Author Francis Tapon recently wrote an article on Forbes.com detailing a list of 22 things that “safari experts” say you should consider before you embark on your African safari.
Although Francis answers each bullet point in the article (via various connections who work at multinational travel firms, bloggers that have been on safaris, etc.), we felt that we could expand on the responses — especially seeing as his answers cover the entire continent of Africa (which can lead to some very non-specific content, or just plain wrong answers considering the country you’ll be visiting). Since we are experts on Tanzania, we thought our targeted input would be of use to anyone considering doing a safari in Tanzania.
We cover each tip listed in the article one-by-one, inputting our take on each:
1.) Be sure to check if your safari lodge pricing excludes alcoholic beverages.
They say: drinks are included 50% of the time — ask ahead so you don’t get hit with a huge bar bill.
Although it is the norm to include alcohol in some other countries, you’ll find that most lodging/packages in Tanzania do not include it. Expect to pay between USD$5-10/drink, which can be paid in cash (U.S. dollars, or Tanzanian shillings), or via credit card.
2.) How many guests to a vehicle?
They say: some companies cram you into their vehicles, and be careful of getting stuck in the middle seat.
All of our vehicles are late model Toyota Land Cruisers, and all seats are “window seats”. There are seats for six people in the back, and one person next to the driver, up front. (The article states that you don’t want to get “stuck in the middle”, but that’s not anything to be worried about in Tanzania.)
3.) People often also forget that their version of the ‘best wildlife experience’ could be very different to someone else’s.
They say: different parks offer different things, so do your research on where to go beforehand.
We always make sure to chat with our guests ahead of time, to see why they want to go on a safari, and what they hope to see. Knowing this in advance helps us plan our their itinerary, making sure we have the best chances of ticking off everything on their “list”. For example, are you a birder? Then we’ll spend more time at the parks that are frequented by birds, such as Lake Manyara National Park.
4.) Don’t get fixated on the name (of a specific park or place).
They say: don’t necessarily just stick with the “Big Names” destinations, such as Kruger in South Africa, or the Serengeti in Tanzania.
Agreed, but the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater are truly magnificent, and should not be missed! Definitely consider places such as Selous National Park for subsequent visits though, as they are amazing in a whole other way.
5.) The differences between national parks versus private reserves.
They say: if you can, opt for private reserves, because you can drive all over and don’t have to stick to the roads.
We would argue (partially) against their answer that private reserves are a better, more natural place to view the animals (versus the National Parks). While yes, vehicles are usually required to stay on marked paths/roads inside the park, by definition a private reserve is not a “natural environment.” Many private reserves fence in their property, and even manage the animals on their land, via hunting and importing of anything that has dropped in numbers.
6.) Do you want budget or luxury?
They say: it’s a special lifetime experience, so don’t skimp.
We agree that if you are going on a safari — for many people a once-in-a-lifetime trip — you should go in trying to do it on the cheap. However, you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg to make your safari dreams a reality! While they state at the beginning of the piece that a safari can cost as much as a car — between $5,000 and $100,000 a person — which is true — there are plenty of reputable tour companies offering trips on the lower end of the spectrum (such as us), especially if you join a group or go in the off-season (May and November). Here’s a good reminder of why not to go with just any tour operator for your safari.
7.) Pick your guide wisely.
They say: your guide, who will be assigned to you at your lodge, can make or break your trip. Try and request a certain guide you’ve heard mentioned favorably in online reviews ahead of time.
What they say is spot on — your guide is very important as to the outcome of your trip. If you get a guide who doesn’t know the animals or their habits well, doesn’t know the (complicated) layout of the road system in the Serengeti, or doesn’t jive with you and your group, you’re not going to have a great time.That’s why we employ only the top 10% of guides, each with a minimum of ten years of experience leading trips. One thing of note is that in the article they give advice based on the South African system, where you pick camps out on your own, and each camp assigns you a guide to accompany you on game drives throughout the duration of your stay at the property. That’s not a common system in Tanzania, where you book with a company who assigns you a guide for the duration of the entire trip. With this system, you get to know your guide better, and they get to know you, saving time on both sides when switching locales (nobody ever wants to introduce themselves and their preferences over and over).
8.) Checked baggage allowance should be assessed, as most small planes only allow small loads.
They say: check luggage limits before you arrive, especially for any domestic flight operators.
Very true, especially if flying to any domestic areas within the country (such as if you are heading to Zanzibar after your safari, or are flying back from the Serengeti instead of driving). Check with your air carrier (or us) to figure out what the exact weight limits are before you fly here. It’s also worth noting that you should only bring soft-sided bags — no hard luggage — as it makes it much easier to fit everything into the limited trunk/boot area of the Land Cruiser during the safari.
9.) Are the park fees included?
They say: park fees of up to $100/person are oftentimes not included in the package quote.
