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If you’re here it’s because you’re planning, or at least considering, to go on an African safari. After recently going on one myself, let me tell you that it’s the type of experience you don’t forget. I was literally in awe everyday of the dramatic landscapes and unending wildlife sightings.
This was indeed a big trip and it required a lot of research and preparation. I’ve travelled to many destinations in the past where we just kinda winged it, but personally, I do not think that this is the type of trip where you can do that. Preparation is key and to help you out, I wrote down the bulk of my research to make your safari planning as easy as possible. We’ll cover some of the major points when planning a safari, from selecting your tour operator, booking flights, obtaining visas, what to pack (I even created a packing check list for you!), where to stay and which activities to do.
So before we start, what is a Safari and how does it work? Simply put, a typical Safari is hopping onto a 4×4 vehicle and visiting National Parks and Conservation Areas to observe wild animals in their natural habitats. The more parks and areas you visit, the more you’ll be constantly moving around and sleeping at different locations and camps. Because of our chosen itinerary, we basically moved camps almost every two days, while at some camps, only stayed one night.
What we’ll cover in this post
- Which country will you choose
- Where do you want to go and what do you want to see
- Choosing your tour operator
- Booking flights and planning for visas
- Vaccines & Medication
- Packing Checklist
- Typical Safari day
- Good to know’s
Which country will you choose?
The first thing we did was establish where we wanted to go. This was easy for us because my boyfriend had been dreaming for years to witness the Serengeti Great Migration that happens in Tanzania every year. So right off the bat we had our destination covered. We loved Tanzania for many reasons that will be listed below but there are also several Safari destinations that earn a trip such as Kenya, South Africa, Botswana, etc.
Where do you want to go and what do you want to see?
Now that we knew we were going to Tanzania, we had to establish what it is we wanted to see. After some research and with the help of travel blogs and Trip Advisor, we made a list of the places we wanted to go and the stuff we wanted to see.
- The Big Five (lions, buffalos, leopards, elephants, rhinos), hyenas, cheetahs, leopards, wildebeests, zebras, antelopes and more.
- The Serengeti Great Migration. The Serengeti is a World Heritage Site where you can follow hundred of thousand wildebeest as they migrate, having to deal with surprise visits from their predators).
The Ngorongoro Crater. My personal favorite place of the whole trip. Luscious, mystical and easy spotting of lions, buffalos, rhinos…
- The Ndutu Region. The short grass plains makes it ideal for animal spotting.
- Lake Manyara. A lot of elephants and pink flamingos.
- 8 hour game drives. Some people go for 4, 6, 12 hours…
- and more…
Choosing your tour operator
When we knew where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see, it was time to select the tour operator we were going to travel with. Because we weren’t comfortable renting a truck and driving for hours to and from destinations (with often low GPS signals and among wild animals), we thought this was the safest and easiest option for us. We also knew we wanted to go with a local tour operator because they are more affordable, and flexible. After surfing the net to find highly reviewed local tour operators, we contacted our top 5 by email. In our email, we explained the type of safari we were looking to experience, here’s the info we gave them:
- We introduced ourselves. We are an adventurous young adult couple.
- We gave them our potential dates. We knew we wanted to go in February-March because it’s the peak for animal births, which attracts a lot of predators, which means a lot of action.
- We explained the type of tour we wanted. We wanted a private tour. If you’re looking to meet new people and lower your quote price, you may opt for a shared tour which will combine you with a small group of 6 or 8 people.
- We explained the type of lodging we wanted. We wanted to stay in deluxe tented camps. These are basically hotel rooms with full furniture, running water and flushing toilets but all in a tent. Most of our tented camps felt like 1 bedroom apartments where you had room to roam freely. Some people stay in luxury hotels and some people stay in small tents but we found this middle option juuust right.
- We told them how many nights we wanted to stay. We wanted to stay 8 nights.
- We listed the activities I named above while telling them we were open to any suggestions that would fit our profile (Where do you want to go and what do you want to see?)
- We ended with our budget, which was US3000$ per person excluding flights and visas.
The tour operators we contacted all came back to us within a few days with detailed itineraries. We ended up going with Easy Travel . Their prices made sense and we liked the routes and camps they had planned for us. Most importantly, communication with the manager Sada was super quick, easy and accommodating. She arranged literally everything for us, from airport shuttles and transfers, to our private guide-driver, park entry fees and all of our meals.
