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The ultimate guide to planning a safari in Tanzania

HOW TO PLAN A SAFARI IN TANZANIA – IN 15 EASY STEPS

Tanzania boasts some of Africa’s largest and most impressive national parks, making it a must-visit destination for safari enthusiasts. But planning a safari tour can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not familiar with the country or if you haven’t done an African safari before.

In this article, we’ll guide you through everything you need to know to plan an unforgettable safari tour in Tanzania where we breakdown the planning process into 15 easy and valuable steps

Lions-Zebras-Africa-Serengeti-Tanzania-Safari

Step 1: Knowing What Tanzania Offers & Listing What Appeals To You

Planning a safari in Tanzania can be overwhelming due to the abundance of options available. With so many national parks offering incredible wildlife viewing experiences, but limited time, it can help to understand the highlights of what Tanzania has to offer and make a list of what appeals to you.

Some of the top experiences that clients usually ask us and where you can expect to find them in Tanzania are listed below for your quick reference.

  • Best wildlife viewing – Central Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Tarangire
  • The Big five – Ngorongoro, Central Serengeti
  • Wildebeest migration(Great Migration) – Central, North, West, or South Serengeti based on time of the year. Where to see migration in Serengeti
  • Big cats – Central Serengeti, Ndutu
  • Birding – Tarangire, Central Serengeti, Lake Manyara
  • Cultural tours – Ngorongoro, Lake Eyasi, Lake Manyara
  • Unique or beautiful scenery – Lake Manyara, Lake Natron, Tarangire, Ngorongoro
  • Scenic hikes in nature – Lake Natron, Ngorongoro, Arusha National Park
  • Add-on tours like canoeing – Lake Manyara, Arusha National Park; Hor air balloon – Serengeti, Tarangire; Night game drives – Manyara, Tarangire etc
  • Easy/short road access – Tarangire,Lake Manyara
  • Specific wildlife like elephants – Tarangire, flamingoes – Lake Natron, Rhinos – Ngorongoro etc
  • A Romantic gateaway – Tours with short transfers, small/boutique tented lodges in Serengeti/Tarangire followed by a few nights at an intimate resort in Zanzibar.

Here is how our tour guides rated the parks in Northern Tanzania. You can also check short and detailed reviews for all of the parks and other popular attractions in North Tanzania in that link.

Once you shortlist a few locations, you can search for Tanzania safaris that cover those locations. Or if you are open to ideas for the tour, you can just take look at our list of Tanzania safaris and filter tours based on your dates, duration, party size and check the top recommended options.

Step 2: Defining Your Budget

Average cost for 2 people doing private safari will start from around USD 350 per person per day. Depending on itinerary, number of people traveling, season, accommodation tier, this can be lower than USD 200 or well above USD 1500+ per person per day. So for overall safari (excluding flights), price per person can be under USD 500 or over USD 15000. Given the wide range, we recommend clients considering safari to have a rough budget in mind so their research into finding an ideal tour can be more focused. This article gives an insight into Tanzania safari costs

A quick summary of factors to consider when planning a safari budget:

  • Prices reduce with increasing party size. For party of 6 sharing a vehicle for example, average costs would be around USD 250 per person per safari day. Discounts are offered for kids under 15.99, based on their age (about 25-40% lower for kids between 5 to 15.99 compared to adult rates)
  • Serengeti is expensive than other parks, so more time here increases the price. For example, a 3 days safari to Manyara, Ngorongoro,Tarangire costs USD 876 per person while a 3 days safari to Serengeti costs USD 1228 per person, with lowest priced ensuite hotels in both cases
  • Prices change with the accommodation tier. For budget camping safaris are about 20% cheaper then lowest priced ensuite hotels while a safari with high end hotels cost over USD 1500 per day as you can check from this popular 6 days safari to Manyara, Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Tarangire
  • Prices will be higher in peak season(Jul to Oct, late Dec to Feb), followed by mid season(June, Nov to mid Dec) and will be lower during low season(Mar to May). The difference in prices across seasons will be quite significant in packages with luxury accommodations, and it will be moderate in packages with mid tier accommodations while the prices for packages with economy hotels or basic camping change very little through the year
  • Other factors like – flying between parks, add on tours like balloon ride, pre/post safari accommodation, extension to Zanzibar etc can add to your Tanzania tour costs
  • Also remember to consider major costs like your international flight costs and smaller costs like VISA costs, alcoholic/soft drinks, souvenirs, tips etc that you might incur along with tour costs.

