Hi there traveler! Interested in taking a safari, possibly in Tanzania? First of all, you are going to have one great trip – a safari is an awesome idea!
A safari, also known as a “game drive,” is an amazing opportunity to see wildlife up close, not in a zoo, but in their natural habitat!
Below in this post we are going to talk about the prices of safaris – I will give cost estimates for everything from budget safaris to luxury safaris, as well as the ideal length of a safari. You will also learn everything from how and when to see The Great Migration to where to spot The Big 5, when the best time to visit is and which national park to go to. I will also give you some itinerary ideas that are suitable for couples, adventurous travelers, honeymooners and anyone looking for an adventure!
Ready? Let’s get to it!
Here is everything you need to know about organizing a safari in Tanzania:
- Why a safari in Tanzania?
- 1. How much is it going to cost?
- 2. How to choose the best safari tour operator
- 3. How to choose the best itinerary for your safari
- 4. When to go for a safari in Tanzania
- 5. What do I need to pack for the safari?
- 6. What if I don’t see ANY animals on my safari?
- 7. Can I organize a self-drive safari without the use of a tour operator?
- BONUS – My experience – 3-day safari itinerary
- Other practical information about Tanzanian Safaris
Why a safari in Tanzania?
If you are looking for other options, let me tell you why I think Tanzania deserves your attention:
Compared to other African countries, Tanzania is more affordable and less crowded.
Tanzania is a country where you can witness the Great Wildebeest Migration almost any time of the year, and, what’s more, you can combine your safari with a great beach getaway there! Moreover, if you are feeling adventurous, you can top it off with a Kilimanjaro hike! I did it myself; you can read all about my experience conquering the roof of Africa here!
In fact, my 3-week trip in Tanzania ended up being one of the most perfectly planned vacations of them all because it had an active, learning and relaxation part to it, all together in one trip! You can see my suggested day-by-day itinerary of Tanzania here.
Here are 7 things you need to know about an African Safari in order to plan a perfect vacation:
1. How much is it going to cost?
Safaris are expensive, I think you know that by now. Here is the reason why:
The regulations have recently changed and now the Tanzanian government charges an arm and a leg for entrance fees to their national parks (please see the pictures of pricing I took at the entrance of Serengeti and Ngorongoro below). This is the main reason it is so expensive. Plus, the price for a relatively simple accommodation somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Tanzania can easily cost the same as a good 4 or 5-star hotel somewhere in New York or Sydney. You will also have an actual safari cost on top of that (the jeep with the guide) and the tips for the guide afterwards.
(Usually everything is included in the cost except for the tips, but I will break it down so that you know why it is expensive).
Your price will heavily depend on the following 3 factors:
- Is it a private safari or are you doing it with a group?
- Are you going to stay in hotels or tents overnight?
- How long is your safari going to be?
I opted for a private safari and had no regrets! The company is called Shrike Safaris, more about them and if I can recommend them below in this post.
True, private safaris are more expensive, but we were flexible with the driving, could go whenever we wished, could stay as long as we wanted in one spot, there was no need to fight with others for a perfect picture spot and so on. If you have a chance, or, even better, if you are traveling as a group already, I would suggest taking a private safari. Needless to say, the group safari is obviously less expensive. If you are a solo traveler, it might be a good idea to join a small group safari for more fun!
As for the accommodations, after Kilimanjaro and sleeping in tents in the cold for the previous 7 days, I was sure I didn’t want tents anymore!
I needed my bed and a shower, so we searched for a lodge option.
I will talk about the duration of the safari later, but let me just tell you that I was quite limited with time and my safari was 3 days.
Below are sample average prices (for simplicity, a 5-day safari is being compared):
1) Luxury Safari – a luxury accommodation with a private pool and splurge for a hot air balloon ride. The price REALLY depends on the tour and what is included. A very average estimate would be about US$4000 per person if you are two people traveling, and US$3200 per person for a group of 4.
2) Middle price range – You will stay in good tented lodges, partly luxury, partly mid-priced, nicely decorated, clean and spacious. The price is about US$2000 USD per person with a private driver and about US$1500 if you join a group.
