The first step for a budget safari was to find a budget tour. The internet is rife with safaris, but finding a budget one requires a fair amount of patience.
When booking a safari, check the number of game drives vis-a-vis the price point and dates.
We booked our safari from safaribookings.com. Our safari was booked at Trip Advisor Safaris, a Kenyan based company. The company claimed to provide 5 game drives across Manyara, Serengeti and Ngorongoro. The price? $600 per person, inclusive of transportation, accommodation and all meals. Sounds to good to be true? That’s what we were about to find out.
We contacted the safari company via email at first and we were constantly in touch via Whatsapp. An advance payment was asked but we did not provide it as we were unsure. This was fine with the company and they booked us on the tour regardless.
Kilimanjaro to Arusha. When we reached Kilimanjaro in the afternoon, our safari contact person had arranged a taxi for pick-up from the Kilimanjaro airport to Arusha.
If you land on a clear day, like we did, you would see Mount Meru on one side and Mt. Kilimanjaro on the other side. It truly is one of the best views. But, like the taxi driver mentioned, Mt. Kilimanjaro is usually covered in clouds and we were in for a rare treat that day. We took it as a good welcome sign. Fingers-crossed for a good trip.
Our Safari company, Trip Advisor Safaris, was based in Kenya and therefore, outsourced our safari to another company based in Arusha. The signboard at the office read SafariEvolution. We were asked to pay full in advance. Hands were shaken, deal was made. (and I was hoping the office doesn’t disappear overnight; things like these happen in India)
Thankfully, a car appeared next morning for pickup from hotel to the safari office. The manager introduced us to George, our driver-cum-guide and the cook. 4 Swedes had already taken the best seats in the Land Cruiser and we resorted to sitting at the back. The ride ensued.
Day 1: Drive from Arusha to Mto Wa Mbu. Game Drive at Manyara National Park. Overnight at Camp site.
The ride started at 9am, and by 11:30am, we reached the campsite at Mto Wa Mbu, just outside Manyara National Park. A small break, (the cook was dropped off to prepare our dinner) and by 12 noon, we were off on our first game drive to Manyara National Park.
Manyara National Park is an ornithologist’s dream. There is the Manyara Lake where different species of birds flock; we saw varieties of pelicans and storks. Also noticeable were the unimaginable clusters of butterfly. We saw giraffes, zebras, baboons and elephants. The best scene of the day was being at the time and place when an entire herd of baboons came to drink water. I also loved the flocks of birds at the lake.
Around 2pm, we were taken to a beautiful campsite for lunch. Lunch were packed boxes with 1 piece chicken, muffin, biscuits, banana, sandwich and juice box. (This is more or less the structure of packed lunches at this tour company, with variation between sandwich, crepes and pie)
All campsites in the reserves have the usual facilities: clean toilets and running water.
Another small drive through the park and by 4pm, we were brought back to the campsite for the night. The campsite is named Sunbright Tent site. It was pleasant enough for the night. There were proper beds, wi-fi in the lounge area, warm water till 6pm.
We started to get the hang of the safari and how things are done. Each Safari group gets a table and its own chef. Depending on your tour/budget, your food is decided (or should I say, depending on your chef’s mood).
For afternoon, other table had biscuits; ours had popcorn. We didn’t mind. The Swedes didn’t turn up for tea and we finished the entire plate of popcorns. Beer was readily available at this campsite. Not all campsites have restaurants, especially not the public ones.
For dinner, our chef gave a stack of bread and leek soup and we wondered if that was all for dinner (After all, we were on a very budget tour). Thankfully, he came with a wonderful beef curry, vegetable curry, avocado veggies salad and steamed rice and we thanked our stars (& the chef) for providing more than just leek soup and bread. I did eye the other table where noodles were being served. I’m just greedy that way.
We had a Swiss at our table for dinner and he said he was joining us from that night. This didn’t seem to go well with the group. We were told that the tour is for a maximum of 6 people, and bringing a 7th one meant all three seats at the back would be cramped and occupied. But when asked of the same to our Kenyan safari company, we were asked to “accommodate”. Well, we can’t really do anything much about it because we were in the middle of the safari and our money already taken. We just decided to befriend the Swiss. It’s the Indian Jugaad way, I guess. Make best of the situation which you can’t change.