You may have already heard all about the hardest parts of our “Eat, Don’t be Prey, Love” safari honeymoon. But there were far more amazing parts! So we broke them down into this easy-to-digest Top 10 moments (mostly in chronological order):
1. Seeing our first… EVERYTHING
Mike: Our first day in Tanzania, we were excited about zebras, monkeys, and even wildebeest. These animals would be a dime-a-dozen later in our safari, but at the beginning, seeing everything blew our minds. For example…
Our first giraffes:
Mike: Most of Arusha National Park is covered in dense vegetation. As hyped as I was about standing out of the roof of our Land Rover (I didn’t realize that our vehicle would have a pop-top, which is amazing), we didn’t see anything but plants for the first half-hour, and I was wondering if we should have scheduled more aggressively and blown past the Arusha area. But then… the park opened up a bit, and… giraffes!
Megan: Sigh, those giraffes! I mean, giraffes are intrinsically awesome, but even more awesome when they’re just out in the wild, doing their thing, being unimaginably tall, and so weird looking! We got to watch them grazing leaves off acacia trees RIGHT OFF THE ROAD. We made eye contact with a bunch of them, and I could not stop saying “wow!”
Our first elephants:
Megan: Like Arusha National Park, Lake Manyara is another small national park that we mostly hit because it was on the way to the Ngorongoro Crater. From our itinerary and some guidebooks, we didn’t expect that much, but wow…
Mike: Just as we entered the park, we had to cut the engine because a herd of elephants was slowly crossing in front of us.
Megan: If our first day was all about the majestic strangeness of giraffes, our second was about the massive zen of elephants. Much like giraffes, I don’t think I’ll ever get over how large these charismatic megafauna are… or how dumpy and saggy their butts look!
We saw big ones and babies. We saw them passing in front of us, and grazing next to us, and moving through the dense vegetation like it wasn’t even there.
Mike: Apparently elephants spend over 16 hours a day eating and they barely sleep. Just like us!
Megan: We’ve officially adopted the elephant as our family mascot.
Our first leopard:
Megan: During one our morning game drives in the Serengeti, we spotted our first leopard. At first, it was just a flurry of Swahili as our guides scouted the landscape with binoculars, and then — I’ll never forget this — one of them turned to us with a huge smile on his face and said, “We have made it!” There was a leopard in a nearby tree!
It was gorgeous. So much bigger than I thought it would be. So much more spotted too. And it’s eyes. OMG. Apparently cheetahs have red eyes and leopards have these chilling white eyes. This one was fortunately not doing any killing, and we got to watch as it made its way from one napping branch to another. Getting to see the full length of it. We felt very lucky.
2. The Sundowner
Megan: One of our favorite events was at Kakessio Camp (aka. Serian Serengeti South) — they do something called a “Sundowner.” The camp packs you a basket of snacks and drinks and sends you off to a nearby rock formation (think Pride Rock!) to drink, hang out, and watch the sunset.
The best part was that it was a great opportunity to actually get to know our guides, Sam (our driver and educator) and Mchangoi (our spotter — a Maasai warrior who spoke no English). Sam helped interpret for us as Mchangoi told us the story of killing how he killed a lion when he turned 20…
It’s a Massai coming-of-age tradition. You basically say goodbye to everyone, as you don’t know if you’re coming back. (As Sam put it: “You or the lion. Someone must lose.”) And then you don’t come back until you’ve made your kill. After you do, everyone in the village gives you one of their cows, and that’s how you start your own independent adult life! Mchangoi also showed us the “we killed a lion” celebration song and dance.
Mike: Killing a lion sounds pretty impressive. I told him that I deal with lead actors on TV shows, which was my only point of reference. If only I was allowed to carry a spear for protection.
3. Chasing a honey badger
Mike: After our Sundowner, we headed back to camp, getting the opportunity for a night drive. As Sam drove through the total darkness, Mchangoi operated a spotlight, swinging it from side to side, looking for eyeballs reflecting back. We saw a few nocturnal animals, including a big one from our checklist: the famously-dickish honey badger. Despite its reputation for being fearless (and its completely-terrifying fight move: going right for the genitals of its opponents so they quickly bleed out), we chased it around for a bit, catching glimpses of it between hiding places.
