Whether you are seven or 70, I defy you not to be swept away by seeing African wildlife where it should be, in the wild. Tanzania is the perfect place to spot animals you have only dreamt of seeing
You will never forget the first lion you see in the wild. The authority that she oozes while meandering through the long grass, the sound of her rasping breath and the fix of her glare will stay with you forever. For me, my guide Abdul immediately recognised the signs of a lion being in the vicinity – with baited breath I watched the erratic behaviour of a troop of baboons as they screeched and clambered to whatever high ground they could find. Then she appeared. I was silent as I watched her leisurely saunter around the back of our 4x4. I was totally transfixed as my gaze followed her into the bushes and I watched as she devoured a young giraffe carcass which had clearly been killed some days ago.
I was in the Lake Manyara National Park, the first stop on my tour of the Northern safari circuit in Tanzania. I’d chosen Tanzania as it appeared to offer the perfect balance for our trip - some of the best National Parks in Africa along with the most beautiful white sand beaches on Zanzibar Island just a shop hop away. Easily do-able in two weeks, I spent a few days in Arusha at the start of my trip to acclimatise, five days on safari, then a week on Zanzibar Island afterwards to recover from all the early mornings – I didn’t realise just how tiring a safari would be.
By the end of the first day, I had already ticked off so many of the animals I had dreamt of seeing – giraffe, elephant, wildebeest, baboon, zebra, hippo, crocodile... not to mention that lion encounter. But as I sat outside the Lake Manyara Serena Safari Lodge watching the sun set over the lake, I realised it’s not about whizzing around the National Parks ticking animals off on a list, safaris should be about spending time with the animals, appreciating them in their natural habitat and taking a lesson on pace from the hippos.
The lodge provided a fabulous meal for my hungry belly, but I was exhausted so bed was the only place to go. That’s the thing about safari accommodation, unless you’re staying in the same place for a length of time, it’s simply a place to rest your head. With all those animals out there, why would you sunbathe around the pool – even if it is a stunning infinity pool with views for miles and miles?
Second stop on our safari was the Ngorongoro Crater National Park. A relatively small area (at least in comparison to the likes of the Serengeti), with a large animal population, at times it felt a little surreal – it almost seemed like spotting animals here was too easy. Having spent time at Lake Manyara, and also the Serengeti, I must admit that Ngorongoro felt a little contained. The crater floor is very flat and with limited tall vegetation, so you become more aware of other vehicles. If you are short of time, then this is a great park to visit – all the big five are here and sightings are easy, however giraffe fans will be disappointed as you won’t find any of them here, believe it or not, the crater sides are too steep for giraffe to be able to get in.
I stayed at the Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge which clings to the edge of the rim, with all the rooms looking down into the crater. During my stay the clouds rather atmospherically filled the crater bowl, leaving me feeling like I was higher than I actually was. However, I took every opportunity during breaks in the cloud to use the telescope on the hotel balcony to see what animals I could spot. And, as the night crept in and the temperature plummeted, I relished the open fire in the middle of the lodge bar, huddling around it with other guests exchanging stories of lion cubs and elephant stand-offs.
I could go on for days, regaling you with stories of spottings and sightings. Like when I saw a lion’s tail hanging in a tree, only to get closer and find a family of eight lions all snoozing in the one tree. Or the three young cheetahs we saw in the early morning stalking a hippo, with little success. Not to mention an incredibly inquisitive giraffe who wanted to see what was going on inside our 4x4. Although these experiences will always be ingrained on my memory, they are by no means unique – simply hang around the communal areas in your lodge and you’ll hear everyone has their own incredible stories. You too should have safari memories to treasure forever.
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, so access can be difficult.
Good Earth Tours (www.goodearthtours.com) - I cannot recommend them highly enough. The company also work with the community to provide scholarships, books and supplies to local children.
Average cost for safari in lodges like these is $260-$350 pp/per day.