The First Lions (Mikumi National Park, Tanzania)

The road to the main entrance of Mikumi National Park divides the park into two halves. While we hold our breath when our minibus drives past a vast herd of elephants, the park holds the promise of many more spectacular sightings and an adventurous night in the heart of the reserve.


We leave Dar es Salaam early in the morning on a comfortable bus at the Ubuntu bus station. The vintage and slightly decrepit bus takes us all the way to Morogoro for the price of $3.5 – the journey takes 5 hours. There, we have to hop on a small, crowded minibus that completes the journey to Mikumi in another 2 hours. Before taking off in the ragged minibus, we replenish our food supplies with cassava crisps and bananas, sold by the many street vendors. The asphalted road runs along the Uluguru mountains, which offer us an astonishing view. Since the entrance of Mikumi National Park is located in the center of the reserve, we already see plenty of wildlife on the road towards it.

On the road


As we are backpackers, we carry our own tent. This gives us the opportunity to overnight on a remote location in the middle of the park and its exciting wildlife. Unfortunately, we have to pay $30 each to have this wonderful experience. We set our tent under the bright milky way and enjoy a simple meal, consisting of the previously bought cassava crisps, bananas, and a sandwich. In the northern direction, we see distant flashlights as a herald of a heavy storm that hits our camping spot later that evening.


The morning is bright and blows a cool breeze inside the tent. Large, freshly formed pools of water are the only indications of yesterday’s tempest. We’re picked up by our guide in a beige four-wheel drive. The total cost for the car and the guide is $200 – excluding the entry fees ($30/pp) and the camping fees (also $30/pp). All this money has to be paid in dollars or with VISA at the entrance of the park. The local currency is not accepted as a means of payment. Unfortunately, we were not able to team up with fellow travelers to divide the cost of the car and the driver. This is a major disadvantage of the location of the park entrance in the middle of nowhere. Once dropped there as a backpacker, you have few options as regarding accommodation and planning your safaris. If you travel there, stay on the minibus until you reach the center of Mikumi town. There you have plenty of cheap hotels where you can meet other travelers to team up with.  Be that as it may, we intend to fully enjoy this trip and let go of our financial frustrations. After all, this is a unique location and the money is used to help to preserve it!

Wandering elephant


After a proper English breakfast, we go to a pool where both hippos and crocodiles reside. However, neither of both large animals can captivate us – they are just floating and seem barely alive. A group of colorful birds, so-called saddle-billed storks, are admired instead. The guide steers the four-wheel drive through a rippling river and we enter the vast, grassy plains. We encounter plenty of large animals, such as impalas, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, and buffaloes. After approximately one hour, we stumble across a pride of lions. We spot one male with a rather lousy haircut, two females, and three adorable cubs. They gather around a dead eland that must have been caught recently and start feasting. The driver manages to drive the car pretty close to the predators, and although it is not legal to go off the road, we’re secretly grateful he does it. In the top of a nearby baobab, several ugly marabou storks abide the leftovers of the dead prey. These bald birds look fearsome but are in fact extremely shy. We decided to grant the feline family some privacy and head further into the wilderness.

The bushes become denser and sightings become rarer. Occasionally a solitary impala male crosses our path and we see one or two warthogs. More spectacular animals await us in the more open field: elephants! Initially, we only see one specimen, but soon we discover the rest of the herd, grazing the trees or nursing the calfs.

The male lion


In the afternoon, we travel to the furthest corner of the park. Here stands a tree that has earned the nickname “poacher’s hide”. It is a large baobab, hollow on the inside. The story goes that there was once a series of unsolved poaching cases. After several months, a professional Russian manhunter was hired and he tracked the criminals up to this tree. He found out they had a hiding place inside and in the top of the tree. After a short but fierce fight, he killed all the poachers on the spot. True or not, the story grants a certain prestige to the tree, which already has an impressive appearance.

Poacher’s hide


After leaving the park at 3:30 p.m., our guide brings us to the Tiger Lodge. This is a local hotel where we pay around $12 for a double room. The place also offers delicious, local food. You can choose between chicken or beef that can be either cooked or fried. Close to this place, there is also a snake park, but we don’t find the energy anymore to pay it a visit. The next morning, we catch a direct bus to Dar es Salaam, close to our lodge. We were slightly overcharged since we paid $8/pp instead of $6/pp


Mikumi National Park is a beautiful reserve, rich in wildlife. The chances of encountering elephants and lions are very high. Unfortunately, there are no rhinos left the park. The downside of this trip was the price. We paid more than $320 for the guided safari and the accommodation within the park. Try to lower the cost by hiring a car yourself, preferably with a larger group of people. The night in the park was nice but very expensive ($60). A cheaper alternative is to sleep in Mikumi town.