Planning your own luxury Tanzanian safari may seem like a tremendous task or even impossible on a modest budget. Having spent years wondering if we would ever manage to get there without paying the earth, we have finally found the answer.
Here are our top tips on how to plan an affordable luxury safari trip to Tanzania and save yourself half the price.
There’s no question that a safari is on the bucket list of travel lovers. But initial inquiries can quickly put you off once you realize that it is not as straightforward as you would have imagined. Fees and costs quickly add up, making it out of reach for most people on a modest budget.
When considering a semi-luxury safari trip to Tanzania, many factors come into play:
- Time of year
- National park fees
- Number of days
- Fly in/out
- Standard of accommodation
- Additional activities
- Quality of tour guide
- Your expectations
Instant online quotes from Tour Operators do not exist for several reasons. All of the above play a huge part in the pricing process which is difficult to automate into a system.
Around 80% of all safari tours are custom-made because of the wide range of options to consider and we highly recommend spending a little time planning your trip to suit your individual needs rather than taking an off-the-shelf package tour.
When is The Most Affordable Time of Year?
The time of year will have a significant impact on the cost of your safari trip. The peak season is January & February (calving season) and then June to October (dry season), where tour prices and accommodation are typically up to 60% higher.
If you can travel in November or December when game viewing conditions are still excellent then you can save yourself a small fortune. Fewer crowds and vehicles on the road will make for a more pleasant experience and the great migration can be found if you’re staying in central Serengeti.
Where is The Best Game Viewing?
There is no real argument about this. The two best National Parks to visit in Tanzania are Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, especially if you are limited on time and/or budget. Here, you can expect to see the wonderful Big Five:
Another option you can include (if you have the time) is a visit to either Tarangire or Lake Manyara on route to Ngorongoro Crater.
Is Lake Manyara or Tarangire Worth It?
Lake Manyara or Tarangire usually forms the first part of the most popular 4 or 5-day tours to the Serengeti. Tarangire was not a great option for us during a November trip as it is best visited between June and October. Lake Manyara was, therefore, the default park for our itinerary.
By all accounts, it can be rather underwhelming compared to Serengeti or Ngorongoro Crater and therefore definitely to be avoided as the last visit due to being spoilt by the previous parks.
In Lake Manyara, guides will often drive to the nearest point of ‘hippo pool’ and then turn around and leave in order to get to Ngorongoro Crater on the same day. Lake Manyara is best visited by going deep into the park, and spending a whole day exploring.
As we were short on time I didn’t think we would be missing much by skipping this and spending an extra day in the Serengeti.
NOTE: Lake Manyara should be considered if you are a bird enthusiast and/or professional photographer, a full day should be spent exploring the entire park
If you only have 4 or 5 days – I would stick with Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti. The Serengeti is going to provide you with the best gaming experience, an extra day spent elsewhere means one less day there.
Bear in mind that the more parks you visit, the more entry fees you’ll have to pay.
Tanzania National Park Entry Fees
|Serengeti National Park||$80 pp||plus $150 per safari vehicle|
|Ngorongoro Crater||$80 pp*||plus a $295 vehicle descent fee|
|Tarangire National Park||$55 pp|
|Lake Manyara||$55 pp|
*Ngorongoro fee is payable even if you do not enter the crater as you will have to drive through this conservation area to get to Serengeti. The vehicle descent fee is payable in addition to the per person fee for entering the crater (an expensive 24 hours).
How Many Days Do You Need in Serengeti?
For the actual safari trip (excluding any layovers) I would recommend a minimum of 2 nights in Serengeti. This means you can get up early and grab a chance to watch predators catching a bite to eat for their breakfast which really shouldn’t be missed.
3 nights would be the perfect amount of time to explore without feeling like you’ve spent the whole trip in transit from one place to another.
How Many Days Do You Need In Ngorongoro?
Ngorongoro Crater is fairly straightforward – a maximum of just 1 day should be spent here. Staying overnight near the entry gates means you can be on your game drive first thing and is the best time to explore the crater.
The entry fees are incredibly high and one you do not need to pay for twice if you are watching the purse strings!
If you are sticking to a fairly tight budget or question how much time you can feasibly enjoy driving around all day then consider making it short and sweet.
Ideally, 2-3 nights in Serengeti and 1 night in Ngorongoro would mean that you have (hopefully) seen all of the Big Five plus much more.