Please refer to the BONUS section where I describe my own experience taking what I would describe as a “middle price range safari”. It was US$1200 per person for 3 days, but we had a private driver. Otherwise it would be cheaper (the day-by-day itinerary with timing, pictures etc is below in this post!)
3) Budget style safari – you will sleep in tents and have food prepared for you by a cook who will travel together with you in the jeep. You will share the jeep with other tourists. The approximate price of a budget safari for 5 days is about US$1000 per person.
NOTE 1: it might be about 20% cheaper if you buy it at the place. Usually these kinds of companies are not even on the internet and you can only find them by stopping by their office.
NOTE 2: Getting a safari right there is a good option only for travelers without a tight schedule. If you will be organizing the safari by yourself (without the use of the tour operator), it will be about US$2000 for 2 people for 3 days. Please read #7 to see why I don’t think this is the best option when it comes to Tanzania.
Here are a couple of ways to help you cut down on the final safari cost:
- Try to go during the off season
- Go in a group – usually the jeep can fit 6-7 people. This way you only pay one driver and in some cases you will be able to share accommodations
- Choose the correct length for your safari – longer is not always better.
- Try to plan your trip at least 4 months in advance – the accommodations and flights will be cheaper than for last minute planning.
2. How to choose the best safari tour operator
I feel your pain, there are literally THOUSANDS of safari tour operators out there and it is an overwhelming job to choose one that for sure will meet all your needs.
Choose your safari wisely – there is a different kind of safari for every type of traveler. Many will offer you the moon, but double check all the info – unfortunately, not all of them will keep their promises.
First of all, you should ask a potential company the following questions:
(I have to admit I myself did not ask all these questions, but if I would receive a list like that myself beforehand, that would definitely be really helpful! I believe it will help you immensely to see which Tanzanian safari is perfect for you)
- How many people will be in the car? (if you are going as part of a group)
- What kind of car do they have?
(You need a 4×4 vehicle with a convertible roof) We had a 7 seat Land Rover (the most popular car for safari) for just 2 of us. Will everyone have a window seat? What other perks does the car have? AC would be a huge plus, an opportunity to charge your phone maybe, too. Our car had all of that plus a fridge (though the plugs did not appear to be working upon further investigation, but we did not really need it). How old is the car? Does it have a spare tire in case of emergency?
- Does the company provide binoculars or do you need to bring your own?
- Is the car equipped with radio communication? This is VERY important to communicate with other drivers to follow the animals
- What are their online reviews like?
The reputation of the company is really important and with just a little background check you can see if the company is reliable or a scam. You are risking not only taking an unqualified guide, but also sending your money somewhere and never hearing back from them afterwards. Even a 20% deposit is quite a lot of money considering the safari prices, so always double check the legitimacy of the company – where is the address, who is the owner? Google their phone number. There are no risks of fraud by well-known international companies of course, but it might happen with some small unknown company so it is always best to double check.
NOTE: if it is a small company that so far has very little presence on the Internet, but you still feel like they are legit, just ask for a couple of contacts for references to make sure everything is in place. Don’t be afraid to ask – if they have nothing to hide, they will be happy to provide it!
- Ask for a detailed itinerary of your game drive – how many hours driving from place to place, and how many hours actually in the park? Are the lodges located inside the park or outside (it is better if they are inside as this means you will be able to start earlier than other tourists the next morning).
- To avoid misunderstandings, make sure to have it confirmed in writing that the entrance to the park is included in the price (this is especially applicable to a budget operator where they are trying to get extra cash from you in all possible ways). Forget about oral agreements, I would not rely on that.
- What is the company’s cancellation and refund policy? These kinds of trips are usually planned well in advance but you never know, maybe you won’t be able to make there it any more. Will you get your money back in that case? If so, how much?
- Are all the activities already included in the price? Usually a visit to Maasai village is optional and costs a bit extra. A hot air balloon ride is pricey (US$500 per person) for example. If they are included in the description, double check if it’s an optional extra or it is actually included.
