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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Top 16 Memorable Moments from 2013 in Photos

As I think of 2013, I recall the many neat experiences at home and away.  Looking through my photos is a great way to bring back the memories.  I’d thought I’d share with you some of my most memorable moments from 2013 via photos – some of which have been shared before in other posts and some have not – in no particular order.  Hope you like them!

#1  When I first saw Mt. Kilimanjaro

Not necessarily a great photo from a technique standpoint but pretty “momentous”.  I landed at Kilimanjaro International Airport around midnight.  When I woke up the next day at my hotel, someone told me that if I went outside to the local road, I could see Kilimanjaro, which I was about to climb.  Neat to see it but even neater to run into two little locals on their way to school!  A moment I will always treasure.

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#2  At Uhuru Peak in Mt. Kilimanjaro

I have shared a lot of pictures I love through my prior posts about hiking Kilimanjaro (start with the Day 1 summary if you want to see them all!).  So to keep this post manageable, to go along with my first sighting of the mountain in #1, I’d thought I’d then include me by the new sign at Uhuru Peak (the highest point in Mt. Kilimanjaro).  This photo is special as I brought my family along for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure!

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#3  Ancient ruins

I shared this photo in an earlier post about my visit to Jerash, Jordan but it remains one of my favorite pictures for the year so it deserves inclusion here.  Seeing Jerash – a complete unknown to me until that point – was a great discovery in 2013.

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Beautiful columns in the Temple of Artemis

#4  Monumental Petra

Everyone has seen the same picture of the Treasury in Petra and that is because there is not much space to back away from it.  But there are plenty of other angles to photograph this incredible “carving”.  This is one of my favorites.  I had been to Petra before but seeing how well this photo turned out back at home made me happy!

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#5  Twins?

While touring Jordan, after a long day at Petra, the group went out for dinner.  Yes, we were all a little tired.  One of our fellow travelers pointed out how our guide and I were not only dressed alike but were in the same pose – and snap! the picture was taken.  We were laughing when we realized this was all true and the photo captured that moment so well!

Jordan, people, laughing, photo

#6  Kid in Mt. Nebo

Exploring Jordan was incredible:  lots of history, incredible nature, etc.  But the people is what really made the difference:  warm and friendly and the smile on this kid’s face captures well how we were made to feel welcome by everyone.

Mt. Nebo, Jordan, tourism, photo, child, Canon EOS Rebel#7  Food, food, food

I summarized my year in food and drinks in an earlier post but this plate deserves inclusion here.  It is from a lunch I had in Mardaba, Jordan but I’ve enjoyed great food this year from Manila to Miami, from Jordan to Minneapolis, from Washington, D.C. to Mt. Kilimanjaro!  Oh, and don’t forget Tampa and Atlanta!

food, Jordan, travel, photo#8  DragonCon’s parade in Atlanta

DragonCon is an interesting event held in Atlanta every year.  I went with friends to see the parade and enjoyed seeing all the characters that walked along.  This is one of my favorite pictures from that parade (others here).

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#9, 10 and 11  Africa and the great outdoors!

In addition to hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro, my Tanzania experience included doing a safari the right way (4 days, not just a one drive in-and-out as I had done a few years before due to limited time while on a business trip).  These images capture well my favorite moments from that experience!

elephants, acacia, tree, shade, Serengeti, Tanzania, Africa, Olympus, travel, adventure, photo, safariElephant, sunset, skies, clouds, Africa, Serengeti, Tanzania, travel, safari, photo, OlympusSunset, tree, birds, blue, sky, dark cloud, safari, travel, photo, Olympus, Serengeti, memorable

#12  An amazing construction scene

Driving around the neighborhood next to mine in Atlanta, I ran into this scene!  What an incredible sight.  The house was being lifted so it can sit higher on the ground due to being in a flood plain.

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 #13  Stormy sky in Atlanta

My hometown provided another of the most memorable photos I took on 2013:  stormy skies over Buckhead.

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#14 and 15  Pictures of this traveler

During my trip to Jordan, a few pictures of me were taken by fellow travelers.  I like these two (which clearly were taken on the same day…) in particular because they show how happy I was at the time.  The second one has me with my faithful companion:  no, not the donkey but my camera!

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#16  Sunset over the Dead Sea with a couple of love birds

To close this post, I will re-share one of my favorite photos ever from 2013 taken by me as the sun set over the Dead Sea from our hotel in Jordan (the Movenpick resort – awesome).  I was lucky these two birds were waiting for me on that palm tree to capture the moment!

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Is this a sunset scene or what??!!

I hope 2014 brings you many memorable moments, whether you capture them on a photo or not!


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!

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!

