Mountain Top Goat

Budget Safari in Tanzania: Things You Need To Know

by Mountain Top Goat
brother lions tanzania budget safari

Grab your passports, guys. We’re heading to Tanzania on a budget safari trip! With international travel back on the cards, there is no better time to get your inner wild side out than now. We’re going to be traveling all the way to east Africa to take in some of the most mesmerizing sights this world has to offer. Seriously, it’s like another world out there: peaceful, quiet, and practically untouched. 

This is one of the few sites on earth where you can witness nature in all its incredible glory. From lions to zebras, giraffes, hippos, and so many other creatures that are practically right out of a fairy tale. Tanzania has them all. 

Let’s find out more about this awe-inspiring region. 

Tanzania: Fast Facts

Located along the East-African seaboard and cradled by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, Tanzania is truly one of Africa’s crowned jewels. With a landmass of 365,000 square miles (945,345 square kilometers), it’s also one of the larger countries on the continent. But that’s not the fun fact. The real jaw-dropper is the fact that 30% of that mammoth landmass is made up of National Parks.

It doesn’t just stop there. As a location of many wonders, Tanzania is home to the tallest mountain in Africa – Mount Kilimanjaro. If the Lion King was one of your all-time faves as a kid, you’ll recognize the snow-capped giant from one of the opening scenes. If you decide to climb this renowned mountain while visiting Africa, check out my best tips and learn more about how to climb this iconic peak here.

The population is warm and welcoming to visitors and the 59 million people living there. A good portion of them speaks fluent English. It’s a melting pot of languages, though, with Swahili being the official tongue of the land.

The last, and probably my favorite, of the fast facts is the Great Migration. At the beginning of every year, around 2 million plains animals (wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles) brave the crocodile-infested waters of the Mara River with their recently born young to get to greener pastures. It’s undeniably a sight to behold. 

Getting To and From Tanzania

There are a handful of international airports in the country. The most commonly used port of entry is Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam. I can not count the number of individuals that think Dar es Salaam is the capital of Tanzania because of how popular a vacation destination it is. Even citizens of neighboring countries stamp the TZ coast as a holiday destination of choice.  

Flying is going to be the mode of transportation for you as you make your way around the country unless you’ve booked an overland safari tour.

Most conservation areas are well off the beaten track. Like, on a serious note, your rental car might actually take a beating if you try to get to some of the safari gems by road. Infrastructure in big cities, metros, and suburbs is incredible. The roads are pretty decent, and the metropolitan areas are well developed. 

So, no, you’re not going to some rundown place in the middle of nowhere. Africa, as a continent is well developed in most regions and Tanzania is no exception to the rule.

Quite a few of the parks we’ll be looking at are totally accessible by road. However, double-check before deciding between renting a car and going for a full-package safari. (Still, flying into your safari destination is way cooler and better advised!)

Pack for a Budget Safari in Tanzania

Tanzania is easy-peasy in terms of what you’ll need to pack. Depending on what time of year you’re going, you’ll either be packing for swelteringly hot or mildly cold days. FYI, the ideal time to travel is in January. Even more so if you want to see the great migration for yourself.

Back to the topic at hand: packing. You’ll want to make sure your packing inventory looks a little something like this:

  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Sun hat, preferably with a drawstring
  • Sunglasses
  • Swimsuit (practically all the lodges and camping grounds have swimming pools or natural pools)
  • T-shirts
  • Shorts
  • Breathable long pants
  • Sandals
  • Walking shoes or trainers
  • 1 or 2 pullovers for chilly nights
  • And…don’t forget your jammies and all that other good stuff
lion up close tanzania safari

Tanzania Budget Safari: Health & Safety

Traveling to Tanzania will require you to be up to date with your vaccines. Urgh, I’m not talking about covid vaccines – that’s all we think about when we hear vaccines nowadays. You will need to provide proof of those vaccines, but there are others to consider.

