In February 2023 we traveled to Tanzania for the fourth time, but for the first time bringing along our kids (Simon, 7, and Sophie, 5). This was to be a big adventure; because of covid this was our kids first time on an overseas flight, and we started by jumping right into the deep end!

This trip was organized through our friend Mussa Rajabu, founder and lead guide of Roam Serengeti Safaris. We've known Mussa for a while now, and when we return to Tanzania it's like meeting up with an old friend (with all of us a little older, of course!)

Our itinerary was as follows, trying to plan with the kids in mind. That meant for example trying to find places with pools, where possible, and where WiFi for some down time would be appreciated.

  • 1 night African Tulip in Arusha, after arriving on the KLM flight
  • 3 nights Tarangire at Lemala Mpingo Ridge
  • 2 nights Ngorongoro Crater, Ngorongoro Serena Lodge
  • 4 nights Ndutu Safari Lodge, Ngorongoro Conservation Area
  • 4 nights Lemala Nanyukie, Eastern Serengeti
  • Day room at Kilimanjaro Planet Lodge
On our way and arriving in Tanzania

It was a long trip, as always, but the kids did really well. I had a sinus infection when we left, and on the flight from Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro it really got bad. Thankfully I had gotten antibiotics just prior to leaving, but I imagine the guy sitting beside me on the flight must have been rather concerned.

First game drive, all fatigue is forgotten!

We had a fairly lazy morning leaving after arriving, allowing everyone to try to catch some sleep. Then Mussa arrived with his family, it was nice to see his wife again and to see how much his kids had grown. They drove with us into the center of Arusha, allowing us to catch up and the kids to get to briefly know each other. When they got off, we then were joined by Charles, who would be our driver. Typically in Tanzania you have a single driver and guide, but Mussa had hurt his back and wanted to be able to move around, so we were one of the few cars driving around with two tour guides. It definitely helped at times to have the extra pair of eyes, and to allow Mussa more freedom to scan for wildlife.

Waterbuck in Tarangire, there were quite a few this trip

Tarangire is known as the place to see elephants, and we were fortunate to see a good number of these animals.

Some of the elephants of Tarangire

Of course it was all new for the kids, and so everything was exciting for them. But Sophie in particular had a soft-spot for the elephants.

Tarangire is at its best, typically, in the dryer months of July-October, when the river attracts all of the wildlife. In the green season, which includes February, the animals disperse, and so it can be harder to find them (especially when combined with the higher grasses). This was our second time in Tarangire in February, and I would say that this time it was clearly quieter than the previous visit. We still saw a lot, but not as much as other visits.

Some of the other inhabitants of Tarangire

But elephants are certainly the highlight of any stay at Tarangire, they can always be found somewhere.

Tarangire has a very nice picnic area that has a lovely view down into the river valley. This location as has attracted groups of vervet monkeys, which have learned they can get an easy meal by stealing from the tourists. They are also not afraid of people, so you can get quite close to them (if you dare!)

Baby vervet in a tree

Before too long our time in Tarangire was up, and we headed off to our next stop, the Ngorongoro Crater. This is very different from Tarangire, as it is at elevation and so it is much cooler and much greener, especially on the rim of the Crater. We stayed at the Serena, a lodge we'd never tried before. The kids were allowed to choose our room from a couple of options, and they chose one in a separate building (top left below). This was a nice spot, and quite large - two full bedrooms, plus another sleeping area with two beds, a full size living room with a TV, a mini-fridge, etc.

Kids on safari. You can appreciate the temperature difference in Tarangire (right picture) compared to mornings in the Crater (middle-bottom picture)

The Crater is full of animals at all times of year, we have been here when it is a complete dustbowl but this visit it was nice and green.

Some of the birds and animals of the Ngorongoro Crater

The Crater is arguably the best place in Northern Tanzania to see Black Rhino, so we dedicated a fair amount of time to that pursuit. One was sighted, however all of the vehicles in the Crater seemed to find out about where it was and it became a bit of a zoo. Eventually the ranger that was watching things decided to move it out of the area, so he drove up on the grass and chased it away. It was perhaps not the most satisfying sighting of a rhino, but as always it's nice to see one.

Rhino - it was hot and sunny by this time, so I just went with the heat haze.

The Crater also has some of the larger mammals, and we had a nice viewing of a few buffalo enjoying their food, and then a couple of elephants in the forest. The Crater has some of the bigger elephants in this part of Tanzania, as old bulls that have begun to have trouble eating tougher vegetation come here to eat the softer food, but we didn't see them particularly close this trip.

