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Safari-goers watching a male lion.
Safari glossary
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On safari:
Safari in Kenya and Tanzania
Kenya and Tanzania are countries in East Africa, on and just south of the equator. Both are prime safari countries, featuring the vast savannas and the classic African safari wildlife that you have probably seen many times in nature documentaries.

A rich wildlife
On a safari here, you can be sure to see not only a lot of animals, but also many different animal species, many of them at close range. There are herbivores such as elephants, giraffes, zebras, hippos, antelopes and rhinos. The African big cats – lions, cheetahs and leopards – are often seen, as are other carnivore mammals, like hyaenas, jackals and servals.

Map of Africa Namibia Botswana South Africa Zambia Mozambique Malawi Rwanda Tanzania Kenya Uganda
Cheetah in Serengeti, Tanzania.

Not mammal wildlife only
Should you look beyond the mammals, there's a rich bird life and flora to discover, a geology still changing the landscape, a multifarious local culture, and traces back to our pre-human ancestors, who evolved in these parts of the world. All is there for you to see on a safari in Kenya or Tanzania.

Safari tours
Travel companies all around the world sell good safari tour packages to East Africa. Such safaris can usually be combined with other activities in the region, such as bathing and diving on Zanzibar Island, the Kenyan coast or the Seychelles, or climbing Africa's highest mountains, Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya. Other travel companies tailor tours to your interests, expectations and budget.

Migrating zebras and wildebeest.

Where safaris come from
Not only tourists visit the Kenyan and Tanzania savanna. Many nature documentaries from Africa shown on television are shot in this region, as wildlife is rich and accessible. You may have watched huge herds of migrating wildebeest and zebras crossing rivers, fighting their way through currents and past hungry crocodiles. Those scenes were shot in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania or Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.

The big cats
These two parks are popular safari destinations, and probably the best areas in Africa to see all of its three big cats: lion, leopard and cheetah. This is where safaris come from, and not only the cameramen can go here. You can, too.

The great migration
The huge herds number up to 1.5 million wildebeest and a few hundred thousand zebras, and are known as the migration, sometimes even the great migration. It is one good reason why visitors keep coming to East Africa, and have been doing so for long times. These are prime safari areas, home to some of the world's most renowned national parks and reserves. This is the land of the vast savannas, the multitude of wildlife species and the big herds.

Elephant bulls in the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania.

The Big Five
The Big Five, a name denoting the five big game species African elephant, rhinoceros, African buffalo, lion and leopard, can be seen on safaris in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.

Rhinos are, like the African wild dogs, not as widely distributed any more. To see them, you should make sure to visit areas where they can still be found. The best parks for rhinos are the Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania and Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya.

The other four Big Five species are more common, and can be seen in most parks of some quality. All reasonably good safari tours include such parks.

1000+ bird species
Well over a thousand species of birds have been recorded in Kenya and Tanzania, and you can watch them in many areas, not only inside the parks. However, the parks are good locations for birding. The bird lists of most major parks exceed 400 species, in some cases 500, and include everything from sunbirds and cisticolas to eagles and ostriches.

'Much better than expected'
Working as safari organizers, tour leaders and safari guides, we meet and speak to many safari-goers. Their most common summary of what they have experienced on safari in East Africa is:

'It was much better than I had expected!'

View of savanna parkland.

Kenya and Tanzania
Kenya and Tanzania are situated in East Africa, on and just south of the equator. The size of Kenya is approximately 580,000 km2/
225,000 sq mi (almost the size of Texas, or slightly larger than France), while Tanzania is close to twice that size. Various types of nature and landscape is found, not just the savanna that is so often associated with safaris. There are also lowland, highland and coastal forests, patches of rain forest, high mountains, semi deserts, beachy coast and islands, freshwater lakes and soda lakes, etc. As different species of animals and plants thrive in different environments, you will find wildlife, bird life and flora changing from place to place that you visit. A diverse nature and scenery is awaiting you.

Good parks
We have already mentioned a few good safari areas: Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania, and Masai Mara National Reserve and Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya. There are many more parks worth visiting. Lake Manyara, Tarangire, Selous and Ruaha in Tanzania, and Lake Nakuru, Amboseli, Samburu/Shaba and Tsavo in Kenya also offer a lot of African wildlife and good safaris. For safari-goers with special interests, such as bird watchers or entomologists, there is also a large number of other national parks, game reserves, forest reserves and nature areas to visit.

Kilimanjaro seen from Arusha National Park.

