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Safari-goers taking pictures of a male lion in the Ngorongoro Crater.
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Planning your safari:
Good safari routes
Most tours to Kenya or Tanzania offered by travel companies or travel agents are quite similar. They mainly visit the same park and have similar itineraries and activities. These tours are generally good enough. The parks included are among the best ones, and you can expect to see a lot of animals.

Safari route summary
If you don't care reading the rest of this page, we recommend the following routes:

·
In Tanzania
Go to Serengeti, for many mammal species, including the big cats.
Go to the Ngorongoro Crater, for rhinos (and thereby improving your chances of seeing all Big five), big cats and the rich general wildlife.
Add Lake Manyara and/or Tarangire you want to see a wider variety of biotopes and landscape.
Different combinations of these parks are offered by many travel companies. The best time of year is December to June, when the migration is usually present in Serengeti (but avoid April to May, which is a rainy season). August to October is a good time for seeing predators.
·
In Kenya
Go to Masai Mara for many mammal species, including the big cats. Also visit Lake Nakuru, to improve your chances of seeing rhinos and leopards (and thereby your chances of seeing the Big Five).
For a wider variety of biotopes and landscape, and a few more mammal species, you may add Samburu/Shaba.
Different combinations of these parks are offered by many travel companies. The best time of year is August to October, when the migration is normally present in Masai Mara.

Time of year
Tours sold by travel companies or travel agents are usually general routes that are not fine-tuned to specific seasons. Such fine-tuning is not very important to most safari-goers, as the safari region is good enough for general routes to work fine all year round.

By fine-tuning (i.e. choosing you tour wisely or tailoring it) you may get a safari itinerary that is perfect for the time of year when you are going, though, for the best possible game viewing.

More about safari seasons

Safaris by road or by air
Most routes listed below are by road, which is the most common way of travelling to and between parks. A few examples of safaris by air are included, too, as flying may be a good option for safari-goers that want to avoid travelling poor roads.

If you are not sensitive to price, you may visit any combination of parks by air. This takes tailoring your itinerary. The safaris by road listed below for example, may be done by air, too, though at a higher price.

More about safaris by road
More about safaris by air

A safari vehicle passing the Malania Depression on its way west towards Serengeti.

Good safari routes in northern Tanzania
Most safari-goers visit northern Tanzania, where the so-called northern circuit includes Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara, Tarangire and Arusha National Park.

Prime parks
Serengeti National Park is the obvious prime park of northern Tanzania. It offers a good safari experience whenever you go there, and you may combine it with other parks, or choose it as the sole destination for a shorter safari.

The Ngorongoro Crater has a prime wildlife, but isn't large enough to allow for one day of good game driving.

Map of northern Tanzania.Arusha Airport (ARK/HTAR)Kilimanjaro National Park Arusha  National Park Lake Manyara National Park Serengeti National Park Ngorongoro Conservation Area Tarangire National Park Ngorongoro Conservation AreaSerengeti National ParkMasai Mara National Reserve (Kenya)Lake Manyara  National ParkTarangire National ParkArusha  National ParkKilimanjaro National ParkNairobi  National Park (Kenya)Amboseli National Reserve (Kenya)Lake EyasiLake NatronLake VictoriaKilimanjaro International Airport (JRO/HTKJ)Lake Magadi (Kenya)

Classic northern circuit
7 days

Lake Manyara. One night spent there.
Serengeti. Two nights.
Ngorongoro. Two nights.
Tarangire. One night.

A good general route for any time of year. It's the classic tour for the northern circuit, i.e. in northern Tanzania. Serengeti and Ngorongoro are the main parks, and the two other parks are en route. The total transport time between the parks/lodges/tented camps is 15–16 hours. Some of this time is spent travelling inside parks, where wildlife may be seen en route.

Each park has its own type of landscape and environment, and all are worth seeing. The scenery varies a lot along the route, which starts and ends in Arusha. The Big Five may be seen.

December to June
6–7 days

Lake Manyara. One night.
Serengeti. Three or four nights.
Ngorongoro. One night.

December to June is the prime time in Serengeti, as the migration is present in the park, while Tarangire may be unstable (this depends on the weather, and is not predictable when booking the tour). Therefore, this variant of Northern circuit above excludes Tarangire, and focuses on Serengeti, which by far is the best park at this time. The Big Five may be seen.

Avoid April and May, which are normally rainy.

August to November
7 days
Serengeti. Three nights.
Ngorongoro. One night.
Tarangire. Two nights.

Tarangire is very good during this time, and a lot of elephants may be seen there. The migration usually doesn't arrive in Serengeti until mid November, but otherwise it's a good time for general wildlife, and often very good for seeing the big cats. On the whole, it's a good route for seeing carnivores, including the cats. The Big Five may be seen, even though it can be tricky finding rhinos in the Ngorongoro Crater (the park where they are usually seen), as the rhinos hide from the winds blowing in the crater during this time of year.

Serengeti
6–7 days

Serengeti. Four or five nights.
Ngorongoro. One night.

