I just returned from an incredible 7 day Tanzanian safari experience, and once again I have ADS to thank for it!
I should begin by saying that I have been on safari with ADS 4 times in the past, and have had some pretty amazing experiences. Each time I have gone in the past, I have traveled with various groups of friends, most of whom had never been on safari before we went together, so getting to see the wonders of Africa fresh and new each time through their eyes was always so enlightening, creating experiences I will most certainly remember for a life time.
So then, just how does one go on safari for the 5th time with ADS and make it any better than the previous 4? Well, you change it up a little and you decide to go on a solo safari, of course!
ADS already spoils you when it comes to going in a small group, because even in a group you are still going on a gloriously “private” safari experience. But I have to say, now that I have done it, there really, truly is NOTHING quite like going on an African safari solo!
After meeting up with my AMAZINGLY gifted guide Raphael, once he knew my safari experience history, we were off on a mission to seek out my wish list, to include things I really – somewhat selfishly – wanted to see! As much as I always appreciate and am in awe when it comes to viewing ALL of the incredibly diverse animal population in Tanzania, it seems I also have a deeply personal love for the big cats, the elusive leopard in particular, and any and all “babies.” And of course experiencing the thrill that comes from witnessing the great migration was also on top of my wish list as well! So seeking these things out became our main priority. And dare I say, thanks to Raphael, I was not to be disappointed!
We saw incredible sightings of elephant, hippo, and crocodile – behavioral interactions, and of course we witnessed several various sections of the incredible great migration! Some of my BEST video settings were of zebra and wildebeest herds on the move – a seemingly endless stream – galloping wildly across the savanna, plowing through various watering holes and other bodies of water – we were immersed in the sights and sounds that simply mesmerize those who are lucky enough to witness it in person. So amazing….
And when it came to leopards – in total we saw no less than 9, and most were very close to us. Happily, three sightings were “extremely” close, as close as one can get, in that they were in trees right next to our vehicle! I was amazed! And of these sightings, my favorite had to be the morning we enjoyed viewing three in ONE tree – a male, a female, and a cub – with a kill! We just sat back and watched them interact in the early morning light. They were RIGHT next to us… I think I can honestly say it was one of my favorite safari sightings of all time, and I got some incredible pictures!
Lions were also aplenty, so many I lost count over time, and so we also had some incredibly memorable sightings of them as well. I think my favorite was when we were with three beautiful young and healthy males who moved from the damp morning grass to stand on the bare boulders of the kopjes, looking off into the light of the rising sun, as a stiff early morning breeze blew their manes back away from their faces/eyes! They were so majestic!
We also experienced a few more magical moments, such as when a gorgeous dark-maned male followed and mated with a somewhat reluctant female (Let’s just say he had to follow her for a ways before she would finally submit!), three VERY playful two to three month old cubs playing all around – and over – their very patient mother, and then there was the day we watched as fourteen LITTLE baby cubs followed one of three lionesses in the tall grass to a site close to their kill, where the other two mothers patiently waited. Yes, these three mothers had fourteen little ones shared amongst them! And dare I say, between the way these little ones both looked and sounded as they tried to keep up with the mother lioness, they were simply precious!
As I take the time necessary to review my nearly 5000 pictures (thanks to today’s technology!), and then to reflect over my nearly 1000 favorites, I feel so incredibly fortunate to have gotten the shots that I did – and one thought keeps coming back to mind: if there is ANYTHING that I have learned from my past safari experiences over the years, it’s that the most memorable and remarkable sightings of leopards, lions and most other carnivores almost always tends to happen sometime between the hours of 6:00 AM and 10:00 AM.
So I think I can safely say that if you truly want to enjoy the pleasure of viewing “active” animals throughout the Serengeti, leaving before the break of dawn is imperative.
It is also just as important that later in the day one makes every effort to drive far away from the lodge locations and from other safari vehicles (especially for mid-day cheetah sightings). It seems most other company drivers tend to leave the lodges with their groups after breakfast and then hang out in the same general vicinity, due to what I can only assume are their companies’ limited mileage allowances. (Which ADS happily does NOT have!)
As an example of why I say this, for the leopard male, mother and cub, even though we were in the central Serengeti area, it was around 0630/0700, and we were the ONLY ones there. I can only attribute this to the fact that we had left the lodge in the dark – around 6:00 – which was as early as we were allowed by the lodge to leave (we were dependent upon them for our boxed breakfasts/lunches).
When we finally decided to leave the leopard family of three, (around 0830) the cub had climbed down and was hidden away in the grass, the male had moved to another tree farther away (taking the kill with him!), and the female was sleeping, apparently ready to rest for the day. The entire time we were there with them, they were active and alert, and we had been completely alone with them the entire time…which made the experience oh, so much more special! Truly, it was simply amazing…
And all of the mid-day cheetahs we saw with their cubs and gazelle kills were very far away from the central area crowds. Again, for most sightings we were the only ones there! I believe we saw over 10 cheetah total, and they were always “right there” next to us.