- Interested in a night safari? Double check if your guide has a proper license for that (there’s a separate license for night guides). If not, you will have to pay extra for a ranger to accompany you. By the way, in some areas you can also organize a walking safari with rangers who will accompany you with guns for protection.
- If the company is a member of the Flying Doctors– even better! That means in case of an emergency, these guys will be able to rescue you free of charge.
NOTE: TripAdvisor or personal resources like mine should be a good indicator about how reliable the tour operator is.
Here are the tour operators that I think are good (the one that I have used myself, the international ones with quality of service I can vouch for, and a couple of the ones that I had a chance to talk to personally). Please do not take this list as is, but also ask them the questions I have suggested above.
The list of recommended tour operators for a safari:
(Click on the link to see the information, prices and to book your safari):
- G Adventures has many great tours. The quality of their tours is top notch and I can vouch for them. You can take a look at all the tours they offer here and maybe catch some good promotions too!
- Shrike Safari this is the company I used and I can vouch for them, everything was organized great and our guide was extremely knowledgeable! As I mentioned, I spoke to the owner, and he kindly agreed to give a 5% discount to all my readers, please send me an email, I will give you a coupon code for the discount! 😉
- Book All Safaris a great resource for comparing prices and reviews for all safari companies in Tanzania and not only. We are talking SkyScanner, but in safaris, great resource!
3. How to choose the best itinerary for your safari
Congratz, you have already done the hardest part! Now, as you have decided on the company and more or less estimated the costs, it’s time to choose your perfect safari itinerary! Usually companies offer many suggested itineraries that are well planned, so you can choose from them or you might want to build your own route, too!
Spending half a day each day to drive from one National Park to the other is no fun, so planning a good itinerary is crucial to your success.
NOTE: I would add an hour to the driving estimation your tour operator gave you because sometimes it might take longer due to muddy roads or check-in/check-out delays. National parks are not very close to each other so it might take half a day on the road to get there.
Remember the best route is the one where you feel rested, you are there at the best time to spot the animals and the transportation time is minimal.
I have read that some people recommend skipping Serengeti because it is too crowded, but I don’t agree with that – this is where we saw most of the animals, and seriously, I would not even say it is that crowded!
If you are asking yourself where to go for a safari, let me simplify your choice:
- Serengeti National Park
- Ngorongoro Conservation Area
You can read all about the above 2 below in this post as I have been there and I described my experience in detail for you.
Other interesting places to visit:
The above 5 are more than enough for a 5-7 day safari (average length), but if you are considering staying longer, here are even more recommendations:
How many days for a safari in Tanzania are enough?
The optimal amount of days really depends on your availability and your preferences. I personally think 7 days would be too much for me, but will it be for you? I don’t know.
If you are traveling with kids, I think 4-5 days is best because the excitement will wear off and they might get tired. If you are a great wildlife enthusiast, you should definitely stay for a week or longer – they have 2-week safaris and even 3-week cross-country safaris!
For those who are thinking about a 1-day safari – I would NOT recommend it, and here is why:
The road to the national parks is long and tiring – even if you start at 5 AM, you will probably arrive at the park in the middle of the day when most of the animals will be hiding somewhere from the hot sun. If you are pressed for time, I would recommend staying overnight for at least 1 night, so that you can wake up early and see the animals at sunrise when they are the most active.
If you only have 1 day, here is a good tour for a 1 day trip from Arusha.
So, how do you choose what’s right for you?
Think about how many days you can stay. Most people say you should stay a bit longer in case you’re unlucky and don’t see The Big 5 in the first days.
Unfortunately I only had 3 days and I could not extend the safari any longer, but we were lucky to see all the animals in such a short period of time, so to me 3 days felt like it was perfect!
4. When to go for a safari in Tanzania
Dry season is probably the best time to take a safari tour – simply because you will be able to properly see the animals.
I have visited in mid-January and it was raining a little bit. It was also a bit uncomfortable because the roads were muddy, but otherwise it was fine. We were also quite lucky that it didn’t rain heavily for a long time.
Going in off-season, as usual, comes with its own advantages such as lower prices and fewer tourists.