A Brief Visit to a Masai Village

The day we were to enter the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, we first made a stop outside of the park at a Masai village.  My image of the Masai before this visit was of tall, lean men wearing blue or red clothes holding a cane-like piece of wood.  I knew they were a nomadic people and that they lived generally in both sides of the border between Kenya and Tanzania.  However, that was the extent of my knowledge about them.

Visiting a Masai village is not the only time you can see the Masai as you see them in small towns as you traverse this part of Tanzania and as they may work in some of the places you may stay.  You will also see them herding their cattle to take them to get water (like the ones we saw heading into the Ngorongoro Crater).

When we were taken to their village, I was not sure what was in it for them.  I understood they lived off their cows and didn’t have many possessions since they are nomadic so I didn’t quite get it.  I was not aware that some do make the best of the tourism in the area by making crafts to sell to visitors.  Basically we were taken to their village so we could get a glimpse into their lives in return for the potential purchases we would make from their inventory of crafts.  I am used to tours (big or small) always taking visitors to places for shopping and sometimes I can find that tedious (even if I do need to buy some gifts to bring back home).  This time, I somehow did not mind.

Crafts for sale at a Masai village in Tanzania

Some of the crafts

First, they welcomed us with some chanting and by placing ornaments around the necks of the female visitors.  They also proceeded to show how high they can jump and got one of our guys to try jumping higher than them – nope, could not do it!

Masai welcome at their village in Tanzania

The group welcoming us to their village

Masai women welcoming us to their village in Tanzania

Women greeting us

I found the short glimpse we got into their lifestyle very interesting.  We were divided into smaller groups so we could each visit the small home of the Masai and there talk a little bit about how they live.  The warrior into whose house we went offered good information and was generous in answering our questions.

Exterior of a Masai warrior's hut in Tanzania

Exterior of a Masai hut

Interior of a Masai village hut

Our host and some visitors at one of his wives’ hut

Among the things our warrior shared with us:

  • things are communal; they make crafts and the sales go to the entire group
  • they are polygamous
  • since their huts are so small, the house in which the warrior sleeps at night, any kids older than 4-5 get sent to another wife’s hut
  • the warriors’ job is the safety of the group; women have a long list of things they are responsible for like building the huts, cooking, fetching water, minding the children, etc.
  • some warriors get an education in a village or town so they can, for example, speak English and welcome tourists to their villages
  • life centers around the cattle on whose milk and blood they depend
  • they move every 2-3 months to a new place (where there is more grass for their cattle)
  • when someone dies, they leave the body out in the open to be nourishment for animals; they leave some marker so people know not to build their camp there; supposedly, a few months need to pass before the area can be used again
  • they live typically into their 100s (he also told us they don’t have illnesses).

After chatting with the warrior and checking out the crafts (and making purchases), we stopped at the tiny schoolhouse for their group.  The kids were into showing they could read the words on the blackboard!

School building at a Masai village in Tanzania

School building

Kids at a Masai school in Tanzania

The kids at school

I left with admiration for a people who seem to strike a workable balance between living according to their traditions while dealing with some of modern life with common sense (like taking advantage of the opportunity that visitors can provide in terms of extra income for the group).  We gladly perused their crafts and, while certainly not offered very cheaply, we were happy with negotiating some but not as much as we had done in other settings.

Masai women with the containers to store cow's milk and blood

Masai women with the containers to store cow’s milk and blood

Curious what else others know about the Masai.  Leave a comment and share!

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:

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:

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

On the Shores of Lake Victoria in Mwanza and on to the Serengeti

In early 2007, I went to Tanzania for work reasons and I was excited to get to this part of Africa.  Two other entries in this blog cover the trip over and  some observations about Dar es Salaam.  This entry will share more of the logistical items about my visit to Mwanza, the actual stories of what I saw once there (field visits, the city, and the Serengeti) merit their own to-be-written entries and I don’t want to make this entry too long!

Part of the reason to be sent to Tanzania, as I may have mentioned in earlier entries, was to better understand my organization’s operations in the developing world.  I was fairly new to the organization so this was to be part of my onboarding, if you will.  There were a few places in Tanzania to potentially visit but we settled on a 1-day visit to Zanzibar and a 4-5 day visit to Mwanza, on the shores of Lake Victoria.

Getting to Mwanza

To get to Mwanza, I flew Air Tanzania as land travel is extremely slow (there is a train and some sort of road but nothing that would make for an easy and speedy trip; the latter being more important due to time constraints).  The plane was brand new and very well kept.  I was not sure what to expect but the service and the food were quite good and I felt quite safe flying the local airline.   I landed in Mwanza and, though I have flown to a smaller airport (Contadora Island in Panama), I was amused by smallness of the airport and the baggage claim area:  a wall divided the area where the plane was from baggage claim and a big rectangular hole in the wall was where the baggage handlers placed the luggage to then be claimed by the passengers.

