Ranthambore National Park Tiger Safari Tips and Tricks
So you want to go on a safari huh? You think you can handle the tigers? Well the first rule of the safari is that YOU don’t find the tiger… the tiger finds YOU. Okay maybe that’s not completely true, but it sounded good in my head. If you are like me you want to do everything possible to ensure the greatest success at spotting one of these majestic creatures. And while there is no guarantee, there are some things you can do that will increase your odds and make sure you get the right price for your trip.
We found ourselves in Jaipur and were planning on heading to Pushkar when some of our Indian friends inspired us to take a quick detour to Ranthambore for a safari. We decided the night before to head southeast instead of west and quickly realized that most people plan their trip months in advance. We also learned that the system can be difficult to navigate and a lot of the information online is a little outdated. That being said, I found some great tips and things to think about over at India Mike’s website, most specifically, this link right here. I will try not to duplicate too much information but I want to give my observations and tips for getting your ticket and for getting a good zone.
BASIC SAFARI INFORMATION
Ranthambore National Park is lauded as one of the best opportunities to spot a Bengal Tiger. It is not too big of a reserve and there are many tigers relative to the area. The park is divided into 10 zones and people are randomly assigned them to prevent over crowding or degradation of the environment. A sign in the office says, “Let us follows principles of wildlife conservation. Do not insist for a particular Zone, to avoid over crowding in that Zone”. Unfortunately, not all zones were created equal. If your reason for going is only to see tigers (or wildlife for that matter) consider zones 6-10 to be a waste of money. Zones 1-5 are the good ones but, from what I hear and read, Zone 1 is pretty weak as well. Aim for 2-5 if you can and know that 3 and 4 have a lake so you will definitely see SOMETHING in these ones.
You have two options for getting around the park. There are gypsies (6 seat open jeeps) or canters (20 seat open air… buses?). It is only 200 rupees more for the gypsy and it will be more intimate and more agile when you are trying to track a cat. That being said, we took a canter and it wasn’t bad at all. If you want to get a gypsy in a good zone, plan on booking your tickets wayyyyy in advance.
There are two safaris everyday: one in the morning and one in the evening. They run for roughly 3.5 hours in total and this includes a 20-30 minute bathroom break in the middle. I’ve included a timetable at the bottom as the times vary depending on the month. I received a great variety of opinions when I asked when the best times to see a tiger were. My guide says the best months are April and May. As far as morning vs. evening goes, I’m not sure. One person explained to me that in the colder winter months, mornings are better because the tigers are looking to get out in the sun after the cold night. My guide also said morning safaris were better in the winter. But about 60% of the people I asked said that evening safaris were better right before sunset. At the end of the day, I say don’t over think it. Just go with the mindset that you will enjoy the scenery and other animals… and a tiger is just a bonus.
HOW TO BOOK YOUR RANTHAMBORE SAFARI
You have three options:
- Book from your hotel/resort: This is shit and I highly suggest you don’t book this way. Not only will you overpay, but you will also have less control over the zone you get. They really do very little for you. They will get your ticket and arrange for pickup at your hotel, but unless you buy up the whole gypsy/canter you may get last pick for the seats.
- Online: This option is the best if you want to be responsible and plan ahead. It is also probably the only way you will have the opportunity to get a gypsy in one of the good zones. The website isn’t the most user friendly but they do provide a guide to help you out.
Click here for the guide.
I didn’t purchase online but I did set up an account and investigate a bit. They appear to give you the option to select the zone you want but I can’t verify whether or not this is more of a ‘preference’ or an actual controllable option. From my understanding it is random. If you buy online your hotel could probably help arrange pickup, or if you want to get to your seat earlier, you can go to the booking office. Windows 7 and 8 will help you find your guide and vehicle.
- Buy at the ticket window: At the Ranthambore ticket booking office it says in big print, “Beaware of Broakers. You may be cheated, Purchase Ticket from Ticket window instead of relying on Broakers’ (I find the typos endearing). We went before the ticket office opened and there were people waiting to try and get us to sign up through them… luckily I saw the sign and insisted on coming back when the office opened. The system is a bit hectic so let me share my observations:
RANTHAMBORE SAFARI BOOKING AT THE TICKET OFFICE
First, look at the times that the morning and evening safaris leave and plan on going about 1.5 hours early. For us the morning safari left at 7am in January and they said the booking window opened at 5:30am. We did an evening safari, which left at 2:00pm, and the booking window opened at 1:00pm. The online booking windows were open a little earlier, so you could get your form that you need to fill out and submit. Windows 7 and 8 are for online booking and for help after you make your purchase. Windows 1 and 2 are for special bookings. There is a gate in the middle that will open for you and reveal windows 3, 4, 5 (5 is labeled ‘only for guests’ and the one we were told to use) and one window labeled ‘Zones 6-10’.
Okay… that was complicating. So, to clarify, arrive about 1.5 hours before the safari leaves and go to windows 7 or 8. Get your slip to fill out with your personal info. Then, wait in line until the gate in the middle of the building opens that allows you to go to Window 5. Here you will give the guy your slip who will then give it to someone else to enter in your personal info. They will bring you back a printout with your zone, your driver and the amount you need to pay. If they give you a terrible zone, this will be your chance to run or say you want to wait until another zone is available (this may be difficult if it is busy). Then you pay the man and go to window 7 or 8 depending on if you reserved a gypsy or a canter.
The folks at 7 or 8 will get on the microphone and start yelling out in Hindi to summon your guide. The guide will come and introduce himself, inform you that you need to pay the nature guide and vehicle fees, then tell you where to wait until it is time to go. The number of the vehicle on our paper corresponded to the number on the license plate. We went over early and grabbed the seats we wanted.
RANTHAMBORE SAFARI PRICES
RANTHAMBORE SAFARI TIMETABLE
RANTHAMBORE SAFARI SPECIAL HIRE [Tatkal (Instant) Gypsy]
I hope this helps! We went in January of 2017 so if you find that any of this information has changed OR you have some additional advice, then please leave a comment down below. We didn’t see a tiger but if you did then feel free to be an ass and make me jealous by sending me your photos… 😉
Ivan the Intrepid