Coming back to Bangkok from Koh Phangan was almost like coming home. Although last time we were in Bangkok was in April, everything felt extremely familiar. This time, we knew exactly where we wanted to stay and where to go for all of our “to do’s and to buy’s” before taking off to Tanzania.
Happy 3 Hotel: Good location if you are in Bangkok for a few days as it is right next to the BTS. The hotel is clean, well priced and has a nice pool. The downfall is that they are very strict about late check out and the breakfast is not cheap (but you are close enough to all kinds of fun places to get cheap food from).
For the two days that we had in Bangkok, we checked out a few movies at Paragon Cineplex (Jurassic World and the Terminator), had some wonderful food every day at the Paragon Mall Food Court and picked up any and all medication that we may need while in Africa (read: Imodium – nobody wants to be in a jeep for 11 hours without it).
We were lucky enough to book a fairly direct flight from Bangkok to Kilimanjaro (stop over in Ethiopia) by using our United miles.
A little background on how and why we decided on Tanzania when the African continent wasn’t really on our list of places to visit on this particular trip.
When we were traveling through the Galapagos Islands in February, we met a lovely couple from Switzerland (Peter and Christel) who told us all about their wonderful experience in Tanzania and they mentioned that they would be going again with their family in July. I put that somewhere in the back of my brain while jokingly announcing that we looked forward to joining them.
Before we took off on the trip 9 months earlier, both Kieran and I made a list of our “must see” places: Kieran’s was Machu Picchu and mine was an African safari. The more I thought about it, the more I knew that I had to reach out to Peter and Christel and find out more about their trip.
We didn’t expect to join them, but rather just wanted to gather some information and maybe go at a later date. However, after a few emails and me very obviously pointing out how much I wanted to go to both Kieran and Peter, Peter kindly offered that we join them. After a bit of flight research and budget re-calculations, we were in for an 11 day all inclusive Safari with Peter, Christel, Caroline, Lukas and Jan hosted by BushBuck Ltd.
When we landed in Kilimanjaro, we were picked up by Baraza, our guide and driver for the next 12 days. I don’t remember much of that ride from Kilimanjaro to Arusha (1 hour) as I was still heavily drugged after the plane ride. In fact, I don’t remember the picture being taken below…
We were only in Arusha for one night and our friends from Switzerland were due to arrive very late that evening, so Kieran and I walked around town and enjoyed a nice dinner at Fifi’s and dessert at AfriCafe. Overall, Arusha is fairly safe as long as you stick to the center and walk around while it’s still light out.
We stayed at Arusha Hotel which is the oldest surviving hotel in Arusha, built in 1894. It’s right in the center, offers free wifi and a delicious breakfast.
The next morning, we packed up the jeep and took off on the journey (safari means journey in Swahili) to Tarangire Park for the next 2 days! Tarangire covers approximately 2,800 km’s of grass and flood plains, acacia woodlands and dense bush. Impressive elephant herds congregate here from July to October (this elephant lover was in luck)!
As soon as you enter the park, you are surrounded by all types of wildlife. . .
Thomson Gazelles . . .and of course, elephants! I am not exaggerating when I say that I think a tear or two were shed when I saw the herds of elephants walking freely with their babies.
We stayed at the Tarangire Sopa Lodge for 2 nights which was a pretty nice hotel in the middle of nowhere.
I won’t bore the readers with daily details, but to give you an idea, the days usually consisted of a very early start (anywhere between 6:00am and 7:00am) and long days in the jeep for the game drive (anywhere between 8-10 hours) on very bumpy roads. You can customize your safari and get out into the wild as much or as little as you prefer, but the longer you are out there, the more chances you have at seeing some action! Usually, we would have breakfast buffet at the hotel, then the hotel would pack lunch boxes for us to eat while out in the wild and then come back around 6:30pm for dinner.
Here is an example of our lunch box . . .
and a few of our lunch spots. . . Some meals were fancier than others . . .
Some we ate under the trees in the wild . . .
Some at nice picnic spots!
Some on a rock!
And of course, doing all of the above while enjoying beautiful views! After two days in Tarangire (which I highly recommend), we were off to Serengeti.
