How To Prepare And What To Expect On A Game Drive?
To get the most from a safari you need to be prepared and know what to expect. I had been on safaris in Zimbabwe and South Africa and so when I went to Tanzania on the Titan Travel “Wild Plains of Tanzania” safari, I though I knew how everything would work. I was wrong! There were many differences. So I have written another in my series of tip-based articles on how to prepare for and ensure you get the most from your Tanzanian safari. In this look at how game drives work and how you can get the most from them.
If you want to find out more on how prepare for and get more from the overall safari, read my article entitled “Tanzania Safari Tips For Travellers. 11 Things To Know And Prepare For!”
How to prepare for and what to expect on a game drive in Tanzania?
#1: Game Viewing is in closed-sided 4×4 vehicles
Unlike safaris in countries like Zimbabwe or South Africa, the game viewing vehicles are not open sided tiered trucks. They are 4×4 trucks, usually Toyota Land Cruisers, which have been specially adapted for the purpose within Tanzania. They are also used as your transport between parks and lodges and for the drives.
They hold up to six guests in the rear, with a driver and guide up front. The roof is opened in the parks, allowing guests to stand up to view and take pictures of the animals.
Although they are fairly spacious, and the seats padded and comfortable, the room is limited as it also has to carry all your baggage between lodges and parks. They are stored in a small space behind the last row of seats and so your main bag should be a soft duffel bag, and you should pack light. Only bring a small bag or rucksack into the main cabin.
Most of the trucks have a small cool box, to store water, and many have plugs to charge phones.
#2: Number Of Game Drives
This will vary based on the tour you have booked. However, the aim of the operators is for you to see as many animals as possible and so you are likely to have at least two game viewing trips a day, each lasting around three hours. Unlike in Southern Africa, the parks in Tanzania usually only open from around 6am until 7pm for viewing. Trucks are not permitted to move around outside these hours to control, and more easily identify, poachers. So viewing is likely to start later and end earlier than in places like South Africa.
When travelling between parks, as soon as you enter them the guides will open the top of the truck and use the journey time to the lodge as game watching time.
On my safari we spent at least six hours a day either game viewing or moving between parks, which also involved stopping when we saw animals.
#3: Leaving The Van
You cannot get out the van in the parks. It is too dangerous to do so, and all viewing takes place from within them.
The only times you can leave the trucks in the park are:
- Picnic areas. In every park there are places for vans to stop for meals and toilet breaks.
- Toilet stops. (See the notes in the next section on this topic!)
#4: Toilet breaks
I wondered, and was also asked many times before and after my trip, about toilet stops. It is evitable that these will be needed.
The guides will plan stops within each game viewing session. These may be at entrances to parks, picnic areas and or specific toilet facilities in the parks. Before setting off they will tell you the likely times of these stops so you can prepare.
But what if you are “caught short” and really need to go?
If you need to go urgently, and can’t wait for the scheduled stop, you can ask to “go check the tyres” at rear of the van. This is the code for having to go urgently. The driver and guide are used to having to accommodate these and will find the safest spot to stop. You will be expected to stay close to the van and go just behind it usually rather than venture into the bushes.
You should travel with tissues, ideally some wet wipes and a sealable zip lock plastic bag to store waste in. You should also carry some alcohol hand sanitiser.
#5: Food And Drink
It will be hot and dusty and drinking water is essential. Some bottled water is usually provided but you can also stock up at start of the trip or from the lodges. It needs to be bottled water as it is not safe to drink water from taps.
The lodges will offer taking packed lunch out on game drives rather than head back to lodge for lunch. If you are given this opportunity I recommend it as you can maximize your time out seeing animals as it allows the guides to take you further afield to seek out the best sightings. It is especially advisable for Ngorongoro Crater, as each truck can only enter once per day, and in the Serengeti, as the distances you may need to go to see migrations and the best sightings can be vast.
The packed lunches were large and you make a choice of the main items in them the day before.
Other than water and packed lunches you should take snacks or fruit to keep you full and satisfied during the game viewings.
#6: Essentials To Take
I recommend taking the following with you on the game viewings:
- Bug spray, especially important for later in the day to keep mosquitos at bay and to protect against Tsetse flies.
- Layers, like a sweatshirt or fleece, in case gets chilly.
- Tissues, wet wipes, hand sanitizer and zip lock bag to put in for toilet breaks.
- Snacks, if needed.
- Camera, along with charged batteries, lots of SD cards and a beanbag to rest the camera on (key if you have a zoom lens to avoid camera shake).
Keep quiet and talk as low as possible when viewing game. It amazed me how people would bellow away at each other when close to wild game. Keeping it discreet and calm is not both respectful to other travellers and less likely to scare the game away.
Remove shoes to stand on the chairs to look out of the open top.
Once at a sighting, let people move around the van to get the best views and let everyone get the best line of sight and take pictures. Do not hog the best view, even if it is where you are seated.
When the van is full the best and most flexible seats tend to be the middle ones, and people in the back row have the most difficulty seeing out of the van. Many of the guides encourage a rotation system where everyone moves for each game viewing, or after each stop, so everyone gets a chance in the best seats for viewing. If not, I suggest you propose it!
#8: Taking Pictures
Do not spend all your time behind the lens and make sure you soak in and experience the wild and spectacle of it all.
To get the best pictures you will need a camera with a zoom lens, at least 300mm. I discuss this and give more tips on photography in my article “Tanzania Safari Tips For Travellers. 11 Things To Know And Prepare For!”
If you do not have the equipment, there will likely be at least one person in the van that does. Ask them to see their pictures and if they are prepared to let you have some of them. Most will be flattered if you show an interest, and be happy to share their images.
Many will post them on photo storage sites like SmugMug or Flickr anyway, and so ask for that link. Of course, you should not take credit or misuse them but in my experience most photographers will be delighted if you want to enjoy their work. I know I was. My images are at https://tipsfortravellers.smugmug.com/Tanzania and I was very happy that my fellow travellers wanted to see the pictures and be able to use that album to show their friends and family of what we had seen.
I hope these tips help you understand better what to expect for game drives on your Tanzania safari. If you have any other tips or questions, please leave a comment.
Get more tips and advice about Tanzania and safaris, including videos of a wide range of lodges to stay at tipsfortravellers.com/tanzania-safari-tips/
Disclaimer: I travelled as a guest of Titan Travel on a 9-night “Wild Plains of Tanzania” safari.
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