Experiencing a real African game drive is something that has been on my bucket list for a very, very long time. In the last few years as I have begun to appreciate nature, hiking, the environment, animals and the outdoors more and more through my travels to different continents, I couldn’t wait to see the great African animals where they should be. As my African adventure was a part of a bigger trip where I was visiting five different continents, I didn’t overly plan much more than booking my game drive and flights. I had no idea what to expect and it ended up being so much more awe-inspiring and memorable than I could have imagined.
So what does a real roughing-it game drive in the Serengeti National Park really entail?
Driving, Lot’s of Driving
I flew into Nairobi, Kenya and met my (Intrepid Travel) Tour group at our hotel (the only hotel of the next 9 nights). One of the great things about Intrepid is they always have local guides, and trust me, a local guide is what you need in Kenya (and especially on the boarder crossings from Kenya to Tanzania). We loaded up our safari camouflage-coloured gear and clothing onto our big rickety truck and set off across Kenya towards Tanzania. The first few days of the tour includes many hours of driving over all kinds of terrain (mostly not on paved roads) and several hours of card games with your tour mates. Once we finally got into the Serengeti and to our first official game drive, we all loaded back onto the truck and were ready to drive around for 5-6 hours searching for animals. If you can’t hack sitting on your butt in a bumpy truck for several hours, then game drives might not be for you.
Imagine craning your neck and constantly squinting for around five hours, just looking and searching for any kind of amazing African animal. After the initial few hours of spotting elephants, zebras, giraffes and antelope (literally everywhere you look in the Serengeti) you’re suddenly not satisfied with the humble ‘stripy horse’ as you were just an hour earlier – you want to see a CAT. That’s when your handy guide helps you out and manages to spot a couple of little lion cubs, hiding in a spiky bush. Your day is made. Then you spend the next five hours craning your eyes hoping to be the ONE that spots the leopard or buffalo or lion or rhino – ideally one of THE BIG FIVE.
Everyone Wants To Get ‘The Shot’
I always found it hilarious to stop and look at the rest of our troop taking their photos (after of course I’d got the very best that I could get myself!). As soon as there was even a whisper of someone sighting something, the whole group would be up against the window, hanging out of it, throwing around their long lens’ to get the best possible shot they could. And although the Serengeti is ridiculously large and sparse – never fear that you are the only car of tourists out searching. On one particular day I counted 12 other cars all surrounding a tree that had a pretty leopard lying on a branch – just all of us hoping to get the money shot.
Yes, you can do a game drive the ‘glamping’ way (and my next trip I might just fork out of my non-existent savings for that oh-so-luxurious bed and actual shower) but in my opinion, the way to really experience the African national parks, is to camp right there, without fences, right next to the hyenas and elephants – real Lion King style. There’s nothing like lying in the pitch black in a very thin tent wondering if the heavy foot prints and weird sounds around you are a predator or just a harmless gazelle. I loved the feeling of being right there with nature and I was proud of myself, a self confessed city girl for roughing it for a few days (even if it meant washing your hair with a glorified garden hose and needing to use the ‘buddy system’ to walk you to the bathroom in the middle of the night).
As you may have guessed it, the camping facilities in the middle of the Serengeti National Park in the middle of Africa – in Tanzania aren’t exactly the most flash. Most of the time we were promised hot water or ‘there might be hot water’ (which we knew there would most definitely NOT be hot water) and head to the shack that held our showers and be faced with a cold trickle to wash your hair and body with. The toilets were also average at best, but as long as you are warned and you have a nice fire circle to cosy up next to while you listen to the hum of animals chattering, then it’s pretty bearable for a week in the wilderness.
The animals, oh the animals. This is obviously why we all come to the African National Parks – to see those beautiful huge animals living their best Lion King life. Even though you do get used to seeing the more prominent animals (zebra, gazelle, antelope, giraffe etc.) every single time you spot them, they are still amazing. I think what really struck me (and maybe will stop me from never setting foot in another zoo) is seeing the complete vastness of the parks and the amount of space they all have to roam. It’s really nothing that a zoo pen could ever replicate and I was just in awe of the actual beauty of the plains and how far they stretched.