night, the staff puts on a full acrobatic show for the guests in the dining room and by the pool. We've never been so entertained and relaxed at the same time.

Ready for a full day of game viewing, we set out to Lake Manyara National Park. Compared to the other parks, it is relatively small-only 330 sq kms in size and more than two thirds of it is the lake. That's not to say we would't get lost immediately if we were the ones driving. Its charm lies in the variety of ecosystems and therefore the diversity of wildlife that can exist in such a small area.

When we first arrived we were greeted by huge families of baboons. Manyara is a giant jungle-and the elephants make their way silently through the trees, so if you're not looking closely, you can almost miss them!

Along the lakeshore pelicans were perch in the trees overlooking the thousands of flamingos standing in the water. The open grasslands supports herds of buffalo, as well as zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, hippos, bushbuck and waterbuck.

When we returned to our resort for lunch, we had the option to go on a walking safari and guided nature walk along the rift. Along with learning about the animals and nature of the rift valley and its formation, we were able to see which plants were edible.

After breakfast at Lake Manyara Serena, we drove to Ngorogoro National Park. The entire trip was spectacular, but this park and lodge was our favourite. A meandering drive brought us to an altitude between seven and nine thousand feet. We reached the heritage site of the Ngorogoro Crater which was also branded as the eighth wonder of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We arrived at the Nogorogoro Serena Lodge for lunch. The dining area of the lodge overlooked the immense walls of the crater with a breath taking blue green landscape dotted with plains, lakes and forests. The land is thick with massive bull elephants, rhinos, wildebeests and the highest concentration of lions in Africa.

Nestled high above the plains into the Crater’s jagged rim, cloaked in river stone and indigenous vines, Ngorogoro Serena Safari Lodge is barely visible to the naked eye. Framed by arched stone passages and timbered decks, its torch-lit walls are adorned with stylised cave paintings. At the stone heart of the lodge burins a glowing fire, which is kept constantly alight. Our room was looped around the Crater’s rim with a rock-enclosed balcony and uninterrupted views of the volcanic amphitheatre far below. We got to actively watch a rainstorm come in over the crater, a place that was actually experiencing a drought.

The Nogorogoro hotel lodge is a place that feels as ancient and timeless as the Crater itself, yet no modern comfort has been spared in an effort to bring us one of the best safari adventures in Africa and one of the most unique travel experiences in the world.

In the afternoon we visited the Traditional Maasai Village where we were able to interact with the tribe and learn more of their culture. The Maasai village was situated within the crater and was surrounded with a spiked fence to keep their goats in and the lions out.

The village was composed of eight to ten tiny huts and the tribe welcomed us into their village with a traditional welcome dance and song. Then something both painfully embarrassing and spectacular happened..the women took me aside to sing along and dance with them...both of which, are talents I do not posses. Just as Brendan was taking out his phone to clearly take some blackmail video footage of me, the men took him aside and had him engage in a jumping contest with the men of the village to prove his manhood. Safe to say he didn't make it very high...

The huts were made of clay and sticks and were quite small. Usually they slept a family of 4-5 and oftentimes, a a baby cow to shield it from the leopards and other predators that enter their village at night.

They later brought us to the school within the village that taught all of the young members of the tribe. The school was a larger hut within the picket fence with a blackboard and some simple math equations written on it. All of the kids soon became distracted with our arrival and many of them surrounded Brendan reaching into his pockets to find candy and were dismayed to only find cash...I think we lost about $50 that day.

In the evening, we were entertained by an acrobatic team at the hotel who also sang and danced. The show was put on by some members of the hotel and professionals who performed a traditional ceremony which was widely received by the guests.

Waking up this morning high above the Ngorogoro Crater was like waking up halfway into a dream. Our resort was perched at the highest point of the crater allowing us to see the clouds and mist below us completely consume the crater. We were able to just make out herds of elephants chomping away at the trees.

