Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan, India, has quickly become one of the world’s best destinations for a safari to see tigers. Visitors from all over the world flock to this national park to get a glimpse of a tiger in the wild. It certainly is a bucket list item for India and any traveler or animal enthusiasts. This post is a guide to going on a tiger safari in Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan India. It includes information about the park, what to expect for a tiger safari, when to go, what to wear and where to stay in Ranthambore National Park, and my experience of searching for tigers in India.
Visiting Ranthambore National Park to see Tigers
Ranthambore is one of the largest national parks in India and has been a sanctuary for wildlife from 1955. Before the 1900's, the area was used as a royal hunting ground. The park is named after the Ranthambore Fort located inside the reserve. Project Tiger was established in 1973 by the Government of India and aims to increase the population of Bengal tigers in their natural habitat. The conservation project goals are also to stop tigers from reaching extinction and protecting their environment and habitat. The tiger population has steadily increased since the early 2000's, despite a slight drop when the national park had issues with poachers in this period. More and more protection and efforts have been directed towards the project which has helped the tiger population blossom.
What to expect in a Tiger Safari
Ranthambore is one of the best national parks in which to see tigers in their natural habitat. However, this does not mean you will see one when you visit. Safari drives are strictly controlled, and you can only enter the park with an authorized guide and driver. Rides are carried out early in the morning, around 6:30 am, and around 2:40 p.m. The drives typically last three hours, and drivers stick to this schedule strictly. You can either drive in a cantor or a jeep. Many visitors, from my research, believe that the Jeep is a much better option than the cantor. It is smaller, there are fewer people on it, and you can drive to more challenging spots with more ease when compared to the cantor. The Cantor, however, is noisy, bumpy and cannot maneuver as quickly. On the plus side, however, the Cantor offers a higher vantage point. I believe if you pay more you can choose which one you get to go on - the jeep's being more expensive. The park then assigns your vehicle a zone - to which your driver and guide are restricted. The restriction of zones is to lessen traffic in one area at a time and to prevent poaching.
When to go to Ranthambore National Park
The best time to visit Ranthambore National Park is in India’s Winter and Spring, from October through June. While Winter is more bearable regarding heat, March through June, you are more likely to see tigers as it is hotter and drier. The heat, however, is quite severe, even in late March. The park is closed from July to September due to the Monsoons, so you will not be able to visit during these months. The optimal time is said to be around January through March – a combination of later in the season and it being not desperately hot for travelers.
Where to stay near Ranthambore National Park
There are many hotels in the area. I stayed at the Ranthambore Regency. It is a beautiful resort, complete with a dining area, two bars, and a pool. The hotel treated us to drinks and flower garlands as we arrived and complimentary wifi. Unfortunately, the wifi only worked in the main guest areas, but this is pretty standard in India. The hotel was clean, safe and had a cute gift shop too. I would recommend staying at this hotel. It also arranges tiger safaris for the guests.
What to wear on a Safari
No matter what time of year you go on a safari, whether it be in India or Africa, the weather is the biggest factor in what to wear. You do not need the safari khaki colored get-ups that many international tourists want to wear on safari – however, there are some advantages of these light colored items. The sun and its heat won’t cook you in light colored clothing. If you are doing a morning safari, make sure to layer yourself. Driving towards the park in the early mornings gets chilly, so you will want to wear layers that you can strip off as the day warms up. It tends to get warmer as the sun comes out, so lighter colored clothing and again, layers, is your best bet. A hat and sunblock is also an excellent idea. The early morning in Winter can be especially cold in this area, so you may want to consider a scarf or even some gloves if you want to take pictures. It also gets dusty on these trips, so if you are sensitive to dust, a scarf can help with that.
Likelihood of seeing a tiger
There is no certainty that you will see a tiger on your safari. You have a limited time in the park, and you do not control which zones you visit. It puts a lot of restriction on how much you can optimize your chance in seeing one. Your best bet is honestly to go to the park every day for a few days and go whenever you get the chance, morning and late afternoon. I’m sure you can pay a bucket load more money and have more options regarding going into the park, but I don’t think my average reader has bucket loads of cash to do that. If I were to go to Ranthambore again, I would probably try to go for three days, hoping that would maximize my chances.
Going on a tiger safari in Ranthambore National Park
Seeing tigers in the wild has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. I distinctly remember a picture of an Indian man on elephant back, traipsing through fields on a farm, with a tiger running down the path towards them. I have no idea what was happening in this picture, but I've had it burnt into my memory for as long as I can remember. When I realized my Eternal India Contiki tour was going to take me to Ranthambore to potentially see tigers in the wild, it ranked very high on my list of "once in a lifetime opportunity." It was right up there with visiting the Taj Mahal, which we had done a day before.
