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How to plan a safari trip to Ranthambhore!

Ranthambhore - legendary, mystical, tiger madness.

India’s most popular tiger reserve by a country mile, Ranthambhore was one of the first 9 reserves part of the Project Tiger. Thanks to exemplary work by the then Field Director, Mr. Fateh Singh Rathore and team, Ranthambhore’s tiger population has grown leaps and bounds. Having sustained a major poaching crisis some years back, Ranthambhore has bounced back and is one of the world’s most prolific places to see a wild tiger today!
Ranthambhore’s enchanting landscapes, so varied and dream-like, the ancient relics and ruins dotting the tiger habitat and abundance of tigers and other animals makes it a brilliant place to see your first (and hundredth) wild tiger!

Being on India’s most famous tourist trail of Delhi-Jaipur-Agra (the famed Golden Triangle) and having a well-built tourist infrastructure, Ranthambhore continues to be India’s most visited tiger reserve!

Owing to its extreme popularity and thanks to a cap with respect to the number of vehicles that can enter the park for every round, getting confirmed safari tickets to the most happening zones of Ranthambhore is a massive challenge! Many tour agents, local operators and accommodation providers would sell you tickets to make a quick buck, but we ardently wish for you to not fall in that trap! A safari holiday has to be a cherished and memorable holiday, with the best experience and service! You should not come back vaguely satisfied (this is a relative term) but with the inkling that you might have got a better experience!
We hope this guide helps you plan your safari in the best possible way!

Quick check!

What are the safari vehicle types?

These are open-air Maruti Suzuki gypsies that can accommodate a maximum of 6 guests, but 4 guests are more comfortable. Some gypsies are further modified to suit photographers and their needs and for greater comfort of the safari-goer. Gypsies are fast, make almost no noise, are very easy to reverse and maneuver on the narrow, bumpy and at-times steep forest roads and are ideal for keen nature-lovers, photographers, birdwatchers and wildlifers.
(Ranthambhore Forest Department gives an option of choosing your preferred gypsy and driver by paying an additional charge, else a gypsy randomly allocated by the ‘roster’ would be provided for your safari).
The per-head cost of a Gypsy safari is usually higher than the Canter.

These are open-air trucks which can accommodate a maximum of 20 guests, but you can exclusively book a canter for your private group by paying for the entire canter. As compared to the gypsies, canters are slower, much larger in size, make more noise since they run on diesel and are extremely difficult to maneuver. Canters are good options for budget groups due to their low per-person cost, school students, and large family groups and for corporates looking for a quick visit to Ranthambhore.

Pro tip: Before you confirm your booking, ensure your choice of vehicle, whether you want a shared or an exclusive safari and a good safari zone based on your interests (See below in ‘Ranthambhore zones’ ) is committed and duly booked by your booking partner. A lot of people complain of these two factors after the safari!

What are the different safari types and timings?

Morning safari:
This is typically a three and a half hour affair commencing at sunrise. You are allowed to travel in just the ONE allocated safari zone, chosen online at the time of booking.
(This can either be booked on a ‘sharing basis’ with random people or ‘exclusive basis’ just for you/your group. A maximum of 6 guests can be accommodated in a gypsy and 20 guests in a canter).

Afternoon/evening safari:
This is again a three and a half hour affair starting around 2-3 PM (based on the season) and concluding at sunset. You are allowed to travel in just the ONE allocated safari zone, chosen online at the time of booking.
(This can either be booked on a ‘sharing basis’ with random people or ‘exclusive basis’ just for you/your group. A maximum of 6 guests can be accommodated in a gypsy and 20 guests in a canter).

Full-day safari:
A full-day safari permit permits you to be on safari from sunrise to sunset without any time restrictions. You can be in any zone (from 1 to 10) during the regular safari timings (those corresponding to the ‘morning safari’ and ‘afternoon/evening safari’ and in any zone from 6-10 in between the normal safari timings. Full-day safaris are great options for hard-core photographers, ardent wildlife and nature enthusiasts and those looking at a truly special experience. The steep price is often an inhibiting factor, though.
(This can either be booked on a ‘sharing basis’ with random people or ‘exclusive basis’ just for you/your group. A maximum of 5 guests can be accommodated in a gypsy, canters are not allowed on full-day safaris).

