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  • Writer's pictureVanessa Valenti

Safari in Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater - Tanzania

Observing wild animals during a Safari is certainly one of the unmissable experiences in Tanzania: the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater are the two main protected parks with the widest variety of animals on the African continent. I had already done a Safari in Africa a few years ago while I was in Kenya, and it was a unique and breathtaking experience that I couldn't wait to repeat as soon as I knew I was going to Tanzania. Here you can experience the classic safari, the one most people dream of: sleeping in a tent under a breathtaking starry sky and crossing vast plains teeming with animals.

Tanzania hosts some of the largest amounts of wildlife in all of Africa, with an estimated 4 million wild animals in fact, it is home to the continent's largest populations of many safari species, such as lions.


Leoni nel Parco Nazionale del Serengeti, Tanzania
Parco Nazionale del Serengeti, Tanzania

Safari in Africa

Africa is breathtakingly beautiful, it manages to amaze you in so many ways, and one of my favorites is definitely the wild side and its splendid animals.

Safaris in Africa allow you to see wildlife in their natural environment, free and undisturbed, a unique emotion, goosebumps, that you will experience few other times in your life. In safaris in Africa, the English expression Big Five (the "big five") refers to the five big animals of the savannah: it is a term that originates in the safari culture intended as a hunting trip and refers to the five most dangerous animals to hunt and, consequently, to the five most coveted trophies by hunters (Big Five Game). The expression would appear to have been introduced in South Africa, but is widespread throughout parkland Africa (Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana, Zimbabwe, etc.). The five animals he refers to, both in the context of photographic and big game safaris, are: · Elephant; · Lion; · Leopard; · Rhinoceros; · Buffalo.

Jeep per Safari in Africa

The safaris are carried out on special closed 4x4 jeeps with a raised roof or in an open variant (which however I guarantee you do not seem too safe) led by drivers/guides able to identify the best roads and the areas where the animals are most concentrated.

One of the rules to be respected is that of the absolute prohibition of leaving the track; animals are everywhere and can be a danger to us, as we can be to them when we scare them. The presence of guides is reassuring, given their expertise and experience: the best thing during a safari is to completely trust your guide regarding the routes to choose, where to eat, where to stay and how to get around.


Serengeti National Park - Tanzania

Parco Nazionale del Serengeti, Tanzania

The Serengeti National Park, which in the Masai language means "endless plain" (in fact the territory included in the park measures about 15,000 sq km in area), is the most important park in northern Tanzania and corresponds exactly to what you imagine when you think to the Savannah and the landscapes of the Lion King. With its beautiful and picturesque acacia trees silhouetted against the horizon, lions resting on rounded rocks called Kopje, Serengeti is home to a considerable amount of wonderful animal species such as wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, lion, leopard, cheetah, elephant, giraffes, at least 500 species of birds, etc. The Serengeti was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1981 and is considered the eighth wonder of the world.

La Grande Migrazione
La Grande Migrazione

The Great Migration The Serengeti National Park every year around March-April becomes the scenario of the Great Migration that takes place among some of the most important parks in Tanzania. It is a transhumance of animals (mostly wildebeests and zebras) that takes place every year in conjunction with the pressure exerted by the large herds on the pastures, following the rain cycle: the pastures are depleted and the herds have to move to look for new availability of food.


Ngorongoro Crater

Cratere del Ngorongoro, Tanzania

Apparently isolated from the outside world, the Ngorongoro Crater is one of the wonders of the world, without a doubt one of the most beautiful places to see in Africa.

It is an extensive volcanic caldera populated by an incredible variety of animals: the Ngorongoro Crater is in fact located within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and is the best place to observe the black rhinoceros. The crater is located 2200 meters above sea level and measures more than 16km in diameter for an area of ​​approximately 265 km2: it is the largest intact caldera in the world. Another peculiarity that distinguishes the Ngorongoro Reserve is that the Masai tribe can live there and move freely within the park, which does not happen in any other park in Tanzania. In addition to the Ngorongoro Crater, the reserve also includes two smaller craters (Olmoti and Empakaai), and the archaeological site of the Olduvai gorges, known as the Cradle of Humankind: in fact, here the remains of primitive men dating back to around 1.75 have been found. million years ago and various fossils of Stone Age animals.


