Tiger safaris

Tiger safaris are overseen by the National Tiger Conservation Authority in India, and this pursuit of the beautiful also involves a lot of bureaucracy these days. Because there are so few tigers left in the wild, safaris book up well in advance, which is why travelling with a specialist operator, who knows the when’s and where’s of it all is more than worth it. They will also ensure that you have a wildlife expert travelling with you so that you can make the most of these extraordinary habitats and help you have the best experience possible. And help you find your tiger feet.
There are now 47 tiger reserves in India, but 98 percent of visitors go to fewer than ten of them, the most well-known ones.
– Julian Matthews, founder and chair of tourism action charity Travel Operators for Tigers and Tiger Nation

Tiger country

There are plenty of tiger habitats in India, with the number of national reserves about to reach 50. To really have a good chance of seeing them, however, you need to spend several days in tiger habitats such as Ranthambore or Bandhavgarh National Parks, or you can also spend time at the only private tiger reserve in the country – Jalore Wildlife Sanctuary in Rajasthan. Ideally you will be staying in a local lodge or homestay, so that you can head off early and avoid the day trippers. Alternatively, you can camp on the edge of Corbett National Park or in Kanha Tiger Reserve.

Transport on safari

Tiger safaris generally take place in an open jeep that carries four to six people; a minibus known as a canter that may have up to 20 people; or sometimes on the back of an elephant. Known as ‘tiger shows’, elephant riding is controversial, and we talk more about this in the Responsible Tourism page of this guide and in our elephant conservation guide. We do recognise, however these ‘shows’ generate important conservation funds in some national parks, such as Periyar in Kerala. Outside national parks, where animal welfare might be less well monitored, however, we are not fans. At the privately owned Jalore Wildlife Sanctuary, you can go on a walking and night time safaris, too.

Taking your cubs

As if seeing a tiger in the wild isn’t emotional enough, spotting one with your children is something that goes way beyond words. Devastatingly, they may be the last generation to see tigers in the wild, so it is vital to educate these budding young conservationists, so do go on a safari that has a naturalist guide. Most tiger reserves don’t allow children under five, so wait until they are old enough to appreciate this extraordinary experience and don’t go when it is too hot. Staying locally in a homestay will be the icing on the cake for adventurous families. Or check out the camping facilities in Kanha Tiger Reserve, which is run by a family with children, so they fully embrace the cub ethos.

For more details on tiger watching holidays, the issues and opportunities, see our tiger safaris travel guide.

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Tiger tour in India, land of the Tiger tour

Tiger tour in India, land of the Tiger tour

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Tiger safari tips

Paul Goldstein , top tiger safari guide and expert at one of our leading suppliers, Exodus:
“The best parks for seeing tigers are Ranthambore, Karna, Bandhavgarh and Tadoba. For tiger safaris, it is important to give yourself more time in one or two places than just a tour that ticks off four or five reserves, because there are big distances between them. Also, be prepared for appalling bureaucracy in the parks. You just have to be patient. Most importantly, it’s about moments. It might just be one moment as a tiger walks through a beam of light and then looks straight through you. It’s not just about chalking off six of them.”
Shanane Davis, Director of our supplier, True Luxury Tours, specialising in Rajasthan:
“We have the only privately owned wildlife sanctuary in India as all the other sanctuaries were nationalised. We also offer, unusually, walking safaris as well as night safaris, so it is similar to safaris in Africa. You can see the animals up close on foot during the morning, and then at night by jeep. We have the highest number of Asian wild cats in the country, as we have brought back the numbers ourselves, so we are proud of that.”
Belinda Wright, OBE, Executive Director, Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI):
“India is about the only place in the world where you are likely to see tigers in the wild, and only in a few tiger reserves where these secretive big cats are now fairly used to tourists in vehicles. Some of the tigers have become surprisingly bold and these reserves are now popular destinations for huge numbers of tourists both from within India and abroad. Despite this, you must always remember that these are wild predators and that it is an extraordinary privilege to see these glorious and extremely rare big cats in the wild. Allow at least three or four days to increase your chances.”
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Aditya "Dicky" Singh] [Intro: Soumyajit Nandy] [Transport on safari: SeppFriedhuber] [Paul Goldstein quote: Soumyajit Nandy]