The highest peaks in Africa
Apart from the wildlife, the safari regions are also rich in other spectacular features. An evident geologic such is the Great Rift Valley, a massive rift cutting an up to 100 km/60 mi wide valley straight through East Africa where two tectonic plates are drifting apart. The rift is surrounded by extinct volcanoes, rising high above the surrounding plains. Two of these are Kilimanjaro (5,895 m/19,340 ft) in northern Tanzania and Mount Kenya (5,199 m/17,057 ft) in central Kenya. These are the highest and second highest mountains in Africa. Both can be climbed by amateurs; climbing packages requiring no experience are available from many tour operators and travel companies.

The Great Rift Valley
The Great Rift Valley itself reaches 6,000 km/3,700 mi from Syria to Mozambique. Some of the best wildlife areas, among them Tarangire National Park in Tanzania and Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya, are found within this rift. A common feature of the rift and its surrounding areas are the shallow soda lakes, where greater and lesser flamingos in thousands, tens of thousands and sometimes even millions congregate to feed and breed.

Flamingos on an East African soda lake.

Volcano highlands
A number of volcanoes west of the Great Rift Valley in northern Tanzania have formed a mountainous area called the Ngorongoro Highlands. Here, amidst peaks up to 3,600 m/11,800 ft, lies the majestic Ngorongoro crater, 20 km/12 mi wide and 600 m/2,000 ft deep. The scenery is stunning, and the wildlife concentration on the crater floor is higher than in any other park.

Just north of the Ngorongoro Highlands stands Oldoinyo Lengai, in local Maasai language 'The mountain of God'. This mountain is an active volcano, and the only volcano in the world erupting carbonate (not silicate) lava.

The Maasai
Many different tribes live in East Africa. The most known among them is the Maasai, a tribe formerly known as fierce warriors, today still proudly carrying their spears. It's likely that you will see or meet the Maasai, as they are pastoralists living in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, i.e. where you also find the prime parks. On most safaris in this area, you get an opportunity to visit a Maasai village, or to meet the Maasai in other ways.

Maasai villagers.

Pre-historic man
Many safari-goers travelling to Serengeti in northern Tanzania stop to visit the museum at Olduvai Gorge, an anthropologist excavation site rich in fossils from pre-historic humans and animals. The most spectacular findings in the area may be the 3.6 million years old footprints, left by our pre-historic ancestor Australopithecus afarensis (the same species as world-famous Lucy, found in Ethiopia) and preserved in volcanic ash.

Another place of great interest to anthropologists is Koobi Fora in northern Kenya, where hominid fossils have also been found. The site is located too far away from the Kenyan safari routes to be visited, though.

The great lakes
Some visitors find their way beyond the savannas and safaris in the Serengeti and Masai Mara, heading further west to Lake Victoria. This is the world's second largest freshwater lake and the source of the Nile River. The lake is shared by, and thus borders, northern Tanzania, western Kenya and south-eastern Uganda. The other two great lakes of East Africa, Lake Tanganyika and Lake Nyasa/Malawi, are situated in a western branch of the Great Rift Valley, and border Tanzania in the west and southwest. These lakes are very rich in endemic fish species, making them popular for diving and snorkelling. Lake Tanganyika is 1,400 m/4,600 ft deep, making it the second deepest lake in the world. It is also one of the oldest.

Beach on eastern Zanzibar.

The coast and Zanzibar
Many visitors to East Africa combine a safari with a beach holiday on the coast. White beaches, palm trees and warm water offers bathing, diving and fishing. Zanzibar Island off the Tanzanian mainland is a popular place to go, and is easily combined with a safari in Kenya or Tanzania. Other such destinations in Tanzania are Pemba Island north of Zanzibar, featuring very good dive sites, and Pangani on the mainland coast. In Kenya, some good coastal areas are sparsely visited Lamu Island off the northern coast, and the mainland coast around Mombasa. The Mombasa coast is suffering from some over-exploitation, but nice spots are still possible to find.

The climate
The climate in Kenya and Tanzania is tropical, and has two dry and two rainy seasons every year. The rainy seasons are April–May (locally known as 'the long rains') and November ('the short rains'). The long rains is the time of year least suitable for safaris, as roads may be less passable in the wet, vegetation denser and some lodges and tented camps closed.

Temperatures vary with altitude, season, weather, etc. In brief, they are 25–30+ºC/77–85+ºF in the inland safari areas during October to March, 5º/10º less during the rest of the year. The coastal temperatures vary less, and are normally around 30ºC/85ºF.

Local geography, such as mountains, may cause local variations in climate. For example, the areas next to Lake Victoria have more rainfall than surrounding areas.

More about safari seasons

Portrait of a male giraffe.

