From Kenya, we traversed the border to Tanzania to continue our dream trip – and somehow, it was about to get even better.
I’ve dreamed of visiting the Serengeti ever since I watched the Lion King when I was five (fun fact: it was the first film I went to see in the cinema!) and subsequently a whole bunch of David Attenborough documentaries, particularly one that followed a cheetah family as the cubs grew up. I’ve been obsessed with animals for as long as I can remember, and grew up on a farm with lots of pet animals while reading about wild ones.
Tanzania, then, was a dream come true (although plenty of those dreams had come true in Kenya, too!).
We arrived in Arusha, being immediately ambushed by taxi drivers as we got off the bus. It felt like we were back in Asia! It had been a long journey, around seven hours, and we were faced with a choice: walk about half an hour to our hotel in the noticeably increased heat with a big backpack and suitcase, or succumb to the persuasive taxi drivers for a whole $5. We chose the taxi.
In a bizarre turn of events, the taxi driver asked if we’d ever heard of the Isle Of Man – where Ash is from! Apparently he had met a group of people from there, and afterwards had talked to someone from England about it, and they hadn’t heard of it. So now he asks every British person if they know it! What are the chances?!
Like most people, Arusha was our gateway to the national parks, and we didn’t have enough time in the town to really get a feel for it, but I liked what we saw. We wandered down to the clock that marks the halfway point between Cairo and Cape Town, spent ages getting cash out at one of the many surrounding banks, and grabbed dinner in a nearby café before spending some time relaxing before safari number two.
It’s worth noting that you cannot get Tanzanian money outside the country. We had already paid for our safari by bank transfer – however I don’t necessarily recommend this, because you can’t transfer Tanzanian shillings, so we sent dollars instead. Dollars are widely used in Tanzania, but the banks still charge for the transfer between Tanzanian shillings and US dollars. Therefore even though Wise confirmed that the safari company would receive X amount, their bank then charged them a fee from that X amount. So we ended up owing them an extra $40 or so, though it was possibly worth not having the stress of hauling $2000 around Kenya.
Tanzanian money, however? I LOVE IT.
As well as elephants, there are also notes with lions and rhinos on! Obviously I’ve kept some.
We were met by the wonderful Philo in the evening, who confirmed all our arrangements with African Savannah Trekkers. Our guide would be Emmanuel, and both he and Philo made our trip exactly what it was – inexplicably incredible.
In the morning, Emmanuel picked us up from our hotel and we wound our way out of Arusha – a much larger city than I had expected! After endless streets of markets and motorbikes, we were out in the countryside.
Unlike in Kenya, it’s not too far to the national parks from the main hub of Arusha. The Serengeti is three hours away (half the distance of the Maasai Mara from Nairobi), but we would be visiting two other parks across two days on the way.
Tarangire National Park
I am sorry to say that I had never heard of Tarangire (pronounced Taran-gear-eh) in my life before booking our trip. As soon as Emmanuel told us it was home to a very high concentration of elephants… well, you all know how I feel about elephants, right? I was practically weeing with excitement.
As it turned out, Tarangire was so much more than just elephants.
This was one of the first photos I took in the park, and I love it!
Gazelles and impala were everywhere, along with zebra and giraffes. We watched ostriches cross the road in front of us and then run alongside us. It’s also where we saw a kill – not a hunt, but the aftermath, complete with three lion cubs climbing all over a zebra! A grisly sight, but still amazing to watch. I’ve put a photo in this post if you want to see it.
Tarangire probably had the best views out of all the parks too – we stopped to look over that landscape at one point, and I spotted elephants and giraffes amongst the trees! It’s one thing seeing these animals up close, but actually, seeing them from a distance feels just as magical because you realise that they really are just out there; wild animals in their natural habitat.
This was also the park of baobab trees, which are pretty remarkable. They’re not exactly the same as the ones you’d picture from Madagascar, but they’re absolutely massive.
On the way out of the park, kids were selling baobab fruit from the side of the road, and Emmanuel stopped and bought some so we could try it. It was… very strange. It was like slightly lemony chalk. He told me to put it in my water and it would make it citrussy, which it did. Interesting, anyway!
Tarangire is a pretty small park in comparison to a lot of the national parks, so within half a day we had covered most of it – but it really does pack a punch with everything it offers. We even had lunch with monkeys and gazelles! As you can imagine, this is a recipe for disaster, and everyone was having to protect their lunch from the lurking monkeys. I’d learned my lesson from the monkey stealing my banana in Kenya!
It was like the Maasai Mara in miniature with a lot more trees. In fact, we saw another ton of zebra and wildebeest which I think are generally confined to the park rather than migrating.
