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Visiting the African Safari

Article by Shamika Pandit

Photography by Shamika Pandit

Originally published in Greenwich Lifestyle

Everyone goes on at least one unforgettable trip in their life. For me, that was my trip to Africa. I went to Kenya and Tanzania for 13 days two years ago with my family, and I still think about my trip all the time.

The days leading up to the trip were filled with excitement and a little fear. Nobody I knew had ever been to Africa, so there were a lot of questions about what to wear, what we’d be eating and what it’s like over there. Days and days of research still left me with thousands of questions.

When the day finally came, there was more commotion than I could have planned for. My brother had an internship in Texas and thought it would be a good idea to fly in the same day we were flying out. A canceled flight, a missed flight and one delayed flight later, my brother finally made it to JFK with minutes to spare before we had to check-in for our flight.

We boarded and made our way Tanzania. When we finally reached, it was 10 p.m. at night. The airport was a small building that looked more like a warehouse than an airport. We took a two-hour shuttle ride to our hotel and finally closed our eyes. After a good night's rest and a hearty breakfast, we kicked off our almost two-week-long safari vacation! 

We met our driver at the front of the hotel that morning. If you ever go to Africa, the best advice I can give you is to use your driver/guide as a resource. They have a wealth of knowledge about the environment and animals. As we made our way through numerous parks, the driver shared the history of these parks and facts about the animals we saw and taught us exactly what to look for.

Our first stop was the Tarangire National Park in Tanzania. This park gets its name from the Tarangire River which crosses the park. The river serves as the main source of water for the animals that migrate during the dry season. Tarangire is believed to have the highest concentration of elephants in the world. The park is also home to approximately 700 lions, so it’s easy to spot them. The park is known to have more breeding species of birds than anywhere else in the world! This was our first park and the first place we spotted lions, my favorite animal. They came so close to the jeep, I almost could have touched them. It was an incredible experience.

While in Tanzania, we took a small hike to visit the elephant caves. The reason they are called elephant caves is that the elephants bang their tusks against the caves and eat the sand. The sand is rich in calcium which helps keep their bones strong.

The next park we visited was the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. The crater was formed when a volcano erupted almost two and a half million years ago. The volcano collapsed on itself and created the crater that is now home to more than 30,000 animals. Here, we spotted tons of animals including hippos, which are the second-largest land animal on earth after elephants. The only animal you won’t find in the crater is the giraffe because the crater is too steep for them to navigate.

Our next stop was Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. The name for the park was derived from the Maasai (local tribe) word siringit, which means endless plains. The Maasai tribe graze their cattle in the Mara Region of the park. Serengeti National Park spans more than 12,000 square miles and is home to every species of African savanna mammals apart from the rhinoceros. The park is also home to the oldest eco-system on the plant and houses a diverse range of flora and fauna that isn’t available anywhere else in the world. 

After Serengeti, we made our way to Kenya. The first park we visited in Kenya was the Maasai Mara National Reserve. It was originally established as a wildlife sanctuary in 1961. The park is home to all members of the “big five” which includes the cape buffalo, black rhinoceros, African elephant, leopard and lion. One of the highlights of the trip was seeing the crossing of the wildebeests in Maasai Mara! We sat in our safari jeep for hours as thousands and thousands of wildebeests navigated the rocky waters, avoided crocodiles and made their way to the other side.

The last stop on the trip was the Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya. The park is home to vast flocks of flamingos and thousands of other birds. Lake Nakuru also has the densest population of rhinoceros in Kenya, largely thanks to the sanctuary that exists within the park. The only time was we saw rhinoceros was in Lake Nakuru at the very end of our trip—we nicknamed them the unicorns of Africa.

After 14 days in Africa, I came back inspired and thankful that I was able to take such an amazing trip. My favorite part of the trip was being so close to the animals and observing them in their natural habitat. We got to see how they find food, how they eat, how they sleep and how they interact with each other.