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6-day Tanzania safari: Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Tarangire, Lake Manyara


The Serengeti National Park and Zanzibar are usually the first thoughts that come to mind about Tanzania. Many people visit both places during one trip, but we decided to stay on the more adventurous side and chose the wildlife. (That way we still had time for Rwanda and Uganda, where we took part in chimpanzee and gorilla trekkings.)


Serengeti, zebra, cheetah, wildbeest

So we flew from our previous stop, Victoria Falls (in Zimbabwe) to Arusha, the base of Kilimanjaro. This is where our 6-day adventure in Tanzania began. Here we paid for a private camping safari, which was completely tailored to our needs. Here we also had our own tour guide / driver and our own chef. The tour covered our entire visit, so they picked us up at the airport and dropped us off six days later. So planning in advance was important when we figured out exactly what we wanted to see during the six days, but then during our visit they took care of everything as planned, and we didn’t have to do any operational stuff. 


In the end, we put together the following Tanzania safari itinerary:




We booked the trip with Pofu Holidays, Paul was very flexible from the beginning, and we really liked the fact that with Pofu Holidays we didn't have to pay in advance, but could pay everything upon arrival. I can recommend them, everything went smoothly.


Materuni waterfall and family-owned coffee plantation

Since we arrived to Arusha around noon on the first day, only a half-day program fit in our schedule, so we chose the Materuni adventure. We went there directly from the airport and immediately started with a nice walk to the waterfall. This visit to Materuni was right at the foot of Kilimanjaro, and it was one of the last villages, nothing was built higher than that, so the entire mountain is a nature reserve from this point upwards. Due to the fact that there is only pure nature above Materuni, the water coming from the mountain is crystal clear, and it is also the source of drinking water for the locals.

Materuni Waterfall

After the waterfall hike, we had lunch with a local family and tried every step of the coffee-making process. We tried everything from peeling the coffee beans to roasting and grinding them.

coffee preparation

Here, they do not work with a coffee grinder yet, but "grind" the coffee by hand. This is actually serious physical work, because you practically have to load the coffee beans into a mortar and you have to crush them with a wooden pestle until they are crushed into powder. During the hard work (not only here, but also in other jobs on the fields) locals are singing and dancing to make the work more enjoyable. They sing and dance in groups, and they even grind the coffee on the rhythm.

coffee made by locals

During this program, we had the opportunity to better observe the living environment of the locals. We were able to have a look into their houses, we saw them sitting on the floor preparing lunch, doing the dishes, ... unfortunately, the standard of living is very low in this area, but in spite of this the people are very kind and friendly.


African home


Tarangire National Park

During our trip to Tanzania, getting up at dawn was an everyday thing, which I was very happy about because I always like to see as much as possible, or even more... :)


So we set off for the Tarangire National Park at dawn the next day. There is a main road in the Arusha area, it is well maintained, but the traffic on it is quite slow, because usually you can only go with 50-60 km/h. This road takes you in the direction of Ngorongoro, and on the way you will find Tarangire National Park.


African street

In many places, the small villages are built next to/around the main road, and the main road is practically the center of the village, there are the vendors, the market, everything, and this significantly slows down the traffic.


On the other hand, where the road is more desolate, you can often see Maasai children who are guarding their family’s grazing cows. There are still a lot of Maasai people living in this area, they are an indigenous tribe, they live in small mud houses and migrate in the direction of fresh grass, which is crucial for them because they make a living from husbandry. They do not work, but are self-maintaining, and many of the children don’t even go to school, but rather graze the cows and goats. It is also difficult for them to go to school or socialize as they often live in the bush far from cities.


Tarangire National Park is a national park that can be visited in one day (the entrance fee is about 60 USD/person), and it had many surprises for us. Immediately after the entrance, we were greeted by zebras. And by the way, there is no fence, the animals are not fed, but they mostly stay in the territory of the national park. This is certainly helped by the fact that in these parks you can only drive on designated dirt roads, thereby giving the animals the opportunity to hide if they want to. But otherwise, we noticed during the safaris that cars don't bother them. Of course, there are shy ones, and usually there is a distance of a few meters anyway, but if they wanted, they could easily go further from the roads so that they are not near the cars at all, but they don't (or I would rather phrase it that way that there are quite a lot of animals at a clearly visible distance from the game drive roads) .


