On this trip I rediscovered the beauty of Tarangire National Park before flying into the northern Serengeti to explore Kogatende, the Lamai Wedge and Mara River. Luckily for me, the rains and wildebeest migration were ‘late’ this year so the herds were unexpectedly still located in the northern Serengeti and I experienced some of the most awe-inspiring game-viewing of my life!
I flew with Ethiopian Airlines, for the first time, from London Heathrow to Kilimanjaro via Addis Ababa. Their Airbus A350 was very spacious in economy, with good knee and elbow room. The service was friendly and efficient and the meal and entertainment system were all very good and enjoyable. I would happily fly with them again, however the 5-hour layover in Addis Ababa on the return journey was tiring.
For my first night, I stayed in the Usa River area (near Kilimanjaro) at Rivertrees Country Inn. Since my last visit, 10 guestrooms have been added in new cottages dotted around the expansive grounds. This is a lovely property and perfect for relaxing after a long-haul flight with a very nice restaurant and bar. The gardens are spacious and there are some lovely walks around the property and along the river too.
I then returned to beautiful Tarangire National Park, located approximately two hours by road from the sprawling and bustling town of Arusha. On the way we spotted some young Maasai warriors, with faces were intricately painted in white. This tradition occurs roughly every 15 years when a new generation of warriors, boys usually aged between 12 and 25 years, are initiated.
On entering Tarangire National Park, the first thing to notice is the striking landscape dotted with magnificent baobab trees or ‘upside down’ trees, so called because it looks like their roots are sticking up in the air. Some of the ancient giants in this park date back to over 1,000 years! In the central section of the park the evergreen Silale Swamp provides a permanent water source for a high concentration of animals. Elephants abound in the park and seeing huge herds playfully emerging from the lush swamp is a delight. They dust themselves off in the deep red soil (a natural sunscreen) and then scratch on acacia trees, rubbing the bark smooth in the process. As dusk fell the family groups wandered slowly back towards the protection of the thick bush, shielding the youngest between doting mothers, aunts and sisters. A truly magical sight.
Accommodation choices for Tarangire are located either inside or outside of the park. Staying in the park, provides better access to the core game-viewing areas which are located in the central section of the park (a good 60 minute drive from the park entrance). The picturesque Silale Swamp is fantastic for game and photography, so guests inside the park can enjoy early morning viewing before other vehicles from outside the park arrive. As with all National Parks, vehicles must be back in camp or exiting the park (if staying outside) around nightfall. To maximise your time exploring different areas of the park and seeing game, it is definitely beneficial to stay inside the park.
From Tarangire it is possible to fly from the local Kuro airstrip to the Serengeti. However, I chose to road transfer to Manyara Airstrip (approx. 3 hours) and then fly from here to the Serengeti. The road to Manyara passes through rural countryside and villages; it is lovely to see the local women in their brightly coloured kangas gathering around market stalls and children waving enthusiastically as they make their way to school. The drive up the escarpment from Mto Wa Mbu village is windy but the views at the top over Lake Manyara are spectacular. From here the road continues into the highlands and the Ngorongoro Crater.
My light aircraft flight to the northern Serengeti took around 90 minutes and it is from up in the air you can really appreciate the sheer size of the Serengeti. Our plane first flew over the Ngorongoro Crater, which was an incredible site, before continuing on over the endless open plains of central and northern Serengeti. Compared to Tarangire, the northern Serengeti combines a wonderful contrast of vast yellow-green plains, greyish brown kopjes with distant blue hills. The game-viewing was superb and I saw such a lovely variety; lion, leopard, cheetah, jackal, hyaena, serval, elephant, giraffe, Defassa waterbuck, klipspringer, hundreds of zebra and thousands of wildebeest.
I was so very lucky to experience the spectacle of a migration crossing! After travelling for months across the vast plains of the Serengeti the Mara River presents a major obstacle for the herds to overcome before continuing their journey onto the Masai Mara in Kenya. Steep, slippery banks, rocks, fast flowing water, crocodiles and predators need to be out manoeuvred. Seeing a river crossing was heart-wrenching, breath-taking and exciting! It is definitely a wildlife highlight of my life!
It is hard to believe that just 15 years ago, tourists seldom visited the northern Serengeti but the area has of course now boomed. Mobile tented camps which follow the migration herds, are in high number from July to early November, with just a handful of permanent camps and lodges operating throughout most of year. The mobile tented camps provide an authentic bush safari experience with friendly, welcoming staff who are skilled at living in the bush and make your stay very comfortable. Accommodation can range from simple and functional to well-furnished and luxurious. Private en suites have hot safari-style bucket showers and flush loos.
During my trip I stayed both on the Kogatende side (south of the river) and on the Lamai Wedge (north of the river). The majority of camps and lodges are located on the south side and the Lamai Wedge has a slightly more exclusive feel with fewer camps – however vehicles from the camps in the south are also able to game-drive on the Lamai Wedge, when the bridge is not flooded and vice versa. The Lamai Wedge is serviced by its own airstrip.
The scenery in the northern Serengeti is quite simply stunning – it is iconic Africa – and coupled with the fantastic game viewing on offer, this really does provide an incredible safari experience.
Julia stayed at: Rivertrees Country Inn, Kuro Tarangire, Kichuguu Camp, Chaka Camp, Serian Serengeti Mobile Lamai, Serengeti North Wilderness Camp, Lamai Serengeti and Ubuntu Camp.
Julia site inspected: Mount Meru Game Lodge, Kirurumu Tarangire Lodge, Lemala Mpingo Ridge, Swala Camp, Serian Serengeti North Camp, Kimondo Camp, Sayari Camp, Olakira Camp, Legendary Serengeti North Camp, Kaskaz Camp, Serengeti Safari Camp, Lemala Kuria Hills and Mkombe’s House.