We traveled to Tanzania with a group of good friends to explore three of the country's national parks - Tarangire, Lake Manyara, and Serengeti. Scroll down for lots of photos and a little bit about each of the parks and some of the wildlife we spotted!
After a long journey from Chicago, with layovers in Istanbul and Dar es Salaam, we arrived in Arusha (one of the gateways to Tanzania's many national parks.) We met our guides/drivers, Yusuf and Nixson, and split up into two Land Cruisers, our chariots for the week. Finally, we were on our way!
Tarangire National Park is named after the Tarangire River, which runs through the park. Tarangire means "warthog river" in Swahili. And we saw lots of warthogs and their babies! We couldn't help calling all of them Puumba, like the Lion King character. We also couldn't help referring to The Lion King constantly throughout the week, which I'm sure our poor guides tired of!
Highlights of Tarangire:
1. Tons of wildlife right away - warthogs, lions, giraffe, elephants, many birds, mongoose, baboons, vervet monkeys, and ostriches to name a few
2. Baobab trees - These majestic trees only grow in certain regions of Africa and were sprinkled throughout Tarangire. They store water in their wide trunks and can live to be hundreds of years old
3. Lions close up - on our second day in the park, we were stopped, observing a group of lionesses in the distance, napping under a tree. Storm clouds blew in, and suddenly the skies opened and it began to rain. If you know cats, you know they don't like to be wet. The lionesses decided to move location, got up from their nap and started walking directly towards our trucks. The whole group crossed the road right in front of us. We couldn't believe our luck! Up close, they are quite intimidating animals - well-fed and much larger than you would expect. Definitely kept all arms and legs inside our vehicles!
During our time at Tarangire, we stayed at Maramboi, a beautiful tented lodge just outside of the park border. Think glamping on steroids. The morning we checked out, a group of us took an early morning walk from the lodge to the edge of Lake Manyara. We shared the walk with our Maasai guide and passed by wildebeest and zebra.
What you're not getting from the photos:
1. The odor - nice, fresh dung from all kinds of animals
2. The squish of aforementioned dung under our feet as we made our way to the lake. It had rained the evening prior, and at one point, we were skating over a thick layer of wet scat. All of our shoes were coated by the time we got back to the lodge
We left Maramboi and on our way to the next lodge, did a game drive through Lake Manyara National Park. The lake is home to many bird species, including flamingoes and pelicans. But the park is most famous for its tree climbing lions. Lions usually prefer to stay on the ground, but in this park, visitors may find them reclining in some of the abundant trees.
Highlights of Lake Manyara:
1. Leopard! We did not spot any lions that day, unfortunately. But our friends in one of the trucks did spot the elusive leopard. Leopards like to stay up high in the daytime, and they are notoriously hard to spot because they are very good at hiding among the leaves and branches. Best bet is to look for a long tail dangling from a branch!
2. Bee-eater bird - our driver Nixson spotted this beautifully colored bird hunting for insects. We watched for a couple of minutes as it darted in a circle, catching bees mid-air, always returning to the same branch from where it took flight.
3. Thirsty tortoise - our trucks were crossing a bridge, and a tortoise decided to stop in the middle of the road to have a drink from a puddle. Even if we have somewhere to be, the wildlife puts us in our place!
We set out early the next morning for Ngorongoro Crater, the fourth largest caldera in the world and the only one which has stayed intact. The crater formed millions of years ago when an ancient volcano collapsed onto itself, leaving a large bowl which has since filled with trees, plants, and animals. This environment has created a dense population of wildlife within its borders.
Roads crisscross the floor of the crater, which measures approx. 100 square miles. From the moment we descended into the crater floor, the action was nonstop. The crater houses a large variety of animals including herds of zebra, cape buffalo, and wildebeest, several prides of lions, many hyenas, jackals, vultures, and hippos. It is the definition of survival of the fittest here!
Highlights of Ngorongoro Crater:
1. Vultures - we stopped to watch several vultures feeding on the carcass of a cape buffalo, perhaps killed the day before. Really amazing to watch these birds pick everything clean
2. Lions feeding/hyena thieving - we were very lucky and got to watch a couple groups of lions feeding. It was especially entertaining when a hyena snuck by one lion's kill and grabbed a few mouthfuls before the lion came back and chased him away. Those hyenas are persistent!
3. Hyena kill/lions thieving - hyenas scavenge for their food most of the time. Along with vultures, they are essential to the ecosystem, the clean up crew, eating anything and everything left behind by the lions and other predators. On this day, a pack of hyenas hunted their own meal, running a wildebeest to exhaustion until it gave up and lay down. The wildebeest was still alive as the hyenas tore into it. Likely the most difficult scene to witness on our trip, as we could hear the animal screaming as it was being eaten alive. A very rare event to see, and our guides were even a bit horrified. After a few minutes, we saw two lionesses sneak up to the group of feeding hyenas. The hyenas gave up their kill immediately, as they are no match for two grown lions, and the lions settled down to lunch.
4. Beautiful scenery - 360 degrees of hills, sky, wildlife. It was impossible to take a bad photo inside the crater.
A couple photos from our visit to a traditional Maasai village...
We spent about 4 days inside the world famous Serengeti National Park. Stayed at a tented camp amid the wildlife and were treated to sounds of hyena and lions right outside our tents during the night. Words really cannot describe the incredible experience, but the photos below will give you a taste!