After spending the day in the Ngorongoro Crater, we continued north to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. We would spend two nights in the park where we spend two full days driving around and seeing so many amazing sights. We would see the one missing animal to complete the Big Five as we would have several incredible encounters with Leopards that was the only animal missing as we’d seen lions, water buffaloes, rhinos, and elephants already. We would see much more than just the big cats and we would have many encounters that were up-close and personal. The Maasai word Serengeti means “land of never ending plains”, which is certainly apt as you can see the endless grasslands in every direction that you look.
We stayed in the central part of the Serengeti National Park, which made it easy for us to get out and spend full days exploring the park. The sheer number of animals that live in the park is at times almost overwhelming. We were there as the wildebeest began the migration north towards Kenya, so there were times when thousands of wildebeest and zebras crossed the road in front of us with a distinct mission to reach their next destination. There were so many incredible experiences with wildlife that it is definitely a place that we will remember and cherish our time there forever.
We started seeing giraffes as we neared the park, but since the giraffes eat the leaves of trees, seeing them inside the park is limited to when they go from one location to another. We also saw a variety of elephants in the park, which didn’t use to be the case, but they have naturally migrated to the Serengeti over time as the populations in surrounding parks increased. It was, however, the encounters with the large cats that would be the highlight of our first day in the park. At one point, we saw a lion so close to our Land Cruiser that we could have literally reached out and petted him, but that would not have been a good idea. For the most part, the animals could care less about the people who drive up around them to take their photographs, but occasionally they shy away from our presence. We spent about twenty minutes admiring the lion before any other vehicles arrived, at which point he decided to wander away into the tall grass where he disappeared.
We saw leopards at two different points on our first day, the first being relatively far away and the second that was relatively close and was eating the Thompson’s gazelle that he had killed. We spent about an hour simply watching him climb around the tree and eating his dinner. We often describe some of experiences as being like a National Geographic special, but instead of watching it on television, it was taking place right before our very eyes. In addition to these encounters with the big cats, we also had a very unique viewing experience of hippos charging down a river bed and splashing into the deep water. Seeing the hippos out of the water was always a unique experience, but seeing them running down the river bed was truly fascinating and it was amazing to see how fast they actually can run.
Our first day ended with a wonderful sunset as we enjoyed a glass of wine at the Thorn Tree Camp in the heart of the Serengeti National Park. Being in such a remote location, our access to WIFI was limited, but that was perfectly fine with us as we left the “real world” behind and simply enjoyed the natural beauty of the savannahs. Although we don’t have any photographs of the night sky, it was absolutely stunning with so many stars that spread across from horizon to horizon. Once again, we were not allowed out at night without an escort as there were many animals that wandered amongst the tents. Our days started before sunrise at 6:00 am and usually ended around sunset at around 6:30 pm. We slept better than we have in many years as we drifted off to the sounds of animals all around the camp.
As incredible as our first day in the Serengeti was, it was actually only the beginning of our time in the park. We know that because of the current travel conditions, many people either only visit Kenya or only visit Tanzania, but based on our experiences, we’d highly recommend doing the full safari circuit that takes you through both wonderful countries. We were definitely in the heart of our safari at this point and we had become experts at changing lenses quickly, learning how to use the telephoto lenses for both the camera and the iPhone. All of the photographs that we’ve shared here were just from our first day in the Serengeti. The Serengeti National Park definitely lived up to every expectation that we had as we investigated going on safari and was truly a magical experience.