The next step after an epic Masai Mara Safari is the Serengeti in Tanzania. The Mara and Serengeti share a border so it is very common for safari enthusiasts to visit both the Masai Mara and Serengeti in one trip.
The Serengeti is perhaps the most iconic and famous game reserve in Africa. The acacia tree dotted landscape is in my mind the most picturesque scenery in all of African game reserves. The Serengeti is where the Lion King move is based off of. We spent 3 days in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater which in my mind is far too few. In a perfect world, I would spend 3 days, 2 nights in the Serengeti, and do the same for the Ngorongoro crater.
Overall, I think the Serengeti is my favorite place to view game!
The Cost of a Serengeti Safari
Our accommodation for this safari are considered super budget. The camp we stayed at was literally just tents. Not even permanent structure tents, but real camping tents. This is the ultimate budget safari approach to the Serengeti. Overall, we paid about $400 per person for the transfer to the Serengeti from Arusha, tent accommodation, food, and all game drives. As a world traveler, I absolutely loved staying in these budget camps and making friends with some cool people.
As I’ve written about in my safari guide, Safaris are not meant to for budget travelers. They are specifically designed to target older, wealthier, and more luxurious travelers. To book something nicer than what we stayed in, be prepared to pay much more, especially during the summer Migration months. The Serengeti is even more expensive than the Masai Mara in my opinion. Some of the accommodations are absolutely stunning like the andBeyond Under Canvas that easily runs $2,000 a night for two people!
Unfortunately, the Serengeti and Ngorongoro do not have many cheaper options. Outside of camping, your next price range is in the $300-$500 a night range. Options here are far and few between, especially if you want to stay in the areas near to the migration.
Nairobi, Kenya to Arusha, Tanzania
Driving from Nairobi to Arusha is not a pleasant ride. The roads are in terrible conditions and there are traffic jams everywhere. This is Africa after all, so your threshold for things like this needs to be sky high! Some stretches of road will be flat, smooth, and fast, but many others will be bumpy. Also, the roads are always under construction and because roads here only have two lanes, you’re detoured away from the road and are forced to go offroading on the dirt! In addition, when you arrive at any town, no matter how small, there are dozens of speed bumps so you’ll never go close to full speed here.
The ride south into Tanzania was scenic. It was a mix of savanna grass, acacia trees, and mountains in the distance that reminded me of an Arizona backdrop, except the cacti are Acacia trees. We pass through little towns where big passenger trucks carrying all foreigners are not common, as most people would fly to Arusha, so you’ll get some befuddled stares from the locals which was cool. The kids are especially curious and will wave at you so make sure to wave back!
Namanga Border crossing
After 3 or 4 hours of driving, we finally reach the Kenyan/Tanzanian border. This place was an absolute shitshow. Certainly not the orderly queues of cars I’m used to seeing when crossing into Canada but rather just a free for all of semis, cars and people that felt more like a college football tailgate than a border crossing. We disembark the truck and proceed to the Kenyan border office to get our exit stamps. We then walk 5 minutes through an invisible barrier separating the two countries and not a soul checks our exit stamps.
Instead, we are heckled by locals trying to sell us stuff. At the Tanzanian office, we all pay for our visas for 50$ except only my girlfriend and I get reamed for 100$ each just because we’re American. Yes only Americans pay 100$, every other country pays 50$. We then make our way to the truck without a soul checking the visas we just paid for. TIA.
Tanzania is also not a part of the East Africa Visa which allows multiple entries between Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. They pulled out of the accord in 2016 which is a shame!
Onward to Arusha
We had an uneventful three hour drive to Arusha following the border with similar scenery as Kenya. Eventually, we got to Arusha, stopped at a grocery store to get Tanzanian Shillings (not absolutely necessary, but sometimes good to have local currency), stock up on water, and supplies for the Serengeti, (similar to our gas station stop before the Masai Mara). We continue on to our campsite for the night, called the Snake Park, about 40 minutes outside of Arusha on yet more dirt roads.
