Tanzania Safari

In July of 2016, I and my wife and son completed a two week safari of Tanzania. We landed in Kilimanjaro international airport and then drove east (with a private driver/guide), visiting Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara National Park, Ngorongoro crater and ending up at the iconic Serengeti National Park. This is known as the northern safari circuit. This post details our experiences at doing the safari in northern Tanzania.

Day 1

We landed at Kilimanjaro International airport (JRO) after a long eight hour flight from Amsterdam. We had stayed two nights in Amsterdam after flying from San Francisco just so that we wouldn’t have to fly twenty hours straight.

We landed at 7.45 pm, local time. I had imagined JRO to be a big airport. I mean, it was an international airport and was the main airport for tourists coming in to Tanzania for the northern safari circuit. Well, it wasn’t big. It was a pretty nondescript small building. All the tourists packed into the dimly lit arrival hall. The hall had two counters for immigration: “need visa” and “have visa”. We already had visas, so we went to the “have visa” line. But if you didn’t, you could get a visa on arrival. USD 100 for US citizens. USD 50 for Europeans. Don’t know why there is a difference in the price.

Immigration was relatively quick. The lady behind the counter didn’t smile at all. She took our fingerprints and we were on our way. The one ATM at the airport didn’t work. So I went to the money exchange bureau counter to convert some of my greenbacks. The exchange rate is 2000:1. At first it seems bizarre trying to get to terms with the Tanzanian shillings. I mean, at the ATM you withdraw 400,000. A cab fare is 10,000. But then you get used to ignoring the thousand at the end and divide the remainder by two. 10,000 is five bucks. Cool.

Outside the arrival hall, we were met with our driver/guide. We had booked the safari through a local company called Easy Travel Tours Ltd that had great reviews on TripAdvisor. Mr Hubat, our guide stood there with a placard with our names on it. It was all very exciting! The start of our adventure! For the next ten days or so, we’d be on the road with Mr Hubat. This would be one hell of a road trip! I had all these questions for Mr Hubat. Were we at the right time of the year? Will we get to see the migration? What about the big five? Mr Hubat remained cool. Hakuna Matata. Take it easy. We will see them all. Hakuna Matata. Cool.

The drive from the airport to Arusha where were staying was not very interesting. The drive took about an hour. It was dark and we couldn’t see much outside the car. Finally we arrived at the African Tulip hotel in Arusha where we were met with moist towels and drinks. Seemed like a very nice hotel. At the hotel we were met by Mr Anuj, an Indian from north India. It felt like home🙂. After checking in and freshening up, we had dinner at the hotel. The food was excellent. They had a buffer dinner. Surprisingly, there were lots of Indian entries. And then we met the executive chef, Mr Anil. Another Indian. Ah! That explains the naans, daal makhni etc🙂

African Tulip Hotel

Day 2

Day two was rest day for us. One free day to shake off the jet lag before we headed out on our road trip. There were some little formalities to take care of, though. In the morning we were taken to the Easy Travel office where we met Mary. Mary was the lady with whom I had been communicating over email all these months. It was nice to finally meet her. We walked into a conference room where we went over the logistics of the trip. What route we will take. Where will we stay etc. She laid out a big map in front of us and showed us the itinerary. I had been planning this trip for a year and a half. By now, I knew the exact itinerary by heart. Also I knew the map of Tanzania like the back of my hand. Still, it was reassuring to know what there were no surprises. It was here that we met Mussadique, the owner. Mussadique, unsurprisingly, was of Indian descent. Probably a fourth generation Tanzanian.

Later that day we went shopping. Shopping? Ya. I was carrying two bean bags. A bean bag is a bag that you can fill with beans or rice. It is used for resting the camera on the roof of the car to stabilize it. Long telephoto lenses need support and a tripod does not work well in a car. So we went to the local “supermarket” to buy some rice.

When we returned to the hotel, I found out that the 10 kilos of rice I bought wasn’t enough. Mr Hubat had already left, so I was left wondering how to get some more rice. In the end, I decided to hail a cab and go back to the shop. I told the African lady at the counter that was back for more. She said “yeah, the rice is good. Very tasty”. I told her that I didn’t care about the taste. That I only wanted to fill up my bean bag. She was shocked. “Unbelievable!” she said. Right then a guy came in to the shop and started conversing with this lady in Hindi! Shocked, I asked her how she could speak Hindi? “Mera pati Indian hai”. My husband is an Indian. This was my turn to say: “Unbelievable!”.

Rest day

Day 3 and 4

Tarangire NP is the first national park we visited, and was our first safari experience. Tarangire NP is at a distance of about two hours driving from Arusha. We drove about two hours to reach Tarangire NP. The road from Arusha to Tarangire is a well maintained, paved road. This was our first exposure to the African landscape and its people.

Dry plains dotted with Masai villages is the scenery along the route. 

On the way we stopped at a nice souvenir shop.

This was our first safari experience and we were not prepared for this. For me, this was just supposed to be a warm up to the “real” safari experience. But what we saw here just blew us away. We saw so many animals here: zebras, giraffes, wildebeests, elephants. Even a lion from far away. We saw many many more more lions at the Serengeti though. Not a great place for the big cats, this park, but for the rest, an awesome place to be at.

We spent the night at the Maramboi Tented Camp. It was absolutely worth spending two days here. This place is right next to Lake Manyara. This place is just wonderful! Great location, scenic, excellent accommodation. Very nice outdoor dining area. Excellent pool to relax with a drink in your hands as you watch the sunset over Lake Manyara.

