Six Safari Secrets: What You Need to Know Before Planning Your Trip
I just returned from an extended stay in Tanzania, where I was working in remote hospital in Karatu, within minutes of the Ngorogoro Crater. While there, I had the chance to go on a few safaris. Prior to my trip, I envisioned a safari as a long camping trip, something similar to what Meryl Streep and Robert Redford experienced in the film Out of Africa. I learned a lot that I can share with you here.
#1 A safari can be a few hours or a few months, or anything in between.
Turns out the word safari means an expedition or journey to observe animals and can encompass anything from a few hours to multiple days to several months of travel. Well, ok, then. Now, I know that the lovely morning in Ngorogoro crater was a real, bona fide safari. Here’s one of the lions we saw that day.
#2 Find a Great Booking Agent
Since most of the people who go on safari live ½ way around the world, have busy, hectic lives that aren’t conducive to extended stays and typically only have 1-2 weeks to “do Africa.”
As I quickly learned in my first safari truck ride, everyone wants something different from the experience. Some people like birds, some will be heart broken unless they can photograph one of the “Big 5” and others like plants and baby animals. Some people will pitch their own tent and are happy with whatever food is available, others have to have down pillows and gourmet food.
I was lucky to find Annie Birch and Susan Wahlen of Aurora Africa, who not only met me on arrival, arranged for multiple car transports, but also gave me a pre-safari briefing, a list of what to pack, advice on what animals I might see, and also made sure to offer me options for camps that were committed to reducing their ecological impact, while still offering great food and comfortable sleeping. Because they’ve both lived in Tanzania for over 10 years, they know everyone and give back to local orphanages, schools and hospitals. They believe in IMPACT: Imagine Many People Acting Compassionately Together.
#3 Big Game can be seen in little, less well known parks
There are lesser known preserves and areas within the national parks where some animals are more likely to be seen up close without 25 other safari trucks parked and idling nearby. I saw more elephants in Lake Manyara National Park up close in 3 hours, then I did in Tarangire National park over 2 days. And, most people are surprised to learn that the entrance fee is a fraction of other parks’ fees.
But that’s not to say that I didn’t love Tarangire for the giraffes and the Baobab trees and the lilac crested rollers.
#4 You May Come Back a Birder
You may come to Africa intent upon seeing the Big 5, and leave vowing to come back with higher powered binoculars and a camera lens that’s longer than a giraffe’s neck to capture the colors and patterns in African birds. I saw so many amazing birds from migratory cranes and storks that were as tall as 5th graders to Fish Eagles that could pass for American Bald Eagles and small weavers, warblers and other songbirds. Here’s a lilac breasted roller, which is the national bird of Botswana.
#5 Ask about the safari guides
I was fortunate to go on game drives with safari guides who had graduated from guiding school and relied upon their own tracking and guiding experience to find animals to observe. These professionals must not only be able to drive over and through rough terrain, rivers and gullies, they need to be able to spot and answer any question about both animals, birds, plants and insects. It’s a tall order.
Other guides are better drivers than naturalists and rely on their radios to find the animals everyone else is viewing, which can lead to traffic jams and stressed out animals from too many trucks crowding around them.
#6 Look for a walking safari option
You’ll be spending a lot of time riding around in safari trucks, unless you go to a private game preserve and arrange for a walking safari. Because you can’t outrun any predator in Africa, you’ll also need a guide and/or a ranger along to protect you. Ndarakwai on the western slopes of Kilamanjaro offers a walking safari, which is where I saw these cape buffaloes.
I hope you have fun!