This park is owned by a South African couple and specializes in providing anti-venom to treat snake bites for the local people. They also have a bunch of different types of African snakes on display. We get in around 3pm, set up our tents for the first time and go straight to our afternoon excursion, the Masai village walk.
Masai Village Walk
Masai people live in both Kenya and Tanzania and now we are able to see the Tanzanian side. This tour is already paid for in your local payment and is much better than the one in Kenya in my opinion. We had a proper Masai tour guide that was incredibly entertaining.
We started by going through a Masai museum where they had clay statues depicting how they live, what they eat, and their customs. Turns out the Masai absolutely do not eat wild animals because they fear if they start, it wouldn’t be long before they decimate the entire ecosystem. Instead, they farm cows and goats, which you see so many of during this trip. Occasionally, the warriors of the tribes will defend their livestock against predators like lions.
Masai culture is very polygamous and although they all know most of the world is monogamous, they remain baffled as why we do so. Our tour guide told us he had two wives with kids and is looking for a third. The thing about Masai culture most shocking is they perform circumcisions on boys when they are teenagers with absolutely no sedatives! It is a rite of passage to be a man to become circumcised and if the boy cries at all, they are ridiculed for the rest of their lives and not allowed to have wives.
Eventually, we left the museum and went to our guides village. The village is so bare boned and even though you know there are people in the world that live in mud and straw huts, it’s still an experience to see it all in person. We had little kids swarm us and I ended up picking a few up and throwing them around which they loved.
Some of the older kids came around as well but asked us for money which was sad to see. Even though they live such a simple and old school lifestyle, they still know the value of money and ask foreigners for it. Nevertheless, this was still a good experience and certainly worth the 2 hours we spent.
We head back to our campsite where our tour guide and driver, Sam and Tony, are cooking up dinner for us. There are loads of other people on this night as it seems to be the spot that all the overland tour groups stop at.
We saw trucks for G-Adventures, Nomad, and Intrepid here and there must have been over 100 people. After dinner, we make our way to the bar at the campsite (and this was a legit backpacker bar) where it’s a party with a bunch of different people from all over the world here.
This night got a bit crazy as we took down one tequila shot after another until our group pretty much cleaned out the bar’s tequila stock. Again, this is why having a good group of people makes the trip better! I was woken up later that night to some heaving and had a good laughed knowing that some people just drank way too much.
After breakfast the next day, we get briefed on our next adventure, the Serengeti. This would be similar to the Masai where Acacia outsources to another company specializing in tours through the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro. It would be a 3 day/2 night tour and they would take care of setting up and taking down our tents along with cooking us all our food. We meet the drivers for the Serengeti and Sam of course knows all of them because he’s done the same trip with them so many times.
The cars we take this time around look like proper 4×4 safari vehicles. This excursion will be day packs again as the cars are too small to take our big bags. The weather in the Serengeti is much warmer than the Mara BUT the Ngorongoro crater is much colder as it is at the top of a mountain so pack accordingly. We load up the cars with our day packs, sleeping bags, water supplies, and we are out of there by 8am.
Driving to the Serengeti
Departing from our campsite outside of Arusha, the main hub where people fly/drive into before heading to the Serengeti, we started driving west. The drive, we’re told, would take the whole day and we’d likely get to our campsite in the Serengeti around sunset. The landscape is similar to what we’ve seen prior, with mountains, shrubs and acacia trees dotting the horizon. It is mostly uneventful until…we see THREE bull elephants cross the street! We were nowhere close to the Serengeti but we saw these three massive guys crossing the street at a leisurely pace like they owned the place. We snapped some quick pics before they walk off into the distance.
A few hours into the drive, the landscape transitions into more of a tropical setting with denser forests, palm trees, and an increase in humidity. This area just happens to be Tanzania’s main are for growing Bananas. We pass through a small town before we climb the mountain to the Great Rift Valley (the same one that is in Kenya also extends down to Tanzania), and this town is just filled with bananas everywhere. They even had red bananas which we tried for the first time (tastes pretty similar to a normal banana).
