Our 3 Day Tanzanian Budget Safari
October 12, 2014 – October 17, 2014
Safaris are synonymous with Africa, so we couldn’t visit Africa without going on one. And our safari turned out to be one the most exciting activities we have done so far on this trip. We saw every animal we wanted to see as well as a lion and hyena hunt, our guide later told us we were exceptionally lucky, especially for a first time short budget safari!
Most safaris in Tanzania leave from the city of Arusha, and ours was no exception. The city’s size and proximity to the most popular parks, like the Serengeti or Ngorongoro Crater, make the city a great starting point for any safari in the area. There are a truly huge variety of safaris available here, from one day to 35 days or more, and prices ranging from budget safaris around $100-200 a day to thousands, the sky is the limit or perhaps just whatever your own budget or imagination decides. Since we are doing a budget trip around the world, we of course were interested in the ‘budget safari’ options. We got some recommendations from others we bumped into about the various safari companies they went with and in a couple days in Arusha quickly narrowed down our options based on what was offered and total price.
Only purchase from a legitimate, known, safari company
As Arusha is perhaps the most popular safari starting point in all of Tanzania, its no surprise that any foreigners walking the street or stepping off the bus are offered safari deals constantly. When we arrived at the bus station, there were at least a dozen people waiting at the bottom of the bus’s steps all vying to tell us about their safari company and shove business cards in our faces. As tempting as it might be to purchase an expensive safari from the first unofficial person you meet stepping off a bus – don’t! – these people are mostly scammers! They offer impressive deals because they probably don’t intend on delivering. Only go with a company that you have heard of from a trusted person, or with several reviews, or at least an office.
Our budget allowed for a 3 day, 2 night safari, visiting three parks in total, Tarangire, Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara. We did our research and found a company that wanted to take us to these parks for a good price. Although we were hoping to form a group with some other travelers to keep costs down, this proved to be difficult so in the end we decided to go with a small company called Livingstone’s Africa (Thanks Colleen for the recommendation!)
As it turns out the timing of our arrival in Arusha, being off season and with Ebola in the news and on the minds of would be travelers and safari goers, the options for safaris were very numerous and safari companies were eager for business. A quick note on Ebola, yes Ebola is in Africa but far too many people (including some family and friends back home and ourselves at times) tend to lump all of Africa together, completely forgetting that West Africa is thousands of miles away from East Africa. As a result East Africa (which has been less affected by Ebola than Europe or North America) has noticed a significant drop in tourism. I say this not to encourage others to come to Africa if you are at all concerned, but to explain why we were unconcerned and felt completely safe.
Our guide/driver Claude picked us up in our Land Cruiser safari vehicle in the morning from our hotel and we set off towards our first destination, Tarangire National Park, for what would prove to be a very exciting first day. Krista was confident we would get along well with Claude when she noticed his “Giraffes united against ceiling fans” T-shirt.
In case you’ve never gone on a safari before, here’s how they work. Typically they are for multiple days and you spend each day in a National Park, either the same one or a different one, and each night in either a lodge or a tent, or some combination of the two. Also typically everything is included, all your meals, beverages, lodging, driver, vehicle – everything! So all you need to do is sit back and enjoy the adventure. The budget safaris are no different, lodging meals and beverages were all included, and of course the national parks and animals are all the same no matter how much you are spending.
Tarangire National Park
We arrived at Tarangire in the morning and after stopping to register our passes (all the details like this are handled by the guides, passengers need not worry about anything) we set off into the park to see the animals.
We were not sure what to expect of a safari, of course we have seen them on television, but are they really like? Would we see many animals? Would they be so far away that you would need binoculars? Would it be worth the money we were paying, even if it was budget safari prices? Well shortly after driving into the park we were pleasantly surprised to see just how well and how close you actually get to all the animals, and any apprehension about whether it was worth it quickly melted away.
As it turns out you can get really, really close to the animals and if you have a half way decent camera you can take some great pictures!
I’m not sure how our guide Claude arranged it, but right after lunch we got to a lion hunt just a hundred yards away from our car. We drove a few minutes beyond our lunch spot down into the river valley and our guide spotted some lions, Claude drove us right to the edge of the river and we sat for about 30 minutes watching a lion slowly stock its prey, a large waterbuck. Other vehicles pulled up as well, but we had the best spot, right up front, to view the action. The zoom on our camera was not the best but the lion was only about a hundred yards away. This would have been a great time to have a fancy camera. Our guide later told us tourists can go on ten day or longer safaris and not get to see a lion hunt like we did on our first day.
The Sunbright Lodge
After our exciting first day, we drove to the Sunbright Lodge where we would be spending the next couple nights between park outings. The lodge had two options for lodging you can either stay the night in a large tent or inside an actual room, depending on what kind of experience you are after, we stayed in one of the rooms. The lodge itself was very comfortable with great food, entertainment at night and staff that really cared about your comfort.
Day 2 – Ngorongoro Crater
Day two we were off to the famous Ngorongoro Crater, a large volcanic caldera which has provided a protected environment for Africa’s large animals for millions of years.
Our lunch break was by one of the lakes in the crater where they have a small parking lot set up next to some bathrooms. Right after lunch with us thinking that we had seen just about everything there is to see in the crater, we were surprised once again with another hunt. This time a hyena was chashing a wildebeest and right through the parking lot. Lunch eating tourists and people walking to the bathrooms scattered as right down the road a wildebeest came running, followed closely by a lone hyena. We watched as the wildebeest ran around the east end of the lake and back again to the lake’s shore. The wildebeest ran into the water to escape the hyena, which after a while pretended not to be interested and walked away enticing the wildebeest to leave the water and then the chase resumed, running around the lake and through all the lunching tourists again in large loop until they ended up back in the exact same spot in the lake. I managed to get a little bit of video of the hyena and the wildebeest and some pictures of them running around in circles.
After an hour of running and diving repeatedly into the lake, the wildebeest and the hyena ran over a hill and disappeared, we did not find out whether the wildebeest got away or not.
Day 3 Lake Manyara National Park
Nearby was Lake Manyara National Park, which in contrast to the vast open plains of Ngorongoro and the lightly forested Tarangire, is a thick lush forest. We saw more monkeys here than anywhere else, mainly baboons.
We weren’t sure what exactly to expect on a budget safari but we were very pleasantly surprised. From what we could tell the main difference between a budget safari and an expensive safari, is the lodging, the parks and animals as well as the vehicles and roads are all the same whether you are pinching pennies or paying thousands. Another important factor, and one that is much harder to know ahead of time, is the quality of your guide. If you have a guide who doesn’t speak good English or isn’t particularly knowledgeable about the animals or the park you probably won’t have as good a time. We lucked out and our guide Claude spoke great English and was extremely knowledgeable and passionate, lecturing us about every creature we encountered. Claude, our tour guide and driver from Livingstone’s Africa, also seemed to have a knack for where to go to find the best views possible. We were often the first to arrive where the action was taking place and almost always had the best unobstructed views. As for the other tourists in other vehicles, well they probably got a lot of pictures of us along with the animals. Although we should note it is rare to see even one hunt, let alone the two that we saw, especially in such a short safari.
Our safari turned out to be one of the most exciting and memorable things we have done on this trip, and by the time we had finished we were already planning what kind of safari we would go on when we hope to return.