But the highlight, naturally, was the elephants – and there were sooo many of them! For a while, every corner we turned there was another entire family. It was just phenomenal, and they are the most fascinating animals to watch, with their social structures and interactions.
To be honest, if a park I hadn’t even heard of was this amazing, then you’d better believe I was excited for everything that was coming up!
We stopped at a viewpoint for sunset overlooking Lake Manyara, which we’d be visiting on our final day, and finally settled in at our first lodge, Marera Valley lodge near Ngorongoro. Our room was massive – and I’d let the cat out of the bag by mentioning to our safari company the week before that it was our honeymoon, and she obviously rang ahead because there were swan towels and petals on our bed! But then… we went to dinner.
As much as we hate any fuss and drawing attention to ourselves, this was rather lovely and I adore this photo of us!
It was also the first real sign and reminder that this was our honeymoon, so it was nice to remember just how special this trip was!
Ngorongoro (pronounced n-GOR-on-goro, not N-gor-ON-goro like I thought) is one of the most famous parks in Tanzania, and in the morning we headed precariously up a misty mountain to drive around the edge of the crater before going down into it.
It’s probably the best park overall in terms of wildlife, accessibility and variety. Essentially, Ngorongoro is its own unique eco-system, and is so self-sufficient that none of the animals migrate because they simply don’t need to. There’s so much wildlife that at some points, I had to remind myself that we really were out in the wild and not in a safari park. I mean, it is a “safari park”, but you know what I mean.
Before we even reached the crater floor, the day had peaked with an entire family of lions.
It took quite a while to realise it was a whole family, and I was happily snapping away at a female lion laid in the grass. I didn’t really clock that there was a reason the traffic further ahead was taking so long to move.
Finally it was our turn, and I just wanted to pick up this little guy in the middle and put him in my pocket!!!
Actually, I wanted to keep all of them.
From there, it was all downhill – to the floor of the crater, where we’d spend the day driving around and spotting absolutely everything, from hippos to flamingos to zebra to elephants to more lions, as well as buffalo, wildebeest, secretary birds, hyenas, serval cats, and even a solitary rhino in the very, very, very far distance. (I can say I’ve seen a wild rhino, but I don’t really feel like I did… my very grainy photo is the only proof!)
Weirdly, looking through my photos, I can’t remember if I just didn’t take any photos of giraffes, or if this was the only place on the entire trip that we didn’t see them.
Anyway, if that’s the only thing we didn’t see, we did well. I finally got some good photos of the sheer volume of wildebeest, which really feels like that quintessential safari shot.
Ngorongoro Crater was really interesting in that it’s got so many varieties of landscapes – one minute, we were in the middle of a typical African plain; the next, it felt like we were in a tropical jungle. There’s a massive lake, which attracts a lot of species that we hadn’t seen before like flamingos, and hippo lagoons.
This was one of our favourite days overall. Once again, we had some amazing viewings of elephants, with this adorable baby playing with a massive branch!
The whole family was enthralling. It was at this point that I think Emmanuel was starting to get sick of our obsession with elephants.
We drove around the entire lake and ended up back where we started – we could still see a steady line of cars coming down the hill and stopping in the same spot for the lions, which meant they were definitely having a lazy day as hours had passed by this point. Must be a great life being a cat, huh?
On the way, we’d even had another unique lion experience – we stopped at a toilet, and there happened to be a lion in a TREE nearby! I didn’t get great photos and you could barely see it in real life, but it was slightly unnerving walking around knowing it was there.
Then we stopped for a late lunch by a small lake, and there were hippos in the water! It really felt like we were guests in the park but at one with nature without intruding on it. (The above photo is of the hippo lagoon, not the lunch spot!)
Speaking of hippos, I loved this one. I think someone needs to write a kids book about the hippo and the bird.
We were determined to see a rhino, and it was one of the very last things we saw before leaving the park, but it was too far away from any roads to see it properly. That’s okay though, nature doesn’t always work in your favour. And anyway, I was keen to get going to the Serengeti before it was too late for the sunset…
Serengeti National Park
It was time for the main (or should I say mane) event as we reached the Serengeti, the place I’d dreamed of since I was just a bairn.
I’ll be totally honest: overall, the Serengeti probably wasn’t even my favourite park. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every minute; every second, in fact. But it was a lot more remote and sprawling, with less animals than the other parks, as the wildebeest and zebra that would normally be roaming these plains were all in the Maasai Mara.
That doesn’t detract at all from the absolutely mindblowing experiences we had in the Serengeti though. From a spectacular, breathtaking sunset, to a mother lion and very tiny cub walking side-by-side in front of our truck, our first hour in the park alone was astonishing.
