Authentic Tanzania Safari Report: A Journey through Tarangire, Ngorongoro, & The Serengeti
Our recent Authentic Tanzania Safari to Tarangire, Ngorongoro, and Serengeti National Park was an exceptional wildlife experience in the remote bush of northern Tanzania. I have spent extensive time in the African bush and this safari was undoubtedly one of my most memorable! We traveled to the famous national parks, enjoyed luxury lodges, hidden tented camps, and witnessed many remarkable wildlife sightings. Our guides were top-notch - professional, friendly, fun, and willing to share their in-depth knowledge of African wildlife and culture.
GrassTrack Safaris custom designed this epic and exclusive Tanzania safari experience to coincide with the end of the calving season, when the great herds of wildebeest and zebra give birth on the southern Serengeti plains. Our journey was more than just wildlife as we also experienced the culture and everyday life of Tanzania.
Read on to learn more about our amazing safari!
Arusha - Gateway to northern Tanzania
After a two-year delay due to covid interruptions, in March 2022 our 14-day safari was finally confirmed. Our group of 10 was excited to be traveling once again!
Our safari started in the bustling city of Arusha in northern Tanzania. Arusha is located at the foothills of Mount Meru on the eastern side of the Great Rift Valley. This is the gateway to the northern safari circuit, with easy access to the Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara, Tarangire, Mount Kilimanjaro, and Mount Meru. Its elevation of 4,600 ft keeps temperatures relatively cool despite proximity to the equator, so temperatures generally range between 50 and 86F, with little humidity due to the altitude.
We spent two nights in central Arusha at the African Tulip and explored some of the restaurants and attractions in the city. The Cultural Heritage Center is worth a few hours. Located on the Arusha-Serengeti Road, it’s an enormous complex of interesting architecture, art galleries, and tanzanite and curio shops. Established in 1994, the center aims to showcase Tanzania’s rich heritage with art, sculpture, paintings, etc. It’s a great place to shop and to slowly wander the galleries admiring the artwork.
We also made a visit to the SANAA Workshops in central Arusha (an easy walk from the African Tulip). SANAA is a project highlighting marginalized people who make amazing products. Disabled artists create unique products, mainly from recycled waste. We watched many artists plying their trade in leatherwork, beadwork, weaving, lost wax casting, and glass blowing. If you’re looking for unique, high-quality gifts be sure to stop here. Proceeds are used for the several charitable projects which Sanaa supports.
Tarangire National Park
From Arusha, we traveled through rural Tanzania to Tarangire National Park. Located just a few hours’ drive from the town of Arusha, Tarangire is a popular stop for safaris travelling through the northern circuit on their way to Ngorongoro and the Serengeti. The park extends into two game-controlled areas and the wildlife are allowed to move freely throughout. After the Serengeti, Tarangire has the greatest concentration of wildlife in Tanzania and in the dry season the Tarangire River is a magnet for thirsty wildlife. Large herds of elephants and migratory wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, impala, gazelle, hartebeest, and eland gather and not surprisingly the predators follow. This is also the one place in Tanzania where dry-country antelope such as oryx and gerenuk are regularly spotted. Tarangire is also known for its spectacular baobab trees, and its breath-taking views of the Maasai Steppe and the mountains to the south. In the middle of the park, the Silale swamp becomes the main source of water and attracts elephants and predators as the season gets drier and drier. There is a healthy lion population, and the other predators are often spotted trailing the plains game as they head to water, or occasionally the cats can be spotted lounging in sausage trees.
We spent two nights at the stunning Lemala Mpingo Ridge Camp. Perched high on an escarpment, Mpingo Ridge offers sweeping views across the Tarangire River Valley. What a spectacular place to start a safari! Our two days here were filled with game drives, picnic lunches, a night drive, and simply taking in the magnificent views with a gin & tonic.
The wildlife did not disappoint. We encountered herds of elephant, giraffes, antelopes, and even some tree climbing lions. On our night drive we had some unusual sightings, including a few hyenas, owls, and nightjars.
