DIY Safari…Mto Wa Mbu and Ngorongoro Crater 7/5 – 7/7

We were sad to leave Zanzibar, but after 2 and a half weeks of relaxing, we were ready for some excitement! We found a cheap flight to Kilimanjaro airport just outside of Moshi and flew out on the 4th of July.

We were lucky enough to see the giant sleeping volcano from our plane window, which made it feel like we had reached the summit. Due to the massive cost to climb Kili (at least $1500 for each of us!), we had decided we would rather do more diverse, smaller hikes instead, so this was a good consolation.

After landing, we took a shuttle to Arusha…which is synonymous with touts (aka stalkers!) harassing you take a safari with their company. To avoid this, we stayed outside of the center at a hotel which had decent WiFi so we could do our safari research in comfort (aka and also enjoy some cold beers at the same time).

After a half day of arranging/planning/celebrating, we crowded into a minibus with some German friends we had met, en route on a VERY bumpy road to Mto Wa Mbu, a small village near Ngorongoro Crater. So while my birthday may not have been glamorous, it was spent with good company (the best, in my opinion, unless all of you had randomly decided to show up!), and I’ll always remember it because it was in AFRICA!

Mto Wa Mbu was not without its touts (we are getting resigned to the fact that we are going to be stuck with a self-appointed “guide” in every new place we get to…whether we want one or not), but it proved to be a much nicer place to settle in and arrange our trip into the Crater to see some animals. After a night out to celebrate 34 years of existence thanks to our new friends, we started our safari with a bike tour. We visited Lake Manyara from the opposite side of the lake to avoid paying the park entrance fees and having to rent a car, and we got to see flamingos and buffaloes waaaaaaay off in the distance (although the binoculars were handy mom and dad!). So far, our safari was nice but a little lackluster compared to what I had seen on TV.

We visited a wood carving workshop and a local banana beer bar to finish out our bike tour. Our guide Karimu led us in the dark (yes, Elizabeth was scared) to dinner far back in the forest to enjoy a buffet of local foods…fried banana, okra, ugali, spiced rice and beans, and some other mystery items.

We woke up at 4:30 the next morning to pack some peanut butter and honey sandwiches, then we were off in our amazingly badass Land Rover with a pop-up top (you all have seen what cars I drive so you know I don’t care much, but I seriously WANT one!) with our driver Costa to the Ngorongoro Crater. With so many different animals and such a beautiful landscape, it did not disappoint! We saw 4 of the “Big 5” (as they say on safari…elephant, lion, rhino, and hippo…just not the leopard)…the plus wildebeests, zebras, ostriches, crazy weird birds, buffaloes, and too many others to name. It was unreal to be 5 feet from 2 lions (see the video posted…taken from our car), and it honestly felt like we were at a REALLY big, open zoo. Added adventure was that right after our driver said “No problem” when asked how we would cross this BIG watering hole, we got stuck in the mud. It was really incredible to see him acting so cool while he was setting up the car’s tow system to another car (they really have EVERYTHING!) less than 100 feet away from sleeping hippos (and yes, Elizabeth was REALLY scared this time!) After a few tries, we made it…crisis averted. All in all, the day was definitely one of the coolest experiences I have ever had.

It was really all we needed in terms of going on a traditional safari, so we were happy we had not spent a ton of money on a safari package that included the Serengeti (about 2 hours away). We finished the evening with our friends and a bottle of Konyagi watching videos of the Maasai people dancing and what not, provided by our Maasai hotel security guard (I will post the videos soon). We said goodbye to our German friends Isa and Timo, and we started our plans to head north to Lake Natron…where the adventure continues…

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