Depending on your upbringing, the word "Safari" will bring up a number of different images. For Swahili speakers, the world simply means "journey". Here in Tanzania, when you meet someone how has been travelling, you greet them with a friendly "Habari za safari?" (How was your trip?). So the word is a much broader term than just the typical wildlife watching journey that it is famous for.
Safaris have come a long way in the last hundred years. In times of old, it was big trophy hunters that sparked the industry. Typically well off "Men's men", taking to the bush for weeks at a time, in pursuit of the Big Five were the customers. The hunting industry still exists in Tanzania, but has taken a back seat to the more earth-loving Photographic WildlifeSafari. These days the country has a multitude of products and services ready to get you safely and comfortably into the best wildlife viewing areas in the world.
Certain standards have arisen in the industry, creating strong and dependable products that are easily recognized. The ultimate example of this is the Safari Vehicle. While alternatives exist, the custom extended pop-top 4 x 4 Land Cruiser is the industry standard that makes up over 90% of safari touring vehicles. These strong, dependable cars can carry up to 8 passengers and take them to the most remote locations in the country. For comfort's sake, 6 passengers allow for a more comfortable ride with plenty of moving around space for the photographers inside.
The "Tented Camp" is another product that has popped up to serve the throngs of wildlife enthusiasts that enter the wild areas of East Africa armed with only a camera and sunscreen. These camps are, of course, of varying quality but the design does not differ much from camp to camp. Large tents, the smallest being 4mx6m and sometimes as large as 12m x 12m, act as hotel-room like cabins dotted around a secluded location. Most have their own flushing toilets, showers and real hotel quality beds. Outside, they are a dull brown or green canvas, concealing the luxury within. The insides of the more luxurious tented camps are not unlike boutique hotels, missing perhaps only a television and telephone. Nighttime at the tented camps bring your senses back to reality. With no visual stimuli, the sounds of wilderness literally surround you.... a passing herd of buffalo, snorting at the ground; a male lion, roaring in the distance; a young giraffe munching on a nearby acacia tree. The wind moves the canvas walls at night, reminding you of the thin cloth separating you from some of the largest and most remarkable creatures that before your safari, you only saw in National Geographic.
A wildlife Safari in Africa is on bucket lists around the world. It is a highly specialized tour unlike any other. Even well-seasoned travelers find themselves dumb founded in the planning of a safari with a multitude of options available and even more "unknowns". Wildlife, no matter how much you try, will never fit your intended schedule. Safaris are one of the few tourism activities where the challenge and the charm are the same thing. If you want to go out and really experience nature, you may just bump up against your own human nature - it can be quite an awakening to realize that you have no control over your environment. If you are not ready for that, maybe the Discovery Channel will have to do for now. If you are, get in touch with a professional and get ready for an experience of a lifetime.