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Dawn in Serengeti, Tanzania.
Safari glossary
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Planning your safari:
Your kind of safari
Many safaris packages to Kenya or Tanzania offered by the travel companies may look pretty much the same at a glance, but there may be significant differences. Group sizes, vehicle types, the total travel time to get to and between the parks, and many other factors may differ.

You may want to compare such things. A safari costs a lot of money, and you probably want to make the most out of it.

If you can't find the safari that suits you perfectly, you may turn to a travel company specialized in safaris and have a safari tailored for you.

How many days?
Most safaris on packaged tours are five to seven days long, which is quite a good length. Here we mean five to seven days in the bush, not including flights to and from East Africa or days spent in for example cities in connection with the safari.

Shorter safaris
On a safari shorter than five days, you may feel that you don't get enough time in the bush. But safaris are expensive, and you can stay at least two days in a beach resort on the coast for each day you cut from the safari.

Should you consider a shorter safari, then be wise and reduce the number of parks to visit. If you want to see all parks, just in fewer days, you'll end up mainly travelling between parks, not getting very much time for game viewing.

Longer safaris
Most safari-goers find seven days in the bush quite enough. Safaris and game viewing are intense activities, and the host of impressions that is awaiting you in the bush, combined with the heat, dust and bumpy roads, can be quite tiring. Towards the end on an even longer safari, you may find that you don't enjoy the days as much as you did in the beginning.

If you want to make the most out of your tour to East Africa, and spend more than those seven days on safari, you can split your safari in two. Go for a six or seven day safari, and then spend a few days on the beach to give yourself time to relax and absorb all impressions so far. Then head for the bush again.

This may be a good way to visit more than just one safari region. Some travel companies sell 'grand tours', which are long safaris visiting the best parks in both Kenya and Tanzania. We suggest that you instead split such a grand tour into one Kenyan and one Tanzanian safari, and have a good break in between.

More about good safari routes

How many days in each park?
Spend more time in large parks, where there are many areas to explore, and in prime parks, where you find the most animals. Spend less time in small parks.

If game viewing is more important to you than seeing a number of different parks, you may spend most or all time in the best parks, such as Serengeti, Masai Mara or Ruaha.

The table below shows how many days you can spend game driving in the main parks, without feeling that you are repeating yourself and just seeing the same areas over again.

Large park in Tanzania
2.5+ days.
Ngorongoro Crater & Lake Manyara
Small parks in Tanzania
0.5–1 days.
Medium park in Tanzania
1–2 days from August to October. 0.5–1 day during the rest of the year.
Selous & Ruaha
Large parks in Tanzania
2+ days.
Medium park in Tanzania
1–2 days.
Masai Mara
Medium park in Kenya
2.5+ from August to November.
1.5 days during the rest of the year.
Small park in Kenya
1–1.5 days.
Lake Nakuru
Small park in Kenya
0.5–1 day.

The time in the bush is spent in different ways on different tours. On many safaris, especially in Kenya, you do two game drives every day; one in the morning, and one late in the afternoon. You spend the rest of the day in the lodge or tented camp, relaxing. This kind of safari has a lower intensity, more time to relax and less game viewing.

On other safaris, you spend most of your days in the bush doing longer game drives, including full day game drives. The lodges and camps are mainly used for meals and sleeping. This kind of safari, which is common in Tanzania, means higher intensity, more game viewing and less time to relax.

The intensity also depends on how many and which parks you visit, and on the quality of the roads. Many long, dusty and hot days on poor roads can be trying.

Safari by air
The most comfortable way of travelling in East Africa is flying. On a safari by air, you fly to a good park and spend your safari there, doing game drives mornings and evenings, and relaxing in between. If you're staying in a lodge or camp set right in the middle of the bush, you may also have a good time game viewing from the observation point in between the game drives.

Safari by air and road
You can combine travelling by air and travelling by road, to reduce the number of hours you spend on poor roads, while still getting the experience of travelling some of them.

This may be an interesting option when visiting Serengeti in northern Tanzania, as there is only one road getting there from Arusha. That means, you have to travel the same road in both directions. Instead, you can travel by road out to Serengeti, and fly back.

More about safaris by road
More about safaris by air

A pride of lions watching a safari balloon.

Comfort in lodges and tented camps
The lodges and tented camps included in packaged safari tours are usually good enough. Some may be more basic and some more luxurious, but all offer a level of comfort comparable to hotels. You stay in double rooms or tents for two (singles, triples, family rooms and suites may also be available), have your own bathroom and eat meals served in a restaurant or dining tent.

Compared to a lodge, a tented camp is often closer to nature and a more exciting place to stay. Tented camps are comfortable, and do not mean camping in small tents and spending nights in sleeping bags. In tented camps, you stay in big tents (corresponding to double rooms in hotels), each one with its own bathroom and normal beds.

Lodges are hotels in the bush, and you stay in a bungalow or hotel room. The lodge area is often more developed than a tented camp, and may include a garden, swimming pool etc. Lodges are usually comfortable, and may appeal to you if you don't like the idea of sleeping in tents.