The maximum amount of jeeps I saw was about 8-9 when everyone came to see the lions with their cubs. It already felt like quite a long line so I can only imagine what happens if there are 20 or more vehicles!
In Tanzania, you can see the great migration pretty much all year round.
Calving Season (January and February) – In late January and February it is calving season and you might be lucky to see baby zebras and wildebeest. We were there in mid-January and unfortunately it was a bit too early for that! But we saw the great migration, which was wonderful so I am not even sad! It also might rain a little bit though it is not yet the truly rainy season.
Wet Season (March to May) – Cons: it might heavily rain, the visibility won’t be that good, and staying in a normal tent is not pleasant. Pros: as it is low season, the rates for luxury accommodation like One Nature are greatly reduced.
Peak Season (June to October) – easier to spot wildlife during the dry season because most animals hang around water sources. Cons: is it more crowded and more expensive.
Shoulder Season (November and December) – it might also be a little rainy during these two months, and the accommodations are not as cheap. Pros: it is a quiet time of the year, very few tourists.
I know that many people want to see the Great Migration, so here is where to see it by months:
- December – March: Ndutu, Southern Serengeti
- April – May: Grumeti, Western Serengeti
- June – July: Seronera, Central Serengeti
- July – September/October: Lobo/Kogatende, Northern Serengeti
5. What do I need to pack for the safari?
Below you will find what to wear for a safari in Tanzania, as well as which accessories and other useful things to take with you:
Clothes and shoes:
- A jacket with many pockets – holding all your small items in one place will be problematic as the jeep is shaky when moving, but reaching out to a pocket is easy. You can put your chopstick there, extra batteries, toilet paper, a camera lens, hand sanitizer etc.
- A brimmed hat – to protect you from the strong sun; make sure the material is light
- A pair of sunglasses – with polarized lens; useful to avoid the dust in your eyes as well
- A scarf – it can keep you warm if needed or protect your shoulders from the sun
- A warm jacket – for the game drives during night, early morning or late evening
- Long sleeve shirt or a hoodie – good for layering
- Tank tops – great for layering as well
- A pair of warm, comfortable pants – you will be getting in and out of the jeep every day, so you need comfortable bottoms
- A pair of shorts – comfy, made from a breathable material
- A bathing suit – in case your accommodation has a swimming pool
- A pair of good boots – to wear during the game drives
- A comfy dress– for the times when you will be at the lodge
- A pair of sandals – for staying at the lodge as well
- Long, warm socks
Gear and accessories:
- Your camera – I shoot with an Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II
- If you can afford it, a telephoto lens. You can also rent it – check for these services in your city (they usually cost US$15-20 a day, so it would not break the bank). In any case, bring a good camera and a good lens, there is no other way to take a good picture of an animal that’s far away
- Extra batteries and a power bank – depending on where you stay, electricity might be scarce
- An extra SD card – trust me, you will be taking lots of pictures! 🙂
- A universal adaptor – Tanzania has the same types of electrical plugs as the UK
- A headlamp – you are going to be provided a lamp in high-end hotels, but it never hurts to have your own just in case. It will come handy for sure if you will be staying in tents
- A pair of binoculars – these are nice to have for seeing animals that are far away; you will probably have a pair in your car, but you can take your own pair if you want
- Hand sanitizer – Very useful during the day, when you will be traveling with the jeep
- Earplugs – there are a lot of noises in the safari at night
- Sunblock – the sun is strong and the days are long, so I recommend SPF 50+
- Insect repellent – if you are going in the summer
6. What if I don’t see ANY animals on my safari?
While not seeing wildlife at all is hardly a possibility because national parks are full of them, you might get unlucky and not see the Big 5 or only some of the Big 5. Please keep in mind that you are in the wild and a game drive is part of the experience, it is not a zoo 🙂
Safari is a gamble in a way because no one can promise you 100% that you will encounter, say, a lion. They wander around and can do whatever they want.
While your driver will do everything possible to get close to them (all safari drivers have radio communication between each other and they usually know the right places to go to), you might get unlucky, and I’d like you to be prepared for that.
