Being on a Serengeti safari was unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. Lindsay says she left a piece of her heart there when asked to pinpoint her favorite part of our first East African safari. It was hard to put to words not only the journey itself but also our feelings about the journey.
This quote from Serengeti: The Eternal Beginning begins to explain what you experience on a Serengeti safari:
“Wilderness gave us knowledge. Wilderness made us human. We came from here. Perhaps that is why so many of us feel a strong bond to this land called Serengeti; it is the land of our youth.” ― Boyd Norton
Arriving on dirt runways in the middle of nowhere is a surreal and special experience that for some, like us, transports you to a romantic place from years of fantasizing about going on safari.
We really didn’t know or understand what going “on safari” meant before this trip. We’d watched Out of Africa and countless National Geographic documentaries, but we didn’t “get” it until our first days on safari in the Serengeti.
We had been spoiled by our first game drives at the Ngorongoro Crater (we spotted baby lion cubs in the first ten minutes!). So in three hours of driving through the Serengeti with just the occasionally sighting of a gazelle or a zebra or a beautiful bird, we were a little dumbfounded. But — we approached the Mara River and everything changed. They weren’t lions or any of the Big Five, but hundreds upon thousands of wildebeests, bellowing as they made their way in gigantic herds towards the shores of the river in perfectly synchronized patterns.
A ‘Beesty’ Flash Mob
Between July and September is the Great Migration, the spectacle of nature that people from around the world come to witness each year, in hopes of seeing a crossing as the wildebeest circle the Serengeti in search of new pastures and water. Safari luck is on your side if you see the lurking crocodiles take down an unsuspecting wildebeest – standing witness to the circle of life that is so vibrant and captivating in the African bush.
So there we were. Waiting and waiting, watching and watching, in anticipation of the first to take the plunge as all others followed. And we waited and watched some more. Now we were beginning to understand why someone had said before we left to bring a book on safari!
When the first herd backed away, reconvened, backed away, reconvened, and backed away yet again at the sight of crocs nearby, our ranger determined that this crossing was just not going to happen. Not at this time. And off we were in seek of the elusive leopards, black rhinos, and anything else we could spot along the way. Some hours later, post-lunch, post elephant and giraffe sightings, and even a lioness sighting with her kill, we tried again. And this time – they crossed! We got to the river just as the first wildebeest was jumping in and just like that, the herd followed. The wildebeest are not the most attractive of animal in our humble opinion but to see this spectacle is a remarkably beautiful sight, like a choreographed dance flash mob!
Tips for a Successful Serengeti Safari
The entire zigzagged show took just over an hour to complete and each and every wildebeest made it across safely. Others in later crossings weren’t so lucky. We, on the other hand, were extremely lucky – guests we shared safari stories with later that evening at andBeyond’s Serengeti Under Canvas camp had missed all of the crossings that day. It was in that moment that we realized having a successful safari (read: lots of sightings and Mother Nature in action) requires three things: Patience, good timing, and luck. An experienced guide who knows how to read the animals behavior is crucial as well and all andBeyond guides are thoroughly trained, most with more than a decade of experience behind them.
The Serengeti itself is gigantic. The safari guides, aka rangers, there have a tough job – it can take hours just to get to a certain animal’s known habitats, so if you happen to be in leopard country when others are witnessing an elephant herd with babies crossing the plains or mating lions on the other side of the valley, you’re probably going to miss it because it will take so long to get there. The Serengeti safari lesson: if you see something, stop, because by the time you return, it’ll be gone. While the Serengeti wasn’t the most active of places to see animal after animal, the peace and expansiveness stands alone. Sunrises and sunsets there were some of the most spectacular we’ve ever seen, not to mention the uniqueness of our stay.
andBeyond’s Serengeti Under Canvas, Tanzania
We truly can’t say enough about the consistent quality of andBeyond — each lodge or camp was unique with something special to offer, providing one “wow” moment after another. But Serengeti Under Canvas was magical. It’s not the most luxurious of the properties as it is a temporary camp that moves around depending on wildlife conditions, the migration, and other factors. But don’t be fooled by that statement – it’s about as luxurious as “glamping” can get.
Each tent had comfortable beds and a toilet (a real toilet that flushed!), and a reserve of water for hand washing in a bronze-colored sink basin and brass and gold-like fixtures. Hot shower? No problem. You let your personal butler know what time you want one (and whether you want a short or long one – long meaning four minutes over about two) and just before that time, he’d come and fill a large container overhead with water of the perfect temperature in the detached, but private outdoor shower.
The secret, Lanee learned after one short shower, was to turn the nozzle off while soaping and shampooing or you risk running out of water all suds up! Try it sometime – two minutes goes by very quickly. But truly, it’s a lesson in conservation – you don’t need much water to get all of your washing business done.
The food that was prepared – all of it, whether breakfast, picnic lunch, or dinner by candlelight under the stars around a fire – was superb. Truly a remarkable feat that such gourmet meals come out of a five by 10 foot tent with nothing but a makeshift stove and oven fueled by propane and firewood. The soups were some of the best I’ve had anywhere. With no nearby towns, everything at this property needs to be trucked in weekly – all supplies, water, food, alcohol, everything. When you take that into consideration – this is literally the middle of nowhere – it is true magic that such a high level of luxury can be achieved without so much as a hiccup.
Why you’d desire Wi-Fi/cell service in such a place is beyond me but in fact, you can get connected for a few hours at night when the generator is on. It’s a weak signal, but to check or send an email, it’s just fine. And Lindsay was a culprit to tweeting a couple of sunset and sunrise photos, like this one. The generator also charges rechargeable batteries in the tents during the day so that lights can be turned on inside the tents at night – once again, not just any lights, but lovely little chandeliers.
Each night returning to the tent, we’d find a hot water bottle in bed, under the covers making it toasty warm to crawl into. We joked around like silly schoolgirls and sang “in the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight…” as our butler (also a Masaai warrior) Mauran zipped our tent shut. Despite hearing the exhilarating roar of lions in the distance, it was some of the most peaceful sleep we’ve had.
Both of us felt a certain kinship with Mauran, knowing that he was not only our caretaker, but our protector in the wild, the last person we saw before tucking into our tent for the night and the first we saw upon waking in the morning. Truly you have to just trust and let go. When you’re staying in a tent knowing lions are near, you just submit. You become one of them in a sense because really it’s their land – you’re just a visitor, an observer… on safari.
More on What to Expect on a Serengeti Safari
Traveler’s Way Glamping with Lions in the Serengeti
Wanderlust & Lipstick The Manhattan-making Maasai Warrior
Johnny Jet Rail Riders: Safari Gear Review
Johnny Jet Buff Headwear: Safari Gear Review
“There is language going on out there- the language of the wild. Roars, snorts, trumpets, squeals, whoops, and chirps all have meaning derived over eons of expression… We have yet to become fluent in the language -and music- of the wild.”
― Boyd Norton, Serengeti: The Eternal Beginning