Tracking Tigers: A Guide to Ranthambore Tiger Safaris

A Bengal tiger female rolling on her back the grass at Ranthambore National Park, India
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Seeing tigers in the wild has been on our bucket list pretty much forever. We were lucky enough to have a month in Rajasthan, India and jumped at the chance to include a tiger safari in Ranthambore National Park in northern India in our itinerary. In one word – epic!

Have you considered adding a tiger safari to your “Golden Triangle” or Rajasthan trip? If yes, read on for everything you need to help plan your trip.

Ranthambore National Park Tiger Safari

Ranthambore National Park’s 392 square kms is a lush national park in northern India with lakes, forests, temples, and a fort. But of course, everyone is there for the main attraction – tigers! Ranthambore is home to a thriving Bengal tiger population, including males, females, and cubs. Tiger numbers change as animals are occastionally relocated, but we’re talking somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 Bengal tigers. As a tourist, this means your chances of spotting a tiger are the best in India. We were lucky enough to spot three different tigers on our afternoon safari!

When to Visit Ranthambore National Park

Let’s face it, the best time to visit is whenever you’re going to be there. Most people aren’t organizing their trip to India around Ranthambore. Should you happen to have that flexibility, then the greatest number of tigers are spotted from March to June. The hot weather brings the tigers out in search of water and the trees have less foliage, which makes animals easier to spot.

Ranthambore tiger safaris are busiest in the Diwali and Christmas holiday periods. If you can avoid those times, then you will avoid some crowds.

Ranthambore National Park is partially closed from July 1 to October 1 for monsoon. In 2017 and 2018, the buffer zones 6-10 remained open all year. That is likely to continue in the future.

Which Safari Zone is Best for Tigers?

Ranthambore National Park is divided into 10 zones: core (original) zones 1-5 and buffer zones 6-10. The official Ranthambore National Park website has poetic descriptions of each zone.

Most blogs suggest that the buffer zones 6-10 have limited sightings. As a result of the larger tiger population, this conventional wisdom seems, well, less wise the past few years. Zone 6, in particular, has a high number of sightings. You can use this tiger sighting tool to see which zones have had recent sightings.

Another consideration is the location of the gate for each zone. Zones 1-5 share the same main park entry gate just outside of Sawai Madhopur. The entry point for zones 6 and 7 is 14kms away, zone 8 is 19kms away, zone 9 is 40kms (45 mins) away, and zone 10 is 22 km away.

Given the distances and historical tiger sighting data, we would target zones 1-6. But it is possible to spot tigers in all zones and other great wildlife too.

Types of Safaris and Cost

Ranthambore offers three types of safaris: regular safari, half-day safari, and full-day safari. By far the most common (and most affordable) is the regular safari. However, Ranthambore National Park now also offers a limited number of half-day and full-day tiger safaris.

The conventional wisdom is that it takes an average of three regular safaris to get one tiger sighting. Keep that in mind when you’re planning your trip and try to budget your time and costs for more than one safari.

A female Bengal tiger stretching in the water in Ranthambore National Park, India
We tracked this female in Zone 2 for ages before coming across her cooling down in the pond. We had passed the same pond a few minutes before and it was empty. She had cubs hidden somewhere nearby.

We did a half-day afternoon safari and it was a great choice for our family. Rather than spreading our safari experience across three safaris, we packed it all into one. Admittedly, we may be biased because we had three sightings on our half-day safari, including an epically close encounter.

Regular Safari (Morning and Afternoon)

The regular tiger safari is a 3.5 hour safari in a SINGLE zone inside the park. You can book in either a 6-seater gypsy jeep or a 20-seater canter truck. All vehicles are open-topped. You book on a per-seat basis. No canters are allowed in zone 2.

Jeeps crowded together while spotting a Bengal tiger in Ranthambore National Park, India
Tiger sightings can get crowded! But what a thrill!

The exact timings for the morning and afternoon safaris change based on the season. The current safari timings are listed on the Ranthambore National Park website. Generally, you can expect your morning safari to start 30 minutes after sunrise and your evening safari to end 30 minutes before sunset.

The following per-seat costs are effective 1 April 2019. The Rajasthan Government plans to increase 10% each year, but we’ll see. The costs include park entry, vehicle hire, and guide fees. Children under 5 are FREE.

