The following is a description of a 4 day 3 night guided tour to the Sundarbans in Southern Bangladesh. This trip was taken in January during the winter season (cooler with pleasant at times warm days and cooler nights, but not too cold). The Sundarbans are the world’s largest Mangrove swamp with the majority of this swamp within Bangladesh while part of the swamp is in India. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The main purpose for most visitors to the Sundarbans is either to try and see the wild Royal Bengal Tiger or to socialize. The type of tour size you choose to go on, therefore depends on your specific interest.
Large boat tours involve a number of people; most guide services have 35 to 40 on their ships. As a result it can be quite noisy at times and large groups like this who are more interested in socializing do not make for good secretive wildlife viewing.
There are a number of tour companies however that will take small private groups on customized trips. If you are seeking out nature and wildlife, I highly recommend this option.
I used Bengal Tours for my trip to the Sundarbans. See the bottom of this article for several other tour companies that we recommend.
Transportation from Dhaka
Typically it takes 6 to 7 hours by bus from Dhaka to the port where your boat disembarks for the trip. However in Bangladesh all bets are off depending on the quality of road, traffic and or weather. Fog in the winter months plays a big factor in increasing travel time substantially. When there is fog in the area, the main ferry crossing is often backed up for hours. Case in point, traffic waiting for the ferry was backed up 7 hours and due to the ferry/fog problems we took a long route turning a normal 6-7 hour trip into a 13 hour journey.
You may also fly from Dhaka, with the closest arrival city being Jessore. There are several airlines that make this trip daily in small planes – sometimes the flights are canceled and one of the other airlines may absorb the cancelled flight. For reference, these airlines are:
United Airways www.uabdl.com
Our boat was a three level ship – with the first floor containing several bunk bed rooms, the kitchen and the dining area. The second level contained most of the sleeper bunks – 2 and 4 bunk beds per room. The third level contained the pilot’s cabin as well as the viewing deck.
This was an all inclusive trip which meant transportation, guides, lodging and food was all included. The only item not included was the minimal cost/day of using a video camera. Sleeping arrangements were in the form of bunk beds (2 or 4 per room). There was never a line at the showers or bathrooms as plenty of both were available. Three meals were served (Bangladeshi food) along with several tea and snack times.
The main point of a trip to the Sundarbans is to stalk the tigers. They are extremely rare to see and we only saw their recent footprints and claw marks. In addition when tigers are close by you can smell their scent. We were very close to a mother and a young tiger and our armed guards gathered us into a circle and then they started stalking through the jungle, guns ready to fire.
We had to hike in 2– 6 inch mud the entire way for an hour to reach the tiger habitat. The forest floor of the Sundarbans is a rich muddy at time claylike material that sticks all over your shoes. Furthermore much of this hike was through eerie fog with the sun barely peeking through. This made for some excellent photos!
There is a greater chance of seeing the tigers from the Indian side as because of the better food situation, the tigers are migrating to the Indian side. The Indian side of the Sundarbans is actually quite a bit smaller than the Bangladesh side. If you enter from the Bangladesh side, you will not be allowed to go alone due to danger of tigers as well as piracy. And you will be provided armed guards at least on the Bangladesh side.
If you are seeking wildlife, it is imperative that you spend the extra money and go with either a private guide or a very small group. In our experience, the people who choose the large guided groups are those who are there mainly to socialize and if you are there for wildlife viewing you won’t see much. Examples of what we saw include a number of birds, lots of spotted deer, venomous snakes (vipers), fish, wild boar and very recent signs of the tiger. The main reason to go besides coolness and uniqueness of the mangrove swamp is to see the tigers. Don’t expect a safari in the Serengeti!
A large group in the cramped confines of the boat sometimes makes for a very noisy night – especially if the motor is running all night (boats also travel at night if the fog is not bad). Bring earplugs. Keep in mind the monsoon season of April to about October when making your plans to the south.
Larger boats carry small wooden boats for use at night or for short day trips. The Sundarbans are full of side channels and these boats are perfect for exploring the small side canals.
Because the Sundarbans empty into the Bay of Bengal chances are you will take a side trip to a beach overlooking the Bay. Unlike parts of Bangladesh (the world’s densest populated country), the beaches overlooking the Bay of Bengal are totally devoid of people.
Some of the more common wildlife you may expect to see on a tour of the Sundarbans are the wild Boar, Spotted Deer, Snakes, Alligator, Fish, various Birds and Monkey. Most of the guided tours will take you wildlife watching at night – using the small boats.
Recommended Tour Companies
Note that a number of the tour companies offer packaged tour trips on select dates, ie they do not leave every day. If you do not have a tour arranged ahead of time via the Internet, we recommend you stop by or call one of these tour companies during your first few days in Dhaka.
*Guide Tours* has been in operation for what seems like an eternity in Bangladesh – since 1989. Their guides are very professional, courteous and speak English. They offer a variety of single day tours in and around Dhaka as well as tours that explore the highlights of the Sundarbans and the Hill tribes. They are located on the second floor of house 142, Road 12, Block E in the Banani District of Dhaka. Phone: +88 02 9886983 as well as in the Sheraton Hotel, Lobby 1.
*Petro Aviation* offers a variety of customized personalized small or large group tours. You might ask what a first generation aviation company is doing by offering tourism related services when their primary business is petrochemicals. The owners have long believed in offering additional options to tourists and they love showing people around their home country. Ask for Hassan, the CEO of the company. Hassan is extremely knowledgeable about many areas in Bangladesh and offers only the most personalized attention. Their office is located at: Building No. 69/2, Level-4, Road No. 7/A, Dhanmondi. Phone: +880 2 9122621
*Bengal Tours* specializes in a variety of trips throughout Bangladesh. They have been in business since 1999. Their Sundarbans trips tend to be on larger boats. We used their services for this trip. Visit: www.bengaltours.com
Lastly, review our article about Dhaka here: www.davestravelcorner.com/journals/destination-asia/dhaka-bangladesh/