And the BEAUTIFUL male lions on the boulders? It was just us, the early morning light, and the lions! We ate our breakfast while just sitting back and relaxing in our vehicle, just watching them interact.
I could go on and on, but the one common theme that ran throughout all of these “special” sightings – every single time it was just “us and the animals.” The TRUE benefits of ultra-early departures and eating boxed breakfasts and lunches!
I also feel I should mention that one of the reasons I have always loved my ADS driver guides is because not only are they always willing to leave at O-dark-thirty in the AM, they also highly ENCOURAGE it! And truth be told, I’d much rather eat my breakfast with a lion or a leopard than with a tourist!
So in closing, I would have to say that this was probably the most uniquely “satisfying” safari experience I personally have EVER had, only because now, with all of my past safari experiences under my belt, my guide and I were able to go out in search of things that were a little harder to seek out, but yet were sightings that I personally hoped to see! And this trip really did seem to be “all about the migration, the big cats, and the precious little babies!”
I simply LOVE the green season – rich colors and very healthy animals, to include lots of little ones – it truly is my favorite time of year!
Asante Sana to all for helping make this safari happen for me – but especially to Dawn Anderson, Michael Wishner, and to EVERYONE at ADS on the ground in Arusha, for blessing me with a true SOLO African Safari trip of a lifetime! It could NOT have been better!
Safari Dates: March 31, 2017 to April 8, 2017
I am 71 years old, so I knew this trip would be physically and mentally difficult for me. My children called Michael Wishner a saint for answering my 100 or so anxious emails. The bumpy roads, all the shots, brushing our teeth with bottled water, upset stomach, dust despite the fact that we purposely traveled in April, the so called wet season, which was dry, no make-up, no hair dryers at most of the camps or AC which I happen to like, 7 airplane rides and last but not least, proximity to wild animals!
But what an experience to share with my children and grandsons. My older grandson, at 16, wasn’t thrilled in the beginning because he only loves sports and isn’t particularly interested in animals. But our collective enthusiasm got to him in the end.
Ellison, our dedicated driver/guide was hard working and knowledgeable and could relate to all of us, even sports figures and teams with our sports guy. We all laughed a lot. We made up things like animal bingo which succeeded in capturing the boys’ imagination and competitiveness and Ellison even taught us a Swahili song.
We pointed out animals using a clock face- wildebeests at 3 o’clock (although I often mixed up 3 with 9), the kids often stood up in the jeep even when it was moving which I didn’t dare do.
We loved our accommodations, all very different from canvas tents in the middle of nowhere with netted beds and a shower that had to be filled with warm water, to a lodge on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater. There was champagne and fruit waiting for us at each different camp. But the animals were astounding.
We watched in horror as two male lions killed a hyena just for sport- the first time Ellison had ever seen male lions kill. We watched a couple pair of lions mate and a mother cheetah kill a baby gazelle which was only a snack for herself and her two nearly grown cubs.
I loved my grandsons’ laughter at the antics of Baboons and we got in line with other jeeps to watch a Black Rhino meander around looking for a break among the jeeps so he could cross our road. We were chased by an elephant and raced ostriches. We really bonded over “bush bathrooms,” peeing at the back of the jeep when our driver deemed it safe!
And the beautiful Massai people with their colorful clothing, crafty beaded jewelry and herds of cattle and goats shepherded by their children in lion country!
It was surely the trip of a lifetime, one we will never forget!
Safari Dates: April 10, 2017 to April 17, 2017
Clients often ask questions about the various planning phases of an African Safari. After all, this is a big trip, and there are some major steps involved in planning! So when do the major steps occur and in what sequence?
***6 to 12 months prior to travel (up to 2 years or more in some cases):
1) Initial Planning: Contact the friendly staff at Africa Dream Safaris! Our staff of expert consultants, based here in the US for your convenience, are well-traveled and happy to talk you through any questions you may have about getting started. We’ll help you solidify your priorities for the trip, budget and time for travel. We’ll develop a sample itinerary for you and, with your feedback, we’ll customize it to your priorities, schedule and budget. This part may be the most fun step of all! With exception to when you depart for the trip, of course!