Serengeti has the typical African acacia savanna. As to wildlife, it's probably the best park in East Africa. Next to the good general wildlife, there are many cats and other predators. A safari focusing mainly on Serengeti is bound to be good.

The disadvantage of visiting Serengeti is the long travel distance. It's a seven-hour drive from Arusha, and as the roads are poor half the distance, it's a long drive to make in one day. You may want to choose a stopover en route, at least when travelling back towards Arusha (you can probably stand the long drive better when travelling to Serengeti on your first day on safari, especially as you may start seeing some animals during the last two or three hours). The Ngorongoro Crater is a good place for a stopover. You can arrive there from Serengeti before lunch, spend the rest of the day game driving in the crater, and spend a night in one of the lodges on the crater rim. Next day, you have a mainly comfortable 4-hour drive back to Arusha.

The proper time for a safari focusing on Serengeti is December to March, when the migration can be found in the park, but September to November are usually good, too. The Big Five can be seen in Serengeti, although it's not very likely, as the rhino is mainly found in one special area (Moru Kopjes), where it's still difficult to find. Your chances of seeing rhinos improve if you add a visit to the Ngorongoro Crater to the itinerary.

Avoiding the poor roads #1
5–6 days

Ngorongoro. One or two nights.
Lake Manyara. One night.
Tarangire. Two or three nights.

If you want to avoid long drives and travelling the really poor roads, you may decide not to go to Serengeti. This cuts 6 to 8 hours of travelling from the itinerary (leaving 10 hours for the full safari), and most travelling is on good roads. The roads on the Ngorongoro Crater rim are poor, though, and the ascent and descent roads into and out of the crater are really poor.

The itinerary still includes three good parks with a lot of animals, even though your chances to see leopard and cheetah are somewhat reduced. The Big Five can still be seen, as leopards are seen quite often in Tarangire. The best time for this route is August to November, when Tarangire has its best time.

Avoiding the poor roads #2
4–5 days
Lake Manyara. One night.
Tarangire. Two or three nights.

This is a route mainly on tarmac. The last few kilometres/miles to Tarangire are on a bush road, and there are bush roads only inside the parks (quite good and even in Lake Manyara, rougher in Tarangire), but this is as comfortable and non-bumpy as it gets. The total travel time, driving from Arusha to the parks and back, is approximately 6 hours.

The best time for this route is August to November, when Tarangire is really good. You'll have a good safari, seeing many species and animals, but you will not see the Big Five; you won't find rhinos in these parks. You may see the big cats, and you may see a lot of elephants, as both Tarangire and Lake Manyara are good elephant parks.

Mini safari
4 days
Ngorongoro. Two nights.
Lake Manyara. One night.

This mini safari to Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater means totally 8 hours of travel time (starting and ending in Arusha), most of it on good roads. The roads on the crater rim are poor, though, and the ascent and descent roads into and out of the crater are really poor.

You will probably not see the Big Five, as it's rare spotting leopards in these two parks. It does happen, though. The route works fine any time of year, apart from during the rainy season in April and May.

Safari by air
4 days or more
Serengeti. Three nights or more.

This kind of safari, where you fly from Arusha to Serengeti, and then fly back after the safari, is a way to get to Serengeti quickly and without travelling the poor roads. Serengeti is a park big and good enough to offer a good safari on its own, without being combined with other parks.

A good time to visit Serengeti is December to March, when the migration can be found in the park, but September to November are usually good, too. The Big Five can be seen in the park, although it's not very likely, as the rhino is mainly found in one special area (Moru Kopjes), where it's still difficult to find.

The shortest flight (one hour) is from Arusha, from where a number of daily scheduled flights go to Serengeti. You may also go there, via Arusha, from Dar es Salaam or Zanzibar.

Day tour
1 day
A few parks are situated close enough from Arusha to allow for day tours, i.e. leaving in the morning, visiting one park during the day, and returning in the evening:

Tarangire. Total travel time is 4 hours. Good tarmac road most of the way to the park, and fair to poor bush roads in the park. A good option during August to November.

Lake Manyara. Total travel time is 4 hours. Good tarmac road to the park, and good bush roads in the park. You may go there any time of year.

Arusha National Park. Total travel time is 2 hours. Good tarmac road and poor bush road to the park, and fair to poor bush roads in the park. You may go there any time of year.

Safari-goers having a break on the border to Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

Good safari routes in southern Tanzania
Fewer safari tours go to southern Tanzania, and they generally cost more than tours in northern Tanzania and Kenya. The visitors are fewer in southern Tanzania, though, which means a more exclusive atmosphere.

Map of southern Tanzania.Zanzibar International Airport (ZNZ/HTZA) Udzungwa National Park Mikumi National Park Selous Game Reserve Ruaha National Park Mikumi National ParkSelous Game ReserveSaadani National ParkRuaha National ParkRungwa & Kizigo Game ReservesZanzibarJulius Nyerere International Airport (DAR/HTDA)

Safari by air
5–9 days
Selous. Two to four nights.
Ruaha. Two to four nights.

