Before choosing the best safaris in India you should know this – India has more than a hundred National Parks and reserved forests in India. You can visit all of these forests and many of those offer safaris. But the area and region encompassed is vast. It extends from the Himalayas in the north to the Indian Ocean coast in the South with the deserts in the west and the mangroves in the east of India. Needless to say, the forests are different, the animals are different. Which is the best safari in India depends on what experience you want to have. There are lion safaris in the west and tigers abound in the mangrove forests of Sunderbans in the eastern region of India.
The safaris in India can very be different from the ones of Africa. While most of the best safaris in India do offer open hooded jeeps, there is also the option of taking an elephant safari. Riding an elephant into the forest has greater chances of spotting animals and feels more adventurous.
Before you choose the best safari in India, you should also understand one thing. Safaris in Africa have greater chances of spotting a wild animal because most of the landscape is open grassland. In India, most of the safaris are in dense jungles where spotting animals is, honestly stating, a matter of luck. Often tourists do not get to see huge animals like elephants even after multiple visits whereas some sight it the first time. Tiger sighting is another matter of chance. However National Parks which have a high density of tigers attract more tourists.
Here are some of the best safaris in India. Even if you do not get to see the big cats of India, do not worry. Indian jungles are rich with animals and birds. And do not forget to enjoy the nature around you.
Corbett National Park
Corbett is India’s oldest National Park and the first to under the Project Tiger. It is spread across 520 sq km and its geology ranges from hills, marshlands to open grasslands and undoubtedly one of the best safaris in India.
Corbett National Park has 5 safari zones – Bijrani, Jhirna, Dhela, Dhikala and Durga Devi. It also has a buffer area known as the Sitabani Zone. All these zones are available for tourist safaris and each zone has its own attraction. Bijrani zone has open grasslands due to which it is easier to spot more animals. Dhela and Durga are rich with birds and plant life. Dhikala offers camping facilities for night which should definitely be experienced in this forest.
Safaris offered are Jeep safari, Canter safari and Elephant safari depending upon the zone. Prices can be approximately around Rs. 1500 per person in Canter safari and about Rs. 5000 per jeep. Prices are higher for foreign tourists. There are two Canter safari slots, morning and evening. Each safari is about 5 hours and thirty minutes. Morning and evening jeep safaris last for three and a half hours.
Ranthambore National Park
Nestled between the Banas and Chambal Rivers to the north and south, Ranthambore is a popular travellers’ destination in India. Not only Ranthambore National Park offers one of the best safaris in India, there is also a good chance of spotting a Royal Bengal Tiger.
Ranthambore National Park is home to Machli, Krishna, Noor, Dollar and Sultan. These are the names of Bengal Tigers. Ranthambore’s tiger conservation has been a huge success.In fact, it has led to such an increase in tiger population that Ranthambore is planning to shift some of their big cats to the neighbouring forests.
Ranthambore National Park offers some of the best safaris in India. This rich forest has ten zones for safaris. Safaris available are Jeep, Canter, Elephant and River Safari. Per head costs for Canter and Jeep safaris will be approximately Rs. 1000 to Rs. 1400 plus tax respectively, subject to change in price. Extra charges for video camera and foreign tourists. Two safari slots every day, each for three and a half hours.
The River safari offered is on the Chambal River under the National Chambal Gharial Sanctuary. This is one of the most unique safaris in India where you would get a chance to see the gharials, the crocodilian that is found only in Indian rivers. The bonus is the spotting the Gangetic Dolphin.
Bandhavgarh National Park
Bandhavgarh is the considered one of the best safaris in India. It is famous for its Royal Bengal tigers and especially, the white Bengal Tiger. There are four safari zones – Tala, Magdhi, Khitauli and Bandhavgarh Fort. There are two safari shifts, morning and evening. The duration of each safari is about three and a half hours. Safaris remain closed on Wednesdays. The safaris rides available are of jeep, canter and elephant.
Safari rates in Bandhavgarh will vary for different zone gates. Generally Canter costs Rs. 1200 per head and elephant safaris will depend upon area covered, availability etc. If you go for a Jeep safari, the cost will be taken in parts. The first charge is for booking the safari, the entry charge and the cost for guide (around Rs. 300). Plus there is the gypsy charge (about Rs.2500) and taxes if applicable. If you book through agents, cost may go higher.
Here is rare video of two tigers fighting in Bandhavgarh in April 2018. This video has been provided by wildlife photographer Sharad Vats and Raghavendra Sharma:
Gir Wildlife Sanctuary
Gir is one of the most special and best safaris in India. This deciduous forest is home to India’s lions and the only lions found outside Africa. It is also home to the leopard, hyena and the crocodile. About 37 species of reptiles, more than 300 species of birds and more than 500 lions call Gir as their home.
Gir Wildlife Sanctuary offers only Jeep safaris. There are three slots – two safaris in the morning and one in the evening, each lasting for three hours. Full jeep costs Rs.5, 300 including all costs. You can accommodate a maximum of six people in one jeep. Rates are almost double for foreign tourists.
Kaziranga National Park
Kaziranga is rhino land although Bengal tigers do roam in its forests. Kaziranga has both lush grasslands where it is common to see the one-horned Indian rhino peacefully grazing making it one of the best safaris in India. Kaziranga has four ranges – Central (Kaziranga) range, Western (Bagori) range, Eastern (Agratoli) range and Burapahar Range.
