I grew up in Wyoming, and it seems like most of my childhood memories are outdoors. Our family vacations almost always featured the camper and hiking boots over hotel rooms and large crowds. We’ve always enjoyed the nature of Wyoming (and Colorado, where I live now) and thought it was one of the best reasons to live here.
My parents and I, and especially my Dad, have always talked about how amazing it would be to go on an African safari and see a whole new wilderness. My parents recently retired and decided it was high time to make that dream a reality. And I, despite being an adult with a child of my own now, somehow lucked into becoming their third wheel.
We’ve been back for a few months now, and part of the reason it’s taken me this long to write a review is because I simply can’t figure out how to condense it into something a stranger might want to read. I have so many strong feelings and fond memories that it seems almost impossible to put this into anything short of a novella. But I’ll give it a try.
First, a brief run-down of our trip: We arrived in Arusha and opted to stay a full day at the Coffee Lodge, which I highly recommend. It was nice to have a day to acclimate to the time (and weather) change before heading out, and it gave us a full day to take a tour of Arusha and spend some time shopping for souvenirs for people back home.
By the way, save some luggage space! You’re going to want everything. The staff at ADS also kept everything we bought in their office so we didn’t have to take it on safari with us, which was a nice bonus.
From there we took a short flight into the Serengeti and began our safari. We stayed three nights at the Lake Masek Tented Lodge, three nights at the Seronera Sametu Camp, and two nights at the Lion’s Paw camp in Ngorongoro. I would absolutely recommend any of these camps. The staff are all professional and courteous, the food is outstanding, and the accommodations are surprisingly comfortable, considering the remote locations.
But honestly, we only stayed at the camps to eat, bathe, and sleep. Our guide, Didah, gave us the option to depart at sunrise and we took him up on it every single day. The early morning light is spectacular, the temperature is much cooler, and the animals are active. I know it may be tempting to sleep in, but I definitely encourage the early morning drives. You can sleep at home!
Speaking of Didah, he was exceptional. He gave us a brief lesson in what it takes to become a safari guide in Tanzania. It is quite rigorous and the jobs are very sought after. After their education, guides are “ranked” on their abilities. Unsurprisingly, ADS only hires the best. And it shows. Many times Didah would see something from a distance that we would struggle with, even after he pointed it out. Do you see the leopard in this tree? Don’t feel bad if you didn’t; it took us a minute as well. But Didah spotted it with ease from the road.
Didah was always exceptionally patient. He definitely encouraged us to adopt the “pole pole” attitude and relax on our trip. There were a few exceptions, though, and I looked forward to the words “we have to go”. When we heard that uncharacteristically serious phrase, we knew something exciting was about to happen.
In one case, he saw vultures circling in the distance and knew that a kill had happened there recently. In another, he saw storm clouds brewing on the horizon and knew that if we didn’t beat the rain there, the roads to the camp were going to become a quagmire. We didn’t see much around us on that drive, but racing back on those bumpy roads with sheets of rain right behind us was definitely a highlight of the trip.
The advice to be patient is one of the best Didah gave us, and what I will tell anyone who is considering going on safari. You cannot treat it like a zoo, crossing an animal off your list and then rushing along to the next one. The best things we saw, we saw because we waited. Sometimes for an excruciatingly long time.
On our last full day in the Ngorongoro crater, we came across a male lion eating a fresh kill in the grass. He was not terribly far from the road, but it was hard to see him or his meal. I checked the timestamp on my camera. For 38 minutes, we watched him, and through the occasional angle, we could eventually figure out it was a buffalo calf. At 39 minutes, two more lions arrived. At 52 minutes, they grew tired of waiting their turn and a scuffle broke out over the calf.
I thought that would be the highlight, but Didah looked off to the right and said “wait”. So we waited for another HOUR, when finally an elephant came into view. He had no choice but to walk past the three lions on his way to water. The lions hunched down and started to growl, but the elephant took a few charging steps towards them with a loud trumpet, and the lions all cowered together, sensing their disadvantage. Now that was worth waiting for.
We were there for over two hours, in one spot. A few cars came and went in that time, anxious to see the next thing. It occurred to me, when it was all over, that we were the only four people in the world who had witnessed that entire series of events. That is… pretty awe-inspiring.
Every time I look back at the photos, I remember something new. I had so many favorite moments that it’s hard to pick just a few. My Dad liked seeing the recent kills (and the time we spent hours watching a cheetah stalk an impala that ended unsuccessfully), but I’m a bit more of a softie and a fairly recent Mom. Going in April was the perfect time to see LOTS of mommas with their young ones.
We watched two giraffes relentlessly club each other with their necks to assert dominance. We watched a lioness slowly move her cubs, one at a time, to a safer location (until she grew tired of waiting for them to walk on their own). We saw a cheetah lazing in the shade, and when she stood up realized she was very pregnant! Probably due any day.
We saw vultures fight hyenas for scraps and hippos push each other around for the best spot in the mud. We saw many different monkeys, and I loved watching how “human” some of their interactions seemed.
We saw literally thousands of zebras, sometimes in a stampeding group and sometimes broken off into pairs, watching each other’s backs. We saw countless species of birds, and even though I would try to catch Didah off guard, he always knew their names and some interesting fact about them. We were even lucky enough to spot an elusive black rhino in the Ngorongoro Crater, completing our goal of the “Big Five”.
But perhaps the single best part of the trip was the forced reminder to be present and enjoy the world around us. There was Wi-Fi at each camp, which I used to check in with my husband and son at home, but that was it. No Facebook or Instagram. No work emails. I am very close with my parents, and we talk or text almost every day. But life has changed. I have a kid of my own now.
I’m a wedding photographer and work very hard at running my own business. It seems like we always have something on our calendar. I hadn’t spent a prolonged amount of time alone with my parents since finishing college (some undisclosed number of years ago). It was a privilege to take this vacation together as adults, and I can’t possibly think of a more beautiful location to do it in or better company to organize it.
Safari Dates: March 26, 2019 to April 05, 2019