A bucket list Safari in TANZANIA

November

An African safari ranks high on most traveller bucket lists. Our ten day adventure in Tanzania combined the thrills of a safari at the less touristy Selous Game Reserve, with the relaxation of a remote island paradise in Zanzibar.

Duration: 11 Days in Tanzania (4 on safari)

Our time in Tanzania and Zanzibar (the island is technically part of Tanzania but we will do two separate writeups as there’s so much to share) exceeded all of our highest hopes for an African safari. We have dreamed of a trip like this for as long as we’ve been travelling, and rather than check a box, the trip left us with much greater ambitions to return to Africa. We now want to experience the Great Wildebeast Migration, Botswana, the north of Tanzania (the famous safari circuts of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater), South Africa, Zambia, Namibia… the list goes on. But for a first time safari, particularly if you have any trepidation or feel like this is out of your comfort zone, our trip to Tanzania was an ideal experience. It was ideal to begin with the safari and end with the utter relaxation and bliss that is Zanzibar (a destination we are already planning to return to), and our visit managed to pack a lot in, while allowing for ample relaxation and time to unplug. We wouldn’t come for any shorter than ~11 days, and of course would love to have stayed longer, but if you don’t have unlimited funds or time, 11 days is a perfect amount of time for a 4 day safari and 6 days spent relaxing in Zanzibar. We had an extra day in Dar es Salaam which we would pass on next time. Arrive with enough time to comfortably make your flight connections (you will need to fly from Dar es Salaam to your domestic destination for whatever safari you do) but otherwise, we didn’t find a reason to linger, and rather felt the most overwhelmed and least relaxed in the busy capital.

  • Sight Seeing 100% 100%
  • Food 100% 100%
  • Ease of Transportation 80% 80%
  • Activities 100% 100%

The first thing you’ll need to do is select where in Africa you want to go on safari, and then choose an outfitter based on your budget, and what looks appealing. We decided on Tanzania because it is one of the most popular safari destinations, the appeal of combining a safari with island hopping to Zanzibar was huge, and it was closer to get to than South Africa. We were looking to travel in November to make use of the Thanksgiving holiday, which lined up nicely with the dry season (while avoiding peak tourist times and peak tourist prices in December).

The next major decision was between the popular northern circuit that includes the famous Serengeti, and the Ngorongoro Crater, or the southern circuit around the Selous Game Reserve and the Ruaha National Park. November isn’t the right month to catch the major migrations that the north is famous for, and the more we read about the Selous Game Reserve, the more we liked the idea of not following the herd of tourists. On our four day safari, we saw a grand total of three other jeeps on safari. Nothing ruins the illusion that you are one with nature on its wildest terms, than a caravan of tourists with zoom lenses, so this off the beaten path route suited us perfectly. We didn’t want a ‘Disney’ safari experience, and between our operator, the off season week we visited, and the less touristy Selous reserve, we enjoyed the experience of being truly immersed in nature without other tourists present. 

The dry season is one of the best times to visit. The lack of vegetation makes animals easy to spot far in the distance, and our trips to watering holes reliably provided sightings of zebras, giraffes, monkeys, impalas, warthogs, elephants, lions, crocodiles, and hippopotamuses. Our Tanzanian adventure was more of an escape than any holiday in recent memory. With days spent largely without wifi or cellular data, looking and listening for the slightest sign of animals, it was alternately meditative and thrilling.

Before diving in to our safari research, we had mostly seen travel features with prohibitively expensive luxury camps. ‘How can safaris all be this expensive?’ we used to wonder. Luckily, the answer is that they don’t have to be, and the alternative doesn’t mean you’re roughing it in a tent, running from lions. While we don’t typically go the old school guide book route when trip planning, in this instance the Lonely Planet guide to Tanzania was our starting point for a list of safari operators at different price points. Even among operators, there are a range of different itineraries, and a further range of accommodation options at various price points.