TIP: If you want the best views into the Ngorongoro Crater then you must stay at this lodge!
Finding a Tanzanian Safari Tour Guide
Having briefly explored the option of a self-drive safari we quickly ruled this out. Finding a good guide would be worth every penny, how else could you spot the leopard in a tree from a mile away or understand game behavior without years of experience behind you?
Researching for a tour operator was the single most challenging part of planning, with so many providing slightly different services and accommodation, fine-tuning was turning into analysis paralysis!
We started with contacting UK travel agents to see what kind of service they provide and then compared this with dozens of Tanzanian-based companies.
This involved several weeks and hundreds of emails back and forth to over 20 tour operators, putting together the perfect itinerary and plan whilst discussing the costs of each option.
The research included extensively checking Google, TripAdvisor, Booking.com, Instagram, and YouTube, which provided a really good idea of what to expect.
In a nutshell – we saved just over $2000 per person for a 5-day safari with the bonus of all the money going straight to Tanzanian travel operators. Find out which Safari Guide came up trumps here.
10-Point Checklist for Selecting a Safari Tour Guide:
1. Private Tour
Go for a private tour. Group tours are only marginally cheaper and will restrict any last-minute changes you may wish to make during the trip. You will be unable to change the amount of time you spend in any one place and will be fighting other travelers in the jeep for the best view of the action. Definitely not a luxury experience.
2. 4×4 Vehicle with Pop-Up Roof
Without a doubt, look for a company that offers a full-view safari vehicle. This means that during your private safari, no matter which side of the jeep wildlife is spotted, you are guaranteed a 360-degree view.
3. Well Maintained and Comfortable Fleet
The roads during a safari will be testing, especially if there has been recent rain. You will drive past vehicles that have broken down or require a tire change, so checking that your guides carry at least one spare tire is prudent. You are going to be spending a considerable amount of time driving around so comfort is crucial.
Most good tour operators will have charging outlets for phones and cameras, a mini-refrigerator for drinks, a pair of binoculars per couple, and a blanket for cold mornings, some even offering wifi although this may be unnecessary. Opt for one that includes water, soft drinks, tea, and coffee throughout the game drive.
4. Unlimited Mileage and Game Drive
Having restrictions placed on where and how far you can go is sure to put a dampener on your trip, especially if there is news of a group of lions feeding on a fresh catch in the distance. Be in charge of when your day starts and when it ends.
5. All Inclusive
Your safari should pretty much be all-inclusive in terms of meals. Breakfast and dinner take place in camp and lunch is normally provided as a picnic if you choose to stay out on safari rather than return to camp. Drinks with dinner are not typically included.
TIPPING: Staff tips are normally recommended at $20 per day for your driver and $15 per day for your cook (per vehicle and not per traveler).
6. Flying Doctors Insurance (Air Ambulance)
You are quite some distance away from emergency medical treatment should the unexpected occur. Ensure this is included as part of your package, normally $25pp.
7. All Park Fees
Make sure that your contract includes all entry fees, you do not want any surprises once you’re in the bush!
8. Airport Transfers
Having your guide collect you from Kilimanjaro Airport is far better than arranging a separate private transfer – plus it will cost exactly the same (around $60) to transfer to Arusha.
Some tour operators run their own lodges and will charge substantially more if you prefer to stay elsewhere, so choose one that can operate with all accommodation options freely. This is what can add hundreds or thousands more to your final cost.
For a true safari experience, I would strongly recommend staying on a permanent campsite with tents in Central Serengeti. Many of these have hot running water and are pretty much as comfortable as any hotel.
You will hear and feel the roar of lions outside your camp – a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For Ngorongoro Crater you cannot beat the views from the crater rim, there are only a handful of lodges to choose from but again, well worth it for views you will never forget.
Just be sure to check out reviews for accommodation if you are particularly fussy. TripAdvisor can give you a heads up on areas such as cleanliness, shower facilities, and any specific annoyances.
TIP – Let your tour operator book the accommodation for you, it will be around 30-40% cheaper than you booking directly with the lodge/hotel.
10. Selection of Safari Guides
If you choose a larger, well reputable tour operator you can ask for certain characteristics for your guide, such as:
- Good sense of humor
- Specific knowledge
- Speaks certain language
- Incredible eyesight (yes that’s a real option!)
Your tour guide will have a tremendous impact on how enjoyable your safari experience is, therefore choosing wisely is absolutely crucial! You can find out who we chose to book with here.