As we climb up the mountains, we stop at the top for another scenic view of the Great Rift valley, this time from Tanzania. The scenery is very different than Kenya with green dense forests vs shrubs and savanna. Both views extend out as far as the eyes can see are spectacular nonetheless.
Eventually we arrive at the entrance for the Ngorongoro conservation area. This whole conservation area is a massive piece of land that the government wanted to urbanize back in the day. The local Masai people fought back and resisted change leading the government to dub this area as a conservation area so they could live in peace.
Driving past the Ngorongoro crater
The Ngorongoro crater, about 20km in diameter, is a large volcanic caldera that formed thousands of years ago located within the Ngorongoro conversation area. This crater is home to thousands of animals and is great for spotting game as it is such a small space with the walls of the crater making it difficult for the animals to get out.
Because the Serengeti is further west of the crater, we continue driving but will return to the crater the next day. The Masai people live in the Ngorongoro conservation area, and you will see a lot of them with their livestock, but they are not allowed in the Serengeti. Two hours later, we arrive at the gate of the Serengeti! It is about 5pm at this point so there is no time for an afternoon game drive and we must drive straight to our campsite.
The Serengeti Campsite
The campsite however, is located IN the park itself, so even on our drive from the entrance gate to the campsite, we saw many animals including hyenas, zebras, and elephants. Upon arrival, our tents were already set up and you are surrounded by the wilderness of the Serengeti. You really feel like you’re in the middle of everything and you actually are because the first thing we were told is to try to avoid using the bathroom at night. If you must, travel in pairs with a lot of light as lions and buffalo are known to be close to the camp.
Our guide told us they once saw in the night a group of lions taking down a buffalo and one of the lions died after being gored. Crazy, a little scary, but all around awesome.
Food in the Seregeti
The food was all cooked by the safari company we traveled with. The food was the best we had yet with soups, meat, rice, pasta and fruit. Considering we were in the middle of absolutely nowhere, the food felt like fine dining. Also, because you are in the middle of nowhere, it may be difficult to accommodate certain diet restrictions so hopefully you have none, or are willing to give them up for this trip as it will make your life a lot easier (and belly fuller). Breakfast was pretty standard with eggs, sausage, pancakes, and coffee.
As we finished dinner, some stayed up for a few drinks but wake up was at 6am tomorrow as we had a long day of game drives ahead of us. We could hear lions groaning in the distance as we went to the bathroom to get ready for bed and this deterred most people from using the bathroom later that night. If you gotta go, just go next to your tent was the advice given.
Serengeti Game Drive
Waking up at 5:30am is never fun but with knowledge that the Serengeti is waiting for us to see, it makes it easier. The Serengeti is warm and with the sun rising, it felt very pleasant. After breakfast, we embark on our 6 hour morning drive. We get our first look at the Serengeti and just how different it is to the Mara. The landscape is so flat you can see for miles and miles. The Serengeti has a much more diverse landscape than the Masai Mara.
Golden savanna cover the entire landscape, acacia trees are everywhere, palm trees, and large rocks with vegetation on them that resemble pride rock from the lion king. Because of how much bigger and open the Serengeti is, it really made the Mara feel like a giant zoo. The one downside of the Serengeti is because of its massive size, it is hard to off road when animals get too far from the main roads. Nonetheless, we were lucky and saw many animals close to the main roads.
Almost immediately after leaving the camp, we stumble upon hundreds of zebras grazing. Few minutes later, a herd of elephants (one was still sleeping) was grazing near our vehicle so we could get some good shots. Continuing on, we saw many more zebras, gazelles, baboons, warthogs, giraffes and more elephants. By this point in the tour, you’ve already seen so many zebras and gazelles, that only the big things really get you worked up like a lion, leopard or elephant close to your vehicle.