2) Safari booking: Once you have settled on a final itinerary and travel dates, the next step is to make it official! A $500 per person deposit is required to secure your safari reservations. All our safaris are individually customized, and lodging in these remote wilderness areas can and will sell out. So in order to guarantee securing your first choices in accommodations, the early planner has the advantage. Admittedly we do have much more flexibility than a large group package operator and we are often able to make last minute safaris work out too. We’ve had folks book their safari as close as 30 days out, while other folks book their safari over 2 years in advance. That being said, it seems the majority of folks book their safari 6-12 months ahead of time. As much advance notice as possible is always helpful for the holidays and other peak seasons such as summer when most families travel (July-Aug). Keep in mind, once you have finalized your desired safari itinerary with your consultant, it will take an additional 1 – 3 weeks to confirm all your reservations.
3) International Airfare: Most major airlines start selling tickets within 11 months of the proposed travel dates, and most people will book their plane tickets as soon as possible after their safari has been confirmed.
Some people may ask, shouldn’t I book my plane ticket first? Well, that’s an option too. But keep in mind all of our safari packages are customized and can only be confirmed upon your booking. Once the airfare is purchased the travel dates are obviously set, and there is no shifting by a day or two to make the reservations at specific lodges work out. However, if a client’s dates are already set for other reasons, and if they are flexible with regards to specific accommodations, many times clients will go ahead and purchase the airfare first. Especially if fares seem volatile or if they’ve snared a really good airfare deal. Then, if a specific lodge happens to be sold out on a certain date we’d just substitute in a different lodge or shift the order of the lodges to make it work out. As long as you are somewhat flexible, it always works out.
Worth noting this is a long flight, so important to be as comfortable as possible. Do you prefer a window or aisle seat? Try to get your seats assigned at the time of booking your plane ticket. If it’s not possible, find out when the earliest time is to get your seats assigned and mark that date on your calendar. It’s a good idea to get your seats assigned as soon as they become available for the best selection.
4) Travel insurance: It’s important to note that most travel insurance companies offer guests a more comprehensive policy (ie, coverage for pre-existing conditions) if the guests purchase their travel insurance within a 15 day window of the date they put down a deposit on the trip or purchase their airline ticket, whichever one comes first. Also, in order to qualify for some travel insurance policies, guests must purchase their insurance BEFORE making FINAL payment on the trip.
5) Passport: At the time you book your safari, be certain to obtain a passport or check your current passport and make sure the expiration date is at least 6 months beyond your travel date. Also, make sure you have at least 2 blank pages left in your passport for your Tanzania visa. If you are visiting other African countries on this trip, make sure your passport meets that specific country’s requirements (for example, both Kenya and South Africa also require at least 2 blank pages for a visa, making for a total of 6 blank pages required for a trip that encompasses Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa). Unless you are willing to pay extra for expedited service, you may need several weeks to get your passport renewed.
***3 – 6 months prior to travel:
1) Dr. Appointment and Vaccinations: Although many vaccinations are still considered effective as long as they obtained within 10 days of travel, but we recommend you don’t wait till the last minute! For a complete discussion about Vaccinations and other heath considerations, please review the information at the following link: Safari Health. Keep in mind your local family doctor may not be familiar with foreign travel, and may not stock some of these vaccinations should you choose to get them in which case we recommend also making an appointment with your local travel clinic. It’s still a good idea to visit with your family doctor about your travel plans and make sure there aren’t any concerns about vaccinations, conflicting medications or travel in general. If you are traveling with prescriptions, liquids or syringes, it is always a good idea to obtain a letter from your doctor showing his authorization that these items have been prescribed to you and are medically necessary.
2) Make any necessary arrangements for house/kid/pet-sitters. Some pet boarding facilities will book up months in advance for holidays! Don’t be left high and dry at the last minute.
***3 months prior to travel:
1) Safari balance is due no less than 90 days prior to travel.
2) Make sure your international airline seats assigned.
3) Start to think about what to pack! If you need to do some shopping for luggage, safari cloths or camera equipment, now is a good time. You can see a comprehensive packing list and suggestions here: What to Bring and here What’s in My Day Pack If you are renting camera equipment, go ahead and make your reservations. We highly recommend Lens Pro To Go for your camera and lens rental needs – not only are they are experts and can assist with recommendations, but they are also fast, friendly, competitively priced and they can ship equipment hassle-free almost anywhere in the US.
***1 month to 2 weeks prior to travel:
1) Pack! Now is the time to find out if you’ve forgotten anything.
2) Call your safari consultant with any last minute questions!
3) Give a list of Emergency Contact Numbers out to family and/or friends back home (an up to date list will be given to you by your safari consultant approximately 1-2 weeks prior to your departure). You may also wish to give someone you trust a set of keys for your home and a copy of your other important travel documents.
4) Schedule to stop your mail with your local post office.
***1-2 days prior to travel
1) Call the airlines to reconfirm your flight or check-in online
2) Safari Njema! Relax; you are well prepared. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the *journey* to get you to this point. Now it’s time to enjoy the adventure!