Almost about a year ago, Akshat and I went to Egypt to see the Pyramids. That was our first trip to the African continent. There was something so raw and unique about our interactions in Egypt that we told ourselves, we have to come back again. There was no better occasion than our 5 years anniversary in July to plan for 2 weeks of well-deserved romantic trip to Africa. I remember booking our tickets 6 months in advance and spending our weekends, watching documentaries of great migration and the royal cats of Africa. The excitement got out of control as we were nearing our trip, to a point that the whole world knew I was going to see the great migration! We spent 9 days on a roadtrip in Kenya and Tanzania followed by 4 days in Ethiopia. The experiences across Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia were drastically different and yet similar in many ways.
Highlights of our Trip
- July/August are the best time to visit Kenya and Tanzania to experience great migration and observe distinct landscapes in both Kenya and Tanzania
- Packing the right clothing and auxiliary items is crucial to have a great time during safari
- Take 4 wheel land cruiser instead of safari minivan. It is slightly more expensive but extremely comfortable and sturdy for the terrain
- Our Itinerary:
- Day 1: Nairobi > Lake Manyara (360 Kms)
- Day 2: Lake Manyara > Ngorongoro Crater (65 Kms)
- Day 3: Ngorongoro > Serengeti (180 kms)
- Day 4: Serengeti
- Day 5: Serengeti > Lake Victoria (180 kms)
- Day 6: Lake Victoria > Masai Mara game reserve (270 kms)
- Day 7: Masai Mara
- Day 8: Masai Mara – Nairobi (265 kms)
Day 1: Nairobi > Lake Manyara
You could either start from Kenya or from Tanzania to do this itinerary. My recommendation would be to start from Tanzania and follow the migration. It is a much more fulfilling experience. We started early from Nairobi and stopped for immigration formalities at Namanga (Kenya/Tanzania) border town. You will need to change the vehicle at the border as Tanzanian government has banned movement of Kenyan vehicles for tourism to promote employment opportunities for locals.
The 6 hours journey to Lake Manyara included a scenic drive via Masai colonies and other small villages. I enjoyed listening to the stories of Masai and how they have preserved their centuries old culture and traditions. Lake Manyara is famous for tree climbing lions and large flocks of flamingos. This was my first sight of animals in the raw habitat and I was absolutely thrilled. Watching a large herd of African elephants crossing ahead of us gave me goosebumps.
Day 2: Lake Manyara > Ngorongoro Crater
We packed lunch for the Ngorongoro Crater. It is a large volcanic caldera within the area and is a World Heritage Site. We made a 670m descend into the floors of the crater in our 4-wheel cruiser. Our first action packed game drive in search of wildlife had officially begun. My first sight of herds of gazelles and dazzle of zebras got me goosebumps. It felt unreal. After stretching my line of sight for a glimpse of lion for few hours, we finally saw a lioness heading towards a puddle of water. As the lioness was making her way to the puddle, the gazelles, zebras and warthogs became attentive and were ready to run should the lioness decide to change course. After a full day of intense game drive, we ascended back to the crater rim for sunset views.
Day 3: Ngorongoro > Serengeti
On our way to Serengeti, we visited one of the most important paleoanthropological sites in the world called Olduvai Gorge. We visited various sites of the gorge to see where the remains of pre-historic man were discovered. The museum is extraordinary and demonstrates evolution of humans on this planet. We reached Serengeti in afternoon and were greeted by a pride of 9 lioness and their cubs as soon as we entered the park. On the barren brown land, the pride camouflaged themselves in the search of their prey. I truly enjoyed the interactions of the pride. After a short lunch break, we spent the rest of our afternoon on game drive. We were rewarded by spectacular views of sunset on our way back to the jungle lodge.
