13 months
Oct 22:
safari 101
Oct 25:
highlights so far
Oct 26:
a view to a kill
Oct 29:
all galleries
next location
(cape town)

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

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 Tanzanian schillings

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 move on.

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 conditions.

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: safari gallery):
  - 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 Camp

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.

© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved

-- comments from readers --


It looks like you guys had an incredible experience. My wife and i are planning on going through the east coast of Africa this spring/summer. It's part of a round the world tour on bikes. Did you see any cyclists on your safari? Or any other foreigners just camping out without a guide? If a person were to camp out on there own, how dangerous would you suspect it to be? What precautions were taken with regards to wildlife and/or crime during your safari? If you could give us any advice or feedback it would be super.

--Steve M. (Calgary, Canada); Feb 3, 2007

Cool. Around the world on bikes. That's excellent! Now, on to your questions... We heard that it's possible to rent your own vehicle and do your own safari. The drawbacks of this are a few: 1) arranging everything with all the parks and camps is tough on your own; 2) without a guide, you simply see a LOT less stuff, both because they have excellent eyes and because they can clue each other in via radio when they spot something.

All that said, if you knew what you were doing, that could probably still be fun. But... to do it on bikes... i dunno. I don't think you're allowed actually into the parks on bikes since you'd have no protection from the animals. I think that the only way to safely do a safari is with a proper 4-wheel drive vehicle.

In terms of crime, it really depends on where you are. The parks are pretty safe, but some of the cities can be quite dodgy (again, especially without a guide). In our opinion, this really just depends on your comfort level and experience. We feel safe in most places now, but we do keep an eye on the back of our heads and are constantly alert. Hope this helps!

--Grace & Susan; Feb 12, 2007


My husband and I LOVE your site! We are departing on an around the world trip in June 2007 with our three children ages 7, 9 and 13 and plan to be gone 13-14 months. We have been saving and dreaming about doing this trip since before we started our family. We knew that we would know when the right time to go would arrive and now it has!! Thank-you for all of the wonderful insight! The Tanzanian section was our first look at your website. That will be our first big stop! Since time is on our side, we are planning on spending a few days in Arusha to book a Safari once we get there. We had planned on going with Roy Safari's before we read what you had to say, now we are sure we will! And Thomas is high on the list of requests!! We are thinking that booking the safari once we are there will save us a considerable amount of money. It is also very important to us not to feel like tourists on a "Carnival Cruise Line". What do you think of this plan?? Oh, I have so many questions!!! I could go on and on!! I am very excited about this trip and I didn't think I could get MORE excited until perusing your site!! What a wonderful way to start a solid foundation for your marriage.

--Jill B. (Mesa, Arizona, USA); Jan 31, 2007

Hiya - glad you like the site! Honestly, we don't know if it's cheaper to book it over there. We know that sometimes you can get a deal with companies if they aren't booked up, but it is our impression that this is a lot less likely with the more reputable companies, and you do risk them not having availability. For us, having our dates be a sure thing was important, so we booked ahead of time.

--Grace & Susan; Feb 12, 2007


We just returned from our honeymoon...9 WONDERFUL days in Tanzania. Thomas Mosha was our guide as well! He was EXCELLENT...always looking out for our well-being and very, very knowlegable about all the wildlife. We are so glad that we got the recommendation from your site. If anyone is ever in Tanzania, I highly recommend Thomas. Thanks!!

--Laurie & Mike (San Francisco, California, USA); Sep 28, 2006


Your site - and especially your trip to Tanzania has completely inspired us! So much so that we have decided to spend our honeymoon on safari there. :)

--Karen & Jay (New York, New York, USA); Jun 2, 2006


Hi, I am 70 and I want to go on a luxury tent safari and am thinking of using Tanzania Adventure. We will be two on this private trip. My difficulty is trying to decide when to go. I really want to see the great migration. You were there in Oct, did you see thousands of wildebeests? I also want to see the preedators at work. Thanks for any advice.

--Ted P. (Montreal, Canada); Mar 7, 2006

Yes, we did see thousands (literally) of wildebeest! But unfortunately, it's not possible to exactly predict when they're going to migrate. It depends on rainfall and such. But we understand that mid-October is a good bet, and it worked out for us. In terms of predators, well... that comes down to three factors: 1) having a good guide; 2) spending a lot of time looking; and 3) luck. Predators are most active at night and you're not allowed to be out in the parks after sundown so you just have to hope that you catch something happening in the early morning or late afternoon. Unfortunately, most of the people that we talked to were not fortunate enough to see something like the lionkill that we witnessed. That said, we don't want to imply that it's as rare as all that. In any case, we highly recommend the experience and we hope it goes great for you!

