Although Panama is a narrow country, it is also a very biodiverse country with oceans and rainforests. There are so many fascinating animals that live in Panama and we were fortunate to see many different varieties during our time there. Seeing animals in their natural habitat is certainly a highlight of visiting any country like this and we took several tours specifically hoping to see some of the nation’s wildlife.
We kept our eyes on the tree limbs above our heads to see the different varieties of monkeys, sloths, and birds. We also saw a tree-climbing anteater as well as a somewhat cute rodent called an agouti. The tarantula spider that climbed out of the tree above our heads when we stopped to eat lunch was interesting and yet creepy at the same time.
We have been fortunate enough to see a wide variety of wildlife in various parts of the world, but we have to admit that Panama provided us some of our most interesting encounters. It is important to have your camera handy and having a telephoto lens often helps too, but when you get as close as we were able to get, it isn’t required.
As much as we enjoyed seeing all of the large animals in East Africa, we also saw an amazing assortment of birds. Whether the fascinating ostriches, different waterfowl like the flamingos, or other colorful birds, it was as interesting seeing all of the different birds as it was to see lions, rhinos, and giraffes. It wasn’t until we arrived back home and had time to go through all of our photographs that we realized how many different birds we were able to capture images of. We knew before we went to Tanzania and Kenya that we we would see ostriches and flamingos, but the sheer number of colorful and interesting birds that we saw was almost overwhelming.
Just like all of the animals that we saw during our safari, the birds really didn’t care about the presence of humans as they went about their business. Whether it were the flocks of helmeted guineafowl, the grey crowned cranes, or even the vultures chasing away a hyena to get their fill of a fresh kill, seeing the birds in their natural environment was quite fascinating. Even seeing something as simple as the lovebirds as they flocked to a tree was amazing in the surroundings of the African grasslands.
Even though there is nothing like seeing the large cats and other large animals in the wild, seeing all of these different birds was special in their own way. Some of the birds were quirky, some traditional, and others down right scary, they are all part of the ecosystem that makes East Africa unique. Many of them actually ride on the backs of the larger animals like elephants and hippos as they wait for them to disrupt the insects and cause them to leap into the air for the birds to catch.
We arrived in Nairobi about 15 hours later than we were originally scheduled to due to a variety of cancellations and flight changes. So, instead of arriving Sunday evening and getting a night of sleep before starting our safari, we contacted our guides, Perminus and David, and had them meet us at the airport to take us straight to our lodge at Amboseli National Park. Since we had been awake for over 48 hours at this point, we couldn’t have been blamed for drifting in and out of consciousness during the drive from Nairobi to the park. Since we didn’t leave Nairobi until early afternoon, it was near sunset when we approached the Zebra Plains Amboseli Camp where were to stay two nights. As we got close to the camp, animals could already be seen along the road, especially some wonderful views of giraffes as the sun set behind them. This would be the last time that we would not have cameras at the ready to capture every possible image, but we did take a few photos as we drove toward the camp.
As we checked into to our tent at the camp, we were informed that we must always be escorted by one of the camp staff and Maasai warrior guards if we were to leave our tent after dark. This would be true at almost every place we stayed during our safari and it became very evident as to why on our very first night as we heard an elephant trumpet near our tent and even heard a hyena on the porch of the tent. Although we were up early every day and stayed out until dusk, we really enjoyed the places that we stayed. Our days always started with some wonderful African coffee and a warm and hearty breakfast. The lodges also provided us with box lunches to take along as we spent the day driving throughout the parks.
Amboseli National Park is one of the smaller parks that we visited, but we literally seemed to come across different wildlife around every turn. The park is known for the elephants, hence the nickname “the Land of the Giants”, which are not only large, but also have some of the largest tusks that we would see on the safari. It was also the place where we would have our up-close interactions with the elephants and even had a playful baby elephant lift his trunk and try to smell us. We understand that the park can get quite busy because it is close to Nairobi, but due to the pandemic, there were not many other tourists or other Land Cruisers (the “official” vehicle of safaris) around us as we traversed the park.
In addition to the many different encounters with the elephants, we also saw hundreds of giraffes, zebras, and wildebeest. Amboseli would also provide us our first opportunities to see lions, of which we saw several times during our day and a half in the park. We also saw many different birds in the park including the ostriches, African Crowned Crane, pelicans, flamingos (which there are two types known as the lesser and greater), and hamerkop (also known as the hammerhead). As the sun set after our first full day on safari, we asked our guide, David, to drive us back to the area around the lodge where we had seen the giraffes at sunset the previous night. We wanted to capture them with the camera since we didn’t pull it out during the drive to Amboseli.
By the time that our first day and a half was over, we had seen three of the Big Five, elephants, water buffaloes, and lions, just leaving rhinos and leopards to be seen later. It truly was an incredible start to our safari as we so many different animals and we especially enjoyed seeing some of the baby animals. It was also mating season, which was quite interesting as well. On the second day, we drove through Amboseli National Park to see many more animals before making our way to the border of Kenya and Tanzania to continue south on our safari. The full safari is a giant loop that starts south, then heads west, and eventually goes north and finally back east. We can certainly understand why people might make this one of their only destinations on safari, but we would recommending extending it through the many other national parks as we did.