A Travellerspoint blog

The Parks of the North – Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara

March 1 - March 6, 2013

sunny 26 °C

Once in Arusha our luggage was quickly unloaded and we carried it straight from the plane to the exit where a couple of guys with our name sign and a Toyota Landcruiser awaited us to take us to our hotel, which was a good 4-star place at the outskirts of town. DSC05361.jpg (Our ride for the next 5 days)

Included in our package was dinner and we could choose whatever we wanted from the menu, including appetizer, main and desert until we were so full we could hardly walk. We slept very well and went down to the reception area at 7AM the next morning, where our guides, Saloum and Kappande, were already waiting for us. Saloum was actually our guide, a reserved, good looking young guy and Kappande was like a “guide in training” since he didn’t know the parks of the Northern Circuit in Tanzania. So he was mainly tagging along and learning the routes and specific animals in this region from Saloum.
We finally started our safari experience and were heading towards Serengeti, which was a good 6-7 hours away. Below you find our itinerary, which was prepared by Samwel from Daigle Tours.

5 DAYS / 4 NIGHTS SERENGETI / NGORONGORO & LAKE MANYARA.

Day 1: ARRIVAL
Arrival at Arusha airport pick up and transfer to Snow crest hotel in Arusha for dinner and overnight. http://www.snowcresthotel.com

Day 2: ARUSHA - SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK
Morning after breakfast in your hotel depart to Serengeti National Park for game viewing. Oldest and most popular national park for its annual migration for wildebeest, Zebra and Thomson gazelle join the trek for fresh grazing. Box lunch Half day game viewing in Serengeti (buffalo, giraffe, eland, topi, kongoni, impala, grant gazelle, lion, cheetah, leopard, African Jackal) Game enroute via Ngorongoro. Dinner and Bonfire at Ikoma safari camp. http://www.ikomasafaricamp.com/contactus.html

Day 3: SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK
Morning after breakfast drive for full day game viewing in Serengeti National Park on Southern area. You will view the great migration of wildebeest, Zebra and Thomson gazelle join the trek for fresh grazing. Afternoon Box lunch and proceed with game viewing in Serengeti. Dinner and Bonfire at Ikoma safari camp. http://www.ikomasafaricamp.com/contactus.html

Day 4: SERENGETI - NGORONGORO CRATER & MAASAI BOMA
Early morning after breakfast depart to Ngorongoro passing to Maasai Boma where you will learn fascinating history of culture and Traditional way of life of Maasai and descent into the crater discovering the beauty and abundance of wildlife permanently resident on the crater floor and explore unbroken caldera. Box Lunch, Evening Dinner and overnight at Rhino lodge or Simba Campsite. http://www.ngorongoro.cc

Day 5: NGORONGORO - LAKE MANYARA NATIONAL PARK
After breakfast depart to Manyara for Full day game viewing (Buffalo, baboons, bushbuck, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, lion and birds) with packed lunch. Evening drive to Arusha

The following 4 days on our safari were very exhilarating, especially since this was our first ‘real’ safari in some of the best National Parks in Africa. Although Anna had done a ‘day-tour safari’ close to Johannesburg a couple of years ago, this was very different and the ‘real thing’. We were not bused to a close by park in the morning and taken back in the evening to a 5-star hotel in the city, we actually spent 4 days in the middle of 3 great parks, which included the sight and sounds of wildlife day and night, like lions or hyenas hunting prey close to our camp.
The ride from Arusha to our first camp in the northern part of Serengeti on day two was already one of the most memorable experiences of our lives. Even before we entered the official entrance to the park where we had to stop, pay the relatively steep entrance fees and do the paperwork, we saw an abundance of wildlife in their natural habitat. In the last 3 hours of our drive before we reached our camp “Ikoma Lodge” we saw the following animals: herds of Thompson gazelles, impalas and topis, hundreds of zebras, spotted hyenas, families of giraffes crossing the road in front of us, hippos, elephants, wildebeests and hartebeests, cape buffalos, different types of monkeys, different species of interesting birds, ostriches, warthogs, eagles, vultures, mongooses, wild foxes and a crocodile. This should give you a picture as to how dense the wildlife is in this region and we hadn’t even gone on a search of the more elusive animals; it was merely a transfer to our first safari lodge. DSC05016.jpg (Maasai village on the way to Serengeti) DSC05024.jpg (Giraffe crossing the road in front of us)DSC05033.jpg (Young maasai men with the traditional face paintings after being circumcised)

