Despite only having had a few hours sleep, we woke refreshed and excited on the 9th day of our African adventure, ready for our first safari in Tanzania.
Our 3 star hotel, Arusha Planet Lodge, was way nicer than we expected with individual, spacious chalets and very pretty scenic grounds. We enjoyed a hearty breakfast surrounded by lush greenery before meeting our guide, Living Remen for our drive to Lake Manyara National Park.
We were incredibly lucky to have Living Remen as our guide. I was so particular in choosing our tour company and probably drove everyone mad with all my questions but I eventually chose a private safari with Soul of Tanzania.
Living Remen was one of their guides although he now has his own safari company, Living Large. When he met us at the hotel, we immediately liked him for his quiet gentleness and sincerity.
Living Remen is extremely knowledgeable about the animals and land of Tanzania but above that, he was a National Geographic driver and instinctively knows what the animals will do and where we should be to get the perfect shot. Time and again, he would move or stay in contrast to the other vehicles and always had us positioned at the ideal place for a close up of a leopard, lion, cheetah or other amazing animals. It felt like we always had the best seat in the house!
As we set off on our trip, our first stop was the town of Arusha although we couldn’t get out of the landcruiser ourselves. Our tour was promoted as being the only one where we would be given hot lunches accompanied by wine instead of a packed lunch which sounded like a delightful taste of luxury to enjoy on safari.
So we drove into Arusha, a bustling town at the foothills of Mount Meru that is known as the gateway to Tanzania’s northern safari circuit, so that Living Remen could pick up some provisions and, importantly, some wine for our lunches.
Arusha felt a little chaotic and crazy but definitely friendly. People smiled at us as we sat in the landcruiser, there were busy markets by the side of the road and it had the most practical car park where cars were raised by a platform into place. So cool!
Our first stop was to be at a much more modern shopping plaza where we were to meet one of the owners of Soul of Tanzania for our onboarding and payment of our final fees.
At Living Remen’s suggestion, we then bought insect repellent in a tube (not an environmentally unfriendly spray) as a necessity for our trip and we had a wander around the souvenir shops. The centre is a major tourist attraction and had some wonderful pieces of local crafts, paintings, clothing, jewellery and so much more but we resisted buying much on our first day. We spent up big on our last day however!
beautiful lake manyara
We stopped off at a few places on our way to Lake Manyara but we really weren’t interested in shopping – we just wanted to see the animals! As we moved out of the villages, the vast, flat landscape with distant mountains and that unique African palette surrounded us. We knew we were nearly there.
We arrived at the entrance to Lake Manyara National Park around lunchtime. Living Remen took us to a picnic area and laid our delicious hot lunch out on a shuka, the traditional blanket of the Maasai people of Tanzania – accompanied of course, by a glass of red wine. Very elegant!
Lake Manyara is a shallow alkaline lake in a depression in the Rift Valley System. It is surrounded by extensive swamp lands, a grassy flood plain and saline flats. It is known for its amazing bird life including the flamingoes which was one of the greatest drawcards for me.
our first safari in tanzania!
As we set off on our first East African safari, we had no idea of just how many animals we would see during our 4 days in Tanzania. We were eager to see our first lion and were reassured by Living Remen. ‘We will see many lions in the Serengeti,’ he told us calmly but we weren’t quite sure. He proved true to his word and we certainly weren’t disappointed!
At this point however, we were looking for our first sighting of a lion as we drove through the park enjoying amazing closeups of zebras, giraffes, water buffalo, gazelles, cheeky baboons and a multitude of birds including the beautiful flamingoes.
And then all of a sudden, Living Remen stopped and very quietly pointed up to rock. Up high, within clear sight, was a young lion resting in the sunshine. Our first lion! We were in awe as we positioned our cameras for the prize shot.
Our son, Sam got it – the young lion as it took a deep, long yawn. Magical! We were totally thrilled!
It was a wonderful first day on safari. We were on an absolute high as we drove towards our first camp as the sun started to go down.
luxury tented accommodation
I had spent a long time choosing our accommodation in Tanzania and our first campsite in Lake Manyara was our favourite. We wanted to enjoy the classic campsite experience of luxury tented accommodation right in the savannah bush, surrounded by the sounds of wild animals at night – and Isoitok Camp was unbelievable.
When we arrived, we were greeted by the extended team at our vehicle. They offered us hot washcloths for our hands and took us inside to the glorious rustic bar for a welcome drink while we checked in at a leisurely pace and enjoyed the sunset. It was sublime.
If you’re thinking that we were bunking down in a sleeping bag because we were staying on campsite, nothing could be further from the truth. Isoitok is an intimate, eco-camp where our ‘tents’ were beautifully furnished, had hardwood floors, a stylish rustic bathroom with a flushing toilet and the ultimate safari facility – a ‘hang man’ bush shower!
There are only 8 tents at Isoitok so it’s a very private experience, made even more special by the service of the Maasai people. We were thrilled when a wonderful Maasai elder brought coffee to us early next morning before our breakfast. It was our first encounter with the Maasai people and we were overwhelmed by how gentle, sincere and calm they all were.
We ate our dinner that night under the light of candles within the beautiful main tent. The food was exceptional, the service was even better. We sat around the fire pit in the wide open space listening to the cries of wildlife. I think that was the first time in my life that I felt I was truly in a peaceful place. No unnatural sounds, just the sounds of nature. Fresh, crisp, beautiful air and the gentle, non-intrusive service of a first class team.
We stayed in three top quality campsites in Tanzania but this was our absolute favourite. I have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending it.
We slept wonderfully that night, knowing the next day we would be driving on to one of the most famous wildlife parks in the world – the Serengeti.