I don’t think there is a single travel bucket list in the world that does not have ‘going on a safari’ on it. And for good reason. Doing a safari just makes the animal kingdom come alive. Seeing elephants, lions, hyena and giraffe up close in the vast plains of Africa is a reminder of the natural world that once ruled our planet. Just thinking about it brings back a sense of awe for me. Don’t hesitate any longer, get that trip to East Africa booked in the diary, here’s my ultimate safari guide.
Where to go on a safari
When I spent 7 months travelling in East and Southern Africa at the age of 18, I was fortunate to go on numerous safaris – in Kenya, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa. There was one place that stuck out as the best though and that was Tanzania. The varied beautiful landscapes, the friendly people, the thriving wildlife – It all culminated to the most memorable safari experience. So, when I was looking to return to Africa for another trip, the destination was an easy choice.
Tanzania’s most famous national parks are the Serengeti, a huge space that makes up part of the migration route, and the Ngorongoro Crater, one of the worlds most beautiful views. There are a number of smaller parks easily experienced in a day such as Tarangire, famed for its beauty and elephants, Lake Manyana, home to hundreds of flamingos and Arusha National park, where you can do a river cruise.
There are also some lesser known parks such as Saadani, which combines beach and a safari and Selous in the south, which is wild and untouched. For something a little different, you can also do a day visiting Lake Eyasi and the Hadza tribe to see their way of life and to watch them go on a hunt.
The north circuit is a good choice for seeing multiple parks and I settled on 1 day in Tarangire, 2 in the Serengeti and 1 day in Ngorongoro crater. I didn’t regret my choice.
How long is the ideal safari time
Doing a safari is surprisingly tiring. It involves lots of early mornings and long days driving, not just in the parks but also getting from one to another. Most of the roads are dirt tracks and the journey is bumpy and uncomfortable. If you are camping, you may have to contend with noisy animals keeping you up at night – I sat petrified one night listening to huge buffalo (the second biggest killer of humans) grazing inches from my tent. An incredible but tiring experience!
I think 4 days is a good amount of time. It allows you to see different parks, gives you a good chance to hunt down some of the harder animals to spot, while also not dragging on too long. It might be hard to imagine, but there will be a time when you will lose interest in seeing Zebra…
Self-guided vs guided
If you are travelling through multiple countries, self-guided safaris can be really fun. But, there are some huge negatives. We met a couple doing a self-safari who had been in the same park as us and barely seen any wildlife. Without the experience of a safari guide, who can spot the animals (they are so well camouflaged) you are going to miss a lot.
Driving around all day by yourself, keeping track of directions is exhausting. The guided jeeps allow you to stand up in the back, much better for game viewing. Plus, the price difference is minimal. Of course, there is something to be said that doing a self-safari is a fun adventure, but for me it was about seeing the animals and learning about them. So going with a safari guide was an obvious choice.
Camping or lodges
Lodges are really expensive in the parks so, camping is a good way to keep the costs down. As a seasoned camper myself, the safari camping felt quite luxurious. The safari guide and cook set up our large tent, with mattresses. Dinner was made for us and all the sites had toilet and shower facilities.
Which safari company to go for and how much does it cost?
Choosing a safari company is a difficult task because there are hundreds. Safari’s are not cheap. The parks have huge unavoidable fees for tourists and you will spend your day driving around in a jeep that eats fuel. The absolute cheapest you will be looking at is around $160-180 per person per day. You can turn up in Arusha, pop into one of the many safari shops and find one offering this cheap deal if you are ready to go the next day.
Be warned though, there are some serious considerations when choosing a safari company and I heard lots of horror stories from travellers in Tanzania: food poisoning, multiple flat tyres (they sometimes don’t change the tyres when worn to save money), a safari guide that didn’t speak english, unplanned long stops before reaching the park, poorly paid staff who put pressure on you for tips. I saw a group who had 3 flat tyres and only 2 spares and had been stuck for 5 hours waiting for a same make car to pass who would give them a spare. They didn’t look happy!
