Camping in the middle of the Tanzanian Serengeti with nothing but a thin canvas between you and who-knows-what is beyond exciting
As the dawn broke over the horizon we were on the road, heading to the Serengeti for an adventure in the wilderness. Home for the next three nights was to be a small dome tent in the middle of the Serengeti plains. I was excited, who knew what I would be face-to-face with when getting out of the tent at dawn.
After hours driving over rough pot-holed roads, we finally reached our campsite, literally in the middle of the plain, with views for miles towards the distant mountains. The only interruption to the view being the iconic crooked acacia trees which dot the land and rock formations, which I later discovered to be popular with the local lion population.
Camp was basic to say the least. There were few home comforts, simply a hut with a hole in the floor as a toilet and a sink with cold running water. That said, food was faultlessly supplied in abundance, and cooked fresh for every meal by the chef who was travelling with our group of four. I simply cannot comprehend how he produced the food he did using just basic camping cooking equipment, I certainly didn’t expect a fresh pizza while camping in the Serengeti, let alone the fabulous three course meals which we were served at every sitting.
People often ask me whether we had armed guards patrolling the campsite to ward off the ravenous wildlife. Or a high fence to keep them out. But no, the campsite was simply a patch of mown grass the size of a football pitch in the middle of the plain. Unsurprisingly, you are told not to leave anything edible in your tent, while all the cooking and eating is done within contained huts. If the animals want to walk through the campsite, you let them – perhaps just step aside.
Although the prospect of unzipping the tent in the morning to be faced with a herd of elephants was a thought that thrilled me, it was actually the noises during the night that provided the most surprising excitement. Lying in a tent with nothing but the canvas separating me from the entire animal population of the Serengeti tends to make you really prick up your ears. I was fortunate enough to visit during the migration, so was lulled to sleep at night by the chorus of a giant herd of wildebeest – surprisingly comforting – but the lions could still be heard in the distance…
The migration is an astounding sight. It’s difficult to do it justice on film and without doubt impossible to convey the magnitude of it in words. The sight of wildebeest as far as the eye can see, in every direction you look, combined with the relentless mooing of the herd is unimaginable. Certainly a sight everyone should see at some point in their lives.
Even if you aren’t lucky enough to witness the great migration, the Serengeti has some of the best wildlife viewing in the world - lions, cheetah, leopards, elephant, giraffe, hippo, the list goes on. The park is enormous, 30,000 square km to be precise, so it’s easy to lose the crowds and enjoy those special moments without any other 4x4s in sight. Each day holds something different, whether it’s a leopard who chooses to sleep under your vehicle, or a lion stalking a juvenile zebra – I honestly believe you could stay all year and still be astounded by something new each day.
Sadly for me it was over all too quickly. And so after three nights sleeping with lions and 1.4million wildebeest in the middle of Tanzania’s biggest National Park, we headed back to Arusha, where you won’t be surprised to hear, the shower never felt so good.
Some tips to make the most of your trip
When to go
June to November is Tanzania's dry season and is the best time to visit. March to May is the wet season.
Where to start
I don’t think I fully appreciated just how tiring a safari would be, so make sure you take time out before you begin to fully relax and prepare. The likelihood is that you will fly into Kilimanjaro Airport, so make the most of the fantastic lodges which Arusha has to offer, just 30 minutes from the airport.
Ngare Sero Mountain Lodge - an oasis of calm where no request is too much effort. A small colonial lodge, where you can sit on the verandah watching the Colobus monkeys swing through the trees, play croquet with the resident camels and enjoy the most delicious home cooked food before collapsing in front of the open fire.
Serena Mountain Village - part of the Serena hotel chain, Mountain Village is remote and relaxing. The rooms are large and modern, yet built in the traditional roundel style. A large lake provides just the right length walk to build up to dinner in the restaurant. $100 pp/pn.
Average cost for Camping Safari pp/per day $150-$200
What to wear
Keep covered up. Not only will long sleeves keep the sun from burning you, but it will also stop the flies tickling your arms – they are certainly plentiful.
I travelled with Good Earth Tours who I cannot recommend highly enough. The company also work with the community to provide scholarships, books and supplies to local children (www.goodearthtours.com).