When Grace suggested that we go on Safari,
my mind instantly conjured up images of us being in the heart
of Africa, spending long days in the dry desert, hot sun beating
down on us as we hid in the brush. I pictured us waiting for the
chance to see lions and elephants in their natural habitat with
flies buzzing around our heads vultures circling above. Maybe
there would even be the sound of drums in the distance. The next
minute he asked me if it was worth it to pay an extra $50 to upgrade
to a “deluxe” tent. I was confused. Wouldn’t
we be pitching our own tents that we had painstakingly carried
for endless days? Wouldn’t we be living off energy bars
and counting squares of toilet paper? Thank goodness his answer
to both my questions was a squished-faced,”No.” This
entry is a crash course for those folks who are as unfamiliar
with safaris as I was.
different kinds of safaris
There are many different ways to go on safari.
The cost varies significantly, depending on the tour company,
whether you choose a group or private vehicle, and the level of
accommodations (which vary similarly to hotel class). The cheapest
is a camping safari where you pitch your own tents in designated
areas. You can do this through a tour company that provides a
driver/guide and a 4x4 vehicle, or on your own. Doing it on your
own, unless you *really* know what you are doing, seems a little
crazy since it is potentially dangerous (not to mention the fact
that you won’t spot nearly as many animals without a guide
to help you).
Next up the ladder puts you in lodges and/or
permanent tented camps every night. A lodge is basically a hotel,
and a permanent tented camp is just that, high quality tents usually
built on some sort of permanent foundation (usually concrete).
Again, you can do this on your own (not recommended unless you
are experienced) or through a tour company.
Still higher on the cost scale is a luxury
camping safari. This usually involves a whole team of folks who
drive/guide you around, set up your tents when you’re not
staying in 5-star lodges, cook your meals, wash your clothes,
etc. (We heard that a family of 4 might require a staff of about
12, and several vehicles, often arriving a day ahead of time to
set everything up.) Needless to say, this is quite costly (prohibitively
so for us).
Another choice you have to make is whether
you want to be with a group of people (people you don't know if
your own group isn't big enough) or by yourselves with your driver/guide
(called a private safari). The private safari costs more (predictably)
but it ensures that you have control to see the animals you want,
the amount of time you spend with each and when you leave and
come back each day.
We chose to do a private safari using a well-respected
mid-cost tour company and mostly mid-level accommodations. In
retrospect, while we could have saved or spent a few more dollars,
we’re happy with our choices.
during the day
The best way to get an idea of our experience
is to check out the tanzania: safari
gallery. The scenery is beautiful and the animals are amazing.
It is *nothing* like going to the zoo.
(lodge host at Migration Camp), Thomas
(our guide), and our trusty steed (Land Cruiser)
We spend most of our days sitting in the 4x4
(in our case, the outback version of a Toyota Land Cruiser, which
is considerably different than the street version), marveling
at all the animals and trees and general majesty of it all. On
average, we spent about 8 hours/day in the vehicle (it’s
great to see everything, but our butts got pretty sore). When
we aren’t in the vehicle, we are usually overeating at a
large buffet meal, reading or sleeping (and I might add that there
ain’t nothin’ wrong with that in my book).
It’s worth mentioning that we are NOT
off-roading during the day. The roads are rough, to be sure, but
it’s important that we stay on them, both for our safety
and to protect the animals and their habitats. Some guides are
coaxed off the road by tourists who want to get closer to the
animals. The tourists will threaten to not tip the guide or offer
an extra $5 for getting closer. Needless to say, we think this
is a horrible idea and we made sure that our guide knew that we
weren’t interested in that. To our guide’s credit,
he wouldn’t have accepted anyway.
The human component is also worth mentioning.
You will probably meet other safari-goers from all over the world
that have interesting tales to tell (just like traveling anywhere).
You will also be able to meet some locals – at the very
least your driver/guide. Additionally, you can take tours of local
villages – these experiences vary greatly depending on the
tour; some make you feel very much like a tourist while others
allow you the opportunity to really converse with some interesting
folks. If you put yourself in the right situations, with a little
luck you will make a local African friend or two – an experience
very much worth the effort.
(at best) packed lunch
Almost all the people we have met complain
about gaining weight while on safari. We aren’t any different.
Contrary to my expectations, we have been provided more food than
we would ever want to eat. Every morning and night we have a buffet
meal, usually consisting mostly of Westernized or British-inspired
cuisine (the quality is average, but the quantity sure isn’t
lacking). Lunches are pre-packed deals that again, are not-quite-mediocre,
but too much for one person to eat. (Note added later: the one
exception to this is Migration Camp in the Northern Serengeti.
The food there was served in courses and absolutely delicious.)
If you’d like to read a list of helpful
hints for booking a safari or want more information about some
of the places that we stayed, check the tanzania:
the low down entry.