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Safari-goers watching a leopard eating in a tree.
Safari glossary
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Planning your safari:
Where to go
Many of the safari tours to Kenya and Tanzania offered by travel companies and travel agents are quite similar. Most tours go to the same parks, and the brochures and web sites show pictures of the same animals. So which tour should you choose?

This page may help you decide where to go, and when to go there to get the most out of your safari.

In short, we recommend that you visit some of the good parks listed below (and that you do it during a dry season – More about safari seasons). That is the basis for a good safari and for seeing many animals.

The quality of your safari depends on a lot of other factors, too, such as the actual route, your travel company, your tour operator, which lodges and tented camps you're staying at etc. If you choose to book your safari with a well-known travel company or agent, you're likely to get a good safari.

If you don't care reading the rest of this page, we recommend the following seasons and safari destinations:

Tip 1: Good parks
The following parks are found in many safari itineraries. They all have a good wildlife and are all worth visiting. We recommend that you choose an itinerary that includes a prime park plus one, two or three of the other parks:
Northern Tanzania: Serengeti – prime park
The Ngorongoro Crater
Lake Manyara
Southern Tanzania: Ruaha
Kenya: Masai Mara – prime park
Lake Nakuru
Mount Kenya/Aberdare

Tip 2: Prime wildlife seasons
The whereabouts of the wildlife may vary seasonally. For most parks, this is of no great importance to you, as you will see roughly the same numbers of animals and the same species whenever you go there.

A few parks have prime seasons, though, when the wildlife is better than during the rest of the year.

Serengeti in Tanzania: The migration is in the park from December to June.
Masai Mara in Kenya: The migration is in the park from August to October.
Tarangire in Tanzania: Many elephants, herds of wildebeest and zebras, and other animals congregate along the Tarangire River from August to October.

Tip 3: Seeing specific animals
The Big Five: You have good chances seeing the Big Five if you visit Serengeti + the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, and fair chances visiting Masai Mara + Lake Nakuru in Kenya.
Cats: The best parks to see the big cats (lion, leopard and cheetah) are Serengeti and Ngorongoro in Tanzania, and Masai Mara in Kenya.
Elephants: The best parks to see elephants are Tarangire and Lake Manyara in Tanzania, and Amboseli and Tsavo in Kenya. Elephants can also be seen in many other parks, but rarely in the same good numbers.

Waterbucks in Masai Mara, Kenya.

Choosing Kenya or Tanzania
Kenya and Tanzania are neighbouring countries, and are similar as to wildlife and nature. Both countries have good safari parks and safari industries that work well.

Tanzania better, Kenya less expensive
Comparing the classic Kenyan and Tanzanian safari routes (i.e. the itineraries offered by most travel companies), our opinion is that Tanzania is the better safari destination of the two.

This opinion is based on the wildlife you may see, the scenery, park sizes, travel distances, the general safari concept, the safari and wilderness atmosphere, and your chances to see the Big Five.

Kenya has the advantage of lower prices.

But not only your choice of country, but also your choice of travel company, itinerary and time of year, decides if you get a good safari or a great safari.

Kenya and Tanzania belong to the same main wildlife area. Lions, elephants, giraffes, monkeys, hippos, zebras, antelopes, crocodiles etc can be seen in both countries.

Samburu/Shaba in Kenya has a few mammal species and subspecies that are normally not found in the other parks listed in Tip 1 above: Grevy's zebra, gerenuk, beisa oryx and reticulated giraffe. (There are other species/subspecies of zebra, antelopes and giraffe in other parks.)

Lake Nakuru in Kenya has white rhinoceros, which are not found in the other parks. (Black rhinos can be seen in other parks, mainly Ngorongoro, but also Masai Mara and Serengeti.)

Serengeti in northern Tanzania is the best park to see leopard. Leopards can be seen in many other parks, too, but none is even close to the spotting rate of Serengeti.

Selous and Ruaha in southern Tanzania have African wild dog (or hunting dog) and greater kudu, which are rarely seen in the other parks.

