Safari tours are popular for good reason. This once-in-a-lifetime experience brings you close to unique wildlife and landscapes. Take, for example, Tanzania and Kenya, two popular safari destinations. A herd of more than 200,000 wildebeest, gazelles, impalas, and zebras cross between the two countries yearly. This migration across the Serengeti draws tourists from all over the world. If you'd like to experience a safari for yourself, here are four tips for choosing a safari camp that's right for you.

Decide Whether You'll Sleep Indoors or Outdoors

Safari lodging with sun streaming in
Credit: VIP3Rmedia/ Shutterstock

When choosing a safari camp, one of the first things you'll decide is the type of sleeping accommodations you want. While many people think that camping is the only option, there are actually a many options open to you. You could stay in a lodge, tented camp, or even a tree-house! There are benefits to every option, depending on what you're looking for.

Of the three, lodges offer the most amenities, making them a good choice if you're taking a longer trip. The lodge framework will vary depending on the safari camp you choose, but they generally provide access to breathtaking landscapes and luxurious experiences.

Staying at one is similar to staying in a hotel — you'll have solid walls, bathrooms, and access to electricity. Take, for example, the Madikwe Hills Private Game Lodge in South Africa. This lodge is located on 75,000 hectares (185,329 acres) of land in the heart of the Madikwe Game Reserve. It offers private glass-fronted suites flanked by graceful tamboti trees and lamp-lit wooden walkways. You'll have access to Wi-Fi, a spa, and delectable cuisine.

If you opt for tented camps, your sleeping accommodations will range from the rustic to luxury-style glamping. For example, the Serian Camp in Kenya offers guest tents on wooden platforms. All are furnished with four-poster wrought-iron beds, bedside tables, and writing desks. If nature calls during the night, you'll have access to an adjoining bathroom. You may also like the Singita Explore private villas, which offer a similar experience. Basically, if you want to sleep outdoors without giving up your creature comforts, a tented camp will fit the bill nicely.

Finally, if you want to sleep under the stars, some safari camps actually offer a tree-house option. These incredible open-air sleeping arrangements provide striking views of the surrounding landscape and are a unique choice if you aren't sold on lodges or glamping-style tents.

Determine How You'll Travel Through the Wilderness

Safari car driving through the tall grasses at sunset
Credit: huchenme/ Unsplash

Once you decide on your sleeping arrangements, you'll need to figure out how you'll get around. There are three main options you may encounter when you go on safari: walking tours, guided driving tours, and self-driving tours.

Walking tours offer wonderful opportunities to get up-close to nature. On these types of safaris, you'll have access to an experienced guide who's familiar with the area and can point out the flora and fauna of the region. Your guide will usually be licensed and armed. Big game reserves often host majestic but ferocious animals, so be sure to do what your guide advises during the tour.

A great place to enjoy a walking tour is the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania. It's Africa's largest game reserve and is home to about 150,000 buffalo, 40,000 hippos, 4,000 lions, 100,000 wildebeest, 35,000 zebras, and 25,000 impalas. If you're lucky, you may catch a glimpse of giraffes, waterbucks, Lichtenstein's hartebeests, and elands. If you're a conservationist at heart, walking tours are an eco-friendly option, and they are less disruptive to the local environment than driving tours.

Guided driving tours allow you to cover much more ground and still enjoy the benefits of having an experienced guide. This type of safari may also provide access to restricted roads. Best of all, they allow you to focus all your attention on the surrounding landscape without having to worry about navigating unknown terrain.

Self-driving tours, on the other hand, are a budget-friendly option and offer a great deal of flexibility. With the exception of restricted areas, you can decide where to go and how long you'll stay.

Start the Planning Process Early

Giraffes standing together in the grasses
Credit: Volodymyr Burdiak/ Shutterstock

Planning a safari can be a complicated task. Booking a lodge, arranging transportation in remote areas, and finding the right guided tours (do you want to see cats or elephants?) can be especially challenging for first-time safari-goers.

If you want to see big cats (lions, cheetahs, and leopards), your best bet is to head to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya. This reserve is part of the Serengeti National Park and boasts the highest lion populations in the world. For elephants, try Amboseli National Park in Kenya or Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe. Regardless of your choice of reserve, planning is key.

Starting the planning process early is especially important. If possible, work with a reputable travel expert or safari planner to make travel and lodging arrangements. If you have a sense of the type of experience you'd like to have, these experts can help you find a safari camp that fits your budget and offers the services you're looking for. Picking the right safari camp takes patience and effort. But, as long as you've given yourself enough time to research and plan, you're sure to have an unforgettable experience.

Choose Safari Camps That Are Focused on Conservation

Two people sitting in lawn chairs
Credit: AscentXmedia/ iStock

If you're thinking of going on safari, odds are you're an animal lover. So, choosing a safari camp that operates ethically means that you'll get to honor your values while enjoying an experience of a lifetime.

Safaris that focus on conservation will often have sustainable lodging and waste-disposal systems. This means you'll enjoy a vacation experience that won't negatively affect the region you're visiting. Take, for example, the Elewana Arusha Coffee Lodge in Tanzania. This lodge is a certified Responsible Tourism Tanzania property with a Level 3 certification. At this level, it has a working culture that supports a sustainable "triple bottom line" (social , environmental, and financial) accounting framework.

Additionally, eco-friendly safari camps will usually use a portion of proceeds to support conservation efforts, meaning that your trip will help preserve the wildlife (and environment) you're there to see. In 2018, Arusha Coffee Lodge hosted "An Evening With Dr. Jane Goodall." All proceeds went to the Jane Goodall Institute for the Roots & Shoots youth program.

If you can find a safari located on a conservancy, you'll also be supporting the local economy. While many safari camps do little or nothing to support the local community, safari camps located on conservancies prioritize ethical practices and work to maintain the pristine beauty of their surrounding environment.