How to Safari in East Africa

By Nomadic Matt | Published March 28th, 2011

This is a guest post by Mark Wiens of Migrationology.

Ever dream of seeing an elephant trumpeting its trunk, a lion licking its lips, or a cheetah sprinting through the grasslands? An African safari is a thrilling chance to see wild animals going about their daily lives within their natural habitat. East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) has a huge variety of national parks that offer adventurous opportunities to see wildlife up close. A lot of research and planning goes into getting a safari fully arranged, deciding what game reserve to visit, and finding transportation and accommodation.

A photo of water buffalo from a safari in East Africa

The East African safari generally caters to luxury tourists who have a quick vacation and decide to pre-book a packaged all-inclusive trip without thinking too much about the cost. The industry is not normally well-suited to long-term travelers on a tight budget. There are several ways, though, to save money on an African safari. Just be prepared to spend at least a few hundred USD. Of course, it all depends on your personal choices.

Package Tours

There are countless companies that offer safari packages for tourists who wish to sit back and not do any planning. These safari tours are very convenient and are worth the money if you don’t have the time to research or if you want to avoid potential hassles.

High-end package deals offer one price and generally cover everything from pickup to drop off (even from the airport), including food, fees, transportation, and lodging. Be prepared to spend around $200–$400 per day for a luxury package safari. They aren’t cheap!

With a package tour company, you can either join a group with a pre-made itinerary (a great option for solo travelers), or you can customize a safari package with an itinerary to your liking. (This option works best if you are already traveling with a group.)

Two excellent resources for more information on safari tours are the Kenya Association of Tour Operators, which is better known as KATO, and the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators. Both organizations aim to promote and give credibility to the safari companies that maintain a high level of service and a great value-to-price ratio. You can find a list of companies there.

A pair of huge elephants from a safari in East Africa

Do It Yourself Safari

It’s possible to do a safari on your own, but it’s a lot more work. Here’s how you can organize your own safari:

Rent Your Own Vehicle
Nearly all game parks allow you to drive your own vehicle. This opens up opportunities for saving some money as well as allowing for more flexibility in doing exactly what you want. You can rent a vehicle and drive yourself or rent a vehicle with a full-time driver included (this usually costs an extra $20–$30 / day).

A five-seat SUV can be rented for $75–$200 per day, depending on the type of vehicle. The company, for safety reasons, needs a specific itinerary that details where you plan on going, the number of passengers, and the length of time intended to rent the vehicle.

Accommodation
Luxury Hotels and Tented Camps
There are many lodges, hotels, and luxury camp options to choose from, depending on the park you choose. Hotel rooms need to be booked a few weeks in advance, especially during peak season. Rates start at $80 USD and go up from there.

To start looking for lodging options, browse through the list of accommodation in Kenya National Parks and accommodation in Tanzania National Parks.

Self-Camping Options:
Kenya - If you’re an adventurous traveler who loves to be close to nature and can handle the howls of animals at night, personal camping is a great option. In Kenya, the main national parks that offer camping options are Hell’s Gate National Park, Tsavo East, Mt. Kenya National Park, Lake Nakuru, Amboseli, and Aberdare National Park.

Permits are necessary and can be arranged at the Kenya Wildlife Service office in Nairobi before heading out. The cost for camping is $25 per adult per night.

A photo of giraffes eating in a park in Africa

Tanzania - For Tanzania camping opportunities, it’s best to take a look at this accommodation list for national parks. Campsites are available at select game parks and are best booked in advance. Camping is permitted in Selous Game Reserve at two designated areas, Beho Beho Bridge and Lake Tangalala. Personal camping costs $20 per night per person and must be arranged either in Dar Es Salaam city center before going to the park, or at Matambwe or Mtemere entry stations at Selous reserve. Alternatively, you can email the park directly for specific instructions. Prices range from $20–$30 per person per night.

