“What exactly is a safari?” ”What do you do?” ”Is it safe?” These are some of the questions we heard when we told people we were going on safari. Now, we have just returned from a week in Tanzania, five of those days spent on safari in Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and Serengeti National Park…and it was an absolutely amazing experience. I have over 1200 photos to filter through, and so many stories to share. But before getting to the crazy wildlife and scenery we encountered, I wanted to explain exactly what it’s like to be on safari…and then highly encourage everyone to have this experience!
First, a few specifics. We booked our trip through Adventures Within Reach, based out of Colorado (USA) and recommended to us by a friend. (Thanks Alec!) AWR then contracts the actual safari out to a Tanzanian operation called Tanzania Journeys. We booked our flights into and out of Tanzania, and AWR did the rest We picked a 5 day group tour, meaning we would be part of a group of between 2 and 7 people, that leaves on a set number of days every month - a cost savings over booking a custom tour. AWR then booked a hotel in the town of Moshi for the night we arrived and the night before we flew back to Kenya, along with transportation to and from the Kilimanjaro Airport. Easy!
You never know what or who to expect when you join a group tour, and we were quite lucky. We were a small group - only Doug and myself, a solo traveller from Germany - Thekla, and our fabulous guide Mansour. Here we are at the airport, dropping Thekla off at the end of our adventure.
For five days, the four of us spent most of our daylight hours in a specially designed Land Rover travelling between the parks and on game drives within them. While we did have a few wild animal sightings in transit, most of the action happens in the parks. These are not fenced in areas - the animals are wild and come and go as they please. But the boundaries of the parks were selected to encompass the native ranges of a highly diverse species population, and with hunting and farming off limits within the parks, this is where the animals choose to spend their time.
As soon as we would enter a park, Mansour would open the special pop-up roof on the truck, and we would stand up and look out the top like little gophers.
The roads are not paved within the parks (or even between them in some cases), and the travel can be bumpy and dusty. I have quite a few sore spots from holding on and bumping up against the edges of the truck. But as has been the ongoing theme in Africa…the annoyance is worth it. The 360 degree view from the pop-up roof, with the wind in your hair, is the way to go!
The game drives within the parks far exceeded my expectations. The blog entries to be posted over the next several days will go into the details of these adventures, but the variety, density, and proximity of the wildlife was incredible.
What also amazed me was the quality of our accommodations. All safaris are expensive, but we selected this group tour because it was on the low end of cost. The discount came not only from the group nature of the tour but also from the level of accommodations. We would be staying in a combination of “mid-range hotels and tented camps”. The only cheaper options were “basic camping” safaris, and there were “elite” and “luxury” levels above ours. I am so glad we selected what we did…it was just perfect.
We had four nights during our safari. The first night, after visiting Tarangire and on our way to the Serengeti, we stayed at the Rhotia Valley Tented Camp, on the edge of the Ngorongoro forest. Well off the main road, this camp has permanent tents with running water and electricity from a generator part of the day. The tents were larger than I expected.
And the bed was super comfortable…better than we’ve had in many of our travel apartments!
And the bathroom was very nice, with (limited) hot water from a solar heater.
We even had a really nice porch overlooking the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
The main lodge - a huge tent structure with a thatched roof - was a great group gathering point where we had dinner and breakfast, and sat around the fireplace with other guests, exchanging life and safari stories.
On our second and third nights, we stayed at the Serengeti Halisi Mobile Camp, in the heart of the Serengeti. This entire camp was, as the name suggests, mobile, and would move location every several months. I expected low comfort and primitive accommodations. Incorrect! Our tent was still quite large.
And once again contained a comfortable bed.
With no permanent infrastructure, we had no running water. But we did have decanters of purified water for drinking and some reserved in a hot thermos for hand and face washing, a very clean chemical toilet in the tent, as well as a shower. When you wanted a shower, you let the staff know, they would warm water over the fire, then fill a large container hoisted on a pulley system to provide a gravity-fed shower head in the back of the tent! There was also a very effective lighting system set up using portable solar lights. The whole camp was sustainable, using no generators - only solar power.
Our last night in the bush was spent at the most developed of our accommodations - the Rhino Lodge in Ngorongoro Conservation Area. No tents here, but more like a motor inn, with running water, electricity from a generator for part of the day, and another great bed and porch. The main lodge building was very large, with huge fireplaces to warm the cool mountain air, and a gorgeous view.
All three of these places had a great staff, friendly and willing to help, whatever your needs. Every evening, we were met with warm moist towels as we exited our truck - exactly what a dusty safari-goer wants! And the food was amazing! Doug kept joking that we would put on the “safari-15”. Elaborate boxed lunches packed for us, breakfast with fresh fruit, toast, sausage, bacon, and eggs made to order, and dinners like juicy pork loin or roast lamb with filling side dishes and dessert. We were so well taken care of throughout the trip, never more so than at the Halisi Camp, where the whole staff came out to wish us Bon Voyage on our last morning there.
These stays perfectly complimented our safari experience. Right in the heart of the wilderness, with no separating barriers, we could hear monkeys at the Rhotia Lodge, hyenas calling all around us at the Halisi Camp, and had waterbuck and a group of cape buffalo wander through the grounds of the Rhino Lodge. In each place, there were staff members, often armed, there to escort you wherever you needed to go after dark, and we always felt safe. I would not have wanted to stay at any of the “fancier” hotels - so sterile and removed from this wild experience.
An adventure like this takes some planning and the right attitude - getting the right vaccinations and visas, being prepared for a lot of last minute changes, delays, lots of bumpy and dusty roads, and the inconveniences that come with traveling in a developing country. In our case, AWR helped prepare us and appropriately set our expectations. Everything was so well planned around us, all we had to do was get our cameras ready, pop our heads out of the truck, and take in the live Discovery Channel Special going on around us.
What we experienced over this five day adventure was something I wanted to share with so many people. Even set against the round-the-world journey we have had over the past year, this safari was special, and I highly recommend it.
Stay tuned for more posts over the next few days with photos and stories of the amazing animals and landscapes of Tanzania!