The drive from Tarangire to Serengeti was very long (about 10 hours), hot and bumpy. Normally, people would go from Tarangire to the NgoroNgoro crater and then to Serengeti. But because we joined the group so late and there was no accommodation left to fit 7 people, BushBuck had to make some changes to the itinerary.
However, we had many stops along the way where we got to hear Baraza’s stories about life in Tanzania.And we got to see some of the most beautiful scenery unfold in front of us!
We even got to see from a distance how the Masaai people live. They are an interesting group of nomadic people and it can be pretty fascinating to watch them go about their daily life. Here is Baraza chatting with one of Masaai women at the Serengeti park entrance as they try to sell their handmade jewelry.
And here is a boy (as young as 5) herding cattle!
Crossing through the Serengeti gates was beyond exciting as it has been my dream to come here for many years! As we drove through the park on our way to the camp site, this little girl jumped onto the road out of nowhere. For 3 nights, we stayed at the Serengeti Migration Camp by Elewana Collection and all I can say is WOW! What a stunning location and an impressive resort. You are staying in what I would describe as “Four Seasons” tents. You have EVERYTHING provided for you: food, beverages, laundry, repellant, free internet and of course, the unbelievable views!
Here is our “tent”!
With little hyraxes running around and leaving lovely poop gifts at the door (he looks scarier than he is)! These guys are actually related to elephants – no joke!
And we got to enjoy beautiful dining spots!
Kieran and I were always far more bundled up than the others (Thailand’s heat got into our bones and we were missing it)!
And of course, there was always delicious food!
While here, we got to enjoy lovely sunrises . . .
. . . and even more impressive sunsets.
The main reason to go to Serengeti at this time of year (winter in Africa) is to watch the annual migration (and elephants, of course!).
The annual migration is considered to be one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on earth and we were lucky enough to see it! Nowhere in the world is there a movement of animals as immense as the wildebeest (also known as gnu) migration. Over two million animals migrate from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the greener pastures of the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya from July to October. Some people sit for hours and even days waiting to capture the great migration across the river, but as luck would have it (I do travel with an Irish), the gnu crossed as we pulled up to the river. We did witness one being dragged down and drowned by a crocodile (they do not kill for fun – only for food) and many more break their legs as they run through the river.
After 3 nights at that heavenly resort “camp”, we moved to another side of Serengeti and stayed at Serengeti Serena Lodge for three nights. A very cute spot where just like anywhere else in these parks, the animals roam at all hours of the day and you get escorted to and from your room after dark. One day we saw zebra’s at our pool and another night at 2am I heard very loud animals outside the room but couldn’t see anything and then loud gunshots followed. The next morning we learned that elephants were grazing right outside of our rooms and the guards had to scare them off the property. The guards are not allowed to shoot the animals but rather only scare them.
We even had a chance to take a few group shots 🙂 The days look pretty similar to the rest, so I will just bombard you with pictures!
We got to watch herds of lions relaxing . . .
. . . and napping . . .
. . . and protecting the ladies . . .
and being not so happy with us . . .
and watching us while the cubs slept near by!
We also got to watch vulchers devour a fallen gnu…
It is a bit unsettling to watch an animal being eaten like this but there is nothing like the circle of life and seeing that every species has some sort of positive impact on their environment.
On a happier note and one of my favorite moments, is watching a buffalo eating grass while giving a ride to four birds on his back and one on his nose. As we learned, the birds not only serve a purpose of removing ticks from the buffalo (by eating them) but also to alarm the buffalo if he is in danger. It was hilarious to watch him run off as the birds chirped (they just used him for a ride!)We also got to watch giraffes from a distance who are some of the most elegant and shy animals that I have ever seen!
We saw zebras being spooked by nothing as they tried to get a drink of water.
Then there was a gorgeous stink of the hippo infested river – they were very cute as their farting butts kept lifting out of the water! And watched crocodiles hanging out with their mouths wide open (they do this to keep themselves cool).
And of course, we continued to watch baby elephants. The video below is too cute for words!