We always include all park fees in your quote.
10.) How many guided game drives are included?
They say: check to see if game drives are included with your package stay, and if not, how many times you can go out in a day, and at what cost.
Again, the article leans a bit toward the South African system of picking your own lodges, being assigned a guide for that lodge, and paying for each game drive (sometimes separately from lodging costs). That’s not an issue with our trips, or in Tanzania in general, as you’ll be on enough (long) game drives to keep you more than happy (usually one in the morning, one in the late afternoon).
11.) All African countries require a visa.
They say: check visa policies and costs on the official country government websites before getting on the plane.
This is true — Tanzania charges $50 per visa for non-Americans, and $100 to Americans (because of reciprocity fees). The visa is available on-arrival at the airport after filling out an application form (available on the ground, although usually the airline staff will hand them out during the flight).
12.) Always ask about group and vehicle size before you book.
They say: some operators use vehicles not up to the job, so do your research and don’t choose those guys.
Your group size is whomever you bring in your group — all of our trips are custom, private safaris, so no need to worry about being thrown into the middle of a huge group. As stated above, all of our vehicles are configured as up to 7 guests +1 driver. If there are only two of you, yes, you get a whole vehicle to yourselves.
13.) Laundry Service while on safari.
They say: some resorts use their laundry services as a way to make extra money, so be sure and ask if it is included in the rate you’re paying or not.
Laundry services are not included on the trip, so we always recommend that our guests bring enough clothes to wear throughout their safari (as prices tend to be high, as is the case in most lodging around the world).
14.) Tipping & Gratuity for safari guides and staff.
They say: tips can add up to a few extra hundreds dollars per couple, so be sure to budget for that.
We take the guesswork out of gratuity, by including it in our safari quotes (for both your guide(s) and all lodging staff), and letting you know how much to budget for Kilimanjaro hikes.
15.) Bring a decent camera.
They say: your phone makes a sub-par substitute for a real camera, so invest in the real thing for this kind of experience.
In the article it is advised to avoid the phone camera, and we agree. Although if that’s all you’ve got you’ll still take some decent photos (was we tend to get close to many of the animals), nothing beats a decent SLR camera plus a zoom lens. Make sure at least one person in your party has one and knows how to use it!
16.) Transport to and from your safari lodges and National Parks.
They say: driving for hours on dirt roads can be uncomfortable.
Another tip that mostly refers to the South African safari system, it’s something you don’t need to worry about, as you’ll be using the same vehicle throughout the duration of your trip. While it’s true that there will be a few days of long driving (such as when heading to/from Serengeti National Park), we always provide enough stops to break up the journey into manageable blocks. (You can also opt to pay a bit more and fly back from the Serengeti to Arusha, saving you about seven hours of driving.)
17.) Are your Emergency Contacts up-to-date?
They say: your emergency contacts need to be able to contact and reach you, should the need arise.
Always good advice no matter where you’ll be heading, make sure your emergency contacts have a valid passport and power of attorney, just in case they need to fly out to meet you or make any decisions on your behalf.
18.) Did you read the State Department warnings before you booked?
They say: read the U.S. State Department website for the country your visiting to see if there are any relevant warnings.
This is more of an issue with some of our less stable neighbors (we’re looking at you, Kenya). Is it important to check the U.S. State Department website (or your country’s relevant website) before traveling, don’t take everything at face value, as they (understandably) tend to be on the cautious side of just about everything.
19.) Did you register your trip at the US State Department?
They say: register with the U.S. State Department in case anything goes wrong on your trip.
See above. This is a just-in-case measure that can be voluntarily done which supposedly makes it easier for the local embassy/consulate to get you assistance in emergencies.
20.) Do you have travel insurance?
They say: medivac helicopters can be amazingly expensive, so plan ahead and get proper coverage just in case you get sick or injured on the trip.
We always recommend all of our travelers buy at least travel medical insurance (if not trip insurance too), and require it on all of our Kilimanjaro treks.
21.) When you go determines where you’ll go, what you’ll see and the cost of your trip.
They say: if you want to see something in particular, do some research (or ask) as to when X will be in the area you are set to visit, as this can change with the seasons.
This is true, as stated above if you visit us in the low season (May and November), you’ll save about 25% versus the rest of the year. Although you’ll always see plenty of animals, certain times of the year tend to be better than others depending on what exactly you want to see, such as the Great Wildebeest Migration.
22.) The biggest mistake is when the extras are unclear.
They say: ask questions, and get everything in writing.
Agreed! That’s why we include everything — from airport pick-up to airport drop-off, from gratuity and meals to transport and guide fees — in our cost estimates. No hidden fees here!
That’s about it! We hope that the above information will be of use to anyone planning on doing a safari in Tanzania, whether with us or any other outfitter.
If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at anytime and we’ll get back to you within a few hours at most.