Park sizes
The parks in Tanzania are generally larger than in Kenya, and when you travel between areas or lodges/camps, you do much of it inside parks, where you may see animals en route. In Kenya, virtually all travelling is in rural areas, where your chances of seeing animals are small.

Travel distance
The classic tour in Kenya includes Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru and Samburu/Shaba. On such an itinerary, starting from Nairobi, you spend 24–25 hours on the roads travelling to and between the parks. All travelling is outside of the parks. (Mount Kenya and Lake Naivasha are en route.)

The classic tour in Tanzania includes Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara. Starting from Arusha, you spend 15–16 hours on the roads. Half of that time is travelling inside parks (Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti), which are either scenic or areas where wildlife may be seen. (Tarangire is close to en route, adding one hour of total travelling.)

Wildebeest in Serengeti, Tanzania.

Game driving concept
In Kenya, the standard concept for game driving is doing game drives early in the morning (typically 06.30–08.30) and late in the afternoon (16.00–18.00). The rest of the day you spend at leasure in your lodge or camp.

In Tanzania, more time is spent game driving. Full days on game drives are not uncommon.

Safari atmosphere
The Tanzanian wilderness areas are larger than the Kenyan, which adds to a better safari feeling. In parts of Kenyan Masai Mara and Lake Nakuru, you can see the houses and settlements outside of the park, which takes some of the bush feeling away.

As to Lake Nakuru, it's the only Tip 1 park that is fenced. It is just outside Nakuru Town, which is the 4th largest town in Kenya. You may even hear city night life when staying in one of the lodges inside the park, Flamingo Hills Tented Camp.

In Kenya, most lodges and camps are fenced. In Tanzania, most are not. You may prefer the former if you feel uncertain about safety at night, or if travelling with children, but fences do not add to the safari atmosphere.

Many park gates (where you stop for formalities when entering a park) in Kenya are sieged by peddlars selling souvenirs, fruit etc. They are often persistent, and are unwelcome by many safari-goers.
This is less common in Tanzania, where mainly the crater descent gate on the Ngorongoro Crater rim has this problem.

There are lodges, tented camps and hotels ranging from basic to luxurious in both Kenya and Tanzania. You usually get what you pay for. On a general tour, the standard of accommodation is similar in both countries.

Tours to Kenya generally cost roughly 10 % less than those to Tanzania.

Combining with a beach holiday
The Kenyan coast is generally more developed/exploited than the Tanzanian, but there are exceptions, such as Lamu Island off the northern Kenyan coast.

Zanzibar Island is a popular destination for beach holidays. It belongs to Tanzania, but may be combined with safaris in both Tanzania and Kenya.

Safari vehicles
The most common safari vehicles in Tanzania are 4WD Land Rovers or Landcruisers, while minibuses are most common in Kenya.

More about safaris by road

Grant's gazelles in savanna grass.

Good parks
The prime parks Serengeti and Masai Mara are included in most safari itineraries in Tanzania or Kenya. Both have a good wildlife all year round, plus prime seasons when there are even more animals around. You may choose one of these parks as the main or single destination for your safari.

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)
Click the map for more information about parks in northern Tanzania.

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Serengeti in Tanzania is a huge park where most classic safari animals may be found. It's also a very good park for cats. The best time to visit is December to March and June, when the migration is present. The last three hours of the drive to Serengeti is on poor roads.

The Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
The Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania has beautiful scenery and a lot of animals, including the highest carnivore density in the world. It is also the best park in northern Tanzania to see rhinoceros. The crater is good all year round. Most of the road from Arusha is good, while the descent and ascent roads to and from the crater floor are very poor.

Tarangire National Park, Tanzania
The wildlife in Tarangire includes many elephants and is seasonally (August to October) very good. The animals disperse and may even move out of the park during the rest of the year. Tarangire is just a two-hour drive on tarmac from Arusha.

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)
Click the map for more information about parks in southern Tanzania.

