When planning a safari trip to Tanzania, people think Serengeti and the Great Migration, but there are a couple more things to consider. It will help you get the most out of the experience while enjoying the most famous African natural wonder.
How Much Time?
Up to four days
People often ask me how much time I should spend in Tanzania, and that is a complicated question to answer because it depends on the individual. It depends on your budget and what you like to see.
I would recommend nothing less than a three-night safari focusing your time in one location. A three-night safari will often happen as a side trip, mixed with business while one is in the region and doesn't have much spare time.
Four to Seven days
Looking at four to seven nights will give you a bit more variety and you could even visit three different regions or parks to get a much better safari experience. Depending on your wishlist, one could also include Ngorongoro Crater with a Serengeti Safari without feeling like you are on a “Ferrari-safari” and be able to fit cultural experiences as well as a hot-air balloon safari.
More than seven days
Spending more than seven days opens up a whole list of possibilities and will be recommended if your budget and time allows. It is not always possible to allocate so much free time in one's busy “rat-race” lifestyle, but this is the way to go if you would like to replenish your soul.
Spending more than seven days will allow you to experience the elephants at Tarangire National park, the Flamingos at Lake Manyara (both depending on the time of the year), a picnic lunch inside the Ngorongoro Crater, local village lunch at Mto Wa Mbo, traditional Masai village visits, finishing on a high note in the Serengeti seeing the Great Migration in action. One can even add a side trip at one of Zanzibar's various lodges and hotels to end your perfect African safari.
What Would You Like to see
Tanzania is an extremely culture-rich country with over 120 different tribes, of which the Masai people are the most famous in the outside world. My recommendation is to get to know a couple of words in Swahili, which is one of the two official languages in Tanzania and is commonly used in the country. However, English will be great, and you wouldn't have any real problems communicating with the people. There is always someone that can translate if need be.
Should you wish to mix some cultural experiences and get to know the people, then there are quite a few places where you can visit a traditional Masai village and get to know their history. Mto Wa Mbo is another excellent example of getting to see how the Tanzanian tribes live, and the locals will welcome you into their home where you can experience a traditional lunch. For those looking for a bit more, there is the local village tour in and amongst the banana plantation.
These stops don't take that long and incorporate well in your travel itinerary, making it a pitstop en-route to your next destination.
The word Serengeti is synonymous with Tanzania and means “endless plains”, quite the fitting name as it describes the Serengeti perfectly! The Serengeti is a massive National park, it spans for about 12 000 square miles, roughly the size of Belgium, and hosts the world's most famous natural wonder for the most of the year. It isn't straightforward to explain the emotions that one gets when seeing thousands and thousands of wildebeests and zebras, as far as the eye can see. The Southern Serengeti is best during the calving season, and the Northern Serengeti is best during the Mara river crossing when the wildebeest and zebra heads into the Masao Mara. The Central Serengeti is great year-round, and you are bound to see some big cats and other big-5 animals, no matter where the migration herds are located. I would recommend adding the Central Serengeti in your itinerary!
Tarangire National Park & Lake Manyara National Park
One of the lesser-known gems of Tanzania but worth your time! It should be considered if you like Elephants, Baobab trees, and Flamingoes. There are other species of animals in these regions, but the above will be the stars of the show. I've been to a couple of areas in Africa, including the Okavango Delta, and few places outside Botswana can compare elephant numbers like Tarangire National park. Lake Manyara is just right next to Tarangire National park and ties in well with the Ngorongoro crater into a safari circuit. You won't spend more than a couple of hours between Arusha, which is the central starting hub of the Tanzanian safari experience and the “main star” aka the Serengeti.
Ngorongoro Crater is the world's largest inactive volcanic caldera and hosts its ecosystem with a wetland, forest, swamp, and open plains. The whole experience can be done as a day trip en-route and sits in-between Lake Manyara and the Serengeti.