Our Safari: Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Masumin Tours & Safari, Mwanza

The best places to organize a safari in Tanzania are the agencies in Mwanza or Arusha: after reading up on my trusty Lonely Planet, I decided not to book anything from home and to wait until I was on site so that I could organize the safari in personalized way and perhaps even to negotiate on the price. Once in Mwanza, I asked my colleagues in the hospital to recommend the best agency in their opinion and they unanimously directed me to Masumin Tours & Safari, in Mwanza.

READ ALSO: Visit Mwanza, where is home in Tanzania - discover the Rock City on Lake Victoria Here you are the contact of the son of the owner Mehboob Rajabali who was incredibly kind and helpful: if you want some information or organize a tailor-made safari, do not hesitate to contact him on Whatsapp at +255 784 505 786

Alternatively, I recommend you take a look at SafariBookings: a search engine for Safari where you will find thousands of options and agencies to build your dream safari. Just enter the destination, dates and number of people to get a nice list of alternatives with various costs, based on the services offered. Ask for some free quotes and compare the options! I'm sure you'll find what's right for you!

SafariBookings covers Safaris throughout Africa but, in this case, you will simply need to access the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Tours section directly to limit your choices to Serengeti and Ngorongoro. If you look through you will also find the agency in Mwanza that I relied on: Masumin Tours & Safari!



Cost

A Safari in Tanzania is quite expensive: after the one in Kenya in Tsavo East, the first time I read the estimates for the Serengeti I was bleached. I remember that the price I had paid at the time of €280 for a Safari of two days and one night with an overnight stay in a lodge inside the park already seemed quite expensive to me… but this time we are talking about at least double! You have to come up with that unfortunately .. in Tanzania it is known that the cost of the Safari is much higher but I would say with certainty that it deserves all the money spent and that it is definitely more beautiful than the one done in Kenya. But let's see in detail how much we paid. Price: 600$per person for a 3 days 2 nights Safari in Serengeti National Park + Ngorongoro Crater Payment in cash, by credit card (5% fee) or by international bank transfer. What is included: entrance to the parks, accommodation in tents inside the parks, mattress and sleeping bag, all meals (excluding lunch on the first day) and a 1l bottle of water per person per day, transfers. Tips to the driver and chef are not included and are strongly recommended. Bits of advices for an affordable Safari:

  • the more you are the less you pay: if you want to amortize the price of your safari, then you can ask the agency if there is another couple to share the jeep with; this will significantly lower the cost;

  • staying in a tent is much cheaper than in a lodge, but obviously also more spartan.. if I may add my personal opinion, after trying both the solutions, the tent clearly wins, both in terms of value for money and in experience. Keep in mind that the time spent in the tent/lodge is only the one that corresponds to the hours of darkness, and you will be so tired that you will use them to eat, wash and sleep, so it doesn't make too much sense to stay in luxurious camps with all kinds of comforts and the swimming pool that you won't even remotely use anyway. In addition, the experience in a tent is definitely more authentic and exciting: sleeping with the giraffes outside the tent, the buffaloes roaming the field at night, a carpet of stars to sleep under, the sound of crickets rocking you.. a priceless experience;

  • staying outside the parks: this solution greatly reduces the prices but in my opinion, also the quality of the safari and it was one of the few compromises I never made. Staying outside you lose a lot of time to get in and out and therefore also the animals seen and the areas explored;

  • planning the safari in low season allows you to find solutions with an overnight stay in a lodge at a slightly higher cost than camping.

Best time for a Safari

Usually, the recommended season for a safari in Tanzania is the dry one, which therefore runs from the end of June to October) as it is easier to spot the animals that gather around the pools of water. Being the best period and therefore high season, it goes without saying that it is also the most expensive. For the Serengeti National Park, actually, a great time to go is the rainy season from March to April as the Great Migration of zebras and wildebeests takes place in these months. We were there in mid-March and we were very lucky: the weather was wonderful, perfect even for sleeping in a tent, and we saw so many animals, as well as the amazing Great Migration.

