Tantalizing Tanzania Part 3: Serengeti, Loliondo Game Conservancy & Mara River Crossing
For our trip into this huge national park, we chose to stage within the game conservancy in a Northern region that borders the Masai Mara lands of Kenya. We like to dedicate at least a part of any safari trip to a private concession for a multitude of reasons related to experiences you cannot have inside most national parks, not the least of which, is the option to off road for special sightings.
This part of the Serengeti was breathtaking with its vast green hills that broke into grassy plains, were dotted in places by massive boulders perfect for hiding leopards and crisscrossed by the riverbeds of the Mara and Grumeti, both famous for river crossings, depending on the time of the year. For this part of the trip, we stayed in luxury tents and kept to a fairly routine morning and evening game drive schedule, peppered with a whole host of lovely surprises that you can only get when staying in a concession.
I literally lost count of the number of lions we saw in our 5 days here. We saw large prides, numbering up to 17, multiple pairs of “honeymooning” lions, mothers with newly born cubs and even lions eating their fresh kills with their savage wet and crunching sounds. This is what makes being in the action different than watching it on TV. Safaris are fully sensory… These sights, sounds, and smells cannot be replicated in 2D. Plus, you will never get that rush you feel in a safari, when a 500+ lb. male lion roars and comes within 2-3 feet of your open-air vehicle as it chases away a cheetah from its kill, while you sit on your couch.
While we did not see a rhino in these parts or the incredibly rare wild dog, we were thoroughly entertained by seeing racing cheetahs, several leopards, masses of goofy wildebeests and packs of laughing hyenas. As with the Crater, we had an avian spectacle, with so many species on display, particularly beautiful ones too, like the Superior Sterling, Lilac Breasted Rollers and several different types of eagles. The antelope were just as diverse too with huge Elan and Topi to the small Thompson’s gazelle and tiny Dik Diks... And no, that last antelope name not a typo. Believe me Greg and I took a couple of double takes at each other when we heard our guide say that the first few times.
However, the most impressive spectacle and highlight of our five days in this region was the Mara River crossing that we witnessed. River crossings can be rare and often people spend days in wait to see one. We had driven 4 hours from our lodge (which was still a gorgeous journey filled with great sightings) to this spot on the river with a hope that we might get lucky. Upon arrival, there were no signs a crossing was going to take place that day, so we’d accepted we’d be returning without being able to “tick” a box with one of these milestone events. Before heading back, we picked a pretty spot for a leisurely bush lunch. As we started packing up, we noticed across the river that a mass of wildebeests were gathering and decided to hang around for a little bit to see what might happen. Fifteen minutes later, we were rewarded with an amazing crossing!
As with our experience within the Crater, being in that the river crossing are a “high season” event and typically crowded with as many as 150 safari vehicles at a time, we were incredibly lucky to be one of 6 vehicles to witness 250+ wildebeest take a plunge in search of greener pastures on the other side of the Mara.
Lastly, I would be remiss not to mention our visit into the local Masai village as a highlight. We spent the morning visiting the local villagers and learning of their culture. However, it was our time at the school and interacting with the children that Greg and I most appreciated. At the heart of this visit arose opportunity for Greg and I to make a difference, which we promised to do. We will be returning here in years to come to participate in some projects for the enrichment of these people. As we grow our relationship with this village and the lodge there that is also participating in developmental projects, like clean water and sanitation, we will be posting more here about voluntourism opportunities. If interested, please stay tuned here or follow us on our Instagram and Facebook pages for updates on these.