It all started years ago when I was watching a special on Nat Geo Wild or one of those channels. I’ll never forget, that special was on The Great Migration in Tanzania.Sure, there are certain places and activities that are inherently on most people’s “bucket list,” and a safari in Africa is generally one of them. But I knew right then that I needed to do a luxury safari in Tanzania, specifically a Ngorongoro Crater safari, along with a visit to Lake Manyara as well.
You’ll notice that I said LUXURY safari in Tanzania. Well, that’s because I’ve met myself and, well, roughing it in the bush isn’t my thing. But that wasn’t going to stop me and, as it turns out, there were some great, luxe options for my dream safari, and in November of last year, I was able to check that item off my bucket list.
A Special Trip
This trip was special for me, for more than just a bucket list conquest. You see, this was my first time setting foot on the continent; my first time back to the Motherland. It was my last continent that I plan to visit (I don’t acknowledge Antarctica for a visit myself), so that made it even more meaningful.
But it also held even more significance. I went in November for a very specific reason. My mom’s birthday is in November, and was the week that I went to visit. One item that my mom never got to cross off her bucket list was setting foot in Africa. Particularly, she wanted to visit South Africa and also mentioned Tanzania. That never happened, so I took her passport and an angel she had given me, and I went to Africa for the both of us. I took us both to Africa. And that meant the world to me.
Safari Logistics and Timing
To get to Ngorongoro Crater, you’ve got to take a puddle jumper from Dar es Salaam. The closest airport to Ngorongoro is Arusha (Kilimanjaro Airport, by contrast, is closer to the Serengeti), but even then you are going to have a bit of a ride from the airport to the actual conservation areas, so be prepared for a good amount of travel time.
I also need you to know that there are *levels* to this safari thing. You can go the inexpensive route and opt for tents and camping style. Again, not my ministry. Or you can opt for a luxury or semi-luxe lodge, which is what we opted to do. There are a ton of tour companies, but just know that many tour companies are not actually owned by locals. Do your research and note that in many instances you may have to make alternative payment methods since PayPal is not really a thing in Tanzania and credit card machines seem to be hard to come by.
We did a two day safari where we flew in early morning from Dar and headed straight to Lake Manyara on the first day. We then stayed overnight at a semi-luxury lodge before heading over to Ngorongoro Crater the next day. That night, we headed back to Arusha to catch our flight out to Zanzibar.
In hindsight, I wish I had a couple of more days to spend in the region. I would have liked to have an extra day of safari to visit the Serengeti as well. So if you can swing it, try to do a three-day safari so you can experience both Ngorongoro and the Serengeti, as I heard when we were there that more animals were actually in Serengeti than Ngorongoro (unusual for that time of year, thanks global warming and drought).
Day 1: Lake Manyara National Park
Our main stop after landing in Arusha was Lake Manyara National Park. We hopped in our outfitted Jeep (it was one of those Jeeps where the top pops up so you can take pictures but still be in an enclosed vehicle because Tyra was *NOT* about to go viral), and made the two-hour trek to Lake Manyara.
Almost immediately upon entering the park, we saw warthogs (Pumba!) and a few straggler zebras. Then around another bend we stopped for a bit while a family of baboons crossed the road. Literally. Baby baboons are SO CAY-UTE!!!
The animals were totally unbothered by us. We were in their world and they just casually strolled by the vehicle as if we didn’t exist.
While we were there, a class field trip was there and there were busses and busses of schoolchildren at a couple of the stops we made. We said hello to all we passed but I think they were a bit intrigued by us. Here we were, just two of us, Black women, on a private tour with our driver. I’m sure they had seen tons of safaris and tourists go through the area, but we seemed to occupy a space that these children were unaccustomed to seeing two single Black women occupy. Though no words were spoken beyond hello, along with nods and smiles, to justify this feeling, it felt unexpected. Curious, even.
Lake Manyara is a treasure trove of animals. We were feverishly snapping pictures, while taking in the greenery and majestic-ness of the moment. It was truly breathtaking.
We came around a corner with trees and bushes lining the road. As we entered the clearing, we came to a screeching halt. There, not 100 feet from the road, was a group of three elephants! It was my first time experiencing African ellies, which are very different in look from the Asian ellies I nurtured and fed in Thailand.
But it gets even better. The elephants were walking towards us, to cross the road. They literally walked right behind our Jeep, crossing the road mere inches from our vehicles. I have to admit my nerves kicked in. I was not trying to be charged by angry African elephants, but at the same time there was a ZERO percent chance I was missing this experience. Luckily, once again, the ellies were totally unbothered by us. It was as if we didn’t exist.