Safari

We saw a lot of animals here, elephants, lions, zebras, buffaloes, giraffes, monkeys, a leopard and even a cheetah with her cubs. So this park set the bar quite high for us, because it is not so easy to see cheetahs and leopards.


In this park there are many baobab trees which can be over thousand years old. And the trunks of many of them are completely deformed, because the elephants like to rub against the trunks and scrape them off, because in the dry season they can get some water from here, because the trunk of the baobab stores a lot of water.

Baobab tree

There is a picnic area in the park, where you can eat your packed lunch at small stone tables, but you have to be careful, because the monkeys are very messy and easily steal a treat or two from the table, sometimes even the apple in your hand is not safe. I was also just amazed when I saw with my own eyes that the apple was easily grabbed from someone’s hand at the most unexpected moment.


By the way, this picnic area is located at a higher elevation, so it also functions as a beautiful panoramic terrace for the savannah area below, where many elephants and giraffes can be discovered in the distance.


looking at the distance with binoculars

And the best thing is that you can also go down to this area below, by car, and if you are lucky, you can see the elephants drinking and bathing in the river. Meanwhile, looking to the other side and seeing giraffes grazing from the trees, warthogs running in front of the cars. We really felt like being in a documentary.


elephant family in the river

When we were already full of experiences and we were on our way out of the park, the crowning moment of the day came when we saw a cheetah mother with her cubs.

And we even saw a leopard in the distance, but for that binoculars were indispensable.



Tanzania safari campsites & logistics:

During the safari in Tanzania, we wandered all the way, which means that we slept in a different place every night, therefore we had to start every day with packing the tent and finishing the day with building the tent. By the end, we got along pretty well, but what was an even bigger challenge, that the chef had to pack food for a week (for four people, all meals) plus all the tools needed for cooking and baking so that we could take it with us everyday in the car. Towards the end of the week, the number of food packages had already decreased, but there was still a lot of stuff, because we also brought foldable tables and chairs.


picnic on a jeep

Since we booked a private tour, there were only the four of us in the 8-seater car. The tour guide/driver, the chef and us. So all the stuff fit in the four extra seats in the rear and in the trunk. But in other cars where there were more tourists, they packed them on the roof and tied them down.


Our first and also our last (on the way back) campsite was the Migombani campsite next to Lake Manyara. We could hardly believe our eyes when we reached the campsite on the potholed, bumpy dirt road, because we were expecting a run-down campsite based on how we got there, but instead we found ourselves in perhaps one of the most beautiful campsites of our lives. A tiny grassy clearing, a giant baobab tree, a pool overlooking Lake Manyara, an outdoor kitchen for the chefs, a couple of picnic benches and a place for campfire. It was like a little hidden jewel box. And it included a nice clean shower and toilet.

campsite with baobab tree



Ngorongoro Crater

The Ngorongoro Crater was formed about 2-3 million years ago by a volcanic eruption. The crater is 610 meters deep and has an area of 260 km².

The fauna of the crater is very rich. Most of it is flat, grassy, with savannah vegetation, and there is also a small forested area at the edge of the crater. There is salty lake in the crater, rich in minerals.

Ngorongoro

I think the Ngorongoro Crater is perhaps the most wonderful and unique national park in Tanzania. Here, a lot of animals live together in a concentrated, "small" area, and due to the plain and the sparse vegetation, it is easy to see many animals. This is also suggested by the entrance fee, since the entrance fee here is almost twice as much as in other national parks. (approx. USD 125/person).


Ngorongoro lions and elephants

Even going down into the crater is a great experience, because on the way down you can see the whole crater from above, and once you get down the animals are "waiting" for you, we saw a lot of wildebeest and zebra, and in addition, our Big 5 list was completed here, because we were lucky enough to see rhinos. Rhinos are unfortunately very rare because they are on the verge of extinction. Poachers pose a huge threat to them.

We saw a mother rhinoceros with her baby, they were being chased by hyenas. And if there are many hyenas, and the baby rhino is only with one parent, then hyenas pose a great danger to it. Therefore, as they are so endangered that park rangers want to keep every specimen safe and protect them, the park rangers intervened and tried to chase away the hyenas.


Rhinos

On top of that, we saw a lot of hippos, buffaloes, elephants, pelicans, flamingos, lions, gazelles, cranes and much more.