Day 4: Serengeti
Serengeti is unbelievably large and the concentration of wildlife is very spread out. The thrill of being out in the cruiser searching for those unique memorable wildlife experiences can only be experienced in Serengeti. We were at our day 4 of game driving and I have to confess, it only got better by the day. Due to the size of the park, it doesn’t feel commercialized at all. We were by ourselves during most of the game drive except for those exceptional moments when large number of cruisers would swarm the areas where leopards and cheetahs were spotted. It was so rewarding to see Cheetah taking care of her cubs and watching them over as they had fun in the open fields.
As a child, I thought lions or the big cats would hunt anytime and everywhere when they see a prey. This is so not true. We saw the cats in perfect harmony with the gazelles, zebras, wilder-beasts when their bellies were full. I learnt so much about the cats; their unique strengths and weakness and most importantly, their pivotal role to keep our ecosystem in harmony. One of the myths that also got busted was lioness are the ones who hunt only. Lions hunt as much as lioness do. The only exception when Lioness are out hunting and lions are not is when they have mated extensively over 7 consecutive days.
Day 5: Serengeti > Lake Victoria
We left Serengeti in the morning and drove to the South-Eastern bay of Lake Victoria. It was a long drive. We stayed at a nice luxury resort, Serenity on the Lake and enjoyed the sunset. The breeze was refreshing and the landscape was absolutely stunning. It was a good stop over to relax and gear up for the rich concentration of wildlife in Masai Mara.
Day 6: Lake Victoria > Masai Mara game reserve
We started early as there was lot of travel expected. There was a difficult moment to say good bye to Tanzania and to our dear friend, driver and guide, Sallu who made our experience absolutely magical.
We changed our cruiser again at Isebania, Tanzania / Kenya border town as we made our way back into Kenya. As we entered Masai Mara game reserve, we could see landscapes changing drastically from barren brown lands in Serengeti to lush green grasslands in Masai Mara which also explains the Great Migration of Wilderbeasts from Tanzania to Kenya during this season. We spent our evening in a Masai village. This was a very unique part of the trip. We learnt how to light fire from stones and enjoyed the hospitality of the Masai.
Day 7: Masai Mara
Masai Mara is a smaller extension of the Serengeti and shares the same ecosystem with the Serengeti game reserve. Interestingly, the Mara hosts the highest concentration of wild animals per sq km than any other game reserve in East Africa. Hence, you could get a glimpse of variety of interactions in a very short span of time. We saw hyenas chasing the lions, coalition of cheetah relaxing, leopard feeding on dead gazelle at tree top, hippos mating, lions allogrooming, wilderbeasts running and chasing each other, vultures cleaning up the grounds amongst the many priceless moments. It seemed just perfect. The whole concept of food chain comes to life when you observe the little details in the interaction of various species in the wild.
Day 8: Masai Mara – Nairobi
You could consider optional activities including balloon safari excursions and guided nature / bird walks. On our last day, I was very focused on spotting a Rhino.
Out of the BIG 5 of Africa, we had seen Big 4: Lions, Elephants, Cape Buffaloes & Leopard. I really did not want to go back without seeing Rhinos and spending 8 days in safari. Our guide/driver used all his strength to drive to a point where some folks spotted a rhino. We reached that point and I prayed to all gods for one sight of Rhino. As I reached out for my binoculars, I could see rhino presenting itself in an open area from the bushes. I couldn’t feel more thrilled and I screamed in happiness. The joy was boundless and here I was, a super fulfilled traveler, who had seen it all. The “Big 5” term was coined by hunters in the past as these refer to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot.
Leopards and Rhinos are extremely hard to spot as they are shy and usually not in open. The hippos on the other hand, are responsible for more human fatalities in Africa than any other large animal.
Despite doing game drives for 8 full days, when our driver, Charles, said, “let’s leave for Nairobi,’ I just didn’t feel like saying yes. It is not something you can get bored of or you can have enough. Every day was unique and every moment was special. I couldn’t be more grateful for the moments of self-reflection that were presented by the nature and wildlife.
I also reflected on how I felt being in that cruiser for 8 days, feeling constrained, and seeing the wildlife in open, in absolute harmony with nature. Only if we let them be like this everywhere, world would be such a different place…..*