Choosing Kenya or Tanzania?
The wildlife in Kenya and Tanzania is comparable and mainly equally good. You may see the classic African wildlife, including lions, elephants, zebras and crocodiles, in both countries.

To choose between the countries, you may decide when you would like to travel, and then pick the country where you can see the most wildlife at that time of year. Or you may check the tours offered by a couple of travel companies that you like and trust, and book the tour of your liking, dependless of whereto it goes.

More about where and when to go

Safari vehicle travelling the savanna.

The basic concept of safaris in Kenya and Tanzania is of course travelling into the East African wilderness to experience its animals and nature. The means of travelling, how you stay in the bush, and in which forms you watch the animals may differ. A wide choice of different safaris is available from travel companies, of which some also offer tailored safaris.

Visiting Tanzania and Kenya
In 2007, Kenya had around 2,000,000 visitors, Tanzania some 700,000. Many come for a safari, and that is what the East African tourist industry is mainly about, and good at, catering for both big-spender and budget visitors.

This makes visiting Kenya or Tanzania easy. When travelling on a packaged tour, you are met at the airport on arrival, and all local arrangements, transports, activities etc are handled for you. All you have to do yourself is enjoying the trip.

Travelling on your own requires more from you, of course, and even if you think it's fun to travel that way, it's not the best or a less expensive way to see a lot of animals. For safety reasons, travelling with a local guide or driver guide is recommended until you have gained some experience from meeting elephants, lions and other potentially dangerous animals. In some parks, the authorities won't let you enter unless you are followed by an official guide.

Female lion with a cub.

Booking a safari
Safari tours to East Africa are sold by travel companies all around the world. Many different types of tours are available, many of them packages including return flight to Africa and a 5 to 7 day full board safari visiting three or four different parks. Some tours are led by a Kenyan or Tanzanian driver-guide, while others are led by a tour leader speaking your own language.

Travel companies specialized in Africa may also tailor a safari to your interests, expectations and budget. If there are no such specialists in your own country, you may turn directly to a tour operator in Kenya or Tanzania.

More about guides

Languages spoken
If you do speak some English, you will manage throughout your trip. Staff on airports, hotels and lodges, safari companies etc all speak English, which is an official language in both countries, together with Swahili. If you plan to travel on your own, and to visit places off the beaten track, you may need a Swahili phrase book.

Safari guiding is usually in English. Some safari companies offer drivers and guides that speak other languages, such as French, Italian, Spanish or German. On some safaris, there is also a tour leader, who usually speaks your own language.

More about language

View of the Lobo area in northern Serengeti, Tanzania.

The parks
Most wildlife and most safari tourism is found in protected areas such as national parks and game reserves. In Kenya and Tanzania, these parks vary in size, from a few to more than 50,000 km2/20,000 sq mi. The Tanzanian parks are generally larger than the Kenyan, while there are more parks in Kenya.

Most safaris visit more than one park, staying one or a few nights in each. Some safaris visit only one, usually one of the prime parks, for example Serengeti National Park in Tanzania or Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. The parks included in packaged safari tours are generally good ones, where you can expect to see a lot of wildlife.

Parks in Kenya
Parks in Tanzania

Karta över södra Kenya och norra Tanzania. Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO/HTKJ)Moi International Airport (MBA/HKMO) Serengeti NPNgorongoro CALake EyasiLake Manyara NPTarangire NPLake NatronArusha NPKilimanjaro NPMkomazi NPTsavo West NPTsavo East NPChyulu Hills NPNgai Ndethya NRTaita Hills GSSouth Kitui NRAmboseli NRMasai Mara NRNairobi NPLake NaivashaLake Nakuru NPAberdare NPMount Kenya NPLake Bogoria NRLake BaringoMeru NPMwingi NRKora NPRahole NRBisanadi NRSamburu NRBuffalo Springs NRShaba NRLake Victoria (Kenya)Lake Victoria (Tanzania)Lake MagadiJomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO/HKJK)
The most popular parks in northern Tanzania and southern Kenya.

Safaris by road
Safaris by road are the most common. You travel to and between parks in a safari vehicle, which is driven by a Kenyan or Tanzanian driver guide. Most or all game viewing is done by game driving, i.e. from the vehicle, in the parks.

Self-drive safaris are safaris by road, but you rent a vehicle and drive yourself.

More about safaris by road
More about vehicles
More about guides

Safaris by air
A safari by air means travelling to and between parks by light aircraft. The game viewing in the parks is then done from safari vehicles, on foot etc.

