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For our hon­ey­moon, years back, we had decid­ed to knock Safari in the Serengeti off our buck­et lists.  It was a whirl­wind two weeks, a day in Kil­i­man­jaro, four days in the Serengeti, a week in Zanz­ibar, the best places to see ani­mals (lions!) on an African Safari. Plus, a 24 hour lay­over there and back in Ams­ter­dam.  But it was the most incred­i­ble trav­el expe­ri­ence I’ve ever had. 

After being ground­ed dur­ing 2020, I’m espe­cial­ly nos­tal­gic for our safari trip. When our fam­i­ly final­ly gets back to glo­be­trot­ting, we won’t be putting off the rest of our buck­et list des­ti­na­tions any longer.

If you’re plan­ning your buck­et list trav­els, and safari is on your list, here’s what we learned to make your trip incredible. 

 

 

Use a travel planner or agency

 

Try­ing to plan a trip in a for­eign coun­try is tricky, but it’s even more chal­leng­ing in a coun­try where there are larg­er lan­guage bar­ri­ers or poor­er infra­struc­ture and you’re try­ing to plan a com­pli­cat­ed expe­ri­ence, like a safari.  So our num­ber one tip is to hire a pro­fes­sion­al to plan it.  Know­ing that our entire trip was planned out, that we had a local con­tact that we could reach out to should any­thing go wrong, and that some­one knew our gen­er­al where­abouts at all times was a huge weight off of our shoul­ders.  We did­n’t have to wor­ry about con­nect­ing flights, cabs, or tick­ets.  Every­thing was already arranged.

Serengeti Nation­al Park is locat­ed in the north­ern part of Tan­za­nia, sev­er­al hun­dred miles from the cap­i­tal city of Dar es Salaam.  At just shy of 5,700 square miles, the park itself is larg­er than the entire state of Con­necti­cut and it’s made up entire­ly of dirt roads.  That means that the eas­i­est and quick­est mode of long-dis­tance trav­el is by plane.  But these aren’t your tra­di­tion­al air­planes with peanut pack­ets and safe­ty cards in the seat­back pock­ets.  We’re talk­ing tiny 8 seater prop planes and dirt run­ways that have you sweat­ing a bit every time you take off and land (the views from above are so worth it, though). 

There are no tick­et coun­ters, no Depar­ture and Arrival boards, and 50% of the time, there were no bath­rooms.  So, hav­ing every­thing planned seam­less­ly is well worth the mon­ey of hir­ing a local trav­el plan­ner who is famil­iar with the area and can give you that peace of mind. 

 

 

airport in serengeti

We’d like to wel­come you to Kuro Airport.

  

 

It’s a long journey — consider a layover

 

When we planned our trip, there were no air­lines oper­at­ing direct flights from the US to any­where in Africa close to Tan­za­nia.  We were going to have to fly through Europe or the UAE, have a mul­ti-hour lay­over, and then fly on to Africa, which would’ve equat­ed to almost 24 hours of straight air­plane and air­port trav­el.  For some­one who can bare­ly sit still long enough to get her hair cut and col­ored, that was pret­ty much out of the ques­tion. So, we gave our­selves a trip with­in a trip by book­ing a 24 lay­over at our first des­ti­na­tion.  It was a game-chang­er and some­thing we high­ly recommend.

We opt­ed for Ams­ter­dam, since nei­ther of us had been, but there were also flights through Paris, Lon­don, and sev­er­al oth­er major Euro­pean cities we could have cho­sen.  It gave us a chance to get out, move around, and expe­ri­ence a city we’d nev­er vis­it­ed before and maybe would­n’t have gone to otherwise. 

 

Take your kids…when they’re older.

 

giraffes in the serengeti

You guys lead the way

 

 

One thing peo­ple don’t tell you about going on safari is that it is hard on your body.  We thought if we booked a lux­u­ry African safari, we’d be sit­ting in plushy Land Rovers just watch­ing the ani­mals roll by our win­dows — what could pos­si­bly be stren­u­ous about that? 

What we neglect­ed to under­stand is that you are dri­ving on dirt roads, over ditch­es, rocks and tree branch­es.  Yes, you’re in a Land Rover and it has seats and it’s air­con­di­tioned (insert praise hands emo­ji here), but you’re also get­ting thrown around and jos­tled for hours on end.  It’s fun, but it’s rough too. 

Add to that the heat, the con­cerns about being around wild ani­mals, that your days start very ear­ly, and the sheer expense and has­sle of get­ting to Africa in the first place, and you’ll begin to under­stand why it’s not the ide­al trip for young kids, no mat­ter how cool it sounds.  In fact, we did­n’t see any­one younger than six­teen the entire time we were on our African safari.  So, if it’s a trip you’d like to take with your kids, we rec­om­mend wait­ing until they’re old enough to not only enjoy it but also tough it out.

 

Don’t miss “The Los Ange­les Zoo — A Walk On the Wild Side”

 

 

Take the pharmacy with you  

 

When you’re in the Serengeti (or at most nation­al parks that offer safaris), you are usu­al­ly very far from civ­i­liza­tion.  When we would go to sleep at night, we’d turn out the lights and would­n’t see anoth­er light on the plains that stretched for miles.  It lit­er­al­ly felt like the end of the world. 