We chose A Tent with a View for our tour operators, the ‘Remote Selous’ for our tour (we liked how it included a visit to a Maasai village), and opted to stay at the Sable Mountain Lodge.  One of the primary reasons we chose this operator was that they also included our flights within Tanzania; from Dar es Salaam to the Selous Game Reserve, and from the Reserve to Zanzibar. Tip #1: definitely go with an operator who will manage your flights within Tanzania. We can’t emphasize this enough. First off, the thrilling bush plane rides were two of the highlights of our entire trip. (Have you ever flown in a four person propeller plane and seen giraffes cantering beneath you? Yeah, we hadn’t either). Secondly, having the tour company own all of the logistics means one less thing you have to think about, and we can say that from the minute we got to the airport in Dar Es Salaam, to the minute we touched down in Zanzibar four days later, we didn’t have to worry about a single thing. Our daily schedule was organised with precision and communicated to us each evening. Our meals and drinks were planned and provided for, our transfers from point A, to B, to C, our jeep rides, boat rides, walks, flights, it was all impeccably handled by our kind, caring, punctual, and communicative team and our only ‘to do’ was to look, listen, and smell for signs of animals all day long. It was a true vacation in every sense of the word.

We spent hours each day training our eyes in the distance, looking closely at leaves on the ground, watching for movement in the bushes, listening for the shake of a branch or the snap of a twig, living utterly in the moment, concentrating on nature, thinking about animals, unable even to ‘gram it because of the absolute lack of reception. It was heaven.  Our days were governed by the movements and habits of animals, our nights were spent looking at the stars, staring out over the dark expanse of unlit bush extending in all directions, and dreaming about elephants and lions. We ate like kings at the camp with multi course meals that were fantastic, and exceeded all our expectations. We sipped gin and tonics when we returned from our game drives (‘sundowners’ as we would hear sunset cocktails referred to throughout Tanzania). The safari left us with with the absurd feeling that we want to go on more and more safaris. We want to travel from nature preserve to nature preserve seeing as many animals in their natural habitat as possible.

Tip #2: all safari prices are negotiable. We had heard this from a few people who had gone on safaris in Africa, and we strongly recommend you consider whatever price you are quoted as a starting point. Paying in cash? You should get even more of a discount. Booking last minute? You know those tour seats likely won’t get filled. We could have negotiated more, but ended up paying $1300 USD per person for a four day safari that included flight transfers, more than three meals a day (we ate better on this trip than any holiday in recent memory), all of our game drives, Maasai village visit, and lodging. The only thing to add at the end were tips, and our bar tab. We happened to hit the Sable Mountain Lodge right in between busy periods, so the two of us were the only guests in the entire lodge during our stay. Three times a day we would enter the open air dining room where a single table for two was set overlooking the bush, and we would enjoy amazing, multi-course meals. Everyone that worked at the lodge, the rangers at the game reserve, and our naturalists and guides were friendly, knowledgeable, accommodating, and concerned with our safety and well-being at every turn. We couldn’t have had a better experience, and can’t recommend this particular operator highly enough. (We would love to return to Tanzania for their Bush Rover trip to the Serengeti).

After four days in the bush, we were driven back out to the same dirt airstrip we had arrived at. We sat in the jeep, waiting for the distant buzz of our incoming bush plane. Finally we heard it, and watched as the plane descended, swooped low to the ground, then took off and circled around. ‘What happened?’ ‘Oh, animals at the end of the runway so they have to scare them off first.’ And that was how we left the Selous Game Reserve. With a bush pilot and copilot in front of us, a single engine buzzing away, and the sight of giraffes cantering below, and hippopotamus ears protruding from the surface of water. After a brief stop at the airstrip in Dar es Salaam, we were airborne again, descending over the brilliant turquoise of the Indian Ocean as we arrived in Stone Town, Zanzibar. We might have paid the safari fare just for the two bush plane rides as they were so spectacular and memorable. We’ve done helicopter tours over volcanoes in Hawaii, and this blew that out of the water. For anyone afraid of flying, or even the most seasoned travellers, it will likely be a mildly terrifying experience, but take heart, as I did when an Autralian man dressed like Indian Jones said to me ‘ahh bush pilots – they’re the best pilots in world you know!’

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