You’ll most likely need a typhoid fever shot and a yellow fever shot. This is generally if you’ll be traveling to deeply rural areas. In most cases, the safari lodges and campsites that you’ll use will be a non-issue. 

Malaria is kind of a biggie in Tanzania. Be sure to see your physician about what anti-malarial medication you should take before and during your trip. 

Make sure to check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on traveling to Tanzania from your country of origin. 

Okay, I’m boring you guys with all this preliminary planning. Let’s go on a safari already!

Zebras in a lake

Consider Your Tanzania Budget Safari Options

Self-drive safaris will give you the time to explore national parks as your heart desires. You can wake up as early as you like and spend all day navigating the winding dirt roads that are carved out throughout most parks.

The main limitation is that you won’t have the same knowledge of the terrain as a safari guide. Knowing where to go and when to go to raise your odds of spotting one of the Big 5 (leopard, rhino, buffalo, lion, elephant) are going to be pretty slim. Besides, where are you going to get a vehicle to get the job done?

elephants in tanzania

If you’re flying into a conservation area, 4×4 rental options will be limited. Your best bet would be to rent a vehicle from the nearest town and road trip it to your safari destination – and we already know how that might go. 

The good old group safari is the safest, soundest, and most affordable option. You have two options here: 

  1. Pick a lodge in a national park that offers the best of everything – affordable accommodation, food, relaxation activities, and guided group tours of the park. (Bed and breakfast options from just $130 per night, depending on the park of your choice.)
  2. Sign up for a group safari that picks you up from the airport and handles your entire trip from your accommodation to your tours and meals. ($200 per day, all-inclusive of accommodation, food, and tours.)

I vote for Option 1 because it gives you more flexibility. For example, if you’re worried about making it to the park of your choice from the airport, most accommodation providers in conservation areas offer airport transfers at a nominal fee. 

serengeti national park sunrise tanzania

The Third (and lesser-known) Safari Option

If you’re planning on taking this trip of a lifetime with friends, then there is one more option that will have you feeling like royalty from start to finish. Of course, private safaris are a little more costly, but if you’ve got 5 or 6 friends keen on a Serengeti adventure, you will have the time of your life.

The best part? You’ll have your own safari vehicle and dedicated guide who will take you anywhere you want to go in the park of your choice and help you find any manner of animal that you want to see. 

It’s the luxury version of going on a safari and it is worth every penny. The great thing is that once you’ve split the cost up between you and your travel buddies, you’ll find that it doesn’t cost that much more per day than the other 2 options we looked at. Winning!

gnu wildebeest tanzania

Budget Safari Accommodation Options in Tanzania

Generally speaking, you have four accommodation options and only one of them involves camping. If you’re not the camping type, yay you! However, camping might be the best way to go about it if you’re on a budget. You are here to immerse yourself in nature, after all. 

Camping safaris will typically run you around $200-$300 per day. If you’re booking a camping safari with a reputable overland tour company, this will cover just about everything except the kitchen sink.

But what if Simba decides to venture beyond Pride Rock in search of a midnight snack? Don’t even worry about it. Overland tour guides do this for a living. They’re not going to risk your life, or their own for that matter, sticking you somewhere unsafe. The campgrounds are almost always fenced off and there will be security personnel stationed near you at night. 

budget safari in tanzania

If the tent you used to camp in your backyard in doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, then you can glamp it up (yes, I said glamp). Mobile tented safaris have accommodation that is a little different from your average campsite. You’ll basically be provided with a tented room with an actual bed. Expect to pay anywhere from $350 per day for this experience. 

