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Before even starting to plan a safari in Tanzania, ask yourself a few crucial questions. What kind of experience are you looking for: budget or luxury safari, or perhaps something in-between? When are you willing to go? How many national parks you’d like to visit? Identifying your own needs is the first step of careful safari planning. After that, you can either contact safari companies or start sketching the itinerary on your own.
Why Independent Safari is Not the Best Idea
Most people book their safari through a safari company, as it’s by far the easiest option. We are independent travelers, but because of all the hassle we didn’t even think about organizing a safari ourselves. There’s so much paperwork with the park entrances alone that I suggest you’ll leave it to professionals – even they seem to struggle with an administration at times. Lodges inside the national parks need to be pre-booked and trusted safari companies get the best deals. You really need a guide who knows how to track wildlife and driving around the dirt roads ain’t easy. In the end, what’s the point of the safari if not maximizing your chances to see wildlife?
Tweak the Price With Your Choices
The biggest factors affecting the price tag are group size and accommodation level. Do you insist on having a top-end private safari or are you happy with staying in tents and sharing the jeep with others? Accommodation choices run basically from bush tents through tented lodges to luxury lodges and private tented camps.
We usually prefer unique boutique hotels, and thus ended up mixing some unique tented lodges with luxury lodges. The combination was the best we could have thought of since tented lodges gave us more profound insight into our surroundings, but we had still all the modern digs like a hot shower, comfy beds, and 24/7 electricity.
Pros and Cons of High and Low Season
Timing affects the price tag as well as the itinerary. If you’d like to see the great migration, it’s practically possible in Tanzania around the year, but might require longer legs during the wet season. In general, dry season (from June to August) makes wildlife spotting easier, as animals congregate around water sources. That said, the low season brings discounted prices to accommodation as well as safari tours. Harsh rain is seldom fun, but the shoulder of the rain season might be the best time for a safari in Tanzania. Famous parks, such as Serengeti and especially Ngorongoro, get extremely crowded during the peak season. It might turn off your wilderness fantasies to share each animal sighting with tens of jeeps.
Visiting Tanzania during the wet season requires more careful itinerary planning, thus experienced safari company becomes your valued friend. Some parks, like Lake Manyara, run down of animals after the great migration has passed, and water is no longer available, so it makes no sense to do game drives there. On the positive side, landscapes are lush, and tourists are few. It rarely rains the whole day. Low season in Tanzania starts in March and ends in May. Our safari took place in March, and during the two weeks’ time, it rained only once at night. You really cannot predict nature.
Tailored or Fixed Safari Itinerary?
Some companies offer fixed safari itineraries at more or less fixed prices, usually for fixed sized groups. If the suggested route fits into your likings, it’s not necessarily a bad option. Just bear in mind that these itineraries usually tour the beaten path. Then again, if you have limited time, you might want to visit the usual highlights like the most visited parks. Pre-packaged private safari might be a cheaper option as well, as the safari company can negotiate the best deals with the hotels they frequent.
If you are visiting Tanzania for the first time and have more than one week to spare, it would be criminal to leave out the super stars, such as the national parks of Serengeti and Ngorongoro. I would suggest adding also some off-the-beaten path parks like Tarangire, and some more unusual experiences, like visiting a coffee farm or a mountain village that doesn’t see other tourists. But once again, it comes down to your personal preferences.
Pay attention to the transfer times and the amount of game drives in the parks. Ask your safari company if the transfer times are realistic, or can 3 hours’ drive expand to 5-6 hours due to muddy roads full of potholes. If so, are you comfortable with it? It was quite usual for us to wake around 5.30AM, have a quick breakfast and take a morning game drive, then drive straight to another park and have a lunch box somewhere on the way. After an afternoon game drive we finally checked in to a new hotel around 7PM. That makes a really long day out in the bush, but we loved every second of it. Just think through beforehand what you can handle. More game drives means also a pricier safari, as park entrance fees are steep.
In the end, planning the best safari experience depends on your personal preferences. Each safari is different, no matter how “fixed” the itinerary might be. Having a reliable safari company as your trusted guardian will guarantee that you’ll get the best out of your trip, no matter what Africa has in store for you. Take some time to plan the itinerary and choose your safari operator wisely. It will lift your safari into “the trip of a lifetime” category.
Have you been on a safari? Did you plan your safari itinerary independently or with a little help from a safari company? How was the outcome? Share your experiences with us!
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*Disclaimer: We were hosted by Ombeni African Safaris/Ombeni Foundation on a 10-day safari in Tanzania, but all the opinions and views presented here are entirely our own.
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