We just finished our first Safari in Tanzania and it was one of the most amazing experiences we have ever had. Being surrounded by nature and wildlife for days was magical.
As we were driving out of Ngorongoro Conservation, I was sitting in the safari car, staring out of my window till the last second, making sure I took in every moment, every inch of this undescribable 5 days of safari. I never took a nap during our very long drives because I was so grateful to be here and I wanted to enjoy every second in.
Everyone should do a safari at least once in their life. After such an experience, you will not see a zoo as a fun place to visit anymore. Everyone should spend time observing animals, observing their pace, which is so different from the one we humans have every day. Everyone should have a chance to observe how perfectly well nature works together to make the circle of life go on.
I don’t want to forget this feeling of peace that being here gave me. Every time our guide spotted an animal and stopped he would turn off the car and that was when we could quietly sit there and observe. You would be surprised by how amazing it is for once to not have to worry about time, about running somewhere else. But simply connecting with the pace of the animal in front of you and watching what they do.
On our last day, we waited over an hour for a Rhino to come closer. He walked, then stopped, then changed direction, then stopped again, then started wobbling his head. After standing for over 20 minutes in one spot he lay down. When we came back later after driving around, he was still in the same spot, still deciding in what direction to go. This is the freedom that animals have in nature to do what they want! Not what we want when we close them in a cage for everyone to see!
Many have asked for a lot of information about this safari, so let me give you more details!
Who did we go with?
There are many companies that offer safaris here in Tanzania. You can find every possible price and tour option! Some are very big and some are family-owned. Many are great and some not so much.
How do you pick the right one for you? In our case, we first looked up some prices to have a better idea of potentially how much we would be spending. We were lucky to get a recommendation that helped in our final decision. In fact, we met a couple who had just been on a safari and told us all about the company they used and the great guide they had. What we liked about it was that it was a family-owned company and all their tours were private. With 3 kids in a car for over 8 hours a day, the last thing you want is to have to deal with other people too.
We contacted Marion, the owner of Gate to Zion and she was able to put together a great plan for us in less than 24 hours. We have a tendency to organize things very last minute! So a week after booking our tour we were on a flight to Arusha to start our safari! The program included visiting 3 parks: Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Conservancy, Serengeti National Park, and a Masai tribe. All this in 7 days/8 nights. Of course, she asked what was our budget and we told her not too basic but not luxury, something in between. In the end, we stayed in some great places. If you choose luxury but don’t have any days off, you will not have a chance to enjoy that luxury but you will still pay for it! So keep that in mind when planning a safari. We were driving around from 7 or 8 am till 7/8 pm, the most we enjoyed were the meals and the comfortable beds!
Another important tip is that some guides will pick you up at 9 am and drop you off at 5 pm. Make sure you find guides that will go out earlier and if necessary bring you back after sunset, there is so much going on in those hours of the day, you won’t want to miss it. You can relax once your safari is finished!
When picking who to go with, I would suggest first thinking clearly about what you need in order to be comfortable during this incredible experience. If you find a recommendation, especially for a guide that is also a great way to start your search, after all, they are the ones you will be with. Then you can start getting quotes and make your decision. Honestly, we didn’t ask for quotes around. We looked at prices from bigger companies that are advertised on their pages and compared with the quote we got and trusted our feeling about Gate to Zion and went with them.
Now let me tell you more about our safari!
Tarangire National Park
Bright and early we set out on our safari to see our first park: Tarangire National Park! Tarangire means river of the warthog so it is no surprise that there are so many in this park! It is the 6th largest National Park in Tanzania and covers an area of 2,600 square kilometers. It has some of the highest population density of elephants compared to anywhere in Tanzania. There are many baobabs and acacia trees, which make it a beautiful location to visit.
As soon as we entered the park we were welcomed by warthogs and hundreds of Impalas everywhere! We ventured into different parts of the park and observed many giraffes alone and in groups eating from the acacia trees. We stumbled upon elephants close to the road who were crossing with their babies. There were plenty also in other parts of the park, always in large groups and closer to the water. This is the time of the year to see lots of babies for every species and we have seen so many!
We stopped for lunch at a pic nice area where you can actually get down from the car and move around. The resident animals are the monkeys of course. They were very interested in our meal and managed to take a bag of nuts. You cannot imagine how fast they are! However in the park, they are extremely careful not to feed the animals because this will change their natural behavior, so this monkey theft was unfortunate and I felt so bad about it.
As I mentioned above, Tarangire National Park has a high concentration of baobab trees. Amazingly enough, you will not find any in the Serengeti! I must admit it is mesmerizing to watch the landscape as you drive. We also saw many birds that we had never seen before.
Our first day was great, we were already so excited about having the chance to spot and observe so many animals we love like elephants and giraffes living in the wild.
