As we entered the park I was overwhelmed with anticipation for all the animals we were going to encounter during the week. After months of research, deciding where to go, when to go and how to go felt completely worth it upon our first lion sighting. Below I’ve put together a guide with my learnings on how to have an epic Tanzanian safari trip that will hopefully simplify the process for you.
Tanzania has intrigued me for quite some time. Besides having some of the most diverse wildlife in all of Africa, high chances of seeing the Big 5 and Great Migration, it also has a rich history, diverse cultures and much natural beauty. The most popular parks to spot the animals include Serengeti National Park, Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater.
One of Tanzania’s top attractions is the Great Migration, which happens every year around July and August. Millions of wildebeest and zebras travel from the south to the north in search of water. Depending on the timing of seasonal rains, it’s possible to follow the migration across the Serengeti and even see the animals cross the river into the Maasai Mara in Kenya.
Another key reason for going to Tanzania is Zanzibar, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean that has idyllic turquoise waters, white sand beaches and many small deserted islands. Affectionately named the Spice Islands because of its ideal climate for growing cloves, cinnamon and black pepper, the island also has an interesting past; it was a center for slave trade and has been colonized by various European and Arab nations. Stone Town, a Unesco World Heritage site, is its historic center and clearly shows the remnants of the diverse culture as seen in the architecture and colorful groups of people.
G Adventures and National Geographic Journeys
After researching the different ways and tour companies to go with for my first safari, I chose G Adventures and National Geographic Journeys. The itinerary was the perfect introduction to Tanzania, not only covering a range of parks and terrains but also visiting communities and learning about the local culture, which is a big part of traveling with G Adventures. See the full itinerary here.
Their small group tours offer exclusive cultural and wildlife experiences. For example, we heard an expert talk at the Serengeti Wildlife Research Centre about cheetahs and also visited a local Maasai village to learn about their Clean Cookstoves project.
In addition, as a solo traveler, it was easy to meet other like-minded travelers in a small group setting. We had 4 people on our trip; a couple from America and a fellow solo traveler from London. I appreciated that they don’t charge extra for solo travelers, which a lot of similar tour companies seem to do.
Where to go
Below is the route we took that covers the most popular national parks in Tanzania. Many roads near the parks are not paved so it takes longer time to get from place to place. I felt our 7-day schedule was perfect for seeing different terrains while not being overwhelmed with all the driving.
DAY 1 Arusha
DAY 2 Lake Manyara National Park, local village tour
DAY 3 Maasai village tour, drive to Serengeti National Park
DAYS 4 and 5 Serengeti National Park
DAY 6 Ngorongoro Crater
DAY 7 Arusha
There are shorter tours (about 4 nights) that include a lot of driving from each location. Longer tours include exploring other parts of the Serengeti, like traveling to the north for the Great Migration’s river crossings with the option to fly back to Arusha on the last day.
When to go
Deciding when to go on safari largely depends on what you’d like to see. There are dry and wet seasons that both offer spectacular game viewing but with different experiences. It’s often unpredictable since you can’t control nature or when the animals will be following the rain water. For example, this year the seasonal rains were prolonged so the migration was delayed for a few weeks. Regardless, there’s so much wildlife to see that it’s difficult to be disappointed!
Some key events
Late Jan to Feb: wildebeest and zebra calves are born
April: Avoid because of heavy rains with floods that make it difficult to travel
June to October: dry winter season (ideal time)
July and August: Great Migration and river crossings
End of September: herds of animals travel back down from the Maasai Mara
Nov and Dec: short rains
Peak Peak season: Late June to August
Peak season: September to October, end Dec
Low season: Jan to March, November
If combining a safari trip with Zanzibar, August to October are ideal for weather and dry climates. Avoid the rainy season from March to May which often bring prolonged winds and high humidity.
Depending on your budget and how much adventure your seeking, there are many different types of accommodation for game viewing. On my G Adventures tour, we slept in very comfortable, high end tented safari camps that included in-room bathrooms, hot water, wifi, 24-hour security, gourmet meals and some with swimming pools.
They all had incredible landscapes of the surrounding areas like unobstructed views of the Rift Valley near Lake Manyara National Park or sleeping in the middle of Serengeti National Park, surrounded by the bush (we had Maasai security guards on watch all night in case any lions came looking for food).
After a long day of game driving, it’s nice to come back to a cozy bed and hot shower. Other options include public campgrounds or luxury camps and reserves.
There are endless animals to be seen while on safari. Some animals are known to be in certain types of environments or areas so it’s important to have a good guide and driver. I loved our guide Patrick and driver Stephan because they were the perfect team for spotting all the rare animals.
The most common ones we saw were gazelles (they’re everywhere!), zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, buffalo, jackals, hippos, elephants and hyenas. The rare ones that required more searching included leopards, cheetahs and rhinos.
Serengeti Balloon Safari
During our second day in the Serengeti I got up at 4am to take a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the plains, seeing the entire park from a bird’s eye view. We saw hippos in the river, lions running across and safari trucks catching first life. Afterward, we enjoyed a champagne toast and gourmet breakfast under a giant acacia tree. As we were eating a herd of zebras and wildebeest made their way across the plains near our long table. It didn’t get better than that.
G Adventures for Good: Clean Cookstove Project Visit
We visited a village to learn about the Clean Cookstove initiative that installs cookstoves in Maasai families’ homes, reducing indoor air pollution, lung disease and cancer. Each family contributes a percentage of the cost with the rest being supported by G Adventures‘ tours and Planeterra, a non-profit organization that helps the development and support of small communities around the globe. My favorite part was hearing how proud the women were to be able to take care of their families and earn an income as installation engineers.
To book this trip with G Adventures and National Geographic Journeys, visit Tanzania Safari Experience.