the low down
What we did: 11 day safari
plus 1 day on each end for travel. We loved being close to the
animals and seeing them in their natural habitat interacting with
other wildlife – it was like watching Discovery Channel
live. Tanzania is a beautiful place. The scenery is amazing and
looks just as you would expect it to based on all the coffee table
books. You feel like you’re in a postcard. One of our favorite
things about safari was learning about Africa from our guide and
meeting locals and other travelers from all over the world.
Exchange rate: US$1 = 1,155
Arusha: This is the city most
everyone goes through to start a safari in Tanzania. In general,
it's not the greatest place to wander around. Crime frequency
is high; we were advised not to walk outside after dark and not
to take our cameras out for fear that we would be robbed either
by someone grabbing the camera through the window or at knifepoint.
We were only here for one night before and one night after our
safari, so to be fair, we didn't really explore the city too much.
But having seen it briefly, we don't feel a great need to go back.
our first view
of other American safari-goers
Essentials: toilet paper (for
when you need to go and you’re in the bush), handi-wipes,
headlamps, clothesline, pepto-bismol or something similar, malaria
pills, sunblock, hat with brim, earplugs, warm pajamas, a decent
pair of binoculars, good camera and/or video camera
Non-essentials: safari clothes
and vest. We were told we really should bring safari vests. Somehow,
we just couldn’t muster the desire to buy them. We’re
still trying to figure out why they are so highly recommended.
They also pose a formidable fashion challenge.
tips for booking a safari
This info is for people that might be considering
going on a safari, and also includes more detail on some of our
specific choices. We also put a lot of general information in
the tanzania: safari 101
entry (so pardon the small amount of duplication).
Choose a good tour company.
These vary tremendously in terms of cost, experience, and service.
You can also wait to choose a company until you arrive (at least
this is true in Arusha, Tanzania, where most of the safari companies
in Tanzania are based). This can yield a lower cost since you
can scout around for the best deal, but requires more legwork,
patience and perseverance. We chose Roy
Safaris, and booked beforehand through their US agent, Susan
Wood (if you email her, tell her we sent you). Roy's is a
mid-cost operator and we thought their services were very good
- from our limited perspective, we highly recommend them. Some
tour operators (like Leopard Tours) are more popular and cheaper
but make up for their price in sheer quantity of tours sold. From
what we saw and heard, that means their cars and guides are generally
not as good.
Choose the right type of safari for
you. For example, you'll have to choose between luxury
vs. budget or something in between, and private vs. group (for
more details, see tanzania: safari
101 entry). We chose a private (meaning that we had our
own driver/guide and vehicle), mid-range safari. If you can afford
it, we highly recommend a private safari, or a safari with a group
of friends. This way, if you want to stay at a particular spot
waiting for the elephant to slowly get closer, you can. Nobody
else in the car will be impatiently asking the driver/guide to
Most importantly, try to get an experienced
driver/guide. This can make all the difference in the
world, especially because you’re spending so much time in
the car together. Try to get a recommendation ahead of time if
possible. If you can’t (we couldn’t), then go with
a tour company that has received great reviews. We got lucky;
our guide was excellent! His name is Thomas and if you book through
Roy's, ask for him specifically. He is knowledgeable and friendly
and is very interested in the animals even though he has been
a tour guide for so long. We met another Roy Safari guide while
there, Salvatore, who we can also soundly recommend.
Get a good vehicle. Make
sure that the top of the jeep/truck pops up and locks in to place.
This makes a big difference since you can see the animals more
clearly and more closely than just through the windows of the
jeep. Also, some jeeps have tops that remove completely. Although
this is okay, it is laborious to put on/take off the top and doesn’t
provide any shade when you’re sitting in the dry Serengeti
sun and watching the animals. Also, try to determine whether the
vehicle is fairly new; this may be important if the weather turns
foul and you need to get through muddy or rugged terrain in non-ideal
Choose the right duration for you.
Ours was 11 days, with an extra day on either end serving
as a travel day. It was about right for us (maybe a day or two
long), but everybody’s different. We did end up taking an
unplanned break-day in the middle just because we had both caught
a little cold and were a bit safari’d out. Most people choose
a 5 to 8 day safari.
|Itinerary: With any tour company,
you will be able to construct an infinite variety of itineraries.