Once you have a rough idea of how much things are bound to cost, you will be able to formulate a rough budget for safari tour in mind, and choose duration, accommodations, destinations, activities, and may be even the season you visit Tanzania in.

Step 3: Deciding the Number of Days for Safari

From Africa’s highest peak, Mt. Kilimanjaro, to the wildlife-rich plains of Serengeti and tropical paradise of Zanzibar, Tanzania offers a perfect mix of adventure, safari, and beach. Depending on your interests, you might need anywhere between 7 days to over 7 weeks to experience the highlights of Tanzania!

Safari duration can be quite flexible, ranging from as little as 2 days to 15 days just for safari in northern parks, with majority of clients planning between 7-10 days of safari.If you already know how many days you have in total for safari, great! Otherwise, you might find this article on how many days to spend on safari in Tanzania helpful. Here is a quick summary of the points to keep in mind while planning your safari duration:

  • Budget for safari – This often limits the number of days you can spend on safari. You can get an idea of prices for safari tours of different duration here.
  • Where do you want to go – Parks like Manyara or Tarangire are only about 2.5 hours from Arusha, while Central Serengeti is 7 hours away and North Serengeti is 11 hours away from Arusha, and so they cannot be covered in short tours
  • How long to spend at each park – Small parks like Manyara or Ngorongoro crater can be covered in a day. But large parks like Tarangire can take upto 2-3 days and Serengeti can take upto 3-6 days to cover. Spending more time at larger parks gives you time to explore the various sections of these parks that offer diverse landscapes, different wildlife and to enjoy the safari at a leisurely pace.
  • How many nights at beach – Many clients that plan safari in Tanzania also plan for beach holiday at Zanzibar after their safari (usually clients spend 3 to 5 nights at beach). So if your total vacation time for Tanzania is fixed, your time at beach will impact the duration of your safari. For clients who have only a week or shorter for their Tanzania tour, we recommend skipping Zanzibar.
  • If you have a rough idea for the duration of your safari, you can explore some popular safari itineraries in Tanzania
  • Safari tours listed above start from Arusha (for all northern circuit parks) on day 1 in the morning and end at Arusha in the afternoon (around 5:00 PM) on the last day. So depending on your arrival/departure flight timings, you might need to plan for extra day(s) before or after safari which will reduce the number of days avaialable for your safari.

Step 4: Choosing The Time of The Year

The Dry Season in Tanzania which is from June to October is an excellent time to go for a safari and has a number of pros.

The weather is dry, sunny and pleasant, the vegetation thins out, and many animals collect around water bodies. All these factors improve the visibility and ensure that you get to see a lot of animals during your safari. Depending upon the month you visit Tanzania in, during the dry season, you will also be able to catch the Wildebeest migration in the western corridor (till early July) or the northern region(from early July to october) of Serengeti. The wildebeest river crossings occur in both these regions, so if you time your tour correctly(we recommend North Serengeti beteween late July to September) you will have high chances of witnessing this famous natural phenomena. To add to this, since there will be little to no rain, you will have to worry less about tsetse flies, mosquitoes, and muddy roads.If you want to rough it out and go on an adventurous tour with camping, finding waterfalls, enjoying the springs, hiking and much more, traveling during the Dry Season is advisable. A budget camp tour for instance will be not comfortable during the low season (wet season) as the campsites will be muddy and slippery which will make it hard to step out of your tents. Or, if you’re interested in hiking, then once again you’ll find your path muddy and slippery during the low season, which would not be enjoyable at all.

On the other hand, visiting Tanzania during the peak season will cost more. The accommodations and park fees will be higher. The parks will be more crowded. And unless you are booking several months in advance, you might not be able to stay at the accommodations you like.

If you wish to cut down on the costs and travel when the parks are less crowded, you may visit Tanzania during the low season.

