There are two ways to plan your
safari on the Northern Circuit. You can do it ahead of time, finding a
company through guidebooks, recommendations, and the internet, or you can
just turn up at Arusha and look around there. Each of these techniques has
advantages and drawbacks. Planning ahead makes it more likely that you'll
get bookings at the lodges you want (they fill up during high season), but
can be scary, since it involves a certain leap of faith in the company's
honesty and competence. Showing up in Arusha and looking allows you to
check out the company more thoroughly, but it may take a while. The town
itself is unpleasantly touristy, and you'll have to sort through a lot of
competing offers of dubious quality.
Start by deciding what kind of
safari you want ; make a list of the parks you want to visit; and
decided on staying in lodges or Camps.
may want lodges for two reasons; they are more comfortable beds and
air conditioning. The beds are fine, but in early August, air conditioning
turns out to unnecessary; from that point of view, camping will not
be a problem. Otherwise, the decision rests on your budget and your
preference in ambience. The price difference between the two is about $35
per person per day, $125 in lodges versus $90 camping. The lodges are, for
the most part, large, luxury, or semi-luxury hotels, with grand buffet
meals in cavernous restaurants and fleets of staff to carry your luggage
for you. The campsites are campsites, with very basic plumbing facilities
and no fences around them, so that, in principle, lions can wander into
your camp at night.
Whether you go lodges or
camping, food is provided. Vegetarian food is no problem in the lodges.
Kosher food should be OK too, depending on how strict you are; you can go
veggie if you want to be on the safe side.
Once you have decided what you
want , choosing a safari company turns out to be surprisingly easy.
Check guide books for listings of companies in the low- to mid-range
budget, and check out their web pages. Email the companies with
descriptions of what you want , and decide on a custom made
Whatever you choose, you'll
absolutely have to have a Land-Cruiser , four-wheel vehicle, and a guide
to enter all the National Parks including Ngorongoro and Serengeti
National Parks. Prices may be negotiable, but only up to a point, as
there's a large park entry fee (up to $50 per person per day).
So that's the practical order
of how you choose your safari. But the other thing that matters most, the
thing that provides you with the questions to ask your safari company, is
the choice of itinerary. There are a number of parks in the area of
Arusha, each with a different character. In the course of a five-day
safari, you can go to Tarangire, Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and
Lake Manyara; this is a pretty intense travel schedule, as the distances
between the parks take a while to cover. Most tour companies will suggest
that you do something similar, a sort of tasting menu of the parks, but if
you want a more leisurely pace, it's perfectly possible, and you can
choose to have longer stopovers, which would allow you to spend one
morning looking at the vista in a lodge or several hours watching the same
group of animals (lions hunting, for example).
Each park has its own
specialty. Tarangire is a plains ecosystem around a permanent river, and
is supposed to be good for elephants. The Serengeti is a vast, vast plain
teeming with pretty much every kind of wildlife. To get there from
Tarangire takes most of the day, as the road passes through Ngorongoro
Park, so it's important to spend two nights in Serengeti if you want to
make the trip worthwhile. Ngorongoro Crater is spectacularly beautiful and
has one of the densest populations of animals; it's also the only park in
which it's possible to see rhinoceros. It's also the most touristy of the
parks; if you're bothered by seeing other jeeps, make your stay there a
shorter one. Lake Manyara is known for its tree-climbing lions and one of
the best bird-watching spots to be seen. There's also Arusha
National Park, which is less touristy than most .