Once we confirmed our booking with them, they asked for additional information such as proof of travel insurance (this is SO necessary and for most tour operators mandatory), medical needs, allergies, etc.
Where to stay
We were moving every 2 days, so we stayed at a lot of different places. I’ll only list my two favorite places, but don’t be shy to hit me up if you want to know more.
For our stays in Lake Manyara, Serengeti and Tarangire
Tortillis owns a few different camp sites around Tanzania and they are who we stayed with the most. Their camps were set right in the middle of nature. Although, we did get some visits from wild animals (hyenas giggling and sniffing outside our tent, water buffalos chilling a few meters from us), we never got scared. The tents are really heavy duty and are really spacious (they’re literally like a two bedroom apartment – so no claustrophobia issues). There is 24 hour surveillance by employees and Masai guards, and they are only a walkie talkie call away.
Buffet style breakfasts & sit-down dinners enjoyed in the camp lobby, drinks and board games at the bar. It felt like a little hotel in the middle of nowhere.
Ngorongoro Lions Paw Camp
For our stay in Ngorongoro
Oh. My. God. This was the highlight stay of our Safari. I do have a sweet spot for Ngorongoro so it’s not surprising that I was captivated with the views at this camp. This was definitely in the ”luxury” category but honestly it still remained affordable and the experience made it worth every penny.
The tents had high end finishes, from bedding to bathrooms, and had views to die for. Extraordinary service completed with delicious food, cocktails and spa & massage service!
Booking flights and planning for visas
At this point, you’ll be able to book your flight. When we found the flight that made sense to us, we sent the details to our tour operator so they could confirm that our final dates still worked with the itinerary. Once they confirmed all was good, we booked our flights!
It is important to know that in order to go to Tanzania you’ll need to apply for a visa. When applying for your visa, make sure you have a valid passport that has an expiry date which is at least six months and has enough blank space from your date of travel. Since we have Canadian passports, the visa cost per person was US$50.
You can apply for your visa once you arrive at the Tanzania airport. When doing so, make sure you bring the exact amount as change might not always be available. Also note that per Tanzanian policy, they only accept dollar bills printed after 2006 and do not accept 2 dollar bills. This procedure might take time depending on how long the queue is. If you want to avoid any lineups, you may apply for your visa in advance on the official Tanzania Immigration website. If you go for the online application, make sure you’re doing it at least one month in advance to give your demand enough time to process.
Vaccines & Medication
You’ll need to get your vaccines & medication before leaving for your big trip. To stay on the safe side, your best bet is to book an appointment with your local travel vaccination clinic. Simply have your vaccination carnet handy and tell them where you’re going and they’ll be able to make a list of what you’ll need.
This is what we got, but it may differ depending on your situation:
-Twinrix vaccine (Hepatitis A & B)
-Dukoral drinkable vaccine (E-Coli & Cholera)
-Chloroquine (Malaria pills)
-Tanzania only requires that visitors coming from at-risk countries be vaccinated for yellow fever. We weren’t required to take the yellow fever vaccine as we were coming from Canada which is not an at-risk country.
Because we were moving around so much and were spending most of our days in a Safari vehicle, it was important that we be organized with what we brought with us (we were basically living in our suitcases and never unpacked once because of the short stays at each camp).
So, because you’re practically living in your suitcase, you’ll want to pack lightly. Additionally, most internal flights within Tanzania have a weight restriction of 33 pounds or 15 kilograms (but also check your own airline restrictions as it may differ). Packing lightly is doable because you can get by with the strict minimum. I didn’t bring any fancy shoes, a full makeup bag or hair styling accessories. All I really did bring in case I was feeling fancy was concealer, blush, mascara and lip gloss, you know, the 1 minute face. I’m glad I did because it’s really not the kind of trip where you get all done up and I was happy to have the space in my luggage for more important stuff.
When packing think mostly about comfort. It’s pretty long days of being inside a vehicle with sometimes overwhelming heat (thank youuu AC). But since you’re waking up quite early for game drives, you’ll also get that morning breeze. It’s also really important to select your colours carefully! Go for earth tones, such as olive green, beige, brown… Avoid as best as you can black or blue as it attracts tsetse flies. There’s not really any laundry facilities in the camps so you’re better off preparing adequately). Because it can get quite hot out in Tanzania, I showered in the morning before game drives and then showered quickly again before dinner so having enough items of clothing was key.