The low season of Tanzania is from March to May (long rains) , and from November to December (short rains). March to April is considered the very peak of the wet season and it can rain for several hours each day, making the roads slippery and sometimes even restricting your game drive schedule(though this is not common). Easy access to water makes the wildlife dispersed and harder to find. However, the wet season is great for those who are interested in birding. Migratory birds from Asia, Europe, and other parts of Africa arrive in the national parks of Tanzania, and you can venture out on an exciting trip to find and study them. If you’re also someone who appreciates lush green scenery, then once again the low season a.k.a the wet season would be a good fit for you. Although, the wildlife sightings are harder, in some of the popular national parks, like Serengeti and Ngorongoro, you’ll be able to spot plenty of wildlife, just not as much as you would find during the peak season.Since it will be the low season, there will be very few tourists to interfere with your experience of wildlife sightings. So you might be the only vehicle or in company of very few vehicles at sightings like a cheetah eating its kill or a lion stalking its prey. Contrast this to the possibility of finding yourself in the company of 5-20 other vehicles at rare sightings in peak season! The accommodations and national parks will also charge less. Mid tier/Luxury accommodations charge half or even a third of the rate they charge during peak season. So traveling in low season will bring down the overall cost of your safari, especially if you are interested in mid tier/luxury accommodations. Some of our repeat clients plan their safaris exclusively during the low season so they can enjoy the parks when they are least crowded and at discounted rates.

January to February is a short dry season that occurs between the short rains period of November to December and long rains period of March to May. This is a good time to visit Tanzania for safari, particularly the Ndutu and Southern Serengeti plains, where the wildebeests gather in their 100s of thousands and calving happens from Mid January to mid February. There can be some rains but not as much as during the short or long rains and the general wildlife sightings in all parks are decent.

Step 5: Choosing Between Private and Group Safari

When planning a safari in Tanzania, you have the option of joining a group safari or booking a private safari. Both options have their own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to consider your personal preferences and needs before making a decision.

In a Group Joining safari you will be required to share your vehicle with other tourists. Since a safari vehicle can only hold up to 7 clients with window seats for all, that is the maximum number of clients you will find on a group safari in Tanzania. Major benefit of group joining safaris is that they are cost effective for solo travelers or even couples. Further, if you’re someone who enjoys meeting new people from different countries, a group safari might be a great option for you. You will be spending hours out in the wild with other travelers, having an exciting time. It will be a great way to bond, and something that both parties could look back on positively in future.However, group safaris run as per a fixed schedule and fixed schedule would mean less flexibility. If the time given is 9 a.m., you will have to be ready by then. If you wish to tweak the itinerary according to your preferences then that won’t be possible either, as preferences of the group in general will have to be taken in consideration.

Group safaris in general are cheaper by about 40-50% than private safari for a solo travelers and about 15-20% cheaper for a couple(as compared to private safari) and they are available on specific dates during the dry season (Jun to Oct & late Dec to Feb)

Step 6: Choosing Accommodations

While the focus of a safari is on the wildlife, choosing the right accommodation is also an essential part of creating an unforgettable experience.We recommend you to consider following parameters while selecting accommodations for each night during your safari

  • Budget: Accommodations on safari can cost as little as USD 80 per person per night to well over USD 1500 per person per night (not counting vehicle fees/park fees etc). While planning your Tanzania safari, we recommend you to have a rough budget (a wide range is totally fine) in mind for the overall safari tour and then select safari itinerary based on your interests/duration of tour/travel period and then come to the stage of selection of accommodations. This way, you can adjust your safari accommodations to fit the tour within your budget and preferred comfort level.
  • Location: Our suggestion for most travelers would be, if your budget allows you to have a choice in accommodation selection, prioritise the location of accommodation, over other factors. By staying at camps/lodges in good location, you can maximise your time in the parks for wildlife viewing.
  • Accommodation tier: There is a large variation in accommodation tier/service level among accommodations you find in/around national parks. Select an accommodation tier based on your budget.
  • Type of accommodation: There are several types of accommodations available on a Tanzania safari tour, ranging from basic camping to lodges, tented camps, tented lodges, city hotels. Each type of accommodation offers a unique experience, and choosing the right one depends on your budget, interests, itinerary, and preferred level of comfort.

