Safari in Tanzania: The Ultimate Guide to Seeing the Big 5

Going on safari is an absolutely incredible experience and truly a trip of a lifetime. This Ultimate Guide will help you in planning your perfect Safari to Tanzania with the hopes of seeing the Big 5!

Included in this blog post:

  • Where is Tanzania
  • Using a Safari Company or not
  • What to Expect on Safari in Tanzania
  • A Complete Guide to a 7 Day Safari & all the places you will visit
  • Tons of tips including what to pack and the visa process
  • Vaccination requirements

A family of Giraffes in the Serengeti in Tanzania


Where is Tanzania?


Tanzania is located in East Africa just south of the Equator. The largest of the East African countries, Tanzania is full of unique landscapes, an abundance of wildlife and fascinating culture. Tanzania is a very popular destination for visitors wanting to do safari!


Should You Use a Safari Company?


Since I did a multi-country trip (Tanzania and Madagascar) I used a company based out of California to organize everything. For my 7 day safari tour I joined the amazing Duma Explorer’s.

They were friendly, accommodating and very well organized. I would highly recommend them if you plan to visit Tanzania. Our guide for the duration of our trip was Sifuni and our talented chef was Amin. The meals he would cook up in the middle of the bush were seriously impressive! 

Game drives in Tanzania are done in jeeps like these!

Now it is possible to do a safari in Tanzania on your own by renting a truck and staying at the campsites. However, we probably would have missed seeing most of the wildlife because Sifuni has an eagle-eye for the animals.

He even pointed out a dung beetle as we were driving along! Not to mention, you’d probably get lost somewhere along the way on a game drive as nothing is clearly marked and the internet isn’t always reliable.


What to Expect on Safari


First and foremost remember that these are wild animals. You will hopefully get to see the Big 5 but it is not always a guarantee. Also, there are specific paths that need to be followed and respected within the parks so whether you are doing a self-driving safari or with a guide be sure to keep these rules in mind.

Baby lion cubs on safari in Tanzania

If you choose to do a similar safari to me, you will most likely follow a similar route in order to visit all the different parts of Tanzania!

Now let’s get to the good stuff: SAFARI TIME

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The Ultimate Guide to a Safari in Tanzania


Starting Your Safari in Arusha


If you are heading on a safari in Tanzania you will arrive at the Kilimanjaro airport. Following the visa procedure (see all the details at the end of this post) you will collect your belongings and exit the airport.  Your tour guide with greet you and escort you to your hotel for the evening.

Start your safari in Tanzania at the gorgeous Rivertree Country Inn in Arusha.

I stayed at the Rivertree Country Inn for the first and last night of my stay in Tanzania.


The Serengeti & Lake Manyara


The first morning of your safari in Tanzania you will check out of your hotel and begin your drive to the first campsite near Lake Manyara. Here you will unload all of your belongings and prepare for your first game drive in the afternoon. 

There is so much wildlife in the Serengeti in TanzaniaThe first campsite that I stayed at was quite large and had some picnic tables, bathrooms and an area for Amin to cook. The only problem was that the water at the campsite was cold and was a mere trickle, but such is the life of a camping safari. I stayed two nights at this camp and could hear the sounds of lions in the near distance each night!

The first game drive will last a few hours and your guide will take you all over the surrounding area in search of wildlife. The landscape of Tanzania is very vast, with open plains and rolling landscapes. This allows you to view animals at varying distances. I could even see some elephants far out on the horizon.

There are many herds of elephants that roam the lands of Tanzania

The following morning you will wake up before the sun rises to have breakfast and get an early start on your first game drive. During your safari with Duma Explorers you will spend almost the entirety of our day out in the truck searching for animals.

In my case, I wouldn’t return to the camp, so Amin would pack me a lunch box filled with a variety of delicious foods. This would keep me fueled for my long days out on game drives. 

A beautiful zebra mother and her baby in Tanzania

My second evening on safari in Tanzania we came upon a large family of elephants of all ages who were splashing and playing in the mud. I was so close that I even got sprayed with some of the mud and found some of it later on my camera!

>> You May Also Like: The Absolute Best Camera Gear for an African Safari 

The elephants in Tanzania were so close to our truck!

Sitting and watching for about 45 minutes, the elephants eventually left the area and we drove only 5 more minutes until we reached our campsite. It was moments like that where we truly got a sense of how close we were actually sleeping to these wild animals!


