Updated November 18, 2017
As a child, I always had this vision of going to Africa and experiencing wild animals in their natural habitat. I could see myself wearing a pith hat and boots in an open vehicle as the untamed Africa unfolded in front of me. Today I am more likely to wear a Tilley hat, flip flops and a long sleeved shirt while on safari in Africa, but the experience is still one of wonder and magic moments that I envisioned as a young boy.
Often when people think of Africa, which is a continent by the way and not a country, (You’d be surprised how many people believe it is a country) their mind goes to stories of Ebola, Malaria and starving children with distended stomachs. As we all know American media feeds us negative stories at a rapid-fire rate and I wanted to dispel some of those ideas and give you a background on what I have experienced by taking tour groups to Tanzania for Shutter Tours.
The Cost of a Safari
When you fly halfway around the world to Tanzania, you probably won’t be on a safari for just a few short days. We spend 12 days while we are there and there are times when I wish we could extend it even further because there is so much to see and do. According to Travel and Leisure Magazine, the average safari runs between $800-$1000 per day. Most safaris are all inclusive, so though it may seem like a lot, everything is taken care of except for alcohol, staff tips and things you may purchase.
There are budget safari companies that can get your daily cost down to much less. Our per day price is a bit over $500, but I would caution against using deeply discounted tours. When you are taking a trip of a lifetime, the additional cost to ensure a good experience is worth it in my mind.
Are the Vehicles Overcrowded?
One example why you might not want to take a discounted safari. I have counted as many as eight people crammed into a Landcruiser with these budget companies, and there is no room to move around. When everyone tries to move from one side of the vehicle to the other to view wildlife, it can make for an exhausting safari experience. Our requirement while on safari is no more than five guests per vehicle.
Is the Food Safe in Africa?
This question comes up with almost every conversation I have with people when sharing my trip experiences. What I tell people is it is like being on a cruise ship. The food is fantastic with chefs preparing all your food. In fact, there are many times when I have to skip meals because I cannot eat again. You will most probably never be hungry, and all food is prepared to western standards. One of the lodges we go to, Kitela African Spa Lodge, has a 35-acre organic farm where they grow the food they serve as well as coffee. I have never had an issue with the food while on safari.
What About the Bugs While on Safari?
With the combination of heat and wild animals everywhere, there is no doubt; you will encounter some bugs in Africa, but there are many misconceptions. The most common thing we see are the Tsetse Fly, but on our last trip there were hardly any. In the higher altitudes like the Ngorongoro Crater, they are almost non-existant. The locations where you might encounter mosquitos include nets in your room as well as measures to prevent them as well. I can only remember a couple of occasions in seeing them, so I think they are of little concern on the itinerary we have chosen during our stay.
If you are worried about bugs, there are a few things you can do. Purchase bug resistant shirts such as ones from Rail Riders and Exofficio Bugs Away shirts. These are designed to deter the bugs in two ways; the fabric is very thick, and its harder for bugs to bite through and Rail Riders uses Insect Shield which is good for about 70 washes to deter bugs.
I also use a natural bug repellant called Incognito Anti-Mosquito Spray, which has worked well. I have only been bitten less than five times by a Tsetse Fly in the past four trips by taking this precaution. Tsetse flies are also attracted to dark blue and black clothing, so stay away from those colors while on safari.
The other thing you have to watch out for are Safari Ants. I am fascinated by watching these ants as the go about their work, but they can quickly get on you if you get too close and before you know it you are tearing off your pants and pulling them off of you. I had this happen on our last trip, and it was quite comical for Tracy, to see me with Safari Ants in my pants. Elephants are afraid of them as they get inside their trunks and use their large pinchers to sting. Just be smarter than I was when you get close to them.
I was also talking to a lady while on safari that owns a travel company and has been bringing customers to Tanzania for over 20 years and asked her what she takes as an anti-Malarial, and she said nothing. If Malaria is a concern, there are numerous options you can take in addition to reducing the amount of risk of contracting Malaria, including taking an anti-malarial pill prescribed by your doctor or a natural remedy called Artemisinin, which I prefer. I use the Artemisinin made by Allergy Research Group.
What Kind of Accommodations to Expect on Safari?