I like the scale the smaller egret and gazelles provide for this buffalo

The next day we were off to the greater Serengeti ecosystem, with a stop in the southern Ndutu plains. This is where the wildebeest come to give birth to their young, and so the predators come for the bounty as well.

Entering the Serengeti

Before we had even reached our destination we had a pretty unique sighting when we found the den of a African Golden Wolf with a couple of puppies. They were really close to the track we were following, but didn't seem particularly sure about us.

Golden wolves

Our stay was a Ndutu Safari lodge, which has been in the area for many years now. It is definitely a nice place for a stop, it is composed of a bunch of bungalows with two rooms per bungalow. We could see from the front of our room all kinds of animals during our stay.

Entrance to our room

Up to this point we hadn't seen a big male lion, but the kids were in luck and we located one fairly quickly. He was pretty calm and didn't look like he was going to move much, so we moved on pretty quickly.

With the king of the jungle

A really unique sighting happened when we came across three cheetah brothers who were just finishing a meal. There was a hyena that came and chased them off the remains, so they started walking along the plains. Eventually they stopped in the shade of a tree, and we thought that was going to be the end of the excitement. But next thing we knew, a baby wildebeest came walking around the front of our truck. It had clearly been separated from the herd, and had no idea of the danger that was waiting. We thought the cheetahs might not hunt it, having just eaten, but they couldn't turn down an easy meal and while it put up a valiant fight in the end they succeeded. They clearly weren't too hungry though, and before long we saw the hyena coming running up toward them, where it proceeded to steal this kill as well. Luckily they had eaten well from the first kill!

The circle of life - it's not easy for anybody in the Serengeti

After a siesta back at camp, we headed out that afternoon. We ended up spending the entire afternoon with a big male lion, who kept making it look like he was going to get up before lying back down. I think the kids were disappointed when in the end we had to leave without any action.

Lazy lion

The majority of the wildebeest were actually moving elsewhere during our visit, but even so we had a lot of luck with cheetahs in particular. There were several that we saw multiple times.

Some of the cheetahs we saw - the one on the bottom right had a wound on its neck, but he seemed fine.
No wildebeest around - those tourists are starting to look yummy

Of course there were some lions in the area as well. Ndutu seems to be a location where the lions really like to go in the trees, and we saw that again this time. This female was actually only about 50 meters from a leopard in a different tree; she didn't seem to know, and eventually the leopard made a quick and quiet escape.

Ndutu Safari Lodge also has some extra inhabitants in the form of a family of genets that live in the rafters and come out after dark. The kids really enjoyed them, and especially liked the baby genet.

Not a great cell phone picture...

And there were a lot of flamingos in the lakes in the area.

Not putting your head in the sand, rather everyone with their head in the water.

Time went by fast, and before we knew it we were headed to our next/last stop, in the Eastern Serengeti. I asked Mussa if we could travel via the Gol Kopjes, as less-frequented route to the east of the main road that comes with an extra charge but is usually very good for cats. We did get lucky with a couple of cheetahs, the first was just relaxing in the shade. The second was an interesting situation, as the cheetah was lying down with a hyena keeping it company not far away. The cheetah seemed resigned that there would be no point hunting, so they were just relaxing together. The hyena did eventually seem to get bored, and it got up on the nearby kopje to see if there was anything else going on.

Looking like its reputation, up to no good

Continuing along, we came across a male lion, then another, and then another. We would find over the coming days that the area was full of male lions.

Two different handsome male lions

The next day we ended up by a waterhole - even though it was fairly green there was still a need for the animals to come for a drink during the heat of the day, and we wanted to see what might happen. Arriving in the area, we saw that the zebra were all milling around without approaching the water, and we wondered what was there.

Confusion and concern

Once we got there, we found out why. There were 7 full size male lions lying on the edge of the water, and no zebra was crazy enough to try to get closer than a certain distance.

5 of the 7 males

While the cats were a focus, there were a lot of other animals in the area. We watched one specific teenage elephant go on a bit of a tear, he fought with one of his herd-mates and then, when he lost that fight, took out his frustration by chasing after a giraffe that just happened to be standing nearby. There were also a lot of zebras in the area, in particular on the access road to and from our camp.

One morning we came across a mother cheetah and her younger cub as they were walking along. Not long after, the mother spotted a gazelle on the other side of some brush. She quickly went into stalking mode, and rapidly caught the gazelle. This was exciting to see, especially since we were alone with them.

There weren't just male lions around, we regularly saw a fairly large pride as well that hung around in a swampy area.

At the time we were visiting, the local prides were under the control of two male lions that were well-known, Bob Jr. and Marley. We saw both of them - they were clearly getting on in age, and their teeth were getting worn down (see the middle picture below). A few weeks after we left, some of the 7 young male lions we had seen killed Bob Jr and chased Marley away, taking over the area and making it their own.

