I know what some of you are thinking: Africa is so dangerous – I could never travel there! So many people are wary of going to Africa, which truly breaks my heart.
Before you write off an entire continent, understand that Africa is not one monolithic place. It’s made up of 54 different countries and is three times the size of the United States. Literally thousands of different languages are spoken there.
Yes, there are certain places that are politically unstable and unsafe for tourism. But would you cancel a trip to Disneyland if there was a mass shooting in Texas? Then you shouldn’t dismiss Tanzania because of civil war in South Sudan.
Between just-for-fun trips and medical missions, I have spent nearly a year in total exploring various African countries, and I still cannot wait to go back for more! I follow the same common-sense safety precautions that I would use traveling anywhere else, and I have never had a problem. On the contrary, I have felt more welcomed and safe in many places in Africa than I do in some American cities.
Ok, still with me? Now that you’re feeling a bit more secure, I’ll show you one reason why Tanzania is my favorite place in the world: Safari!
A safari around Tanzania’s northern circuit National Parks is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Of course, we’ve done it a few times since we keep bringing family and friends back with us! Here are our tried-and-true recommendations for having a mind-blowingly awesome safari:
1. Pick A Legit Safari Company
This isn’t the time to book whoever’s cheapest. It’s definitely fair to contact a few different companies and bargain a bit, but you want to make sure to go with someone who knows what they’re doing. A knowledgeable guide can be the difference between seeing the Big Five (lion, elephant, cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros) or not.
Also make sure that your company takes good care of their vehicles and that they have a backup plan if something goes wrong with yours. These 4x4s take a beating, and you don’t want your entire safari on hold for a day while you wait for repairs.
Our personal favorite is Sunny Safaris. Our driver/guides have always been awesome (ask for Paul or Baraka) and the meals that the cooks whip up in basic camp kitchens will blow you away. We have always found their prices to be reasonable, and they include your driver/guide, cook, vehicle, gas, all meals and bottled water, park entry fees, and camping equipment (except a sleeping bag, which you can rent from them).
Let them know Aaron and Emily from Two Dusty Travelers sent you!
Sure, you could blow a ridiculous amount of money staying at a luxury lodge and eating in fancy restaurants every night, but you’re supposed to be on safari. Camping in or near the national parks will put you right in the thick of things. I have had elephants, zebras, and buffalo all hang out in my campsite or graze near my tent at night.
Fair warning: You’re not in a zoo. These are wild animals. You are guests in their home, and this is not the time to see if they’ll let you pet them. Get in their way, and you’ll get hurt. (Check out our other favorite ethical animal encounters here.)
3. Get To Know Your Guide
You’re going to be in the car together for days, so talk to each other! The best way to experience a new place is to get to know the locals. We have learned a ton about Tanzania (and made some good friends) by asking our guides about themselves.
Also, tell them what you’re interested in so they can use their knowledge of the parks to help you find what you’re hoping to see. If they learn that you’re a bird enthusiast, they’ll take you someplace different than if you’re trying to see as many predators as possible.
Now that you’re friends with your guide, don’t be a jerk. I have watched so many tour groups arrive at camp and just sit down with their phones, while their driver and cook unpack the vehicle, set up the tents, and start cooking their meal. If you lend a hand, everything will go a million times faster and you’ll have more time in the park with the animals – plus it’s the human thing to do.
4. Pack light
Remember that your whole group, your luggage, plus your food and water for the week all have to fit in your vehicle. We always leave our main bags secured at the safari office and bring just what we need for safari in our daypacks. You don’t need much – just a couple of changes of comfy clothes (don’t worry, everyone will be dirty!), basic toiletries, a headlamp for navigating your camp at night, and all your best photography equipment!
5. Turn Off Your Inner Clock
You’re on Africa time. You will wait in line at park gates for what seems like forever. People will tell you you’re leaving “soon” and that could mean in two minutes or two hours. Don’t worry, the animals aren’t going anywhere.
6. Budget for tip
Your driver and cook are away from their families for days at a time, working crazy hard, keeping you safe 24/7, and making sure you have an amazing experience. Let them know you appreciate it!
Yes, a safari is pricey. But in my opinion, it’s the best money you’ll ever spend. I have taken plenty of people on safari, and not once have I ever heard anyone say it wasn’t worth the cost.
Exactly how much to tip is hotly debated. We have always tipped our driver $15-20 per day and our cook $10-15 per day, per group. Some will argue that tip should be per person per day, but that seems exorbitant in Tanzanian prices to me. We’ve always LOVED the people we’ve worked with and gladly tipped on the higher end of the group fare.
7. Go With The Flow
Safari is Swahili for “journey”, and that’s just what you’ll be on. Each one is different, and you never know exactly what’s going to happen. You can’t control the movements of the animals, the weather, the other tourists, or your vehicle. Sometimes there won’t be hot water at the campsites; sometimes the rhinos won’t cooperate and show themselves.
If you’re looking for glamour, luxury, and a strict schedule, you won’t find it here. What you will get is adventure, and the chance to see some of the most astounding natural wonders our world has to offer. Go in with no expectations, and I promise that you will be absolutely blown away.
After all the negative press about famine and civil wars, don’t let that limited view be your only impression of Africa. Tanzania is home to some of the most stunning nature and wildlife, and some of the most welcoming people, anywhere in the world.
The only real danger is that once you set foot there, East Africa will get under your skin, and you won’t be able to stop yourself from going back again!
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