What we'll cover in this article
In a world of tough choices, choosing between Kenya and Tanzania must be one of the hardest. Both countries offer sensational scenery, fantastic game viewing, different aspects of the Great Wildebeest Migration, and a series of bucket-list activities that defy comparison – did you know you can go chimp trekking in Tanzania, for example?
As always, our best advice when faced with two equally enticing choices is to chat with someone who's been there – get in touch with one of our Africa Safari Experts. He or she will be able to take your budget, timing and hopes for your trip and tailor-make a special itinerary just for you and your party, using their on-the-ground experience and up-to-the-minute knowledge. When it comes to travel in Africa, there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’. As a unique continent, we believe that every journey here is also unique.
1. Location & Landscape
Both countries are in East Africa and have coastlines along the warm Indian Ocean a well as Lake Victoria. As neighbours, they obviously share a common border, a sizable chunk of which consists of Serengeti National Park on the Tanzanian side and the Masai Mara National Reserve on the Kenyan side, together forming the Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem – one of the biggest and most protected ecosystems on Earth. It spans approximately 30 000 square kilometres (12 000 square miles) – about the size of South Carolina.
This means that the Serengeti and Masai Mara form one contiguous ecosystem, artificially ‘divided’ by humankind (there is no physical border, so animals are free to move as they always have, but humans have to go through checkpoints).
|Major National Conservation Areas|
|Private Conservation Areas||
|Beaches & Islands||
|Most Popular Routes||Northern Circuit: Arusha, Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater||Nairobi, Amboseli and the Masai Mara|
Both countries are known for their expansive savannah and golden grasslands – the type of landscape made famous by Out of Africa and The Lion King. This wide-open terrain offers plentiful grazing and, where there are grazers, predators are sure to be found. This is one of the easiest places in the world to spot game as you can have a virtually 360-degree view to the horizon in the Serengeti and Mara. This is the scene for the Great Wildebeest Migration, a continuous movement of two million mostly wildebeest, but also antelope and zebra, in search of water and fresh grazing.
The north of Kenya – near Samburu – is drier and hillier, meaning unusual species are found here like the ‘Samburu Special 5’. Endemic to the area, they are beisa oryx, reticulated giraffe, Somali ostrich, gerenuk (giraffe gazelle) and Grevy’s zebra. The west of Tanzania is still home to thick indigenous forest. Head to the Mahale Mountains National Park for chimp trekking amid pristine rainforest. Down south in Tanzania, explore Ruaha National Park and Selous Game Reserve, the biggest terrestrial conservation area in Africa, if not the world.
2. Costs & Your Budget
An East African safari may not be the cheapest holiday you’ll ever take, but that doesn’t mean that Kenya and Tanzania are not affordable. We’ve helped thousands of people discover them by tailor-making every safari to suit that person’s specific budget. This means working very closely with clients to figure out the non-negotiables and the areas that are more flexible.
The costs below are based on an overall assessment of the cost of various levels of accommodation and are guidelines only:
|4-STAR COMFORT||4-STAR LUXURY||5-STAR LUXURY|
|$450 - $600||$500 - $650||$700 - $1050||$850 - $1200||$1100||$1650|
|4-STAR COMFORT||4-STAR LUXURY||5-STAR LUXURY|
|$350 - $450||$400 - $600||$550 - $600||$700 - $850||$1000 - $1050||$1100 - $1450|
Tanzania & Kenya Combined
|4-STAR COMFORT||4-STAR LUXURY||5-STAR LUXURY|
|$400||$500||$600 - $950||$900 - $1100||$1150||$1700|
IMPORTANT: All the above costs are guidelines only and an average for per person, per night, sharing a room in high and low season. They exclude international flights, visas and optional activities. Note that conservation fees, levies and permits are all subject to change. Peak or high season generally runs over Christmas and New Year, and from about July to October.
If You’re on a Tight Budget
While both countries offer great off-season deals, Kenya is probably more budget-friendly. It’s a numbers game: Kenya has done much more on the international stage to promote itself, which means more flights, more types of accommodation and more safari lovers (don’t think this means crowded though. Africa is not a place of enormous hotels with thousands of rooms – a 40-room lodge in Kenya is considered unusual and gigantic! The most crowded place on safari will be the Mara River during the Migration crossing; even then, it will be less traffic than the average city intersection).
Your Africa Safari Expert will help you spend your money wisely, choosing suitable accommodation in wildlife areas, perhaps cutting extras like a private pool at your room in favour of an extra day out game viewing.
If You Want to Splurge
Tanzania is generally the pricier of the two, especially if you want to take in very special reserves like the Grumeti, Selous, Ruaha and Mahale. Tanzania is a far bigger country, which means almost all travel outside the Northern Circuit involves transfers by light aircraft (this is also true if you visit northern Kenya but the distances are shorter).
Accommodation in both countries can vary from walk-in Meru tents to high-tech ‘spaces bubbles’ at The Highlands Ngorongoro and extravagant suites built into the rocks at Saruni Samburu. Like your budget, your preferred style of accommodation is highly personal and your Africa Safari Expert will be able to help you decide where to stay.
There are very few large hotels or resorts in either country so lodges and camps fill up very quickly over peak/high safari season. If you want to visit at mid-year, be sure to start planning about a year in advance.
General Tips About Accommodation
- Accommodation like The Giraffe Manor in Nairobi is extremely popular and there is a very long waiting list, so be sure to enquire with ample time in hand (at least a year or more).
- There is a limited number of inter-leading or family suites available, so enquire as soon as you know you want to go in order to secure them.