Gypsy Safari (6 seats)Canter Safari (20 seats)
Foreign Tourists1714 INR / seat1439 INR / seat
Indian Tourists997 INR / seat624 INR / seat

Half-Day and Full-Day Safaris

A higher cost, but more flexible option is to take a half-day (6 hour) or full-day (12 hour) safari. These longer safaris can only be booked in-person at the booking office or through a local agent (hotel or travel agent). You will have the park nearly to yourself outside of the normal morning and afternoon safari times. Only 5 full-day safari jeeps and 5 half-day safari jeeps are allowed each day.

A big advantage of these safaris is that you can go into ANY zone. The guide can use other sightings that day to choose the zone and you can switch zones part way, if you want. Half-day and full-day safaris are booked on a “per-vehicle” not “per-seat” basis. All half-day and full-day safaris are in a 6-seat gypsy (no canters).

For a full-day safari, expect to pay at least 100,000 INR. For a half-day safari, plan to pay at least 60,000 INR. These costs include the safari permit, entry fees, vehicle, and guide charges for 1-6 people. These costs are only guidelines since you will need to book the safari through a local agent.

How to Book a Ranthambore Tiger Safari

Let’s just get the whole DIY vs. non-DIY discussion out of the way. Yes, you could struggle through the online booking process, which may or may not work with your foreign credit card. On the other hand, you could pay a minimal commission to have your lodging organize the safaris for you. Personally, I highly recommend the latter. Still do your research (aka reading this post) and request the type and zones you want. Then let your lodging deal with the logistics of getting the booking.

Bookings open a year in advance (in the past it was 90 days). As soon as you know your travel plans, make your booking to ensure the best choice of zones.

Online Booking

In case you REALLY want to book safaris yourself, you can use the official government website and the corresponding help documentation. We have read that a Google or social media login works best for tourists, but haven’t used the system ourselves. Good luck and please let us know in the comments if you have success.

What to Bring on your Tiger Safari

  • Warm jacket and hat for chilly winter mornings.
  • Sunhat and sunscreen for scorching summer temperatures.
  • Lightweight scarf to cover your nose and mouth. The dirt roads inside the park kick up lots of dust. A scarf is also useful for extra sun protection on summer days.
  • Water and snacks. Lots of water!
  • Binoculars to view and search for wildlife.
  • Passport to check against your booking.
A boy looking through binoculars for Bengal tigers in Ranthambore National Park, India
Binoculars are a must for sighting tigers and other wildlife. Lightweight long-sleeves and pants are ideal for the scorching summer sun.

More Ranthambore Safari Tips!

Be prepared for downtime on safari. Sometimes the guides are sure a tiger will appear in a particular spot and park the jeep to wait. Settle in. Drinks are a must! Snacks won’t go amiss. We even saw some people (clearly safari experts) with books. Genius!

Be prepared for action on safari. If a tiger is spotted, your driver and guide will start jockeying for position. Most likely, there will be a crowd of jeeps and everyone wants a look and photo. Be patient, your driver will get you into position.

Guides do not communicate with each other by phone or radio. They use their experience and expertise to tracks the tigers. They will pass messages if two vehicles pass each other on the road.

I totally get that you’re in Ranthambore for the tigers, but try to enjoy the landscape and other wildlife too. You should see lots of other animals and birds.

A collage of four animals from Ranthambore National Park in India: Spotted deer, Sambar deer, peacock, bird
Keep your eyes peeled for other wildlife between tiger sightings. We saw Sambar deer, Spotted deer, peacocks (our first wild peacock fanning!), mongoose, and lots of birds. Some people are lucky enough to spot sloth bears or leopards.

How to Get to Ranthambore National Park

The two best ways to reach Ranthambore National Park are by car or train; although, it is possible to come by bus. If you prefer to fly, the nearest airport is in Jaipur so you will still need to use a car or train to reach Ranthambore.

We arrived by private car. If you come by car, plan on 4 hours from Jaipur, 6 hours from Delhi, and 4.5 hours from Agra.

The train station is in Sawai Madhopur, which is 10km (7 miles) from the park. This small town also has lodging and shops. Sawai Mahhopur is well connected by train from Jaipur, Delhi, Agra, and Mumbai.

You might also want to check out our posts on Delhi and Agra.

Where to Stay Near Ranthambore

Suggesting a place to stay for your tiger safari is difficult, because it’s completely dependent on your budget. You can use the map below to find the best accommodation for you in Amritsar.

We were lucky enough to stay at SUJAN Shar Bagh, a 5* luxury accommodation. We would recommend it to anyone (singles, couples, families) in a heartbeat, but you will pay a 5-star price tag. That price tag does include all meals, which helps. They also coordinate your safari bookings with their own hand-picked guides and jeeps.

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