Booking a safari can be daunting. There are so many decisions to make, such as which parks to visit, the length of trip you want/can afford, which tour company to book with, whether to camp or not- the list goes on! For my recent trip to Tanzania, I had all these questions in my mind as I tried to decide on a safari to book. Luckily my trusty travelling companion Alicia was on the case and had found a great safari comparison website (www.safaribookings.com ), which helped us narrow down our choices. The website compares thousands of safaris across 8 countries, and we found booking through the site cheaper than directly with the tour company!
After narrowing down our choices we decided to book a 4-day shared budget safari to the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire National Park with Swahili Paradise Tours. The tour cost US$683 each for our group of three (and that includes; a 3% card fee on the 50% deposit we paid online, all meals, camping gear and airport collection). We read the online reviews for Swahili Paradise Tours and they seemed ok. The reason I say ‘ok’, is because like most reviews there’s always one that’s negative and plants a seed of doubt in your mind. I put the negative review down to the fact that it is a budget safari, and often people tend to forget that you get what you pay for (though it’s understandable as even a budget safari isn’t exactly cheap!). And anyway, the other budget tour companies had a similar mix of reviews. Swahili Paradise Tours were pretty responsive when we booked with them, sending us confirmation emails with the itinerary. Still I wouldn’t say it was completely hassle free and we definitely had some doubt in our minds as to how successful the tour would be!
Day 1- Driving to the Serengeti
We were picked up in a taxi from our accommodation in Arusha at 6.30am. The taxi took us to the Swahili Paradise Tours office where we waited for the other people who we would be sharing the safari with to arrive. We were sat waiting for a good hour or so before we finally got on the road. I knew from the itinerary we had been sent, that the first day would be mostly driving. However, our journey didn’t get off to the best start, as the truck overheated on route and we had to wait at the side of a country road while the engine cooled down. We also had to stop for quite a few toilet breaks as one of the girls on our tour had a bad stomach and had to keep dashing to the loo! On the way to our campsite in the Serengeti we stopped at a view point over the Ngorongoro Crater and then at a nearby picnic spot where we ate our packed lunch. The packed lunch was pretty good and consisted of a carrot sandwich (I wasn’t a fan!), a chicken leg, meat samosa, boiled egg, banana, carton of juice, pack of biscuits, and a small cupcake. The picnic spot was very scenic, although I resorted to eating my lunch in the truck as there were some large birds swooping down to steal the food!
After some more driving we entered the Serengeti National Park, by now the sun was just starting to set, so we got our first glimpse of the park during golden hour! We didn’t see too much wildlife on the way to our campsite, I think having lost time with the truck earlier in the day, our driver was having to hurry there, so we could get our tents up before dark! When we did finally arrive, we were given our tents, floor mats and sleeping bags and left to figure out how to get the tents up. The tents were a good size but had seen better days. There were a few broken parts (metal rings for the tent poles missing) which meant we had to get creative, using rocks and string to help assemble the tent. It was a bit annoying, but we made it work, and got everything done just before the sunset. The floor mats and sleeping bags that we were given were also ok, but I would recommend taking your own sleeping bag liner and something to use as a pillow (see my blog 10 essential items for your safari packing list).
The campsite we were staying in actually in the Serengeti and was not fenced off to the rest of the park, so we were warned to keep an eye out for animals. There was a basic toilet block at the edge of the campsite with a few shower cubicles (but no hot water), and a caged dining area (to keep you safe from any wild animals that may be attracted by the smell of food!). I was pleasantly surprised by our evening meal, it was really tasty and there was plenty to go around. Alicia’s vegetarian option was equally as tasty, so we all went to bed satisfied with full stomachs. On our way back to our tent from the toilet block we saw a bunch of hyenas amongst all the tents! It was pretty scary, and we didn’t really know what to do except run to our tent and jump inside. Needless to say, no one left the tent to go to the loo that night!
Day 2- Early morning game drive in the Serengeti
We were instructed to be up and dressed ready to leave by 6.30am. Our chef had prepared a small breakfast (toast, tea, coffee, biscuits), which we hurriedly ate before jumping in our truck ready to set off on our first proper game drive of the trip. The drive lasted around 6 hours, and I was pleased I had some snacks with me as everyone’s bellies were rumbling by the time we finished. I’m not going to go into too much detail on exactly what we saw, but I will say I was very impressed with the Serengeti! The landscape is vast and beautiful, and we saw a lot of wildlife (Lions, Hyenas, Giraffe, Gazelle, Hippos, elephants, and Cheetahs). I had been worried the Serengeti wouldn’t live up to its name, but it definitely did, and I’m glad we paid a bit more and chose a safari that visited this iconic park. Our guide and driver Samson was great at spotting the wildlife, and had great knowledge of the area, knowing exactly where to go to increase our chances of seeing certain animals.
