13 months
Oct 25:
highlights so far
Oct 26:
a view to a kill
Oct 29:
Oct 30:
the low down
all galleries
next location
(cape town)

baobab trees
Tarangire National Park, Tanzania; Oct 20, 2004

safari 101

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).

permanent tent at Tarangire

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.

with Anita (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.


another mediocre (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.

© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved

-- comments from readers --


Several people have asked about maintaining a website while on safari or in the bush. See Tom V.'s comment on the Background page. -- Grace


We love your photographs and commentary!

How many travel bags did you take on safari? It seems to me (semi-professional wildlife photographer) that your photo/electronic equipment was quite extensive for the bush. I usually carry two digital slr cameras with powerful Leica lenses (36mm-436mm). My wife takes her digital camera as well. Also did you backpack your clothing as well. I'll guess that you each carried two backpack/travel bags? Do you need an adaptor for re-charging the camera batteries? I also understand that you don't recommend taking hiking boots since they are heavy and cumbersome. I got the impression that you wore athletic shoes. Teva athletic/hiking sandals is also an option although the shoes are semi-open and perhaps too much so for the bush? Thanks for all of your advice.

--Louis & Patty (California, USA); Aug 11, 2006

Some of the answers to your questions are on the gear: luggage and gear: technology pages, but we'll add some detail relating to safari here.

We didn't take all our stuff on safari (or on the gorilla trek in Uganda). We stored our extra stuff in an airport locker (in Uganda) and in the office of our safari company (in Tanzania). We only have one SLR, but we did also carry a smaller digital camera. We only took one backpack for clothes for both of us, and another to carry the camera gear. We carried the MindStor portable drive instead of taking the laptop. People advise you to take hiking boots, but we lost ours in Uganda so we just wore Tevas and similar. Honestly, it was fine; you're in the truck most of the time, so they were actually better in our opinion. Hope this helps!

--Susan & Grace; Nov 3, 2006


My wife and two kids are readying for a 12 month around the world trip. Your site is wonderful.

We are very confused on the issue of safaris, what country, type of safari suited to kids, budget needed for a 6-7 day trip. We started with Kenya but most people indicate that safety remains and issue especially in Nairobi. Any words of wisdom would be great.

PS did you buy an around the world ticket if so was it from a consolidator?

--Joe S. (London, Ontario, Canada); Jul 7, 2005

Congrats on planning your trip around the world. It is inspirational to know that it's possible to do this type of thing with kids, too!

From what we've heard and read (and experienced), Tanzania is a great place to go on safari. We had to go through Nairobi a few times when we were in Africa and we didn't feel very safe there. It was one of the few places in all our travels for which we felt that way. If, however, you are only there in hotels doing transfers, it may be fine.

I think that with kids you should definitely do a permanent tent type safari, and hire a private car because you have a lot more control over the schedule than you do when sharing a car with other people (strangers). With the kids you may want to look at certain animals longer, start later or go home earlier.

To keep it interesting for the kids, you may want to choose parks with more animals that get closer to the cars (Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire, Lake Manyara). For example, in the Serengeti the habitat is more "natural," but the animals are fewer and farther between, shy and hard to spot. You can go several hours without seeing any so it might be more boring for your kids. Check out tanzania: the low down for our descriptions of the parks and the tour operator that we used.

Of course the cost depends on what type of company you go with (mid-range, upper-range etc) and whether you hire a private car. Our ballpark cost for 2 people with a private car was about $600 per day (by far the most expensive part of our trip). You probably wouldn't have to pay more for the car, but you would have to pay more for accommodation/meals and other transportation.

We did buy an around the world ticket (from American Airlines) and depending on where you are planning to go, it can be cheaper or more expensive than buying from a consolidator. Note that we actually purchased our ticket in London because it was significantly cheaper that way. Because we were hitting so many continents our consolidated cost from a consolidator was estimated at $10k per ticket. With American Airlines, our per ticket cost was about $3700 each, a bargain by any calculation. It doesn't get us to all our destinations, but it does cover all the big hops. We augment this with cheap airline tickets and bus/train tickets to get us around within the bigger countries.

Hope this helps and please write again if you have more questions. Otherwise, good luck with your planning!

--Susan & Grace; Jul 15, 2005


What a wonderful beginning to your married life! Your site is just wonderful in every way and it was an absolute pleasure to view your fantastic photos. My husband and I have been thinking of doing a safari for some years now but have kept putting it on the back burner. We've spent every holiday over the last 10 ten years in the Himalayas. You've definitely made us want to travel to Tanzania now. We were amazed by the sheer variety of animals you saw and the fantastic colour in both the landscape and the animals, and the light is simply stunning. We'd love to know what sort of camera you used and how big a zoom. Can you estimate what a 7-day safari would cost at mid-level range excluding the travel to and from Tanzania? I can't wait for the next installment and will follow your trip through to the end. Congratulations on a job brilliantly done.

--Judi (Sydney, Australia); Feb 27, 2005

Hi, Judi! Coincidentally, this is our last full day in Sydney, so we're somewhere nearby! And we have a good internet connection, so we'll reply right away.

First of all, it's great that you're enjoying the site; we're glad that the majesty of Tanzania has caught your interests. In answer to your camera question, check out the gear: technology page. It gives full details about our equipment, but let us know if you have more questions.

In terms of cost, and we know this will be frustrating to hear, it varies a whole lot depending on where you stay and whether you spring for your own driver (which we highly recommend). We ended up paying just under $300/person/day. For us, this was a *lot* of money, but we considered it our true honeymoon, so it was okay. You can certainly do it for a lot less if you go with a group, or form a bigger group yourself. (There is some contact information, if you need it, in tanzania: the low down.)

Hope this helps!

--Grace & Susan; Feb 28, 2005

Hi Grace and Susan,

Welcome, and farewell to Sydney. Pity about the weather though - it's been
a horrible summer this year but I hope you enjoyed your stay. Thanks for
your reply. I've now had an opportunity to look at everything on your site
and all I can say is I think you've covered just about everything. I'm
certainly looking forward to reading and viewing the next instalment. Happy
travelling to you both. Warm regards,

--Judi (Sydney, Australia); Feb 28, 2005