High on the list of our things to do in India was “See Tigers in the Wild”. There are several National Parks and Tiger Reserves in India where the Tiger roams free, so based on the weather, time of year and our route, we chose to see Wild Tigers at Ranthambore National Park.
In fact, in our research, we identified 11 Indian wild tiger reserves, so you can read more about that in our separate article. If you do get to visit Ranthambore, then you should also take a separate trip to Ranthambore Fort, like we did. It’s a super example of one of the Rajasthan Hill Forts.
We were lucky enough to be in India during the best time to spot tigers in the wild. February, March and April are generally cited as the best spotting times, as the land starts to dry after monsoon and the foliage decreases. Our journey was taking us in the direction of Ranthambore National Park and Tiger Reserve, so we looked to spend a few days there and see if we could spot tigers in the wild.
Where is Ranthambore?
Ranthambore National Park is 180 kilometres south east of Jaipur. The closest town to the park is Sawai Madhopur, where the closest railway station is also located. There are two main entrances to the parks, and safari’s go through one of these entrances. All jeeps will start from Sawai Madhopur and will collect you from your hotel.
Ranthambore Tiger Safari Options
There are two types of safari you can take at Ranthambore National Park. They depend on the size and type of vehicle that you travel in. There’s the cheaper, large vehicles, which are called canters, then there’s the smaller jeeps, called gypsy jeeps.
Canter Safari Jeeps
Canter safari jeeps take 20 guests, plus a guide and a driver. It’s like being on a bus without a roof. The BEST seats are the front two seats next to the driver, so nab them if you can. Usually though they seem to be allocated for the folks at the more expensive hotels. There are two seats on either side of the aisle, but don’t worry, everyone stands up when there’s the potential of a tiger sighting. There is NO roof on these vehicles, so be sure to take a hat and some water.
Gypsy Safari Jeeps
The gypsy safari jeeps take 6 guests, plus a guide and a driver. Guides and drivers don’t always work together, and are randomly allocated. The gypsy jeeps are set up so there are two rows of guest seats, the back is slightly higher than the middle row (as the driver and guide are in the front). There’s also a removable canvas roof that you’ll be glad of with the sun. Take a hat though! And water.
Times of Safaris at Ranthambore National Park
Morning Safari Time at Ranthambore
Safari’s into Ranthambore go twice a day. For the morning safari you’ll have to be ready and waiting for your transport, by around 0615. The safari’s usually start at around 0730, so the rest of the time you’ll be waiting, or being driven around the area picking up the other folks on your safari. We were told to be ready at 0615, were collected at 0700 and entered the park at 0730. We left the park at 0945.
Afternoon Safari Time at Ranthambore
We were collected at 1430 and returned to the hotel by 1800. It’s definitely hotter in the afternoon!
Ranthambore National Park Zones
There are 8 zones to Ranthambore National Park. We had no choice, when we bought our tickets through the Green View as to which zone we would go into. Zones 1 through 5 are popular. 6 through 8, not so. Depending on the tiger population at the time you travel, and the time of year, and what most the recent internet wisdom suggests there are different good zones to visit. If you get a choice, check with your tour organizer at the time of booking.
How to book a safari at Ranthambore National Park
We attempted to book our safari on the official online government website. It was a frustrating disaster. Their site did not accept foreign cards and was virtually impossible to figure out. Emails to them went unanswered, phone calls met with zero assistance or answers. They’re currently redeveloping their online site, that will make it possible (apparently) for EVERYONE to book online.
When ready, it should be at- http://fmdss.forest.rajasthan.gov.in/
In the meantime, here’s how to get to see those wild tigers at Ranthambore without the aid of technology!
- Find a good place to stay. We stayed at the Green View, which we highly recommend – for the comfort, the amazing food and the superb manager who is also a National Park Guide. However, if your budget stretches further than ours does, then there are some seriously nice places to stay here, like the Vivanta by Taj for instance.
- Book your accommodation in advance, and let them know that you’ll be wanting them to book you a safari, and what type you’d prefer- either gypsy or canter.
- You can also arrive in Ranthambore, and turn up at 0430 at the booking centre and try and book a ticket on the day. You may save a few rupees, but honestly, stay in bed the extra hour and support the local economy. However, if you REALLY want to, here’s how to buy your own safari tickets at Ranthambore.
