A Self-Drive Safari through Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro & The Serengeti

wow where to begin with this post! i thought about maybe splitting it up into three sections, as our trip essentially covered Lake Manyara & the area around Karatu, the Ngorongoro Crater, and the Serengeti National Park – but i am far too impatient to draw it all out over a few days. just not my style. so of course you are about to be bombarded with a whole lot of photos, information, and me waxing lyrical about how AMAZING IT ALL WAS.

first, a bit of background: Anton’s mom Lynne has always wanted to embark on an epic road trip through Africa. in 2012 Anton’s dad passed away suddenly, and in the months that followed Lynne decided to sell their cars and buy a 4×4 in order to pursue her Africa road trip dream. many months of planning followed, much happening in everyone’s lives in the interim, but finally on May 26 this year she set off. her plan was to drive from Cape Town to Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia & Botswana.  a month later we flew into Arusha, Tanzania to join her for the Serengeti & Ngorongoro leg of her trip – and this is where this post kicks off.

i’m going to get right into our trip, and share all the nitty gritty details at the bottom of the post. so if you’d like to know more about travelling in Tanzania, how to plan a safari and all that stuff – scroll down to here. if you have any questions about any aspect of this trip please leave a comment or send me a mail.

the photos in this post were taken with my iPhone 6 + a Nikon D7000. edited in Lightroom with VSCO.

Karatu & Lake Manyara

we arrived late at Kilimanjaro airport, got picked up by a taxi driver (who was basically just some guy in his beat up car) and arrived at Arusha around 1am. we left early the next morning and drove straight to Karatu where we’d be based for the next 2 nights. we camped at a great place called Kudu Lodge – which has the best swimming pool ever FYI – and from there we did a day trip to Lake Manyara.

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Lake Manyara is like the baby sister of the Tanzania National Parks. it is unbelievably beautiful, though – with landscapes ranging from dense tropical forests to the wide expanses of the lake shore. it’s famous for their tree climbing lions, though honestly you are more likely to see these in the Serengeti. you will see a ton of baboons, flamingos and other waterbirds, and giraffes, though. more giraffes than i have ever seen in one place. we had coffee and lunch by the lake with curious giraffes watching us from afar. it was amazing.

you can pretty much do most of the park in a day but there are also a few camping spots and lodges to stay in, if you’re so inclined. it’s definitely the more chill park of the three we visited, with the least number of tourists.

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Ngorongoro Crater

you can read all about the crazy administrative process we had to slog through to access the Ngorongoro Conservation Area as self-driving tourists at the bottom of the post. for now i can just tell you that it is an unbelievable sight to stand at the rim of the crater and look down at the expanse below you. the crater was formed when a volcano erupted 2-3 million years ago, leaving behind the world’s largest inactive, intact, and unfilled volcanic caldera. highlights in the crater: seeing our first lions, as well as spotting a black rhino. it’s also unreal to see the local Maasai children herding goats and cattle amongst the crater’s resident wildebeest and zebra.

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Maasai kids herding inside the crater

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Hippo pool picnic spot

There are only two picnic spots inside the crater, one close to the Lerai forest and another at the hippo pool (seen above). so plan around these if you need a pee break! i wouldn’t advise stopping and having a quick whizz next to your car, mainly because there are so many safari vehicles zooming around the place that you’re bound to have a bunch of tourists witnessing you relieving yourself. the picnic spots have proper toilets, but no loo paper when we were there.

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Camping at Simba Campsite. more info at the bottom of the post.

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Serengeti

Serengeti was my absolute favourite. i could have stayed for weeks, if only our time & budget allowed. we arrived at the Naabi Hill Gate, after driving 3 hours through the Ngorongoro Conservation area. within 20 minutes of driving through the gate we saw a pride of about 15 lions. and too many elephants, giraffes, wildebeest, antelope & zebra to count. and a SERVAL. in the daylight. this was just a taste of what was to come. we saw 35 lions in 3 days, half of them up in trees. the Serengeti is a place like no other. i have seen tons (literally) of elephants in my life, but to see them roam open plains like this is something else.

