So much of what you read about safaris in Africa, makes them sound glamorous and exciting. While we really enjoyed our five days on safari, there is a lot more to it than just the nail-biting moments when you spot a lion only a few feet in the distance. These tips may help to inform you of some of the other components.
- Say goodbye to your budget, if you want to go on safari. Safaris are not cheap, period. The reason why, is not because the tour operators charge exorbitant prices. In fact, we went with a small, private tour operator and the owner charged us next to nothing for his fees. I felt badly with how little we were paying him (about $10/day). What hikes up the cost is the fees that go to the government. Yep, the government is raking in millions of dollars from the National Parks. The fee to enter the Serengeti, for example, is $60/adult/day (and Caleb counted as an adult!). The other parks were $50/person/day to enter. In addition to the park entrance fee, there is a transit fee to pass through the Ngorongoro Crater, as well as a Crater Service Fee/vehicle. So our fees, just to enter the parks, totalled over $1300 for the five days. If you plan to stay overnight somewhere, the lodges run about $500/pp/night. Wayyyy out of our budget. But even camping is not cheap. You pay about $30/adult/night. So, be prepared for the expense. We decided that despite the cost, it was something we just had to do while we were in Africa, and I’m glad we did.
- Make an appointment with your chiropractor, for when you return. The roads in and around the parks are bumpy dirt paths. Some sections are kind of like washboards, and the drivers claim, if they drive faster, it helps to reduce the bumpiness. Well, I think we sometimes hit 100 km/hr on some of these dirt/gravel paths. I was holding on for dear life! Even when we weren’t soaring across the savannah at breakneck speeds, the bumpiness of the roads can really do some damage to those with poor backs!
- If you want continuous excitement, watch the National Geographic channel. After re-mortgaging your home to go on safari, you will probably be tempted to wake up at dawn to catch the animals early, and stay out on the savannah until the sun has set for the day. Let me remind you, however, that during that entire 12 hours or so, you are sitting/standing in a hot, dusty, vehicle often looking at bush. Yep, we saw incredible animals, including a cheetah that had just chased down a young wildebeest. Our guide reminded us of just how lucky we were to see that. A lot of the time you are driving around and around, and around just looking for the next animal, or hoping for that exciting chase that you’ve seen on the TV documentaries. The lions, leopards, and cheetahs spend most of the their time sleeping; so the chances of actually catching them on the hunt are pretty miniscule – not impossible – but that’s why you spend so much time driving, waiting, and watching. You just never know when or where that moment will come and often you have to settle with spotting the animals from a distance, sleeping in a tree. By the third day, Connor was starting to find this waiting and searching a little bit tiresome so I turned it into a game for him. He became our “safari spotter” and would let us know when he saw something in the distance. Then we would pull up and check it out. I also brought along a book that we were reading together and when we were sitting and waiting in one spot for quite a while, he and I would pull out the book and read a section. This kept his spirits up and in the end he really enjoyed the whole experience.
- If you’re doing the more “economical” camping safari, be prepared for cold showers and a few rats. Although the Tanzanian government rakes in lots of money from park entrance fees, it does not mean that money is used to build or maintain wonderful park facilities. When you camp in the parks, you set up your tent in a field. There are usually washrooms, and our guide made sure to find campgrounds where there was water (several of them run out). This proved to be incredibly valuable, since as you’ll read in tip #5, we all needed a hose-down after bouncing along the dirt roads for several hours. We did find one camping area where the water was luke-cool – I think the black water tank helped to heat it up a little during the day – but usually you had a dribble of cold water and, if you were lucky, a flush toilet. But hey – you’re camping, so it’s all good! What I wasn’t keen on, were the rats. I’m OK with spiders, snakes, and a variety of other creatures, and I don’t even mind rats, if you’re seeing them running in a field in front of you. What I don’t like are rats under your feet while you’re eating dinner! One of our camping areas had loads of rats running through the dining building. They were scurrying along the rafters, down the walls, and across any table, if the visitors left for even a moment. Yuck! The boys, who are both terrified of spiders, didn’t seem to mind our little furry friends at all and they appeared quite amused that I found them most disgusting!
- Wearing your fair share of dust and dirt is all part of the fun. It will come as no surprise to you that it gets hot in Tanzania. Not unbearable, but hot. When we would start out in the morning I would have lots of energy and found the air quite refreshing. Connor and I would stand in the back seat of our safari jeep and enjoy the breeze as we jostled along the paths. By midday, however, my energy would start to wane as the hot sun shone into our vehicle. The top, of course, was open to let in any breeze you could catch, and we could open the windows, but between noon and 3pm it got just plain hot. The dirt paths that we drove across also got hot, which meant that even though it was not the dry season when we were there, they were plenty dry and dusty. We could sometimes go an hour or more without passing another vehicle, but there were other times when we would pass several – and the more vehicles there were, the more the dust got stirred up. By the end of each day our faces were caked with dust. You could actually run a finger down your face and see the line you left! Showering was not optional!
So, after reading my top tips, you might wonder, “If I had it to do over again, would I do anything differently?” Firstly, let me just restate that I am really glad we went on the safari. Caleb, especially, loved it. He had learned a lot about the animals ahead of time and was keen to spot them, even if it took some time. And our guide did a great job of ensuring we got to see all the big animals. That’s why he wanted us to go to the four different parks. Originally I had thought that we would do 2 or 3 days, and I think if I were to do it over again, that is what I would do. In some ways, I really liked the five days, because by the end you felt you got a good sense of the vastness of the landscape and the challenge of finding the animals in it. On the other hand, we could have seen most of the animals in 2 or 3 days and saved a fair chunk of money. But all in all it was an incredible experience and one I’m sure none of us will ever forget.