While I’ve been on shorter safaris before, my Tanzania safari with luxury tour provider Abercrombie & Kent was the first time I had a true and proper African safari experience. Instead of going out on a couple of game drives over the course of a trip, the entire focus of my adventure was to experience the best of the Tanzania bush and the beautiful animals that call it home. Every day for a week our expert guide took us out to new spots and locations, many favorites of his, in order to see new wildlife and enjoy new Tanzania safari experiences. Along the way though I learned a lot about safari in general, more than I had on any previous trip, so I thought I would share a few of the notes I took during that amazing week so that you might be a little better prepared than I was when you plan your ultimate Tanzania safari.
Due to strict weight restrictions on short, internal flights within Tanzania, guests can only bring 33 pounds of luggage per person in total. That includes everything, from clothing to cameras and anything else you can imagine. As a notorious overpacker it was a great exercise for me to go through and thanks to the forced lightening of my luggage, I think I may have finally turned a new leaf when it comes to going “carry-on only.” Luckily, Abercrombie & Kent provides beautiful and durable safari bags for their guests, the perfect size to pack everything I needed for my week on a Tanzania safari. But what should you pack? I’ll devote an entire post to that, but when it comes to clothing I saw a lot of people make a lot of mistakes and so I thought I’d offer a few practical words of advice.
When traveling on safari you are not going to be an extra for a remake of “Out of Africa.” Throughout all of my trips to Southern and now Eastern Africa, I have see many people walking around as if it was 1920 and they were part of the British mission. Pith helmets aren’t necessary, nor are any of the other overblown trappings some shopkeepers may try to sell you. No, what is important is that you pack lightweight, versatile clothing that is comfortable. Comfort is absolutely essential in this situation. You aren’t visiting the cafes of Monaco, this is the African bush and you need to be prepared for it. Game drives can last all day and throughout you will be in a safari truck the entire time. While the Abercrombie & Kent vehicles are comfortable and spacious, you’re still going to be in one for most of your time in Tanzania. That means what you wear should be comfortable enough to sit in for 4 or 6 hours at a time. Lightweight clothes that wick away moisture in neutral colors are the best. It will probably be hot and while the trucks do have air conditioning, while on a game drive you’ll want to pop the top of the truck in order to better see the wildlife, which means no A/C. Light shirts and pants made from synthetic materials is key. They’re also easier for the attendants at the lodges and camps to clean and dry quickly, enabling you to have laundry done on the go. (Laundry service is complimentary at all Sanctuary Retreats). The color of your clothing is also important, oddly enough. Neutral colors are the best, and most fashionably versatile; avoid bright and dark colors. Dark colors especially tend to attract insects, of which there are many, so no need to further encourage them. Packing clothes that are versatile and easy to mix and match really is the best way to go. I packed a couple pairs of synthetic and lightweight travel/hiking pants along with several light t-shirts and travel button-down shirts. When matched with a sweatshirt (or light jacket) I had a million combinations to serve any time of day and any situation, from chilly mornings in the Ngorongoro Crater, to warmer afternoons in the Serengeti.
Basically, don’t be a stereotype. Instead, pack comfortable clothes that can be worn all day and which are light enough to pack into your safari bag.
Lots of time in a safari vehicle
I’ve alluded to this already, but any game drive anywhere includes a lot of time in a safari truck. From experience, these can take a variety of sizes and shapes but with Abercrombie & Kent, the trucks have all been standardized. Actually, A&K was the first company to develop the style of safari vehicle everyone uses today, taking a sturdy truck and retrofitting it to provide a comfortable and luxurious journey for guests throughout the African bush. Inside the truck are individual seats for up to 6 people, a mini-fridge and even outlets (with universal adapters) so you can charge your electronics along the way. The top of the truck can pop up so that you can get a better view of surrounding wildlife, take photos, use your binoculars or just get some fresh air. As nice as the trucks are though, you do need to be prepared to spend a lot of time in them. If you have back or joint issues, you may want to consider bringing along a cushion or brace in order to make your time more comfortable. You should also take a small daypack on your Tanzania safari so that you can leave most of your things back at camp, but take enough out on the drives with you in case you need something along the way.
Food, water & snacks
One thing that surprised me on my Tanzania safari with Abercrombie & Kent was how good the food was at all of our accommodations. Looking back at it I shouldn’t have been shocked, both Sanctuary Retreats and the Four Seasons Serengeti have excellent reputations, but it was a nice surprise. Even though the Sanctuary Retreats are tented camps, they are after all luxury tented camps, and the chefs at each one we visited clearly know what they’re doing. However, we also spent many hours in the safari truck, either en route to a new destination, on a game drive or a mixture of both. Thankfully the A&K trucks come equipped with a mini-fridge, which our guide stocked with our favorite beverages. (Water, Coke and Diet Coke in our case.) But throughout the afternoons I found myself looking for a snack or something to munch on, and this is when it would have been smart of me to have packed something easy like granola bars or trail mix. Another perk though with Sanctuary is something I didn’t learn about until my last day, which is they will gladly pack snacks for you to take on long game drives. Fruit, cookies, crackers, chocolate – whatever you want really, they will happily load into the back of the truck for you. Given how well they managed our picnic breakfasts and lunches along the way I should have realized they could also easily manage snack service, but for some reason I didn’t connect those dots. Whether you bring your own or rely on Sanctuary though, keep in mind that you will want something to eat outside of mealtimes and where you’re going there are no stores, cafes or anything really where you can stop to buy things.
Every day is different
The phrase “Tanzania safari” may sound like a monolithic event, but that’s definitely not the case. Throughout our Abercrombie & Kent trip we visited new parts of the country every day, and every spot was dramatically different. The goal of a weeklong safari is to see as much of the diverse landscape as possible and of course as many different animals as possible. Different parks and even different areas within parks are known for a variety of animals, as well as special terrain and landscapes. Not only that, but safari almost by definition is entirely unpredictable. You just don’t know what you’re going to find and when. We never expected to find tree-climbing lions in Tarangire National Park, and yet there they were, lounging under the shade of the leaves. While the guides are experts, they can’t control what is at its core an environment in constant flux so instead of checking off items (or animals) from a list, it’s better to just go and enjoy being there, finding pleasure in the surprising discoveries made along the way.
An African safari, and specially a Tanzania safari, is near the very top of most people’s travel bucket lists I think – and with good reason. For every movie, TV show or photograph you’ve seen, they all pale in comparison to the real experience of driving through the African bush in search of lions, elephants or whatever else may walk by. I’ve always been an animal lover and I was prepared for an amazing adventure, but what I experienced exceeded even those lofty expectations. There is simply nothing like sitting in a rugged vehicle in the middle of Africa, a few feet from dozens of graceful giraffes searching for leaves, the sounds of other unknown animals in the distance. This cannot be replicated in any way; it is just something you have to experience for yourself. If you ever had any doubts, and I can’t imagine you have, a Tanzania safari should be at the very top of your travel bucket list and please make sure you do everything you can so that you too can have these wonderful moments of unadulterated travel joy.
What other questions do you have about going on a Tanzania safari?