The perfect introduction to getting your head around the extraordinary life on earth, and where to go to find it.
What does a tiger safari entail?
You might assume, from the name, that a tiger safari always includes tigers – don’t. Sightings are never guaranteed. Tigers are solitary and elusive, brilliantly camouflaged and, in some places, spread across a vast area. Spotting them is down to good luck, a good amount of time and a good guide who knows the territory, has information on recent sightings and is skilled at tracking. The more game drives you can do, the more chances you have of seeing a tiger.
It’s helpful to think of tiger safaris simply as wildlife safaris, involving game drives to enjoy animals and birds, and experience a wilderness where panthera tigris is the apex predator. There are plenty of other exciting predators to look out for, from leopards to bears, and there will always be an abundance of prey animals, with large herds of chital, sambar deer and nilgai a feature of Indian tiger safaris, plus wonderful birdlife and various monkeys. This is also a chance to be in the wilderness, soaking up its sounds and scents, watching butterflies, listening to peacocks calling or simply seeing how the sun cuts through the morning mist.
Remember, there is also lots to enjoy in the buffer zones of national parks and in some you can take guided walks or bike rides through the forest and villages. You’re unlikely to see a tiger but this is a chance to be immersed in the landscape. A good, local guide will teach you all about medicinal uses of plants, and have lots of stories about tiger sightings, customs, daily life and local events, giving you a sense of both animal and human life.
Paul Goldstein is a presenter, photographer and top tiger safari guide at one of our leading suppliers, Exodus:
“On game drives, there will be a local park ranger and driver, plus the local guide who comes on the whole trip. Our two guys, Krishna and Himanshu, are the best two guides you can meet anywhere on the subcontinent. They don’t just tell you about the gestation period of animals! They’re charming, eloquent and funny.”
Most tiger safari vacations take place in India, which is home to 70 percent of the world’s tiger population. It’s also possible to see tigers in Nepal, and to track them in Bhutan or Siberia, on a specialist, tailor made, wildlife vacation. A tiger safari in India can be a small group trip or a tailor made vacation. It may be slotted into a wider itinerary that includes cultural highlights – the Golden Triangle, or just Agra and the Taj – or it may be the sole focus of the vacation. In the former, you can expect perhaps three game drives in a single park, but in the latter, where tiger spotting is very much the priority, you will take numerous game drives, usually in a handful of parks, but sometimes in a single reserve. On a two week trip, expect to do around 15 game drives.
In India and Nepal, game drives take place in four or six seater ‘gypsy’ jeeps. Canters, which are like open mini buses and can seat 20, are also used in some parks. Both have open sides and roof, so you can stand up and get a really clear view of wildlife. This does mean that, during the winter, they are cold and you’ll need to wrap up, especially for early morning drives.
In Chitwan and Bardia National Parks in Nepal it’s also possible to do walking safaris with a trained naturalist guide. Some parks also offer elephant safaris. At Responsible Travel, we do not support elephant rides with the exception of safaris in certain national parks, where using elephants to monitor wildlife numbers and poaching and the revenue generated by elephant safaris, is essential to wildlife conservation. You can read more on our stance on elephant safaris here. In Bhutan or Siberia, spotting tigers means trekking and tracking them, not sitting in a vehicle. You’ll need a good level of fitness for this.
Game drives in Indian parks are usually between three and four hours long, depending on the time of day and the season. Some parks offer all day permits, but most issue a fixed number of permits per morning and afternoon opening. Jeeps aren’t particularly comfy (or warm) and tracks are rough and bumpy, so this isn’t a great experience for anyone with a bad back. A decent level of fitness and lots of patience is essential. You might spend hours seeing little more than a few deer and some birds, but the reward of a good sighting of a tiger makes it worth the wait. Expect to get dusty, as vehicles are open, so bring scarves to cover your hair or mouth, neutral coloured clothes that can take a beating and make sure you take something to cover your camera. Pack lots of layers, too; in winter, morning game drives can start out freezing and feel roasting by 9am.
If you'd like to chat about Tiger safari or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.
Accommodation on tiger safaris
When it comes to accommodation on a tiger safari, there’s a huge choice ranging from comfortable lodges with modern comforts such as air conditioning and en suite bathrooms, to friendly homestays. Look out for locally owned and run accommodation, as this puts money back into the community and reinforces the benefits of responsible tourism and the value of tigers within that community. All meals are generally included and supplied by the accommodation. In India in particular, vegetarians will do brilliantly, as this is one of the best and most delicious places in the world to be meat free. Some child friendly lodges will be happy to tailor the food to juvenile palates. Finally, find out where the accommodation is. The closer to the park gates, the less time you’ll have to spend traveling to start each game drive, which is crucial when heading out on those early 6am drives.
Responsible tiger safaris
Responsible tiger safaris
Do check that the accommodation has good environmental practices. There are plenty of lodges and hotels dotted throughout India, for instance, that combine comfort with impressive eco friendly credentials (using solar power, recycling grey water, employing local staff), so seek them out. The TOFTigers PUG Mark (Travel Operators for Tigers) accreditation guarantees good sustainable policies around things like water usage, local community support and promoting an understanding of wildlife. Some accommodation also gives a percentage of its revenue to local charities, schools and projects.
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