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An African safari isn’t your typical travel experience. It can be life-changing and is truly unlike anything else. Tanzania is arguably the best safari destination in the world. It’s the largest country in East Africa and is made up of amazing landscapes and diverse ecosystems. Seeing African animals in the wild is an incredible experience, but it can also be an intimidating one.

There are so many unknowns for a first-time safari-goer. Don’t let that deter you from checking this magical experience off your bucket list though. I began planning my trip to Tanzania months in advance and as time went by and my safari quickly approached, I was both excited and somewhat nervous. I had done a fair amount of research but was left with so many questions. Here is everything I learned and what to expect on safari in Tanzania:

Monkey in Tarangire National Park

Getting There

Most safari companies in Tanzania are based out of Arusha. Arusha is one of Tanzania’s largest cities and you will most likely spend a night there before/after your safari. The closest airport to Arusha is Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA), which is located about 45 km away. I traveled to Arusha from Nairobi, Kenya on an early flight the morning of my safari. If you are traveling a long distance, though, I would advise arriving in Arusha the day before your safari so you will be well-rested for your adventure.

Our safari operator, Gosheni Safaris met us upon arrival at the airport. However, they will happily pick you up from your hotel in Arusha. We made a quick stop at their office to complete some paperwork, met our guide, and we were on the road by 10 am. The drive to our first destination, Tarangire National Park, was a long but beautiful one. It took a little over three hours but the scenery was gorgeous and I enjoyed seeing what life was like in the towns we passed through.

Woman walking through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area

The Big Five

You will hear a lot about the Big Five leading up to and on your safari in Tanzania. 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. The Big Five include the lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, and buffalo.

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, I was able to see the fifth and most difficult, the rhinoceros.

The Big Five may be the most popular with safari-goers, but I found many of Tanzania’s other animals just as beautiful and fascinating. Some others that you can expect to see are giraffes, hyenas, hippos, wildebeest, warthogs, jackals, zebras, cheetahs, 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 to worry too much about seeing the Big Five.

Lion at Serengeti National Park in Tanzania

Game Drives

A game drive is the most popular way to see wildlife and will be the highlight of your safari. As the name suggests, a game drive is when you go on a drive in search of game, or wildlife. A vehicle will be taken out each day of your safari and you will drive through the parks in search of all sorts of incredible creatures. Each day of your safari will likely include a morning and afternoon drive. If you are on a private safari, the length of a game drive can vary and is ultimately up to you.  I recommend that you take full advantage of this and spend as much time as you can in the parks.

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 also amazing ones and went by surprisingly quickly. You can expect to be in the vehicle for most of the day. Some of the parks 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!

Elephants in Tarangire National Park

The Vehicles

I chose to book a private safari with Gosheni. My friend and I wanted a somewhat more personal experience 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 very roomy. Being that it was just the two of us, we had a lot of space to move about the vehicle. The Landcruiser had large windows on both sides of the vehicle and a roof that popped up, making it easy to get great photos and that perfect angle. It was also equipped with a power inverter to charge electronics and a cooler stocked with bottled water.

What to Expect on Safari- Game drive

The Lodges

There are a variety of safari accommodations available that include campgrounds, budget lodges, and luxury lodges. Most safari operators have existing relationships with certain lodges and camps and will provide you with a handful of options to choose from upon booking. You won’t find yourself with a lot of downtime while on safari, so where you stay isn’t of the utmost importance. I chose a mid-luxury safari with Gosheni, which included a mix of budget and luxury camps/lodges. All of my accommodations were clean and comfortable, surrounded by gorgeous landscapes, and had an extremely hospitable staff. Everyone I encountered was friendly and went out of their way to make my stay the best possible.

Each day of my safari was spent at a different park so I changed lodges daily. As soon as it would start to get dark, we would end our game drive for the day and head to the lodge. We would usually arrive close to 6 pm. Game drives can be very dusty, especially when it’s dry out and you’ll definitely want a shower before dinner. The days can be exhausting and I spent most of my nights, relaxing for a bit before falling asleep early. If you do find yourself with downtime, some of the lodges have pools and spas.

Most of the lodges provide a buffet-style breakfast and dinner. They were all pretty tasty, with some being better than others. The lodges also supply a box lunch to take on your game drives each day. The box lunches are simple foods that can last hours while in a vehicle. I recommend eating a filling and healthy breakfast.