Megan: We have no photos because that thing was FAST. We apparently found the one cowardly honey badger.
4. Watching baby animals from birth to running
The baby zebra:
Megan: One of my favorite moments was from one of our game drive in the Ngorongoro Crater. We happened upon a baby zebra that was just born — the placenta was still hanging outside of the mom! — being licked clean by its mom and taking it’s first stumbling steps. At this point, we were the only car on that road, and it felt magical. I’ll never forget it. And that baby was clean and already walking away after 10 minutes. Sigh… they grow up so fast.
Megan: My second favorite birthing moment was a wildebeest in the South Serengeti… before I realized how many times this would happen (and what would happen to them afterwards).
Mike: When you tell a safari connoisseur that you’re going to East Africa in February, they order you to head to the south Serengeti. You’ll be in the heart of the Great Migration for calving season! And there’s nowhere better for calving season than Serian’s Kakessio Camp.
This sounds like it should be completely amazing (and it mostly is)… but maybe we should have asked a few follow-up questions. Like: which animals will be calving? Mostly wildebeest. Oh, okay. Do we like wildebeest? I suppose. Why do people like watching calving season? Wildebeest babies! Oh, cute! Babies are great! What happens to the babies? Lots of them die horrible deaths!
As you’d expect, our game drives in that area were wildebeest-centric. They weren’t all we saw, but they were everywhere. From a mile away, Mchangoi spotted a placenta sack on the back of a mother-to-be (Mchangoi’s eyesight is ridiculous) and we watched the mom from afar until she laid down to give birth. When the wet baby emerged, he/she was up on their wobbly feet in moments, crashing to the earth a few times before running alongside mom at minute five. It was insane.
But our warm feelings about wildebeest were short-lived. In our guide Sam’s words, they have “zero brain.” They are so dumb that sometimes… they forget they’re being chased. We found their stupidity charming for a little while, but eventually we hated them for it. I know you’re not supposed to blame the victim, but wildebeest parents are awful. They often run off without their babies, or don’t even notice when their babies wander away. Knowing that most babies would get lost or eaten put a slight damper on the miracle of childbirth.
5. Seeing wild dogs (before the carnage)
Megan: We were driving from one Serengeti camp to the next when we stumbled upon something that I was, at first, super-excited about — Wild Dogs! They’re very rare as they’re endangered. (Apparently they kill local livestock so villagers kill them as the only way to stop the loss of their livelihoods.)
Mike: I’m used to the scourge of wild pigs in Northern California, so I had no idea that wild dogs would be a highlight, but our guide Sam said they were his favorite animal to spot. And every time we’ve mentioned that we saw wild dogs to safari fans, they freak out about how lucky we were.
Megan: They’re adorable! They look like cattle dogs crossed with hyenas. And they interact and play with each other just like tame dogs! We followed them as they bounded along the road — nipping at each other and wrestling before flopping down to rest in the cool dirt, or sniff the air, or hump each other.
And then all of a sudden they did another behavior I recognized: Ears forward, hunched low, noses jutting way out in front them, eyes bright and focused on something with 100% of their brains. It was the way my dog Jackson would behave when he saw a dog fight at the dog park, and I knew there was no stopping him from joining in, or the way some dogs get when they see a squirrel they’re abut to give chase to.
Except these dogs were reacting to a wildebeest in the distance. I thought “well, if they take down an adult wildebeest, I won’t be that upset.” As we mentioned, we don’t care about the shitty grown-up ones anyway. Until I saw the baby wildebeest come up behind the adult. And I saw all six of the wild dogs’ slinking, turn into running. And that’s what I stopped watching.
Mike: Wild dogs. So cute until they start murdering.
6. Being charged by the elephant
Mike: The south Serengeti is best known for big cats, but everything else is there too. One afternoon we spotted a family of elephants munching their way through the trees, so we zoomed over to have a look. We watched all sizes of elephants wondering past us like giant grey ghosts. Every time we thought we’d seen the whole herd, another elephant emerged.
