How to Go to the Serengeti

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.

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The tiny Mwanza airport

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.

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My bungalow at the Skepe Bay Lodge – outside

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My bungalow at the Skepe Bay Lodge – inside

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The shores of Speke Bay

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The shores of Speke Bay

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!)

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Some of the wildlife…

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Some more of the wildlife…

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Love this zebra picture!

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.

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On the road in the Ngorongoro Crater

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.

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My tented camp “tent” – nice!

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.

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Second visit, an.other zebra shot..

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Hippos enjoying the water

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…

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Pool at the Seronera Lodge – with a great view of the plains

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…).

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Patiently waiting for the menu to walk by…

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This is not going to end up well for someone…

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…

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Amazing sunset on its way while we safari

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Amazing sunset from the restaurant at our tented camp


Pin these images to your travel board!

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Photo Essay – Hungry Hippos

While visiting the Serengeti in Tanzania on safari, we ran into a few pools of hippos.  They are one of the many incredible sights in the Serengeti along with things like a lioness kill or a beautiful sunset.  Hippos look cute but these animals can be quite dangerous.  Our drivers and guides clearly knew where to take us to be able to look at them yet be safe.  I have to say they were quite a sight even if the baby one went to town eating stuff that came out of another hippo…  Also, it was cool to see how birds co-exist with the hippos.

I thought I’d share some of my favorite pictures of these incredible beasts!

Photo Essay – Anatomy of Lioness Kill in the Serengeti

During my trip Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, I made time to do a safari.  We first visited Lake Manyara, then the Serengeti and at the end the Ngorongoro Crater.   Never in my wildest dreams did I think I was going to see a lion kill.  But that’s exactly what we got to see.  We saw two of them in progress, one with a solo lioness in the Serengeti and another with a trio of lionesses working together in the Ngorongoro Crater.

Lion kills are a slow thing with the beast slowly and deliberately moving to not alert the prey to their presence.  The trio of lionesses was way too slow and after like 45 minutes of watching them without them getting an inch closer to the target group, we moved on.  But the solo lioness was a different story.  Though it was taking a long time too, at least she was moving towards the target group (wildebeests, or “gnus“) so we hung in there.  And we were rewarded with quite a sight.  And the weird thing was, there were vehicles like ours all around (all of us silent, of course) and the presence of the vehicles did not seem to distract her from her focus on the target group and her cautious approach.  That probably was the most amazing thing for me!

So here is a series of photo from the moment we saw her until her moment of rest when it was all said and done…

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A cute lioness just soaking up the sun in the Serengeti?

Lioness, lion kill, wildebeest, Serenget, safari, Tanzania, photo essay

Nah! She is looking at the source of her next lunch: the wildebeest resting under an acacia!

Lioness, lion kill, wildebeest, Serenget, safari, Tanzania, photo essay

The lioness lies very low, hidden in the tall grass. I lost sight of her a few times!

Lioness, lion kill, wildebeest, Serenget, safari, Tanzania, photo essay

She is a beauty for sure! A tough beauty!

Lioness, lion kill, wildebeest, Serenget, safari, Tanzania, photo essay

She is monitoring the wind so her scent does not carry to the wildebeest scouts who are away from the group to protect it

Lioness, lion kill, wildebeest, Serenget, safari, Tanzania, photo essay

She pauses every now and then. Sometimes she sat there for 5 mins or more

Lioness, lion kill, wildebeest, Serenget, safari, Tanzania, photo essay

She finally moves again. I am leaning on the roof of the vehicle without movement while we wait! My arm falls asleep…  We are ready to snap pictures the moment she makes the final run!

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She goes low again and we lost her for a moment  This is the final stretch!

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She is too fast and the chaos that ensues makes me lose her but here she is… she got a young one so she does not have to give chase.

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The group of wildebeests (or gnus) flies off. I had followed the group thinking she went after them but she was already enjoying her prey under the tree.  Newbie me.

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The lioness enjoy a moment in the shade enjoying her success. She is probably about to post a selfie in Instagram as she chews on her lunch.

 

A Wild Time in the Serengeti – Safari!

