Safari in Tanzania During Covid-19: A First-Hand Adventure in 2022/2023

A First-Hand Experience of Safari in Tanzania During Covid-19 2022

Another author recently wrote a great post about how to travel on a budget in Tanzania. Here is how to find the best deals for safaris, hotels, food, and other activities in Tanzania.

Kilimanjaro Airport During Covid-19 2022

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Arusha’s Kilimanjaro airport sounded like a small and quaint port to arrive into the country – boy we’re we wrong! A jumbo jet landed moments before our small plane of twenty people, and masses of hundreds huddled outside in the drizzle waiting restlessly for the four clerks behind rustic wooden desks to check an unknown document. When an airport employee passed by I asked, “excuse me, do you know what document they’re checking?” He replied cheerfully “the health surveillance form, it’s a great form, have you seen it?”. We had, in fact, seen it.

I had filled it out online for both of us only hours earlier in a panic during our Nairobi airport layover as I overheard others talking about it. Only moments after submitting the forms, I looked over at Shand and found his face pinched and his hands over his belly, a sudden bout of food poisoning overtaking him. I tried to comfort him with a pat on the back, but he told me in the plainest terms that I was not to touch him, and when I glanced his way and caught his steely glare I surmised that looking at him was also out of bounds.

Shand stayed strong and weathered the flight. When we landed in Tanzania we felt like a herd of civilized cattle. We plodded through a charade of form checking and other bureaucratic steps. Numbers were scribbled on scrap pieces of paper, ten dollar American bills were collected and placed in a heap on a cluttered desk, our noses were lightly swabbed by a lab-coated official in a cubicle made of thin corrugated plastic, and then one by one our negative test results were spit out of an ancient fax machine and collected by a lanky boy and elderly woman, who both dutifully attempted to pronounce our strange English, German, French, and Dutch names from behind masked faces in a room buzzing with chatter and activity. We were near the very back of the queue and watched this all unfold, and it seems a miracle or a farce that not a single test came back positive out perhaps a thousand of people from all over the world.

Because of the tourism downturn of COVID-19, we could negotiate an excellent price for an 8 day safari with a highly rated safari company, Cubs Expeditions Tanzania. One of their drivers picked us up from the airport to drive us to our hotel.

Hotel near the bus station in central Arusha

Upon landing in Tanzania, Shandon decided he preferred to stay at a different hotel nearer to the hospital in case his condition worsened. We spent the night in a colonial building on the fifth floor above one of the noisiest streets we’ve ever witnessed. Earplugs allowed for a good sleep for me, but Shandon suffered all night. The tour company kindly allowed us to postpone our safari a day so Shand could rest and recover.

Best secluded hostel in Arusha

The next day, we migrated over to the original accommodations, Meru Hostel. Although on a map it seemed to be located just on the outskirts of town, it turned out to be a knuckle-whitening rollercoaster ride down crumbling dirt roads and washed-out alleyways. There was good news though: is was peaceful out there.

It was a sturdy dorm house in a forested hillside, and operated by a tall and inquisitive man and a friendly, quiet young woman.

I hid away cozied up on the bottom bunk in our room that day, reading Kurt Vonnegut and updating my write-ups, while Shand, somewhat improved, ventured out on a boda-boda (motorcycle) to the nearest health clinic to confirm his suspicions that he would live. I told him to tell the motorcycle driver that he was scared and to drive slowly, but I doubt Shand followed my instructions.

Safari in Tanzania: Tangier National Park During Covid-19

Day 1 we drove to first park, elephants aplenty! The landscape Looked like Uganda, with small paths through brushy forest, except instead of golden like Uganda, it was so green!

We stayed at pleasant hotel called Jamba lodge, and we are the only guests in a place that can house hundreds.

Driving through Ngorogoro to Serengeti

Day 2 We drove along the rim of the Ngorogoro Crater to get to Serengeti. It was a scary, steep, winding dirt road through the forest, to a lookout over a giant flat plane in the crater. Driving through Ngorogoro we saw lots of Maasai people with their cattle and sheep, and their villages comprising of straw and mud huts.

