Safari Time: How to Plan Your Tanzanian Holiday

Writing from 2.154° S, 34.686° E

So, you’ve decided to go on a safari in Tanzania. Great choice! Africa is rich with undisturbed landscapes and incredible wildlife, and Tanzania is home to several of the continent’s most impressive national parks and nature reserves. Whether it’s waking up in the middle of the Serengeti for a morning game drive, watching wildlife gather around watering holes in Tarangire National Park, or seeking out the endangered rhino in Ngorongoro Crater, I can guarantee that it is an experience you will never forget. There’s a lot of planning that goes into creating your perfect safari, and it can be overwhelming — but it all comes down to three main steps.

 

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Choose your comforts.

I mentioned in my first safari post that there is a safari for every budget, and it’s true. The safaris I’ve gone on thus far were on the lower end of the price spectrum, but those with larger budgets can turn a stay in the African bush into a 5-star luxury vacation. When you start researching, there are generally three main classes:

Camping or budget safaris are exactly what they sound like: low cost with minimalistic accommodation. Depending on the company, these safaris usually include very little in the way of comforts, but have the benefit of being far more affordable for budget travelers. Overnight accommodation is typically in a campsite with shared tents or small huts. Meals on game drives are usually lunch boxes, with breakfasts and dinners prepared by a cook at the campsite.

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Mid-range or lodging safaris are for those with a bit more money to spend who want some additional comforts on their safari. Lodges vary widely depending on the location and budget of the traveler, but in general safari goers will be sleeping in a real building (with bathrooms) and may even have access to amenities like swimming pools, bars or restaurants, and views of wildlife outside their windows.

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Luxury safaris are the crème de la crème of African wildlife experiences. Travelers stay in 5-star lodges with personal chefs and every amenity imaginable. Oftentimes these include chartered flights that fly into small airports either nearby or inside of the national parks to cut down on driving time. These safaris may even have additional excursions, such as a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti.

If none of those work for you and you’re feeling brave, self-driving safaris are also an option. Rent a car, pack some food, and fend for yourselves. Good luck!

 

 

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Choose your company.

Once you know the level of comfort you desire on your safari, it will be easier to choose a company, as some of them specialize in a specific type. There are countless companies in Tanzania and it really all depends on your budget and preferences, so research heavily and try to find one that matches what you’re looking for. Don’t forget that many companies will also create custom safari packages if you can’t find exactly what you want.

I did both of my budget safaris (2 days in Ngorongoro Crater & Tarangire National Park; 3 days in Serengeti National Park & Ngorongoro Crater) with Wanyama African Safaris and had great experiences. We had Richard Wilson as our guide for both and I cannot recommend him highly enough.

Another company to check out is Zazu Tanzania Safaris. Zazu was founded by a friend of mine, Moses Mollel, in 2011 and has received all 5-star ratings since. I work with Zazu as their client liaison and marketing consultant, so if you have any questions feel free to reach out to me!

 

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Choose your parks.

Many Tanzanian safaris launch from and end in Arusha, and having lived in a hostel here since September, I’ve gotten to hear opinions from countless tourists on what the best parks are for the most impressive landscapes and wildlife viewing.

The general consensus I’ve gathered is that most tourists say their favorite safari destination is either Serengeti National Park or Ngorongoro Crater. The two other popular spots are Tarangire National Park and Lake Manyara National Park.

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My personal favorite (as you may have guessed considering I visited twice) is Ngorongoro Crater. The landscape of this incredible caldera would be reason enough for me to love it, but the wildlife here is impressive as well. You can first view the crater from above, on the rim after reaching the gate of Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

After driving down a steep road, past Maasai villagers who still live in the crater, you reach the bottom and feel like you’re driving around in a giant bowl. What originally looked small suddenly feels like it never ends, and there are constantly animals in every direction. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see the Big 5 just in this one location. As an added bonus, sunrise and sunset over the crater are truly mind-blowing.

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The Serengeti, my second favorite park, is disorienting in its vastness. This great plain is almost 15,000 square kilometers, and it’s almost impossible to keep any sense of direction when on game drives.

Because it’s so spread out, there is an element of luck in terms of how much wildlife you will see. We were lucky enough to witness a leopard hunting gazelles and climbing trees, as well as several prides of lions sunbathing on rocks in the midday heat. Plus, the movie The Lion King was based on the Serengeti, so if you’re anything like me it will feel extremely satisfying to sing the intro song repeatedly while standing atop your safari vehicle.

Every park in Tanzania is worth seeing, it just comes down to how much time you have and which wildlife you are most interested in. Research what each park is known for (as well as seasonal changes depending on the timing of your trip) and you should be able to choose the right fit for you!

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If you choose to include a cultural component on your safari, don’t forget to research thoroughly and ensure that your company plans trips in a way that is respectful to the people, village, and culture you are visiting. Tanzania has over 120 indigenous ethnic groups, so encountering them in-person is a great way to understand the diversity of this country; however, there are instances where tourists turn tribal villages into a human zoo.

Don’t forget that the people you are visiting have their own customs, rituals, and way of living just like you and I. Approach the experience without judgement of the natives’ culture. Be grateful and respectful, and always ask permission before taking photos. Lastly, come in with an open mind and a willingness to try new things.


 

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Once your safari is planned, sit back and just enjoy. Don’t forget to look up from your camera every once in a while, because the live show is far better than any photo you’ll take. Tip your guides generously. Respect the wildlife, environment, and people you come in contact with. Lastly, bask in the slow pace of it all — it’s one of Africa’s best qualities.

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