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The migration in progress

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Spot the leopard

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Pimbi Campsite. more info about camping at the bottom of the post

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Camping essential: jaffle iron

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probably my favourite moment from the entire trip

Miss Moss in Tanzania Yes, there are food trucks in the Serengeti!

last place i expected to see a food truck

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not sure if this leopard was pregnant or just well fed

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a fresh kill, 2 km before our car broke down…

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can you see all six lions?

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sunset at our campsite

Travel Tips

planning a self drive safari through Tanzania is not something to be sneezed at. i found it quite difficult to find helpful information online, and had to dig around in various old travel books and contact helpful people to get an idea what to expect. the reason being that most people who go on these safaris go on organised, catered tours. there are hundreds of Safari tour companies who operate in Tanzania, and they cater to foreign tourists who want anything from a “budget” to a luxury experience.

i say “budget” because this trip is not cheap. not for South Africans, anyway. if you have dollars or pounds or euros then this might be easier on your pocket (yay!) but even the budget options will set you back more than you might expect. the reason being that all the big stuff is included: your car travel, your guide, your accommodation (whether you’re camping or staying in a lodge), your food, and your admission fees to all the parks.

we were in a privileged position where we had the use of our own vehicle, a rare thing if you’re planning a safari in Tanzania – mostly because it’s not easy to drive your  car all the way there, not unless you live in the area, or you’re planning an epic road trip like Lynne. you can of course fly in and hire a car, but the cost of that, as well as getting all your equipment you need, will probably end up being as much as a tour. so i understand why the safari tours are the preferred way to go.

Ngorongoro Entrance Fees

another reason why safari tours are great is because you don’t have to deal with the bureaucratic hassle that is the parks admissions system. it is unreal how complicated it is! you have to pay per day, per person and per vehicle, for access to the parks – that aspect is pretty normal. but to get into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area you have to use their smart card system… oh boy.

due to fraud and other nefarious activities you can’t pay in cash or card at the gate of Ngorongoro. you have to go to a bank, either in Arusha or Karatu, work out how long you plan on being there (as you have to pay per 24 or 12 hours) pay the full amount, then go to the office in Karatu, present them with a slip from the bank, and only then do you get your smart card. the moment you “swipe” your card the clock starts ticking down. which means that if you enter the park at 10am, you have to be out the next day at 10am.

if you plan on driving through Ngorongoro to get to Serengeti – which is what we did, and is actually the only way to get there from the east – you have to take into account that you need to be out by a certain time. if you go one minute over your scheduled 24 hours you get charged an extra day. if you don’t have enough money on your smart card to make the return journey, then you can’t get out of Serengeti through Ngorongoro – and you have to divert west and exit through another gate to go the long way round back to Arusha.

Camping in Ngorongoro

we spent the night on the crater rim, camping at Simba Camp. this is the most popular place to camp in the Ngorongoro conservation area. i had read horror stories about the campsite before we left – that it’s overcrowded, noisy and the facilities are terrible. we found the opposite. maybe we had it on a good night, but the place wasn’t too busy, and the ablution blocks were very well kept & clean (and there were even hot water showers if you hit them at the right time). one thing i can say is that it is COLD at night. freezing, even. if you plan on staying here then bring thermal underwear, and wear all your layers when you go to bed!

there are a few armed guards wandering around the perimeter, with automatic rifles. so if you’re nervous about wild animals i guess this should make you feel safer. but really, don’t leave your tent after dark. there was an elephant drinking from one of the water tanks the night we were there.