Most people born into the Maasai culture choose to stay, living a simple life of cow-collecting and roaming the pastures. A handful of Maasai Children ran to our car in their bright red checkered robes and begged. Our guide tells us they have food, but many tourists bring them sweets or trinkets.

After a nerve-wracking climb through the mountain roads and then an hour of intense bumping gravel, we were rewarded for our troubles with thousands of wildebeests and zebra on the single-minded mission of completing their great migration!

We skidded to a stop behind a couple of other safari vehicles and I was informed there was a hyena. I looked way in the distance and couldn’t see it, because it was so shockingly close right under my window! It was laying folded in the ditch, all covered in mud and sulking in the midday sun, staring longingly at the herds of wildebeest. Later, we also found lions by the road, huffing and puffing to cool down in the hot day.

Once the great herds of the migration were behind us and the sun was descending toward the horizon, we raced at full speed toward the Serengeti center, Seronera, where Amani has a surprise for us. We came to a grassy clearing and inside was an enormous animal in the tall grass with only two humps showing. It was a black rhino! We followed him for a while as he plowed through the grass, most of the time almost completely hidden. It is such a wonder that such a giant beast can hide in grass seemingly only a few feet tall!

Photography and Heat Waves

Shand learned the hard lesson that even a small amount of sunlight quickly causes heat waves in the fields, turning his zebra pictures into oil paintings. There’s no way to fix this. One must photograph closer animals to reduce the optical illusion.

That night we stayed the night at one of the 6 public campsites in the center of the park. The tent was a bit stinky with mildew, but I slunk into my silk sleeping bag liner and rested my head on a pillow made from my clean clothes inside a stuff-sack. There were animal noises in the night, which was thrilling.

Game drive in the Serengeti Great Migration

Day 3 This must be the most famous thing to do on safari in Tanzania! We spent the full day on the Serengeti game drive, bringing a packed lunch. We drove through millions of wildebeests and zebra.

We lunched at a Ngorogoro – Serengeti gate near Ndutu, and in our little boxed lunch there was a sandwich that looked like a cheese sandwich. Shand took a bite, so I ask him what kind of sandwich it was. He told me, with a twinkle in his eye, “It’s a butter and carrot sandwich”. What a cruel thing to bait-and-switch a person with plain shredded carrot instead of cheese!

As we drove into Ndutu it rained, and the wildebeests huddled together like soldiers all in the same direction, still as stone. They don’t mind you driving by at full speed, but if you stop, they scatter. We saw a sopping wet golden jackle, who gave up trying to find shelter and curled up in a puddle bed a mound of grasses.

As I came out of the shower, I found Shand filming the camp. I waved at the camera. Afterwards he came running over to tell me he was taking a video to show that giraffes were right in camp! I looked over into the Acadia scrub trees behind our tent, and there was a group of five giraffes only 30 feet away!

That night there was a beautiful lighting show, and then it poured rain on our tent as hard as I have ever seen rain fall. There were only small puddles in the corners of our tent, which was a pleasant surprise given the age of the worn green canvas.

East Serengeti Game Drive – Lion and Cheetah Territory

Day 4 – Amani, our wonderful guide for the duration of our safari in Tanzania, informed us it was “cat day”.

We drove very far through endless green grassy plains to East Serengeti, circling around each jumble of ancient-looking worn granite boulders scattered every few miles in the endless planes. Eventually, we were rewarded with a huge male lion sleeping on a tall rock. The cars didn’t cause him to stir, but he was very displeased when one guide opened and slammed his door. I wasn’t a fan of disturbing the beast’s slumber.

In the late morning, we saw two male cheetahs laying in the field right near the car. We saw a serval running scared away in the grass.

Eventually, we stopped for lunch under a tree by a pile of boulders. I was nervous to get out of the car, but peer pressure got the best of me and soon we were munching on shredded carrot sandwiches on a Maasai blanket spread out over the hood of the vehicle. I also had to pee, which was extra motivation to leave the car, and I snuck to a private shaded spot at the rear of the car.