A Maasai Village
The Maasai are perhaps Tanzania’s most recognizable tribes. The men typically wear a red toga or blanket, dye their hair with red ochre and carry a long wooden pole or spear. Traditional dress for women includes extensive beadwork. Their ancestral territories are located along the popular northern safari circuit so a visit to a Maasai village is an opportunity for a glimpse into the daily lives of the Maasai. Though they are strongly associated with this region of Tanzania, they are relatively recent arrivals having migrated to this region from the Nile area around the 15th century. A typical homestead is called a boma consisting of a few huts and their cattle enclosed by a fence. Cows are very important to the Maasai as they are a source of wealth. Traditionally the Maasai would not hunt or eat vegetables and most of their diet came from mixing cow blood and milk.
On our drive from Tarangire to the Ngorongoro Crater we stop for a couple hours at a local Maasai village. Upon our arrival, the villagers greeted us with an elaborate welcome dance full of singing and ululation. Though some in the village could speak English, we had an interpreter who told us about the dance, how they tend the cattle, and answered any questions we had about Maasai society. Following the dance, we all participated in the traditional jumping contest or adumu. The men gather in a circle and one by one they step inside to jump as high and elegantly as possible without their heels touching the ground. It looks simple – until we were invited to try. I jumped the best I could, but my jump didn’t come close to theirs! The adumu is actually a mating dance, where the young men show their strength by jumping and the young women sing and flirt on the sidelines.
After the jumping contest and a walk around the boma, the men captured a small cow to collect blood for a meal. They shot the cow in the jugular vein from a close distance and filled a gourd with the blood. They packed manure over the cut to stop the bleeding. All the men drank heartily from the gourd and the passed it to an older man in our group out of respect. He took a small sip but the rest of us passed!
Though a only a short visit, we thoroughly enjoyed interacting with the Maasai and learning about their unique culture.
From the Maasai village we continued through the village of Mbo wa tbo and up over the Great Rift Escarpment to the town of Karatu. The landscape was full of agriculture and tea/coffee plantations with the volcanic highlands looming in the distance. While most safaris stay near the town of Karatu, we would be staying a night at the Lemala Ngorongoro Camp on the crater rim. An advantage of this camp is it is located at short drive to one of the descent roads into the crater. With an early morning departure we avoid the park gate and lines of vehicles using the more accessible descent road.
The Ngorongoro Crater in Northern Tanzania, once a gigantic volcano, is the largest intact caldera in the world. Some maintain that before it erupted, it would have been higher than Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. Today, long since having collapsed and eroded, it is an extensive highland area with the famous 2000-foot deep Ngorongoro Crater as its focal point. Nearly three million years old, the ancient caldera shelters one of the most beautiful wildlife havens on earth. The endangered black rhino is protected within its rim, giant tusked elephants wander the forests, black-maned lions stalk the grasslands, and flamingos crowd the soda lakes. An estimated 25,000 large mammals are resident in this bowl of plenty, including a population of highly endangered black rhino and around a high density of lions and hyenas.
We were up before dawn and following a quick breakfast started the steep descent to the crater floor. For most of the morning we saw very few vehicles and enjoyed many private wildlife sightings. As we explored the northern area of the crater, we came across a pride of about 12 lions as they sauntered through the grasslands. It was a complete pride with big males, related females and 6-7 young cubs. The lions showed no concern with us and walked alongside the vehicle. After spending an hour or so with the pride we continued our search for more wildlife. There were lots of zebra, wildebeest, Grants and Thompson gazelles, and hyenas. We were lucky to see one of the black rhinos (at a distance) and a close-up encounter with a breeding herd of elephants. After a morning of productive game drives, we departed the crater on the very steep ascent road and enjoyed the incredible views across the enormous crater.
From the crater highlands we headed to our next camp in the Ndutu region of the southern Serengeti.
Serengeti National Park - Ndutu Region
The Serengeti is perhaps the most famous African wilderness area, its name synonymous with the notion of safari for nearly a hundred years. This UNESCO World Heritage site covers 5,700 sq miles of premiere game viewing in Acacia woodlands, open grasslands, and undulating savannahs interspersed with seasonal rivers. The park on the northern side borders the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya and, together with several other smaller reserves and conservation areas, forms the larger Mara-Serengeti ecosystem.
The famed Ndutu region is just outside of the Southern Serengeti boundary, within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. This location has a huge quality advantage as the area allows off road game driving, making this the best area in the Serengeti region for our guides to utilize their skills to find exclusive wildlife sightings. This freedom allows us to explore far and wide, and we often find active cheetah, huge migration herds, and much more in this quality wilderness setting.