I must say, we were a lucky bunch. After driving around for a bit, we eventually stumbled into an area with a few other cars so we knew there was something here. Yep, three leopards! Leopards are incredibly hard to spot especially since they love the cover of a bushy tree like the one we saw in the Masai Mara. These leopards however, were laying on a branch with no cover. They camouflage so well into the branches but once you make them out, they were there just chilling, not bothered by a thing. Leopards are extremely nocturnal so you’ll very rarely see them do anything cool during the day. A few pictures later, we were outta there.
We saw more elephants, a large group of hippos, lions, and baboons getting it out. Nothing out of the ordinary to write about. We made our way back to the campsite for lunch around noon and things got very interesting from here!
Walking with Elephants in our campsite
As we eat lunch back at the campsite, everyone is reflecting on what they saw that morning. We were pretty relaxed and just hanging out until my eagle eyes did not let me down as I saw large greyish objects in the distance with white on them. Elephants had come to our camp! I was so excited that as I grabbed my camera from the charger, I forgot it was being charged and it ended up falling on the ground damaging it. No matter, this was worth it.
A few of the more adventurous members along with myself ran towards the edge of the camp until we were no more than 10 meters away from these giant beasts. This was a full herd, with females, babies, and even bulls. SCORE! Each one of us try and inch closer to the animals by taking one step forward and everyone would follow suit until we realize these are wild animals.
One of the elephants gave us a look, flapped their ears and let out a mild trumpet. Thankfully, there were trees between us and them so if they did charge us, those trees would buy us a few seconds to get the hell out of there. But everyone was smart, and we all realized these are wild animals not to be messed with. We take a bunch of pictures and leave them be.
This is one of the pluses to staying in a campsite like this! This would never happen at a nicer resort!
Pride Rock Lions and Cubs
As we get over the euphoria of just seeing what we did with the elephants, we pack up our stuff, and load up the cars as we would be heading to the Ngorongoro crater for the night after our afternoon game drive. We don’t see much for most of the afternoon until we get to a large group of cars parked near a large rock and we see a few lions hanging out. As we meander our way around the different cars, we see that there are lion CUBS here! 1-2 weeks old is what Sam tells us.
These things were adorable and make you really want a pet lion cub (but just the cub). There was a zebra carcass next to them and all the lions were chowing down, including the cubs. It is very rare to see lion cubs out in the open like that so we got incredibly lucky once again! We’re here for about a half hour before it starts raining all of a sudden.
It quickly became a HUGE rain storm with some of the loudest rain drops I’ve heard. The dirt roads quickly become flooded and into a stream. A lightning bolt struck the ground no more than a few meters from us and sounded like a gunshot. Eventually, we get the hell out of there and head to the Ngorongoro crater.
Optional Excursion – Hot Air Ballooning in the Serengeti
This was something I would have really liked to do while in the Serengeti. From talking to the people that have done this, they all can’t rave enough about it. I can see why. I’d imagine that an aerial view of the Serengeti would be very special. You could also get to see many more animals as you’d be able to find the ones that are not close to a road.
However, we only had one real day in the Serengeti so it was either do this excursion, which would pick you up before sunrise and be done in the late morning, or do a game drive with your group. If I had another day in the Serengeti, I would certainly do this. It is not cheap, however, at 500$ a person, it’s a serious commitment but I figure it’s worth it.
The Ngorongoro Campsite
It takes us about two hours from the Serengeti and along the way, we stop at a vantage point at the top of the crater so you can see what you’re doing tomorrow in its entirety. The view is amazing. We drove through this same vantage point the previous day but it was cloudy. It cleared up today and what a difference it makes because the view is breathtaking. It’s too far and too high to spot any animals but this place has one of the highest concentration of wild animals in the world. Eventually, we make it to the campsite at around 7pm.
All the tents are set up and this campsite is host to a bunch of other travelers. We were warned it would be much colder here and it certainly was. At night time, it got down to about 7 degrees celcius (45F) but we lucked out as it could get much colder. The camp is located yet again in the wild so we were warned to not venture too far from the main camp as there are lions, leopards and buffalo that frequent this area!
