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Please help with First African Safari!

Chicago, Illinois
3 posts
Please help with First African Safari!

Hello, my husband and I are planning for a10 days African Safari for Aug 2018 starting 3rd week of Aug. this is my first safari and I'm interested in capturing animal adventures as much as possible. From what I read, it appears August is a good time to capture the migration but I'm so confused putting together an itinerary. If possible and safe, I would love to do gorilla tracking as well but scared because of recent British kidnapping. All the top 5-10 safari parks have great reviews so now I'm at a loss on how much time to spend and where. I understand there is nothing like too many days on safari but part of me is thinking maybe we should do safari/animal watching for 7 days and devote 3 days to sight seeing Johannesburg or some other town. Could you please advise on how to put an itinerary together, thanks.

Budget wise, we are flexible but of course would not want to spend exorbitant amount unnecessarily. If it seems to offer one of a kind experience we are open to spending. Eg - for gorilla permit I read someone mentioned they went for $700 while another review mentioned $2500. I'm not sure why there is so much discrepancy. Thanks in advance for your help.

18 replies to this topic
1. Re: Please help with First African Safari!

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Los Angeles
Level Contributor
2,720 posts
45 reviews
2. Re: Please help with First African Safari!


1) You've left this VERY late for an August 2018 safari anywhere. Most of us book our safaris around 9 months to a full year in advance, as the best camps and lodges can book up very quickly, especially during the high seasons (which, in Tanzania, consist of most of the year - excepting only April and May, for the most part.)

2) You do know that Johannesburg is nearly 2,000 miles from Arusha, don't you? Trying to fit any two countries into a 10-day safari is unwise at best. Trying to fit in 3 (Tanzania, somewhere for gorilla trekking and then Jo'burg) is a little crazy, frankly.

3) I'm unclear about what kind of budget you're considering -- but be aware that sometimes trying to do too much in too few days can be even more expensive than adding days and doing less. If you're planning an overland safari on Tanzania's northern circuit with the intention of making it all the way to the northern Serengeti to catch some of the migration in August, you're already trying to do too much in 7 days. Let's assume 9 days minimum for that portion of your trip:

Tarangire -- 2 days

Ngorongoro Crater -- 1 day

Central Serengeti -- 2 days

Drive to northern Serengeti -- 2/3 of a day with an hour or so game drive at the end.

Northern Serengeti -- 3 days

Then fly back to Arusha/Kilimanjaro Airport from Kogatende airstrip to continue to next location.

I haven't done gorilla trekking, but I do know that Uganda is said to be considerably cheaper than Rwanda for gorilla permits. To the above safari, you'd need to add a minimum of 3 days (for one trek).

To add another 3 days for "sightseeing" in "Jo'burg" would require, first, another full day to fly to Jo'burg. So, that's really another 4 days. And the last place you really want to go sightseeing would be Jo'burg. Cape Town is a wonderful city -- Jo'burg, not so much. It can be dangerous, and getting around on your own not the best for a novice. Cape Town a much better opportunity for sightseeing, what with Robben Island, the docks, Table Mountain, the Cape of Good Hope an easy drive . . . wonderful food, great people, great city. But you've augmented your 10-day trip to more than two weeks, a lot of expense, and you'll be racing around like crazy instead of settling in to the safari rhythm which makes safari such a fantastic experience.

My advice is to edit. You're trying to do too much for a first visit to Africa. Africa is a HUGE continent. The Serengeti alone is the size of Switzerland. In Tanzania, a northern circuit safari is usually done overland, with your own private vehicle and guide, covering several parks and locations on an itinerary designed by you and your chosen safari outfitter. The bare minimum amount of time for such an overland safari -- if, especially, it is to include ANY section of the Serengeti -- would be 7 days. To try to include the northern Serengeti in 7 days would mean flying between parks, and doing all your game drives in camp vehicles, shared with strangers who may or may not share your interests. An overland safari to the northern Serengeti on a 7-day safari is really impractical. It's sadly very far from every other area most people want to visit.

Ten days would give you a lovely overland northern circuit safari -- but not if you're going to try to include gorilla trekking, and only if you mean ten full days on safari -- with a day set aside at each end for transit to and from Tanzania. For 10 days -- the routing would ideally be: Tarangire 3 nights, Ngorongoro Crater 1 night, central Serengeti 3 nights, northern Serengeti (Kogatende) 3 nights, fly back to Arusha. If you can't -- or don't want to -- do that, I'd suggest skipping Kogatende and saving the Great Migration for your next safari!