The Serengeti is the epitome of the national park offering what we call a safari experience (“safari” actually means “journey” in Swahili).  Its vast expanse and, of course, the natural beauty and wildlife offer a very unique experience to us who don’t love in remote areas of Africa.  I had done a one day in-and-out visit to this incredible site a few years ago.  Work activities only permitted that one day.  I KNEW I had to go back someday….

That opportunity came on the trip I made to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.  After 7 days of working the mountain and a few days of working with a local orphanage with Trekking for Kids, 13 of us from the climbing group devoted 4 days to Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro, and the Serengeti.  Oh, and a visit to a Masai village!

These parks are very different from each other, even if some of the wildlife is the same.  If you do this circuit, start with Lake Manyara.  Leave Ngorongoro and the Serengeti for after it.  We used Zara Tours who had also been the operator Trekking fro Kids had chosen for the Kili hike.

Here is an overview of our visit and some pictures.  Clearly  I have too many pictures and many are very good so to not overload you here, I will continue posting those over time in different posts be it photos of the week or photo essays.  Keep checking in!

Where we stayed

Due to the route we were taking, we stated at two different places:  the Highview Hotel Karatu on our first and fourth night, and the Ikoma Tented Camp the middle two nights.  Two very different experiences and worthwhile in their own way.  The best part:  both offered good views of neighboring areas – and both sold wine and beer, something we were ready to partake in since we were eager to celebrate our climb of Kili.

The Highview Hotel, offered more standard hotel rooms which was nice from a normalcy standpoint.  Of course, being in Africa, A/C is not a common amenity and this hotel was no exception but the building does sit high on a mountainside so there was a little more chance for a breeze.  You could sit in the hallway which was one large, open porch and view the land around the hotel.  Or you could go downhill to the hotel main building and sit there, sipping a glass of wine (likely South African) and watching the sky’s colors change.  When our last day of safari ended, we loved getting back to the hotel to jump in the pool which, oddly, was very cold!

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Headed up to the rooms at Highview Hotel Karatu

The Ikoma Tented Camp was a great place to stay right outside the northern boundary of the Serengeti   The advantage of staying here is the proximity to the park (less time driving).  The camp’s tents are not small thing:  our tent had two full-sized beds with plenty of room around us to spare.  Each tent also had its own bathroom which though not luxurious were the size of a normal bathroom

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Our tent. Zippered windows and doorway to help keep critters out

The restaurant was perched on top of a small hill, offering EXCELLENT sunrise and sunset views over the plains of the Serengeti.  See for yourselves!

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Sunrise view over the Serengeti from the restaurant

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Sunset view

You can stay in lodges inside the Serengeti too (if you want to dish out a lot more money) and that may be convenient but I have nothing but good things to say about where we stayed!

Wildlife watching

Of course, the reason you came here was, first and foremost, animals!  So let me share a little on that…  First, let’s debunk that you have to be up at the crack of dawn.  Yes, less people out and about and yes, the animals don’t like the heat of the early afternoon.  However, we managed to see lion kills and all the animals we wanted to see without an absurd wake-up time.  Now, if you want to maximize how many hours of daylight you spend out there, then yes, wake up really early.  While having a lot of vehicles can be a nuisance at peak times, it also helps your driver pinpoint where there may be something interesting as there are more driver-eyes looking out for things!

We saw everything… Here are some of my favorite shots.

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Double the pleasure; butt shot

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So majestic whenever we saw them

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A former wildebeest (aka gnu) left up in a tree by a cheetah

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Hungry hippos nesting on each other. More on this scene in a future post as an “event” happened…

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Lions resting before or after a kill. One of my favorite pix

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There is other entertaining stuff going on besides the wildlife!

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One of my favorite scenes: a school of elephants grabbing a shady spot!

But that’s not all…

OK, the lion kill I saw will go in another post as this one has become quite long.  But I will leave you with two beautiful parting shots as we left the Serengeti one day… Breathtaking.

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Look at that sky!

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Now THIS is what I call an “elephant sunset”!

Photo of the Week – Sunset over the Serengeti

Right after my hike of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, I went on safari to Lake Manyara, the Serengeti, and the Ngorongoro Crater.  One of the best views during the safari was seeing the sunset…  Magnificent!

Sunset over the Serengeti in Tanzania while on safari - a fiery sky

One beautiful sunset!