Mwanza airport in Tanzania, on the shores of Lake Victoria

Mwanza airport

Lodging in the City

I was picked up at the airport and taken to a hotel on the shores of Lake Victoria, named Hotel Tilapia (  There were different types of rooms  and over the few days I was there,  I got to try one of the rooms in the building and one of the rooms on the docked boat (the Buganda, which appeared in the movie the African Queen!).  (I didn’t stay at the bungalows, the 3rd type of room.)

Tilapia Hotel House Boat Buganda in Mwanza, Tanzania

The Buganda

The one on the Buganda was rather interesting as the boat (which was well docked and tied up so it didn’t move) was sort of tilted.  Also, my window to the water wasn’t really sealed so I wondered what creatures would come in during the night…  Actually, both rooms were well fumigated so I actually saw no critter in either one (a key success factor for me even if the spray they use daily in the rooms is toxic to ANY living creature!).

The best feature of this hotel was being on Lake Victoria.  There was an outdoor bar and restaurant area by the water which, as long as you had put on some mosquito spray, was quite enjoyable.  Clearly, there are other hotels in Mwanza and I didn’t get to see them so there may be better options but this one worked well for me.

The Tilapia Hotel's bar area right by the shores of Lake Victoria

The Tilapia Hotel’s bar area right by the shores of Lake Victoria


Mwanza is blessed to be located on Lake Victoria and not terribly far from the western entrance to the Serengeti.  It is the second largest city in Tanzania after Dar es Salaam (located on the Indian Ocean coast).  I traveled the Mwanza region visiting projects with work which was a neat way to see the area. Some of the projects I visited had to do with village savings and loans (economic livelihood improvement projects).  Everyone was very friendly to this visitor!!

Village savings and loan group in Tanzania

Village savings and loan group 1

Village savings and loan group in Tanzania

Village savings and loan group 2

Being on the lake, it is a port (other countries bordering the lake include Kenya and Uganda).  One of the natural features of the lake are the rock formations which you also see on land.  The most famous of the rock formations is Bismarck’s Rock right by the shore.

Bismarck Rock in Mwanza (Tanzania), by Lake Victoria

Bismarck’s Rock

The city of Mwanza was very manageable and there seemed to be a  lot of economic activity at the time.  It was a great base to explore the lake area and enter the Serengeti from the west.

Downtown Mwanza, Tanzania

Downtown Mwanza

Downtown Mwanza, Tanzania

Downtown Mwanza

Lodging near the Serengeti

I did overnight in another part of the Mwanza region because I was going into the Serengeti (from the western entrance) the following day and since you want to be there at the crack of dawn, driving from Mwanza was not going to work.  So I stayed at the Speke’s Bay Lodge ), run by some Dutch (if memory serves me right).  They built the lodge area (bungalows and tent area) and they cleared the reeds/bushes from the shores of the bay and actually created a beach (which apparently is very difficult to keep clear of reeds so it is a labor of love, I suppose).

Speke Bay Lodge on the shores of Lake Victoria in Tanzania

Speke Bay Lodge – my lodge

Speke Bay Lodge room by Lake Victoria in Tanzania

Speke Bay Lodge room by the shore of the lake

The “beach” looks very nice but not a beach you would walk around at night – the hippos are not far away and may meander through the beach!  I stayed at a bungalow by the lake (the ground where the bungalows are is at a higher level than the beach so I assume the hippos can’t get up there, or so I hoped!).  All night long I could hear the hippos – I could have sworn they were right outside my window!  (They were not.)   The hotel shuts off electricity at some point in the evening so it was an early night which suited me fine because of the early start.  However, it was a very hot night and I didn’t think it wise to open the sliding door…  One good thing was that the bed had a mosquito net and was quite comfortable.

View from Speke Bay Lodge in Tanzania

Lots of wildlife around Speke Bay Lodge

Sunset on the shores of Lake Victoria at Speke Bay Lodge

Sunset on the beach at Speke Bay Lodge

Unfortunately, I did not spend too much time at the lodge because of all the visits on the day on my check-in and because of the very early check-out the next day.  However, I had a great meal at their restaurant where a group of Canadians were nice enough to ask me to join them since I was on my own and the grounds were very beautiful and well kept.

There are likely other options (the lodge was on the more expensive side) that may make more sense but I generally went were I was taken so cannot offer other suggestions.

The area around Lake Victoria is beautiful and the memories of nature and people will last me a lifetime…

Sunset on Lake Victoria in Tanzania

Sunset on Lake Victoria

Does someone else have insights into other hotels in the city of Mwanza and accommodations near the western entrance to the Serengeti? Can anyone comment on traveling by road or train instead of flying there?

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