After dinner, we heard that someone had spotted a leopard and everyone wanted to go check it out but all the drivers told us to stay put as it’s not a game. Our camp was later invaded by a bushpig, a bigger version of a warthog, that gave some people a funny scare.
Ngorongoro Crater Game Drive – Day 7
We wake up very early on Day 7 to begin our long drive around the Ngorongoro crater. The sunrise is absolutely magnificent. The skies are clear, which is amazing as it was so cloudy two days before we got here and the weather is warm. You can see the sun moving up in the horizon and with the backdrop of the Acacia trees, it really makes for a good photo opportunity. I played with my camera settings to try and get the best shot but I don’t think my camera/camera skills are good enough to do justice just how nice this view was.
We begin our drive slowly descending into the crater, cautiously navigating through the bumpy terrain for about a half hour until we are finally there. When you finally reach the bottom, my goodness, the view is amazing especially with the sun rising in the distance. You cannot spot any animals from the top of the crater but as soon as you are in the crater, my god there are SO many animals here. There must have been thousands of wildebeast, zebras, and buffalo.
There is a large lake in the middle that is one of the only water sources in the crater and you can spot many animals in the same area at the same time. The scenery was lush with savanna, trees, dense forests, and best of all, the mountainous edge of the crater completely surrounds you.
This was my favorite place yet. I felt like I was in the opening scene of the Lion King where all the animals are walking towards Pride Rock to see Simba. I just needed our safari vehicle to blast that song and I’d be all set.
The Ngorongoro is a popular area to find bull elephants as they prefer to be solitary and this is the perfect place for that. We saw at least five of them grazing in the forests here along with rhinos, baboons, giraffes and more. This is also an area where there is a large number of male lions. A lot of male lions wander here from the Serengeti in search of female prides to take over. The population of female lions is much lower in comparison than to the Serengeti and hence, there are a lot of “Bachelors”, as our guide called them.
We ended up seeing a group of three of them walking together. Again, it was day time, and it looked like these lions already ate so they were just chilling. They ended up walking very close to the road and put on quite a show for all the safari goers. We finally saw some flamingos in the crater. I didn’t even know these animals belonged in Africa but you could see tens of thousands of them hanging out in the lake. We saw ostriches in huge numbers here as well.
Around noon, we had already driven around for five hours and the crater being only 20km in diameter, it seemed to be enough. We stopped to have lunch at a lake filled with hippos. These hippos were not all sleeping so we finally got to see hippos do something. They make the funniest sounds, like they’re constantly laughing but in a very evil way. We saw two hippos getting it on which was strange considering how massive these creatures are but another thing to check off the list! Finally, we got the best jumping photo of the group at this spot. Fitting, as it would be the last time we see animals.
Arusha to Dar Es Salaam
Again, the distance on Google Maps between Arusha and Dar es Salaam is about 700 km (450 mi). First thoughts would be, “oh that’s an easy 8 hour drive, these guys are nuts telling us it’ll take 2 days to get”. The road to Dar Es Salaam is absolutely treacherous.
There are road bumps and CONSTANT detours where we’d have to drive on dirt roads as they were fixing the roads. I don’t think we drove at full speed for more than half hour at a time, with full speed being no more than 80kph/50mph. The scenery this time around is filled with farms growing array of things from palm oil, sisal, and tropical fruit. This area of the country is more humid and climate more tropical so you’ll not need anything more than shorts and a tshirt from this point on.
While many people make the drive from the Mara to the Serengeti, I’d have to imagine that very little people make the drive from Arusha to Dar Es Salaam. There are direct flights from Arusha to Zanzibar so most would elect to fly after a safari instead of driving cross country like we did. We passed by many many little villages and EVERYONE stared at us no matter what. The kids especially loved us and they would always wave. This was quite endearing and I’d always wave back.