Tatkal safari:
Any of the above different safari types can be booked through the tatkal quota a day prior to safari. This works on a first-come-first-served basis and has a hefty surcharge on top of the normal safari price.

Safari logistics:
The gypsy has a pickup and drop already included in the price you pay online. So, this should be taken care of by the gypsy driver. The online fee at the time of booking the permit includes the forest entry charges, guide, gypsy and permit fees. Booking fees, agent fees and gypsy release fees as also any extras like preferred gypsy, preferred guide are all additional. On each safari, a driver registered with the forest department and a nature guide on roster with the forest department will be accompanying the guests. Having the guide and the driver on safaris is mandatory. 

Tipping is an integral culture of the tourism infrastructure in India and more specifically the north-Indian tourist belt and it is always advisable to judiciously tip your guide and driver. The safari bookings for Ranthambhore open a whopping 365 days in advance and there have been instances when the most ‘happening’ zones were out of permits the day the permits were open for booking.

While we do not advise nor expect every guest to book 365 days in advance, do remember that booking at least 4-5 months in advance is always a good idea, ensuring you get what you want! But, for dates around Diwali, Christmas, Holi and all extended weekends, please try and book even earlier! Ranthambhore’s fame means that the best safari zones (which usually translate to the best tiger sightings) get booked very, very fast!

While we have a separate section on hotels and accommodation later, here is a an important tip:
Ranthambhore has more than 300 accommodation options, from budget guesthouses to some of India’s costliest luxury lodges and camps, and all these are typically located on or around a stretch of road 13-odd kilometers in length, starting from the Sawai Madhopur town (the town nearest to the park and the getaway into the tiger reserve) and going north-east toward Ganeshdham (the entry gate to enter tourism zones 1-5) and beyond.

Ranthambhore zones (very, very important):
This iconic national park has 10 tourist zones, numbered from 1 to 10 for better administration. Each zone allows only a fixed number of safari gypsies and canters per round, which is capped by the forest department. Since this number is very low (decided looking at the carrying capacity of the national park), it is imperative that you book many months (Read at least 4 months) in advance, especially if you want a gypsy to one of the better zones!
Here is a quick reference guide of the various zones, their salient features, typical tiger sighting trends (may change every season but we are talking of the average over the last 10 years and also the 2019-20 season to make it as accurate as possible) and your safari experience!

Please note:
The one entry gate (Ganeshdham) to enter the tourism zones of 1-5 is located around 7 kilometers from Sawai Madhopur. Many good, budget, mid-range and luxury properties are located around Ganeshdham.
The entry gates, all different, to enter the tourism zones of 6-10 are located beyond Sawai Madhopur in the opposite direction as that of zones 1-5.
Traveling to and fro safari gates can be time-consuming, depending on where your hotel is located and which zones are booked. Please keep extra time for commuting by coordinating with your driver, so as not to waste the very precious ‘allocated’ safari time in commuting to the safari gate.

The latest tiger sighting trends are with respect to June 2020, when the tiger reserve was closed for tourism owing to the monsoon break.

Also note that a tiger’s territory can comprise of 1 or more zones, as the zones are all inter-connected and are divided just for better administration. The tigers call the entire Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve their home!

Basic knowledge of what to expect in each zone would certainly help you to plan a safari trip to Ranthambhore!

Zone 1:
Small, compact and dense with vegetation, Zone 1 is a brilliant place to see tigers. At least 2 resident females and 2 males have their territories in Zone 1. Zone 1 is probably the best place in Ranthambhore to sight leopards and sloth bears as well. Decent prey density, shaded sources of perennial water and tall trees make this a picturesque zone. Birdwatching is good near the waterholes. Tuti ka naala, Kharia and Kaala peela pani are some good areas for birdwatching as well as spotting tigers.
Being connected to Zones 2 and 6, many tiger territories overlap with that in Zone 1.

Zone 2:
Skirting alongside the iconic Ranthambhore Fort on one side and connected to Zones 3 and 1 on the other two sides, Zone 2 is big and composed of many different habitats. High hills, rocky valleys with beautiful streams flowing through them, shaded pools and basins of water, dense Dhonk woods and a thorny scrub forest toward its farther boundary, Zone 2 is a fantastic habitat for tigers. The fabled areas of Parniya, Nalghati and Jhalara have traditionally been used by the resident females of Zone 3, making them great places to spot tigers. Pandu Deh, Phuta Kot, Guda Chowki are a few other areas popular for tiger sightings. Occasionally, leopards and sloth bears are sighted in Zone 2. Birdwatching is fantastic thanks to the many places with water.