Megan: As we were following them, we noticed a lone large male, attempting to cool off with a mud bath. And partway through his bath… he noticed us. He became VERY interested in us. So much so that he circled our vehicle and gave us two heart-pounding false charges and a couple of low-pitched elephant roars. I filmed the whole thing, in case we died, so people would know what happened to us.
After the elephant decided to let us live, our hearts were racing and I couldn’t stop laughing. It was quite an adrenaline rush and a fun story to tell back at camp!
7. Seeing weeks-old lion cubs with their mom
Mike: The next morning, we explored an area with a bunch of regal lions. After watching a couple females laying out in the sun, we found a rock outcropping that looked like a movie set. There was even a rock plateau perfect for lions to hang out and watch the surrounding area — and that’s where we saw a lioness and her unfathomably-cute two-week-old baby cubs.
Megan: Here’s the thing I really learned about safaris — you just NEVER KNOW when a moment will go from the cutest thing you’ve ever seen — a mama lion playing with her two-week-old baby cubs — to horrifying tragedy — a cub falling to its death. What happened next was like watching the Lion King if Mufasa was an adorable lion cub.
Ugh, can’t there be a day when we don’t see a baby animal in peril before breakfast? For an hour or so, we were really worried about the fate of the cub, but thankfully, it survived, as confirmed by some other guests at the camp who showed up to watch.
8. Talking with a hyena at night time
Megan: Here’s a truly tragic animal story that led to a fun animal story: While we were at Kusini Camp, a zebra died while giving birth not far outside our camp and that night, a cackle of hyenas (did you know a group of hyenas is called a “cackle”!?) were the lucky ones to discover it. A guide would later tell us, the hyenas were “celebrating” the dead zebras, which is a cuter way of saying of “happily dining on two fresh carcasses.”
One particularly celebratory hyena was making a super-cool sound right outside of our tent. Something like “mmmmmmMM!” So I started imitating it, only to have it start making noise right back at me. So I had a conversation with the hyena well into the night. It was pretty awesome. (Nevermind the tragic zebra death that brought us together.)
9. The ocean in Zanzibar
Mike: Our Zanzibar hotel was a bit disappointing, in terms of our high expectations and the luxury price. (There wasn’t enough privacy and the fact that all their seafood is caught within sight of the resort was lost on Megan, who didn’t appreciate their (delicious) lobster and prawns.) But after a rough start, a room change made a big difference and we loved our walks on the miles-long white sand beach.
Megan: Omg, the sand is so white and stuff it’s like pixie dust, and the Indian Ocean is so blue and warm I felt like I could stay in it forever. Speaking of which…
Snorkeling was the best part of our stay. It reminded me of what Molokini Crater on Maui used to be like — just being plunged into the largest, most colorful fish tank ever. We saw barracuda, and squid (that was my first time seeing them in the wild!) plus the tiniest sea horses ever, and giant clams that would open and close when you passed your hands over them.
It was magical.
10. The Ikuka Safari Camp
Megan: OMG IKUKA!!!!
I think it’s one of the places that I chose based on aesthetics alone (when you have so many good choices it’s hard to narrow them down, so you get a little creative) and it was perfect. It has some amazing design elements — it’s built onto the side of a hill, so it takes advantage of its location with an infinity pool, and rooms that have NO WALLS. They’re open on all sides and you’re just living and sleeping in nature — the most glamorized version, but still! It’s impressive.
One of our favorite moments of our stay was an afternoon nap. Our room had the most incredible view of the Ruaha National Park, so we got to watch at rain clouds approached from miles away. And by the time we were settled into our room and lying down for a nap, the gentle rain swept over us, and a light wind blew some of it into our room without walls, barely misting our constantly over-heated bodies. It was romantic AF, and something that will probably never recreate in our lives.
Mike: When I close my eyes and think of our safari honeymoon in five years, I’ll probably be imagining our stay at Ikuka…
Megan: Awwww. I wonder what I’ll remember when I think about our safari honeymoon in 50 years from now!
We have so many more amazing memories and so many more stories we’d love to share about our safari honeymoon. But for now, if you have any questions about planning a trip to Tanzania, please feel free to ask us questions in the comment section!