Tanzania is a spectacular country with so much to offer - the people are warm and welcoming, the landscape varied and the wildlife breathtaking. We primarily devoted our trip to safari, but I would love to return and spend more time in the villages and towns and visit the popular island of Zanzibar. Here are my usual tips and advice, centred around booking and making the most out of a safari holiday.
- Consider organising your own safari rather than booking through a travel agent or international company. There are many reputable, local companies who provide 4x4s and driver, who are most often experienced and passionate guides as well. You can then set your own itinerary based around any must-see parks or wildlife, knowing that there is flexibility to veer off-course if an opportunity arises. Questions to ask when emailing potential providers include: Do you use local driver guides? What experience do they have? What cars do you use? What is your policy on distance from animals? (if they offer to take you 'as close as you want', please don't travel with them!) What accommodation will my driver stay in during the trip? Will I be collected/dropped off at the airport? What is included in the total cost? If any of the answers raise alarm bells, look elsewhere. There are also numerous reviews posted online that are worth reading through before compiling a short-list of companies to email.
- Plan your travels around your budget and priorities. There are many options on safari that can be tailored to your individual requirements, so do not be afraid to ask for a range of choices when emailing companies. Having already experienced a group safari in East Africa in the past, we chose a private trip this time, which is more expensive but allowed for greater flexibility. There is a range of accommodation at each of the major national parks, from basic camping to five star luxury lodges, and the distances you choose to travel will also affect the overall cost. Again, the key here is to shop around and do some research so you can make informed decisions that will result in the perfect trip for you.
- Pack for a range of weather conditions. The days in Tanzania can become very, very hot, and even with shade from the car you'll want to dress in light, loose layers. The nights, on the other hand, are crisp and cold once the sun dips below the horizon. Occasional bursts of rain are not uncommon if travelling during the shoulder seasons, so a light waterproof will protect against the elements without taking up too much room. Finally, whilst on the topic of packing, bring a number of SD cards for your camera - you'll need them!
- Arrive with expectations of seeing particular animals. If you travel to Tanzania for the explicit purpose of seeing a leopard, for example, then you risk missing out on the beauty surrounding you whilst you squint up at trees or hurry your driver through a park. A safari is such an experience in itself - the soft colours of the dusty plains, bright specks of tiny birds peeking on the ground, curious zebra following the progress of the cars, warthogs dashing between bushes - that the atmosphere is just as important as any individual animal. It's natural to hope for a particular experience, but don't let it dominate your time on safari - these are wild animals, after all.
- Rush around. Take time to savour the atmosphere of each park, or choose an animal and follow its progress over the course of a few hours. A few days into our trip, we'd seen so many zebra that I'd almost stopped noticing them. One afternoon, we spotted a huge herd making their way cautiously down to a river to drink - with good reason, for a pride of lions slept nearby. Our driver stopped, hoping perhaps that the lions might make a move. Instead, we were treated to an incredible display of playfulness - the zebra (continuing to eye the lions) splashed each other with water, slipped and fell in the mud, formed a protective ring around the young as they drank and pretend fought and finally all ran as one when the animal bringing up the rear became spooked. It was a wonderful way to spend an hour.
- Forget to bring along any vaccination certificates, especially yellow fever. Although I always pack ours out of habit, I wasn't expecting to need them. We weren't travelling from any at-risk countries, nor had we visited any during the last six months. But as we left the plane in Arusha and headed towards arrivals, every passenger was stopped at the door and asked for proof of vaccinations. No exceptions. I doubt this is the norm - we've never been asked for them in the past, even when they were an official requirement, but it's worth ensuring that you have copies to hand just in case.
Want to discover more about our Tanzanian safari? Check our these posts:
The beginning of a safari in Tanzania
On safari in the Serengeti
A lion-packed end to a Tanzanian safari
Big cats in Tanzania: A photo-blog
The wildlife of Tanzania: A photo-blog