Kenya vs Tanzania: how to choose for a safari

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 top advice when faced with two equally enticing choices is to really make use of the services of your personal Africa Safari Expert. 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. Let’s jump into Kenya vs Tanzania…

Location and landscape

1. Location and 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. 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).

TANZANIA KENYA
Official capital Dodoma Nairobi
Safari capital Arusha Nairobi
Major national conservation areas
  • Serengeti
  • Lake Manyara
  • Ngorongoro Crater
  • Tarangire
  • Masai Mara
  • Amboseli
  • Nairobi National Park
  • Samburu
Private conservation areas
  • Grumeti
  • Laikipia
  • Lewa
Off-the-beaten track reserves
  • Selous
  • Ruaha
  • Mahale Mountains
  • Katavi
  • Tsavo
  • Meru
  • Aberdare
Beaches and islands
  • Pemba
  • Zanzibar
  • Mafia Island
  • Mnemba
  • Diani
  • Galu
  • Lamu
Most popular combination 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 known as the ‘Samburu Special 5’. Endemic to the area, they are beisa oryx, reticulated giraffe, Somali ostrich, long-necked gerenuk 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.

Baobabs in Ruaha.

 

Cost and Your Budget

2. Cost and 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 unaffordable. 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:

Tanzania

4-star comfort 4-star luxury 5-star luxury
Low High Low High Low High
$330 - $500 $380 - $500 $580 - $840 $630 - $1000 $900 $1 300

Kenya

4-star comfort 4-star luxury 5-star luxury
Low High Low High Low High
$260 - $340 $300 - $500 $420 - $480 $580 - $680 $800 - $880 $920 - $1120

Tanzania and Kenya combined

4-star comfort 4-star luxury 5-star luxury
Low High Low High Low High
$305 $380 $500 - $760 $700 - $900 $940 $1400

If you’re on a tight budget

While both countries offer great off-season deals, Kenya is probably more budget-friendly for the average traveller. 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.

Jabali Private House.

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

3. Accommodation

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 safari season. If you want to visit at mid-year, be sure to start planning at least nine months to a year in advance.

The Highlands Ngorongoro

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.
  • 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.
  • Pack a headlamp for every member of your party. They are useful at lodges and camps that run off limited solar or generator power. A headlamp, unlike a torch, frees up your hands so you can read, repack your baggage or use the bathroom.
Big 5 & Game Viewing

4. Big 5 Sightings and 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!

Chimp in Rubondo Island National Park.

 

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 as poachers kill them for their horns (which just keratin, the same substance as your hair and nails). 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.

TANZANIA KENYA
Big 5 Ngorongoro Crater (most reliable) Mara private conservancies
Chimpanzees
  • Mahale Mountains
  • Rubondo Island
  • Gombe Stream
Elephant strongholds Selous Amboseli
Safari Activities

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 or night drives – depend on where you go on safari, a national park or a conservancy or concession.

National Park Private Reserve
Morning and afternoon game drives yes yes
Guided nature walks with armed ranger yes yes
Off-roading no yes
Night drives no yes
Self-drivers yes no
Tour groups yes no
Can go into national park yes yes
Can go into conservancy no yes
Vehicle limit at sightings no yes
Hot-air ballooning no yes
Cultural exercusions no yes
Fly-camping no yes
Chimp or camel trekking no yes

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.

Fly-camping at Encounter Mara.

 

When to Go

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 summer low or green season, and pricier to visit during the winter 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.

TANZANIA KENYA
Peak / high season July - October (winter) July - October (winter)
Low / green season November - June November - June
Wildebeest Migration
  • January - March (Lake Ndutu)
  • April - May (Seronera)
  • June (Grumeti River)
  • July - October (Mara River)
  • November - December (Seronera)
July - October (Mara River)
Rainy seasons
  • November (short rains)
  • March - April (long rains)
  • November (short rains)
  • March - April (long rains)

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.

Zebra migrating in the Southern Serengeti.

Best Suited For…

7. 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.

Family safari at Sayari in the Serengeti.

 

If you’re conscious of your budget, opt for Kenya first as 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.

Combines with…

8. Combines with…

If you have sufficient money and time, then Africa is your oyster when it comes to extending your safari to 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 Offering superb gorilla trekking in pristine rainforest, Uganda is also within East Africa and a logical next step on an East African itinerary.
  • Rwanda The home of gorilla trekking, Rwanda is 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 Perfect for those who want to splurge on a honeymoon or a once-in-a-lifetime island holiday.
  • Zanzibar, Mnemba, Thanda or Pemba 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.

Thanda, a private island off the Tanzanian coast.

Itinerary ideas

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:

Kenya tours

Tanzania tours