You haven’t seen Africa if you haven’t been to this country, they told us. It’s the greatest show on Earth, they told us. And so we listened. And we came to see for ourselves. Together with Nomad Tanzania, we explored three very different, yet stunning wilderness areas and today I would like to share some memories from this truly life-chaning trip.
First Stop: Lamai Serengeti.
Hidden amongst some granite boulders above the open grassy plains and only a stone’s throw away from the Mara river, lies the magical Lamai Serengeti– which holds one of the best-kept secrets of Tanzania…
But first things first: in order to grasp the magic of this place and the secret it holds, let’s try to understand how the Serengeti works:
So, the Serengeti is a vast Wilderness where differing habitats can be found, depending on which part of the Serengeti you visit. When going on safari to the Serengeti, most visitors come to see one of the most magnificent natural phenomena on Earth: The Great Migration of wildebeest and zebras. And it truly is one of the most amazing things you will ever witness: MILLIONS of animals moving seamlessly like a swarm across the open plains.
The bulk of the tourist crowds will naturally always be where the migration happens at the time of travelling – either in the North or in the South. The North is a stunning piece of land through which the Mara flows – the famous, crocodile-infested river that the wildebeest and zebras cross annually because the grass is always greener on the other side.
Peak season for tourism in the North is approximately during August/September, when rainfall is unusual, and days are normally clear and sunny. The event of the river-crossing which is considered the ‘greatest show on earth’ and is high on many traveler’s bucket lists.
And now comes the secret:
If you come to the North any other time of the year – you will have the place pretty much all to yourself. When we visited the northern Serengeti towards the end of January, we spent a few days of solitude with our partners of Nomad Tanzania at their stunning lodge – Lamai Serengeti. We shared the lodge with only two other guests. The Northern Serengeti, thus, is perfect for introverted travellers seeking some peace and quiet.
The beauty about the North:
The predators don’t migrate. And the elephants also stay. So, the game-viewing in the area is still fantastic! And while during peak season you are likely to share a great sighting with countless other vehicles – during secret-season you will very likely spend quality time all alone with the animals.
Naturally, the stunning scenery of Lamai and Northern Tanzania always remains and every sunset here will leave you speechless – no matter what season.
Second Stop: Kuro Tarangire.
We had visited Tarangire National Park before, but had only spent a short time here and only got to see the north of the park. In the south lies Nomad Tanzania’s lodge – Kuro Tarangire. Bordering a swampy wilderness, the cozy huts of Kuro give you a real Tanzanian feel – the roofs are made from banana leaves, in the bathroom awaits an outdoor bucket shower, and more often than not, you can watch the odd elephant walking past your deck. Tarangire National Park is famous for its huge number of elephant herds and the beauty of the South is that less of the day visitors make it all the way down here – unless during peak season, when there is only little water left in the park, all the animals migrate to the massive Silale Swamp. And where the animals go, the tourists are renown to follow.
For us, early morning is where it’s at in Tarangire.
During the coolness of the morning, the elephants make their way down to the river (and the Tsetse-flies are still sleeping…). As photographers, we live for the golden hour of the day. This has become the most important time of our day. And in Africa, the time window of the “good light” is rather short: We are talking maybe 30 minutes in the morning and probably even less time in the late afternoon before the sun sets.
Visiting Tarangire in February, we are amazed by the lush green colours and overgrown vegetation of the place! Perfect for photography, yet harder to find any predators in the tall grass – which is why we could not believe our luck when we stumbled upon fresh lion tracks on our morning game drive – and still in the midst of golden hour! Our guide was quick to follow the tracks and around a corner and there they were lying in an open patch of grass: The whole pride of three grown females and at least four cubs! Thrilled by this rare opportunity during this time of year, we viewed the lions in awe before they wander off into the thickets. We spent the rest of the morning amidst the many elephants.
During the hot time of day, we do it just like any respected animal does and spent the hours around lunchtime resting in camp. An elephant bull seems to like the sound of our voices and lingers around the fireplace. We wait until the late afternoon before we head again for sundowner drinks in the bush and then one of Kuro’s special treats: Tarangire is one of the few places in Tanzania where night drives are allowed.
The bush is so thick that it’s almost a little scary when you hear the rumbles and the trumpeting of countless elephants close-by. But the gentle giants always give us the benefit of the doubt and quietly move off into the darkness. A few hyenas also lurk in the darkness and some bat-eared foxes are busy digging up insects, carefully listening out with their spoon-shaped ears for any movements below the ground.
By the time we leave Kuro Tarangire the next morning, we have seen more elephants than we would ever dare to count…
Third Stop: Entamanu Ngorongoro.
Oh, the Ngorongoro Crater! This just has to be one of my favorite places in the whole of Tanzania. But it’s not so much the inside of the Crater I grew so fond of, but much more so the area around the rim that really got to me. Some three million years ago, the Crater was once a gigantic volcano and some say that before it erupted and collapsed, it would have been higher than Mount Kilimanjaro. While you can find white rhinos, lots of lions, wildebeest, zebras, elephant bulls and buffalo herds down in the Crater, the highlands around it hold an entirely different kind of beauty, the mystical kind.
It’s always quite a few degrees colder up here and during the early mornings, thick mist hangs amongst the acacia trees, which are standing taller than any others I’ve ever seen before and are covered in thick moss due to the moisture up here. Right on the rim, a Maasai warrior sits with his legs dangling, looking down into the Crater and herding his cattle. A few giraffes wander gracefully through the acacias, as we drive on a dirt road deep into the rain forest to find our accommodation for the night: Entamanu Ngorongoro is a lodge right up my ally: It’s a bit chilly up here, so I get my warm jumper out and snuggle up with a cup of green tea around one of the many fireplaces of the tented lodge, looking out onto the Crater as the sun sets.
An adventure awaits us early the next morning: We are setting out to do something not many tourists do, but the local Maasai do every day: we meet up with two of the warriors and set off to walk all the way from the Crater rim down to the grassy plains and the start of the Serengeti. The air is crisp and clear, and the two Maasai walk the land that was given to them by the government with pride. Once they were herding their cattle down in the Crater, but with tourism encroaching more and more, they had to move.
Today, the Maasai find themselves almost time-traveling: They are trying to hold on to their old traditions, but at the same time the world around them is moving fast into the future. Our guides have embraced a more modern way of life. Working with the tourists. Only one wife instead of multiple. Teaching foreigners like us about their old ways, while walking steadily down the Ngorongoro hills straight into the Serengeti, shaking hands with friends along the way, joined for a few kilometers by an uncle or a niece here and there.
The last stretch of our epic walk, we march next to each other on the vast open plains of the African Savannah. Before us nothing but open lands – and a surprise bush breakfast waiting for us at the end of our morning hike.
Disclaimer: Nomad Tanzania was so kind to invite us to stay at their lodges for free. What a treat. We are so very grateful.