Sometimes you will need to be a bit more flexible in order to see the animals. I remember one of the days, when we were already heading to a lunch place and were quite hungry, our driver asked if we were okay postponing lunch for another hour because he just received some info that there was a leopard nearby.
Do we mind skipping lunch in order to see the leopard? Hell yes! I don’t care about the food, that’s not what we are here for, right?
Sometimes it might happen that you will need to wake up earlier or finish later because of the rain or any other situation. If you are willing to do what your guide suggests, trust me, your experience will be awesome!
So, if you are going on a safari with an aim to see a particular animal, that might not happen (though the chances are still high it will!), but you will for sure see some exotic animals!
Again, this is wildlife, not a zoo, so please be prepared for it and don’t be very sad if this happens. I can promise you still will have a lot of fun!
7. Can I organize a self-drive safari without the use of a tour operator?
Some of the national parks in Africa don’t require a certified driver so you can rent a car and visit the park by yourself. Indeed, many people do that in South Africa and Namibia.
Let’s see why I don’t think it is a great option when it comes to Tanzania:
- It might cost you more or less the same as having a tour operator organize it or even more expensive in some cases to organize it by yourself (safari companies actually get better deals for lodges than independent travelers)
- There is A LOT of paperwork you will need to do at the entrance to the park
- You might not see much, with an almost 100% likelihood you won’t see as much as with the driver
- If you are doing an independent safari, you might easily get lost in the National Park because they are huuuge! There are no proper roads that are shown on a GPS. You will be given a paper map, but it is not easy to navigate and understand what is where. Did I mention the area is quite huge?!
- The roads are really bad quality and you will need to cross rivers and go off-road. Many cars get stuck there, even the experienced drivers, and I saw that happen to a couple of cars myself. That tourist spent half a day in the car (they are not allowed to get out and it was also raining). If you don’t know the area, this can easily happen to you and you won’t even know how to ask for help.
- Last but not least, all safari drivers are also very knowledgeable guides- they know their animals! They all need to pass an extensive test before they are allowed to drive tourists. So you will not see the animals or learn why they behave the way they do, why are they here now, etc if you drive yourself. To me this was priceless information that I would not find in Wikipedia and, let’s be honest, I would not search for it either!
In order to understand if you would like to organize a safari by yourself or take a tour, I recommend checking out the prices here first.
So how do you find a safari-guide if you want to organize the tour with an individual guide? You can search on forums or on LinkedIn and then write them a message through Facebook or over email. It will be a bit cheaper, but you need to understand that there is no guarantee this person will show up or that he will be good.
TIP: Bargain hard with them!
Prices for a self-organized safari
Here is a sample calculation:
US$60 per person per day to enter Serengeti. A vehicle fee is from US$150 to US$200 per day (depending on the jeep’s weight). Accommodation is from US$20 per person (hostel). Food is cheap – about US$5 for a meal. A Land Cruiser (a simple RAV4 is not recommended for Serengeti) can be rented in Arusha from US$150 per day, though I could not find a good site on the internet that would clearly state the prices; it’s likely you would have too book it right there at the place. Update: I have found one decent looking company here.
You do the math – let’s say it is 2 of you and you want to visit for 3 days – a bit more than US$1000 for both + US$600 for the car + gasoline – it is about US$2000 for 2 people for 3 days considering you will have to do the whole job by yourself and will be staying in very simple places.
This is just a sample calculation. You should do your own calculation for the amount of days you choose and the number of people going, compare it with group tour and private tour prices and make a decision based on that.
All in all, it is your decision and you can absolutely do it yourself if you want to, but I decided it should be my vacation and I didn’t want to deal with any problems during my safari, so I relied on the professionalism of my guide and did not regret it one bit!
NOTE: if you decide to do a self-drive safari, don’t forget to take some cash with you because some of the parks don’t accept credit cards.
NOTE 2: when renting your car from private individuals or hiring a private tour guide, make sure you will have a 4×4 car because some of them actually use minivans to drive tourists around (NOT recommended at all).
BONUS – My experience – 3-day safari itinerary
Whaaaaat? She only went for 3 days? That is really not enough!