Camping in the Serengeti

the drive from Ngorongoro to Serengeti takes about 3 hours, on one of the worst roads we have ever driven. it was like driving over corrugated iron for 3 hours. not chill. but as i said, and as the photos show you, it’s not even a blip on an otherwise awesome experience. except for the toll it takes on your vehicle, of course. if you were more swish you could just fly directly into the Seronera airstrip. When you arrive at Naabi Hill gate you need to essentially sign out of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and then sign in to Serengeti, where you pay a new set of fees. here you can pay with a credit card, not nearly as complicated as Ngorongoro. they’ll want to know how long you plan to stay, as you have to pay per day and then also pay for your camping (if that’s your intention).

there’s no way to “reserve” a camping spot, you just pitch up and then choose one of the camps at your leisure. you can actually just drive around and visit all the campsites, as they are all situated in the same area, then pick your favourite (this is what we did). we chose to camp at Pimbi, a smaller campsite – so we wouldn’t have to potentially share with a huge group of overlanders. it also had an amazing view over the savannah, which lends itself to many sunrise and sunset opportunities, as you can see by the photos.

the campsite ablutions are basic, with cold showers and flushable toilets. the loos and showers are cleaned every morning by a team that seems to service the park, and every night a truck with refreshments pulls up – so you can buy cold beers, overpriced wine and bottled water. you can’t drink the water in the park, even if you treat or boil it (we saw it being pumped out of a nearby river – so trust me on this one).

here’s one thing we knew about camping in the Serengeti: it’s unfenced, so you need to be cautious. unlike Ngorongoro Crater there are no guards, and no one to protect you with guns. the number one rule is don’t leave your tent after dark, especially if you’re alone. at Pimbi there was a leopard spotted around the water tanks the nights we were there, and we had hyenas snuffling around our tent while we were sleeping. it’s also of course completely normal to hear lions, hyenas and other predators at night. we even had an entire herd of wildebeest migrate through the camp one night. it was amazing!

i can’t comment on a Tanzania safari lodge experience because we camped all the way through our trip, but there are of course tons of amazing places to stay. if you want to really splash out i’d look at Singita (which is like staying at The Ritz when you’re in Paris, i’m guessing!)

Money

you can pay for most everything in American dollars, so bring some cash with you. the local currency is the Tanzanian shilling, and everything is cheaper if you pay with it vs using your dollars. you can easily draw cash at any ATM in Arusha or Karatu. you get around 2000+ shillings for 1 USD. we had to pay for the car to be fixed in Arusha and it cost 1,5 MILLION shillings (Dr. Evil voice). which is pretty cool to hold in your hands, i must admit.

Swahili

do yourself a favour and learn a few choice greetings in Swahili. not only will it endear you to the locals, but it is such a cool language to learn. Jambo. hello. Habari yako? how are you? Nzuri, asante. Fine, thanks. Asante sanaThank you very much. KaribuYou’re welcome. don’t stress though, everyone can speak English.

Tsetse flies

this deserves its own special mention. if you have experience with these pesky flies, you’ll understand. they bite, and it hurts. basically they are attracted to dark colours – especially blue and black (think about what a buffalo and a wildebeest look like? exactly). we found that wherever there weren’t a lot of animals there were tons of flies around our car. and inevitably a few would get in. i don’t know how, they were like ninjas these flies. Lynne got bitten quite badly and had a terrible allergic reaction to all the bites. insect repellant also doesn’t work. the best is just to wear light coloured clothing, nothing too bright or dark – and keep a fly swatter in the car!

[kindred-recipe id=”40438″ title=”Tanzania Packing Tips”]

Our Route

Day 1: Arrive Kiliminjaro Airport (A) drive to Arusha (B)
Day 2: Drive to Karatu (C) stay at Kudu Lodge & Camp (2 nights)
Day 3: Day trip to Lake Manyara National Park
Day 4: Drive to Ngorongoro Conservation Area (D) stay at Simba Campsite (1 night)
Day 5: Drive to Serengeti National Park (E) stay at Pimbi Campsite (3 nights)
Day 8: Drive back to Arusha, stay at The African Tulip
Day 9: Fly back to Cape Town

if you have any questions about this trip drop me a line!

59 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your trip with us and for giving us all of these wonderful travel tips. As a recent transplant to South Africa, I’m putting the Serengeti on my travel bucket list. Your pictures are divine!

  2. Oh my gosh this post and those photos are amazing! I really really want to explore Africa as soon as possible :)

  3. Incredible Diana! Tanzania here I cooooome!! Thanks for sharing x

  4. What a wonderful trip, Diana! I have been following your progress through Instagram but it is fantastic to have all the collection and your notes, in one place. Many thanks for sharing. From a stuffy and grey London, I salute you!