Old but still regal
A younger male lion of the local pride

The local pride, not knowing that their lives were going to be uprooted in a few short weeks. We watched them head off to hunt as night was falling, and stayed as late as possible with them which resulted in an unofficial night game drive as we were very late getting back to camp (unfortunately nothing cool showed itself).

One more photo of the old king.

One morning leaving camp we found this young male just sitting in this open area. We weren't sure where he came from, who he was with (was he one of the 7? I didn't think he was as mature, but maybe)

A future king?

One morning we headed over to the main Seronera area, and Mussa proposed that we looked into the possibility of rhino tracking. There is actually a reasonably healthy population of rhinos in one area of the Serengeti, that has been under intense protection for years now and has slowly been growing. The authorities have recently allowed tourists to pay to be guided to see these rhinos; essentially you meet up with some of the rangers that are protecting/tracking the rhinos, and they bring the tourists to the rhino(s), including off-road driving. This sounded great, but in reality it wasn't the best experience. The rhino we saw was a mother with a baby, and she was clearly stressed by the vehicles. Sufficiently so that she charge the ranger vehicle and came within a couple of feet of hitting it. We tried a few times to approach her without causing any stress, but she never calmed down and eventually we disengaged. We appreciate that the funds go toward conserving the animals, but at least in our case the views weren't great for us, and it was clearly stressing the animals. Maybe we were just unlucky, or maybe it will get better as the rhinos get accustomed to this, but for now we have mixed feelings.

Typical view that we had of the rhinos

Leaving them we had a late lunch and then slowly made our way back toward camp, getting a taste of the great variety of wildlife that is present in the Serengeti.

A small breeding herd of elephants

Sophie was very excited to see the young babies with these mothers.

There was a single lioness hanging out in this area. The elephants weren't aware of her presence, but as they drifted slowly toward her she slipped away into the grasses.

The area also had a couple of hippo pools, one of which really smelled quite ripe. The other one had more active animals in any case, and we spent a good amount of time trying to get a yawn shot.

We don't typically photograph birds much, but there were a few around that caught our eye.

Black and white birds - a stilt and a stork

We didn't see too many lions in the Seronera area, not that we were looking particularly hard for them, but there was a small group of females hanging around and in a tree.

Seems pretty comfortable, so probably no point waiting around

As it got later in the afternoon, a storm began to roll in and the sky started to get darker and darker. You could tell the animals expected rain, and in particular all of the storks had clustered onto the few trees in the area.

Storks in a tree

We also saw a distant herd of elephants dwarfed by the storm.

The sky began to clear just as the sun was setting, and the next morning dawned bright and sunny. This morning would be full of lions.

Two younger male lions that we saw.

In the afternoon we decided to head a bit more toward the Seronera area, with the goal of trying to find a leopard that would show well for us. We saw an initial one that was quite distant, but after moving on found a younger male who was lying in a tree.

Waking up?

He did get up and move around a good amount, but gradually he returned to relaxing in the tree. Mussa thought he was a young male who was still with his mother, but not for much longer, and he was waiting for her to return.

Lazy cat

Nearby was a small herd of elephants, as always we enjoyed being able to spend time with them.

Happy elephant? Definitely happy tourists!

Our last morning came, and we made the slow drive to Seronera airport from our camp. Our flight wasn't too early, so we were able to be quite leisurely about our route, with the highlight being two big male lions sleeping on top of a kopje.

Goodbye Serengeti

It had rained quite heavily in the night, and when we finally had to leave the lions we found the direct route to the airport was completely impassable due to mud. So we went around the kopje to try the other side, only to find that way was in pretty bad shape too. But time was getting short, so Mussa took over behind the wheel and managed to, just barely, get us around the muddy region. And not a second too late, we arrived at the airport and were almost immediately ushered onto the plane.

Smiles after a great trip

The flight over the Ngorongoro highlands was very bumpy, it was a windy day after the storm had cleared and so it wasn't the most comfortable flight. Simon in particular turned rather green! But back on solid ground, we went to our day room and hung out around the pool for several hours, which fixed everything.

So far the photos we have shown are all from the adults' cameras, but it is worth noting that Simon has quite an interest in photographing wildlife. Below is a selection of some of his shots.

Impressive for an 8 year old

Of course, being an 8 year old boy certain parts of the anatomy appeals...

So that was our trip, a good time was had by all and lots of interesting animals were seen!

Cats of the Serengeti

And for once it wasn't all about wildlife viewing!

Thanks for reading along! Safari Njema

Serengeti sunset