We continued on and saw groups and families of giraffes. Fun fact, when they rub their heads or necks against each or hit them together, they aren’t kissing… they’re fighting. LOL
Admittedly, a few hours in, I was tired and hungry and ready to crash. But I hadn’t seen a cheetah. I really, really wanted to see a cheetah, so our driver drove around a bit more to try to get me that coveted sighting. Alas, nature doesn’t always (actually, in most instances) do what you want it to do, and there were no cheetahs to be found that day. Nor any lions. We left the Lake that evening, and I was reminded that when it comes to nature and wildlife, it’s not really about me.
Day 2: Ngorongoro Crater Safari
But in Ngorongoro, I was absolutely determined to see some lions. So the next day, I was ready to go. Lions awaited.
Now, let me tell you about Ngorongoro Crater. It’s. A. Crater. A 2,000-foot (610 meters) deep crater. It’s a World Heritage Site that was named many moons ago by the Maasi tribe.
So let me stop there. Before visiting Tanzania, I was under the impression that the Maasi were present primarily in Kenya. It was only upon arriving that I learned that the Maasi tribe is also largely in Tanzania. All along the roads, to both Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater, the tribe makes its home, herding cattle and farming the land. As we headed into the Crater, Maasi lived and farmed along the top brim of the Crater as we ventured through their villages on the way down.
If you are a motion sick human being, by this point you better have popped your meds. Seriously. The road down the Crater is winding, dirt, and rocky. We jostled the whole way down…which took an hour. It’s a single direction road and it was rough. On the way down into the caldera, we saw a herd of water buffalo, baboons, and other animals.
But the main attraction was the absolutely breathtaking vistas. It was stunning! (I did th best I could taking photos sight the whole downhill motion thing.) The sheer vastness of it all was humbling. For as far as the eye could see was this massive crater, allowing nature to exist in, pretty much, its natural state. We were just visitors there, bystanders. But alas we were not bystanders. Because of global warming the caldera was not nearly as lush as it ‘should’ have been at that time of year. Our guide told us because of this, many of the animals may not have even migrated there yet, because the grass was low and dryer than normal.
But Ngorongoro still had its charm. We kicked it amongst herds of wildebeests. We saw huge herds of zebras, sometimes by themselves, sometimes chilling with the wildebeests. They would often walk right up by our Jeep, inches away, just eating their grass, again, not paying us any mind whatsoever.
It was hot as all getout when we were in Ngorongoro so the hippos decided that the best place for them was in the water. Hippos as apparently mean AF, so I was glad to have some distance from them and that they were just trying to stay cool in the pools.
Ostriches. We got to see a male (black feathers) and a female (flowing brown feathers) ostrich just strolling along. They are HUGE in real life. Yikes! But you could tell that the male and female were booed up, as they never strayed too far from each other.
We saw two types of gazelles chomping on grass. But the big highlight of the day was the pack of lions. OMG. When the lions were spotted it seemed like every Jeep in the Crater descended on them. But damn if they weren’t totally nonplussed by us, as they laid down and took a nap while we were all trying to snap pictures. It was a group of female lions, but we didn’t get to see a male! Not to mention they wouldn’t even turn around to look at us. Again, you can’t control wild animals, and they didn’t want to cooperate with us.
If you weren’t paying attention, you would have missed the wild dog and hyenas that we saw. So many of the animals blend in to the grass that you’ve got to stay ready and alert.
As part of our day, before heading out of the caldera back up the steep Crater, we had lunch at the lake. Dotted by a ton of Jeeps, we had the chance to get out, stretch our legs, and relax and eat by the water. Then, it was the drive back up to the top of the Crater and back to Arusha (which was made even longer by vehicular difficulties, but I digress).
On the night in between Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro, we stayed at a lodge called Eileen. It was absolutely beautiful. It’s set in the jungle but it was picturesque, and definitely the type of lodge that I hoped and expected to stay in (I don’t sleep on the ground).
The rooms were absolutely massive! There was enough room for two queen sized beds, a sitting area, bathroom, and realistically they probably could have fit two more beds in the room. It was actually our own villa, and it was much bigger than expected. The beds had great mosquito netting and the room was super big and comfy.
Luxury Safari in Tanzania
All in all, I never got to see my cheetah. Or a jaguar. And rhinos are so exceedingly rare that I didn’t even hold out hope to see one of them. I guess I’ll have to go back and also do the Serengeti. But I can say that in the grand scheme of things, doing our 2-day Tanzania safari to Ngorongoro Crater along with a Lake Manyara, was at the top of my bucket list and that was a major item to check off! Mission accomplished!