When I think about it, I may have been more excited to see Tigers than I was to see the Taj Mahal. Coming from South Africa, I am a huge wildlife fan and spent many a holidays and vacations on safari in South Africa at my favorite game reserve, the Kruger National Park. So waking up at the Ranthambore Regency Hotel on the day of our safari reminded me so much of waking up in the Kruger or the Pilanesberg National Park back home. I layered up, knowing that we would be pretty cold heading out to the park on the cantor or jeep. I repeatedly checked my camera’s battery, my zoom lens, and my sd card to make sure I had enough space. I joined the thirty or forty other guests who were also waiting to go on their safaris. I even hovered around our tour guide for most of the wait, anxiously anticipating when he would announce what vehicle I would be on and which zone I would be going to so that I could pick out the best seat on the truck. As soon as he announced I was on the Cantor, I was already running to our truck! I know how important seats are in a game truck and I wanted to make sure I had a view in front of me, a window seat to take pictures, and the ability to move around quickly in case I needed to. In case you didn’t know, I am a complete safari fanatic, and I have this down to a science!
We raced off to the National Park, horn blasting (as it usually is in India) and the wind streaming in our ears. I was glad to be covered up but still grateful for the blankets they gave us. It was cold, even though it was Spring in Rajasthan at this time. Our guide for the park was friendly and entertaining, and he told us we would be in Zone 4. This zone has the lake and is well known to provide good tiger spottings. Zone 4 is apparently one of the best in the park with frequent sightings, although our ranger had last seen a tiger four days ago. I knew that I had to temper my expectations and that it would be altogether possible that we would come all this way and not see a tiger.
The park was impressive, with many old domed structures scattered throughout, reminiscent of the old hunting grounds of the maharajas. It reminded me a lot of Jurassic Park and a lot of our group commented so. The ride is super bumpy and very dusty, but it was a lot of fun. I felt like I was on safari in Africa again – which felt good to me, as I miss home and going to the game reserve constantly.
The guides are very concerned with finding you tigers – as of course, that is the whole reason you are there. It would have been nice however if they had slowed down a little bit. As an animal enthusiast, it was incredible to see monkeys, wild peacocks, and antelope I had never seen before. We would shout them out, but our guide will shout back that we will stop to see them next time because we need to cover more ground to see the Tigers. I'm sure they know better than me, but I can assure you this tactic has backfired on me in South Africa more times than I can count. It was a pity because we never got to stop and take pictures of all the other animals that are interesting too. A few times we were radioed in that there were signs a tiger was nearby from other rangers in this zone, and we often stopped, listening and waiting, keeping a keen eye out for them. A few times I thought we were about to see one, given all of nature's signals, which are often the best indicators, but alas, nothing!
Our guides continued quickly driving through various areas of terrain, and just as I had finished snapping the pictures above, my guide jumped out of his seat shouting leopard. Apparently, while I was checking my simple photo of the road in front of me, a leopard had shot across the road. Now one or two of the people in my group believes he was just doing it to make us think here was one - I know better. This guide genuinely saw a leopard – you cannot fake that enthusiasm. It shot across the road and out of sight into the thick bush. We killed the engine, and I could hear it walking through the bush quickly. So much disappointment! If only I had left my camera up a few seconds longer, I may have seen it or got it on my picture – I did check…. I even magnified and zoomed in every inch of the photos I did take, but it is not there.
So we didn’t get to see any tigers on our safari. Our group was split into two, however, and the other group, despite being picked up 45 minutes late, missing an hour of the allotted time, and having to help another Jeep/truck out of the mud, they saw a tiger! I am still jealous! My roommate was in that group, and while they didn’t see much of a tiger, they saw it!
How to get to Ranthambore National Park
Ranthambore is conveniently close to the “Golden Triangle” of India’s tourism. However, you still made need to depend on multiple forms of transport if you have not booked a private or pre-arranged tour like through Intrepid Travel or Contiki. It takes approximately 3 hours from Jaipur, 6 hours from Delhi and 4.5 hours from Agra by road. The Sawai Madhopur is 10 km from the park and is also a useful form of transport. The nearest airport is in Jaipur, so you will still need to use a bus, taxi or train to get to the Ranthambore area. I was traveling with Contiki, so we used a private coach from Agra.
Fees for Ranthambore National Park
Trying to find the correct cost of anything in India is usually a mission in itself. My Tiger Safari was an extra inclusion in the tour with Contiki and came to a total of $35 US. Pretty inexpensive! However, I am not sure Contiki booked this excursion, whether through a private operator or our hotel. Most hotels in the area book the Tiger safari for you, as most visitors to this area, are going on a safari. Naturally, it increases the cost of the tiger safari as all hotels must make a profit on their tours, but the advantage of this is that you do not have to spend any time trying to figure it all out yourself. Group bookings are cheaper than private or individual ones. I believe that the drive costs between 800-1000 rupees. Save yourself the hassle and book this through a tour company or hotel.
After writing this post, it has given me a severe case of wanting to go back. I've stopped several times to research what other tours give you a few days longer in Ranthambore because I want to see tigers in the wild! It was a great experience, and I had a lot of fun, despite not seeing tigers on safari! We saw plenty of other animals, like crocodiles, birds, wild pigs, different species of antelope, and some fun monkeys. Even if you do not see tigers - it is incredible to experience the natural and wild side of India!
PIN FOR LATER: TIGER SAFARI IN RANTHAMBORE NATIONAL PARK