Kaziranga offers elephant and jeep safaris. There is only one Elephant safari per day in the early morning and it costs Rs. 900 per head. There are two slots for jeep safari – morning and afternoon. The cost varies for different gates varying from Rs. 3500 to Rs. 4500.
Kanha National Park
Kanha National Park is the land of Mowgli and the Jungle Book. It was this forest that inspired Rudyard kipling to write his story. Kanha National Park and Tiger Reserve is undoubtedly one of the best safaris in India with a fair chance of spotting tigers. This deciduous forest is also rich with the Barasingha deer which has been in its successful conservation.
Kanha National Park is divided into four zones – Kanha, Sarahi, Kisli and Mukki. Only jeep safaris are available. Safari starts at sunrise till 11 am and the second safari starts at 2 pm until sunset. Full safari jeep costs approximately Rs. 6500 for Indians and Rs. 9500 for foreign nationals. Prices can get revised anytime and it may differ if you book through an agent. Due to high demand, booking should be done months in advance. See more about National Park here.
Here is a video of one of the biggest tigers in India. Called the Umarpani male, this has been shot in Kanha by wildlife photographer and explorer Sharad Kumar Vats.
Sunderbans National Park
Sunderbans is a National Park, a Tiger reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a Biosphere reserve. Needless to say, Sunderbans enjoys a special status in the forests of India. Although it can be one of the best safaris in India, Sunderbans is a tricky place. It is a mangrove forest based on the delta formed by the Ganges River as she merges into the Bay of Bengal. This gives rise to one of the most dense and inaccessible forests in the world. Sunderbans is teeming with venomous snakes, salt water crocodiles, huge pythons, reptiles, birds and a varied wildlife with its king as the Royal Bengal Tiger. In fact, most the land remains unexplored.
No jeeps or canters will be available here. The only way to find the way is through the waterways. You can hire a ferry for two to three days and roam around in the various islands. Tigers are generally spotted at the bank of the rivers and sometimes they would even swim and pursue a boat. Cost of boat will depend on the number of days, ambience and menu provided.
Visit the Bhagabatpur Crocodile Project, Sajnekhali Bird Sanctuary and Buridabri Tiger Project among many other spots. You can also opt for camping overnight where the government provides the facility.
Pench National Park
Pench National park is of the best managed and thus offers one of the best safaris in India. It has been a location for naturalist Sir David Attenborough’s wildlife show Tiger: Spy in the Jungle. The jungle is abundant with teak, mahua, bamboo and amaltas trees. It is also famous for its ‘ghost tree’, Sterculia urens. Pench National Park is also a Tiger Reserve and abounds with the Bengal Tiger, leopard, sloth bear, jackal, fox, wolf, wild dog, porcupine and numerous other species.
Pench has two zones for entry – Turiya and Karmajhiri. Jeep safaris are available in the morning and evening; elephant safaris have been discontinued. Entry fee is Rs. 15 for Indians and Rs. 150 for foreign nationals. You can get a car or minibus in by paying a charge of Rs. 150. Charges extra for guide and are subject to change. Pench also offers rafting for tourists.
How to choose the best wildlife safari in India
Choosing the best wildlife safari in India will depend on some factors.
How many days would you like to spend? Sometimes one safari is enough to view wildlife but in some National Parks it is recommended that you take two to three safaris in different time. This maximizes your chance to spot the tiger and other animals.
In which month would you like to visit? Seasons matter a lot when it comes to choosing the best wildlife safari in India. The safaris will remain closed during the monsoon months of July and August and may open in mid or late September. For most parks, the best time to spot wildlife is when it opens right after the monsoon. However this may again differ depending upon the forest type and climate. Sometimes, winter or summer becomes the best seasons to visit a National Park. Do your research and book in advance.
Another thing is there are some amazing and wonderful National Parks and forests that do not offer safaris as we know it. They may offer you a trek or a boat ride or overnight camping. Hemis and Khanchendongza are two of the best wildlife spots in India that do not have jeep or elephant safari. Situated in the lap of the Himalaya Mountains, these two parks abound in fantastic creatures like the snow leopard, clouded leopard, red panda, Himalayan monal and Himalayan tahr. So before choosing the best wildlife safari in India, do consider what you looking forward to experience.
Best tiger safari in India
Most tourists want to get a glimpse of the fabulous Royal Bengal Tiger. For many people the best safaris in India mean the best tigers safaris in India. Fortunately India has fifty Tiger Reserves that are maintained under the Project Tiger.
To make the most of your tiger safari, you should have time for multiple safari rides. Sometimes the best tiger safari in India may not show you a tiger. Spotting one is a matter of chance. It could also be that only in safari you get to see more than one tiger.
For the best tiger safari in India, you can choose from Bandhavgarh, Ranthmabore and Kanha. Pench and Corbett are your second best options for spotting the tiger. There are many more Tiger reserves like Satkosia, Simlipal, Betla, Buxa and Periyar. You can get a list of all tiger safaris and reserves in India here.
One thing you must know that even the best tiger safaris in India will not take you to the core zone. Most of us what we see as tourists is the buffer area. Going to the core area is strictly prohibited and needs special permission. This is done to protect these gorgeous creatures from outside interference and also protect against the poachers.