Magical Experiences in the Serengeti National Park – Part I

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 Were This Close to the Male Lion
The Zebras Aren’t Snuggling, It is a Defensive Mechanism to See Both Directions
Elephant in the Grasslands
A Pride of Lions to Start Our Day
Giraffes on the Move
View from the Camp

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.

The First Leopard Sighting
Hippos Charging Into the Water
Called a Sausage Tree Because of the Seed Pods
Lion Relaxing by the Road
Elephants and Beautiful Scenery
Leopard Climbing Down the Tree

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.

The Dik-Dik is One of the Smallest Antelopes
Secretary Bird on a Tree
Hippos Charging into the Water
Watching the Leopard was Fascinating
Red Hartebeest and Thompson’s Gazelles
Our Tent in the Serengeti

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.

Lion Walking Away
Very Unique Landscape
Hippos in the Water
Relaxing at the End of the Day
Regal Giraffe

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.

Sunset from Our Camp
Olduvai Gorge Monument Near the Serengeti National Park
Baby Crocodile
Glass of Wine to End the Day
Leopard from the Distance
Maasai Children at a Viewpoint Near the Park

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.

General Thoughts on Visiting Kenya and Tanzania

Now that we are back home, we wanted to take a moment to give some general thoughts on our trip to Kenya and Tanzania before we start giving details about each of the specific locations that we visited. First of all, especially after over a year and half without travel, getting to go someplace was its own reward in many ways. This, however, was really a trip of a lifetime and if you’ve watched any shows about the wildlife of Africa, our trip was like all of them in many ways. We would, without a doubt, recommend to anyone who enjoys nature and wants to see animals in their natural habitat, going on a safari is something that you should definitely try to do at some point. It wasn’t just about the animals, though, it was about the people as well, especially our guides, Shabani, David, and Perminus who you will hear more about as we talk about the specific parks that we visited.

Elephant and a Baby Zebra
One of the Iconic Acacia Trees
Fascinating Crowned Cranes of East Africa
African Sunsets are Spectacular

One thing that is clear is that travel during the age of the pandemic is not as easy as it used to be. Despite flight cancellations, delays, and getting tested for COVID four times in seventeen days, the end result of the trip was well worth the struggles that had to be overcome. Going on a safari isn’t necessarily for everyone and we saw people during our trip that probably shouldn’t have been on one. It takes patience, isn’t always comfortable, and you spend many hours driving through the parks looking for some of the more elusive animals. We found all of that to be part of the overall experience and it shouldn’t deter you from enjoying such an adventure.

Giraffe and Wildebeest
Male Ostrich
Close-Up of an Elephant
Lion Cubs at Play

We said this many times during our trip, on our site and to ourselves, every day of our trip was literally a different experience. Part of that is due to the fact that the parks themselves are different from one another as well as we covered a vast amount of area during our tour that took us to different parts of each of the countries. Some were savannahs, some were lakes, and one was even the world’s largest caldera. The other thing that is hard to describe is the actual abundance of wildlife that we saw as we travelled to each of the various parks. Whether lions, giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, elephants, or any other animal, it wasn’t if we saw a handful, but in some cases there were thousands of them. We even learned a little bit of Swahili and visited a Maasai village, which we weren’t sure was going to happen due to COVID.

Hippo and Pelicans
Wildebeest Up Close
Baboons are Mischievous
One of the Many Colorful Birds that We Saw

There is no way to accurately describe what our trip was like in a single post, so we will be providing many details and specific experiences over the next several weeks. Now that we have had time to get some sleep, we return to “normal” life and this is one of those times where we really are still absorbing the trip as opposed to starting to plan our next adventure. The world certainly has not returned to normal yet and depending on where you might be some places are getter better and others are getting worse. We certainly hope that the world of travel gets better if not for the people like us that like to travel, but also for the people that run the lodges, camps, hotels, tour companies, etc. that are all hurting and we saw that first hand during our trip.