Step 7: Deciding Whether to Fly or Drive to Serengeti?

Almost all Tanzania safaris in Northern circuit that are 4 days or longer include Serengeti National park. From Arusha, the basetown for safaris, Central Serengeti is 7 hours, Western Serengeti in 9 hours and North Serengeti is 11 hours by road, each way. But the good news is, there are more parks to cover along the way. Ngorongoro and Manyara national parks are right next to the road that connects Arusha to Serengeti while Tarangire is only about 40 min away from this road. So in most itineraries, we cover these parks either on the way to Serengeti or on the way back from Serengeti or we might cover some parks before and some after covering Serengeti.

While visiting these parks breaks the long drive to Serengeti into manageable chunks, transfer time to Serengeti and back can still take up considerable part of your time on tour. If you want to reduce this transfer time or if you don’t have the time or interest to visit other parks, then a good option is to fly directly into Serengeti on day 1 and cover other parks on the way back (or skip them and fly back from Serengeti).

For clients starting from Zanzibar/Dar es salaam for safari (or for clients who want to reach Zanzibar/Dar es salaam after safari) flying from these cities into Serengeti (or flying back) can be a good idea to save travel times.Flying into/out of Serengeti can increase costs by USD 200-500 per person compared to itineraries where you drive both ways, to account for flight fees, for extra fees incurred in arranging vehicle/guide in time for arrival, extra park fees that can result due to rerouting of itinerary.

Step 8: Considering The Extra Activities

On a safari tour in Tanzania, along with the game drives to see wildlife, you can also opt to do additional activities like floating high above the Serengeti in a Hot Air Balloon, caneoing in lake Manyara, going on a walking tour in Tarangire, doing the jumping dance with the Maasai on a vaillage tour, going on a morning hunt with the Hadzabe, enjoying sundowners in the bush and a lot more.

However, all these activities consume time and incur extra charges.

You can learn more about the kinds of add-on activities you can opt during your safari by talking to your sales consultant.

Step 9: Selecting A Reputed Operator

We suggest clients to do their background research on the operator/agent they shortlisted to book the tour. While price can be an important factor in selecting the operator, we strongly suggest to not go ahead with operator selection solely on the basis of price but instead, also check the following

  • Are they registered/licensed to conduct safari tours in Tanzania. Licensed companies have a permit called TALA for conducting safari tour operations in Tanania that can cost from USD 500 to 5000 per year. If your tour operator doesn’t have this license, they will outsource your booking to someone who does. Make sure to check who the ultimate operator that is going to arrange your safari
  • Are their sales staff knowledgeable and professional? Ask for as much help and as many questions as you can think of, during the sales process. If the sales consultant is not explaining available options or not considering your interests or other details while suggesting tours, it can be a warning sign for what is going to happen while on tour
  • Check Tripadvisor reviews of selected operator. Almost all operators have reviews on Tripadvisor. The reputed ones usually have over 95% positive reviews and severals 100s or even 1000s of reviews.
  • Check prices. While lowest price shouldn’t be the sole criteria for selecting an operator, competitive prices could be an important factor. For exact same tour with same itinerary, accommodation, dates, party size & activities you might find price variation of almost 20% across operators/agents. So to avoid paying very high rates, we suggest you enquire with 2-3 licensed, reputed operators to get prices for exact same plan and asses if the one you are considering is priced fairly or not.

Step 10: Blocking Your Rooms

As soon you decide your travel dates, safari itinerary, safari accommodations, ask your operator to block rooms at selected safari accommodations for you. Depending on your travel dates and when you are planning to book, there are good chances that some of the accommodations you shortlisted might not be available. To give you an idea, between July to September many accommodations in Serengeti/Ngorongoro get full booked out for nearly 70% of the dates about 6 months in advance.In case some of the accommodations in your shortlist do not have availability, your tour operator usually suggests alternatives that are still available for your dates and block them based on your preference.

Once all the accommodations are blocked, you will have about 3-7 days to make a deposit payment and confirm your tour.

Step 11: Checking The Booking Terms, Cancellation Policy and Booking The Tour!