One day is enough for the crater, but it is worth starting the day early and staying as long as possible.

sunrise

The binoculars were particularly useful here, as we could easily observe distant animals with binoculars in this flat, treeless area.



Serengeti National Park

The Serengeti National Park, with its almost 15,000 square kilometers, is one of the largest national parks not only in Africa, but also in the entire world. Until colonization, the wildlife was not in danger, the Maasai tribes practically lived together with the animals, and only hunted as much as was necessary for their survival. However, along with the colonists came the poachers, who pose a huge threat to the animals and have pushed some species to the brink of extinction.

Therefore, the government started taking measures to protect the wildlife, which is why the Serengeti was declared a nature reserve, and then in 1951 as a national park. As a result of this, the living conditions of the Maasai tribes living there, was also regulated, even though they do not pose a particular threat to the animals. They had to leave Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater, but could stay on the upper parts of the Ngorongoro. 


Maasai

This was the only way (by declaring Serengeti a national park) that it could be ensured that the animals would remain in their own realm, where no one could cause them harm. But, unfortunately, poaching is still an enormous problem.


In the Maasai language, Serengeti means "endless plain", it is no wonder that it was named that way, as you can only see the flat terrain and the same type of vegetation in the distance. 

savanna, clouds


The "main road" that leads to the Serengeti from Ngorongoro is extremely bumpy, I don't recommend this for pregnant women, because the drive is practically a 4-5 hour continuous jolt on the dirt road.


If someone thinks that they would rather not undertake this, then it is also possible to fly to the Serengeti from Arusha by small plane, but obviously the price is much higher.


But when you finally get there, the view definitely makes up for the hassle on the dirt road or for the more expensive flight ticket.


Of course, you also need to be lucky.


For me, the most amazing experience in the Serengeti, which you can't experience anywhere else, was the wildebeest (and zebra) migration, the so-called Great Migration, during which more than one and a half million wildebeest, almost half a million zebras and about two hundred thousand gazelles migrate between the Maasai Mara Natural Reserve in Kenya and the Tanzanian Serengeti National Park, due to the alternation of the rainy and dry seasons, always "following the rain clouds" in search of fresh grass.


Great migration

In the southern part of the Serengeti, the migration is most intense from January to April. That's when you have the best chance of finding yourself in the middle of the Great Migration.

However, since in the Serengeti, as well as in all other national parks, you can only go on designated roads, you need to be lucky so that the animals are crossing your path exactly on the day you are there. If luck is on your side, you will have a once-in-a-litetime experience. It is simply unbelievable, you are really surrounded by wildebeests and zebras as far as the eye can see. January is still the pre-calving period, so you can't see wildebeest babies at that time, but we had already seen a few baby zebras.


great migration, zebras

Funny enough that on the next day when we were driving back on the same road to exit the park we didn’t see any sign of the migration. So it is really about being in the right place at the right time.


We thought there was nothing which could outshine this experience, but when we drove on we suddenly saw a large group of rocks  in the middle of the great plain, just like in The Lion King. It really looked like Disney’s rock was modeled after this (we were anyways in Lion King mood during the whole safari), and as we approached it, we saw that there was also Simba and Nala and a couple of other lionesses... :)


lions on a rock

So from that point on, we really felt that we couldn't beat this safari, we had really seen everything we wanted. But of course, even after that, the Serengeti gave a lot of nice moments. We saw cheetahs, leopards preparing to hunt, leopards with freshly killed prey, lots of hippos, elephants, giraffes, ostriches, buffaloes, warthogs, ...


hippos

One of the last moments of our safari really put the crown on the adventure, after leaving the Serengeti and then the Ngorongoro, we stopped at the last gate to check out, and a baboon just jumped into our car through the open window... :D 


On these few days we really felt like being in a National Geographic documentary.


Lake Manyara National Park

On our last day in Tanzania, we still had one morning before we had to go to the airport, so we visited Lake Manyara National Park, which is home to many tree-climbing lions. But the area is so densely forested that it is very difficult to spot them, we didn't succeed either, but we weren't discouraged, because we were already completely satisfied and ready for the last stop of our African roadtrip to see chimpanzees and gorillas in Uganda.


game drive

If you are interested in how lucky we were with the monkeys in Uganda, read my blog post about it.


Also, if you are planning a safari or an African trip, make sure to read my post about “what you need to know before traveling to Africa” - you will find a lot of useful information there!


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