In Kenya, most lodges and camps are fenced, while they are ususally unfenced in Tanzania. Fences may make you feel more safe at night, while the absence of fencing adds to the safari and wilderness atmosphere.

If you are interested in roughing it, there are also true camping safaris, where you sleep in a sleeping bag in small tents. Hygiene facilities are often quite primitive. Most camping safaris are budget tours.

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

Travel distances
The parks included in your itinerary decide how much time you need to spend travelling between them. Visiting more parks means more variation in landscape and biotopes, but you need to spend more time travelling between them. If you decide for fewer parks in the same number of days, you can spend more time game viewing.

Avoid itineraries where more than 5–6 hours in a day are used for pure travelling between parks. Also avoid those where you have to travel 5–6 hours day after day. It may be necessary to travel for 5–6 hours to visit some parks, but after that you should spend full days there. There's no use travelling long distances to places only to travel on from there. Much better itineraries are possible in both Kenya and Tanzania.

A classic route in Kenya is visiting Samburu/Shaba, Lake Nakuru and Masai Mara. The total time travelling the road for such an itinerary is towards 25 hours. Most of this time is spent travelling rural areas where few or no animals can be seen. You may cut close to 10 hours by excluding Samburu/Shaba from the route.

Travelling in Kenya:
   · Nairobi–Samburu/Shaba: 6 hours
   · Samburu/Shaba–Lake Nakuru: 6 hours
   · Lake Nakuru–Masai Mara: 6 hours
   · Masai Mara–Nairobi: 6 hours

The classic tour in northern Tanzania goes to Serengeti. Getting there and back means a total of 15 hours on the roads. The other popular parks in the area, such as the Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara and Tarangire, are en route. The road from Ngorongoro to Serengeti, equalling about half the travel time, goes through protected wilderness, where you may see animals.

Travelling in northern Tanzania:
   · Arusha–Lake Manyara: 2 hours
   · Lake Manyara–Serengeti: 5 hours
   · Serengeti–Ngorongoro: 3 hours
   · Ngorongoro–Tarangire: 3 hours
   · Tarangire–Arusha: 2 hours

More about safaris by road

Game viewing
By car
Game viewing in Kenya and Tanzania is usually done by game driving, i.e. game viewing by car. It is the most efficient way to search large areas, and it is the best way to see many species and get close to the animals.

Many safaris in Kenya include game drives in the mornings and afternoons only. The rest of the day is yours to spend in the lodge or camp where you are staying. Safaris in Tanzania often also include game drives in the middle of the day, or full day game drives.

By foot
On walking safaris or bush walks, you can't cover the same distances as when game driving, and you will probably not find as many animals. The animals are also shyer to people on foot than to cars. But walking the bush adds a lot of presence to the game viewing. It's an interesting and sometimes very exciting safari activity.

Walking is not allowed in most parks. When the itinerary includes walking in for example Serengeti or Masai Mara, it's actually walking outside the park, where the park rules don't apply.

There are parks where walks are allowed, though, for example in Ngorongoro Conservation Area (but not in the Ngorongoro Crater), Selous and (if you're staying at Oliver's Camp) in Tarangire.

By boat
Using boats for game viewing isn't very common, but it is done in some areas, for example in Selous in Tanzania. Birding by boat is possible on bird lakes such as Lake Naivasha and Lake Baringo in Kenya.

By balloon
Game viewing from a hot air balloon is a fun and unusual experience. You have a good overview of the bush, but you can't stop to watch the animals that you spot, or watch them at close range. Balloon safaris are available in Serengeti and Masai Mara. They cost quite a lot, starting from USD 400.

From the lodge or camp
Most lodges and tented camps have some kind of observation point, where you can overview the surroundings and look for animals. How much wildlife you may actually see varies from lodge to lodge, and depends on the location in the park. Some lodges and camps have waterholes to attract animals.

A certain type of lodges called tree lodges are found in Aberdare and Mount Kenya in Kenya. Here, all game viewing is done from the lodges.

More about game viewing
More about safaris by road
More about walking safaris

Safari vehicles
The most common safari vehicle in Kenya is the 2WD minibus, but some safaris are also done in 4WD Land Rovers or Landcruisers. Minibuses have softer suspension, which may be comfortable on the poor roads. Land Rovers and Landcruisers do better on the really rough roads and off the roads, and are somewhat more spacious inside.

Land Rovers and Landcruisers are the most common vehicles in northern Tanzania (Serengeti, Ngorongoro etc), but also 4WD minibuses may be seen. Four-wheel drive is required to visit the Ngorongoro Crater.

Driving in the wet
For driving on poor bush roads in the wet, i.e. after heavy rains or during rainy seasons, four-wheel drive may be necessary, or you'll inevitably get stuck. In black cotton soil areas, bush roads may be impassable even with 4WD after rains.

More about safari vehicles
More about safari seasons

Safari jeep interior.

Choosing travel company
Virtually all travel companies or travel agents arrange their safari tours in the same way. They buy a complete safari package (including all local arrangements and activities) from a tour operator in Kenya or Tanzania, add flight tickets (and, for some tours, a tour leader), and market the lot as a safari tour package.

