Seeing Baby Animals During Our East African Safari

Although not all baby animals are cute and adorable, the majority of them are and we saw plenty of them during our time in Kenya and Tanzania. Knowing that the number of people going on safari during these times of COVID restrictions, it must be even more fascinating to these baby animals when they come across humans for the first time. Sometimes they were curious about our presence, but for the most part, they didn’t even seem to notice that we were there. We enjoyed not only seeing the baby animals, but also watching their interactions with the rest of their families.

Mother and Baby Elephant in the Grassy Water
Pair of Young Giraffes Walking Together
Baby White Rhino with a Parent
Young Cub About to Cause Mishcief
Baby Elephant Checking Us Out
Hippo Family Running Down the River Bed

One of our first encounters with a young animal was during our time in Amboseli National Park where we came across a baby elephant who approached our Land Cruiser and raised his trunk to check out our scent. We saw many different baby elephants in the park and they were never very far from their caring mothers. Despite their size, the baby elephants are quite playful and are more agile than people might think. Watching the baby elephants as they played in the shallow lake was certainly quite fascinating. Every time that we saw baby animals, we couldn’t help but take lots of photographs, so we have many more than what we are sharing here.

Baby Elephant Staying Close
Elephant Family in the Water
Elephant Herd Crossing the Road in Front of Us
Baby Water Buffalo
Baby Baboon
Young Giraffe in the Grasslands

We saw several lion prides with adorable cubs who were quite the handful for their parents. Just like typical children, they would be affectionate one moment and then playfully pounce on a sibling the next. It is all part of learning the skills necessary to survive in such a harsh environment. We spent quite a bit of time just watching the interactions between the various members of the pride and it is certainly one of our fondest memories of the trip. Even as young lions, they are strikingly beautiful and have such expressive faces. Although they look like kittens that you might want to take home with you, they will grow up to be fierce predators.

Lioness and Cub Snuggling – One of Our Favorite Photographs
Getting Close to a Lion Cub
Young Cub Keeping an Eye on Us
More Cuddling
African Crowned Crane with Chicks
Rhino Family

Similar to the elephants, baby hippos are much more sprite than what you might imagine. In fact, hippos in general are very agile and we lucked into to opportunity to see a whole herd of them charge down a riverbed to the pool below, which was truly amazing to see. Even a baby hippo is quite large, so they quickly grow to be pretty massive in their own right. Seeing them out of the water is the only way to get a true sense of their size as it can be deceiving when only seeing their nose and eyes protruding from the water.

Mother and Baby Hippo on the Shore of the Pond
Young Hippo in the Grass
Hippos Charging Down the River Bank
Hippos on the Bank of the Mara River
Herd of Elephants with Babies
Young White Rhino Still Growing into It’s Horn

We saw many different baby giraffes as we drove through and between all of the national parks. They are usually as graceful as the adults, but with their long legs, sometimes they were still getting used to walking on them. They were as equally fascinated with us as we were with them and we enjoyed watching them as they moved amongst the trees and bushes. As the giraffes get older, their coloring becomes more intense, but it is easy to distinguish a young giraffe as opposed to its adult counterpart who towers over them.

Young Giraffe Having a Snack
Looking at Us Looking at Him/Her
Graceful Even in Youth
Lion Cubs Showing Affection
Baby Elephant in the Water
Elephant and a Baby Zebra

We saw many other baby animals during our trip, including rhinos, water buffaloes, baboons, birds, and many different antelope. Whenever we came across a baby animal, it was always a treat to watch them as they explored their world. In a place where survival can be difficult for a variety of reasons, those early years are so important for them to learn what to do and how to protect themselves. But clearly, when not in danger, they were just enjoying their youth and having fun.

