An African safari is an experience like no other. Seeing animals in their natural habitat, so close that you actually feel as if you could touch them. Booking a safari, however, can be quite overwhelming, with the vast number of choices available, not only in terms of tour companies but also the type of safari you choose, as well as the amount of research there is to do to make sure you book with a company that will meet your expectations.
Here I offer some pointers on how to look for a tour operator, the different options safari types available, and discuss about the company I chose.
Choosing the Right Company for You
Before departing on your dream safari you must first select a tour operator to book with. In Tanzania, there are literally hundreds of operators offering similar tours at different prices and with many ranges of options to choose from, from budget safaris to luxury safaris (the differences on these later). Of course prices will vary depending on your choice.
The Tanzanian Association of Tour Operators (TATO) provides excellent information on safari tours. TATO is the only government representative of tour operators in Tanzania, and their members (tour operators they represent) must adhere to a strict code of conduct and ethics for their customers and the wildlife.
With the demand for further flexibility in costs and length of tours, there are now several options offered for travelers to book a safari that meets their individual needs and demands. Of course, the more personalized your safari the higher the cost will be.
The option for the most adventurous, do-it-yourself safaris require a lot of planning but can also be the most rewarding experience knowing that you did everything yourself.
You must rent your own SUV for about $100-$200 per day (depending on the size of the vehicle) and visit the different parks on your own. You must anticipate to bring your own food and water for the length of your stay. In addition to the entrance fees, some parks may also charge you an additional fee for the vehicle. So make sure to verify all this on the park you choose for an approximate cost of your journey.
Some vehicles are equipped with their own camping tent on top of it. Otherwise you can always stay in a lodge or a tented camp on the game reserve you choose. However note that not all game reserves in Tanzania allow for vehicles to enter the park without a registered guide.
This option allows for greater flexibility in terms of the length of stay at any of the reserves. However the price difference between doing it yourself or joining a group might not be much once you take into consideration the rental of the vehicle, gas, food, park entrance fees, and any extras which you may need.
Camping safaris might very well be the best and easiest option when selecting the type of safari to go with. A camping safari allows you to spend the night out in the open in camping tents. In my opinion, it is the most exciting option available if you don’t mind the howling sounds of animals at night, and the rustling noise of what could be wild animals near your tent.
Tents are normally included in the price of your safari, however the price of a sleeping bag may be extra. The beauty of a camping safari is the option to stay out in the open and be one with nature. Camp fires every night and delicious meals out in the open make this option my favorite. On the con side however, cold showers may be the only option available. However this should not deter you from trying this out (after all, this is Africa).
Lodge or Luxury Safari
For the comfort conscientious, a lodge or luxury safari gives you the full experience of a safari while ending each day in the comforts of home.
Lodges offer you many of the comforts of a regular lodge, with private rooms and baths. Some are more rustic than others, but there may not be much difference between them, even though some may go as far as to also have a swimming pool on site. Clean and comfortable, a lodge safari is ideal for those for whom camping is really out of the question and who wish to also keep it on budget. However as it is customary with the hotel feel, there may be other guests at the same lodge, therefore quiet time in the common areas may be out of the question.
Luxury safaris include most of the amenities of home such as electricity and hot water. These have more of the luxury hotel feel, with many also offering a gourmet menu. Of course be prepared to pay the extra penny for this option.
The actual activity of driving through terrain to see non-domesticated animals is referred to as a Game Drive, which is the highlight of any African safari.
Tour operators may offer one or two game drives per day. Be sure to ask for a detailed itinerary before booking to make sure the journey corresponds with your expectations. Some parks also offer the possibility of game drives at night, which is an interesting option if you want to see something different.
The Big 5
Your tour operator and guide will do their best to show you Africa’s Big 5 during the various game drives you’ll be taken on: Lions, Leopards, Elephants, Rhinos and Buffaloes. Remember that none can guarantee that you will see them up close, or at all, as this depends on animal behavior and the tracking skills of your guide. However there are scores of other animals to see such as antelopes, zebras, giraffes, hypos, and more. On my tour I did not get to see Rhinos from close, however the scores of other animal activity we witnessed more than made up for it.
Contrary to what you may have heard or seen, it is forbidden for trucks to get off-road in any of the parks. This is not only for the safety of tourists but also for the well being of animals, who might be hidden inside tall grass and may not be seen so easily in a moving vehicle.
Seeing things is also sometimes a matter of luck, and how good the eyes of your guide (or others with you) are, as animals may sometimes be hidden or far and it may be difficult to see them clearly.
I booked my Tanzania 5-day camping safari in Arusha with Duma Explorer. Although a bit pricier than some companies, they offered the best value-for-money I found for a 5-day camping safari through Northern Tanzania’s main parks: Tarangire, Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater.
For $1000 USD, we had an 8-person SUV for a group of 5, along with one guide and one cook for the entire trip. The price also included 3 full meals a day (soup, main course and dessert). The menu was so varied to the point that we did not eat the same meal twice during the 5-day trip. Each camp had available toilets and showers, and a rustic kitchen and dining area.
The guides were extremely accommodating throughout the trip, and we could really fell that their main priority was always that we had an awesome experience.