The days of traveling from hostel to hostel are over for me, and I’ll admit it’s nice to be comfortable when I travel. Each day on safari is filled with adventure and longs days, and once you get that shower and collapse into bed, there is nothing better than getting a good nights sleep.
Luxury Africa Lodges
If you like to be pampered than you need to stay at a luxury lodge. The staff at these lodges are attentive to your every need; the beds are comfortable, and the Chefs create excellent meals for you during your stay. I have two favorite lodges that we like to stay at, the Serena Lodge looking over the Ngorongoro Crater. At night there is no ambient light and the stars there are so bright on a clear evening.
Kitela African Spa Lodge I referenced earlier is on top of a valley overlooking the organic coffee plantation. Located on the eastern wall of the Ngorongoro crater it consists of 20 beautiful suites in large cottages built in the style of an old colonial farm.
When first researched bringing people to Tanzania, I spent 16 days on safari but also looking at many lodges to determine where we should stay. Most of these are wonderful, so whatever itinerary you choose, make sure you add a couple of nights staying at luxury lodges.
Luxury Tented Camps
These are primarily tents, but they are designed with showers and western style toilets. These typically change locations each season, except for the permanent ones. We spend two nights at a temporary camp called Kati Kati in the Central Serengeti. A stay at a camp like this is an authentic African experience where you can hear lions close, and it’s not unusual for a giraffe or elephants to wander through the camp at night. At night you have to have an escort back to your tent due to wildlife being in the area.
These are moved every day or two as your safari direction dictates. In addition to your safari guide, you also have additional staff that goes ahead and sets up the camp for your arrival. The staff also cooks and cleans and fills your bucket shower at the end of the day. Camp beds are provided, and your toilet is usually a chemical or long drop toilet, sometimes they are shared between two tents.
The fun thing about the tented camps is they usually have what we call “Bush TV”, a fire where you can share stories of your day’s adventures with other travellers as you enjoy a glass of wine or a Safari beer.
What Kind of Animals Will I see on Safari?
This is all dependent on which country you travel too. In Tanzania there are four parks that we go to, each park is known for different wildlife experiences. When we want to see monkeys, such as the Colobus Monkey, Blue Monkey or Baboons, we go to Arusha National Park. For Elephants, we go to Tarangire and the Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater for Lions, Wildebeest, Leopards, Cheetahs, etc.
When planning your trip, let your tour coordinator what type of animals you want to see. If you’re into Mountain Gorillas, you’ll want to see if they offer trips to Rwanda or Uganda. Kenya and Tanzania would be the best countries to see the Big 5.
Cultural Experiences While Travelling in Africa
I love seeing the wild animals in Africa, but the cultural experiences are probably the memories I bring back home that I share with people the most.
Maasai Village Visit
Maasai villages are always an exciting experience, but it does come with a bit of buying pressure from the Maasai. You will usually be greeted by the woman and men singing as they welcome you to their village. The men will then perform a jumping dance and perhaps make a fire in the traditional way. They might invite you into their home and then offer you goods to purchase from the families home you visit.
I have found the Maasai to be tough negotiators and you always want to bargain with them. Though it is nice to buy from the people who made the items, often you can find bracelets, carvings, etc. at local markets for a lesser price.
Hot Air Balloon Rides
This is another great experience your outfitter can offer and you can read about our experience taking a hot air balloon ride.
Other Cultural Experience Opportunities
I enjoy when we see the Datoga Tribe, who are known for making metal bracelets and arrowheads for the Hadzabe tribe. The Makonde tribe who are beautiful woodcarvers and a visit to a local village, Mto wa Mbu at the foothills of the Rift Valley.
Ask your tour coordinator what cultural experiences they offer, this is something you don’t want to miss. When you interact with the people of Africa, you’ll come back with a better understanding of their culture and traditions and unique experiences you’ll remember for a lifetime.
I hope I gave you a little bit better understanding of what to expect when considering an African Safari. There are of course many additional details about what to pack and what camera gear to bring. Tracy, and I will be sharing our ideas about those subjects in future posts.
To learn more about what we do on our Safaris, check out our upcoming Luxury Africa Safari at Shuttertours.com
Read more about our trips to Tanzania