Very few travel companies run their own safari operation locally, i.e. have their own safari vehicles, employ driver guides etc.

General travel companies
Most major travel companies offer set itineraries. They don't tailor safaris. Set add-ons may be offered, to combine your safari with for example a beach holiday.

The same goes for most smaller travel companies that offer tours all over the world. Should such a company offer a tailored safari to you, you should ask yourself if they are competent enough in East Africa to evaluate what they are offering. If not, they may have picked just any Kenyan or Tanzanian tour operator to arrange the safari.

A company specialized in another part of Africa, for example southern or western Africa, may not be a good choice either. Such a company is not likely to know or to be up to date with the East African safari industry.

Specialists in East African safaris
To tailor a safari, you should turn to a travel company specialized in East Africa. Such a company should be able to include virtually any lodge, camp or park in your itinerary. They may also, depending on their specialities, be able to offer activities such as horse riding, golf, diving, trekking, fishing etc as add-ons to your safari. A really good specialist should be able to offer a tour leader speaking your own language. Few safari-goers opt for this, though, as it may be quite expensive.

Travel agents
Most travel agents don't arrange their own tours, but sell tours arranged by travel companies. They sell set safari itineraries, and do not tailor safaris. Most travel agents don't have any special competence in Africa, and can't give you much information beyond what's written in the itineraries and brochures.

Tour operators in Kenya and Tanzania
The tour operators in Kenya or Tanzania don't offer their services only to foreign travel companies and travel agents. You too may book a safari package directly from a tour operator. This means a lower price for you, as you leave out a middleman.

You need to find a reliable tour operator, though, out of hundreds offering their services. Legislation or insurances in your home country, meant to protect you from problems when dealing with travel companies, may not apply when you book your safari with a tour operator in Kenya or Tanzania.

A herd of elephants crossing the bush road in front of a safari jeep.

Group sizes
The major travel companies usually have the largest groups, sometimes numbering to more than 20 people. Smaller companies usually have smaller groups, and safari specialists tailoring safaris can even offer you travelling all alone.

Which size you prefer depends on your preferences. There are more fellow travellers to socialize with in a large group, while a small group is usually more mobile and flexible.

If there are more than 6 safari-goers, the group travels in more than one vehicle, and the tour leader, if there is one, alternates between the vehicles.

A good size for a medium prized tour is two vehicles, i.e. maximum 8 or 12 safari-goers (depending on the type of vehicle). The tour leader splits his or her time between two vehicles only. If you travel in one vehicle only, the tour leader spends all the time with you.

Private safaris
Safari specialists, and even some more general travel companies, offer private safaris, where you and your party, for example your family or friends, make up the whole group. Some companies offer set itineraries for such groups, while others also may tailor a safari for you.

Safaris that include a tour leader from your own country cost more, but the tour leader adds knowledge, perspectives and services. The tour leader alternates between the vehicles in the group, so in a large group, you'll travel less with him or her.

If there is no tour leader on your safari, the guiding is handled by the Kenyan or Tanzanian driver guide. Most guiding is in English, but some driver guides also speak other languages, such as German, French, Italian or Spanish.

Overall, you usually get much more information about the destination, the wildlife etc if travelling with a tour leader.

More about guides

Late afternoon on a beach on Zanzibar.

Adding on other activities
Beach holidays
The climate is fine for beach holidays, and many safari-goers spend a week on the Indian Ocean coast after their safari. The main attraction of the Kenyan and Tanzanian coasts are the long white beaches with palm trees and pleasant water temperatures, where both relaxing and many different activities, including snorkelling, diving and fishing, are possible.

The most popular beach areas in Kenya are found around Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu Island, in Tanzania on Zanzibar and Pemba Islands. Some small villages on the Tanzanian mainland, such as Pangani, offer quiet beach holidays in areas visited by few tourists.

It should be possible for you to add a beach holiday to your safari tour, irrespective of which travel company you book with.

More about Zanzibar and Pemba
More about Pangani
More about the Kenyan coast

Climbing Kilimanjaro
Climbing Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, has become popular as an add-on to a safari in Tanzania or Kenya. The one-week climb is done by walking, not by true climbing, and can be done by amateurs with no experience from mountain climbing. Two other mountains that you may attempt are Mount Kenya in Kenya and Mount Meru in Tanzania, not far from Kilimanjaro.

Comparing prices for climbing arrangements can be difficult, as the food quality, numbers of porters and guides, the standard of hotels before and after the climb, etc, may differ a lot between arrangements. You may also need to take the fairly high tips expected by porters and guides into consideration. It's likely, though, that the lower prices mean less value for less money. You probably want good food, good sleep at night, good guides etc, to give yourself good chances of reaching the summit.

Safety is important. The high-altitude environment on Kilimanjaro may affect your health, and can even be fatal. You probably want a good arrangement by a reliable operator, who doesn't compromise when it comes to quality and safety.

More about Kilimanjaro
More about Mount Kenya

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Page updated 18 February 2009