Things to Know

National Park Entrance Fees
Fees for national parks are charged by the day. Some of the smaller parks, like Nairobi National Park (Kenya) at $40 per day, or Mikumi (Tanzania) at $30 per day, are less expensive options. Other more famous parks like Maasai Mara (Kenya), Serengeti (Tanzania), or Ngorongoro Crater (Tanzania), can cost upwards of $60 per day, depending on whether it’s high or low season. If you’re driving your own vehicle, there are separate vehicle charges as well, often at $30–$40 per day.

The Time of Year Matters
Dry season, June–October, is usually the best time of the year to see wildlife, but it’s also the most expensive and busiest time of year. You need to decide what works best for your schedule and your money. If you can, consider going on a safari just before high season kicks in.

Lions resting before they go hunting for food in Africa

Good Guides Go a Long Way
Your safari guide will attempt to show you the East African BIG 5 — lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes, and rhinos. However, there are many other big-ticket animals that are amazing to see, including cheetahs, hyenas, hippos, giraffes, jackals, crocodiles, and scores of antelope and gazelle.

Usually your driver will double as your guide. It can be hard to find a good guide, but search around for a driver and confirm that he has a cunning eye for spotting wildlife. To do this, find an experienced driver with an official tour guide license. You can also search KATO and TATO (mentioned above) for recommended guides that are experienced at finding wildlife. Unofficially, people from the Maasai tribe are known for their incredible animal tracking skills.

There’s always something exciting to experience on a safari in East Africa. If you can make the most of your East African safari by doing some pre-planning, you’ll have the adventure of your life!

Mark Wiens (Migration Mark) is an African-raised cultural travel enthusiast and street-food connoisseur who loves to explore the local side of travel. He shares his adventures on Migrationology.

comments 28 Comments

Naaz

I went to the Ngorongoro Crater, west of Arusha with my parents in 2003 or 2004. This was a package tour and we stayed at Sopa Lodges which provided excellent accommodations and food. It was a very memorable experience; highly recommend it!

Great Naaz, thanks for the recommendation! I have walked around a Sopa Lodge, and I agree, they are very nice!

There are really a lot of options to choose from and the prices are fairly reasonable for an entire stay. I guess as anything goes the time of year makes a big difference in price and amount of visitors.

Yah, time of the year can mean huge price fluctuations, but it’s all about deciding what works best – with the time you have.

This is a very organized well written article for Safaris in Eastern Africa! There is so much information out there on high end trips in the east it is almost daunting for the budget traveler. I have been researching safaris for the last couple of months as my travels will take me to East Africa in August. I will definitely use this as a resource to find the best safari for my budget!

On a whole, and in the past, the main Safari industry has really catered just towards package tours. Now there are more options for the budget travelers, looking to take safari’s at a less expense. Hope you have an awesome time when you get to East Africa!

Thanks Annette! Good luck persuading him!

Great tips Mark! I never thought about doing a DIY safari trip. I think it would make sense if you are a traveling with a group of close friends since it would be fun. Plus easier to organize. You mentioned that one can spend around 200-400 per day on a luxury safari package. Any idea on what the average daily rate is for budget packages nowadays?

Hey Grace, considering that just entry fees can cost $50 – $60 per day, plus accommodation, transportation, and food, it’s hard to find a budget safari tour for less than $100 – $150 per day. That being said, going on off-season, getting together a group of people, and straight talking to the tour company might be a way to get a more decent price. Are you thinking about taking a safari soon?

These are some amazing pictures and very helpful tips. A safari definitely seems like it is one of those once in a lifetime sort of experiences. It is defintiely something that I have to do before it gets to be too late.

Cool, hope you have a chance to take a safari soon!

how fascinating. i am always intrigued by going on safari. when are the best times of the year to go?

June – October, which is the dry season, is usually considered the best time of the year for a safari – however it is also the most expensive time of the year.