Then! Suddenly! They urged us back into the car and raced over to a field about 40 yards away. A female lion was there, bee lining to where were lunching only moment prior! She prowled directly into the lunch area, sniffed around where I peed, then climbed a boulder and rests on top, scaring away a guinea fowl. What a wake-up call that this is a safari in Tanzania, the real wild Africa!

The guides nearby radioed us that a leopard was in the area, and we raced toward it down crazy muddy terrain, the car juggling around worse than a roller coaster. The second we got to the leopard, it got up from its lazy perch in an acacia tree and gracefully leapt down, weaving around the cars and disappearing into the tall grass.

It poured rain again that night.

Central Serengeti Seronera – the busiest area

Day 5 – Magically, it’s dry as a bone this morning, and boiling.

Although the center is the busiest part of the Serengeti, with countless lodges and campsites nearby, it also gives a grand chance to see wildlife as the guides alert each other over radio when they see something of interest.

We saw a pride of lions chewing on a warthog carcass. The mama lion was whipping the head around in delight.

We saw a giraffe trying with great persistence to mate, but no luck for him. The female was intently chewing on a spiky tree, and would walk away any time he sniffed at her.

We saw a leopard trying to hunt. Shand swore there wasn’t a single thing to eat in the field, but the leopard expertly flushed out a hidden impala, which promptly bounced away and escaped. The leopard walked river to a tree and kindly posed for us very near the road

We came back to camp for lunch, where there were nine huge storks loudly clicking their beaks together and suntanning in the field. We were treated by our cook, Issa, to some pizza and fries and steak skewers for lunch. It was delicious, but the pizza had something suspiciously like shredded carrot stuffed beneath the thin layer of cheese.

We napped in the tent for 2 hours, which was a literal sauna.

Back out on the evening game drive, we cooled down in the breeze on a relatively smooth path, seeing lots of dik-dik, a hat beast, and lovebirds. We passed the pride of lions again on the way home. They were snoozing in a line with full bellies.

One Last Cruise Around the Serengeti

Day 6 – We woke up in darkness and slowly followed the path out east in Serengeti.

We saw a very pregnant, mangy hyena

Then some genuine excitement brewed. We spotted two male lions chasing another male lion at a high trot through the vast field of short, green grass. They were fast and our driver (breaking the rules?) followed them off-road through the grass. After a few minutes, the 3 lions clashed in a loud fight, rolling on the ground and roaring and clawing, ending in a standoff.

After a while, they laid onto the grass, and after about 30 minutes of cool-down, they were all back to being the best of mates, snuggling each other and nudging faces lovingly. Our guide said they must be brothers with a slight disagreement, because if they were opposing prides the lions would have torn the offending one to pieces, until its insides were outsides. He said this with the confidence of a man who’d seen it before, which he confirmed.

We saw a herd of elephants with a couple of very baby ones. A huge female chased a big bull male out of the herd, running faster than you could ever imagine a two-tonne lump of grey wrinkled blubber could achieve! After a few short chases, the male turned and bowed to the female, in an obvious display of apology. They stood off for a while, then she returned to the herd. When he slunk his way back toward them, she chased him again. Almost right onto our vehicle! Out guide was nervous and started the car, backing away.

We returned to camp for brunch and then drove to the rim of Ngorogoro. On the way through, we saw a huge, tightly bundled herd of wildebeests females, almost every single one paired with a baby only 2-4 days old.

Maasai and Ngorogoro Crater – Population and Livestock Growth Putting Wildlife in Jeopardy

While on safari in Tanzania, we learned from a Maasai guide that the Maasai people have grown in population and livestock numbers more than 10x since they were allowed to re-enter the land by the Tanzanian Government and UNESCO, making it a conservation area instead of a national park in 1959.

The prime minister is currently in Ngorogoro meeting with the Maasai to learn about the situation and make a decision regarding the future of the park and the Maasai; either to push them all out, or partially out, or to take no action.