- If you are travelling with young children, consider a fenced lodge rather than an unfenced one that wild animals can wander through. See our 10 best family safaris in East Africa.
- Let your Africa Safari Expert know in advance if you have dietary requirements (like vegan, kosher or halal) or if you are celebrating a special occasion so they can let your hosts know.
- Most lodges in East Africa do not make use of a tracker like many of those in South Africa – the guide will usually drive and track. Vehicles are also usually ‘closed’ rather than ‘open’ like those in Southern Africa.
Where to Stay in Kenya
Where to Stay in Tanzania
4. Big 5 Sightings, The Wildebeest Migration & General Game Viewing
Neither Tanzania nor Kenya are Big 5 destinations in the way that the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve and Kruger National Park in South Africa are. There, you are almost guaranteed to see rhino, leopard, lion, buffalo and elephant on every safari – some guests are lucky enough to see them all on a single game drive!
Things are a little trickier in Kenya and Tanzania but, in some ways, working harder to find the Big 5 makes it more rewarding when you do. Rhinos are among the most endangered animals on Earth, which makes these beautiful beasts difficult to spot. The best place for reliable Big 5 sightings in East Africa is the Ngorongoro Crater. Part of Tanzania’s famous Northern Circuit, the Crater houses roughly 30 000 animals in the safety of its unbroken caldera walls, making it an extremely popular place to go in search of the Big 5.
Kenya has a rhino stronghold at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, a private reserve with a handful of superb lodges that is well worth a visit. There are also chimpanzee strongholds at Rubondo Island, Mahale Mountains and Gombe Stream, all in Tanzania.
5. Safari Activities
The main activity is, of course, twice-daily game drives in search of wildlife. This is the classic, timeless way of passing your days on safari. But added extras – like guided walks, night drives or hot-air balloon safaris – depend on where you go: a national park or a private conservancy or concession.
|NATIONAL PARK||PRIVATE RESERVE|
|Morning & Afternoon Game Drives||✔||✔|
|Guided Nature Walks||✔||✔|
|Can Go Into National Park||✔||✔|
|Can Go Into Conservancy||✖||✔|
|Vehicle Limit at Sightings||✖||✔|
|Chimp or Camel Trekking||✖||✔|
There are more conservancies in Kenya than in Tanzania, so if you are keen to extend your safari beyond game drives, then consider staying in private parts of the Mara if you want to see the Wildebeest Migration and be able to go off-road, see crepuscular species and learn more about the Maasai way of life.
6. When to Go
Like budget and accommodation, when to go depends a lot on your personal preferences. It is more affordable to travel in the low or Green Season, and pricier to visit during the peak or high season. Remember that seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere and that rainfall may be ‘late’ or ‘early’ – the presence or absence of rain shapes the entire journey of the migrating wildebeest so use this as a rough guide only.
|Peak / High Season||July - October (winter)||July - October (winter)|
|Low / Green Season||November - June||November - June|
||July - October (Mara River)|
Tips on When to Book
- Start planning at least nine months to a year if you want to see the Wildebeest Migration in peak season. This is a very popular activity and there is limited availability of accommodation in both Tanzania and Kenya around the Mara River.
- For the rest of the year, you should aim to start planning about three to four months in advance, more if you have a very specific lodge or camp in mind.
How the Wildebeest Migration Works
7. Traveller Types: Best Suited For…
Generally, Kenya is considered the better option for families with younger children, because more of the lodges and camps have family-friendly elements like private vehicles, age-appropriate activities and family suites. Tanzania is on the up but Kenya still has the edge for family travel.
Couples and adventurers are spoilt for choice: both Tanzania and Kenya offer sensational honeymoon suites, exciting activities like chimp or camel trekking, and excellent Migration viewing. Kenya has the edge in the number of private conservation areas but Tanzania has superb options if you’re willing to splurge.
If you’re conscious of your budget, opt for Kenya first as it offers excellent value for money. But if you have your heart set on Tanzania, don’t despair: have a frank conversation with your Africa Safari Expert on your budget and expectations, and allow him or her to help you shape a tailor-made itinerary that ticks as many boxes as possible.
8. Combines Best With…
If you have sufficient budget and time, then Africa is your oyster when it comes to extending your safari from Kenya or Tanzania to other countries, as it is simply a case of chatting to your personal Africa Safari Expert.
There are, however, some ‘add-ons’ that are more popular because they are easier logistically and thus more cost- and time-effective. Here are other destinations to consider:
- Uganda offers superb gorilla trekking in pristine rainforest, is also located within East Africa and a logical next step during an East African trip.
- Rwanda is the home of gorilla trekking and famous for its growing population of mountain gorillas.
- Victoria Falls – some direct flights make reaching the world’s greatest waterfall much easier than ever before. From the Falls, it’s a short-haul flight to sought-after safari destinations like Botswana, Kruger, and even Namibia. From there, finish off with a unique city adventure in Cape Town.
- The Seychelles is perfect for those who want to splurge on a honeymoon or a once-in-a-lifetime island holiday.
- Zanzibar is ideal for those with a budget in mind, Mnemba suits those travellers who want to indulge in a private island experience while Pemba revels in its unspoilt, down-to-earth ‘live like a local’ atmosphere.
9. Itinerary Ideas
All our sample itineraries are fully customisable and can be easily adapted to your budget, schedule and preferences. Browse them to get inspiration for your Kenya or Tanzania safari:
Ready to Go?
Get in touch with one of our Africa Safari Experts to help you tailor-make a Kenya or Tanzania itinerary based on your travel wishes and budget: