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Tanzania Safari Days 1 & 2 – Arusha and Tarangire

By Annual Adventure Adventure, Africa, Destinations, Tanzania

As my flight descended over the Kilimanjaro airport, I could feel the butterflies in my stomach in anticipation. I was about to start an incredible journey to my 7th continent – Africa, and there was no better place to start than Tanzania.

Note: The is part 1 of a 5 part series. Part 2 | Part 3 Part 4 | Part 5Photo Summary

Day 1: Arriving In Arusha

Coming in from Amsterdam, I arrived in Arusha late in the evening. The hectic airport was easy to navigate thanks to the help from my tour operator, who knew how to get through the busy crowds easily. Unfortunately, since the flight arrived so late in the evening there wasn’t any time for sight seeing, so we drove straight to our hotel in Arusha. During the hour long drive from the airport into town, I watched as we drove by small restaurants and bars, dimly lit with fluorescent light allowing me to get a glimpse of life there.

Arusha Bay Leaf Hotel
The rest stop for the night.

My driver pulled into the hotel grounds and I was greeted warmly by the front desk and escorted into my room. Time for a good night’s rest.

Out On Safari: Tarangire National Park

I splurged on a private safari which I had discussed with my operator and had the itinerary custom made to follow the Great Migration to maximize the amount of wildlife and predator action I would see. Additionally, this way I would be able to do things at my own pace and wouldn’t have to contend with what other people wanted to do. If I wanted to stay out the entire day in one spot, then great! And all of the best photo spots in the vehicle were mine, all mine, muahahaha!

The private safari cost less than I expected and I couldn’t recommend it enough for anyone who wants to go on Safari who is serious about photography and wants to travel on their own terms.

Safari Land Cruiser
My home for the next 9 days.

I woke up early on day 2 and met Sami, my guide for the next 9 days. After swinging by a grocery store to grab supplies, snacks, and whatever else I wanted for the safari, we were off to our first park: Tarangire.

Tarangire literally translates to “River of the Wild Pigs” when you break it down into two words: Tara and Ngire. While I saw both of those things, it’s more commonly referred to as “Land of the Giants” for its two prominent inhabitants: elephants and Baobab trees. It’s roughly a 3 hour drive from Arusha to the entrance of the park, so get an early start to maximize your time there. I visited in February during the “green season” so I was treated to beautiful blooming plants all around me.

Tarangire Land of the Giants
The Giants of Tarangire National Park.

Land Of The Giants

Once we entered the park we began driving along the paths in search of wildlife. Right off the bat we spotted antelopes and monkeys, and It didn’t take long before some giraffes poked their heads out of the bush to investigate our presence.

Tarangire Giraffe Eating
You’re interrupting my meal.

The great thing about Tarangire is that it is unlike any other park in Tanzania. Nowhere else on my safari did I see such lush greenery, huge and abundant Baobab trees, such such a massive gathering of elephants. If you came to Tanzania looking for elephants, Tarangire should be your first stop. They are absolutely everywhere and in much higher concentrations than anywhere else I saw in Africa. This park is also a good leopard spotting area so keep a sharp eye on those trees!

Tanzania Safari Elephant Close Up
Where else can you just glance to your right and get this view?

Obviously your guide will be aware of any safety considerations to take when around these beasts. There were times when the males would put on a display for us and we would need to back away from their intended path. My guide Sami was great and always erred on the side of caution, but I saw some other safari vehicles acting very aggressively in regards to getting close the the elephants at times.

Tarangire Traffic Jam
The Tarangire Traffic Jam.

After our close encounter with the elephants we stopped for a picnic lunch in our Land Cruiser. Most overnight accommodations in Tanzania cater to people on safari by providing a sack lunch for the day, so it was nice to have a variety of meals throughout the trip from the different camps. My particular safari guide was fantastic enough to provide red wine and Amarula (think African Irish Cream) spiked coffee as accessories to the meal, so I was never left dissatisfied with any of my lunches-on-the-go.

Onwards Through Tarangire

After a delicious lunch, we headed deeper into the park. Naturally, we continued to be surrounded by elephants at every turn, but we were also treated to many, many giraffe sightings as well.

Tarangire Elephants

One of the most interesting things I found about the giraffes was the way they stand in together. In order to keep a shark lookout for predators or other threats, they always stand in formations, either criss-crossing their heads in opposing directions or in a line with each giraffe facing a different direction. They are very protective of one another and it’s fascinating to see them work together to stay safe.

Tarangire Giraffe Formation
Just don’t get those necks tangled together!

Even when not standing in a tight group, they were always on the lookout. They were one of the most skittish animals I encountered in Africa. While they would sometimes allow you to get somewhat close, they always made sure they could get away quickly and kept a sharp eye on everything.

Giraffe Lookout Over River
Keeping those Elephants in check.
tanzania safari giraffe tree
It doesn’t hurt to find a scenic spot when you need to watch the land.

Moving on from the giraffes down to the river below, we were treated to a very young  elephant with its mother and sibling. Sami said it was probably only one or two months old, and of course its mom was quite protective.

Baby Elephant in Tarangire National Park
The proud family.

The baby elephant was ADORABLE and seemed like it was having fun playing with its own trunk, swinging it around all over the place. I noticed that the mother was walking alongside her baby and picking up its trunk with hers. Sami informed me that when they’re young, elephants are too weak to grab things with their trunks by themselves, so this was the mother’s way of teaching her baby how to use it. After I knew this, it was more obvious as the baby was often wrapping its trunk around pieces of grass and pulling, but was coming up empty handed (empty trunked?).

Tarangire Baby Elephant
Trunk Lessons.

Saying Goodbye To Tarangire

It was soon getting late and the time was upon us to head out of the park. As if thanking us for our visit, Tarangire had one more treat in store for us. As we drove down the road that led to the gates, we spotted a beautiful mother elephant and calf that had just finished bathing in deep red mud. She approached us and walked right by the Land Cruiser to say hello, showing off her beautiful coat of mud.

Tarangire Elephant Big Red
Showing off her new outfit.

It was the perfect send off to a great first day out on safari. In a park filled with elephants, the most photogenic one came out to see us off. With smiles on our faces, we headed on to our camp for the night, ready for another thrilling day out on  safari.


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  • This is so cool! And your photos are amazing! What company did you travel with and book through? I’m looking at planning an African Safari for next spring, and am looking for all the tips I can get 🙂

    1. Thanks Lisa, that means a lot! I booked through Everlasting Tanzania Tours and I can’t recommend them highly enough, they were fantastic. Robert will help you figure out the best route for your time of year since the best place to visit changes depending on when you go. Feel free to ask any other questions and I hope your trip goes great!

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