  5. What an amazing experience! I really appreciate all the tips at the end too. Thank you for putting this all together.

  6. Hi, I love the blog and this post is a great guide. Just wanted to say that the random capitalization is really distracting when trying to read your text. I know it is trendy to do all lowercase with bloggers, but when certain words are capitalized it just gets so confusing. Just wanted to let you know, as I do generally WANT to read what is written, not just scroll for the photos!

    • hi Susan, i have been typing this way since i started the blog in 2009. i don’t consider it trendy, it’s just a habit of mine! sorry that it annoys you, but that’s just the way it is. also in almost 3000 posts over 6 and a half years i have had exactly one comment about my habit of writing in lowercase (besides names, which i capitalise out of politeness) ;)

  7. YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH!

    *Calls ‘friend’ Allan Grey to see if he can give The Meissner’s finances for sick Africa adventure*

  8. Wow. This trip is so inspiring. Just stunning. I have now added the serengeti to my “must see” list. Just have to wait for my son to be old enough to remember seeing lions and packs of gorgeous zebras in their natural homes. Thank you for sharing this beautiful journey.

    • i saw quite a few kids on tours with their parents! i think ages 10+ is good. i remember being the MOST excited the first time i went to the Kruger National Park as a kid, and i remember it very well. he will love it! it is a malaria area and you need to take anti-malaria medication, so i think kids younger than 10 wouldn’t be a good idea anyway.

  9. It’s truly a beautiful world we live in! Scrolling through your photos I was smiling constantly. I hope that someday I’ll be able to see all this in real life. Thank you for sharing!

  10. the loveliest travel blog post i have read for a while, most magical pictures and thoughtful sharing of useful info that makes cyberspace all better again..

  11. Martine Dewerpe Reply

    magical pictures Diana…. Merci pour ces photos…. xxxxx Martine

  12. Lynda Seglias Reply

    I fantasize about going to Africa all the time. I love reading about people who have lived there and started farms, etc. My daughter and I met Jane Goodall at a talk in Delaware and always thought her story was so interesting. This would be such an adventurous trip for me as I’m sure I would be fearful. In the meantime, I am living vicariously through your postings. Thanks! I love them and am a little envious at the same time. Thanks so much for sharing.

  13. WOW! You have single handedly endeared Africa to me with your posts the last couple of years and this trip is the killer! I have always been intimidated by the prospect of travel in Africa, but I have enjoyed reading your experiences I definitely plan on visiting! Any plans for the Okavango Delta? or am I just catching up?
    Thankyou for sharing!!
    Clare via NZ and Australia.

    • i personally don’t have any plans, though Anton’s mom Lynne is actually on her way there right now! i would love to go to that part of the world, it’s very “wild” – if that makes sense. the roads are very bad, you need to have a few 4x4s and quite experienced drivers, and if you plan to camp there aren’t really facilities as far as i understand it. so yeah, wild! though there are of course lodges you can stay in, but for south africans it’s very expensive – as the prices cater for overseas tourists.

  14. WOW WOW WOW. The photo with 6 lions in a tree?!?!? Honestly, your photos are so incredible. Thank you for sharing on your blog (and on instagram throughout the trip). So, so cool.

  15. Oh my goodness! What an incredible collection of photos and memories! Absolutely stunning. We went on a very brief (1 day) safari in Kruger in 2010 when we visit South Africa for the world cup. We didn’t see any cats or black rhinos but it was still such a wonderful experience. Tanzania is now at the top of my list. Thanks so much for sharing and for all the extra tips!

    • Kruger is also AMAZING if you spend more time there. there are so many great places to stay there, and the park is so varied depending on where you go. it would also cost much less than going on safari in Tanzania. that said, this is a once in a lifetime experience – so i would put it on any bucket list.

