This is the second of twelve posts on our safari in Tanzania. Check out our other posts here:
- One Week of Glorious Safari-ing in Tanzania
- 15 Tips for Better Safari-ing in Tanzania
- Moving in to the Maramboi Tented Camp
- The Elephants at Tarangire National Park
- The Start of the Great Migration: Lake Manyara
- 2 Nights at the Kitela Lodge
- A Close Encounter with a Lion at the Ngorongoro Crater
- Safari-ing in the Ngorongo Park: Day 1
- Glamping at Ndutu Under Canvas in the Serengeti
- Simba and the Rest of the Pride in the Serengeti
- Giraffe for Breakfast? Day 2 at the Ngorongo Park
- Hippo Serenade: Sleeping at the Lake Masek Tented Camp
Mrs. Selfish and I spent an epic seven days safari-ing in Tanzania in order to catch the Great Migration, the migratory pattern of millions of wildebeests and zebras as they traverse the Serengeti.
An African safari is usually high up on people’s bucket lists, but for some reason was never on my radar. I guess I thought it would be rather boring, since you’re confined to a car for 10+ hours a day with nothing to do but stare at animals. I figured it would be like a portable zoo where the weather is over 90 degrees and there’s no air conditioning.
The only that separated us from this guy was a 5-inch thick car door.
And while the experience on paper was very much like that, I can say that our safari was definitely one of the most awesome and most memorable things I’ve ever done and will likely ever do. Our experience was nothing short of 5-stars from start to finish, and we managed to see pretty much every African animal imaginable. Simply amazing.
If you’re interested in taking a safari of your own, know that it is definitely not cheap. There are no miles or points options. It can also be quite a feat to find the right safari tour group.
After much searching, and reading other people’s trip reports on flyertalk and tripadvisor we decided to go with Allan Tanzania Safari, which I highly recommend.
Not only were there prices very competitive (at 70% the cost of most places we found), but our guide, Francis, was extremely professional, knowledgeable, and just really darned likeable. Even better, the entire tour was private – meaning Mrs. Selfish and I were able to do everything on our schedule.
There’s also very little planning involved once you’ve found a tour group to your liking. Once you’re booked, all you have to do is show up.
That being said, there are definitely some things you can do to make your experience better. Here’s our top 15 tips for better safari-ing in Tanzania.
1. Hire a good guide and driver
I’ve read some posts by other bloggers on how to do a safari on your own, and while it may make sense in safari-lite countries like South Africa, going it alone won’t get you that far in Tanzania.
Tanzania has dozens of sights, with tons of animals to see including all of the Big Five (lions, elephants, buffalo, rhinos, and leopards), so hiring a good guide is paramount.
Our guide, Francis.
Hiring a good guide has tons of advantages, notably:
1) Navigating – a good guide knows all of the main roads, and can navigate off road as well. There were many times where we were weren’t on an established road or trail (often for hours at a time), which I personally would not have felt comfortable doing on my own.
2) Knowing different animals on sight – our guide Francis, was somehow able to spot animals from 1/2 a kilometer away. Guides in Tanzania go to school for several years, since it’s such a lucrative industry – something that would be hard to compete with with only a few hours on wikipedia or in front of pocket guide book.
3) Knowing where the animals are – the safari operators communicate using short wave radios, which made it much easier for them to find what we were looking for.
Lions trying to attack a giraffe? Check. Baby leopard with momma in tree? Check. Cheetah perched on top a Landrover filled with people? Check. There’s no way we could have found any of those on our own.
2. Bring layers
Tanzania can be very hot in the day (think 90+ degrees Fahrenheit), and chilly in the evening (~65 degrees), so bringing layers is your best bet.
3. Bring a good zoom lens
Before the trip I purchased a 70mm – 300mm lens for my Canon T3i Rebel, which allowed me to take some great close-up pictures of some otherwise very dangerous animals.
I later learned that it was possible to rent 600mm+ lenses from camera shops in Tanzania, for a few hundred bucks a week, which I probably would have done in retrospect. Still, the 300mm lens ended up doing a pretty great job, as you’ll see in our upcoming posts.
4. Expect a lot of dust
Tanzania is a very dusty country, especially in the parks since the majority of the cars you’ll be passing are Landrovers or other giant cars. Be prepared to roll up your windows constantly.
5. Bring the GI cocktail
Science to the rescue!
Even though we only ate hotel food, I somehow managed to get sick. Thankfully, we packed the GI cocktail, a combination of antibiotics + peptobismo + anti-diarrheal medication, so the trip was not completely ruined.
6. If you buy souvenirs, be prepared to negotiate
They haggle hard at the Hillary Clinton shop.
Like everywhere else in the 3rd world, pretty much every souvenir is available for a negotiable price. For more haggling, you can check out our post on haggling.
7. Bring activities to keep you occupied
This is what happens when you google “lion reading a book.”
Although there is a lot to see, you will be on the road for 6-10 hours a day. Be prepared for a lot of down time.
8. Bring extra camera batteries
Mrs. Selfish and I pretty much took pictures from the time we hit the ground to the time we left Tanzania. Fortunately, we always bring spare batteries. Even better, our Landrover was equipped with an outlet so we were able to charge our spare batteries on the road!
9. Bring binoculars
Right up there on obvious advice with “bring a good zoom lens.” Unfortunately, we forgot our binoculars at home. Fortunately, our guide had one.
10. Don’t give the children candy or pens
Tanzania is full of small children who all chase safari tours, asking for candy and pens. While they are cute, our guide pointed out that they should be in school and shouldn’t be chasing cars. While it’s tempting to give them treats, doing so only encourages bad (and dangerous) behavior.
11. Brings lots of new $$ bills for tips
The Tazanian safari economy is a tipped based economy. Make sure to bring plenty of new bills (they prefer $20’s and $100’s from 2012 onward). Tips usually work as follows:
- 1) Hotel Bag Boys – $1-$2 USD
- 2) Hotel Collective Box (for all staff) – $5 – $10 USD per day, depending on how nice the hotel is.
- 3) Tour guide – $15-$20 per day, per person.
12. Learn a few phrases in Swahili
As with any country, learning a few phrases make interactions much smoother, even if it is only jambo jambo (“hello”) and asante (“thank you”). Fortunately, Swahili is a phonetic language, making it pretty easy to learn.
That being said, everyone we came into contact with spoke English. One peculiar translation we noticed was that everyone told us “your welcome” before we said thank you – it took a little while to realize they were actually saying “you are welcome.”
13. Bring sun block and bug spray
Mosquitoes are terrifying up close.
It is sunny, and there are tons of bugs. Enough said.
14. Avoid dressing in black and blue colors
The tsetse fly is a mercilessly large fly that is attracted to black and dark blue colors. Most people dress in tan or light green clothes, possibly because of the dust or possibly as a homage to mustached men with pith helmets.
15. Be lucky
Unfortunately, animals are unpredictable, so sometimes it just comes down to being in the right place and the right time. Hiring a competent guide, and bringing the right tools will prepare you to make the best of any situation, however.
Join us tomorrow, when we hit the Mrambai Lodge, our first stop on our African Safari trip report!