Experiencing an African safari is a bucket list adventure. But planning your first safari can be overwhelming. What company should you choose? What's the best month to go? What should you pack? And what African country should you focus on? There's a lot to consider for this bucket list trip. Our Globetrotting TravelingGrandmom recently planned a spectacular safari experience in Tanzania for a group of eight. She has all the tips for planning a safari that will take your breath away!
Feeling the Call of the Wild?
Everyone has a bucket list of some type—even if it’s not written down. An African safari has always been one of my bucket list destinations. I was feeling the call of the wild! So when my husband and six of my girlfriends decided they wanted to experience an African safari, too, I volunteered to plan our adventure. Honestly, I had no idea where to start. I had the same questions most of you would. Where should we go? What month is best? What company should we use? And what in the world should we pack? Fortunately, I was able to get the answers to all of these questions and we had one of the most amazing adventures of our lives.
If Wildlife is Your Primary Goal, Tanzania is Your Destination
Nowhere in the world does the circle of life play out quite the way it does in Tanzania. Millions of wildebeest and zebras roam the expansive plains in the great migration, crossing the Mara River in the Northern Serengeti despite the dangers that await. Gazelles, impalas, Tope antelope, leopards, cheetah, warthogs, elephants, giraffes, crocodiles, hippos, hyenas, and lions – they’re all there, along with countless species of birds including the ever-watchful vultures.
On a Tanzanian safari, it’s possible to bear witness to the beginning of life as newborn giraffes find their balance on wobbly legs, baby elephants stay close to mom to nurse, and lions mate right before your eyes. And it’s possible to bear witness to the end of life as you watch a cheetah stalk a gazelle before pouncing on it in a cloud of dust. It’s raw, unedited and wondrous all at once—and we saw it all in Tanzania.
What Month Should You Go?
Tanzania is home to the Serengeti National Park, located on the northern border with Kenya. The park’s eco-system is the oldest on the planet boasting diversity of flora and fauna not found anywhere else. It’s also home to one of the world’s seven natural wonders—the Great Migration. During the migration seemingly endless herds of wildebeest and zebras roam the Serengeti plains from south to central to the Northern Serengeti.
The movement is constant and you can witness it in various regions of the Serengeti throughout the year. But if you want to witness the wildebeest and zebras crossing the Mara River in the Northern Serengeti, plan to go in September. Crossing the Mara River is the migration’s most spectacular sight and also the most dangerous for the animals. You’ll witness the wildebeest in their constant state of confusion running to and from the river—crossing it and then returning. You can almost hear them saying, “Should we cross? Oh, maybe not. Oh wait, yes we should.” It’s both comical and fascinating.
What Company Should You Use?
Of all the questions you have, this one can be the most confusing. Google “African safaris” and you’ll find plenty of safari companies eager to welcome your visit. For our trip, I asked friends and colleagues about their experiences. For me, the answer was clear. I chose Top Guides Safaris, founded by Victor Nyakiriga. Having grown up in a village at the edge of the Serengeti National Park, Victor has been immersed in the wildlife his entire life. His passion for the animals and Tanzania are evident in everything he does.
As you might imagine, your safari guides are key to successful wildlife tracking. Victor only uses guides that share his passion for the animals. They know the prides of lions and where to find them. It was truly amazing. Of course, this isn’t Disney’s Animal Kingdom, so there are no guarantees, but having knowledgeable passionate guides is your best bet for a successful safari.
Top Guides Safaris is a relatively small company compared to other corporate entities. Consequently, the safaris are completely customizable based on the interest, time constraints and, to some degree, budget, of your group. Like many of the larger companies, Victor has the connections necessary to secure lodging at the most luxurious camps and lodges. But Victor doesn’t just know them from the corporate level; he grew up with many of the owners, managers and guides. We stayed in luxury camps and lodges, dined on three-course dinners every night and washed all of that delicious cuisine down with spectacular South African wines.
Finally, What in the World Should You Pack?
One rule: pack light. Most luxury camps provide complimentary laundry service, so you can bring less clothes. For my husband (a/k/a Mr. Clean), this was a lifesaver. I’m pretty sure he had his laundry done EVERYDAY! Also, pack a lightweight sweater or jacket for early mornings and after dark when the temperatures drop. And remember, there’s a reason khaki, browns and greens are known as safari colors.
I’m a fan of black and blue. Unfortunately, so are the annoying Tsetse flies. The flies aren’t everywhere, but when they show up, they bite. The camps hang flags in the exact colors I was wearing to lure the flies away from the guests. For our group it wasn’t necessary – I became the target.
Aside from lightweight comfy clothes, bring comfortable shoes you don’t mind getting dirty, sunscreen and insect repellant. You can leave your make-up at home if you want – the giraffes won’t mind. A hat or baseball camp is a good idea to keep the sun off your face. Keep it simple!
Also, there's no need to convert your cash to Tanzanian currency. USA dollars are welcome even for tips.