What to Expect on an African Safari? A First Timer’s Account

Written by Thomson Safaris
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My first steps out of Kilimanjaro Airport were refreshing ones. The air smells like air should – earthy, pure, and untainted. After a few deep inhales you feel lighter and more at ease. May is a gorgeous time of year for an African safari – everything is green, lush, and vibrant. I set out on our most comprehensive safari itinerary, the Thomson Signature Safari, in which we traversed Tanzania’s northern circuit, winding our way through the world’s most impressive wildlife destinations, witnessing—up close—Africa’s densest mammal populations, and sleeping under canvas in some of the most exclusive sites in all of Tanzania.

 

Eastern Serengeti Private Nature Refuge
That first afternoon after arriving at our camp, I sat outside the lounge tent looking out into the infinite conservation lands and less than a hundred yards away, a tower of giraffes stood tall, plucking leaves from the top of a tree. For about 20 minutes, they just stood there, staring in my direction, chewing nonchalantly while I sat watching, sipping on a cold glass of passion fruit juice – the perfect start to the safari.

giraffe

 

Central Serengeti
We crossed into Serengeti National Park, cruising along the dirt road, flicking our eyes frantically around us in search for something spectacular. Arthur, our guide, brought the car to sudden stop. “Leopard,” he said calmly, and pointed into a nearby tree. In the branches, a large leopard lay inconspicuously, gnawing on a freshly scored carcass. We took about 1,000 photos between us and continued on.

leopard in tree

Not 15 minutes later the landscape changed; in the distance the green grasses turned brown and looked like a blurry mirage. As we got closer we realized it was not the grass which was brown, but rather it was the very heart of the migration. Hundreds of thousands of wildebeest filled the landscape in all directions. The animals, visible as far as the eye could see, called out in their very identifiable language, something between a donkey’s bray and a cow’s moo. As we continued on down the dirt road, through the thick of the Migration, our truck parted the sea of wildebeest. They scurried out of the vehicle’s way with their young at their sides. The moos and brays grew louder as we moved in, and you could feel the vibration of the migrating masses in the floor of the vehicle.

great migration in serengeti tanzania

 

Ngorongoro Crater
“Do you think we’ll see a rhino?” one of my travel companions asked. “We might. You never know,” answered Arthur. He didn’t want to guarantee anything, and rhinos are the rarest creatures to spot in Africa. We descended some 2,000 feet to floor of Crater which looked like an ancient paradise – fields of yellow and lavender flowers, a lake covered in pink flamingos, and animals scattered about everywhere, living seemingly harmoniously with each other. As we watched a group of African bulls snack on heaps of fresh grass, we spotted something sauntering in the distance. We all pulled out our binoculars. There in the distance was our rare black rhino! As he meandered along the crater floor, other smaller animals retreated from his path. Even the larger animals moved out of his way. This was our first rhino spotting and we were all ecstatic. Little did we know that by the time our day was over, we’d see five more, each one closer to our Land Rover than the last.

rhino in ngorongoro crater

 

Tarangire
Tarangire is famous for its elephant population. It’s difficult visualize what that means until you spot a herd of 97 elephants (yes, I counted) frolicking playfully in pits of mud. They painted each other in swaths of wet earth with their trunks, splashing and trumpeting so jovially you could hear the happiness in their tone. We parked the Land Rover there for over an hour and simply watched the show. For the entire time they wrestled and played, and I swear every minute or two one of them laughed in their own elephant way of laughing. It’s a sound I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

elephant and flowers in tarangire national park

 

Gibbs Farm
An active coffee farm, the oldest in the region, is perched up in the rolling hills of the Ngorongoro Highlands. It exudes a sense of charm and character formed by a long history of evolution, conservation, and beautification. It doesn’t do it justice to call this place a farm or a lodge, more accurately, it’s an oasis. Stone paths wind through the property bounded by tall exotic plants, vibrant flowers, and enormous old trees with long twisted branches. Farm fresh food is prepared daily on premise. Coffee beans are plucked from the surrounding fields and roasted each morning – a smell that simply cannot be recreated at a coffeehouse back home. You can watch an artist-in-residence carve curvy modern sculptures from single blocks of wood on the patio. My favorite thing about this place was the private outdoor showers with waterfall shower heads. Or maybe it was the wood burning fireplaces built into the corners of the farm-style cottages. All these things added up to a simple truth – I didn’t want to leave.

gibbs farm tanzania

I was lucky enough to experience this majestic piece of Tanzania while on safari. I hope you are all able to do the same, and then you too will forever carry the country in your memories.