Autumn in the United States. Days growing shorter and shorter, a chill in the air. It was clearly time to go on safari in Africa. So we packed our bags and headed for the airport and our flight to Arusha, Tanzania.
Upon arrival, we were met by our local guide and taken to our accommodations for the evening, the simple and friendly Mount Meru Game Lodge. The next morning, we left for Tarangire National Park, stopping at a lodge en route for a tasty lunch overlooking a watering hole that had attracted a herd of zebras and many giraffes. After watching the giraffes for a while, we ventured into the park for our first game drive. Our expert guide seemed to know every little bit of land and where the animals liked to congregate. Late this afternoon, we checked into our camp and settled into our rooms. We sipped cocktails around a bonfire as the sun went down over the plains.
The next morning, we rose early to explore the park. We came across lions, elephants, zebras and a particularly majestic leopard before stopping at a local lodge, which was constructed around the base of a giant tree. We savored lunch while watching elephants lumber up to the nearby water hole for a refreshing drink.
After a night in Tarangire, we departed for the shores of Lake Manyara National Park, which is home to a wide variety of animals, including thousands of pink flamingoes. Continuing toward Ngorongoro Crater, we stopped for the night at The Manor, a luxurious property situated on a coffee plantation about halfway between Lake Manyara and the crater.
Early the next morning, we left for a game drive into Ngorongoro Crater, which is truly one of the most spectacular wildlife viewing experiences in the world. We came across elephants, rhinos, lions, hippos and wildebeest as we traversed the beautiful landscape. Seeing these incredible animals in their natural habitat is truly a life-changing experience.
We then headed toward the Serengeti, with a stop at a Massai village on the way. Once we passed into the Serengeti, we arrived at Dunia Camp, my favorite camp that we visited. This semi-permanent camp in a great location was definitely the most remote that we saw in Tanzania. This camp does not offer some of the modern conveniences, but I loved the chance to have a real camp experience!
The next day, we departed for the northern part of the Serengeti, stopping to view lions, wildebeest, zebras, giraffes and more along the way. When we arrived at our camp, which was located just outside the park on the top of a hill, we settled in to watch a spectacular sunset over the plains.
On our last day in Tanzania, we drove even farther into the park, stopping on the banks of the Mara River, a spot the great wildebeest migration often visits. Another day of complete immersion in the expansive vistas and peaceful solitude of the great East African landscapes ended with a well-deserved drink beside the fire. For anyone experiencing Africa for the first time, Tanzania is the perfect country to start with. We got to see all of the Big 5 animals while exploring Tarangire, Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti — and we got a great taste of what it’s like to experience a stay in remote tented camps.
Rising early the next morning, we headed to Lobo airstrip for our flight to Entebbe, Uganda. On the way, we saw incredible views of Lake Victoria and when we landed, we were greeted by our local guide and taken to the shores of the lake for the evening. After the time we’d spent in the bush, it was nice to relax in the luxurious, Italianate rooms of our hotel.
The next morning, however, it was time for adventure again as we returned to the airport for our flight to Kisoro and the Clouds Gorilla Mountain Lodge, which lies at the end of a two-hour journey along primitive roads with spectacular views. Upon arrival, we were greeted by, well, everybody… the managers, housekeepers, butlers, chefs all turned out to welcome us. The views from the lodge are of endless mountain ranges, so high up that you are among the clouds. We spent our afternoon just relaxing and appreciating the remote ambiance, which was elevated by a huge thunderstorm passing through.
After a peaceful night, we rose early to embark on a hike to visit the mountain gorillas. Our guides had gone out early and located one of the families of gorillas that are used to having visitors. They told us that we only had about an hour hike ahead of us, but that hike took us straight downhill and we were thankful to have our porters with us to help. When we reached the gorilla family, they were deep in the bush, but the guides cut away some of the branches to give us a better view. We spent an hour with the family and had a great time interacting with them. It was an amazing experience.
The next morning, we bid farewell to the mountain gorillas as we flew back to Entebbe to catch our return flight to the United States. Visiting Uganda checked off a huge bucket list item for me. I can’t imagine anything as magical as hiking through that forest and then coming upon the family of mountain gorillas in the wild. It was an incredible journey, and certainly something I will talk about forever.