A Beginner’s Guide to a Tanzanian Safari

Ever wanted to go on an African Safari? It’s more affordable than you might expect!

Tarangire National Park is world-renowned for its African Elephant population

Is an African Safari near the top of your bucket list?

In the summer of 2018 I took the plunge. Although I arrived in Africa not really knowing what to expect, my safari experience ended up being one of the most memorable things I’ve ever done.

Why Tanzania? 🇹🇿

In short, Tanzania boasts a combination of temperate weather, affordable prices, and the Great Migration in Serengeti National Park.

When to go?

According to SafariBookings.com:

“The best wildlife viewing months in Tanzania are during the Dry season from late June to October. The best chance of seeing the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti is during June and July and the time to see the wildebeest calving is late January to February.”
June & July have the coolest temperatures

My trip was at the end of July, and there was still plenty of wildebeest to see!

The Great Migration

Getting to Tanzania ✈️

Tours on the Northern Safari Circuit usually depart from Arusha, Tanzania. While Arusha has its own airport, it is more common to fly in to Tanzania through Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO), often via a layover in Nairobi, Kenya. Note that Americans must purchase a 100 USD travel visa to enter the country which must be paid in cash.

How much does a Safari cost? 💵

Safaris can cost anywhere from $200 to $2,000 per day! Why such a wide range? The wildlife viewing experience is roughly the same for all Northern Circuit tours, with the same vehicles & parks. Instead, luxury safari packages pull out all the stops with fancy accommodations, amenities, & meals (king beds, laundry service, fine dining, etc), leading to the huge price difference.

Our Safari cost $199/day. This included:

  • Park entrance fees, vehicle & gas
  • 1 driver/tour-guide & 1 cook
  • 3 meals / day (2 hot, 1 boxed) + bottled Water
  • Lodging (canvas tents w/ 2" thick foam pad, sleeping bag, and pillow)
  • 2 nights at a hotel before and after the safari
  • Airport transfers for arrival and departure
A Safari can be very affordable if you are willing to camp!

We had to pay our balance entirely in cash!

Our 7-day Safari cost over 3,000,000 Tanzanian Shillings, or 1,400 USD. The maximum ATM withdrawal is $400,000 Tanzanian Shillings per transaction (forty $10,000 bills), with an around 6 USD fee (if you can, find a bank that will reimburses foreign ATM fees). Check with your tour company if they only accept cash. If they do, bring enough US cash, otherwise you’ll end up like this:

$400,000 stacks of Tanzanian Shillings

On Safari: What to expect 🐘🦒🦏 🦁

What is a typical Safari day like?

The majority of the day is spent either in transit between parks or on a game drive in a modified 8-seat Land Cruiser. The windows roll down and the roof lifts up so that you can stand and get a closer look at the wildlife. Most parks prohibit tourists from exiting the vehicle (except to use the “bush toilet”). The drive can get very dusty, so bring a bandana if you’re sensitive to dust.

Safari tent, modified Land Cruiser, camp breakfast

Which Parks should I visit?

While there are hundreds of tour companies in Tanzania, most offer an itinerary that includes the following 4 parks on the Northern Safari Circuit:

The Northern Tanzania Safari Circuit
With multiple parks to visit, plan to spend at least 5 days on Safari. The Serengeti is an absolute must!

Which animals will you see? 📸

The Big Five animals are the Lion, Leopard, Rhinoceros, Elephant, & Buffalo. The term “Big Five” originally referred to the five most difficult safari animals to hunt.

Outside of the Big Five, northern Tanzania has many more animals to see! Here’s a rough likelihood of what you’ll see:

Lioness at Dawn

Likely to see: lions, elephants, zebra, giraffes, water buffalo, hippos, wildebeest, gazelles, impala, baboons, monkeys, ostriches, warthogs, and hyenas.

Might see: Cheetahs, leopards, rhinos, and crocodiles.

Probably won’t see: Chimpanzees (Gombe National Park in western Tanzania) and Gorillas (Uganda & Rwanda)

There are of course many other species that you could see, so keep your eyes peeled and let your guide know if you spot something! Here’s what I saw:

A collection of the photos I took on safari

The Bare Necessities

Drinking Water: Each camp had non-potable running water, but our guide provided multiple cases of 1.5 L bottles of water, which we used for drinking and tooth-brushing.

Bathrooms/Showers: Each camp had a bathroom with weak plumbing and most were missing toilet paper. I recommend bringing baby wipes. Only half the camps had warm shower water, so for the ones that don’t, I recommend sponge bathing with camping shampoo.

Electricity: Most group camps do not have electrical outlets, but your Land Cruiser should have an inverter to plug in your camera & phone. Tanzania uses Type G plugs, so don’t forget an adapter. Better yet, bring your own power strip!

Sleep: Numerous people have asked if it was frightening to stay in a tent, and the answer is no! Each night, we stayed in group camps of 6–12 tents. There were enough people around that the animals left us alone. Instead, to tune out chatty campers I recommend bringing earplugs.

Camp in Northern Serengeti

About Vaccines 💉

Yellow Fever vaccine: required for Kenya, but not for Tanzania

Tanzania is not a yellow fever risk country, but if you arrive to Tanzania coming from one of these countries, you are required to show proof that you have received a yellow fever vaccine. The CDC recommends that for Tanzania you have updated vaccinations for Tyhpoid and Hepatits A.

I flew through Nairobi to get to Tanzania, but because I spent less than 12 hours in Kenya, I was exempt from having to show proof of yellow fever vaccination, which I opted against due to a vaccine shortage at the time.

Malaria risk is very low, especially during the dry season

According to MalariaSpot, Malaria incidence in the Arusha region is the lowest in the country, and the risk is even lower during the dry season from June to October. As a result, I did not see a single mosquito net in use, but did apply bug spray. Taking anti-malarial medication is a personal decision, but I decided against it and was perfectly fine, save a couple of bites.

Post-Safari 🇹🇿

A common post-safari destination is Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Dar es Salaam. I decided to head there after 7 days on Safari.

Zanzibar known for its clear blue waters (Google Images)

On Zanzibar, I stayed in Stone Town and thoroughly enjoyed diving off of Mnemba Atoll and doing a Spice Tour, where we got to see how different plants are used to make cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and more! If you have time, I recommend checking this island out!

Stone Town, Spice Tour, & Mnemba Atoll

Parting Thoughts

One final piece of advice… be nice to your guide and he/she will go the extra mile for you! My safari experience would not have been as incredible had it not been for my wonderful guide. During mealtimes, he would teach us Swahili and tell us stories about everyday life in Tanzania. During game drives, he would listen to his radio for tips from other guides on where to spot animals that day so that we would have the best possible experience. He even got us hooked on popular African music!

Our incredible group!

So in summary, if you’re a nature photography enthusiast, Tanzania will be your paradise! Taking the camping route can make the trip much more affordable, and you’re bound to have an experience of a lifetime!

Thanks for reading, hope you learned a useful thing or two!