Where feasible, we recommend clients to finalize their plans and proceed with booking as early as possible to have good chances of finding accommodations they like. For clients who plan closer to travel dates, there will be a limited choice of available accommodations. For the very last minute enquiries, some of the top operators might not able to arrange tours as their vehicles/guides might be fully booked already. Also, as you delay your safari booking, your international flight prices keep going up which will impact the overall price of the vacation.

Before booking the tour, make sure you check the payment terms and cancellation terms of your safari tour. Most operators collect a deposit amount ranging between 20 to 50% to confirm the booking and ask for balance amount to be paid a few days before the tour (or any time till departure). Please ensure that you review the cancellation policy and that it is written in your booking voucher. In many cases, you will have a window of time for free cancellation that you can benefit from, if you need to cancel for any reason.

Step 12: Packing Appropriately

Packing for a Tanzania safari will depend on the specific itinerary, time of the year, and personal preferences. However, here are some items that you should note down to get as a part of the planning process.

While you’re out on a game drive, a walking safari, or a hike, you should go for lighter, lighter toned clothes that cover your legs entirely. There are a lot of insects, especially the tsetse flies, that are attracted to darker shades and can annoy you if not dressed properly.You should get some warmer clothing too. The temperature tends to dip in the morning and at night. So a fleece jacket or a pullover would be a great addition. You might go out for early morning game drives or night game drives, and some warmer clothing could help make it a great experience.

For footwear, it is recommended to bring comfortable shoes, slippers, and sandals if you like. Comfortable sports shoes would be great while you’re out on a game drive or a walking safari. You can choose to hike in them as well. While slippers and sandals can be worn while you’re at your lodge or visiting a market in a city.

Medications are another important thing that you need to pack. Please prepare a first aid kit with all the medicines that you take regularly, antacids, painkillers, paracetamol, antibiotics, bandages, and ointments.

There is a low risk of malaria present in Tanzania so you can consult your doctor about it and take a prophylactic if recommended. Besides that, please add mosquito repellents to your bag. Other than that, accommodations in Tanzania do have proper nets and windows to keep the insects away.

Travel adaptors are also important. You will find Type D and G power sockets in Tanzania, so getting a travel adaptor would be handy.

Step 13: Money Matters

Currency of Tanzania is Tanzanian Shilling, however, most of the hotels, restuarants and businesses in tourist areas accept US Dollars (printed after 2009) as well, so having cash while you’re in Tanzania would be a good way to go around. If you run out of cash, there will be enough ATMs for you to withdraw money from.You may use your cards as well, but it will usually incur a surcharge between 3.5 to 7.5% and there is a possibility that it might not be accepted as a mode of payment at some places.

Please budget enough cash for VISA (if getting it on arrival), purchasing souvenirs, getting extra meals or drinks, or giving tips or donations etc.

Step 14: Gathering Proper Documents

Once everything is set and a trip is booked, don’t forget to make copies of your necessary travel documents. You may place copies in checked luggage and your hand luggage. Having digital copies in your smartphones and tablets would also be a good idea.

And don’t forget to make sure your passport is valid for atleast 6 more months and it has blank pages for stamping (we have had clients that were denied boarding flight into Tanzania for these reasons!) and you have proof of yellow fever vaccination (if coming from Kenya or other yellow fever endemic countries).

While clients from most countries visiting Tanzania can get their VISA online (eVISA) in 2-3 days or just get a VISA on arrival, depending on your nationality, you might be required to apply for referral VISA for Tanzania which can take a couple of months. So plan in advance for your VISA.

Step 15: Preparing Yourself Mentally and Physically and Having An Amazing Time

Many safari tours involve long drives between parks and reserves, and hectic schedules that see you to spend about 8-10 hours in the vehicle on dirt tracks. So it’s important to manage your expectations. Remember that wildlife sightings are not guaranteed, and the weather and other factors can affect your experience.

We recommend clients planning safari tour in Tanzania to stay open-minded and flexible, and be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances.


And that’s it! Keep all these points in mind while planning your trip and don’t hesitate to talk to us if you have any doubts! Together we will ensure that you have a lifetime memorable experience in Tanzania!

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