I must have raised my hands at least 100 times during this ride and rightfully so I think. You can see these kids don’t have much and if waiving back to them could put a smile on their face, then it’s worth it. Sam and Tony were right, it was about 5pm and we had finally arrived a small town called Korogwe, exactly half way between Arusha and Dar Es Salaam. We would camp here for the night.
Pulling into this campsite, it really felt like we got away from the tourist side of Africa and into the Africa you only see in pictures. This doesn’t mean dangerous, or even that poor, but it just felt like we were in our own remote area. It felt nice. We had to set up our own tent now as the company we traveled to the Serengeti with was no longer with us. It would only be for two days before we got to Zanzibar, and on to the promise land as we kept calling it.
Dinner was served at 8pm this night, and a special meal was prepared by Sam and Tony, traditional African food! Tony gave a nice speech about what we were eating this night. Ugali, cornmeal cooked with water until it has the same consistency as mashed potatoes, is a staple in Africa diets and would be eaten by 80% of the families in Tanzania that night. It’s traditionally eaten with your hands rolled up into a spoon so you can scoop up stew with it.
I tried this approach but quickly realized my hands were probably as clean as the water with hippos in it and switched to the traditional fork and knife approach. It also has different names in different countries, like pap in South Africa, papa in Botswana, and accompanied by a delicious beef stew and grilled onions, this was our best food of the trip yet! After dinner, we all have a few drinks, gazing at the stars as it’s so clear, and head to bed early as we are leaving at 6:30am the next day.
Driving to Dar Es Salaam
Day 9 begins early as we pack up the truck at 6am, have a light breakfast and are on our way early as the goal is to get to our campsite in Dar Es Salaam by the early afternoon. The campsite is located right on the beach so it’ll give us some time to finally relax before relaxing even more in Zanzibar. The drive is pretty much the same as the day before as we pass by farm after farm. At one point, Tony stops the truck, gets out in front of a large farm growing pineapple-like plants that none of us knew what they were.
The roots looked exactly like a pineapple but they were huge, maybe 10x the size of a pineapple so it was clearly something else. Tony teaches us that these are sisal plants that are grown all around East Africa, and their leaves are used to make rope (and a few other things)! I found these cultural facts very interesting and wished they would have done more as it really gives a special touch to a trip.
We reach Dar Es Salaam around noon and travel around the outskirts to our campsite. It started monsooning as soon as we got there causing the most ridiculous traffic jams our tour guides have ever seen in the history of their travels along this route. I’ve never seen anything so bad either as we moved perhaps 5km in about 4 hours. So much for getting to our campsite early. What does one do to combat traffic? Well we decided the entire bus should get drunk so we all mixed whatever alcohol we had left and passed it around until everyone forgot that they had barely moved out of their seat for the last 9 hours.
Dar Es Salaam Campsite
Eventually, we got to our campsite around 5pm, about 4 hours off schedule but it was without a doubt, the nicest camp grounds we’ve seen. It was right on the beach, surrounded by white sands, palm trees, warm green water. I immediately forgot about what happened all day and proceeded to run into the water, realizing that Zanzibar was not far off and paradise was within reach.
The water was warm, the sand soft, and the sunset stunning. Our guide told us not to get too excited about this beach as Zanzibar would put it to shame. As it was the first beach we’d seen all trip, we were loving life and actually looking forward to camping the night on the beach falling asleep to the waves. Dar Es Salaam is really where the Malaria pills you’re supposed to take become important. There are shitload of mosquitoes here and this is a Malaria hot zone so be sure to diligently take your pills.
Dinner was served by the restaurant at the campsite which Acacia picked up the bill for and the food was great. The restaurant was not 5* by any means, but I got a seafood curry that was delicious. It was good to have some food with some spices and different flavors. After dinner, we all hung out, having a few drinks until the late hours, enjoying the calm breeze from the ocean before heading to bed. Wake up was at 6:30 the next day as we were aiming to catch the 9:30 ferry to Zanzibar.
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