Zone 3:
Ranthambhore’s most iconic zone, famed for its sweeping views of the Ranthambhore Fort, the trio of lakes; Padam, Rajbagh and Malik and the many ancient relics and ruins scattered in the woods of Zone 3. The famous lake area has been the traditional kingdom of Ranthambhore’s most sighted and famous tigresses, right from the days of Machali to Krishna and now Arrowhead. Zone 3 is an absolute photographer's delight with incredibly beautiful views, gorgeous landscapes and good tiger activity. Thanks to open jungle aiding visibility in the lake area, spotting tigers from a distance is easier as compared to the other zones. Zone 3 is small and at times the resident females wander to zones 2 or 4 which are parts of their territory. The perennial lakes assist great bird watching opportunities for the birder.

Zone 4:
Big and breathtakingly beautiful, Zone 4 is a must-see on a trip to Ranthambhore. A gorgeous lake where dwell many sambhar who feed on the red algae, gigantic hills and deep ravines, dense patches of forest and small grasslands atop plateaus make Zone 4 a staggering display of wild and rugged beauty. A safari here in search of the resident animals and birds is a truly brilliant experience, especially with an accomplished set of guide and driver. Many areas in Zone 4 are so wild and dense that you would get a feeling of being lost in a world from many centuries ago! Thanks to its superb prey base, incredible habitat for carnivores and tens of waterholes, the number of tigers in Zone 4 is fabulous! It is always a great experience tracking them here! Good bird watching coupled with decent sightings of the Jungle Cat, Hyena, Sloth Bear and Leopard makes Zone 4 a must-see!

Zone 5:
Smaller than the adjoining Zone 4, Zone 5 is again a very dense forest. Less number of roads for tourism and lack of different habitat types are two deterrents to tiger tracking, but overall the Zone 5 packs quite a punch with respect to its flora, fauna and the incredible birding, especially in areas like Bakola. You will definitely enjoy the tranquility of Zone 5. (For zones 6 to 10, you have to pass through the old Sawai Madhopur town and then drive varying distances to reach the safari gates).

Zone 6:
Zone 6 is an extremely interesting part of the tiger reserve. Part of it is a densely wooded patch of dhonk and other trees, skirting a hill and having many pools and streams of fresh water. The other half is a dry and parched arid land either devoid of any vegetation or having open grasslands and thorny scrubs so very typical of Rajasthan’s flora. Tigers, though, are seen all over Zone 6 and over the last few years, there have been many weeks at a stretch when Zone 6 logged the best sightings of all 10 zones. Being connected to Zone 1, there are high chances of tigers having territories there to be sighted in Zone 6. Other than tigers, Zone 6 is the best place in Ranthambhore to spot the extremely rare Caracal. Sloth bear, Leopard, Jungle cat are commonly seen while herbivores like the Chinkara and Nilgai preferring drier and more arid forests are seen in plenty all through Zone 6.

Zone 7:
Largely having mountainous terrain showcasing steep cliffs and ravines of the Aravallis, Zone 7 is beautiful in its own right, attracting visitors keen on enjoying a bird’s eye of the forest. As compared to Zone 6, Zone 7 has a lesser number of routes and waterholes, thus impacting sightings. Zone 7 is a great place to spot the animals and birds inhabiting the dry scrubs and light forests.

Zone 8:
Being connected to Zone 7 and having the same topography and ecosystem, Zone 8’s wildlife is very similar to its adjoining zone. High mountains, a number of bluffs and promontories, deep ravines and densely wooded valleys are characteristic features of Zone 8. During summers, when water is scarce and the Forest Department maintains artificial waterholes, tiger sightings in Zones 7 and 8 are very frequent.

Zone 9:
The farthest zone from the main Ranthambhore area, consider at least an hour’s drive to reach Zone 9. Nestled on the banks of the Chakal River, Zone 9 is a great place to spot aquatic birds. Sightings of tigers, caracals and leopards are also not uncommon, especially in the dry summer months.