After an early 6am breakfast in the beautiful Ngorogoro dining room, we descended down the crater for a Crater Tour with packed picnic lunches. The Crater is home to many species of Wild game and birds. Almost ever species of African plains mammals lives in the crater.When we made our way down to the crater we saw plenty of hyena, thompson gazelle, eland, warthogs, elephants, giraffes, buffalo, hippos, lions rhinos, wildebeests, and some golden jackals.

Wildebeests are called the "leftover animals" because they have the face of a grasshopper, the hind legs of a hyena, the horns of a buffalo, the body of an antelope and the tail of an buffalo.

One of the highlights of today's tour included seeing four lions, laying right by our jeep! They were so over heated that they were using the shade of our vehicle as coverage from the sun. After a hunt, because their digestion is so slow, they can sleep and avoid eating up to four days!

We ate lunch by a lake full of hippos..which can actually be quite dangerous since they can attack you at any time. The hippos would constantly surface to take a look at us and go back under until they appeared five minutes later significantly closer. Right by the hippos we saw a rhino-one of the most endangered animals in Africa!

Leaving Ngorogoro Crater was bitter sweet. We had such a magnificent time and the hotel was spectacular but it was time to move on to our next destination....The Serengeti. It's what the Maasai call the “endless plains”. Within its 14763 sq km of varied landscapes freely roam the largest and most spectacular concentration of wildlife anywhere in the world. More than a million animals and over 500 bird species make this park their home.

There are trees that separate the Serengeti from the Ngorogoro National Park. The Maasai tribe actually used to live int he Serengeti until they were chased away by the animals. Now the Maasai only live in the Ngorogoro conservation.

Before entering the park, we stopped at Olduvai, the archaeological dig site of some of the first skeletons found of mankind. We walked through an informative exhibit and then sat down at an outdoor colosseum that opened up and looked out to the dig site...which was breathtaking.

After our picnic lunch, went game viewing throughout the Serengeti National Park. We passed some zebra and various types of antelope. That's when we saw our first cheetah. Two of them actually. They were magnificent and on the prowl for food. They were both sitting upright on a rock and scouring the horizons for an easy kill.

As the sun began to set, we went by a waterhole and saw 15 hippos, both adults and babies. We saw a few more lions en route to our lodge for dinner and overnight at the Serengeti Sopa Lodge.

The lodge is situated on a hill, overlooking the humbling enormity of the endless plains. It is situated on the edge of the escarpment overlooking the plains of the south-western Serengeti National Park, home to many thousands of wild and rare animals.

The Serengeti Sopa Lodge lies within an area of out-standing natural beauty. It is a pleasant oasis of cool relaxation from the equatorial sun. The lodge allowed us to experience magnificent sights and enjoy interaction with the land and animals difficult to find elsewhere, whilst at the same time enjoying the highest level of cuisine and hospitality.

On this day we were able to do an early morning balloon safari that took us soaring over the Serengeti and ends with a proper bush breakfast. From there we explored the vast endless plains of the Serengeti.

The Park’s name comes from the Masaai word Siringet meaning “endless plains”. The park is famous for its rocky outcrops or kopjes and its lion, leopard, cheetah and hyena sightings. Its ecosystem supports the greatest remaining concentration of plain game in Africa.

We found out that wildebeests and zebra travel together during the Great Migration and are often the first to migrate because they can smell the rain. Whereas elephants have their own migration patterns based off where the water is!

After lunch, we went on an afternoon safari and saw a lions crouching in the gras with her two cubs! Then a little further on we saw maybe 5 more lions. We saw over 30 hippos in the watering hole..some were even trying to fight each other.

In the Serengeti, there is a large rock which the Tanzanians inevitably call, Pride Rock...and of course we saw two lion cubs peaking their heads out from the top. In the early evening, we returned to the lodge for dinner and the night.

DAY 10

On Day 10 we had a full day out on the Serengeti. The Serengeti hosts the second largest mammal migration in the world, which helped secure it as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa and one of the ten natural travel wonders of the world. The Serengeti is renowned for its large lion population and is one of the best places to observe prides in their natural environment...which makes sense because the first thing we saw this morning were seven lions..7!!!!