Safari Checklist

  • Passport or a copy of your passport - can be requested by the guards at the entrance to the various parks;

  • Sunglasses;

  • Hat - better than the classic Safari ones with a neck strap: it's very easy to fly off otherwise (I say this from experience);

  • Binoculars: binoculars are essential, it is always advisable to bring one from home, it does not matter that it is particularly powerful;

  • Lipstick: in the jeep, especially when you stand to spot the animals outside the pop-up roof, there is a lot of hot wind which, together with the dust, will dry your lips to death. In my opinion, Connettivina's SUN lip stick is the best out there and perfect for the Safari: in addition to hydrating and repairing the lips, it also has SPF30 protection;

  • Sunscreen;

  • Insect repellent - it is essential that it contains the insect repellent DEET in a concentration of at least 50%: I usually use the Jungle Formula Very Strong Spray, recommended in areas with a high risk of malaria and other insect-borne diseases;

  • Clothes preferably in camouflage colors, such as khaki, dark green, cream;

  • A sweatshirt/jacket for the evening: temperatures drop quite a bit, especially if you sleep in the tented camp on the Ngorongoro Crater.

3 days and 2 nights itinerary in the Serengeti National Park + Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Day 1

Parco Nazionale del Serengeti, Tanzania

Our Safari in Tanzania starts from Mwanza: at 8:30 in the morning in fact Masumin's Jeep awaits us outside the house with our driver Jonathan and our cook Devsi on board who had already loaded everything necessary for camping and provisions for these three days. To reach the entrance of the Serengeti National Park from Mwanza takes about 2 and a half hours; we made a short stop in the last village you come across before entering the Park: Lamadai, where you can buy drinks, food or some toiletries if needed. Once you arrive at the Park entrance, there will be a short stop of about 15 minutes in which the driver takes care of presenting the documents for access and paying the various taxes. We took advantage of this moment to use the public toilets and to buy some souvenirs in the small shop to the right of the entrance. Regarding this, I give you two tips:

  • if you intend to buy something, pay in Tanzanian Shillings, whether you use cash or credit card (they have a POS);

  • the prices are very high in this shop while in the one at the exit of the Serengeti to enter the Ngorongoro Conservation Area the prices are more acceptable, so consider where and how much to buy.

Once the paperwork had been done, around 11:30 we finally entered the Serengeti National Park where the first Game of our Safari immediately began. Actually, it is a single long Game from the moment we cross the threshold of the Park to the moment we arrive at our tented camp at the end of the day: for lunch, we eat something on the go in a small area set aside near an Air Strip inside the park in way to optimize time. This first area of ​​the Serengeti is simply spectacular and full of animals, birds and wonderful trees and bushes.

Giraffa nel Parco Nazionale del Serengeti

We immediately spot huge herds of wildebeest and zebras, but also buffaloes (which, as we have said, are part of the Big Five), normal and water antelopes, the very funny warthogs that keep their tails high as if they were antenna when they run, white ostriches if female and black if male, many giraffes, impalas, baboons but also many monkeys and mice, not to be confused with the Serengeti Mice, a special variety of Antelope. We met a couple of elephants, which strangely were always alone while usually moving in herds, a gigantic lizard, a giant tortoise, some hyenas one of which was clearly pregnant, the jackals and when we reached a small river Jonathan allowed us to get off the Jeep and approach the shore so that we can admire crocodiles and hippos.

We also spotted many splendid birds: the Serengeti is in fact one of the best parks in Africa for birdwatching, hosting more than 500 species, some of which are very rare. We saw secretary birds, majestic crowned cranes, kori bustards, howler eagles, colorful rollers and beautiful sunbirds.

On this first day of Safari, we explored the northern part of the Serengeti, reaching the central area of ​​Seronera to camp for the night at the Pimpi Public Camp Site. This first part of the Serengeti is wonderful, a breathtaking spectacle, very green and very varied as well as the species of animals that inhabit it: we had a lot of fun trying to spot them first from the roof of our Jeep.

Pimpi Public Camp Site, Serengeti Tanzania

At 18:30 we got to the camp, where in less than half an hour our tent had been set up: a nice two-person tent, spacious and quite high. The camp therefore consists of open space for tents, public toilets in excellent condition and clean, with a shower with cold water only, then a shared kitchen and a space for eating, equipped with light and electrical outlets where we dined with the delicious dishes freshly prepared by our chef. With a full belly, after a few chats, we went back to the tent and closed ourselves in our sleeping bags: after a whole day in a jeep on a dirt road, tiredness makes itself felt a lot.

Day 2

The second day of Safari should have started with a wake-up call at 6:00 in the morning not to miss the sunrise in the Savannah but actually, when the phone rang I had been awake for a long time… exactly since 1:00. I woke up and couldn't fall asleep anymore because I needed to pee: after an hour spent putting it off, around 2:00 I found the courage and decided to get out of the tent and go to the bathroom. Halfway through the few meters that separated my tent from the toilets, I raised my eyes that I had planted at my feet in an attempt not to step on the immense poops of I don't know which herbivore... and I found a gigantic buffalo head in front of me, less than a meter away from me.

