Tanzania: Safari Parks and Animals (3 Days)

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“Jambo!” Now that is probably the coolest way to say “hi” in another language. Jambo!

Welcome to our African Safari. We had an incredible time seeing beautiful animals roaming free in the wilderness of Northern Tanzania. Everything happens slowly here, as the locals say “pole pole” (slowly, slowly), which allows for a relaxing adventure through breathtaking nature.

For transportation, Kilimanjaro (JRO) airport is served by many direct flights, even from Amsterdam and Istanbul. About 1 hour drive West from JRO is the city of Arusha, where we spent a day recovering from jet lag upon arrival and visited local markets selling arts & crafts. Nearby Arusha is the Mesenari Snake Park with pythons, black mambas, forrest cobras, turtles, crocodiles and even camels to ride.

This post highlights the best Safari Parks, though a visit wouldn’t be complete without also talking about the semi-nomadic Maasai People who live a traditional and simple lifestyle grazing livestock in the wild

Day 1: Tarangire National Park

The park spans 2,850 square kilometers with the Tarangire River running through the length of the park, providing water and refuge for animals, especially during the dry season. This park has the greatest concentration of wildlife outside the Serengeti ecosystem and is particularly known for its elephants.

The Elephants

We saw literally hundreds of elephants walking along with their newborn babies just a meter or two away from our jeep. Even though they weigh 6,000 kilograms, soft cushioned pads at the bottom of their feet make their walk surprisingly quiet — even when they are running at speeds up to 40 km/h! They are very social animals, living in families and spending 18-20 hours each day eating anything from grass to trees to fruits. However, their digestive systems are quite poor, so we actually saw these elephants eating each other’s poop because apparently there are many nutrients still left in the “food”! Yuck, come on guys, go find some greens. 🙂

Elephant family at Tarangire eating each other's poop!
Elephant family at Tarangire eating each other’s poop!

As for the vegetation, the Tarangire park has majestic baobab trees with trunks up to 10 meters wide that hold even 120,000 liters of water! Locals call it the “tree of life” due to the fruit, medicine, shelter and water that it provides.

Family of elephants in front of a majestic baobab tree
Family of elephants in front of a majestic baobab tree

The Lions “Simba”

Lioness that hunted down a "pumba" (warthog) right in front of our eyes
Lioness that hunted down a “pumba” (warthog) right in front of our eyes

An absolute highlight of our day was witnessing a lion hunt right in front of our eyes. A lioness walked in-between our jeeps, eyes intently focused on a group of “pumba” (warthogs) nearby. The lioness went into “stealth” mode, crunching down in the grass and stalking the pumba until it was close enough. At that point, as if someone fired the starting gun, the lioness jumped out and a mad race ensued with the pumba literally running for its life. A minute later, the pumba was thrown upon impact 3 meters into the air and the lioness crunched its jaws deep into pumpa’s throat. She lay on top of her prey, panting hard for a solid 5 minutes savoring the victory.

Lions live in prides with one or few males (hence the story of “Lion King”) and many females along with their offspring. Each pride has a territory of 30-50 square kilometers with borders marked by urine and mighty roars that can be heard for up to 10 kilometers. Females actually do the majority of the hunting, though male lions often get to eat the kill first if they are nearby.

When females go in heat, they will mate every 15 minutes for up to a week without eating! Their cubs are born blind, entirely dependent on their mothers for care and can milk from any of the females in the pride. Unfortunately, male cubs are often killed by adult males from other prides or kicked out when they mature and become a threat to the pride’s male.

Day 2: Ngorongoro Crater

Look-out over the Ngorongoro Crater
Look-out over the Ngorongoro Crater

The name Ngorongoro comes from the Maasai People based on the sound made by cow bells. Going back 3 million years, the park was formed by a giant 5 kilometer tall volcano that exploded and collapsed, leaving behind a “caldera” (the technical name for this crater). It spans a huge area of 260 square kilometers (100 square miles) with sides that are more than 600 meters tall.

The steep sides keep animals confined to the inside of the crater and combined with the fact that the hard volcanic soil prohibits growth of trees, the game viewing is absolutely spectacular. We saw literally thousands of wildebeest, impalas, gazelles, elands, water bucks, buffalos, hippos, black rhinos, zebras, ostriches, hyenas, jackels and lions (5 lion families actually live in the crater).

Inside Ngorongoro Crater observing zebras and wildebeest in the background
Inside Ngorongoro Crater observing zebras and wildebeest in the background

Day 3: Lake Manyara

The name “Manyara” comes from the Maasai People based on the type of tree used in constructing their huts. The park stretches for about 50 kilometers along the base of the rusty-gold Rift Valley escarpment. The lake in the middle of the park is 200 square kilometers large, but during the dry season it almost completely dries up. During the wet season, the lake is home to thousands of flamingoes, which make it look like a sea of pink everywhere. Other animals that are plentiful to see here are baboons, hippos, wildebeest, zebras and different types of birds.

Field of baboons at Lake Manyara
Field of baboons at Lake Manyara
Our great guide Emmanuel
Our great guide Emmanuel

We were fortunate to have a great lead tour guide, Emmanuel, who previously spent a decade as a park ranger before becoming a professional safari guide. His detailed knowledge of the safari animals and a myriad of fun facts about them are document below. “Asante Sana” (thank you very much), Emmanuel!

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