An African safari isn’t your typical travel experience. It can be life changing and is truly unlike anything else. I began planning my trip to Tanzania, one of the best safari locations in the world, months in advance and as time went by and my safari quickly approached, I was both excited and somewhat nervous. I didn’t know exactly what to expect.
I had done a fair amount of research, but was left with many questions, nonetheless. Although, the feeling of actually being on safari is indescribable, I hope this post can aid in better preparing you, at least logistically, for your own safari. Here’s what you can expect on safari in Tanzania:
Most of the safari companies in Tanzania are based out of Arusha. Arusha is one of Tanzania’s largest cities and you will most likely be spending a night there or in one of the nearby towns before or after your safari.
I flew into Kilimanjaro International Airport the morning of my safari. I was coming from Kenya, so this made the most sense for me. No matter where you are traveling from, Kilimanjaro International Airport is most likely your best option. If you are traveling a long distance, though, I would advise you to arrive in Arusha the day before so you can get some sleep and be well rested for your first day of safari.
Our chosen safari operator, Gosheni Safaris met us upon arrival at the airport and we were on the road by 9 am. We made a stop at their office in Arusha, for some quick paperwork, before continuing onward with our guide. The drive to our first destination, Tarangire National Park, was a long one (about half a day) but a beautiful one. I was able to get a bit of a feel for daily life in Tanzania as we drove through some of the towns, as well as take in some beautiful scenery.
A game drive is the most popular way to see wildlife and will be the highlight of your safari. You will go out in a vehicle each day of your safari and drive around one of the parks in search of all kinds of magnificent creatures. The length of a game drive can vary and is ultimately up to you, if you are on a private safari. I would recommend taking full advantage of the time you have there though.
Our game drives with Gosheni Safaris lasted the majority of the day. They started at roughly 8 a.m. and ended at dusk, with a short break for lunch. They were long days, but were also incredible ones and went by surprisingly quick! You can expect to be in a vehicle for most of the day. Some of the parks do have designated picnic areas, but in many parts it is just not safe to roam about on foot due to the amount of wildlife. Make sure you bring a camera and binoculars on your drives!
You won’t find yourself with a lot of downtime while on safari, so where you stay isn’t of the utmost importance. There are a variety of places to choose from, including campgrounds, budget lodges and luxury lodges. I chose a mid-luxury safari and was really impressed with all the lodges I stayed in. They were clean, comfortable, surrounded by gorgeous landscapes, and each included an extremely hospitable staff. Everyone we encountered was friendly and went out of their way to make our stay the best possible.
I went to a different park each day, so I stayed in a different lodge each night. We would arrive from our game drive around 6 pm each evening. I got incredibly dirty while on the game drives and there would be just enough time to shower before dinner. After dinner, I spent an hour or so relaxing each night and found myself falling asleep quite early. If you do happen to find yourself with some extra time, some of the lodges have pools, spas and amazing views to take in.
I chose to book a private safari with Gosheni. My friend and I wanted a more personal experience. We wanted to have more freedom and didn’t want to feel the constraints of a group tour. We also wanted to be comfortable on our drives.
Our safari vehicle was a newer Toyota Landcruiser. It was clean, well kept and spacious. Being that it was just the two of us, we had a lot of room to move about the vehicle. Bumping into each other while taking photos was definitely not an issue. There were large windows that opened up on both sides of the vehicle, as well as a roof that popped up. It was also equipped with a power inverter to charge batteries and a cooler stocked with bottle water.
The Big Five
You will hear a lot about the Big Five leading up to and on your safari. The Big Five include the lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo. The term Big Five originally came about during the days of big game hunting and refers to the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot. Today they are the most sought after photographic safari sightings.
Our guide, Zebby was amazing. I don’t know how he did it, but he was able to spot animals from what seemed like miles away. He was also very knowledgeable about each one and I was able to learn a lot from him. I saw four of the Big Five within the first two days of my safari and on the fourth day was able to see the fifth, the rhinoceros.
The Big Five may be the most popular with many people, but I found many of the other animals just as equally beautiful and fascinating. Some of the others you can expect to see are giraffes, hyenas, hippos, wildebeest, warthogs, jackals, zebras, cheetahs, antelopes, gazelles, crocodiles, monkeys, many beautiful bird species and the list goes on. Everywhere I looked there was animal life. Sit back, enjoy it and try not worry too much about seeing the Big Five.
I booked a five day/ four night safari. This meant game drives in four different areas, one on each day and the last day spent returning to town. Although I probably could have seen a sufficient amount of wildlife within one or two of Tanzania’s parks, I’m really glad I got to experience a handful of them. Each park is different and special in its own way.
The best parks to visit are largely determined by the time of year and the season. Your safari operator will be able to make recommendations for you based upon this. I went near the end of February and visited the following:
Tarangire is one of the greener parks in Tanzania. The Tarangire River runs through it and it is the primary source of water for animals during the dry season. It is said that Tarangire has the largest concentration of elephants in the world and I believe it. There were elephants everywhere. We also came across a few lions, as well as a lot giraffes, baboons and monkeys. Tarangire was stunning and a great way to spend our first day of safari.
The second day of safari was spent in the southern Serengeti. The Serengeti is Tanzania’s oldest and most well known park. We visited this part of the Serengeti in hopes of seeing the migratory wildebeest herds. In addition to the wildebeests, we saw a lot of lions, zebras and even a few cheetahs. I really enjoyed this day because we were able to get really close to some of the big cats.
The third day was spent in central Serengeti. The short grass plains here are beautiful. Gazelles and larger antelopes line the landscape and can be seen grazing on the plains pretty much everywhere. We saw some more big cats, including a leopard, a few hyenas and even a desert tortoise.
Our last day was spent at the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The highlight of this area is Ngorongoro Crater. The crater is the world’s largest inactive and intact volcanic caldera. The crater floor is nutrient rich and contains green grasslands, making it the perfect place for one of the most dense animal populations in the world. You can expect to see all the above mentioned animals plus hippos, rhinos, and buffalo.
All of the parks we drove through were nothing short of amazing. It’s impossible for me to pick a favorite. I don’t think one can really go wrong when choosing a safari location in Tanzania. The country is absolutely stunning.
I truly had the best safari and travel experience to date. Gosheni made my safari really special and I can’t recommend them enough. I will definitely return one day, hopefully sooner than later. If you don’t know where to begin in booking your safari and could use some assistance, read my previous post, here.