One thing you have to be prepared for when going on a safari is the long hours in the car, some pretty bumpy roads, and the long distances. For example, our stay for the night was booked 2 hours away from the park, so we would be closer to Ngorongoro Conservancy for the next day. So between driving to the park, exploring the park, and driving to the hotel, we spent 12 hours in the car on our first day! However, I can guarantee you that considering what you are doing it doesn’t feel so long.
Hotel for the night: we stayed at Farm of Dreams Lodge which was a short drive from the entrance to Ngorongoro Conservancy. A delightful lodge that sits in a garden of flowers and vegetables.
Ngorongoro Conservation was the second stop of our safari tour and we entered it twice! Why? The first time we had to cross it in order to get into the Serengeti, however the second time we had a chance to explore more of it and see a few important animals.
Ngorongoro Conservation covers an area of 8,292 square kilometers. It is believed to have formed about 2.5 million years ago from a large active volcano whose cone collapsed inward after an eruption, leaving the huge caldera as its only remnant. The caldera’s floor is predominantly open grassland, which explains why it is home to a diverse variety of animals such as elephants, black rhinoceroses, leopards, buffalo, zebras, warthogs, gnu, Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles, and lions. Why is it defined as conservation and not a national park? Because here there is a cohabitation of wildlife and Masai tribes. They are the only tribe who can live on this land and graze their livestock here. They don’t feed on the wildlife but solely on their livestock.
In case you didn’t know, in 1951 the area was included as part of the original Serengeti National Park, but in 1959 it was separately designated the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979.
Now let’s get back to our safari adventures! On our way to the Serengeti, we found 3 cheetahs relaxing in the grassland and we decided to eat our lunch in the car, so we could stay longer to observe them. As we were leaving we drove by a very tired lion! He clearly just had a full meal, which we were able to recognize by his labored breathing and a zebra carcass not too far from him.
A few days later we returned to Ngorongoro Conservation, but this time we were there to visit the crater, which is actually a caldera. Our main goal was to see the Rhino, which was the last of the Big 5 that we needed to see. In case you didn’t know the Big 5 are the lion, leopard, black rhino, elephant, and buffalo. The term was coined by big-game hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. Of course, they aren’t being hunted anymore but the term stuck!
However, during our drive, we witnessed so many beautiful moments with other animals. One of my favorites was the large group of baboons with their babies hanging around a tree. It is fascinating to see how parenting doesn’t change much between humans and animals. I could see myself in so many of the gestures the animals had with their babies.
No worries we did find the rhino (as I mentioned above) and spent over an hour waiting for him to decide whether to come towards us or go in the opposite direction. Our guide explained that we were already very lucky to see him at that distance, they never get that close. We have been feeling lucky every day for all the amazing animals we have observed!
As we were getting ready to leave though we heard on the radio about a group of lions sleeping. This was the most magical moment of the day. 3 lions and 6 lionesses were all relaxing together. We were of course quite a few safari cars watching them. At one point one of the lionesses stood up and walked right next to our car. We held our breath not knowing what to expect and then she looked intensely at us and laid down. Our hearts were full and we did not want to leave that moment.
Ngorongoro Conservancy gifted us also with another beautiful event: the great migration. This is the largest herd movement of animals on the planet. Over 1.2 million wildebeest and 300,000 zebra along with gazelle move in a constant cycle through the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem in search of grass and water. This circuit takes the animals from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in the south of the Serengeti, up through the Serengeti and across into the Masai Mara in Kenya and back again. We drove for Kilometers between the conservation and the beginning of the Serengeti watching thousands of wildebeests, zebras, and gazelles together eating, running and crossing the road. It took our breath away!
Serengeti National Park
Serengeti National Park was established in 1951 and covers 14,763 square km of grassland and savanna. The name, Serengeti, is derived from the Maasai word siringit, meaning “endless plains.” Due to mispronunciation, it is now called Serengeti. This park was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1981.
This is the biggest of the 3 parks and it gifted us with some exceptional moments as well. First of all, I would like to spend some words on the beauty of the environment, kilometers of savanna interrupted by areas with more trees that somewhat resembled a little jungle. You can drive for kilometers without seeing another human being but you can witness some incredible animals living their daily life. For example, on our first morning out we noticed a Jackel and then some hyenas. As we stopped there to observe what they were going to do next, we heard animals calling. Shortly after we saw 4 jackals and 10 hyenas big and small running in the direction of the sound. We don’t know what was going on but since we took our time to watch things unfold we had a chance to experience this moment.
Of course, on our drive, we saw many elephants, but one of the most touching moments was meeting on the side of the road a very old one that was completely alone. As our guide explained when elephants are very old they isolate themselves because they are close to death. Here he was very close to our car. For a moment we were also a bit concerned that it might charge us. We held our breath when it came very close and looked straight at us, but he slowly made his way back to the grass he was eating.