So if you hap­pen to get a headache, or worse, trav­el­er’s diar­rhea, there’s no local phar­ma­cy to pop into for relief.  You’re on your own.  Some of the best advice we can give is to plan ahead and pack for even the most unlike­ly sce­nario.  Headache, stom­ach upset, any per­son­al pre­scrip­tions, your time of the month — have it all handy, just in case.  Also be sure to pack plen­ty of sun­screen, heavy duty insect repel­lent, and malar­ia pills if your doc­tor rec­om­mends them. Their mos­qui­tos are no joke. There are plen­ty of home­o­path­ic options for all too.

 

 

serengeti national park

Kind of reminds you of that REM song, does­n’t it?

 

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On Safari, humans are the minority

 

Our safari was the only time in my life where I have felt like it was the ani­mal’s domain and I was infring­ing.  We would lis­ten to hye­nas howl at night out­side our hut.  At din­ner, we could hear lion prides chal­leng­ing each oth­er across the plains.  One day, when we left our hut door open, with only the screen closed, a baboon broke in and stole vit­a­mins and face wipes. Talk about a city folk faux pas!  We had to adjust our way of liv­ing to fit in with theirs.

While I nev­er felt unsafe, it was clear that there were lines we should­n’t cross.  We weren’t allowed to leave our hut after dark with­out an escort.  Any­time we were seat­ed on the patio at the lodge, there was always an employ­ee stand­ing close by (we lat­er learned a leop­ard had chased a baboon onto the patio weeks pri­or to our arrival).  We were nev­er allowed to get out of the safari vehi­cle when we were stopped.  While it might sound like a risky adven­ture to some, as long as you are mind­ful of your sur­round­ings and stick to the rules, there’s real­ly no need for concern.

 

 

sleeping lion in the serengeti

Tak­ing a lit­tle cat nap

 

Bring a really good camera

 

Between the two of us, my hus­band and I came back from our safari with over a thou­sand pho­tos of places we saw ani­mals.  Every­thing was so mind-blow­ing­ly beau­ti­ful that we could­n’t help but go a lit­tle pho­to crazy.  Although by the third day, we’d seen so many wilde­beests and zebras that they’d kind of lost their appeal.

We took a bunch of pho­tos with our phones, but we also bor­rowed a real­ly nice cam­era from a fam­i­ly mem­ber and took some with that as well.  As could be expect­ed, the pho­tos tak­en with the cam­era turned out way bet­ter.  So, if you can bor­row one or buy one refur­bished, it’s def­i­nite­ly worth it.

 

Besides, one of the nice things about being off the grid was not hav­ing to be chained to my phone.  There’s no wi-fi (I checked) so you might as well leave the phone in your room.

 

 

zebra in the Serengeti

We have more pho­tos of zebras than we know what to do with

 

 

 

It’s a trip of a lifetime - splurge a little

 

If you’re plan­ning to do a safari and are sav­ing up for it, it’s worth it to save a lit­tle extra and do it right.  More than like­ly, you’ll only do it once, so make the most of it while you’re there.  Our mot­to on spe­cial trips like this is go big or don’t go at all. 

We saved up for the hot air bal­loon sun­rise safari, the nicer lodge with mod­ern ameni­ties (this girl does not do camp­ing, and cer­tain­ly not when there are lions and water buf­fa­lo involved), and pri­vate safaris with our own guide.  And we did­n’t regret any of them.  In fact, in a lot of ways, they made the trip.  The one that is a must in our opin­ion was the pri­vate safari.  Hav­ing one on one time with a guide afford­ed us the oppor­tu­ni­ty to ask lots of ques­tions, learn more about the local cul­ture, and also decide how we want­ed to spend our day.  If we want­ed to spend an entire after­noon roam­ing the plains search­ing for the elu­sive black rhi­no, then we could do that (and we did, though we did­n’t find him).

 

 

hot air balloons over the serengeti

The expe­ri­ence of a lifetime.

 

 

Hope­ful­ly some­day soon, we’ll all be glo­be­trot­ting again.  But in the mean­time, we can plan and save so that when that day comes, we’ll be ready for the next adven­ture, safari or otherwise. 

 

 

Mor­gan is a brand design­er and writer who splits her time between man­ag­ing her cre­ative stu­dio, Atlas + Anchor, and writ­ing about her life­long love affair with trav­el. A wan­der­lus­ter at heart, she’s a big pro­po­nent of explor­ing the roads less trav­eled because they often lead to amaz­ing views, mem­o­rable sto­ries, and the most unas­sum­ing but life-chang­ing restau­rants. Orig­i­nal­ly from Ohio, Mor­gan now lives in the heart of Chica­go with her fam­i­ly and is quite pos­si­bly the only per­son with­in city lim­its who hates deep dish pizza. 

 

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7 Can't Miss Tips For Your Family African Safari: Seeing lions, zebras and other animals on a safari can be great. Here's what you need to make sure your African Safari is the best one. Luxury Safari? Budget Safari? Which should you choose? We'll tell you!

7 Can't Miss Tips For Your Family African Safari: Seeing lions, zebras and other animals on a safari can be great. Here's what you need to make sure your African Safari is the best one. Luxury Safari? Budget Safari? Which should you choose? We'll tell you!