Don’t throw tomatoes at me, please :). I know many people do safaris for a way longer period of time, but this was my choice. My 3-week Tanzanian itinerary was absolutely packed with activities and I really did not have more time than that. Moreover, I actually managed to see all the animals I wanted to in those days so I am more than satisfied.
It’s up to you to decide how many days you think will be enough. For a normal person (I mean, not a biologist or something like that) 5 days, in my humble opinion, is just perfect to make sure you see all the animals. 3 days will do if you don’t have much time like me (it requires some luck though!).
Here it comes, my itinerary:
Day 1 – Safari in Ngorongoro Conservation Area
We started from a city called Arusha where most of the Safaris start from. We stayed in a good hotel included in our package called Green Mountain Hotel, and the food was included too (excluding alcoholic beverages).
Arusha is a big city of 1.7 million people and is most famous for its tanzanite, a beautiful blue precious stone that can only be found in mainland Tanzania (hence, the name).
We started at 7 a.m. and went to Ngorongoro, about a 5-hour drive from Arusha through some bumpy roads (they call it an “African massage” over there).
Ngorongoro means “cows bells” in Maasai, the language of the local aboriginal population. If you don’t know anything about Maasai people, I recommend checking out this interesting documentary about them. This will help you to prepare for your visit to Tanzania and understand its roots better.
Ngorongoro is a crater and it forms a unique environment. When you arrive at Ngorongoro, you will see that the soil is red because the area of the crater has volcanic mineral soil. Interestingly, animals that graze on the grass that grows on this soil have particular shiny skin and they are significantly bigger because of this, too!
The area of the crater is huuuuuge – it is over 8,000 square kilometers!
Funny enough, we saw a huge elephant crossing our road literally 30 seconds into the park. It felt like we were in Jurassic Park, really!
Our guide told us that it is hard to spot leopards in Ngorongroro, but easy to see elephants, buffalos and lions. We saw one leopard the road very quickly in front of our jeep and our guide was shocked because he said he hadn’t see them there for over 3 years!
The whole area is extremely pretty! We saw so many animals that day! Elephants (many!), zebras and buffalos (many!), hippos, hyenas, lions and rhinos (from afar). There were many Masaai people in the park, too, because they actually live there and we could see their schools and houses.
Excited and full of emotions, we arrived at our lodge in the evening. We were upgraded to the Rhino Lodge inside the park and were there already by 5 pm. It was a charming place- I loved everything about it!
Day 2 – Safari in Serengeti National Park
We woke at about 6:30, had breakfast and left for the Serengeti (the road to the Serengeti gate is about 2 hours from Rhino Lodge).
On the way there we saw so many animals again – zebras, antelopes, buffalos, antelope gnus and even some giraffes (it was all part of the Great Migration, a truly spectacular scene!)
I have never ever seen so many animals at once, there were literally tens of thousands of them, really!
If you thought Ngorongoro was big, wait for Serengeti, – it is 15,000 square kilometers and you’d need a couple of months to see it all!
In addition to witnessing the Great Migration, we were very lucky to see a leopard very close! So close, in fact, that he looked me in the eye, and that was the highlight of the whole trip for me!
This is how close we were:
Seeing cheetahs in the wild was one of my dreams so we “hunted” for them but could not find them for a long time. Finally, our driver received some info about recent cheetahs’ locations by radio and we were off! While we were not sure they would still be there when we arrived, (they are the fastest animals on Earth after all!), they were! And we saw them hunting! Trying to hunt actually. They didn’t go further when they understood that the antelopes were too far away and attacking them without being noticed wouldn’t work.
Again, full of emotions, we came to the lodge, and- I regretted we didn’t arrive earlier – this place was magical! It was a tent, but a proper tent that is, in fact, a house with a hot shower, electrical plugs and a couple of rooms!
They have a beautiful fireplace, but we were too tired to enjoy it
During the night, we heard lions and buffalos along with many other sounds of the savanna!
This tented lodge was absolutely charming, everything was well thought out, and it is worth the money in my opinion.
(I guess I really appreciated a GOOD tent with a proper bed after my 7 day Kilimanjaro hike! 🙂 )