It did feel, for the first time, like we were looking for animals – and in some ways, that made everything we spotted feel even more magical. They weren’t all right there in front of us; we had to earn it.
We also stayed in the most amazing lodge that we will ever stay in: the Serengeti Serena safari lodge. This was our true “bucket list” night, spent in a luxury lodge, our balcony overlooking the Serengeti plains.
It was so fantastic that when Emmanuel suggested meeting at something like 8am the next day, I asked if we could make it 9, and then quickly added “or even later”. I didn’t want to stay somewhere like this just to not even spend twelve hours there!
It’s tough trying to balance everything on safari. On the one hand, I wanted to see every animal it was possible to see. On the other, we were on our honeymoon and this place was an absolute dream. So for me, the Serengeti wasn’t exclusively about wildlife – it was about living the high life too.
And live the high life we did – dinner was superb, and we were quite content having a normal table with no petals or anything attracting attention to us. Afterwards, someone came over and said our driver wanted to discuss our plans for tomorrow, so stay put. I’m sure you know where this is going…
My face absolutely sums this moment up, it’s hilarious!!!
All the servers came out singing and dancing, and they went right on past us as we breathed a sigh of relief… and then turned back and surrounded us!! I have a video, which is even more awkward because someone grabbed my camera and I assumed they were taking a photo but instead they were filming me awkwardly trying to pose. I took a nicer photo of us afterwards.
However, it’s what happened next that traumatised us. We weren’t hungry in the slightest, Ash doesn’t even like cake, and we had no idea what to do – would it be rude if we didn’t eat the cake they had just brought out? It was huge! We cut a small slice each from the bottom to be polite.
And… it wasn’t great.
Slowly, it dawned on me: I don’t think we were supposed to eat this cake. I think it was decorative, to be brought out for celebrations. We were horrified! I still panic now thinking of this damn cake, and what they must have thought when they realised we’d eaten their special cake that had probably been months old!
Highly embarrassed, we swiftly left the restaurant and hid in our room. Which, in fairness, was a bloody amazing room. There are worse places to be mortified.
Still, who brings out cake if it’s not supposed to be eaten? At least that’s what I ask myself when I wake up at 4am sweating about this.
When we did eventually emerge from our pod lodge the following morning, we were in for an absolute treat.
After an excellent breakfast (in which we returned to the restaurant in shame) with endless choices at the buffet, I sat on the balcony reading for a while as a herd of buffalo wandered across the plains in the distance. This was the life!
It was definitely time to leave though, and after a fair drive from the lodge, we came across a whole bunch of cars stopped by the side of the road. It was impossible to get a good view, but we could see a group of cheetahs laid out at the bottom of a tree, right by the road! We actually gave up on our first passing, and stopped again on the way back for a proper look at them. They were sooo adorable!
Between the two stops at the cheetahs, we had an even more exciting encounter with a lion – a young male in the road, walking between the cars! As he walked away, I got the most perfect shot of him looking back. It’s the first photo in this post, and one of my favourite photos I’ve ever taken!
It was amazing to see him up close like this – and he seemed so blasé about us being in his way. I think he was actually eyeing up a nearby herd of impala, but he didn’t seem bothered about pursuing them at this point.
From there, Emmanuel had heard an announcement over the radio, or had spoken to another driver (we stopped a lot to talk to other drivers and Emmanuel seemed to be friends with absolutely everyone!), and we headed down a road where we stumbled across a bull elephant.
The bull wasn’t what we were looking for, but naturally we stopped for a few photos.
Further down the road, we found our target: a beautiful leopard! I was blown away by the fact we managed to see TWO leopards on this trip!
After a loop around the roads here, we joined back up with the main road and went back to check on the cheetahs, where it was now much less busy and the cheetahs were just starting to wake up.
The Serengeti is absolutely massive, so it’s impossible to see all of it, but the guides know the best places to look, and they also talk to each other constantly if there’s an exciting sighting. And if in doubt, there will usually be a congregation of cars when one of the big cats appears.
We headed on to a hippo lagoon, and it was so much bigger than the pools we had seen previously. Countless hippos languished in the water and occasionally a fight broke out and all hell broke loose for a few moments before they settled back in to their bath.
It really reminded me of the elephant seals in California, where fights would break out and the air would fill with the sounds of loud, anguished snorting. This was exactly like that, except it absolutely stunk as well.
Undeterred by the smell, it was time for lunch.
The lunch provided every day was a box of various goodies, usually containing a sandwich, a piece of chicken, a yoghurt, fruit and other snacks. It was almost always too much to eat in one go, so I usually saved some fruit for the rest of the afternoon. We stopped at a visitor centre for lunch, enjoying the company of exotic, colourful birds, and getting a photo with this sign!