Drive to Tarangire NP

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Tarangire National Park

Maramboi Tented Camp

Day 5

After two nights at Maramboi Tented Camp, we made our way to the Ngorongoro crater. On the way we visited a Masai village. The Masai’s have become commercial. What used to be a free tour, now they charge USD 50.00 for a visit. Still it was worth it as we met the people and learnt a bit about their culture.

After the Masai village, we visited, Mto Wa Mbu for a cultural tour. This place was OK for me. We did get to sample some great local food. Mto Wa Mbu is a small rural town. There are shops by the road, vendors selling stuff. Our cultural tour guide took us around the town for a guided tour. We visited paddy fields, banana plantations and met some folks from the Chaga tribe that made excellent banana beer. Lisa and I tasted some of the beer. It was OK. In my opinion, the cultural tour is skippable.

After the cultural tour, we stopped for couple of hours at Lake Manyara National Park. We didn’t see a lot of animals. We did see a lot of birds by the lake, especially yellow billed storks flying over the lake. The birds were beautiful. Apart from that we saw a few baboons. For me, the sight of the birds in flight was good enough to justify a trip to this place. I really enjoyed the lake and the birds flying over. However, I think, on a short trip, Lake Manyara NP can be skipped.

From Lake Manyara we drove for a couple of hours to reach the Ngornongoro crater rim where we stayed the night at the excellent Serena Ngorongoro Lodge. This was a longish drive. However, the landscape was very pretty as we drove through the Ngorongoro highlands. Green and very different from the dry landscape we saw earlier.

Masai Tribe and Cultural Tour

Lake Manyara

Day 6

The next morning we had an early breakfast at 6.30 am. By 7am we were in the car and descending the crater. It took us about thirty minutes to reach the crater floor. It was an unusually foggy morning. Visibility was quite poor to begin with. However it cleared up as the day advanced and we saw TONs of animals at the crater.

The Serena lodge is really excellent. Private balcony from the room that overlooks the crater with awesome views. Excellent dining with great food options. Very classy too. Get some good dinner clothes for this place!

Drive to Ngorongoro

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Ngorongoro National Park

Serene Ngorongoro Lodge

Day 7

Drove from Ngorongoro to Serengeti National Park.

This is a long and bumpy drive. Gone are the nice paved roads. We never saw any paved roads after this during our trip. This bumpy road was our first experience of the African Massage! The landscape during the drive is dry and uninteresting. We saw some giraffes. But this is a good time to pull out a book and read. I keep a Tanzania travel book in the car for times like these. After a long drive we reached the Naabi Hill Gate.

Just outside the gate, Masai boys wait for tourists to have their pictures taken. For a fee. They are not allowed inside the park.

Inside the gate, is the rest area where you also have to pay the park fees. We had our first view of the immense Serengeti here.We had a little bit of time in the evening to do a short game drive. We didn’t see a lot of animals though. Because we were here in July, the wildebeests and zebras had already migrated, so the landscape looked a bit barren. But not to worry, we had four more nights in the Serengeti and I am sure we will see all we came here to see. We spent our first night at the Serena lodge. This is an excellent lodge with good accommodation and great food.

Drive to Serengeti

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Serengeti Arrival

Serengeti Serena Lodge

Day 8 and 9

We spent two days of safari in central Serengeti.

Serengeti is huge. I mean huge. You need to be patient to see the animals. Especially the big cats. After the first afternoon of slight disappointment, I was eager to see some cats. Patience is rewarded. After two days, we saw so many lions, that lions became boring🙂. We saw lots of elephants and three leopards (very rare of to see a leopard since they are solitary and hunt by night. By this time we had seen all the big five. We were eager to see some cheetahs, but no cheetahs yet. The highlight in the central serengeti was the two lion hunts we saw. The first one lasted about 2 hours as the lioness stalked some Thompson’s gazelles, and finally went for the kill. The second was a failed attempt by a pair of lions to get some warthogs.

In the central Serengeti we stayed at the Lemala Tented Camps. We have to say that this was the best lodging of our entire stay. Camping out in the middle of the Serengeti in absolutely luxurious tents that have bathroom with hot shower attached.

The camps are nothing short of luxury. They even have attached bathrooms with hot showers. Each tent has a dedicated tent attendant who takes care of us. These camps have “talking showers”. The attendant stands outside your bathroom as you take a shower. He fills up the bucket outside with hot water that makes the shower work. Throughout your shower you keep talking to him to add more or less hot/cold water to adjust the temperature. These are your shower “controls”. Glamping at its best


Serengeti Lemala Ewanjan Camp

Day 10 and 11

Day 10 was a Very long drive to the north Serengeti near the Mara river.

We drove north through the Tagora plains, Lobo hill and passed the Grumeti river. From there we turned east to go towards the Mara. Until now, the road was unpaved and bumpy. Full of rocks and gravel. We thought this was the worst. However, the road from here on was almost non existent. We were practically driving over dirt tracks, if you could call it that. This was pretty much it for the next few hours until we reached our camp.

On the way we saw lots of migrating wildebeests and zebras. We stopped for game drives and lunch. As we approached the north, our guide spotted some lions. We drove very near the lions and saw them mate! After the lions, our guide indicated that there were cheetahs nearby. Not sure how he knew, but our car went cheetah sighting off road. Off road driving is allowed here as long as only one car approaches the animals one at a time. We were lucky, as we spotted a resting cheetah and were able to drive right next to it. Drove again to reach the mara where we stayed at the Lemala Tented Camps for the next two nights. Same excellent camps as before.

This was the end of our safari experience. The next day we took a flight to Zanzibar where we stayed three nights.


Lemala Mara Camp

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