We brought 1 suitcase each and a travel back pack as a carry-on, which turned out being super practical.
Here’s what I packed for an 8 night safari:
CLOTHING (prioritize earth tone colours – olive green, beige, brown…)
- 4 sleeveless or short-sleeve shirts
- 3 long-sleeve shirts
- 2 leggings
- 2 safari pants. See these for WOMEN, and these for MEN
- 1 jogging pants
- 1 warm shirt/hoodie
- 1 shorts
- 1 windbreaker jacket
- 1 swimsuit
- 3 bras (sports bras are recommended)
- 7 pairs of socks
- 10-13 underwear
- 1 shall. This is the most practical thing I brought on the trip. Multipurpose. High quality for low price. I wore it almost every day. For cooler evenings, to block off the sun, as a head scarf, etc.
- 1 sunglasses
- 1 sun hat. I loved this one because it was actually really nice and affordable, was foldable (easy packing) and offered UPF 50+ sun protection. I got the SMALL in colour CREAM
- 1 impermeable hiking shoes
- 1 sandals or flip flops
TOILETRIES & MEDICATION
- Mosquito repellent (with DEET)
- Lip balm with SPF
- Aloe gel in case of sunburns
- Advil or Tylenol
- Protective impermeable bags
- Antiseptic gel
- Anti-diarrhea medication
- Antacid tablets for indigestion
- Antiseptic cream
- Your regular skincare routine products
- Evian spraying mist (I realize this may make me sound extra, but it did get really hot out there at times!)
- Reusable water bottle that keeps your water cold
- All of our camps supplied soap, shampoo and conditioner but if you prefer your own, you may pack them up in small size travel bottles
- Adaptors. There are actually two associated plug types in Tanzania, type D and type G. Plug type D is the plug which has three round pins in a triangular pattern and plug type G is the plug which has two flat parallel pins and a grounding pin. Tanzania operates on a 230V supply voltage and 50Hz
- Cell phone for quick pictures
- Rechargeable battery pack. This was very practical, as we were using our phone so much for pictures
- Professional camera (we brought ours and it’s quite heavy but it didn’t bother us because we were mostly in a vehicle so we didn’t have to drag it with us while walking around or anything)
- Binoculars (These were provided by our guide but it was good to have our own small ones)
- Flashlight if you already have a small one, but most camps have them provided
Typical Safari day
We would wake up early, between 6am and 7am depending on the days. We would pack up if we were changing camps and then we’d have breakfast at the camp lobby restaurant while our luggage was being brought to the vehicle. After breakfast, we’d meet our guide at the vehicle, and we’d go for our morning game drive until lunch time. The camp we stayed at always prepared a lunchbox which was coordinated and picked up by our driver. We would usually stop at a picnic area and have lunch before we carried on to our afternoon game drive. We would usually get back to our camps around 5pm or 6pm and have a little down time to relax before dinner at the lobby restaurant. After dinner, we would choose to stay at the lobby to play board games, have a few drinks or read. It’s important to note that because we were staying in tented camps in the middle of the wildlife, when the sun came down we were not allowed to walk unaccompanied from the lobby to our tent. An employee or Masai guard would escort us to our tent and we were not allowed to leave it (unless accompanied of course).
Good to know’s
The main currency is the Tanzanian shilling but many prices are quoted in USD or Euros as well.
There is a 18 % VAT (Value Added Tax) added to all purchases you will make in Tanzania.
Tipping is not mandatory in Tanzania, but is an expected part of the way in which business is done there.
Here is a tipping guideline:
Driver guide: $25 US per day, per couple. It is recommended to give your guide the full amount at the end of the trip (so for us it was 8 nights X $25 US).
Hotels/lodges/tented camps: Instead of tipping individual staff members, use the ‘Tip Box’, which can be found at the reception of your accommodation. An expected amount is $5-7 US per day, per guest, at each accommodation.
That pretty much sums up the Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide to Planning Your African Safari in Tanzania! I’m hoping this was useful to anybody planning to experience this once in a lifetime trip. I can safely say that it was one of the most unforgettable trips of my life and I truly hope that you’ll love your experience as much I did!