  16. Wow!!! Africa is such a incredible continent, this is beyond amazing – those landscapes are just insane and the animals are so so beautiful, I keep scrolling up to look at the lions sleeping in trees!!! Thanks for sharing, very inspired now to add this to the bucket list.

  17. This looks amazing. Did you hear of any safari tour recommendations? Also, what camera did you use to take those beautiful pictures?

    • we saw so many around but i didn’t take note of what their names were. the biggest one is Leopard Tours, but maybe you should ask around on Trip Advisor or check out the tour company ratings on Safari Bookings.

      i took the photos with my iPhone 6 and a Nikon D7000!

  18. The photos are absolutely incredible and the post is so informative as well. Definitely a keeper xx

  19. { did you miss your calling as a photographer somewhere along the way… }

    very. beautiful.

    sending love

  20. Incredible! I have never seen so many lions sleeping in a tree … magical

  21. Your photography is incredible, thank you so much for putting this together :)

  22. I enjoyed reading about your trip and the photos were cool.

    • thanks! i used a Nikon D7000 and used a 70-300mm zoom lens – because the camera’s chip is smaller it zooms in pretty far. i also took an 18-200mm which was great for landscapes.

  23. Wow! What an adventure. My friend is in Tanzania now, She went for the first time last year, fell in love, went back home to Denmark, picked up her 2 sons and at present having a blast. Thank you for taking the time and writing this epic informative adventure post.

    Best,

    Cecille

  24. Sara Wilson Reply

    Beautiful post! Thank you for sharing! My 4 year old, Ben wanted me to tell you he found all 6 lions ;)

  25. What an absolute joy to read and see photos of your trip … Your photographs are stunning and have me now daydreaming about traveling !! xx

  26. A M A Z I N G Diana!!
    Just can’t wait my son to be 10+…He’s only 9 months! haha..

    Thank you for sharing!

  27. Hello!!
    Thank you for this amaing post. I have a couple os questions since I’m leaving this sunday to Kenya and Tanzania.
    We plan to self drive from Arusha to the ngorongoro (renting a car there, jus for a day) so we need to pay the fees and entraces at the bank :( Do you know if tthe bank is opened Saturday evening? We arrive there on Saturday.
    also, is it a different price for a 12 hours entrance or 24 hours entrance to th ngorongoro?
    THANKS A LOT!!

    • Hi Cristina, I have no idea if the bank is open on Saturday evening (or if would be open on a Sunday either). Maybe you should ask the hotel where you are staying if they can organise an entry permit for you. The problem is that you have to get it within 24 hours that you actually want to visit the crater. So if you plan on going on a Monday then you should get it on the Monday morning (if that makes sense?) That is what we were told anyway.

      I’m not 100% sure of the different prices either, we paid for 24 hours each time.

      Be aware that you can only go down into the crater from 6am-6pm every day, so you basically need to start making your ascent out of the crater around 5.30pm to be safe.

  28. I love this post! And your pictures are stunning. We are doing something similar soon. Would you mind sharing what camera you use?

  29. Hi Diana, Just read/viewed your blog/images and have to tell you it brought back many memories of my trip there with your mom in 2012. One never forgets the Serengeti. Looking forward to my next trip to Africa. :)Elaine

  30. Amazing, amazing post. Thank you so much for all of the information and travel tips! The photos are gorgeous.

  31. stunning photos, sound like amazing experience knowing how hard it can be to do self drive in Tanzania compare to the rest of southern Africa. Seem like you had your share of Ngorongoro show neither do we from here like that system.

  32. many thanks for your effort to put down some names of camping spots, we were there in 2010 and planning another trip for 2016. What a problem to get a place to camp in Tanzania and their very expensive Nat Parks and World Herritage sites. We also would like to visit the Wilde beast migration when they cross the Mara river to Kenya. Is there a possibility that you could help me with more names of campsites? Thanks again for your interesting fotos and helpful tips.

  33. Thank you so much with sharing. Very inspiring and helpful to those of us planning a trip like this.

  34. I will be taking a family Tanzania safari later on this year and I hope it turns out as wonderful as yours. Thank you for the tips and the beautiful pictures.

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