Ngorogoro Crater


After spending 2 days in the Lake Manyara area you will leave the Serengeti and drive about 2.5 hours to reach the Ngorogoro Crater. Arriving at the entrance your guide will need to check in with the park guards. There are also restrooms here so be sure to use them at every opportunity you can!

The Ngorogoro Crater is actually a Conservation area and not a National Park. Once inside the conservation area we stopped first at the Simba campsite to unload our tents and cooking gear.

Inside the Ngorogoro Crater you can see many animals, including the Big 5!

Our game drive this day began at 1:30pm and we made the descent into the large caldera. The Ngorogoro crater spans 266 square kilometers and is the result of a volcanic eruption some millions of years ago.

The landscape within the crater is very barren and dusty. Within this 2,000 foot deep caldera I saw my first rhino, along with many other animals. 

There were lots of hyenas in the Ngorogoro Crater in Tanzania

The Simba Campsite is actually very crowded and I really missed the small, deserted campsites. With the amount of people that were here the bathrooms became very dirty and the noise at night was quite loud. Shockingly I slept better to the sounds of wild animals. 


Central Serengeti


After spending the night at the Simba Campsite will leave the Ngorogoro Crater in the early morning and drive towards the Central Serengeti.

Here you will spend two days staying at the Nyani campsite, translating to vervet monkey in Swahili. From this location you will do a morning and evening game drive where you will have the opportunity to see tons of wildlife!

Even the tiny animals are fun to spot on a safari in Tanzania

For your second day in the Central Serengeti you will have the option to partake in a hot air balloon ride with Serengeti Balloon Safaris. This is such a unique and memorable experience. I did the balloon safari and wrote all about it in detail, so you can find that post here!

Be sure to add a hot air balloon ride into your Tanzania itinerary!

Immediately following the balloon ride, Sifuni (or your guide) will take you out on a game drive around the central Serengeti. During my afternoon safari I saw lots of wildlife but the real highlight was seeing three lionesses stalking and hunting the wildebeest.

The lionesses caught a wildebeest and fed it to their young in TanzaniaI watched as the lionesses cleverly used the safari jeeps to hide behind while they approached the wildebeest to help conserve their energy. They then worked as a team to capture and kill a wildebeest, dragging it over to a nearby bush.

Two lionesses stayed with the fresh catch while the others went off to collect their young. Quickly, the lionesses returned to the site of the kill with many young lion cubs of varying ages in tow. They were absolutely adorable and I was so happy to have seen the babies.

A group of lion cubs all came out to eat the freshly caught wildebeest in Tanzania

On our way back to camp we spotted a beautiful cheetah who, from the evidence surrounding her mouth, must have just had a snack.

The cheetahs are not always easy to see in Tanzania but we were happy to have seen this oneBack at the camp I had lunch and helped pack up the camp. Most of the drives from camp to camp end up being game drives because you are driving through the Serengeti, giving you many opportunities to see wildlife along the way.

Driving through the Central Serengeti, you will eventually make your way up to the Northern Serengeti. We made a stop at a well known hippo pond where I saw tons of hippos bathing. Here I was able to exit the safari jeep and walk around the pond, at a safe distance of course! 

We visited a well known hippo pond on the drive from the central to northern Serengeti!

That evening you will arrive at the Lobo Camp in the Northern Serengeti and prepare yourself for dinner. The view from this campsite was absolutely incredible except for the Cape Buffalo that decided to take a break right in front of our tents! Luckily he left sometime during dinner so I was able to get into my tent for the evening. 


Northern Serengeti


Starting early you will head out in search for animals on a full day of game drives. Depending on the time of year you visit, there is the possibility of seeing the wildebeest and zebra migration. Your guide will take you to the Mara River where the animals will cross to get to the other side.

As we were waiting for the wildebeest and zebras to make a move, our guide received a call over the radio. Nearby there was a rhinoceros and baby! We immediately drove over to watch the mother and baby while we waited for the others to cross the river.

The mother and baby rhinoceros that we saw in the Northern Serengeti in Tanzania

About an hour after driving back towards the river, the wildebeest and zebra finally started to cross. After the first few started to jump in the flowing waters, hoards of them began to follow. Then new herds began appearing, as if they had been called, and started leaping into the water.