--Grace & Susan; Mar 9, 2006


We went with Roy Safaris thanks to your recommendation and by chance Thomas was our guide. We didn't realize it was the same guide you had until about the fifth day.We had a great time. We are planning to leave next April for our own around the world adventure and we are following your website for pointers. Thanks agian.

--Joe & Sue S. (San Diego, CA, USA); Jul 29, 2005

That's great! We're glad you had a good trip and we wish you the best of luck preparing for your upcoming adventure!

--Grace & Susan; Aug 1, 2005


Thomas Mosha here! I was sitting with Susan Wood and we were looking at your website. Thank you for the nice remarks about me. I am glad you enjoyed your trip with me in Tanzania. I hope you are having a safe journey around the world, but please come back to Tanzania. I leave for safari on Saturday with clients who asked for me because you recommended me on your website. Asante sana. (Thank you)

--Thomas M. [our guide!] (Arusha, Tanzania); May 25, 2005

Thomas!!! So great to hear from you - we are very happy to get your email!

We really enjoyed our time in Tanzania - it was one of our favorite experiences of the whole trip. And a lot of that is thanks to all your help, kindness, and knowledge. So, of course, we will always be grateful and hopefully someday we can come back and do it again! We miss you,

--Grace & Susan; Jun 10, 2005


I LOVE your site and am so glad you've shared it with strangers. I was wondering if the crowds deterred from your enjoyment of Tanzania. I'm trying to plan a trip to Botswana but not finding any availability or reasonable prices, so I'm considering Tanzania instead. But I've heard the tourist crowds can be overwhelming. You went with Roy's right? Were you really happy with them? Thanks!

--Kim & Harris H. (Atlanta, Georgia, USA); May 11, 2005

With a few exceptions, the other tourists in Tanzania didn't impact our experience too much. In Ngorongoro Crater, there are just way too many vehicles, but other than that, it's much less crowded. You could certainly construct an itinerary that encountered less people. Tarangire Park was notably uncrowded, and the Serengeti is just so darned big that it's inherently uncrowded.

And yes, we were very happy with Roy's. We recommend that you ask for Thomas or Salvatore as your guide, though I'm sure they have other great guides, too!

--Grace & Susan; May 18, 2005


Great summary and fantastic pics. We did more or less the same itinary in 2002 (Sep) but shorter (6 nights/7 days), but we saw and experienced so much during those days that it felt more like a month. The reason why we've sent a comment here is that we also used Roy Safaris and our guide was.... Salvatore. We don't know Thomas but we can assure you one thing: Salva is a really great "catspotter". One one occasion we saw 11 cheetahs (4 of them cubs no older than a few weeks)and 15 lions on one afternoon drive.

And now the nicest thing: we are going back next June and Salva will be our guide again. If you like we can pass him (our anybody from Roy) a message.

--Bart and Karine (Belgium); Mar 22, 2005

Wow - it sounds like you had a great safari with Salva! We were equally happy with Thomas. Please say hello to both of them for us and tell them that we hope to see them again someday, hopefully while we're bouncing around in the back of a 4x4 spotting lots of animals!

--Grace & Susan; Mar 25, 2005

We're back from our safari in Tanzania. Salvatore was our guide again and it was fantastic (6 days: 8 leopard sightings, 7 cheetahs, 50+ lions, 1 serval, 1 african cat and much more...). You will be pleased to know that we were lucky to meet Thomas. He immediately remembered both of you and his guess was that you were now in Bolivia (was he right?). He sends his greetings back to you. Next time, we will ask for Salva again but I have to say that Thomas would be my second choice. Very nice guy and a Chagga from Marangu, just like Salva; they seemed to be good friends. Enjoy the rest of your trip.

--Bart & Karine (Belgium); Jun 21, 2005

Glad that your second trip was as good as your first - that's great! And it's also great that you met Thomas. We've been emailing him. (We're not in Bolivia, however; just flew from Turkey to Portugal yesterday.) We hope that we can go on safari again someday, too... ah, the African plains... it was only 8 months ago, but it seems like a lifetime now...

--Grace & Susan; Jun 26, 2005


You have an AWESOME travel summary posted. I will be a newlywed in July and am planning part of my honeymoon in Africa. By far, your photos and summaries really bring the countries to life. A job VERY well done!!!! Keep up the great work!

--Dariusz (Southern California, USA); Feb 21, 2005

Congrats on your upcoming wedding and your upcoming trip! We hope that your trip to Africa is as rewarding as ours was - best of luck and best wishes!

--Grace & Susan; Feb 23, 2005