We recommend that you don’t try to cram too many parks
into a shorter safari since you’ll just spend too much
time driving from place to place (and there’s enough
of that going on already). We choose to visit 5 areas:
||- Tarangire: This was one of our favorites. It’s a
relatively small park, but for some reason that we don’t
understand, it’s not as popular as some of the others.
There aren’t a ton of other safari vehicles there, the
animals were very close, and we saw a large variety. Within
5 minutes of entering the park we saw our first elephants
– it was great! We also saw baboons, lions, cheetahs,
giraffes, numerous types of antelopes, and many other types
of animals. But the trees (huge spooky Baobabs) and landscape
are amazing, too; they’re worth the trip on their own.
This is one that we strongly recommend!
|| - Lake Manyara: This park is very popular; almost everybody
visits it for a day or two on the way to Ngorongoro Crater.
Our experience in Lake Manyara was so-so. There were a fair
number of other vehicles, though not too many to be annoying,
and we didn’t see as many animals. We did get chased
by an elephant, however. If we had to cut out a park for time,
this would be the one.
|| - Ngorongoro Crater: *Everybody* goes to this one. It’s
a habitat like no other on the planet. A huge crater (about
20km in diameter) filled with all types of terrain (grasslands,
forest, lake, swamp) and all types of animals. Many animals
stay year-round (for the water supply), and some migrate in
and out. It’s so strange, however, that it almost seems
a bit artificial even though it is a completely natural phenomenon.
It’s like being on the set of Land of the Lost or something.
And there are a lot of Land Cruisers running around. Fortunately,
there are also some of the rarer animals here, too (leopards,
elands, the elusive and endangered black rhino, in addition
to lots of lions, zebras, wildebeest, buffalo, elephants,
and the list goes on and on).
|| - Serengeti: The famous Serengeti. It’s huge. We
actually visited two different parts of the Serengeti, Central
and Northern. There’s also an Eastern portion in Tanzania,
but we didn’t go there. The Central is visited by most
safari groups, but the Eastern and Northern parts are much
less frequented. The animals in the Serengeti are much farther
apart, and much harder to see. When you do see them, however,
it feels more natural (though they are usually much farther
away). Luck shined on us in the Northern Serengeti; the rains
had just triggered the beginning of the wildebeest/zebra migration,
and even more amazingly, we witnessed a lioness making a kill
(see the tanzania: a view
to a kill entry).
|Where to stay? There is a large
variety of different places to stay, again ranging in costs.
You can research different places on the web and again, your
tour company can make recommendations at any number of different
places and price points. The tour company usually makes all
the arrangements, too; you don’t have to call each lodge/camp.
We mostly chose mid-range places, but splurged on a few locations
where the cost difference didn’t seem too much. The
places we stayed are listed below (and you can see pix if
you're interested in the tanzania:
|| - Tarangire Safari Camp (permanent tents, not luxurious
but very clean, reasonable price, incredible view, mediocre
food, highly recommended for the view).
|| - Kirurumu at Lake Manyara (permenant tents, more luxurious,
mediocre food, nice but not so memorable)
|| - Serena at Ngorongoro (lodge, felt much more like a hotel,
looked like it was made out of nice Lincoln Logs, food a little
better, recommended if you want to get out of tents for a
night or two)
||- Serengeti Serena (lodge, strangely like hobbit houses,
very cozy in a good way, staff very friendly, food still improving
but still not great, recommended)
|| - Migration Camp in Northern Serengeti (permanent tents,
absolutely incredible quality, amazing service, food was delicious
[only place where dinner was not buffet], a bit pricey but
we're very glad we splurged on this one - our favorite - we
even stayed in one day to relax instead of going on a drive)
they were nice
enough to give us the "honeymoon suite" at Migration
When to go? Do research on
the web to figure out which months are best for seeing the animals
that most interest you (birders, for example, might want to visit
at different times than folks interested in big cats). We timed
ours so that we’d see the last of the dry season in the
South with the chance of seeing the beginning of the wildebeest/zebra
migration in the North. Fortunately, it panned out for us, but
it can be hit and miss.