Ikoma Lodge is not in Serengeti directly but bordering on it and we had to cross the check point to the Ikoma area by sunset (nobody without s epical permission is allowed inside the park and outside the lodges after sunset). It is an idyllic place and you feel that you are in the middle of the wilderness, surrounded by trees and bushes. The camp consists of several individual wooden buildings, which are the cabins for the guest, a few small huts spread across the area where you have your breakfast or sit at a fire in the evening and the main building, where there’s a small bar and restaurant. Since we booked a package we had a set dinner, which was decent, together with our two guides. Although very polite and knowledgeable, neither of them were very talkative, so after dinner, a small chat and a beer we said our good byes and retired to our cabin, which was quite comfortable, with a large bead, mosquito net, ensuite bathroom and a small balcony where you could sit and listen to the sounds of the bush and watch the sky, completely undisturbed by city lights. DSC05286.jpgDSC05280.jpgDSC05274.jpgDSC05290.jpg (Ikoma Lodge)

Since it was already dark when we walked back the 300 yards to our cabin after dinner we had to be accompanied by a maasai employed by the lodge who was armed with a bow and arrows. We are still not sure whether this was intended to provide real protection from wild animals or just a gesture to instill a sense of safety since they would have to be pretty accurate with their arrows in the middle of the night were there a need to fend off animals. Anyway, it was good fun to always find one of them on your side whenever you got up to walk to the bathroom or your cabin.

The next two days were equally exciting and we obviously saw many more animals, some of the same as on our first day and some different ones. DSC05127.jpgDSC05144.jpgDSC05150.jpgDSC05198.jpgDSC05218.jpgDSC05248.jpgDSC05462.jpgDSC05416.jpgDSC05393.jpgDSC05562_2.jpgDSC05356.jpgDSC05336.jpgDSC05315.jpgDSC05402_2.jpg (One of my favorite and very elusive animals - the "Günther's Dik Dik")

Particularly interesting was to observe a prey of 12 lions resting in the shade under a tree while two of the female lions were hunting wildebeests just a few meters away in the high grass. After a while they gave up the hunt as they realized that the chances of a kill were pretty slim since by now about half a dozens 4WDs were parked 5 yards from them to shoot photos. Once one car encounters interesting animals it doesn’t take long for others to arrive but it must be even more crowded during high season. DSC05497.jpgDSC05527.jpg

From Serengeti and after two nights at Ikoma Lodge we slowly made our way south to Ngorongoro Crater. On the way there however, we stopped at one of the small Maasai villages, or Bomas as they are called here. Half a dozen other vehicles were already parked in front of the village and a group of men and women performed a traditional maasai dance to welcome us. DSC05585.jpgDSC05581.jpgDSC05593.jpg (In front of a Maasai Boma)

As you can imagine these visits are not free and our maasai guide, who introduced himself as the son of the village chief, asked for roughly US$ 45 ‘donation’ for both of us. We were a bit surprised about the high amount and expected this to be part of the ‘package’ but this was not the case and the money goes straight to the maasai village, which we were happy to support. Although the maasai are known to be ‘wealthy’ in comparison to many other tribes in this part of Africa, they still live a very, very simple life and they try to preserve large parts of their traditional lifestyle. They are respected and even feared by other tribes and are known around the world and naturally a big tourist attraction. The colorful clothes, decorations and 'jump dances' of the men always draw large crowds of visitors who are taking hundreds of photos. DSC05599.jpgDSC05605.jpgDSC05606.jpgDSC05616.jpgDSC05634.jpg (At the Maasai Boma)

We spent only an hour with these people and learned a bit more about their culture and lifestyle but left with more questions that we had before. But that’s probably part of what keeps the mythos of the maasai alive and helps them earn a living and provide for their families. They are aware of the fact that tourists are curious and fascinated by them and are willing to pay for the ‘privilege’ to rub shoulders with them. DSC05638.jpgDSC05640.jpg (School at the Maasai boma)

