Rebecca and I both feel extremely fortunate to have spent six weeks in Tanzania, and we decided that we’d be foolish to pass up observing some of the world’s most awe-inspiring creatures in the wild while we were there. Our travel funds may have taken a huge hit, but two different safari experiences in both the northern and central regions of the country proved to be worth the expense. That said, we didn’t really know what to expect! Below are some of our takeaways:
Seeing Big Game in the Wild is Magnificent
Don’t expect to see a lion chase down a lithe Thompson’s gazelle and snap it’s spine with one crushing bite. Or a cheetah up close and personal when it jumps onto your vehicle. But damn, it was amazing seeing such a variety of beautiful creatures–both large and small, land-bound and in flight–up close in vast and varied natural environments. Lions don’t seem to be afraid of anything, and we lucked out with several opportunities to observe them up close. Hard to forget the gaze of a male lion seemingly looking right at you. But the warthogs, Marabou storks, and other more obscure animals provided just as much delight.
It’s impossible for me not to think differently about zoos; while they have their place for education and conservation of truly endangered species…I don’t know. At the rate human consumption, greed, and population growth are screwing up and straining the planet, zoos are probably the last hope for countless creatures.
Don’t Waste Your Money on Special Clothes
The safari fashion industry is a massive racket. During a safari, you spend your time in a four-wheel drive vehicle. If you’re lucky, you view wildlife from the comfort and confines of said transport, and despite the heat, you won’t exert yourself. You probably won’t be battling creepy-crawlies or trekking through the jungle. Since you’ll probably be traveling in proximity to dirt and dust, I understand buying clothes that you won’t mind getting dirty. But the multi-pocketed, zip convertible pants, vests, floppy caps…all over-the-top for a traditional safari.
The bottom line: wear comfortable clothes for what will likely be hot weather.
Mix Up Your Itinerary
As mentioned above, most traditional safari experiences entail a lot of time spent in a vehicle. Since you’re likely seeing elephants, giraffes, zebras and, other iconic creatures at close range, you probably won’t mind being in a car. You aren’t allowed out of the car in these national parks–at least in Tanzania. That said, when my dad and his partner visited us during our last week, we had an amazing time doing both a traditional safari at Mikumi National Park and a jungle/waterfall hike in the Udzungwa Mountains National Park, which turned out to be one of the most memorable days of our entire journey.
Dozens of monkey sightings, a black mamba snake, bushwhacking a bit due to a gargantuan tree blocking the trail, the most reinvigorating and refreshing swim I’ve probably ever had once we made it to the top. If I planned another safari experience, I’d combine several days in the jeep with several days visiting villages, hiking, etc.
It’s Expensive But DIY Isn’t A Realistic Option
We learned quickly that unless you’re an expat living in an African country, with deep knowledge of the politics, language, and bureaucracy, a DIY safari would be a nearly impossible venture. I initially cringed when paying fairly exorbitant sums, but it quickly becomes apparent why you pay so much. We did hire a private car, which is another expense worth the price. Anyway–there are park fees, police checkpoints with possible bribes, food, fuel, knowledge and know-how.
In the Serengeti, imagine the vastness of the American great plains, a network of dirt roads, and potentially no idea where animals are migrating, mating, or just hanging out. It’d get challenging really quickly. The guides in the Serengeti communicated on a CB radio to help locate animal activity worth checking out, and they were adamant that multiple vehicles converging on a certain spot wasn’t stressful to the wildlife.
It’s Nature–You Don’t Know What You’ll See
Both of our guides told us about groups who expected to see the most dramatic animal moments, especially big cats stalking and killing their prey. Sorry folks, it doesn’t work that way. These are wild-ass animals, and depending on factors such as the weather, moods, and time of day, lions could very well be hiding in tall grass. That said, if you are at a park with healthy populations of giraffes and elephants, you will see them. They spend so much time grazing and they’re too large to hide. Plus, they aren’t too shy, so up close and personal experiences are likely. Towards the end of our last safari drive, a young female elephant postured and gave us a warning charge. Even in the confines of a sturdy Landcruiser, it was a great reminder that we were visitors in their land.