It’s a bit overdue, but here’s a recap of my trip to Tanzania over the break in April. I went with my friend Elisabeth, and our trip took us first to Mwanza and the Serengeti, then over to Zanzibar on the other side of Tanzania and back again. We left Kigali at 4:30 in the morning to get to the border crossing at Rusumo. Once across the border, we hopped on a 5-hour bus to Kahama, where we changed buses and spent another 5 hours going to Mwanza. Our route for the whole trip is highlighted below- red is travel by bus, blue by plane.
Mwanza is a decent-sized city on the edge of Lake Victoria. The landscape is studded with huge rock formations, jutting out of the hills and water. It’s really stunning, and I wish I had a picture of it, but unfortunately the time we spent around the lake was in the evening when the light was too dark to get a good picture of the surroundings.
We spent a day in Mwanza recovering from the long bus rides and getting our bearings. Then early the next morning, our driver and guide picked us up at our hotel to take us on the safari. One entrance to Serengeti National Park is an easy two-hour drive from Mwanza, so we made it through the entrance by mid-morning. Once inside the park, we were immediately greeted by the beautiful landscape- rolling grasslands, mountains off in the distance, and fantastic clouds overhead.
Our first stop with the driver was to a small river. There we saw some cool stork-like birds, crocodiles, and hippos. Our guide let us get out of the car and walk a little closer to the water for better views of the animals.
As we continued, we saw a troop of baboons. Elisabeth was pretty excited when this baby waved at her.
The next big animals we came across were ostriches! Rwanda’s national park Akagera, has some animals in common with the Serengeti, so I had already seen elephants, giraffes, zebras, etc. but ostriches were a first in Tanzania. What a wild looking animal…
Zebras are tied with giraffes for my favorite safari animal. Our guide shared some facts about the animals we saw throughout the trip. Fun fact about zebras: they have really good eyesight, so they tend to migrate together with wildebeest, who have poor eyesight. But wildebeest have a good sense of smell, whereas zebras don’t. Teamwork against predators!
The most exciting moment of our trip was watching a lion hunt. We came across a number of other safari cars stopped on the side of the road next to a field full of zebras and wildebeest. Our driver wouldn’t tell us what was going on, but just told us to watch patiently. All of a sudden, a female lion lunged out of her hiding place in the grass and snagged a wildebeest. The other animals ran as the one was pulled down. All of this happened about 50 feet away from our vehicle.
Another fun fact: I assumed that lions killed by ripping out their prey’s throat or something dramatic. Really the lions clamp down on their prey’s mouth to suffocate it. It takes several minutes for the animal to die, then the lion can begin eating. The whole process was pretty awesome, although gruesome to watch.
It was also lion mating season while we were there, which allowed us to see another interesting side of lion behavior. Mating pairs go off together into the grass to do their thing. Lions mate once every fifteen minutes for seven days. Elisabeth and I were shocked- we had no idea lion mating was so involved.
In addition to lions, we got to see some other big cats. We spotted a couple leopards hanging out in the trees.
We also saw a few cheetahs relaxing off in the bushes.
Throughout the safari, we saw a good number of giraffes. They are so graceful and elegant as they parade through the grass. They are great fun to watch!
We also were lucky to see a ton of hippos. The first afternoon was a bit chilly and overcast, so some of the hippos had ventured out of the water. When it’s hot and sunny, hippos stay in the water so their skin doesn’t burn, so we were grateful for the grey weather so we could get some good views of the hippos.
One of the best parts of the trip was watching the wildebeest migrate. Every year, the wildebeest and zebras make their way from the southern part of the park, across the river, to the northern Kenyan part of the park. It was incredible to watch thousands of wildebeest running in unison across the plains. In some places, as far as you could see, the grass was spotted with thousands and thousands of them. It was impossible to count the number of wildebeest we saw during our stay, there were so many!
We also saw several herds of elephants while in the Serengeti. I said zebras and giraffes were my favorite safari animals, but looking back at this picture, maybe I should add elephants to the list. They’re all too beautiful to chose just one. Just look at that little face!
If the animals weren’t cool enough, the scenery was just gorgeous! Even when there weren’t animals around, I loved looking at the landscape zooming past the car. The sky was so immense out in the middle of the plains; pictures don’t do it justice.
The safari was a great experience, and I am so glad that Elisabeth and I went. If you’re ever in East Africa, the Serengeti is definitely worth the trip!
After the Serengeti, we headed back to Mwanza for a night before flying to Dar es Salam, where we were planning to take a ferry over to Zanzibar. Our flight was delayed six hours, so we missed the ferry and had to take a six-seat airplane, which was a fun way to travel. Once in Zanzibar, we stayed at a remote beach on the East Coast, which was incredibly beautiful. The sand was pure white and the water clear and warm. Our hotel was run by a group of very friendly Rastafarians, all of whom made our trip very memorable. They served us fresh coconuts on the beach, guided us through the mangroves to watch the sunset over the Indian Ocean, cooked us a authentic Tanzanian fish stew for dinner, and took us out dancing at the local club. The time in Zanzibar is kind of a blur, but it was so much fun.
Unfortunately I was lazy at the beginning of our stay in Zanzibar and planned on taking pictures the last day. Then it poured the entire last day we were there, so I have no pictures to document our visit. Our hotel manager, Ramson’s, favorite saying was, “No time to lose!” Guess I should have listened to him and taken pictures when I had the chance!
All in all, despite a few bumps along the road, the trip to Tanzania was wonderful. We saw beautiful places, met some awesome people, and enjoyed experiencing a new culture. I hope to go back again before I return to the States.