The wildebeest migration is one of the highlights of visiting Tanzania

Crossing the river is no easy feat, there are crocodiles and hippos waiting for an easy catch. And the current is strong and rocks slippery on their hooves. Fortunately, we didn’t witness any casualties and we marveled at the animals as they exited on our side of the river, directly in front of our jeep.

The wildebeest swimming and crossing the Mara River in Northern Tanzania

The sun had begun to set and we needed to drive back to camp before dark. As we drove away the procession continued and many more wildebeest and zebra were crossing the river.


Heading Back to Arusha


Wake up at the Lobo Campsite and pack up your gear to prepare for your flight back to Arusha. 

I departed out of the Lobo Airstrip which was approximately 20 minutes from the campsite. The airstrip was nothing more than a dusty road and a very dirty bathroom. Just before our flight a truck flew down the runway to clear the path and signal that our plane was preparing to land.

There are so many different types of species of monkeys in Tanzania

It was a small Regional Air flight with virtually zero check in procedures. The plane was small, housing no more than 12 passengers and all the luggage went below. The flight from the Lobo Airstrip to Arusha lasted about 1 hour 20 minutes with one quick stop along the way. 

The elephants are so majestic in Tanzania

Arriving back in Arusha, you will be greeted with another guide who will take you back to your hotel. There is a large outdoor market nearby to purchase any last minute souvenirs so be sure to ask your guide to take you there. Only cash is accepted at the markets and haggling is definitely the standard.


Where to Stay


Rivertree Country Inn

Located in Northern Tanzania just outside of Arusha, you will find the beautiful Rivertree Country Inn. Their small cottages are spread out over a large estate and surrounded by lush greenery. Once an old coffee farm, the original charm creates an inviting atmosphere making it hard to want to leave. During your stay you will have your own cottage with ample privacy and space. Additionally, they have an on-site restaurant serving a multitude of healthy dishes.

The beautiful estate of Rivertree Country Inn in Arusha

Campsites in the Serengeti

If you choose to go on a camping safari in Tanzania then you will most likely stay at some of the same campsites as I did. Most of the campsites have shower and toilet facilities, although they aren’t always great. A few of the campsites had limited water pressure and cold water. I would definitely advise you to bring your own toilet paper, hand sanitizer and hand soap.

We camped in tents on different campsites in Tanzania


Tips for Going on a Safari in Tanzania


  • Visas can be obtained on arrival at the Killimanjaro airport and cost $100 USD per person. Be sure to have the exact amount in cash. The multi-step process takes about 45 minutes to 1 hours. First you will purchase your visa, then get in another line to have your passport stamped and photo taken for the visa. Next you will get in a separate line to have your photo taken again and get your fingerprints. Be sure to fill out the paperwork on the plane as this will speed up your time waiting.
  • Be sure to pack neutral colors such as tans, greens and grays. Do not pack dark blue or black as the tetse flies are attracted to those colors. Also avoid bright colors as they can potentially frighten the animals.
  • Wear close toed shoes or sandals that can tighten around your ankles. I prefer to use either tevas or chacos. These will come in handy during all day game drives when you don’t necessarily need close toed shoes. They are also great to use if you are camping and need to wear shoes in the shower.
  • Make sure to bring plenty of bottled water with you on your game drives. Most likely you will be out for many hours and you’ll want to stay hydrated.
  • Bring a toiletry bag with a roll of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. You never know when you may need it!
  • Pack a small towel if you are camping, as well as some flip flops for the shower. Be sure to remember all of your usual toiletries and medications. The shops will have insect repellent to purchase and I think it worked better than what we brought with us.
  • For a complete guide to all the camera gear you should bring with you on safari, head over to this blog post to read more!

The lilac breasted roller is one of the most colorful birds you'll see in Tanzania

Vaccinations

Before traveling out of your country it is always important to determine which vaccinations are needed for your destination. The main vaccines for Tanzania would be the measles, your routine vaccinations, typhoid, hepatitis A and yellow fever.

After you’ve received your yellow fever immunization you will be given a yellow card with the date of the jab. Be sure to bring this with you as sometimes you will be requested to show proof.

A beautiful male lion relaxing in Central Serengeti in Tanzania

Other vaccinations that are recommended are rabies, cholera and hepatitis B. You should also talk to your doctor about taking daily anti-malarial medications. These are oral pills that you will need to take with you on your trip.

Have you been on a safari? Do you have any other tips to share? Leave a comment below!

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