Zone 10:
Big and beautiful, Zone 10 was the home to the legendary T-42 tiger, who has not been seen since early 2020. Lots of mountain paths, strategically placed waterholes and a good forest cover ensure decent tiger sightings throughout the year. Zone 10 is also quite far from the main Ranthambhore area and you need to keep at least 50 minutes handy to reach the safari gate. Sightings of jackals, leopards and sloth bears are very good in Zone 10, and you can hope to see one on your safari.

7 tips on how to plan a safari trip to Ranthambhore.

1. Plan well in advance!
The importance of pre-planning cannot be emphasized enough! For getting confirmed gypsy permits to prime 1-6 zones, it is imperative you book at least 4 months in advance (more details given above).

2. Know your exact interests and tour motive:
Knowing what you want is a great way to plan your safari zones, accommodation, guide and driver! Someone keen on tiger photography in beautiful landscapes would prefer Zone 3 while others wanting to see antelopes would go for Zone 6. Knowing the ‘menu’ on offer and making your pick is essential!

3. Go on at least 5-6 safaris!
Most people visiting Ranthambhore wish to see a tiger, and rightly so! A great way of maximizing your chances is by going on at least 5-6 safaris, preferably in different zones! This ensures greater chances of tracking them successfully!

4. Gypsy over canter!
While we have nothing against a canter per se, the safari experience in a gypsy is far superior! Easy maneuverability, quick reversing, very less engine noise all make strong cases in the gypsy’s favour! The most important way of tracking tigers is listening to alarm calls, which is usually made extremely difficult in a canter due to the engine noise as well as the fact that it is very, very difficult for 20 people to be completely quiet for 3 hours at a stretch.

5. Choose a good, passionate and dynamic guide!
Your online safari permit has a guide included, who would be sent on your safari as per the random roster system. While this does not guarantee a skilled and dynamic one, this also means that you get a different guide for every round. This is something we highly recommend against! Having the same guide, who has been carefully chosen according to your requirements and interests for all rounds, makes the experience much better by helping him understand you and your demands. This does come at an additional cost, but trust us when we say that this is money very well spent!

6. Tip!
Tipping is a practiced and encouraged social custom in Ranthambhore. While it is always at the discretion of the guest, it is never a bad idea to tip! The guides and drivers get a fixed daily wage, which due to the roster system amounts to the same value for all, irrespective of merit. Tipping is a great way to motivate them to put in extra efforts and to provide you with the experience you have come for! Do keep a tipping budget when you plan your trip (usually 5% of your entire land tour cost is fine).

7. Accommodation.
Google would show you almost 300+ accommodation options, ranging from 1000 INR per night guesthouses to 100,000 INR per night luxury tented camps. We understand that it is extremely difficult to make an informed decision with all the options out there! To make it simpler for you, we have made a list of our preferred accommodation providers for all budget types. These are carefully selected after hundreds of positive reviews and years of exceptional service and hospitality. We vouch for these properties!


1. Tiger Moon: Simple, rustic and located adjoining the core forest.
2. Tiger Den: Very close to the gate, exceptional service and good rooms.
3. The Pugmark: Fantastic service and food, good for large groups.
4. Ranthambhore Regency: Iconic and very popular, brilliant service and food.
5. Ranthambhore Kothi: Spacious rooms, great ambience and sumptuous food.
6. The Tigress: Luxury in the desert!
7. Sawai Vilas: Opulent, magnificent, brand-new and exceptional!
8. Nahargarh: Experience the joy of living in a fabled Rajasthani palace-styled location.
9. Khemvilas: Quaint and idyllic, perfect for the discerning luxury traveller.
10. Sujan Sherbagh: Classic African-style luxury safari camp!
11. Oberoi Vanyavilas: One of India’s premier hospitality brands, exceptional service and decor.
12. Aman i khas: Uber-luxury, be treated by absolute royalty!

Beyond Wild has been conducting very successful safaris to Ranthambhore for the past decade, and our years of experience has led to some very successful tour designs. Knowing the exact requirements of each and every guest of ours, who is unique and special, does help in planning the most perfect safari trip to Ranthambhore!

We look forward to hosting you in India’s foremost Tiger Kingdom!

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