And I can’t forget the pretty birds and other species that we got to see! I won’t list them all here as you are likely already asleep reading this (but in total, we saw approximately 50 mammals and about 100 different type of birds): In the midst of all the awesome wildlife, we continued to be in awe of our natural surroundings! It was very hard to leave Serengeti after all the fun days we had there, but we weren’t finished just yet! Next stop was Ngorngoro Crater which is a large volcanic caldera that was formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two to three million years ago; it is 2,000 feet deep and its floor covers 2,100 square miles.
Here we are in front of the crater covered by fog.And here, after the fog has lifted, you can see what the crater actually looks like (it was even safe for Paloma to come out)!We stayed for two nights at yet another fabulous place called NgoroNgoro Sopa Lodge.
All you need is one day at the crater and if you have a guide as knowledgeable as Baraza, then that is more than enough! Just get there early (6am) so you can watch some hunting action and you may even catch a glimpse of a black rhino which are almost impossible to find nowadays.The crater is very cool because you get to see everything within a pretty confined space as the animals do not migrate or leave the crater as they have everything they need there. On our last day of the safari, we got to watch the following and more:
Hyenas chasing warthogs…
Kieran’s favorite animal of all time!And of course, elephants being awesome…
On July 22nd, it was time to say goodbye to our group, Baraza and the amazing experience. Due to a flight mix-up, we all ended up on the same flight to Zanzibar which gave us a bit more time together to have an awesome lunch at Shanga in Arusha. If you are ever there, go and check it out – it is a great cause where disabled people get to create various types of art (primarily blown glass) and some of the proceeds go to them! Also, the food is super yummy!
After lunch, Baraza drove us to Arusha airport which is the smallest airport that we have ever seen – calling it a hut wouldn’t be too much of an insult.
A few final words and tips about Africa travel:
A safari at Serengeti, Tarangire and the Ngorngoro crater is a must for everyone! I highly recommend using BushBuck and although I don’t have anything else to compare to, Akber (one of the owners of Bushbuck) and his team are responsive, responsible and take good care of their employees. I would also suggest requesting Baraza as your guide and driver as you will learn a ton from him, you will feel incredibly safe and he is just super fun to be around! You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
For those who are still with me, here are a few tips about arriving into Tanzania and doing a safari:
You should have your Yellow Fever vaccine done and have a certificate showing proof of that. Yellow Fever tends to only exist in very remote areas, however, better safe than sorry! It seems that a bunch of people that got off the plane with us did not have their proof of YF, but they were still allowed in as they said that they were not coming from an area with YF. So, it’s not clear exactly what is required, but my suggestion is just get it done!
Visa on Arrival:
For EU and US citizens, you can get a visa at the airport. It is $100 for US citizens and $50 for EU citizens. All you have to do is fill out an application on arrival.
When we left US, we had a huge supply of malaria pills (malarone) just in case we would travel to areas with risk of malaria. It is highly recommended to take the pills which per doctors orders you are supposed to start taking 2 days before arriving at the at risk destination, then through out the entire stay and 2 days after leaving said destination. After hearing of the potential side effects and the tiny chance of being bitten by a mosquito carrying the strain of malaria that our medicine would protect us from (there are four strains), we decided to opt out and just bathed in repellant at all hours of the day. I still was bitten on daily basis, but all is A OK!
I never heard of these little creatures until Africa and boy oh boy are they annoying. It’s a skinny long fly with a stinger and i think I got stung at least 5 times. Nothing can be done about these lovely creatures other than more repellant. However, if you do get stung by an infected Tze Tze, you are likely to experience flu like symptoms and a “sleeping sickness” that causes confusion, poor coordination and sleeping problems.
Bring a great pair of binoculars or you will be doing a lot of squinting. We did not have any with us on our travels, but our travel companions and our guide were kind enough to let us use theirs when needed.
Bring a really good camera. Most of our pictures were taken with our old iPhones and that is probably a huge regret. It would have been awesome to have a nice camera. I guess that means we just have to go back!
Good luck with that during the game drives. Learning to squat is your best hope for survival!
Safari with children:
I would suggest traveling with kids over the age of 12. The days are long, exhausting and bumpy. They would need to have incredible attention span and a lot of chocolate (but enough about me)!
Next stop, Zanzibar (ok, ok, that was like a month ago – we are a tad behind!)