Monday, April 30, 2012
Trip Review: Vegan Safari to Tanzania
by Ben and Gina
Because finding food on vacation is always a pain, we looked for a specifically vegan travel company. We ended up choosing Your Time Travels for a wildlife safari to Tanzania, and it was a great experience.
Liz, our contact at YTT, sent us weekly emails before the trip letting us know what to expect, how much to tip, and she even left a bottle of wine in our hotel room the first night (which we were way too jet lagged to drink at the time). We felt very prepared and didn't forget to pack a single thing (how often does that happen!?). Our trip was all pre-paid; the only thing we had to pay for were tips, and this made the trip a lot less stressful, I think, than if we had tried to plan it ourselves.
The trip was just the two of us with our guide, which seemed to be standard (based on the other tour groups we saw). Due to safety concerns you will spend most of your time inside a jeep, but they have full sunroofs which you can look out of for easy viewing and better pictures. Our guide taught us a few Swahili words along the way, was very knowledgeable about the different national parks and species in them, and a pleasant person to spend the week with.
We saw a phenomenal number of animals - even driving along the highway (or rather: what counts as a highway in Tanzania) we would see giraffes and elephants in the distance. Inside a park, we never went more than a couple minutes without seeing wildlife. Our guide knew all the names of the different species of gazelle and birds and where to look for the hard-to-spot creatures.
Now, on to the important stuff: food. A lot of the local food is vegetarian (due to poverty) and every lodge we stayed at had vegetarian food on the buffet (all food was served buffet style). The major food crop of Tanzania is bananas, which is a food I would never make the center of my meals, but it turns out that fried green bananas taste quite similar to fried potatoes, and bananas aren't half bad in a curry. Of course, if you stay at a nice lodge it will probably have a lot of American/European type food as well (including Champagne for breakfast, which I had never heard of but is apparently all the rage).
Like everywhere, vegan food is harder to find than vegetarian. (You can't eat anything that's been washed in the water, so the worst-case-scenario-fall-back of salads is out.) Our guide was great in ensuring that we had good food for lunch, but we were on our own for dinner and breakfast. We just asked waiters/chefs which foods were vegan and they were very nice in figuring it out (there was always a vegan option), but it would have been nice if things on the buffet were marked vegan. (Your Time Travels is working on arranging that with the lodges they use, so by the time you read this the problem may have been fixed.) For lunch, our guide made us a delicious fresh fruit and vegetable salad each day, after washing the fruit with bottled water, and we also had food packed up from the lodge that morning.
The lodges that we stayed at were no worse than a nice hotel in America: shower soaps, flushing toilets, great views. Our guide told us that there are lodges that are less expensive, but we guessed that Your Time Travels only books with certain lodges that they know can provide vegan food and excellent service, so if you're looking to stay in a vegan-friendly hostel (or equivalent) in Tanzania, it probably doesn't exist.
A plane ticket is about $1,400 round trip (protip: buy about nine weeks before you leave) and Liz told us that it's hard to spend less than about $200/day/person (and quite easy to spend more) so you should expect to spend a few thousand dollars for a week-long trip (it seemed like ~10 days was the standard, but we were fine spending only 7).
All in all, I think it was a worthwhile trip. Rhinos are near extinction, and if we had gone even a few years later we probably wouldn't have seen one (even today, seeing a rhino is unusual). It is phenomenal just how close you can get to a lion, and pictures don't do justice to the sheer number of zebras and wildebeest migrating across the Serengetti. And vervets are just so cute when they play.