Many safari by air packages visit one park only, mainly the prime parks Masai Mara in Kenya or Serengeti in Tanzania, but visiting a couple of parks, flying between them, is also an option. By tailoring your tour, any park that has an airstrip may be included.

More about safaris by air

Walking safaris
Walking safaris doesn't mean that you walk to the parks, but that you watch the wildlife walking in the parks. A true walking safari means spending days on foot in the bush, but there are also safaris that include one or two shorter walks, each for a couple of hours, while the rest of the game viewing is done from vehicles.

More about walking safaris

Speciality safaris
Photographers, bird watchers, botanists and others with special interests may want to spend their time in East Africa differently than general safari-goers, to allow time enough for their interests. This is possible by tailoring tours. Some travel companies also offer packaged tours for bird watchers, and there are companies mixing game viewing with activities such as playing golf.

More about game viewing
More about other activities

A permanent tented camp.

Accommodation: Lodges and tented camps
Lodges and tented camps are found within or just outside most parks, ranging from smallish yet comfortable bush camps to hotel style lodges with swimming pools, bars, restaurants, and a hundred or more rooms. The standard level ranges from basic to luxurious.

The main difference between a lodge and a tented camp is that in the former, you stay in a room or a bungalow, while in the latter, you stay in a tent. These tents usually correspond to double or twin rooms, and are complete with normal beds and private shower and toilet facilities. (Do not confuse tented camp safaris with the less comfortable camping safaris described below.)

All lodges and tented camps have a restaurant of some kind. It may be a restaurant proper, a mess tent, a thatched roof veranda overlooking a water hole, etc, all depending on the style of the particular lodge or camp.

Other common features of lodges and tented camps are souvenir shops, bars, observation points from where you can see the surrounding bush and maybe spot animals, and, in some lodges and camps, a swimming pool.

More about lodges and camps
More about eating and drinking
Lodges in Kenya
Lodges in Tanzania

Camping safaris
On a camping safari, which is normally a budget form of safari, you stay in much smaller tents in camping sites, sleeping on a mattress on the ground. Hygiene facilities may be very basic, hot water for showers may not always be available (or not even showers at all), and meals may be fairly basic.

There are also luxury camping safaris, offering considerably better comfort, including larger tents, normal beds, bush showers etc.

Camping can be rough, but offers a bush experience far more adventurous than staying in a lodge or tented camp. Camping is down-to-earth, and as close to nature as you can get. It may also be the only accommodation available in remote areas, where there is no or little infrastructure for tourism.

Camping safaris should not be considered at all if you plan to travel during a rainy season. You may end up wet, muddy and cold for a week.


Game viewing
The lodge or camp is your base while staying in a park. From there, you do drives into the bush, ranging from a couple of hours up to full days, searching for and viewing wildlife. These game drives are the core activity of the safari. This is when you get to see most animals.

Bush walks and game viewing from boats are also offered in some parks. Balloon safaris can be done in for example Serengeti and Masai Mara.

Game drives are done in the vehicle that your group is travelling in, or in a vehicle provided by the lodge or camp, in case you have arrived there by air. Most game drive vehicles have a set of roof hatches that you can open, to stand up for a better view, or one big pop-up sunroof, below which you and the other passengers can stand up shaded from the sun.

More about game viewing
More about walking safaris

The dense groundwater forest of Lake Manyara National Park.

What will you see?
ost parks visited on packaged safari tours offer game viewing all year round. It's not possible to predict exactly which animal species you will see, but some are virtually impossible not to see, as they are plentiful and present in most parks. Giraffes, antelopes of different kinds, baboons and warthogs are some such common species. Other species are widely distributed but fewer in numbers, but still common enough to be seen on most or all safaris. We have, for example, not heard of or been on any properly arranged safari in Kenya or Tanzania where lions have not been seen.

Other species are not present in all parks, for example rhinos, crocodiles and cheetahs. For a good chance to see rhinoceros, you should visit the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania or, in Kenya, Lake Nakuru National Park or one of the private game reserves where rhinos have been re-introduced or well protected.

The animals don't come looking for you to show themselves off. To see them, you have to find them, which requires a competent driver guide, patience and sometimes a little bit of luck.

On a normal safari, visiting good parks during six or seven days, you may see 30 to 40 species of large mammals, ranging from the 4 kg/9 lb dikdik (a dwarf antelope) to the 6,000 kg/13,000 lb African elephant. All the Big Five species (African elephant, rhinoceros, African buffalo, lion and leopard) are often seen, as are cheetahs, crocodiles, eland antelopes and other not that numerous species.

