I have been fortunate many times in life. With the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, I have been fortunate twice.
Serengeti National Park twice!
Back in 2007, I went to Tanzania for the first time visiting projects my employer supported in Stone Town (Zanzibar) and the Mwanza region while also visiting our main office in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city (but not its capital which is inland Dodoma).
During my stay in Mwanza, I had a day off and I thought “if I never get to return to Tanzania, what would I do with that day?” Well, the answer was easy: visit the nearby the Serengeti, approaching it from its western side. Though a day is certainly not enough, when that’s all you have, you take advantage of the opportunity to sample a place so unique and so present in our imagination from movies and the like.
Fast forward to late 2012 and I was convinced, sold, pressured, <fill in the word here> to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Never on my list of things to do, I was surprised I agreed to do it (wine had something to do with it but also the great people with whom I would go on this adventure). Once on board, the opportunity arose to do a four day safari through the Lake Manyara National Park, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti after the climb. I knew I had barely scratched the surface on my brief visit in 2007. In addition, I had not gotten to Ngorongoro in 2007 because it takes a day of its own and it was outside the Serengeti on the OPPOSITE side from where I was coming and going back to (Mwanza).
My visits were very different in duration, in how they were guided, and in how I got to and departed from the park. These visits provided me a view of the possibilities for someone contemplating visiting the Serengeti with potentially different itineraries.
How to get to the Serengeti from Mwanza
Getting to the Serengeti: One option on getting to the Serengeti is to enter it from its western side. You would do this if you were coming, say, from Rwanda or were to get to Mwanza (Tanzania) on the shores of Lake Victoria. On my first trip to Tanzania in 2007, this is how I visited the Serengeti, as I mentioned. From Mwanza, it would take 3 hours or so to get to the Serengeti’s western entrance, the Ndabaka Gate. Fair warning: the road in was rather rough from this entrance.
Staying near the Serengeti: Since you really want to be at the park as early in the morning as possible, I stayed as close to the park’s entrance as possible. They reserved a lake-shore bungalow at the Speke Bay Lodge (15 km from the park and 125 km from Mwanza) on Speke Bay (part of Lake Victoria) so I could get going really early – optimal time for seeing the wildlife at the park.
Exploring the Serengeti: I hired a driver from my organization to drive me in and out of the park who was more than happy to make extra money. For the cost of his hourly wages multiplied by the hours spent taking me there/back plus a rather generous tip, I got to sample the Serengeti. While he was savvy enough to not get lost, handle the very rough roads), and show me a good bit, he certainly was not a regular safari driver who has more of knowledge and instinct for finding the action. Once in the park, he took me to the impressive Seronera Lodge so I could have lunch. After concluding the day, I went all the way back to Mwanza which made for a long day since I had crammed into one day. Needless to say, I recommend more than one day in the park and staying in the park which, while more expensive, would allow for maximizing the early hours of light to make sure you see all one hopes to see when doing a safari in the Serengeti…
Some images from that trip (film, not digital camera!)
How to get to the Serengeti from Arusha / Kilimanjaro
Getting to the Serengeti: The most common way to visit the Serengeti is to approach it from Arusha. Arusha is proximate to the Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO) served by airlines like KLM (awesome way to go from North America with one stop in Amsterdam’s Schiphol). More or less, it takes about four hours to get from Arusha to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The visit to the Ngorongoro can take a whole day so I would not recommend going back and forth from Arusha.
Staying near the Serengeti: We stayed at hotel outside the Ngorongoro called Highview Hotel in Karatu (the vistas from the hotel reminded me of the hills of Tuscany!) which made it perfect because, the day after visiting the Ngorongoro, we launched from there into the Serengeti. We then spent two full days in the Serengeti staying in the park at a nice tented camp (we had a bathroom in the large tent as well as two separate beds!) that allowed us to get a very early start the second day.
Exploring the Serengeti: On this safari, we did go on a guided safari which definitely yielded a great experience. We were a group of 12 or so; we split into two vehicles and one left before the crack of dawn and the other sometime after dawn). I stuck with the group that slept a little more 🙂 We were taking a gamble… would we miss the best wildlife action (a lion kill – which really meant a lioness or two hunting down some wildebeest) because we slept until the late hour of 6AM? Well, thankfully, we did not sacrifice the opportunity to see how the hunt takes place (and the kill which was not the most interesting part for sure). The vehicles we rode in sat a small group and the top would open, as most of the vehicles you see during safari, so you could stand look out without the glass of the windows obstructing a clear view out.
We named ourselves the type B group (vs. the other group, which we lovingly labeled the type A group). We had brought lunch boxes prepared by our camp but the type B group drove past the Seronera Lodge (yes, the one I had had lunch at six years before!) and we asked the driver to stop there. Once inside, we decided lunch boxes were for the type As and we proceeded to go to the restaurant for the lunch buffet… yes, no shame here – we enjoyed the ‘luxury.’ Anyway, that may not be how everyone wants to do the Serengeti but it felt SO good to sit down, eat a real meal, sip on a glass of wine or a beer and look out the window at the Serengeti…
In this visit, we witnesses an almost lion kill in the Ngorongoro (we saw the lion patiently monitoring things with a three lionesses not far probably doing the hard work). And then we saw the full lioness kill of some wildebeests in the Serengeti itself. An incredible experience especially when witnessing the patience and finesse of the lioness, and also the cleverness of the wildebeests (OK, all but one’s…).
Africa never ceases to amaze me. The vistas, the wildlife and the people – the stuff we see on TV and that is so foreign to our daily experience (at least for those of us urbanites). I leave you with these two images of the sunsets I experienced in the Serengeti…
Pin these images to your travel board!