Chicago, Illinois
3 posts
3. Re: Please help with First African Safari!

Thanks for the input.

Sandy, I understand I’m late but I checked the lodge/accommodation availability for August on TA and there is availability for my dates, ranging from $150-550/day) My reasoning being, just need a decent accommodation for sleeping as most of the day we will be out anyways.

So Joannsburg and gorilla trekking are out. Please correct me if I’m wrong, I’m under the impression that August is a good time to visit Masai Mara for wildlife and migration as compared to Serengeti since there is only a small herd left in Serengeti in August. I do intent to visit Serengeti, just trying to understand the wildlife difference and how to divide the time. Thanks in advance.

Los Angeles
Level Contributor
2,720 posts
45 reviews
4. Re: Please help with First African Safari!

No, Carol -- that's entirely untrue. The fact is that not even all the herds cross into Kenya. And of the ones that do, they cross back and forth all the time during those months. You have exactly the same chance of witnessing a herd crossing the river in Tanzania as you do in the Mara. It's all the same ecosystem, divided only by a river and a national border. The wildebeest and zebras have no idea where the national border is -- but they do recognize the river! You can sit in your vehicle on the bank of the river on the Tanzanian side and witness 1,000 animals cross while the crocs lie in wait. It will take the better part of a day to cross over into Kenya to witness exactly the same things you were witnessing in Tanzania. Kenya just has REALLY good marketing. They even have half the world believing that Mt. Kilimanjaro is in Kenya. Heh.

And with the exception of a million wildebeest -- not all of which will actually be visible to you at any given time wherever you are in the area! -- it's not the northern Serengeti which hosts the greatest abundance of wildlife with the most spectacular landscapes. That is the central Serengeti -- those "endless plains" which stretch out before you coming down from the Ngorongoro highlands to the horizon, broken only by occasional kopjes and an acacia tree here and there. A few gentle hills, but savannah that seems to go on forever, and populated by the greatest concentration of wildlife in Africa. People get so focused on the Great Migration (which usually results in seeing a couple of crossings in perhaps 3 days, each of which may take at most 15 minutes, after waiting for hours for it to happen) and neglect the magic of the Seronera Valley. I've done the Mara crossings thing, but won't do it again. Glad to have seen it once, but once was enough -- and it doesn't even come close to being my most memorable wildlife experience in Africa, however impressive it is to watch during those 15 minutes!

I say all this to encourage you to ask yourself seriously what it is you most want to experience on safari? Because not every area -- and not every day -- will present the same opportunities.

Destination Expert
for Tanzania
Level Contributor
8,232 posts
5. Re: Please help with First African Safari!

For only 10 days stick to Tanzania, there is a lot of misinformation about the migration and where it will be and how much of it goes into Kenya, I haven't actually counted the wildebeest but there are more than a million and they spread out over a very large area. Some go to Kenya and some don't, some go back and forth. In any given year half might go over to Kenya only ( my guess). It is better to stick to one country.If you are really keen on seeing river crossing then spend at least 3 days in the Mara River area in August and hope you are lucky.

From a logisitcs point of view I would only stick to Tanzania and if you only have 10 days skip the Gorillas. You will need 10 days to go up to the Masai Mara area of Tanzania and experience the migration, you might not see a river crossing.

If you can add 3-5 days then you can add the Gorillas, Rwanda is more expensive, but need fewer days. You can also fly into the Serengeti or Mwanza (close to the Serengeti ) from either Rwanda or Uganda and the start the safari there.

Chicago, Illinois
3 posts
6. Re: Please help with First African Safari!

Sandy and Noexpert, thanks for your time and advise. I had an entirely different picture in mind, I’m so glad you are taking time to help out.

That’s so true, Kenya and Tanzania is one ecosystem and should be viewed as such! I was so mistaken and was viewing them as two separate sanctuaries.

I wasn’t aware that wildebeest go back and forth, I thought is was just a one time crossing for the season and they return back only at the end of the season.

So, Tanzania it is! Gorillas for next time.

This is what I think I want - I want to see the big cats, the famous 5, and if possible and lucky, see the animals hunt food, the National Geographic is so stuck in mind that I would at least give it a day to see the migration. But as recommended, not at the expense of missing out the magic of the savannah.

If you were going for 10 days (including travel, effectively 8 days ofstay), what would be your itinerary? I’m flexible with staying anywhere and flying/driving. If I can experience more wildlife with driving, I will drive. If you recommend flying, I will fly. I want to maximize my wildlife experience.