Another consideration with the budget safari is that you will be grouped with other tourists. As many as they can get in 1 jeep. We had a 9 seater jeep to ourselves. Having the space to spread out and sleep on the long travel journeys and move around to see the animals properly was great. As was dictating what we stopped for and for how long. It’s a lot of money on the line, which is why I did a lot of research before I choose my company – Misele Safaris.
Misele Safaris have a huge range of options and a quick email with give you an estimated quote. We had an amazing chef (our meals always looked the best in the campsites!) and a friendly and experienced safari guide. A comfortable jeep and camping equipment. They are also a socially responsible company who pride themselves on providing fair wages and on giving back to the community. It’s hard for me to find fault in the service they gave us.
Top tips for a safari
- Wear loose fitting cool clothing to make the long travel days most comfortable. Everything you wear will get coated in dust and dirt so don’t wear white! I wore sandals for the trip but took them off in the jeep as it was more comfortable.
- The nights and morning game drives can be really cold, especially on the rim of the Ngorongoro crater. Pack lots of warm clothing and a hat. If you are camping, you will most likely be given a Maasai blanket with you in the tent. Take that with you on the game drives to wrap around your shoulders.
- Tse tse flies can be a problem (especially in Tarangire). They like black and dark blue clothing so avoid these colours. Wear plenty of DEET (at least 50%) bug spray and, if there are lots, put on some thick socks as they like to go for the ankles.
- Travelling light will make it so much easier to pack in the early mornings. My safari included a night in Arusha in a hotel before and after the safari which meant I was able to leave some bits in storage that I didn’t need to take with us.
- A lot of the animals will be far away from you and will be moving making it hard to take pictures. For the enthusiast, you are going to want a SLR with a decent lens. You can get really carried away taking pictures. Remember to actually put your camera away once in a while to look at the wildlife and the scenery. Take it all in. Do you really need 1000 pictures of a zebra?
- It is your safari (assuming you are not grouped with others) so don’t be afraid to ask if you want to stay longer with an animal or you don’t want to stop. Equally, you can say when you want to eat and wake up. Although do listen to the safari guide – they know when it is best to view the animals.
- There is no need to bring binoculars. The safari company should have a good pair with them. The safari guide (and you) will need them.
- Let your safari company know in advance if you have any food preferences. Our food with Misele Safri’s was great. We had pancakes, toast and fruit for breakfast. A packed lunch of sandwiches, cakes, biscuits and fruit. Popcorn as an afternoon snack and soup and a different hot evening meal each night
- Even though the pop up roofs on the jeeps provide shade, when the sun is low in the sky, it can be impossible to escape. Bring sunscreen and a hat.
- Don’t forget your sunglasses and prescription glasses if you need them to see at a distance!
- If you want to have a beer or a drink in the evening, buy it in advance and bring it with you. Most of the campsites didn’t have a bar. Equally, it might be worth bringing a handful of snacks, although a good company should keep you well fed.
- Be wary of visiting the Maasai villages. You will be charged about $20 per person to be shown around a traditional village and given a demonstration of their dance. The majority of these are staged villages. Although it is interesting to see, you will most likely be pressured to give additional donations and to buy necklaces. I did it once before and found it very touristy and fake. If you are interested in tribes, get chatting to the locals. Ask safari guide and cook about their traditions and what tribe they are from. We had lots of offers to go back with people to visit their villages.
- If camping in the parks always have a wee before bed. If you need to go in the night you need to shine your torch around to look for reflective eyes. It is common for animals to wander into the camp. 1 night I was desperate for a wee but we had huge buffalo grazing around us. They are very dangerous to people so I just had to hold on.
- If you are camping and visiting the Ngorongoro Crater, most likely you will be staying in the Simba campsite. As night approaches go to the boundaries to see if you can spot the elephants that pass through most nights. There’s a herd that crosses the field and another through the forrest. Don’t get too close!
- Don’t have any expectations for what animals you are going to see. They are wild and roaming free – part of the excitement and appeal of a safari. We had a really lucky day on safari when we had lots of close encounters. The next day we saw barely anything. Everyone’s experience and encounters are different so just embrace what you have and enjoy it.