Private or Scheduled Group Safari
People often tell me that they either don't have a clue how much they can afford, and this is all new to them. Booking a safari trip to Tanzania for the first time can be confusing, and one doesn't always know what the total package includes. There are quite a few things that add up to the total cost, such as the vehicle, fuel, the guides accommodation, the guide's meals, and drinks, accommodation, meals, possible beverages, park fees, etc. In my experience, the animals don't know who spent what, and the animals will act and react the same regardless of where your accommodation is based.
Pros of private
In saying that you will get the same animals “on-show”, there are private safaris where the total cost, as mentioned above, is shared by the number of people in the vehicle. So if you are only one couple, then the total cost will be split amongst two people. This is often the more expensive option but gives you the flexibility of choice, the choice of camps, the choice of routing and National parks that you would like to see, and the choice of how much time you would like to spend per sighting.
Pros of scheduled – more basic and larger lodge style
Scheduled safaris are great and allow a broader range of people to visit this beautiful country and to experience the “stars of the show” with your own eyes. One can't alter a group scheduled safaris itinerary, but often what happens is that the ground handler will negotiate a much better rate with the lodges because of continued business, which brings the total cost down, more money in your pocket. A typical safari vehicle can accommodate a maximum of about seven people. Hence, the groups aren't that big and a great idea for larger families that could occupy the entire vehicle at a group safari rate. Group safaris are also great for single travellers that have been trending for the last couple of years. You get to meet new like-minded people and possibly meet your future best friend on the safari.
Main events on the Migration calendar
I feel it is vital to mention a few facts about the Migration before continuing. The Great Migration happens the whole year-round, and the animals follow the rain that provides them with nutrition-rich grass to feed on. Predicting the weather is not an easy task, and notably, long term predictions are nearly impossible. Discover Africa has been collecting data over the last few years from our herd tracker website. We are running this initiative with local rangers and guests. Herd Tracker has given us valuable insights into the movements and helps us to try and give you the best possible chance to stay as close to the Migration as possible.
Calving Season – January to March
There are two significant events on the Migration calendar, in which the calving season is one. The Migration usually comes to a short halt in the Southern Serengeti close to Lake Ndutu, where the calving happens. With the calving comes the predators, which can cause some action.
River Crossing – June to August
The famous Mara river crossing happens around this time of the year, and people often think of the Migration as one big massive herd, which is not entirely true. The Great Migration is made up of 100's of smaller herds travelling in the same direction, and in some areas, you will find higher densities of herds. This is the reason why you will find that the “front runners” will cross the river a long time before the back end of the Migration cross the river. It is challenging to guarantee a river crossing sighting because people don't know when the animals are going to take the leap and decide when is the best time to cross. The animals could bunch up next to the river for days before crossing.
The two transport options on offer will be closed 4×4 vehicles and light aircraft transfers accompanied by the lodges open-air safari vehicles for the duration of your stay. I would recommend a mix of both to give you the best of both worlds. I've been privileged to experience both on a Tanzania safari, and it was fantastic to end the trip with a Light Aircraft flight, seeing the aerial view of what we experienced on the road towards the Northern Serengeti.
A light Aircraft is an excellent option if you don't want to spend 2 – 4 hours on the road or if you only have limited time to spend on safari.
My personal favourite will be the closed 4×4 vehicle with the pop-up roof. You get to see the smaller villages en-route, we even saw street performers along a dirt road between lake Manyara and Karatu, close to Ngorongoro Crater. The longest time we spend in the vehicle was about 4 hours from Ngorongoro Crater to the Southern Serengeti. Still, we stopped at a real traditional Masai village on the way, allowing us to stretch our legs and get to know the Masai culture firsthand by one of the Village Leader's sons. We also spend so much time with our guide that ends up being friends at the end of the safari, and your guide gets to know you, what you like, what animals you want to see, and what animals you haven't seen yet. All these small things add up to a great experience!
There are other things to consider when planning your safari, such as booking in advance, the Migration is a worldwide favourite, and there are only so many camps and beds for people to stay at. I would be more than happy to share my knowledge and passion for this beautiful country, Called Tanzania, with you, and help you navigate through all the information. Tanzania should be on everyone's bucket list!
Till next time…