The great migration comes to the shortgrass plains of the Ndutu region for the calving season. From late December through March, the Great Migration of 1.5 million wildebeest along with hundreds of thousands of zebras and gazelles resides on the short grass plains. The huge numbers usually start arriving in December and utilize the area through early April. Over 400,000 wildebeest calves are born during a three-week period, typically in February but varies from year to year. This irruptive birthing is a successful evolutionary strategy that ensures the survival of a majority of calves despite predators eating their fill during this time of plenty. At this time of year, herds stretch to the horizon in all directions. The masses of the migration are a magnet for predators and the area has the best cheetah concentrations in Africa, along with excellent lion and hyena viewing.
Between the easy prey base and the open grassland environment this area is unsurpassed for the opportunity to witness predators hunting - especially cheetah, lion, and spotted hyena. The extremely rare African wild dogs have also made a return to the south near Kakesio and Maswa, which can be searched when conditions are dry. Ndutu is also known for good opportunities to see mid-sized mammals such as bat-eared fox, serval, and with luck sometimes caracal and honey badger.
We spent 5 days at Njozi Camp a short distance from Lake Ndutu. Njozi was my favorite camp on this trip. It’s a simple yet comfortable tented camp set deep in the bush with only 7 tents. Designed and built for wildlife enthusiasts, Njozi focuses on flexibility and excellent service to cater to travelers who wish to optimize their game viewing opportunities. With excellent food, guiding and wildlife, Njozi provides a truly authentic safari experience.
The wildlife around Ndutu was phenomenal! We were a little late for the peak of calving season but still saw thousands of zebras and wildebeest and their calves. Leopards are common but elusive. Luckily for us our guides were adept at finding wildlife and they spotted a large leopard resting in a tree. The lake supports many species of aquatic birds and the pink flamingos made for a beautiful sight as they fed in the shallows.
This area is perfect cheetah habitat, and we’d spend hours simply watching cheetahs and hoping for a hunt. We were not disappointed as we witnessed a few successful hunts. You don’t really appreciate a cheetah’s speed until you see it run after prey! The kill is over in a few seconds and since cheetahs can’t really defend their kill they must eat quickly. We saw two cheetahs kill a small wildebeest and within 30 minutes or so the vultures started to arrive and soon followed by a hyena. The cheetahs ate their fill and left it for the hyenas and vultures.
After 5 days at Njozi it was difficult to say goodbye to the staff but it was time to move to our next and final destination, the Central Serengeti.
Serengeti National Park - Central Region
North of the southern grasslands lies the central part of the Serengeti, a beautiful area with wide open plains as far as the eye can see, dotted with small granite kopjes and seasonal rivers. The area is full of resident game and one of the highest densities of cats, especially lions, to be found anywhere in Africa. The eastern part of the central Serengeti had very limited tourism until just a few years ago and originally used as a cheetah research base. This stunning landscape of kopjes and grasslands is known for exceptional big cat sightings, especially cheetah.
We spent 4 days at the Lemala Ewanjan Tented Camp in the central Serengeti. Another beautiful Lemala camp with great food and excellent service. This region of the Serengeti is classic Africa. The wide-open grasslands surrounded by low hills covered with acacia forests contrasts with the endless plains of Ndutu. Our guides, Sosy and Henry, knew the area well and our 4 days here were filled with stunning scenery and excellent wildlife.
The big herds had started moving to the west of this area but there was still plenty of resident wildlife living here. We spent time exploring the eastern sections of the central Serengeti and the numerous lion sightings were incredible. One morning we found a large pride of males, females, and cubs walking along the dirt track towards a kopje. Once again, the lions showed us no concern, even resting in the shade of the vehicle. We spent a few hours following the pride as they made their way to a nearby kopje where they would spend the day resting. Cheetah sightings were also plentiful in the grasslands of the eastern section.
On our last day we headed to the southwest to the Moru Kopjes and found elephants and antelopes grazing in the acacia forests. The highlight was a visit to the Gong Rock, a boulder that makes a metallic clang when struck with a rock. It’s possible early peoples of the Serengeti used the Gong Rock for ceremonies or communication. The rock sits on a kopje with extensive views of the surrounding rocky hills and distant plains. A fitting end to our safari!
On our last day we boarded a small plane for the flight back to Arusha. We flew over the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater and so could retrace our journey as we flew to Arusha.
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What an amazing vacation!
Great job Dano!
It sure was. One of my favorite safaris!