Another Young Rhino
Lion Cubs
Family of Elephants
Young Reedbuck
Cute Baby Elephant
Water Buffalo Protecting the Baby

Hot Air Balloon Ride over Maasai Mara in Kenya

One of the things that we had wanted to do during our safari was to take a hot air balloon ride over the amazing scenery of Africa. Three of the parks that we visited had balloon companies that offered balloon rides, Amboseli, Serengeti, and Maasai Mara. We decided to wait until Maasai Mara to do the balloon ride and it certainly turned out to be a magical experience. Watching the sunrise, seeing the animals, and simply gliding above the grasslands made for memories that we will never forget. Following the balloon ride was a champagne breakfast at the base of an acacia tree and then our guide picked us up to view the animals within the park.

Hot Air Filling the Balloon
We Started Out High Before Descending Over the Grasslands
Water Buffaloes
Enjoying the Ride

Balloon rides are not particularly inexpensive as they range from $450 to $500 USD per person and we weren’t a hundred percent sure that we were going to spend the money on it. By the time we reached Maasai Mara, we had already had an unexpected expense of getting tested for COVID before we could re-enter Kenya. We were definitely glad that we decided to go ahead and bite the bullet and pay for the balloon ride. It is one of those experiences that is hard to fully describe, but one that is often treasured by people for a variety of reasons.

Watching the Sunrise
Male Lion in the Field
Floating Over Water
Family of Elephants

Just before the sun began to rise, the staff of the balloon company began to fill the balloon with heated air and we were treated to the balloon glow as it was slowly filled. Once the balloon was completely filled, we and the seven other passengers, plus the pilot and guide, all climbed into the basket. Then we slowly ascended to begin our balloon ride as the sun slowly climbed above the horizon. Since the course that the balloon takes is dependent on the winds, there is no guarantee as to what you’re going to fly over or what animals you might see. The basket of the balloon was divided into six compartments, so you aren’t able to move around, but we were fortunate enough to be facing the direction that the balloon was drifting for most of our ride.

Breakfast Buffet
Another Balloon
Looking Up Inside the Balloon
Flying Over the Water Buffaloes

The pilot of the balloon provided information about the balloon as well as the animals as we flew over the grasslands. He purposely kept the basket relatively close to the ground so that the animals could be easier to see. Our favorite moment of the balloon ride was when we drifted over a male lion that was walking among the tall grass. Every time the pilot fired the hot air for the balloon, the lion roared in response, which was really quite fascinating to see and hear. In addition to the lion, we flew over a large herd of water buffalo, a pack of elephants, zebras, and antelopes. We also saw another balloon enjoying a similar ride as our own.

Champagne Toast
He Seemed Confused By Our Balloon
Birds Flying Along With Us
Herd of Zebras

Before landing, the pilot prepared us for the possibility it being bumpy and even the possibility that the basket would get dragged onto its side. All of us took our seats and held onto the safety straps, but the pilot set the balloon down gently and we came to quick stop without any bumps. From there we joined our fellow passengers as we toasted with champagne and enjoyed a buffet breakfast right there in the middle of the park. It was an incredible start to what would turn out to be one of the most memorable days of our entire safari.

Where We Eat Breakfast
Balloon in the Distance
Beautiful Sunrise
Starting to Fill the Balloon

Exploring the Ngorongoro Crater and Truly Settling into Our Safari

Visiting the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania is an absolutely remarkable experience for many different reasons. Although it is called the Ngorongoro crater, it is really a giant caldera with steep mountains covered in lush rainforests on all sides. The actual floor of the crater covers roughly 100 square miles and is very flat, making it easy to see the entire expanse of grasslands from any point inside of the crater. We were there as the wildebeest were migrating from Ngorongoro up to the Serengeti National Park and eventually into Kenya and the Maasai Mara. We saw many unique animals during our all day game drive in the crater, but the highlight was certainly seeing six of the eight black rhinos that live in the conservation area, especially since they do their best to avoid humans.