The hippos were another animal we had seen in the past but always very far. Here we found a couple of little water areas packed with hippos! They were one next to the other just enjoying the water, every now and then you would see a hippo head come up to yawn and that is when you would see all of their teeth! On our final evening, we went to the hippo pool, which is a river, so the water flows. In this area, you can actually get down and stand by the river to watch them. The hippos were swimming around and a couple also walked out. In fact, at nighttime they search for their food. They are so big! I still cannot believe how close we were!
Another great moment of observation and patience was waiting for the leopard to come out. We sighted 2! The first one was on a tree at a distance from the road so we waited a long time but he never actually came down. However, we heard about another sighting in the grassland. We could see only the tip of the head and many cars that arrived later didn’t believe there was anything to see. However our patience gifted us with a great result, the leopard walked out before laying down again in the grass. What a moment!
The last one of the big 5 that we had to see was the buffalo. We started by seeing three bathing in muddy puddles and then scratching themselves. We already thought we were lucky with this until the next day we were driving and saw at least a hundred of them in one spot!
I do want to point out that simply driving in the savanna gave us an incredible sense of freedom and infinite. It felt like it was never-ending and we could go on forever.
Witnessing acts of kindness
As we were driving into the Serengeti National Park we saw a car on the side of the road. Our guide immediately stopped and went to see what happened. He tried to assist but didn’t have the right tools so we drove to the entrance and communicated what happened to seek assistance for the other guide. I thought immediately how kind our guide was to stop and help.
The following day we started our safari adventures. After observing the hyenas for a while, Humphrey restarted the car only to find out that it didn’t start! We jumped out and pushed and we were back in business. We quickly headed to the location where 7 lionesses had been spotted. After spending 30 minutes watching them, with our motor always on to avoid it not starting, we were turning the car to go somewhere else, when the car died completely! We were just a few meters away from 7 lionesses and our motor was dead! What were we going to do? Humphery jumped out of the car and started checking the motor while we checked what the lionesses were doing.
Shortly after many other safari cars stopped to help. We were there for over 1 hour, with many people working on restarting the car. At one point a very annoyed tourist jumped out of his car which was a bit too far from the lionesses to get a good view and told the guide who had stopped in the middle of the road if we could help each other and move his car so they could keep on enjoying their safari. Outraged the guide looked up at him and said that they were busy helping their friend so he should go back to his car and wait!
This safari had just stepped up to be more than just about the animals we were observing daily. We witness pure moments of human kindness and this was one that we will always cherish and remember. A great lesson for all of us is that there are places in the world where people still help each other with no other goal than to simply help! As parents, we were also very proud of our kids for feeling the need to thank all the amazing humans that stopped to help by making them friendship bracelets while we were waiting in the car. I think kindness may be something that we don’t need to teach them they already have it inside of them.
Are safaris ok for kids?
Recently a famous vlogger said on Instagram that safaris are not for kids that aren’t able to be quiet and stay still in the safari car for long hours. I was surprised by her comment because I honestly don’t know many kids that will stay still and quiet for over 8 hours. I guess hers are that good, although I highly doubt it! Of course, I’m not going to impose my three kids on other people so I will always look for something private. But honestly, I want to go against her comment.
Kids are fascinated by animals. When we stopped to observe they would all stand out of the rooftop and quietly watch or make comments of fascination. I was impressed by how well they managed all the driving, but I did realize that they truly appreciated the environment as well as us. Luca was able to spot many animals before all of us including the Black Rhino at a far distance! In moments of boredom, they would play some games, like spot at least 5 of an animal. They also managed to play hide and seek in the car! There were moments when their voice volume went up a little but we always managed to turn it back down, especially if we spotted an animal!
What I’m trying to say is that kids don’t need to be completely still and quiet to go on a safari. They will appreciate and will be amazed by the animals just like the adults, even more! We made it all about being a big adventure and believe me it was!
This safari gifted us with so much! Exploring an amazing natural environment. Slowing down and serving the pace of the animals. In many moments it made us question why we make our reality so complicated while if we observed animals in their natural habitat everything makes so much more sense.
Don’t get me wrong, not every tourist there was taking their time to enjoy the slow pace of the reality they were in, they were still running to see as many animals as possible. But if you can let go of that rush that we carry with us in our everyday life at least for that moment, at least while you are here, maybe a bit of the magic of the animals will rub off on you. You can bring it back with your to your everyday life.
Once we drove out of the park, we were hit by a sense of longing to be back into that magical environment where everything that happens makes complete sense, it is a perfect cycle that works in the most natural way. Why can’t humans get inspiration from animals? They could be our greatest teachers. Why can we respect nature in a park and not outside of it?
So many questions were raised for me after having this break into this peaceful environment, kind of like taking a break and then being thrown back into reality and seeing all that could be done differently. All we can do now is hold on to this feeling and carry it on with us wherever we go.
Our biggest recommendation to you is to make this experience with your family at least once in your life, you will not regret it! Happy Travels!!!!