How to get to Serengeti and Ngorongoro
Most flights will come into Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO) from other international hubs. At Kilimanjaro, you will meet with your tour guide who will take you to Arusha (1 hour away) for an overnight stay – refreshed and ready to be up early in the morning for the first day of safari.
From Arusha, it takes around 4 hours to drive to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area if no stops are made in between. This will mainly be on tarmac roads with little to no wildlife to see, however, a stop at a local village en route will break up the journey nicely.
Driving to Ngorongoro on your first day is recommended rather than flying into Serengeti. You want to soak up as much of Tanzania as possible and flying in is really not necessary.
From Ngorongoro, the travel time to Serengeti is approximately 3-4 hours depending on road conditions and stops made as there will be game viewing along the route.
At the end of your Serengeti trip, you may prefer to fly from Seronera Airstrip to Arusha rather than drive straight for 7-8 hours without any game viewing. This will also save you the ‘drive-through’ fee payable to Ngorongoro Conservation Area on the route back to Arusha.
How to Make the Most of the Limited Time You Have
For me, I didn’t particularly fancy staying overnight in Arusha upon arrival. I couldn’t find any hotels I liked the look of and most were incredibly overpriced for their condition. Feeling like a bit of a tourist trap for all the overnight stayers of safari tours, I decided to give it a miss.
I found a flight that landed at JRO at 9.30 am which meant that we could be collected from the airport and driven straight to our lodge in Ngorongoro where we could relax and recoup from our long journey.
This also meant that on the first day of our safari we were only a short distance away from the crater for our game drive.
If we had stayed in Arusha we would have arrived at Ngorongoro Crater at lunch, not a great use of our time for the first day of safari.
Skip Lake Manyara/Tarangire and spend the extra time in Serengeti. There is no better place for game viewing for a first-time safari trip.
Fly out of Serengeti and save yourself 7-8 hours of driving back to JRO (if budget allows).
There may be additional activities you fancy trying, all of which will either eat into your time or budget! Some options include:
|Serengeti Hot Air Balloon||$600 per person for 50-minute ride|
|Bush Walk||$40 per person for 1 hour|
|Maasai Boma Village Visit||$100 per vehicle|
|Horse Riding in Arusha||$90 per person for 2 hours|
|Olduvai Gorge Museum||$40 per person|
Cost of Domestic Flights to and from Serengeti Airstrip
The cost of domestic flights from Serengeti varies depending on where you are flying to and how many stops on route. Getting your Tanzanian tour operator to book flights will save you around 20%. On average, flight costs are:
Note – Domestic flights accept 15kg as standard, any additional weight will cost $60. Check their terms for details on whether hard suitcases are accepted.
Cost of 5-Day Luxury Safari to Serengeti and Ngorongoro
So what we have here is:
- 2 of the best National Parks in the world
- Private tour and guide
- Airport transfers
- All-inclusive meals
- Unlimited game drives and mileage
- 1 Night on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater
- 3 Nights in Central Serengeti
- Fly out of Serengeti
Final itinerary: (swipe left for mobile)
|Day 1||Kilimanjaro Airport||Ngorongoro||245km/4 hours||Pick up from airport and transfer straight to accommodation||Ngorongoro Serena Lodge|
|Day 2||Ngorongoro Crater||Central Serengeti||145km/3.5 hours||After breakfast drive to Ngorongoro Crater and later proceed to Central Serengeti for overnight||Serengeti Tortilis Camp|
|Day 3||Central Serengeti||Central Serengeti||Full-day game drive||Serengeti Tortilis Camp|
|Day 4||Central Serengeti||Central Serengeti||Full-day game drive||Serengeti Tortilis Camp|
|Day 5||Seronera Airstrip||Zanzibar||After breakfast enjoy game drive on route to the airport. Flight departs at 11 am.||End of safari|
Total cost of luxury safari (excluding international flights) is $1870 per person.
Save a Considerable Amount on your DIY Safari
After initially being quoted around $4000 per person from UK agents, a little research and planning has saved a substantial amount, enough to incorporate 10 days in Zanzibar!
We genuinely believed a safari holiday was completely out of our reach but this has made our dreams become a reality.
A safari was never going to be cheap, but for us – that is how to plan an amazingly affordable luxury safari trip to Tanzania!
You may also love to read: Safari Anxieties – 19 Common Things People Worry About
Let us know about your safari experiences in the comments box below!