A Serengeti Safari On A Budget: Part I

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On The Road To The Serengeti © Jessica Gatfield

Beholding it’s position as one of Africa’s Seven Natural Wonders, the Serengeti National Park is Tanzania’s largest ecosystem and one of the oldest to still exist on Earth. At 30,000 km squared,  it is well known for its  migration that sees over one million wildebeest and other animals such as zebra and gazelle migrate from the Kenyan border further south into the Tanzanian plains. Nicknamed ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’, this was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity not to be missed.

Before embarking on my travels to Tanzania, I didn’t have my sights set on a safari. From what I had heard, it would be a pricy, hard to organise, lengthly and tiring trip that could not be completed without a lot of spare cash to hand. Thankfully, after arriving in Moshi and realising it is not what you know it is who you know, it soon became clear that safari companies would bargain and barter at any cost to make a sale. It was brought to my attention that owning and running a safari company was as familiar as running an Off Licence in the UK. There were handfuls to choose from, each offering different packages at different rates, visiting a variety of game reserves and national parks, some camping and others based in lodges. However, as mentioned before, word of mouth and listening to reviews from acquaintances and fellow travellers soon brought to light the best bite for your buck.

We were lucky enough to stumble across Viva Africa Tours whilst chatting to travellers staying at Rafiki Backpackers. The hostel owner Alfred ran both the safari company and backpacker hostel and arranged a 3 day safari for us that covered the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater.

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For approximately 800,000 TZS (£270) per person (with a minimum of 4 people) the package included:

Transport in a 4×4 Land Cruiser with open roof

Camping & park fees

Tent & mattress

Professional safari guide & cook

2 breakfasts; 3 lunches; 2 dinners

1,5 bottle of water per day; tea and coffee with meals

The package itself was not only affordable and arranged at the last minute (a few days before departure let’s say!) but they also promised to cater to my vegan/vegetarian dietary requirements.

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A Long And Lonely Road © Jessica Gatfield

Day 1: Drive to the Serengeti 

As far as 8 hour car journeys go, this had to be the most enjoyable I have yet experienced. Wrapped up tightly in our sleeping bags, snacks and ipod’s at the ready, we embarked on a journey full of beautiful scenery that seemed infinite. Vast expanses of Masai Land contrasted with the hustle and bustle of passing through small towns only to find ourselves back in the open air once again. Dirt tracks soon became incessant highways paving the way from Moshi to Arusha and onward.

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At The Top of Ngorongoro Crater © Jessica Gatfield

Our first stop was at the top of the Ngorongoro Crater for a spot of lunch. We had collected packed lunches along the way that thankfully hadn’t succumbed to the sweltering African heat. For the meat-eaters, the packed lunch consisted of chicken thighs, two small bananas, Glucose biscuits and luke warm chips. My veggie packed lunch consisted of the same swapping the chicken pieces for a roll filled with roasted vegetables. To wash down our packed lunch, we each had a 1.5L bottle of water and also mango fruit juice to keep our sugar levels high.

We soon came face to face with the fact that our lunch spot was renowned for Black Kites swooping down and stealing food right out of your hands. They moved at an extremely fast pace and their discreet nature made it impossible to see where they were going to be attacking from next. Apart from keeping our eyes peeled for the cunning bird of prey, we had another visitor who wasn’t on his own agenda, but on that of the Masai. With a cunning plan, the Masai sent a small puppy into the picnic area with orders to bring back any food it could scavenge. We saw through the plan straight away as we spotted the tribe hiding in the shrubbery not too far from where we were sitting. However, many other lunch spot goers gave into the puppy dog eyes and shared their food, benign to their knowledge, to more than one mouth.

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A View Over The Plains Of The Serengeti © Jessica Gatfield

We continued onward for a few more hours until we reached the gates of the Serengeti. The vast expanse of horizon could be seen in every cardinal direction, topped by the warm African heat rippling over the plains. Within minutes we had spotted a Lioness with her cubs and were in awe. Hiding beneath the shrubbery she lay, unfazed by our presence, occupying her thoughts elsewhere as we posed for photographs from the open roof. She was positioned close to the treachurous long and sharp stoned track, a pathway that led deep into the Serengeti, stretching with not an end in sight. The precarious track soon took its toll and punctured one of our tyres. Luckily for us our guides had experienced this mishap on many an occasion and within 10 minutes we were back on the road again.

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Elephant In The Serengeti © Jessica Gatfield

Throughout the afternoon drive, we began to tick off sightings of the animals within The Big Five.  We had each singled out one animal that we would love to see whilst on Safari. Amongst the four of us we chose Hippo calves, a Black Rhino, a pack of Lion’s hunting and my personal choice of a Leopard. The sightings of Elephants came first, usually seen one by one, majestic in scale and yet nimble in stride. Witnessing the beauty outside of a Zoo compound was extremely magnificent.

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Leopard In The Serengeti © Jessica Gatfield

As more elephants appeared, so did a gathering of Land Cruisers . To my astonishment, the other safari goers were not looking at the elephants but at something a little closer to home. Within seconds, a leopard appeared from within the long grass, running at a great speed, climbing into the Acacia Tree that stood before us and gracefully settled on a branch. Her true beauty could only be witnessed through binoculars as she closed her eyes to rest in the shade from the hot African sun. As some may not know, witnessing the presence of a Leopard in the Serengeti is an an extremely rare find and a breathtaking moment at that!

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On the way towards the Seronera Campsite, we came extremely close to more young lions on the lookout for dinner. Walking back and forth around the truck, these majestic creatures acknowledged our presence yet continued about their duties in an unfazed manner. Knowing that only thin sheets of metal and panes of glass kept us apart was a quite unsettling realisation and soon brought us back to reality!

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Seronera Campsite, Serengeti National Park © Jessica Gatfield

After a tiresome afternoon, just as the sun was on the decent toward the horizon, we hit the Serener Campsite and pitched our tent. We were excited at the prospect of a hot meal with hot cocoa as the African heat soon scarpered as the dusk creeped upon us. We were lucky enough to have a very large visitor into camp, an elephant passing through, a little startled by human presence which sent him off in a different direction. Getting too close could have been a disaster!

Once the tent was pitched, long johns and thick jumpers acquired, and the Serengeti Beer was popped open with a cheer, we headed to a small hut in which all of the campers go to eat. We happily received tea and hot cocoa with large bowls of popcorn for a small appetiser whilst our cook finished off our main course. This was followed by Leek Soup and large helpings of vegetarian Pasta to keep us carbed up for the evening. Exhausted, we all headed to the tent for one of the chilliest night sleeps of our Tanzanian trip. Who said Africa never gets cold?

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