Also, do you recommend that we do a private guide for all 10 days or book on an existing safari? How do these two options affect wildlife experience? I’m assuming everyone is there for the wildlife and visit the same places.

It appears a guide is paramount to have a good safari experience. Should I just go to the website and pick a tour guide who is registered and have good reviews on TA or do you recommend something else. Can you please suggest a price range? There was a thread in which commentators mentioned that the guide was way overcharging.

This might sound silly but do you a preference between open top safari jeeps (wondering how safe they are) and the ones which is not fully open but you can stand and look thru a moon roof.

Thank-you for your patience with such a long post. Have a wonderful weekend.

Los Angeles
Level Contributor
2,720 posts
45 reviews
7. Re: Please help with First African Safari!

Hey, Carol --

In answer to your question, I'm going to offer you two itineraries, depending on how important to you it is to see the migration. Note that on our first safari -- 12 full days -- we didn't see anything at all of the migration and had such a fantastic time we started planning our second safari before we left Africa!

For the migration. 8 days

2 nights Tarangire

1 night Ngorongoro

2 nights central Serengeti

3 nights Kogatende, northern Serengeti -- fly back from Kogatende air strip.

If, however, you feel comfortable skipping the migration, here's what I'd do on such a short safari:

3 nights Tarangire

1 night Lake Manyara

3 nights central Serengeti

1 night Ngorongoro Crater -- drive back to Arusha late afternoon.

Lake Manyara is a "gentler" park than the others, but with a unique groundwater forest at the entrance to the park and some wonderful bird life. It also has a superb view of one of the western walls of the Great Rift Valley. It has great charm, but is not always as productive in terms of fantastic sightings as the other areas -- but you can see the lovely Sykes (Blue) Monkeys there, and there's a relatively new Treetop Walkway activity in the forest that's a lot of fun, a nice way of getting some activity outside the vehicle, and a chance to see the forest from a different perspective. It's worth a visit if time permits.

But do understand -- rushing around isn't going to give you *more.* It's going to give you hassle. It's going to limit your options for taking time to truly enjoy the sightings you have. If the migration is really important to you, do the north. But remember that it takes most of a full day to drive up there, and you'll really need to fly back to return in time for your flight home.

You don't want a group tour. You want a private overland safari -- which is almost always doable for the same cost you'd pay for a pre-packaged "glossy brochure" safari. What you need to do is to look at the 4th bullet point under the Top Questions About Tanzani9a list on the top right of the Tanzania Forum page (this is the Serengeti National Park forum page). There you'll find some well-recommended safari outfitters, any of whom can help you plan your perfect itinerary within your budget and time limits, and will provide you with a private vehicle and guide for your entire safari. We use Access2Tanzania, but many others are reliable and honest and extremely experienced and competent, including Swala Safaris, Safari Infinity, Roys Safaris, Basecamp Tanzania, etc. Send identical emails to 4-6 of these outfitters telling them your rough budget, rough dates, and what you want to see, and ask for suggested itineraries and quotes. You'll select on of these from their replies and work with them to design exactly the right safari for you.

In Tanzania, because safaris are not generally "fly-in" but, rather, "overland," the open sided safari vehicles are not commonly used except by rather upmarket camps that provide shared game drives for fly-in clients. What you want is a private vehicle with guide -- and because your vehicle will be traveling between camps on the area's tarred roads, open-sided vehicles are not permitted to be used for such safaris. You'll have the pop-top type vehicles, which I much prefer, since you can move around easily during a sighting as the animals move, to shoot while standing up or sitting down, depending on the moment. In an open-sided vehicle you're often stuck in one spot -- perhaps on the right side of the vehicle when all the action is happening on the other side! I hate when that happens. And if the vehicle is full -- as often is the case with shared (rather than private) game drives, you'll miss a lot.

All of the vehicles used by reliable outfitters will be safe. These guides are not only knowledgeable about the flora and fauna, about the terrain and ecosystems -- they are mechanics, perfectly capable of servicing their vehicles en route when necessary and replacement parts not needed. I've watched guides change a tire 50 feet from a pride of lions. I've seen multiple safari vehicles help to pull a stuck vehicle out of black cotton soil mud. These guys know their stuff. No need to worry.