Never been to Africa, but constantly dreaming about it. Last time I’ve been to India I went to watch wildlife and I loved it, more than I expected really. I’m going back to India shortly and I really hope I’ll have a similar experience again. Africa must be truly fascinating. After Asia, ME and Africa are my next destinations, really looking forward to it :)

Great Angela! I’m hoping to go to India sometime this year as well! You will have an amazing time if you are able to visit Africa!

Oh…so many things to consider for a safari! I’d like to try both experiences, if possible – luxury and DIY safari!

Rob

The luxury places really are mint, flew over sine yesterday. I did a camping trip with friends in Lake Manyara and saw everything. If you don’t have friends here recommend a company. Going in one vehicle isn’t safe as you may get stuck and once camp is setup, you are really at the mercy if the surrounding animals. Safari is cool and one of the must do on a proper trip around the world one. Believes.

Cool article

Safari in Africa is a wonderful experience. From ur i think it is affordable too. Actually we need such articles from somebody’s experience. thanks for sharing

Going back to Africa later this year and cannot wait to go on safari!

Shannon

Thank you for the informative blog! I cant wait to pen it in our travel plans for December.

NomadicMatt

You’re welcome.

Hey there, good tips on safaris. I’ve never been to east Africa but would love to go sometime. Hoping to do a extended overlander with my girlfriend and see lots of the continent.

I did a self-drive safari in Namibia which was really a bargain. I rented a Corolla and drove myself through the park – let me tell you, a safari can be pretty intimidating when you’re in a compact car by yourself, but it was also a blast.

Keep posting your amazing articles!

Elizabeth

What are your thoughts regarding anti-maleria pills? I’m traveling to Kenya and Rwanda soon and my research indicates that the side affects of these drugs can be really bad. I’m considering taking my chances with lots of organic bug detterent. What do you think?

Thanks!

Hi Elizabeth! If you still have some time ahead of you before going to east Africa, you should look into testing the different types of pills. I know mefloquine and doxycycline, for example. People always react on them differently. Doxycycline is an antibiotic and mefloquine caused some side effects for me and my stomach :S

Mosquito nets are super important and there are also small anti malaria stuffs you can plug into your electricity outlet over night in your room to fight Mosquitos.

If you are staying for longer and you stay in a region at a hi altitude, you will find out that there are hardly any Mosquitos and the risk of malaria is not so high. In cities like Kampala, however, you have to really watch your environment. Mainly because Mosquitos breed in the tiniest ponds and in the swamps, and of course lake Victoria.

Our site could be useful to you: Instinct Safaris offers Eco tourism and walking safaris in the Great Lakes Region! Mostly with destinations in higher altitudes and less Mosquitos :)

Guides sure do go a long way. Our guide was a magician at spotting animals and making them appear and could maneuver a safari truck pretty much anywhere.

As for malaria pills, my wife and I both took Doxy and the only problems we had were being more sensitive to the sun, which was tough on us pasty folks.

Another great place in East Africa is Bwindi Impenetreble National Park for a gorilla safari and other nine national parks for wildlife trips. Most travelers who visit Uganda do combine gorilla trekking with wildlife trips. Its best to pass via Queen Elizabeth National Park with one of its famous sectors the Ishasha sector where you will see unique tree climbing lions in the parks fig and acacia trees. Lions relax in the trees after hunting many animals with the Uganda kob as its favorite meal.

wayne

Hi

I’m just starting the research in looking for a safari for sept 2014.

What I’m looking at is incorporating a safari into a 2 week holiday, would like the “less commercial” side if possible as well.

When you start to price everything together, ie flights from the UK, accommodation, safari etc etc, it works out quite expensive. If you price up for example just a all inclusive deal to africa you can get some cheap deals including flights and accom. Would this be an option then to sought out your safari yourself?

Thanks

Africa is such a beautiful place it is hard to fathom how big it is the sky the view in every direction unless you have been their it is so hard to explain I hope I can make it back their some day