If your only reason for visiting a tiger reserve in India is to see a tiger, look no further. A couple of days at Bandhavgarh should net you a tiger sighting. India's 2014 tiger census counted 68 tigers here, the great majority of them in the 453 sq km Bandhavgarh National Park which forms part of the reserve's core zone. The main base for visits is the small, laid-back village of Tala, 32km northeast of Umaria, the nearest train station.
February to June are generally the best months for tiger sightings but April, May and June are very hot with temperatures often climbing above 40°C.
All safaris start from Tala and head into three zones of the national park. Tala zone is entered direct from the village; the entrances to Khitauli and Maghdi (or Magadhi) zones are about 5.5km and 6km southwest of Tala along the Umaria road.
Up to 111 six-passenger safari jeeps ('Gypsies') are allowed into the park per day, but most of these can only be booked online (http://forest.mponline.gov.in, up to 120 days in advance) and the website does not accept foreign cards for payment. Do yourself a favour by having hotels/agencies make your safari bookings (for a typical extra price of around ₹1000) – and make arrangements as far ahead as possible, because safaris can sell out months ahead, especially for Tala zone. Morning safaris, starting between 5.30am and 6.45am (depending on season) are longer than afternoon safaris (starting at 3pm) and tend to produce more tiger sightings.
Tickets for the 12 jeeps per day (72 seats) that can be booked in person go on sale at the ticket office in Tala village half an hour before safari starting times, but queues for these can start forming as early as the night before.