Safari on Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park

After our climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro, some of the group had signed up for a safari in Tanzania taking advantage of having spent the time and money to travel so far from home already.  I had been to the Serengeti six years before on a day trip in from the west side since I had been working in Mwanza and only had one day off.  I remember how neat it had been but also how rushed it had been.  I only got to see a lion perched atop a large rock.  I had also done a one day trip into the Pilanesberg Game Reserve close to Pretoria, South Africa after attending a work conference in Johannesburg.

I had been left wanting a proper safari.  However, as I had at least been to these places, a proper safari was not at the top of my bucket list.  The opportunity to return to Tanzania for the Kili climb set up my chance to do a safari proper.

Our safari began with our departure from our hotel in Moshi, Tanzania (just east of Arusha) with all our belongings since we would not return to that town prior to our departure back home days later.  And the first target for our safari was the Lake Manyara National Park in the Great Rift Valley area of Tanzania.

Getting to Lake Manyara NP

As you can see in the first map below, it neighbors the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to the southeast.  You can also see how much smaller it is than those two, making it quite doable in a short afternoon.  I cannot recall exactly how long it took us from Moshi but I want to say about 3 hours.

Tanzania Map Serengeti Lake Manyara

Map showing Lake Manyara in relation to the rest of the country (Source: www.globalsojourns.com)

As you can see on the next map, the park mainly sits on the western side of Lake Manyara.  We entered from the north and traveled along the main road until we exited to head to the town of Karatu where we were going to stay for the night before heading into the Serengeti.  The road to Lake Manyara NP is mostly paved or in the process of being paved.  The latter made for a dusty ride but mercifully it was only in certain places.  And, hopefully, it will be completely paved in the near future.  Good job, Tanzania, on investing in the infrastructure that will support your tourism industry!

Map of Lake Manyara Tanzania in relation to Ngorongoro

Detail of the Lake Manyara National Park (Source: www.safarilands.org)

Baboon welcome to Lake Manyara NP

Lake Manyara felt very different to what I remembered of the Serengeti.  Of course, entering the Serengeti the next day confirmed for me that it was not just a matter of me forgetting how the Serengeti had looked on my visit 6 years before.  The Lake Manyara NP, which occupies about 127 sq miles (330 sq km) of which 60% is the lake itself, is very lush with trees providing a different setting for the animals than the Serengeti.  It is compact yet offers a microcosm of what the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro area will later offer us.  The lake seemed to be on the dry side when we were there.  In the following picture, you can barely even see the lake from a slightly higher vantage point on the road out of the park.

Lake Manyara in Tanzania

Baboons quickly makes themselves the first animals we see.

Baboons in Lake Manyara, Tanzania during safari

They are everywhere eating grasses, picking lice or something off each other, and mainly looking at us quizzically but unperturbed.  You can’t help but stare at them and notice their hairless behind.  I respected their privacy and minded their feelings by not taking a picture of said-behinds 🙂

Baboon in Lake Manyara, Tanzania during safari

Baboon in Lake Manyara, Tanzania during safari

And the rest of the wildlife…

…  No, no, not the people in my vehicle!  Moving from the road towards the lake offers different animals to view.  However, I do not know if visitors are taken on vehicle towards the lake – at least we did not.   Regardless here are some of the other local denizens who allowed us into their space.

Dwarf kingfisher bird

Colorful dwarf kingfisher

One of many giraffes we encountered

One of many giraffes we encountered

Zebras under a dark sky in Lake Manyara

A good dark sky is always a good backdrop!

Young and adult zebra in Lake Manyara

A young and an adult zebra wondering who we are

OK, I will NOT take this as a welcome gesture…

We also saw some elephants on this first day…

Elephant in Lake Manyara

The elephant was walking away. We thought that was the end of the show…

… This one in particular seemed to be preparing something for us…  and I use the least graphic of the picture series 🙂

Elephant pooping in Lake Manyara

… but it had something in store for us… a welcome gift? We declined…

Lake Manyara is definitely a small piece of what Tanzania offers its visitors for animal-watching.  But it is a unique ecosystem worth the drive through.  My advice:  see it before the Serengeti or Ngorongoro or, else, it could underwhelm you!

For more info on Tanzania’s many national parks, check their well-designed website at http://www.tanzaniaparks.com/.

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