Of all the destinations and experiences around the world, an African safari through the Serengeti National Park is the ultimate travel bucket list item. No trip to Africa would be complete without a safari of some kind, and for those looking for a truly legendary experience, going through the Serengeti is a must.
Whether you’re a safari tour veteran or looking for tips for planning an African safari for the first time, preparation is key. You’ll need to know when to go, what to pack, and logistics, like how you’ll get around, for example. The African safari planning process and knowing what to expect can be overwhelming, but with proper research and a top-notch tour company, a life-changing experience is possible. Check out these five tips for planning a Serengeti safari.
1. Choose a time to go based on what you want to see
Regardless of when you decide to take your safari through the Serengeti, you’re sure to see some wildlife. But if you have something specific in mind that you want to see, like the famous Great Migration of over 1.5 million white bearded wildebeest and 250,000 zebra, then the season you plan your trip to Africa will make a difference. The safari tour company you book through will likely break down the Serengeti National Park into three areas and seasonal windows:
The Serengeti plains – this vast grassland devoid of trees is where the wildebeest breed from December through May. Something to keep in mind is that the wet season of the Serengeti generally lasts October through April, but with that comes an added benefit: an abundance of waterbuck, buffalo and other hooved animals. Of course, with all these animals you can expect to see plenty of predators, too.
The Western corridor – you can think of this as the swampy region, where the Nile crocodiles are found. A highly sought-after time to visit this area is between June and September, when the wildebeests will make the Grumeti and Mara river crossings through the crocodile infested waters. Because this happens during the dry season, safari tours are more likely to fill faster.
Northern Serengeti – this bushy savannah area is where you’re most likely to spot giraffes, dik dik, and elephants.
Arusha is the entry point for safaris to the Serengeti, Lake Manyara, Arusha National Park, and Tarangire National Parks. No trip to Arusha (or Tanzania in general) would be complete without some sort of safari experience, and lucky for you, Arusha is the place to find a world-class safari company.
The length of your trip will determine how much of the park you’re able to see, so a safari company with different types of safaris at varying lengths can help choose the best option. Remember, these safaris book up fast and well in advance, so the sooner you can start Africa safari planning, the better.
2. Research your tour operator
The company you choose to safari with can make or break your trip and is important in ensuring you have a safe safari experience. You can research lists of safari companies by country, but checking reviews on SafariBookings is the best way to get first-hand accounts of what its like on safari with different companies.
3. Prepare for vaccines and a visa.
A trip to a new part of the world often requires vaccinations and visas. For travel to Africa, the recommended vaccinations are for hepatitis A, malaria (pill form), meningitis, rabies, typhoid, yellow fever, and covid-19. You may be asked for proof of vaccination for any of these prior to or during your trip, or upon arrival.
Currently, Tanzania is not requiring Covid-19 vaccination for entry to the country. Visitors to Tanzania are required to take a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival in the country.
Regarding visas, requirements are different for different countries within Africa. For Tanzania, there are some countries that do not require a visa to travel, but if you’re an American, Canadian, or British traveler, you’ll need to have one. Visas can be purchased upon arrival in a Tanzanian airport for the cost of $100 or a similar price for Canadian and British travelers.
4. Pack the essentials.
What you wear on a safari is critically important to your comfort and enjoyment of the trip overall. It’s recommended that tourists pack khaki, white, or beige layers for a safari. The reason behind the colors is that it blends in with the landscape and is known to avoid attracting tsetse flies. Packing breathable layers (ex: cotton) is essential because while it can get very hot during the day, it can also cool off significantly at night. Layers also play an important part in sun protection, as some of the vast landscapes will offer little respite from the sun (other than the Jeep you will travel in). Other proper sun protection should also be packed, including but not limited to sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses.
Another must-have item for your safari is a camera, preferably one with a zoom lens. An iPhone is great, but as some of the wildlife will be at a considerable range, a camera meant for photography would do well. It’s worth noting that drones are prohibited inside the Serengeti or any of Tanzania’s national parks, so don’t bother packing one.
5. Know how you’ll be getting around.
Being in a foreign country can be exciting but stressful, and knowing how you’ll be getting from place to place can help put your mind at ease significantly. For most people planning an African safari in the Serengeti, the journey begins by flying into Kilimanjaro International Airport. From there, it’s likely that you’ll go to the town of Arusha, which serves as the jump off point for most safaris to the Serengeti. Once there, it takes time to get to the Serengeti, so expect to spend a day’s journey in the car getting there.
On most all safari tours, your guide will drive you around in a large Land Cruiser or Jeep. This vehicle will be your home away from home during the day, driving you from your lodging accommodations through the park for the duration of your safari. Because you’ll be spending so much time with your guide, you should be prepared to tip generously (especially for exceptional service). Some people prefer to tip every day at a rate of $25-$50, whereas others tip all at once at the end. Keep in mind that there are no banks or ATMs in the park, so come prepared with plenty of cash beforehand. Tipping is really the only expense you’ll have to worry about during your safari, as your accommodations and meals will be covered through the booking process.
Don’t panic about how you’ll go to the bathroom.
Long days in the car, in the middle of an enormous national park in a foreign country – how could you not at least wonder where you’ll do your bathroom business? When you enter the park, there may be a visitor center with restrooms. When you’re at your camp, you’ll have access to a restroom. Accommodations vary, so what you’ll have access to depends on the type of safari you book. Luxury safaris often come with a lodge-like experience inclusive of private toilets, whereas with camping safaris you may be walking to a shared toilet shack. During the day, there will be no wondering off behind a shrub or in a field, as you could easily have an unfortunate wildlife encounter. Should you find yourself in need during the day, simply notify your guide, and you’ll be able to go right next to or behind the vehicle.
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