Only a short ride from the maasai boma we arrived at Ngorongoro Crater. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) is, as the name implies, a conservation area and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The crater itself is 8,288 km2 large and approximately 20 km in diameter. Most of the animals live at the bottom of the crater all year round, only some of the buffalos and gazelles leave the crater occasionally at night. There are very different microclimates and landscapes within the crater and we drove through desert like landscapes, along a large lake with thousands of flamingos to a small lake surrounded by palm and fig trees and teaming with hippos in the water. Again, a fascinating experience. DSC05005.jpgDSC05655.jpgDSC05689.jpgDSC05766.jpg (Inside the Ngorongoro Crater)

We stayed the night close to the crater rim at “Rhino Lodge”, overlooking a deep valley covered by rainforest. It is so close to the crater and wildlife that animals come very close – we had a whole family of water bucks grazing right in front of our room with a little balcony and in the evening a cape buffalo, one of the most dangerous animals in Africa, came by to get some of that green and moist grass surrounding the lodge. DSC05785.jpgDSC05795.jpg (Our room at Rhino Lodge)

The restaurant serves decent food in buffet style and you can sit outside on the large veranda if you are warm enough. It actually got pretty cold at night here and every room has a little wooden stove that can be fired up by the maasai staff if need be. We enjoyed our evening here and had a nice conversation with the couple managing the lodge, a French guy and a young Indian woman. Having lived in Tanzania for years, they also told us about some of the more remote parks in the southwest of Tanzania, which supposedly are even nicer and emptier than the parks of the north. Something to consider for next time since this was probably not our last safari. DSC05808.jpg (Stunning views from the terrace at Rhino Lodge)

After a proper breakfast and a last few moments taking in the stunning scenery behind this lodge, we were heading towards Lake Manyara National Park. Lake Manyara is a shallow lake in the Natron-Manyara-Balangida branch of the East African Rift in Manyara Region in Tanzania. Said by Ernest Hemingway to be the "loveliest [lake] ... in Africa," it is also the home of a diverse set of landscapes and wildlife, but it is best known for the many and large troops of baboons which are everywhere. DSC05848.jpg (One of the thousands of baby baboons)

We really enjoyed observing them in their natural habitat, many of the female baboons carrying newborn babies on their backs. But if you are lucky, you can even find all of the “Big Five” in the park, which include elephants, lions, cape buffalos, rhinos and leopards but some of them are more elusive than in Serengeti. We didn’t see lions, leopards or rhinos here but many hippos and a few elephants just a few feet from our car. DSC05873.jpg

Although we had seen plenty of elephants during the last couple of days, we were not getting tired of observing them at close range. Particularly amusing are the Vervet monkeys which sport large and bright blue testicles, hence they are often just called ‘Blue Balls Monkeys’. Evolution is sometimes very creative when it comes to attracting females☺ DSC05921.jpg (A Vervet monkey showing off his blue balls)

But finally it was time to head back to Arusha and our guide Saloum helped us find a very nice and affordable hotel in town and buy bus tickets for our ride back to Dar before he eventually left us. As always with staff who provide a very personalized service, we asked ourselves what an appropriate tip would be and landed at an amount comparable to US$20 per day of service. Saloum, although quiet and relatively reserved, was a very reliable, conscientious driver and guide and he was very knowledgeable about nature and wildlife and we wanted to recognize this. And although some other tourists may tip more, many tip less and US$100 overall is still a decent amount of money for a Tanzanian tour guide. The best advice that we can give other travellers regarding tipping in Africa is to tip according to the service received and the amount you can afford. A good tour guide is very important to make the safari experience memorable and it requires specialized skills and experience, so don’t be too stingy if you can afford it. But don’t be afraid to provide negative feedback to the tour operators as they are in a very competitive environment and well paying customers deserve good service. But as said earlier, in general you get pretty much what you pay for as standards have been established over many years when it comes to safaris in East Africa. DSC05926.jpg (View of Mount Meru from Arusha)

Posted by Elmar123 12:38 Archived in Tanzania Tagged landscapes lakes people animals birds

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