I’ve written a lot about the many amazing adventures I enjoyed as I traveled around Tanzania with luxury travel provider Abercrombie & Kent, and with good reason. Those moments and experiences were important aspects of the journey, but at the heart of any great safari experience is naturally the wildlife. From the first day of our trip starting in Arusha and driving into the bush, finding and observing the varied wildlife of the region was at the core of everything we did. Led by our extremely knowledgeable and friendly guide, we saw more animals than I ever thought we would and in the process had the trip of a lifetime. Safari is special, it’s one of those singularly unique activities that you just have to experience first hand in order to really appreciate. But to give you an idea of the natural experiences we enjoyed, here are some of the many exciting moments we had while driving through just a few of Tanzania’s National Parks.
Elephant Watching in Tarangire National Park
My first introduction to the wildlife of Tanzania was in Tarangire National Park, just as famous for its many baobab trees as it is for having huge herds of elephants. True to form, that was the first animal sighting of the trip and one that meant perhaps the most when we chanced upon a small family of grazing elephants. There we sat, gawking at these beautiful animals as they slowly ate the plants around them, barely giving us a second glance. Since we were on a tailored safari experience with Abercrombie & Kent, we were alone and could spend as much time watching as we wanted; a perk we took full advantage of.
Monkeys of Lake Manyara National Park
The sign leading up to Lake Manyara National Park has a picture of a lion resting in a tree, but that’s not what we saw that day as we explored this small but no less interesting national park. What struck me instantly was how lush it all was. I was expecting the entire safari experience in Tanzania is feature typical African bush, with fledgling trees and lots of grass. But around Lake Manyara we were met with a dense jungle so green and so lush we could’ve been in the Amazon. Because of this flora and the lake of course, birds of all kinds – especially flamingos – are common sights in the park, but that’s not what impressed me the most. No, instead it was this baby blue monkey that stole my heart. Slowly driving along the forest road we had spied many different monkey families, but then immediately to our right we found a mom and her kids. Staring into his eyes I couldn’t help but feel a connection, a depth of spirit evident in those auburn pools. It was a remarkable moment and one of many that make safari so very impactful.
Lions in Trees – Tarangire National Park
While we didn’t find tree-climbing lions where we expected them, we did find them were we never thought we would back in Tarangire. Another safari truck had parked near a large tree, apparently in the undergrowth a male lion was sleeping. There wasn’t much to see so I looked around and noticed a female lion walking up the road. I mentioned this to our guide who then slowly followed her along the path. She led us to a tree where she gingerly hopped up on a limb and promptly went to sleep. No one knows exactly why some lion prides climb trees and others don’t; theories range from cooling off and avoiding flies to getting a better view for hunting. What people do know though is that it is somewhat rare and varies from one group of lions to another in Tanzania’s National Parks. They’re not built for tree climbing though and their chunky movements were a little strange to see in such an agile animal, but maybe it was that unlikely climb that made this moment so special for me.
Entire Ngorongoro Crater
The 12-mile wide Ngorongoro Crater is not your normal place. Usually referred to as a real-life Garden of Eden, unique conditions in the crater mean that many different kinds of wildlife call this pristine area home all year. While there were some individual moments I know I’ll always remember, the entire day spent there exploring was one of those experiences that define not just a trip, but a lifetime of traveling. It’s a one-stop-shop for African wildlife, from elephants wandering through the lush if not small forests to countless zebra and wildebeests, birds like the flamingo and more fearsome animals like Cape buffalo, hippos and multiple prides of lion. Helping us find all of these animals was our amazing guide, a gentlemen who never let us down during the week and whose expertise proved to me the importance of selecting the right travel provider for the region – in our case, Abercrombie & Kent.
Hiding Cheetahs in Serengeti National Park
Serengeti National Park is huge, spanning two countries and home to one of the most impressive wildlife events in the world – the Great Migration. It’s a special place, but its size at first can be a little worrying. I wasn’t sure how we’d find anything in a park so very large, but I needn’t have worried because almost immediately not only did we have our first wildlife sighting, but it was one of the most amazing of the trip. When we visited, the grasses in the Serengeti had already begun to grow, making it much harder to find wildlife amongst the tall blades. I’m still amazed that we found her, the natural colors of the fur aiding in her disappearance amongst the scrubby grasslands. But there she was, an obviously tired cheetah relaxing near a very recently killed wildebeest, catching her breath before starting lunch. Cheetahs are fast, we all know that, but they can’t sustain that speed. It happens in quick bursts, hence the winded cheetah mere feet from our safari truck. Standing up in the truck, so close to one of the planet’s most beautiful animals wasn’t anything I had expected, but that’s another joy found only on safari – you never know exactly what the experience will be like.
Rhinos of the Ngorongoro Crater
As I’m sure you know, rhinos aren’t just endangered in Africa, they’re critically endangered. Poachers kill them every day for their horns to ship off to destinations in Asia who stupidly use them in herbal medicines. So when you get the chance to see one in the wild, living life as he was meant to, then it’s a very special moment indeed. It was still early in the morning, our game drive in the Ngorongoro Crater had barely begun, but it was in the pastel colors of early morning that our guide saw him far in the distance. The rhino was so far away no one was sure if it was a rhino or not, but as we sat there waiting we eventually realized we lucked out, we had discovered one of the few rhinos roaming around the crater. Slowly he plodded through the grasses, a zigzagging but determined walk, never slowly or altering his path. Eventually that path took him directly by us, providing yet another remarkable memory on a trip full of them.
Wildlife From The Air in Serengeti National Park
If you’re a frequent reader, then you know I’ve mentioned this experience a fair number of times. But the hot air balloon ride was so special and unique, it deserves that level of attention. One of my favorite travel experiences of all time, this floating safari should be on everyone’s bucket lists. Getting up before dawn is never easy, but I knew it would be well worth the momentary pain, I just didn’t expect it to be as remarkable an experience as it was. An option offered by Abercrombie & Kent, as soon as I saw it listed I knew we had to do it and almost as soon as the balloon left the ground I knew it was the right decision. Floating high above the mighty Serengeti, we saw a different side to the African bush impossible to otherwise replicate. Mere feet from the road, yet invisible thanks to the tall grasses, was another world hidden in plain sight. Lions devouring breakfast, hippos sleeping in the water and more zebra and wildebeest than I ever thought possible to exist were all right there, unknowingly providing a show to the people flying over their heads. The hour flew by, but in those 60-minutes we enjoyed a collection of memories so powerful and so vivid, I know I’ll never forget them.
To be fair, every wildlife experience as we traveled through Tanzania’s National Parks with Abercrombie & Kent could easily be on this list. That’s one of my favorite aspects of game viewing in Africa, it’s always special, it’s also unexpected and it’s always emotional. Perhaps it’s that emotional tie that makes these experiences so indelible, connecting us to the land and wildlife in a way that few other trips can ever hope to replicate.
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