How to buy your own safari tickets at Ranthambore
If you’ve failed, like us, to buy a safari ticket online, and you decide that you don’t want to buy through your hotel, then you have the option of joining the ticket window lines to buy your own ticket. The ticket windows are at the Ranthambore Forest Booking Centre.
This is where any remaining tickets for the day are sold. On the day of the safari only. You cannot book ahead here. And note that I’ve said, “any remaining tickets”. You’re lining up on the off chance that there are any left.
The gates open at 5am, but the line starts at 4am. And this is India, so a line doesn’t mean an actual line, more like a mob of people. Once the security guard has opened the gate, you’ll want your best sprinting shoes on to make it to one of the two ticket windows. Sharpen your elbows. One ticket window sells tickets for the gypsy safaris, the other is for the canters.
Tickets for the afternoon safaris go on sale at noon, but buyers will start to line up mid morning, gates are NOT closed after the morning selling session.
Where we stayed at Ranthambore
We booked into the Green View Hotel in Sawai Madophur, based on previous reviews, paying 823 INR for a two night stay in a big room with a private bathroom. It was a 20 minute walk from the railway station, although there are auto drivers there who will tell you it’s impossible to walk. You can also pre-book a transfer with the hotel for 200 INR.
Wild Tigers at Ranthambore – Our Experience
We took two safari’s into Ranthambore National Park, one in a canter and one in a gypsy. You definitely have more flexibility, speed and can go further in the smaller jeep, but I’m glad we experienced both. We paid – through our hotel, the Green View, 1150 INR per person for the safari in the canter and 1450 INR per person in the gypsy. We took the safaris on the same day, the canter in the morning and the gypsy in the afternoon.
Our Canter Safari in Ranthambore
In the morning we drew zone 4, which if you believe everything you read on the web, is a GREAT zone for spotting tigers. The canter wasn’t uncomfortable like some suggest, but there was a definite sense, that we were going round a predetermined route.
There were a few comments from the guide of “there was a tiger here earlier this morning” and he and two people out of the 20 in the canter spotted a tiger. They were using high powered binoculars. There were lots of deer, birds, wild pigs. It was a good trip, but I wouldn’t say it was great.
Our Gypsy Safari in Ranthambore
On our afternoon trip – after a snooze and a fabulous early lunch at the Green View Hotel, we were picked up by our gypsy driver, Tej. He drove like a bat out of hell initially, as we six guests bounced around mercilessly, heading towards zone 6.
Our collective hearts all sank, because, from what you read on the web, this meant we were just going to look at more birds and deer. Don’t get me wrong, birds and deer are cool.
BUT WE’RE HERE TO SEE THE TIGERS!
We went to zone six
On picking our guide up it was clear that these two have worked together a lot, they were a definite team and it was great to see them communicate so easily and well.
The landscape in zone 6 is very different to zone 4, it was much drier, there was much less foliage, so it was a lot easier to see animals. After 10 minutes driving and after spotting a few deer, there was a “hold on” from the front.
Tej swung the gypsy round and we raced off. It’s a “deer bark”, our guide explained, “a warning sound that there’s a tiger. Hold on.” And hold on we did, now willing on Tej to drive faster.
Eight minutes later we were parked in a clearing and there she was.
Ladali. Just lying majestically under the trees.
30 metres from us two huge male samba deer stood on guard close to us.
We watched, they watched, in silence, for 30 minutes until she rolled over, got up and walked away.
It was just the eight of us, the two deer and her and it was the most incredible experience.
Later in the trip we spotted Ranthambore’s most famous tiger Ustad or T24* – just laid asleep in the road.
As we were stuck behind two gypsies and a canter, so our view was from literally standing on top of the jeep.
(*2016 update – T24 – or Ustad has been moved to a zoo, after killing a man.)
There were more deer, there were glorious birds and they were great.
You can kid yourself all you want that the monkeys are cute, the deer are cool and the peacocks are incredible, but you know we’re all here to try and spot tigers. We did – we found our wild tigers at Ranthambore National Park and it was an amazing experience.
- Where we stayed in Sawai Madhopur – the Green View
- We booked our Indian Trains through the Cleartrip app
- Our guide book in India was the Lonely Planet India