After the game drive, we headed back to the campsite, where our chef had prepared a big lunch. The food was once again very tasty and filling. We then had to pack up our tents and wait around the campsite while our guide and chef loaded the truck with all our gear. Once everything was packed, we drove around 3-4 hours to our next campsite on the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater. This time, we arrived with plenty of sunlight left so we didn’t have to rush to get our tents up. The campsite had a fantastic view of the crater, and even had a proper building to eat dinner in (no cage this time!). The toilet block was cleanish when we arrived, but there were a lot of people at the campsite, so they soon became quite dirty. I had a very cold shower before heading to the dinning room. It was nice to have a warm indoor space to sit in, while waiting for our evening meal. At this point in the trip, we were in high spirits, having already seen so much wildlife on our game drive in the Serengeti we were relieved that the safari was living up to our expectations!
Day 3- Early morning game drive in Ngorongoro Crater
It was another early start on day three of the safari, with us all having breakfast and meeting at the truck by 7am. We had to drive around 20 minutes to get to the entrance of the crater, before descending slowly down the rather steep dirt track. The Ngorongoro Crater is truly stunning, the landscape is really unique, and the views alone were worth the trip, let alone the great array of wildlife that can be seen here. Unlike in the Serengeti, we saw large herds of animals such as wildebeest and buffalo. There was also the aptly named ‘Hippo lake’ which, you guessed it, was full of hippos! We also saw lions, elephants, hyenas, warthogs and lots of different varieties of birds. The crater is also one of the few places where it’s still possible to see black rhinos in the wild. Our driver got a call on the radio saying one had been spotted and we went to have a look. The rhino was laying down far in the distance by the time we arrived, making it hard to see. But it was still exciting to know it was there! Having seen so much wildlife in the Serengeti the previous day, our group was more inclined to spend time spotting smaller, lesser known animals. We also spent around hour watching a couple of lionesses hunting prey. It was tense watching the lions sneak closer to a group of warthogs they were hunting, but unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on who you were routing for!) the warthogs ran away before anything happened!
After a good 5-6 hours driving around the crater, it was time to leave the park and head to our next camping site that was a couple of hours away. We were the only ones on our safari that had booked a four-day trip, and so after arriving at our final campsite, we said goodbye to the rest of the group, who were then collected in a taxi and driven back to Arusha. We were super happy with the final campsite, as this time we were staying in pre-assembled, semi-permanent tents that had proper beds inside, and a private bathroom with a shower (and hot water!) attached! The campsite also had a pool which was a refreshing surprise! It was nice to spend our last night camping with a little bit of luxury after roughing it the previous two nights. Our evening meal was once again fantastic, and there was even some live entertainment (traditional singing and dancing) after the meal.
Day 4- Game drive, Tarangire National Park
On our final day of safari, we were up for breakfast by 8.30 and leaving at 9am. We had to drive for around an hour to get to Tarangire National Park. I didn’t really know what to expect from this park, as it’s less famous than the Serengeti and Ngorongoro National Crater. We were in high spirits after a very comfortable sleep in our fancy tents, and having seen so much wildlife already, the pressure was off, and we were happy to just enjoy the day, whatever the outcome. At the entrance to the park, it was interesting to see a collection of elephant bones on display, and there was also a huge baobab tree which we had fun taking photos in front of. The landscape of the park is very different from the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater; Tarangire is full of trees, is much hillier and has a large riverbed that runs through the park. While the park didn’t initially seem as visually impressive as the others we had just visited, we ended up having a fantastic game drive and we were really pleased we had paid for an extra day to visit the park. From the moment we entered Tarangire, I noticed there was a lot of elephant dung on the floor, and sure enough we ended up seeing a lot of elephants! Although we had caught glimpses of elephants in the other two parks, they were always from a distance, so it was super exciting to get to see so many elephants up close. If you are a fan of elephants this is definitely the park for you! Driving around we also got to see giraffe, zebras, lions, cheetahs, small monkeys, buffalo, antelope and even a leopard! Spotting the leopard was really exciting as they are super elusive and hard to see! We also got to see a few elephant carcases around the park which was actually really interesting, as we were able to see different animals scavenging- something we hadn’t witnessed in the other parks. This, and the leopard sighting, really cemented our minds that we had made the right decision by booking the extra day to visit Tarangire. In total we spent around 5 hours driving around the park, including a lunch break at a scenic picnic spot overlooking the mostly dry riverbed. After the game drive, we were driven back to Arusha and dropped at our accommodation at around 6pm.
I absolutely loved the safari and have no regrets spending the money to do it. The actual tour may have been a bit rough around the edges (old tents, dirty toilet blocks etc), but none of that matters when you get to watch so much amazing wildlife in three stunning national parks! With even the ‘budget’ tours being far from cheap, its natural to worry about which tour to book and who with etc. My advice- take time deciding which of the National Parks you want to visit, and don’t stress to much about who you book with- all the other tours we saw looked pretty similar to ours.
If you’re planning a trip to Tanzania and have questions or want advice on booking a safari, comment below or send me a message on the ‘Get in Touch’ page.