Our on the plains we saw tons of wildebeests...thousands of them in a line than ran 3 miles long! Each year, over 1 million wildebeest and 200,000 zebra migrate up to 1,000 miles following a food and water supply. On their journey, the migrants pass through three main habitants of the Serengeti; the southern grass plains, the northern woodlands, and the riverine area. The dry season sets the migrants moving from the southern plains to the northern woodlands. When the rain starts again, the wildebeest herds return to the southern plains to calve. There are so many wildebeests because for approximately 3weeks a year, over 8,000 of them are born each day. During their migration, they are threatened by Nile crocodiles, hyenas, lions and surprisingly..flash floods.

On our way to our picnic area for lunch, we did happen to see another leopard laying within the fork of a tree in plain sight. We watched the leopard perched in the tree for about twenty minutes when suddenly its ears perked up and and he looked out to the distance.

About 50 yards away, we saw a herd of 100 wildebeests making their way towards the tree. The leopard quickly disembarked from the tree and crouched beneath the tall grass. We saw a live kill happen right in front of us, which Omar mentioned to us is witnessed by a ranger once every ten years! It may be one of the coolest things we've seen on this trip.

When a leopard makes a kill, they remove the stomach and leave it behind for the hyenas so that they are removed from the smell. As solitary animals, they get easily scared by hyenas and have to protect their food.

After a long day of game viewing, we returned out our last resort of the trip, the Serengeti Serena Lodge for dinner and overnight. The Serengeti Serena Safari Lodge is an award-winning gem of a hotel in one of the most beautiful settings in Tanzania. Seamlessly blended high into an acacia-lined ridge, the African-style lodge and infinity pool offer panoramic views across the Serengeti’s vast, endless grasslands, where lions and cheetahs stalk their prey and massive migrating wildebeest herds darken the landscape in a relentless search for fresh grazing grounds.

Here we savoured the ancient stillness and serenity of one of the most magnificent destinations on earth. We discovered the warmth and coziness of stone-built, traditionally thatched rondavel lodging. We dined under an indigo blanket of stars and enjoyed a live show of dancers and performers.

Day 11

We enjoyed a rainy morning in the Serengeti the next day. It was our last full day and since we did technically come during the rainy season, it was only fitting. All of the animals were out enjoying the rain-elephants and warthogs were bathing in the mud in a land that had been accustomed to a drought that lasted months on end.

Approximately 70 large mammal and 500 bird species are found in the park. This region of Africa is located in north Tanzania and extends to southwestern Kenya. We were able to see blue wildebeests, gazelles, zebras, and buffalos along with lions, spotted hyenas, and basically any animal seen in the Lion King.

The rains got pretty heavy throughout the day and we even say a few hippos walking around..which was the first time we had seen a hippo that was not submerged under water.

Our jeep miraculously made it through a hippo/crocodile pool..which would have been catastrophic had we gotten stuck. We found out that hippos and crocodiles hardly attach each other and if they do, it is mostly territorial. Crocodiles can surprisingly go a year without eating after a big meal.

We retired to our rooms once more after the long day to enjoy our last evening in the Serengeti Serena Lodge.

Day 12

After breakfast, we departed from the resort and made our way out of the Serengeti for our last small safari. As a final surprise, we found that we were not simply driving back to Arusha, but actually flying there.

We transferred to Serenera Airstrip and boarded a private regional air schedule flight at 11h00 to Arusha. The flight itself was such an experience. You can see hundreds of animals from above and the wildebeest migration looked like a line of ants. We got to see in great detail the Great Rift Valley and the in fractures of the rivers that went through the landscape. Towards the last ten minute leg of our flight, we saw huge craters, which from that height looked like a topographical view of an elephants footprint. As we landed we saw huge volcanoes peeking out from the clouds.

Seeing everything from this incredible height was indescribable. You could suddenly see the vast markings of the craters, the volcanic mountains and tons of black wildebeests swarming everywhere and making their yearly migration across the Serengeti.

Once we landed, we were ushered again to the Shanga House for lunch before leaving for the airport and embarking on our next African adventure.


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