As the highest achievements in Maasai culture are to 1. collect more cows, and 2. to marry more wives and rear more children, this lifestyle unfortunately makes it unsustainable for both the Maasai and African Wildlife to continue on as-is in harmony in this finite region. Maasai do not hunt animals; the problem is that the Maasai people and their livestock compete with wild animals for land and food in the Ngorogoro conservation area. I hope they can reach a peaceful solution.

We arrived at 4pm at our new campsite on the rim of the crater. It was sunny but cold and windy because of the altitude. In the night water buck chewed grass beside our tent, and hyenas sirened loudly in the background.

UPDATE on Ngorogoro Crater Maasai Controversy!

Now, amid deciding whether to evict the Maasai people from Ngorogoro, the Tanzanian leadership has evicted and moved another 70,000 Maasai people to the Ngorogoro crater to open up a corridor in the Northern Region for UAE game hunting! You can read more about that here

Ngorogoro Crater Game Drive

Day 7: In the morning we woke in the dark for a quick tea and got on the road, descending into the Ngorogoro crater. This was probably one of the top highlights of our safari in Tanzania!

We soon found an idyllic field full of impala, water buffalo, a couple rhinos, and an immense pride of 11 lions, with one large male. After much anticipation, the lions attempted to take down a water buffalo, but one was flung off 20 feet away and even after many of the hungry lions chewed and clawed on its rear, the buffalo survived as a pack of three other buffaloes stormed in to save it.

After that, the lions lazed around in the sun for 4 hours while we patiently waited for them to hunt again, to no avail. We were entertained in the meantime by a silly zebra scratching its butt enthusiastically on a perfectly shaped out-jutting boulder.

We then said our goodbyes to Ngorogoro and drove back to Jambo Lodge and Camp. I mentioned to Amani and Issa that I would love to try a baobab tree fruit, and Issa quickly offered to take us along on his walk to the market. The market was a shadowy backstreet covered with tarps and bursting with fruit. The dirt paths were narrow and sloped, with a channel of muddy water down the center. We picked up a baobab fruit which was like a dark brown maraca and sounded like one too.

Once back at the lodge, I cracked it open on a rock and tried the powdery, dry inner fruit. It was very sour, without a hint out sweetness, even though I was assured by over two Tanzanians that it was sweet! I learned most people take out the innards and mix it with sugar and color as candy. But Issa tried the fruit and insisted it was sweet haha. That night, we happily enjoyed a proper bed and a hot shower.

Manyara Lake Game Drive

Day 8- We headed over to Manyara park in the early morning. The park is mostly covered by water with lake Manyara, and the drive is along the western banks and through the dense jungle. We saw many elephants right alongside the car, as well as a few giraffes, warthogs, and impala. We saw tons of baboons, and quite a few blue monkeys munching on leaves and tumbling around the branches, playing.

On the lake we saw a flock of black herons, all in a group on the water’s edge doing an extraordinary thing: they blanket their winds over their heads, with only the puff of their shaggy headdress poking through, creating a “shed” to shadow the shallow water. These tricks worm out of their holes, which the birds happily feast on. In the background there was also a whimsical white bird, the spoonbill, which has a face exactly like you’d expect a spoon bill to have.

Later on the drive, we were thrilled to see two young lions up in an acacia tree. They were surrounded by many safari vehicles and soon climbed down and disappeared into the brush. They were not very graceful about it either, slipping down like a couple of clumsy fire fighters on a firehall pole.

Upon our return to Jambo Lodge, we had a lovely lunch and talked to Amani about leaving reviews, as their safari company is only a year old and relies tremendously on TripAdvisor and word-of-mouth recommendations.

When we got back to town, our shuttle stopped by a grocery store, so I ran in to buy some conditioner. I accidentally bought a conditioner and chips for $20 thinking it was $2. I was confused about the exchange rate, mostly because I couldn’t fathom that chips and conditioner could be that expensive in a country like Tanzania! Luckily, the next day I could return to the store and return the items, thus redeeming myself and partially overcoming the embarrassment of the ordeal.

Comment below if you have questions about our safari in Tanzania, and I will reply!

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