Lush Rain Forest Surrounding the Crater
Black Rhinoceros
Looking Down at the Crater
Playful Lions
Grumpy Hippopotamus

Our day started bright and early as we had to go to a local clinic to take another COVID PCR test in order to be able to go back into Kenya in a couple of days. Fortunately our guides made arrangements with the clinic to get us in before their normal hours, which allowed us to get our tests done quickly and still make it to the crater at dawn. There were heavy clouds hanging in the tropical rainforests as we drove over the mountains and down to base of the crater. The drive very much reminded us of our time driving in Bolivia and going down the famous “Death Road” and we were all happy when we made our way to the flat grasslands, especially our guide Shabani.

Driving into the Crater
Caracal Cat
Wildebeest on the Move
Very Large Water Buffalo
We Saw Many Types of Water Fowl. This one is the Egyptian Goose.

Seeing the herds of wildebeest with their ever present partners along the migration trail, the zebras, was truly fascinating. We would also get to see more lions relaxing in the tall grass and getting to see one of the black rhinos close to our Land Cruiser was also a special treat. This would be our first of many days learning what it really means to be on safari. Since the vehicles are restricted to the various roads that traverse the parks and conservation areas, it takes a little bit of luck, lots of patience, and keen eyesight to see many of the different animals. For us, seeing a Caracal, which is a medium size cat that is rare to see, as well as a white tailed mongoose were as amazing as seeing the hippos, rhinos, lions, and other large animals that live in the crater.

Family of Black Rhinos Off in the Distance
Proud Lioness
White-Tailed Mongoose
The Crater Landscape is Amazing
Large Augur Buzzard

All of the guides have radios in their vehicles and when a unique animal sighting is found by one of the guides, they radio the other guides so that they can bring their guests to the location to see the animals as well. This cooperative attitude helps ensure that everyone has the best opportunity to see the various animals, especially when one of the big cats like the lions are spotted as well as rare sightings such as the black rhino. One of the rangers in the park actually used his vehicle along with another guide’s vehicle to move a lone black rhino towards the location on the road where several of us were located. At a certain point the rhino decided that it was tired of being herded and it just stopped before heading back to an isolated area, but not before we were able to get some wonderful views of these amazing animals.

The White-Tailed Mongoose on the Move
The Graceful Caracal
The Contrast of the Mountains Compared to the Grasslands Below
We Watched the Lions for a Long Time
Thompson’s Gazelle

By the time our day ended, the skies had cleared and we were able to get a true sense of the actual crater walls that surrounded us. Although there were still far fewer tourists on safari than under normal circumstances, we probably saw the most other people at the Ngorongoro Crater than anywhere else on safari. It probably has as much to do with the limited size of the crater as well as its popularity, but there were still many hours where it was just us and the hundreds of animals that were grazing in the grasslands. As our guide went into the ranger station to register that we were leaving the park, he made sure to close the roof as there were many baboons in the area. Unfortunately, he forgot to roll the passenger window all of the way up, and within a couple of minutes of him going into the station, a curious baboon jumped onto the hood of our Land Cruiser and was trying to climb in through the window. We had to use our guide’s duffle bag to block the baboon while frantically rolling the window up. The baboons will steal anything that they can get their paws on and we saw another baboon grab a shiny bag from another vehicle and climb into the trees above the parking area.

We No Longer Liked Seeing Baboons
Viewing Point Above the Ngorongoro Crater
Our Lodge at Bougainvillea Lodges
Last Night Before Returning to Tents
It Does Get Cool at Night

We finished our third full day on safari by going to the Bougainvillea Lodge where we had them light a fire in the fireplace in our room. It would turn out to be our last night in something other than a tent for several days. For the next several days, we would start by waking up around 5:00 am and getting into the back of our Land Cruiser by 6:00 am. Although it is possible to go out in the morning, returning to the camps for lunch, and then going back out in the afternoon, we spent our entire day on safari. We would become quite comfortable bouncing around in the back of the vehicle as we drove along the rugged roads of the different parks that we visited.

Many Beautiful Trees
The Zebras Were Everywhere in East Africa
Another Hippo
Superb Starling
Entrance to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Getting a Sense of the Vastness of the Crater Floor