How to Pick a Safari in Tanzania

November 30, 2015 by

Action, Adventure & Adrenaline, Animal Encounters, Middle East & Africa, Places to Go, Travel Advice & Inspiration

Setting off on a safari in the Serengeti

Setting off on a safari in the Serengeti

Tanzania is one of the best safari destinations, with world-famous parks like Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, where you can find the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and the nearly extinct rhinoceros) in their natural habitat.

Defining the right safari for you is the key to enjoying your trip. Different formulas are available depending on what you’re looking for and, of course, your comfort level and budget.

Which Parks?

Tanzania boasts over 16 national parks and a dozen wildlife conservation areas, with popular safari areas around Arusha.

Lion spotting in Ngorongoro

Lion spotting in Ngorongoro

  • Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater offer the best wildlife viewings, including the Big Five, with large lion populations and rare rhinoceroses. Serengeti is renowned for its annual wildebeest migration, when 1.5 million of the animals cross with 200,000 zebras and 300,000 Thomson’s gazelles.
  • Tarangire is known for its high elephant concentration as well as lions, leopards and buffalos, while large baobabs make the scenery unique.
  • Lake Manyara, at the base of the Great Rift Valley, has a compact safari circuit with famous tree-climbing lions, buffalos, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, hippos, leopards and 400 different bird species.
  • Little-known Arusha National Park is worth a stop. See the colobus monkey (the only place in Northern Tanzania where you can do so) and admire amazing views of both Mount Kilimanjaro, just 50 kilometers (30 miles) away, and Mount Meru, Africa’s fifth-highest peak at 4,565 meters (14,997 feet).

Other interesting parks include Selous, featuring the Big Five and a large population of wild dogs. The park is set up as a game reserve with hunting concessions, and the safari circuit is fairly small, with lions easily spotted. Gombe Stream is home to chimpanzees and was made famous by Jane Goodall.

Plan a full day to explore each park, though Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti deserve two days each. The popular parks tend to be crowded — consider adding lesser-known parks to experience the solitude of a true safari.

When to Go?

A hippo in the Serengeti

A hippo in the Serengeti

Each park has its own “best time,” but you can go on a safari throughout the year. Facilities might close in the low season — it’s best to inquire ahead. Travel may become difficult during the wet season (November to June) due to heavy rains and flooded roads, though this period is a great time for birdwatching. The dry season (June to October) offers the best opportunities to watch predators and large mammals gather around water holes.

The wildebeest migration runs between late May and October, following the rainfall patterns of that year. Depending on when you go, you might catch the animals in different sections of the park — a guided tour will help you track them.

How Do You Want to Safari?

All levels of services are offered on safaris, from budget to luxury. Group size, lodging, parks and activities covered will impact the costs, even for the same itinerary.

Budget services might require you pitch your own tent and cook your meal. Deluxe options offer comfortable beds and linens, hot showers (a luxury on a safari), gourmet dinners and even spa treatments.

Camping in Tanzania

Camping in Tanzania

  • Tours: If you feel adventurous, rent a car, book your lodging and drive yourself. For safety reasons, self-drive safaris are solely allowed on the paved roads of the public parks. On the other end, organized tours manage logistics and provide expert guides knowledgeable about the wildlife, allowing you to relax and enjoy your safari. Packages come in different shapes and forms, from private customized tours to small-group to pre-scheduled large group departures. Go on a family, walking or canoeing tour. Even plan your honeymoon.
  • Vehicles: Travel in an SUV or a minivan, or combine land and plane depending on how big your group is, or which tour you choose. A 4WD car is highly recommended for overland transportation, preferably with individual windows and a pop-up roof for watching wildlife safely.
  • Guides: The quality of your guide makes the success of your trip: knowledge of the wildlife habitats and behaviors, as well as an understanding of English, are essential. Usually the driver doubles as the cook, allowing your guide to focus on spotting the animals.
  • Accommodations: Decide between a rustic campsite with simple cot and shared showers, full-featured tent with double bed and individual bathroom, or luxury lodge with private hot shower and air-conditioning. Staying in the park might be more expensive but can save on driving times as lodges are sometimes hours away.
  • Meals: Deluxe tours might be all-inclusive, with three-course gourmet dinners and wine, while budget tours might offer cold sandwiches and bottled water.
  • Duration: Spend a day, or a week or two. Given the remoteness of most parks, consider spending at least a week for a complete safari experience, visiting and overnighting in different areas for increased wildlife and scenic diversity.
  • Cultural and outdoor activities: In the Serengeti-Ngorongoro area, go hot air ballooning, visit Maasai villages or discover the hominid and animals fossils in Olduvai Gorge. Follow the local Hadzabe tribe as they bow-hunt at Lake Eyasi, or track chimpanzees in Gombe Stream.

Costs

Elephants in Tarangire

Elephants in Tarangire

Safaris are costly to start with, but you can define an itinerary that fits your budget and style. Self-drive is the most affordable choice (though fuel can be expensive) but unless you do extensive pre-trip research, you might pass by many animals without noticing them. When selecting an organized tour, ask for a day-by-day description, including parks visited, lodging styles and activities. As a reference, each park entry varies from $30-$100 per adult, vehicle fees average $200 per 4WD car, and lodging ranges from $30 per campsite to over $1,000 for a luxurious lodge. Extras can add up quickly, and a breakdown of options will let you choose carefully. A day trip to a nearby park might start at $300, a five-day budget safari at $2,000, with longer and exclusive tours upwards of these prices.

Make sure to decide on your priorities. Track the Big Five? Rest in a comfortable bed? Eat a three-course hot lunch? As a once-in-a-lifetime experience, whatever your budget and choice, you won’t regret it. In any case, book early to reserve the services you want.

Contributed by Patricia Pagenel

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