Have you ever had the desire to see exotic birds and wildlife up close, in their natural habitat? I was fortunate enough to do just that last year when we took a nine-day safari through Tanzania. In this post, I’ll focus on the first part of our journey: the experience we had visiting Tarangire National Park.
It’s not easy to get from the US to most of the countries in east Africa. It took us a total of two days of travel to finally get to Tanzania. We began our trip with a Swiss Air flight from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport (ORD) to Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH). From Zurich we headed to Nairobi, Kenya (JRO). Thanks to a big bank of frequent flyer miles, we were able to fly both of these legs in business class. That was a real treat, and it helped us get a decent amount of sleep en route. I’ve also had the pleasure of flying virtually the same route via KLM Airlines, and the flight goes through Amsterdam. If you do take this route, make sure to check out my post on how to enjoy a layover in Amsterdam!
We knew our flight into Narobi was going to land later in the evening, so we booked a hotel near the airport for an overnight stay and then took the first flight out of Nairobi to Arusha. It’s also possible to fly from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro Airport which is located closer to Mt. Kilimanjaro. But because of its proximity to Tarangire NP, Arusha International Airport was a much better destination for us. We landed at Arusha International Airport the next morning and, after clearing customs, we were met by our guide for the next several days. After a brief tour of Arusha, we headed directly to Tarangire National Park.
My first impression of our Tarangire National Park safari was how rustic and remote it was, with very few signs of the intrusion of modern life and infrastructure. The preservation of natural habitat is an essential part of TANAPA‘s (Tanzania National Parks) mission:
The primary role of Tanzania National Parks is conservation. The 16 national parks…have been set aside to preserve the country’s rich natural heritage and to provide secure breeding grounds where its fauna and flora can thrive, safe from the conflicting interests of a growing human population.
During the first few hours of our Tarangire National Park safari it was hard for me to shake the idea that I was in a zoo – I really couldn’t wrap my brain around the wide open expanses and the free rein that the animals had in the park. But I got over that feeling fairly quickly, and was really taken in by the beauty of the wildlife in their natural setting. We stayed in a tented camp (more on that in a bit) that was surrounded by open lands, and so we started seeing animals as soon as we got to the camp. The image you see here is a dik dik, the smallest member of the antelope family. They’re typically very shy and move quickly, but they were in our camp area in abundance.
I also felt good about the fact that we were starting our journey visiting Tarangire National Park because it is one of Tanzania’s highest-rated national parks. In fact, Bookmundi.com ranked it as #4 on their top 10 list.
Land and Roads
The park is roughly teardrop-shaped and covers 1,100 square miles in total. The northern part of the park consists mostly of flat scrub land and large stands of baobab and acacia trees. As you progress south into the park, the land becomes more hilly and is filled with rivers, streams and seasonal swamps.
Nearly all the roads through the park are for 4WD vehicles only. This is definitely not a place where I’d feel comfortable driving myself. Fortunately, we had a good guide who drove a modified Toyota Land Cruiser and who had extensive knowledge of the park itself as well as the wildlife and plant life we encountered. The roads were rough and were often waterlogged, but I had complete confidence in our driver. As an added bonus we visited the park late in the season so there weren’t many other travelers visiting Tarangire National Park. We were the only two people our guide was escorting. In the high season, our vehicle would have been full of 8-10 other travelers at a minimum. Being the only two with our guide was great – because we got to stop wherever we wanted to for as long as we wanted.
Wildlife Up Close
We found while visiting Tarangire National Park that it is noted not only for its baobab and acacia trees, but also for its large population of elephant. In addition to the elephant, the park is inhabited by waterbuck, giraffe, impala, Grant’s gazelle, vervet monkey, banded mongoose, olive baboon, African lion, leopard, cheetah and many more. The park also contains approximately 500 different species of birds, and is one of the premiere spots for birding in Tanzania – and, indeed, all of east Africa.
At the time we were there, there were relatively few tourists – we rarely saw another vehicle during the time we were there. Even in the high season, park rangers control the number of visitors allowed in the park at any one time. As a result of the low amount of traffic and the natural habitat, the animals appear to be extremely relaxed and at ease. Far from being afraid of our Land Cruiser, many of them were more curious than anything. In some cases, animals were just a few feet away from our vehicle. Of course, the animals are wild and so we were told to exercise common sense – hands, feet and bodies inside the vehicle at all times, no loud noises or shouting, and no throwing objects out of the vehicle. These warnings were given to avoid injury to us, as well as to keep the animals safe and friendly.
We saw lots of elephants, giraffe, vervet monkeys, and of course lions. It was really interesting to see all the animals in their natural habitat, exhibiting natural behaviors. In a couple cases, we happened upon lions or cheetah right after they’d made a kill. It wasn’t exactly a pretty sight, but that’s how nature works.Tarangire National Park is noted not only for its baobab and acacia trees, but also for its large population of elephant. In addition to the elephant, the park is inhabited by waterbuck, giraffe, impala, Grant's… Click To Tweet
Maramboi Tented Camp
As the sun started to set, we headed to our lodging for the next two nights – Maramboi Tented Camp. The camp is owned by Tanganyika Wilderness Camps, and we stayed at their properties throughout our safari. The tented camp offered hybrid lodging of sorts – our tent had canvas sides, but timber framing, a thatched roof and indoor plumbing. When we woke up in the mornings, we had wildebeest and zebra roaming freely just a few feet away from our tent. We also had a beautiful view of the sunset over Lake Manyara.
The camp served delicious breakfasts and dinners, and gave us a packed lunch to eat while we were visiting Tarangire National Park each day. We never went away hungry!
The second at the camp was a milestone for us – we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary while we were there. We’d talked about taking a trip to Africa for several years, and Tanzania was always my top choice for a safari. After returning from the park, we were treated to a walking tour of the area around the camp. Our guide was a native Maasai tribesman. The Maasai are the dominant tribe in this area of Tanzania, and you see them all over the countryside tending their flocks or on a long walkabout.
As we returned from our walkabout, we were guided to a table that was loaded with food and drinks just for us. Our tour planner had told the camp owner about our anniversary, and so they surprised us with a special dinner. We both had nice cocktails and snacked on native Tanzanian dishes as we watched the sun set over Lake Manyara, which was the second park we were to visit on our trip. It was absolutely magical, and I can’t imagine a better way to cap off our 25th anniversary – or a better person with whom to spend it.
Want to see more photos? Visit my Tarangire National Park gallery page.