The travel distances to the parks in southern Tanzania are long, and although it's possible to travel by road, it's much more convenient to fly. Selous and Ruaha have good flight connections from Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar (there is also a connection from Arusha). The best time for a visit is during the dry season from July to October, when the animals congregate around permanent freshwater sources. The rest of the year is more rainy, but a drier spell in January and February usually offers good conditions for safaris.

Northern Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania seen trough the aircraft window.

Good safari routes in Kenya
Most safari-goers visit central and south-western Kenya, where the main parks are Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru, Samburu/Shaba, Mount Kenya and Lake Naivasha. The Laikipia Plateau is also in this region, but it's not included in most tours.

Tsavo and Amboseli are in the south-east, towards the coast, and also receive a share of the safari-goers.

Prime parks
Masai Mara is the prime park of Kenya. It offers a good safari experience, and you may combine it with other parks, or choose it as the sole destination for a shorter safari.

Map of central Kenya.Lake NaivashaAberdare National ParkSamburu, Shaba and Buffalo Springs National ReserveMount Kenya National ParkLake Nakuru National ParkMasai Mara National ReserveSerengeti  National Park (Tanzania)Hells's Gate National ParkMount Longonot National ParkLake Bogoria National ReserveLake BaringoLake MagadiNairobi National ParkOl Doinyo Sapuk National ParkMwea National ReserveMeru National ParkLaikipia National ReserveThe Laikipia PlateauLake VictoriaKakamega Forest National ReserveMasai Mara National ReserveLake Nakuru National ParkSamburu, Shaba and Buffalo Springs National ReserveMount Kenya National ParkJomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO/HKJK)
 
Map of south-east Kenya.Mida CreekMkomazi National Park (Tanzania) Shimba Hills National Reserve Tsavo East & West National Park Amboseli National Reserve Amboseli National ReserveChyulu Hills National ParkNgai Ndethya National ReserveSouth Kitui National ReserveTsavo East & West National ParkTaita Hills Game SanctuaryShimba Hills National ReserveMombasa Marine ReserveMalindi & Watamu Biosphere ReserveArabuko Sokoke National ParkKilimanjaro National Park (Tanzania)Lamu IslandBoni, Dodori & Kiunga Marine National ReserveArawale National ReserveTana River Primate National ReserveMoi International Airport (MBA/HKMO)  
Classic safari
6–7 days
Samburu/Shaba. Two nights.
Lake Nakuru. One night.
Masai Mara. Two or three nights.

The following classic route in Kenya is a good choice for a first safari. The parks are good, and each one has its own special attractions. There is some travel distance between the parks (you spend 20+ hours travelling the roads during the safari), you get to see quite a lot of the Kenyan countryside, passing the equator, Mount Kenya and more. The scenery varies a lot along the route, which starts and ends in Nairobi. The Big Five may be seen.

Variations of this route may also include Mount Kenya National Park or Aberdare National Park, which are also worth visiting.

Shorter safari
4–7 days
Lake Nakuru. One or two nights.
Masai Mara. Three or more nights.

Compared to the above, this route means less time travelling to and between the parks (12–13 hours all in all), while you still visit Masai Mara, the prime park of Kenya, and you may still see the Big Five.

Mini safari
3–4 days
Lake Nakuru. Two nights.
An option is to also visit Lake Naivasha, which is situated en route to Lake Nakuru. No or one night.

This route may be an interesting choice if you have only a few days to spare (and don't want to spend the time travelling all the way to Masai Mara), or if you travel with children and want to avoid long hours on the road. The route starts and ends in Nairobi, and is mainly on tarmac. The total travel time is 6 hours. You will not see the Big Five, as there are no elephants in Lake Nakuru.

Safari by air
4 days or more
Masai Mara. Three nights or more. The shortest flight (one hour) is from Nairobi.
Or Tsavo. Three nights or more. You may fly from Nairobi or Mombasa.

This kind of safari, where you fly from Nairobi or Mombasa to Masai Mara or Tsavo, and then fly back after the safari, is a way to get to the park quickly and without travelling the poor roads. Both these parks are big and good enough to offer a fine safari on their own, without being combined with other parks. There are also scheduled flights to Samburu and Amboseli, but these parks are really too small for a longer stay. You may combine them with other parks, though, for a good safari by air.

You may go any time of year, but you may want to avoid the rainy season in April and May. The best time to visit Masai Mara is August to October, when the migration can be found in the park. The Big Five may be seen.

Off the beaten track
If you're going on your first safari, you probably want to visit the parks included on the routes above. These parks offer the best wildlife.

But there are also many other parks in Kenya and Tanzania, allowing for alternative routes both on and off the beaten track. Few such routes are offered as pre-packaged safari tours, so you need to have them tailored for you. A good travel company specialized in East African safaris can do that for you. You may also turn directly to a tour operator in Kenya or Tanzania.

Going to such alternative parks, you are not likely to see nearly as many animals as you would in for example Serengeti or Masai Mara. Instead, you may travel without where few other visitors go.

 
 
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Page updated 18 February 2009