Time stopped, we looked into each other's still eyes. I don't know which of the two was more frightened. After what felt like ages I took a step towards the bathroom and he just stood still, looking at me. I took a breath and ran into the bathroom as hard as I could, slamming the door behind me. With the adrenaline still high, it took me a while to calm down and regulate my breathing, but the starry sky helped a lot.

I lost myself admiring that carpet of very bright stars that populate the African sky.. every time it's a blow to the heart, difficult to explain in words.

With my nose turned up, when I saw a shooting star go by, I also shed a tear. The sensations evoked by the starry sky in Africa are a rare emotion, an almost supernatural spectacle, which we Europeans hardly witness.

This is one of the reasons why I highly recommend the Safari in a tent: sleeping under such a sky, having the animals running around the field... these are all experiences that I hadn't experienced in the lodge.

Alba nel Parco Nazionale del Serengeti, Tanzania

Anyway, when I got back to the tent I was already too awake and excited to sleep: the scent of the grass, of uncontaminated nature, is everywhere and mixed with that of the animals.. and then their cries, the crickets' song, the sound of hooves on the ground and a snort that alerts me and makes me raise my head to peer through the screen of the tent to find another buffalo walking behind us.

I had to wake up Enrico to show him so that the next day, when I told him, he could believe me! I swear, I didn't sleep at all but it was one of the best nights of my life: I woke up regenerated and totally at peace and connected to the world. The icing on the cake was then dawn: the sky was tinged with a thousand shades of pink and lilac on the horizon against which the acacia trees stand out, and the hot air balloons that rise to the sky .. truly a magical experience that I can only wish you do.

At 7:30 breakfast in the common area with scrambled eggs and excellent crepes prepared by our chef and as soon as the tents were loaded onto the jeep we left for the second day of safari, energized and thrilled for what awaited us.

Parco Nazionale del Serengeti, Tanzania

In fact, we immediately proceeded in the direction of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, outside the boundaries of the Serengeti Park. The journey is a Game in all respects: a few minutes after leaving the field we come across four splendid lions intent on resting in the shade of some Kjope rocks. We had little time to admire them because with binoculars we spotted a couple of cheetahs in the distance and we catapulted in the direction of these, which are really rare. Towards the Ngorongoro Crater, the landscapes change a lot, they are more barren and much more reminiscent of the Savannah.

As we got closer to the Serengeti border we started to spot the huge herds of wildebeest and zebra that were migrating. I had read about the Great Migration but I never imagined such a big, powerful and boundless show.

Everywhere I turned there were animals in sight: thousands and thousands of animals moving in perfect coordination going in the same direction, truly incredible.

At the Serengeti border, we stopped to deal with the usual bureaucratic issues to access the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and here too we took advantage of the baths and took a tour of the souvenir shop we mentioned earlier. Above the shop there is a small path that leads to a breathtaking viewpoint over the surrounding valley, absolutely not to be missed.


Area di Conservazione del Ngorongoro, Tanzania

From here towards the Crater there is about an hour abundant of drier and boundless landscape, where here and there Masai villages and some belonging to the tribe appear here and there dressed in the characteristic red cloth drapes. Almost all the guides ask if you want to stop and visit one of the villages but know that it is only possible for a modest sum of 50$. We finally reached the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater at lunchtime and the show we found ourselves in front of was something magical: a vast luxuriant plain, with a lake in the center, populated by animals as far as the eye could see, all enclosed within a crater. Descending towards the base I had the impression of being inside Eden: a place lost in the world and hidden from the rest of humanity, untouched by man. Probably one of the most impressive places I've ever seen in my life.

As soon as we arrived at the base of the crater we headed towards a small patch of forest that seemed to come out of Jurassic Park and we had lunch on the hood of our jeep with a picnic prepared on the fly by our cook, while an elephant ate leaves 10 meters from us.

After a nice lunch, we set off for the Game inside the Crater mainly looking for the black rhinoceros, very rare and which only populates this small area of ​​Africa.

Zebre nel Cratere del Ngorongoro, Tanzania

Here too, it is difficult to spot them and by now we had lost hope but as we headed towards the road that leads out of the crater we spotted 5 of them with binoculars, on the shore of the lake.