The final two options that are a little further up on the budget meter are lodge safaris (from $350 per day) and luxury safaris (from $600 per day). Boy oh boy, does the term glamping take on a whole new meaning here. Depending on your lodge of choice, you might be touring with around 12 people. However, with a luxury safari, you’ll get 5-star treatment and options to explore on your terms. 

camping budget safari in tanzania

Tanzanian National Parks

Tanzania has so many incredible National Parks that it was hard for me to narrow down which I should share with you. These parks are so world-famous that two of them have even been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

What was a girl to do with all these choices and not enough time to share them all with you? Well, I picked two of the best parks from each region in Tanzania and I’ll be giving you the wild skinny on them now. 

Northern Zone Parks 

Tarangire National Park takes its name after the river that runs through it. It is the perfect destination for those of you who want to get in some exquisite bird-watching hours or have a close encounter with elephants down at the watering hole. If you’re coming from the town of Arusha, you can access this park via tarmac road. 

elephants tanzania budget safari

Lake Manyara National Park is home to a very unique breed of a lion – one that likes to climb trees! This is precisely why this National Park is known as ‘The Home of Tree Climbing Lions.’ Other than these feline friends, you’ll also get to see pink flamingos huddled around Soda Lake as well as baboons and blue monkeys. 

I know I said I would be telling you about just two parks per region, but I couldn’t leave out Ngorongoro Conservation Area – our first UNESCO World Heritage Site on the list. About 2 million years ago, an active volcano collapsed in the region, leaving a 1,969-foot deep (600 meter) caldera in its wake. It’s also a mind-blowing area of 101 square miles (260 square kilometers). You’ll see everything from lions to the endangered Eastern Black Rhino. 

rhino

Southern Zone Parks

Ruaha National Park is home to some of the broadest range of landscapes Tanzania has to offer. From rocky hills to the lush Ruaha River valley and the grassy plains that are populated with abundant wildlife, this National Park has it all!

masai giraffe tanzania budget safari

Katavi National Park in Tanzania offers a great variety of budget safari activities. There are both long-and, short-distance guided walking safaris, bird watching, night drive safaris, hiking, and even picnicking opportunities. Unlike the other National Parks which can only be reached via air and road, this particular one can be reached by air, road, and rail. So, if you’re up for a bit of adventuring before your safari kicks off, the latter is one I would consider.

Western Zone Parks

Our second UNESCO World Heritage Site – Serengeti National Park. Home to the last large mammal migration in the world. This phenomenon which culminates in the migration between two countries – Tanzania and Kenya – is heartbreakingly beautiful and the only surviving natural migration of this scale. If you’re unable to visit in the December-January period when this takes place, you can still visit the area to see the world’s largest natural populations of zebras, lions, cheetahs, gazelles, and hyenas. 

lion mum with cubs

Gombe National Park is situated on the banks of the world’s second deepest lake – Lake Tanganyika. The park rose to fame in the 1960s when world-renowned primatologist, Dr. Jane Goodall began her research around chimpanzees there. The best chimpanzee spotting months are November to April.

Eastern Zone Parks

Mikumi National Park has one of the best experiences of all. In fact, it comes pretty close to Serengeti National Park in terms of biodiversity. Here, however, you’ll get to take in the sights at the Hippo Pools and capture unbelievable photos of grazing zebra as well as other large land mammals.

Nyerere National Park is Africa’s largest national park and conservation area. There are several rare species of antelope that you’ll find here and you’ll get the opportunity to view the famous Big Five up close.  

hippo pools tanzania

Always do your research before an international trip and if something seems too good to be true, it most probably is. You can definitely experience these natural wonders on a safari trip, but try to stick with reputable guides.

If you’re having trouble deciphering between a dodgy chance-taker and an above-board guide, head to the Tanzania National Parks’ official website, you’ll find tons of promos, tours, and general information to help you plan your budget safari trip.

The ideal months to visit are generally Spring and Summer (September to February), with January being the best month to view the Great Migration.

Hakuna matata and happy traveling!

P.S. Major side note here. Although beautiful and welcoming, Tanzania is not necessarily the most welcoming country to the LGBTQI+ community. So do some research before you go.


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