Safe to say, there’s nowhere else in the world like Africa. Before I embarked on an 11-Day tour to Tanzania with Topdeck Travel (operated locally in partnership with Acacia Africa) I was overwhelmed with questions that I wanted the answers too about wondered what it would really be like on a safari tour in Africa. I mean, I had a pretty solid understanding of what the experience would be like but didn’t quite expect the journey to live up to the hype of my colleagues and friends promising that ‘Africa will change my life’. Turns out a trip to Tanzania is actually pretty awesome, not to mention life changing!
Without a doubt, a trip to Africa will stay with you forever. From developing a more open mind or building a daring attitude, to sampling new cuisines or spending less time glued to your smartphone: it all counts.
Read on for a few key take-outs from my journey to Tanzania and everything I wish I knew before I embarked on my first African safari.
1. You will rise early almost every day
Lucky for me, I’m naturally an early riser but something that a few travel buddies on my safari tour did not plan for or anticipate was the early mornings. Depending on where we were headed the next day, some mornings we rose as early as 5 am to cook breakfast, pack up the tents and hit the road bright and early to go animal spotting.
Depending on what time of the year you travel, it can get seriously HOT in the middle of the day which makes driving around spotting animals in extreme temperatures not-so-enjoyable; hence why the days start early (to escape the heat) and so you can reach the next destination before the sun goes down.
You might be short in annual leave, but allowing an extra day to recover and catch up on some sleep after your safari tour might be the smartest move you could make before returning to work or school.
Travel on: a Safari & Beach tour
2. You will need to participate daily in the cooking, shopping, cleaning and preparing all food
Many safari adventures would describe their tours ‘participatory’ which basically means you are responsible for cooking, cleaning, shopping and working as a group to feed yourselves. This also involves erecting your text every morning and night. If you’re not prepared for this type of experience then it’s best you reconsider if this type of tour is right for you.
Admittedly, it’s not for everyone, but if you’re hoping to sneak by doing just the bare minimum I guarantee you will feel the wrath of your group at some point, and nobody wants that while on holiday, do they?
If you are worried about the food cooked daily, let me tell you this: each meal is nothing short of amazing! From traditional stews cooked over a campfire, to BBQs to more Western-style foods determined by the group, there’s always something for the foodies.
3. The safari truck is literally a beast of a truck
If you’re a transport nerd like me, the first time you lay eyes on your rolling home will excite you to no end. Picture this: a twin-cab truck (not a bus, coach, or van) and 22 seats in the back. The actual truck itself was equipped with surprisingly comfy seats, tables and power ports to keep your camera or iPhone going.
Travel on: an Overland safari
As you drive along the dirt roads of Tanzania you are free to move around the back of the truck and during long drives, you will have access to your daily food and drinks fresh (in the onboard drinks cooler) along with your belongings safely stowed in secure lockers big enough for your entire luggage. Everything else; camping equipment, cooking gear and evening food supplies will be stored under the truck.
Travel on: a Tanzania safari
One thing you might need to know is that the air conditioning might be more of the, well, natural kind. Some trucks might not have fully functioning air conditioning in the back of the truck so windows down might be your next best option. But then, there’s that whole issue of the dusty roads which means it might get a little bit ‘warm’ in the truck. You’ve been warned.
4. Each and every game drive is completely different
Just when you think the Serengeti National Park in the north would be the same as the Serengeti National Park in the south is where you’d be completely wrong. Each and every game drive is completely different and you will never see the same two sights twice. Watching seven lions chasing down a zebra is an experience that I’ll probably never encounter again in my life which is why a safari adventure every single day is so damn thrilling.
Travel on: a Serengeti safari
As for the day trips and short safari drives, on our tour, we ditched the 22-seater safari truck and hopped into smaller 6-seater 4×4 safari vehicles to allow for a more nimble safari experience. There are also rules and regulations about how long a truck can be stopped nearby an animal for and how close they can get.
5. You WILL see animals…
One of my biggest concerns was that I wouldn’t see a single lion, elephant or zebra. Turns out, there’s hundreds of them! You’ll never forget your first time spotting a pride of lions, a tower of giraffes or a dazzle of zebras.
6. …but at the same time you’re also not guaranteed to see anything
Yes, there might be hundreds of thousands of creatures hiding in the Serengeti National Park, but that doesn’t mean a rhino or a cheetah is a guaranteed sight. As long as you keep an open mind it will reduce the chances of feeling disappointed for not seeing the Big 5 during your safari journey.
7. Camping in Tanzania is not as remote as you might expect
Some campsites we stayed at were like any large camping site in Europe. There were bars, nearby markets, plenty of other groups we could mingle with and boasted modern shower facilities and the opportunity to upgrade to a hostel room if we wanted to. At the start our trip we also spent time in Zanzibar for a few nights and were spoilt with a modern hotel upgrade on the beach.
Travel on: a Tanzania Zanzibar safari
On the other hand, there were nights spent in the middle of nowhere and our group was literally camping under the stars which really added to the authenticity of our safari experience.
If you do end up camping in the remote parts of Tanzania just keep in mind there are no fences in many campsites so roaming around at night away outside your campsite could be a huge mistake – especially once the nocturnal animals come out to play.
8. You don’t need to wear ‘safari-themed’ clothing
Leave the khaki coloured pants at home (unless you want to wear them) but these are by no means necessary. If you want a comprehensive list of everything you need to pack, take a look at our essential packing guide for a safari tour in Tanzania here.
9. An iPhone 5S (unsurprisingly) does not provide high-quality images
I’m by no means an expert photographer but unfortunately, my little iPhone 5S did not perform its best when trying to zoom into a cheetah 100 metres away from our safari truck. I did manage to capture a selfie from the top of the truck with a giraffe just a few metres away but won’t be winning any awards for my safari photography anytime soon.
If you are a photography aficionado, it pays to have the right gear including a superzoom lens or a wide angle lens.
10. You’ll learn the meaning of ‘digital detox’
To be honest, in most parts of Africa you don’t really have a choice but to switch off and detox. Yes, Wi-Fi is readily available, but you’ll spend more time trying to connect, only to discover your Whatsapp notifications won’t actually load.
It might sound like a millennial nightmare, but you might as well save yourself the tech-frustration and just switch off. Easy. No reception, no problems. Because, really, who has time for Instagram or Facebook when you’ve got hundreds of animals to spot nearby?
11. You’ll uncover a new way to travel
Once you go overland, you might never go back. Admittedly, it’s not for everyone but it sure is a hell of a journey. This ‘hands-on-adventure’ was an eye-opener about the many travel styles that a traditional group tour could actually cover. As for our group, all travellers from the first timers to the seasoned pros quickly learnt how to how to pitch a tent, cook over a campfire, and most importantly – squat behind the truck if nature calls (even if it involves a 12 ft. giraffe staring you down).
12. Learn the lingo
Last, but not least, by picking up a few phrases here or there will guarantee you will instantly be rewarded with lifelong local friends. Across East Africa be sure to listen out for “Karibu,” meaning ‘Welcome’ or “Asante Sana” meaning ‘Thank you very much’.
This crazy, adventurous and inspiring way to travel may leave you craving a hot shower but it will also leave you with memories to last a lifetime.
Ready to start your safari expedition? Take a look at our most popular safari tours in Africa.