With the rhinos, only the leopards were missing to complete the sighting of the Big Five. Inside the crater we also found zebras, wildebeests, buffaloes, impalas, gazelles, Serengeti mice, dancing gazelles, pink flamingos, hyenas, warthogs, many ostriches, elephants, hippos, Egyptian geese and eland antelopes.. the only one missing animal inside the crater is the giraffe, which is unable to climb the heights to get inside.

There are no camps or lodges in the Ngorongoro Crater: by 18:00 all jeeps must be on the top of the crater, where the various accommodations are located.

We spent the night in the Simba Public Campsite, a camp very similar to that of the first night, but larger and with common areas inside a building. Being at 2800m above sea level, in fact, the air is quite fresh and it is very likely that it rains: with a sweatshirt and a pair of leggings I was warm and even at night inside the sleeping bag I was warm and calm, so nothing drastic. Again the bathrooms are large and clean with showers available with hot water. The evening went like the previous one, with a nice dinner and then an early bed: I was literally destroyed by the sleepless night I had spent but also by the continuous lookout standing in the jeep trying to spot animals.. I was so tired that I did just in time to slip into the sleeping bag that I was already asleep and I kept going until the sound of the alarm clock.


Day 3

Area di Conservazione del Ngorongoro, Tanzania
Area di Conservazione del Ngorongoro, Tanzania

On the last day of our safari, the alarm rings at 7:00 and I get up rested even if a little melancholy because I know that this wonderful journey in this wild and untouched Tanzania is coming to an end. After a nice regenerating breakfast we set off following the reverse route compared to yesterday: we head back towards the Serengeti which we will however cross on other paths than those of the first day and then return to Mwanza in the evening.

Leoni nel Parco Nazionale del Serengeti, Tanzania

The animals sighted on this last day are the same seen on those of the past few days except that in the middle of the morning we come across a group of lions resting under a small tree by the roadside. Without exaggerating, the lions, at least a dozen, were within a meter of our jeep, at times even closer. Without any kind of fear, they moved on the road and even a lion and a lioness lay down in the shade of the jeep that was in front of ours. An incredible show, from goosebumps. At one point I had two puppies half a meter apart and with the window down I looked them in the eyes and I swear I could smell them: a very strong and nauseating stench of putrid meat that I swear it was difficult to stay close to them. It was an incredible, almost surreal and unforgettable experience. Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps.

And to top it all off, we also saw a leopard perched in a tree. Our driver who had an incredible eye spotted it: unfortunately, we couldn't get too close but with binoculars we saw it very well waving its long tail from the branch of a large acacia. Happy and satisfied to have completed the Big Five challenge, we went home where we arrived around 7:00 pm with a full heart and the memory of an unforgettable experience.

Kopje nel Parco Nazionale del Serengeti, Tanzania
Kopje nel Parco Nazionale del Serengeti, Tanzania

As you will have understood from the lines of this post, I am a huge fan of Safaris: if I think back to all the trips I've made in my life, those that include safaris are undoubtedly at the top of my ranking.. emotions that triggers this experience are priceless and unrepeatable, as well as the sense of freedom and connection with nature that you can savor in these vast and uncontaminated lands. As already mentioned, I liked the Safari in Tanzania better than the one done in Kenya in Tsavo East, both from a landscape point of view and for the number and variety of animals, but it's just my personal taste. Surely the one in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro is a much more expensive Safari, but it takes place in two incredible places, Unesco World Heritage Sites which, even if there were no animals, would still be worth a visit.

So if you are in Tanzania don't leave without experiencing the thrill of a safari, you won't regret it and I guarantee it will be worth every penny.

If after your Safari you want to add a little relax to your trip, then the destination for you is undoubtedly Zanzibar: this splendid island a few kilometers from the coast of Tanzania is a true natural paradise where you can sunbathe, enjoy magical and turquoise waters, get lost in the streets of the capital Stone Town or discover the spice trade.


Don't miss the other insights relating to my trip to Tanzania:


If you'd like to know more about my experience as a volunteer nurse in Mwanza, READ ALSO: 30 days as a volunteer nurse in Tanzania: from my travel diary at the Bugando Medical Center

Now all you have to do is book your Safari and let me know how it will be below in the comments.. for any further information do not hesitate to contact me!


Safari njema - have a safe trip in Swahili

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