Of course, we had to get Emmanuel in the photo too! The best guide we could have asked for.
We had seen so much in a short time, and in hindsight it might have been nice to have an extra day in the Serengeti (which was offered to us in the original enquiry), not to mention another night in the delightful lodge, but with a long drive ahead of us and another park tomorrow, it was time to start heading south again. Granted, it would be a while before we were actually out of the park, but it did feel sad that we were leaving already!
On our way back, we stumbled across the lion again. This time, he was LAYING in the road. (Sorry, I mean lion in the road…)
It’s at this point that I really, really wish I’d taken a photo of Gulliver, or of myself, with the lion behind us. But when you’re in the moment, the last thing you’re thinking about is selfies (or maybe that’s just me – other people seem to only ever think of selfies!). I was too busy taking photos of him, the star of the day.
So it was the perfect end to our time in the Serengeti, to be honest! We could have spent the rest of the day seeing nothing, who knows?
We did, however, have to stop not long afterwards and get out of the car somewhere between the Serengeti and Ngorongoro. We had a puncture! Thank goodness that didn’t happen right next to the lion. Emmanuel’s expertise got us back on the road within minutes, though it did mean we wouldn’t be getting to our next lodge in time to use the pool.
This was the one thing about being on safari – it’s loooooooooong days. We were out by 8am most mornings, and never reached any of our accommodation in the daylight. It’s why I wasn’t too bothered about where we stayed, with the noted exception of the Serengeti Serena, and again why the balance can be tricky to get right. If you want to make the most of where you’re staying, you’ll get less animals. I’m on safari to see the animals. I know what I’m prioritising!
Either way, we were pretty knackered by the time we got to the lodge (we were back at Marera Valley, the lodge from our first night) and for that reason I think we had exactly the right amount of time on safari without being burnt out.
Read more about our safari: An Introduction To Kenya – A Safari In The Maasai Mara
Lake Manyara National Park
Lake Manyara was another park that I knew nothing about, and it was by far the smallest, which meant the following day was actually a relatively short one to end the safari.
While Tarangire was focused on elephants, Lake Manyara is all about monkeys and baboons! We’d seen quite a few baboons over the course of the trip, but never this many. They were everywhere. Climbing trees, crossing the roads, cleaning each other. The babies clinging on to their mothers’ backs were adorable!
Unfortunately, we missed the one thing Lake Manyara is famous for, and we even saw billboards about them on the way: tree lions. Literally, lions that live in the trees. Ironically, we had seen that one in a tree in Ngorongoro, but didn’t see any here! We saw some at the bottom of a tree, but none in a tree.
Despite this, our best experience of the day, and one of the best of the entire trip, was right at the end just as we were about to leave. We spotted a family of elephants by the side of the road, and decided to stop and watch them for a while before we continued heading out. I am so, so glad we did! You might remember this video from my photo post, but I love it so much, here it is again.
Yes, I was scared. There was a baby with them, so if at any point they thought we were a threat, that could have been the end of us. But instead, they just calmly walked between the cars as if we weren’t even there. Beautiful, beautiful creatures. I was so humbled by this moment!
And speaking of baby animals, the very last thing I photographed before we left the park was a family of baboons with a baby! Isn’t he adorable, even though he looks like an old man?!
What I loved about the Tanzanian part of the safari was the diversity of all the parks. Tarangire had a mix of plains and scrubland, Ngorongoro is a self-contained crater, the Serengeti is an endless plain, and Lake Manyara is largely a forest. Every single park offered something different, and we had incredible stand-out experiences in all of them.
Most of all, our trip just would not have been the same without Emmanuel and African Savannah Trekkers! It’s really hard to choose between so many companies – there are apparently a whopping 3,000 of them in Arusha – so we really struck gold with these guys.
We arranged for Emmanuel to pick us up the next day to take us to the airport, and he had bought us a gift, some African fabric, as he said he liked us so much! Honestly, my heart. He was the sweetest guy and always, always had a smile on his face or would be laughing about something or making other drivers laugh. He was the best person to spend four days with.
That was the safari part of our trip sadly over with, and we were off to Zanzibar to relax by the beach for our last few days.
Stay tuned for a full post about Zanzibar, even though we didn’t actually end up doing a whole lot – it was the relaxation part of the trip, after all. At some point, I might actually finish writing about our honeymoon!
Read more about our time in Africa:
50 Photos From Our Dream African Safari Honeymoon
An Introduction To Kenya – A Safari In The Maasai Mara
Or is it more elephants you’re after? How about:
One Of The Best Weeks Of Our Lives Volunteering At Elephant Nature Park