You can stretch your budget most easily by being careful with your accommodations -- the options are many, at a variety of price points. You can work with your chosen outfitter to find the right ones for you. But understand -- the more days you can allot to this safari, the more relaxed, the more satisfying it will be. This isn't a zoo. You have to find the animals -- they don't come to you. And that can take time. Sometimes you won't see anything really fantastic for an hour -- maybe more. Eight days may seem like a long time, but it's not as long as it sounds. So my own rule-of-thumb is "more days, less expensive lodgings." If it's really the wildlife you're interested in, the more days, the better.

Forget "the big 5." Forget what you think safari will be like. Nature is going to surprise you. You have no idea what to expect -- maybe you'll see a rhino in the Crater. Maybe not. Maybe you'll see lion cubs, or a hunt, or baby elephants. Maybe not. That's what keeps those of us who are addicted to safari returning time after time -- nature shows us what she wants us to see when she wants us to see it, and every safari is different. Sometimes spectacularly different. You don't get to decide what you'll see -- nature decides. But the more days you can spend on safari, the more opportunities you give nature to surprise and delight (and sometimes sadden) you. You maximize the experience with extra time. Eight days is a pretty short safari -- and you have to remember that those National Geographic photographers often spend months in place waiting for those shots! They'll spend a whole season at Kogatende to photograph Mara River crossings -- whereas you and I may be able to sit by the river for only a day or two, hoping that stupid herd will make up its mind and CROSS ALREADY!! And we may waste the whole day waiting only to watch them decide to wander back into the woods and wait for another day.

You've left it very late for August of this year. You need to get started contacting outfitters now. Actually, yesterday.

Arusha, Tanzania
Destination Expert
for Tanzania
Level Contributor
2,789 posts
8. Re: Please help with First African Safari!


All good advice above, go for en-suite tented camps much closer to nature - think wildlife sounds at night, better food because not cooking for masses and there are some reasonable priced camps $400 per night > upwards

Destination Expert
for Tanzania
Level Contributor
8,232 posts
9. Re: Please help with First African Safari!

Hi Carol let me answer your specific questions

<If you were going for 10 days (including travel, effectively 8 days ofstay), what would be your itinerary?>

Fly from Arusha to the Kogatende area spend three nights there that gives you a good chance to see the migration and perhaps a river crossing

then spend 2 nights in central Seronera area

drive to Ngorongoro and spend 1 night there then onto Tarangire and spend 2 nights there.

If the river crossing and migration is a high priority if not then 2 nights Kogatende 2 nights Seronera (central)

1 night Ngorongoro and the last 2 nights or even three depending on flights as you can drive from Tarangire to the airport for your overseas flight.

< private guide for all 10 days or book on an existing safari? How do these two options affect wildlife experience? >

I would book a safari private with a Tanzania tour Operator the best way to see wildlife they will have really good guides to show you the wildlife and then tell you also about the habits and habitat. Don't try and find a guide first, get a decent TO then they will have decent guides.

<It appears a guide is paramount to have a good safari experience.> Yes a guide and the location you need to be in the right places for your time of travel so need a decent guide and decent TO who can plan a trip that suits your wishes and what you want to see.

<Should I just go to the website and pick a tour guide who is registered and have good reviews on TA or do you recommend something else>

see above and my list of TO's

<open top safari jeeps (wondering how safe they are) and the ones which is not fully open but you can stand and look thru a moon roof.>

I would go with what the TO has, a vehicle where you can stand or sit at you wish, The open vehicles are usually used in a few camps or in concession areas outside parks. It depends where you stay and if on a safari where you fly into the camps then they might have an open vehicle. Tanzanian National Parks restrict their use.

try these local Tour operator copied from a post sandy mentions 4th bullet tanzania forum top of the page

4th bullet from the Top

Basecamp Tanzania - management@basecamptanzania.com contact Achmed.

Bright African safaris- http://www.brightafricansafaris.com

Easy Travel- info@easytravel.co.tz

East African Safari and Touring Company -David@eastafricansafari.net

Roy Safari - roysafaris@intafrica.com

Safari Multiways contact Romeo - https://safarimultiwaystz.com

Sunny Safaris- info@sunnysafaris.com

Swala Safaris – contact Rose at -info@swalasafaris.com

Shidolya -admin@shidolya.co.tz

Safari Infinity- info@safari-infinity.com

Destination Expert
for Tanzania
Level Contributor
8,232 posts
10. Re: Please help with First African Safari!

There are also some reasonable priced camps from about US$ 200pppn I think that is the same as those achnab mentions.

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