Southern Tanzania – Selous, Mikumi and Ruaha
Selous Game Reserve, Mikumi National Park and Ruaha National Park in southern Tanzania have their best season from July to October, when many animals spend the dry season close to rivers and other permanent freshwater sources. The road to Mikumi is tarmac all the way from Dar es Salaam (approximately 4 hours away), while the roads to Selous and Ruaha are so long and partially so poor that you should consider flying there; there are daily scheduled flights from Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar.

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)
Click the map for more information about parks in central Kenya.

Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Masai Mara in Kenya has the same rich wildlife as Serengeti above. The best time to visit is August to October, when the migration is present. Parts of the road to Masai Mara may be poor.

Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya
Lake Nakuru in Kenya is a fairly small park, where you have very good chances of seeing rhinoceros, and good chances of seeing leopard. Lake Nakuru is also known for its soda lake, home to huge numbers of flamingos. There are no elephants in the park. The wildlife is stable all year round, partly because the animals can't move away, as the park is fenced. The road from Nairobi is fairly good tarmac all the way.

Other parks
The parks above are the ones most visited by safari-goers. There are also many other parks, including some good ones, but it may be harder finding tours visiting these.

More about parks in Kenya
More about parks in Tanzania

Black rhinos in the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania.

Where to see specific animals
On a general safari tour to Tanzania or Kenya, you are likely to see many or most of the classic safari animals, such as lions, giraffes, hippos etc. All species can not be seen in all parks, though, and you may want to make sure that your favourite animals are present in at least some of the parks you visit.

The prime parks Serengeti and Masai Mara are home to a wide range of mammal species. Most classic safari animals may be found there.

The following table shows where to go to see the most well-known animals.

The Big Five
You may see the Big Five in Serengeti or the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, or in Masai Mara in Kenya. It's rare to see all five in one single park, though.
You chances increase considerably if you combine two parks; Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, or Masai Mara and Lake Nakuru in Kenya.
Big cats
Serengeti in Tanzania is the best park to see the African big cats (lion, leopard and cheetah). Masai Mara in Kenya is also very good. The lion is the most common cat in these parks. The Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire in Tanzania are also known for being good cat parks, as are Lake Nakuru NP and Samburu in Kenya.
Can be seen in many parks. Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania and Masai Mara in Kenya are good.
Wild dog
A rare species best seen in Selous, Ruaha and Mikumi in Tanzania, but rare in these parks, too. It is sporadically spotted also in other parks.
Can be seen in many parks (but not in Lake Nakuru or Nairobi National Park). The best parks are Tarangire and Lake Manyara in Tanzania, and Amboseli and Tsavo in Kenya.
Rare, but seen frequently in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania and Lake Nakuru in Kenya.
Can be seen in many parks, but rarely in Tarangire in Tanzania.
Giraffe Can be seen in many parks, but rarely in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania.
Zebra Can be seen in many parks. Largest numbers in Serengeti in Tanzania (December–June) or Masai Mara in Kenya (August–October).
Wildebeest, gnu Can be seen in many parks. Largest numbers in Serengeti in Tanzania (December–June) or Masai Mara in Kenya (August–October).
Gazelles Serengeti in Tanzania. Masai Mara in Kenya.
Antelopes Impala, dikdik, waterbuck, bushbuck etc can be seen in many parks. Many different species in Serengeti and Masai Mara. Sable in Shimba Hills, Selous, Ruaha and Mikumi. Bongo in Aberdare and Mount Kenya in Kenya, although rare. Oryx in Samburu in Kenya. Bushbuck in Arusha NP.
Monkeys Can be seen in many parks.
Chimpanzee Natural populations in Gombe and Mahale in western Tanzania. Introduced populations in some locations, including Rubondo Island in Tanzania and Sweetwaters in Kenya.
Gorilla Not present in Kenya or Tanzania. Mountain gorillas can be seen in neighbouring countries Uganda, Rwanda and Congo.
Crocodile Serengeti in Tanzania, and Masai Mara and Samburu in Kenya.
Birds Many species of birds can be seen in all parks.

More about mammals
More about birds
More about reptiles

Safari vehicle stuck in the mud in Serengeti, Tanzania.
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Page updated 29 January 2010