Without trying very hard, you may also see about a hundred bird species, considerably more if you make the effort. Apart from the crocodiles, reptiles such as monitor and agama lizards are often seen, and you may spot chameleons, terrapins, tortoises or snakes if you look for them. Butterflies, other insects and amphibians may be numerous during wet seasons, and if you are interested in the flora, there is a lot for you to see and explore.

More about mammals
More about birds
More about reptiles

Baboon in a dead tree.

When to go? Where to go?
No single park is always the best one, as the numbers of animals in each park, and their whereabouts, may differ depending on when you visit. The whereabouts of the wildlife, as well as migrations between parks, is affected by the season, rainfall, availability of drinking water and grazing, etc. The best seasons as to wildlife don't coincide for all parks.

In brief, you can go for a Kenyan or Tanzanian safari whenever it suits you. Most safari tours visit a few different parks, and game viewing in most parks is quite good even when it's not at it's best. You will have a good safari, dependless.

The one time of the year that you may want to avoid is the long rains, i.e. the rainy season during April and May.

To see the huge migrating herds of wildebeest and zebras, you should visit Serengeti in Tanzania from January to March or in June, or Masai Mara in Kenya from August to October. These two parks are good all year round, not the least to see the big cats, and it is a good idea to include one of them in your itinerary.

Tarangire National Park in Tanzania is known as one of the best places to see elephants, and to see a lot of them. The best time to visit the park is during September and October, which is the end of a long dry season, when a lot of animals, including elephants, congregate along the Tarangire River. Later in the season, the elephants and other species disperse over large areas, and are not seen in such numbers.

For a good chance to see the Big Five in Tanzania, you may combine Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater. Elephants, buffalos and lions are often seen in both parks, and leopards in Serengeti and rhinoceros in Ngorongoro.

For a good chance to see the Big Five in Kenya, you may combine Masai Mara and Lake Nakuru National Park. Buffalos, lions and leopards are often seen in both parks, and elephants in Masai Mara and rhinoceros in Lake Nakuru.

Leopard in a dead tree.

Can you go on a safari?
You don't need any skills to go on a safari in Kenya or Tanzania. You do need a visa, which you can get at the Kenyan/Tanzanian embassy or high commission in your country, or at the airport when entering East Africa. You don't need any special luggage or equipment, apart from a pair of binoculars. They are not absolutely necessary, but will be a good help to you and in frequent use. Local currency (Kenyan or Tanzanian shillings) can be exchanged once you have arrived.

The roads to and within the parks may be very poor and dusty. Be prepared for bumpy rides. The day temperatures may exceed 30ºC/85ºF (while temperatures in many parks drop quite a bit at night, due to altitude). Combined, these factors may be exhausting if you are not as fit as you used to be.

Children of any age can go, as long as they can stand the climate and the travelling (some itineraries include five- to six-hour drives going from one park to another). A few lodges, mainly 'tree lodges' (such as Treetops Lodge) in mountainous areas, have age restrictions (usually 7 years), to keep sound and noise levels low to avoid scaring the wildlife off. There may also be age restrictions to certain activities, such as guided bush walks in game areas.

Only few lodges are designed or equipped to cater for visitors with physical disabilities. Steps and staircases are common, sometimes even over-used for design effects. Only the better hotels in the cities have elevators.

If electric equipment of some kind is essential for your health or well-being, be aware that many lodges and tented camps get their electricity from generators, which are usually switched off at night and during mid-day.

Who can go on safari?
More about visas and passports
More about money and currency
More about luggage

Savanna sunrise.

Are safaris dangerous?
Kenya and Tanzania are easy to visit, and are, for being African, safe and mainly stable. Events in Kenya in the beginning of 2008, when political-ethnical unrest following an election led to the death of more than a thousand people, indicate how fragile the political stability in developing countries may be, though.

The safaris themselves, as offered to tourists by various travel companies all over the world, are not hazardous. You may experience memorable adventures from rough drives through mud, dust and tropical heat, or from sleeping in tents when hyaenas or lions stalk the bush outside. You will probably come close to wild and potentially dangerous animals, but you will do so safely in a vehicle, or while escorted by an experienced game ranger.

Very few safari-goers are harmed by the wildlife, and those who are usually ignored instructions by guides, watchmen or rangers, or didn't understand that wild animals are wild. Seeing snakes is rare; most safari-goers don't.

The animal that is most dangerous to you is probably the mosquito, which can infect you with malaria, a life-threatening disease unless properly treated. Stomach problems are not rare among visitors, so you should choose what to eat and drink wisely. To avoid diseases, you should make sure to have the proper vaccinations for visiting East Africa, and to take precautions agains malaria.

More about health
More about safety

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Page updated 27 April 2013