Kenya vs. Tanzania which is best for safari and beach?
Kenya and Tanzania go head to head - with our founder Ben as umpire. In this highly readable article Ben pulls no punches as he breaks down the 'Why's' and the 'Why not's' from every angle - at the end of it you'll definitely know which is best for you.
02 Aug 2021
01 Nov 2022
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I suspect the Far & Wild team asked me to write this article because they’ve been overexposed to my biased opinions on East Africa for far too long. I have spent much of my life there and Tanzania and Kenya have been the backdrop to some of my most cherished life experiences; my Tanzania honeymoon, expeditions on the Flipflopi (read more about the Flipflopi Project), and most recently, a stint living in Kenya with my family.
So I’ve seen it from most angles, and I love it.
Many people who first approach me looking for a Kenya safari holiday often end up choosing a Tanzania safari instead. And vice versa. This article sets out to explain the differences, the similarities and hopefully at the end of it, you’ll know which country will suit you.
East Africa is the perfect place for a first-time safari holiday. Much closer to Europe than Southern Africa, diverse wildlife, varied topography – including the wide-open savannah landscapes that people so often have in mind when they first think ‘I would like to go on a safari holiday’ – the quintessential African safari holiday you might say.
So, to answer which is best, I’m going to look at a number of factors… as well as considering the merits of each country for specific types of traveller (such as families, couples, honeymooners, adventurers etc)
Here we go;
International Flight Access
Kenya wins hands down here as it has direct flights from the UK, much of Europe and some parts of the US. This is important… it means no energy sapping connections that drain travellers (especially children) and write off the first day of your holiday as you’re all just too tired. Tanzania has no direct flights from the United States or the UK.
Kenya offers a smorgasbord of topography… there is quite simply no other country in Africa able to offer the same diversity combined with straightforward transport links. It means you can be on safari in the Masai Mara’s short grass plains one day, photographing flamingos in the Great Rift Valley the next, and end up a day or two after that, sat on one of the world’s best beaches in Mombasa on the Kenya Coast.
Tanzania isn't far behind... the Great Rift Valley continues south through Kenya and into Tanzania - and the result is the unique landscapes of the world famous Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti and dramatic escarpment over Lake Manyara National Park. In the far west of Tanzania the crystal clear waters of Lake Tanganyika and forest clad mountains that surround its shores offer something that Kenya does not. Here you can sail, dive, swim and track habituated chimpanzees in the Mahale Mountains national park all in the same day.
Kenya wins hands down here. Not just because its better connected to international airlines (Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is a regional hub) but the ease of travel within the country. Two long established domestic airlines (Safarilink and Air Kenya) have daily flights between all the safari areas, and a number of newer arrivals operating on a low-cost model such as Jambojet, Governors Aviation, East African – are keeping prices down and adding further to domestic networks.
Tanzania also has a number of well established and reliable domestic airlines. Coastal Aviation, Regional Air, Auric Air, Flightlink, Precision Air, Safari Airlink and Zanair – all combine to provide a web of flight options around the country. But in terms of value, Tanzania has economics and geography against it when compared to Kenya. It is simply a much bigger country and distances between its national parks and game reserves and Indian Ocean coastline are often very large. Add to this various government tax levies and the result is that flights in Tanzania are significantly more expensive.
Many travel to Africa in search of not just wild animals, but wild places. Yes, wilderness… places where people are not… and the sense of freedom these places provide, is top amongst many people’s motivations for visiting Africa on a Safari holiday.
And in this regard, Tanzania has some of the most exciting places on planet earth.
The vast Selous Game Reserve (renamed Nyerere National Park in 2020) is the size of Switzerland, whilst names such as Udzungwa, Katavi, Ruaha and Mahale Mountains are enough to have any wilderness lover drooling at the mouth… these are some of the least accessible, remotest and wildest places on our planet. And for those willing to invest the time and money to get to them – a wilderness experience of rare quality awaits.
A dead heat! The Great Rift Valley that runs north to south through Kenya and Tanzania is the defining feature of both country’s national park network – and has provided a bounty of natural resources around which are built some truly exceptional national parks and game reserves.
Where Kenya has its Masai Mara – so Tanzania can counter with the Serengeti. Kenya replies with Lake Nakuru, Elementaita and Naivasha, Tanzania responds with Lake Manyara, Natron and Eyasi. And so it goes on… Mt Kenya vs. Mt Kilimanjaro, Tsavo vs. the Selous.
Truly we are talking about an abundance of wildlife and wild places… I’d go so far as calling these two countries a global cradle of diversity. I do not think their quality and diversity can be bested anywhere on the planet, let alone the continent.
Safari and Beach Honeymoons
Well, well, well… now here is a hard one. Both countries can offer genre defining classics.
In Tanzania - a five day northern Tanzania Safari encompassing the Serengeti, Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crate, followed by a week in glorious Zanzibar is an outrageously special honeymoon – full of adventure, spectacle, luxury and an exotic dreamy buzz of Zanzibar.
No two safari trips are ever the same but this one really stands out due to the personalised service that you will receive throughout the first week, with your own driver and vehicle this really is the trip of a lifetime.
Northern Tanzania is home to numerous national parks and this trip incorporates four of them, as well as a week on the beach in Zanzibar – what more could you ask for?
Duration: 13 Days Location: Tanzania, Africa Price: £4800pp
A delightful blend of Kenya's wildlife rich reserves and idyllic white sand beaches. When considering what to do for a Honeymoon, few combinations of experiences offer the sense of adventure, romance and luxury than a trip to see Africa’s unique wildlife followed by time on its idyllic white sand beaches.
Kenya is arguably the best destination to enjoy a safari and beach experience, with abundant wildlife found in varied areas and some of the best beaches Africa has to offer.
Duration: 13 Days Location: Kenya, Africa Price: £5225pp
If forced to pick between the two – with a budget of £5,000 / $7,000 per person I’d recommend making Kenya your start point, and £7,000 / $9,500 per person, try starting with Tanzania.
There is no way of avoiding the simple truth that – at present – for a comparative safari experience (duration, standard, what you can expect to see) Kenya is significantly more affordable.
Most of the drivers for this are mentioned in this article… international flight costs are lower so it is cheaper to get to Kenya in the first place – and - once in country, the distances between national parks are not as great meaning internal travel by either air or road is easier and cheaper.
But the biggest driver of higher cost in Tanzania is the governments heavy handed approach to park fees and other conservation related charges. Hotel operators in Tanzania are subject to a dizzying array of licenses, levies and taxes (a friend who operates safari lodges in the Serengeti told me at the last count his business was subject to 57 different charges… can you imagine the admin burden!!). This drives up the cost of a nights’ stay in Tanzania compared to Kenya.
Also, the park entry fees for Tanzania are much higher than in Kenya… on average it’s a difference of about $40 per person. That might not seem that much, but over an 8 day safari that is £230 / $320 per person.
Self-drive safaris in Kenya are becoming increasingly popular. A combination of improving road networks and SatNav removing some of the navigational challenges means that most of the country is accessible even to the first time visitor provided they are up for an adventure.
A couple of years ago, Far & Wild bought a safari equipped 4x4 which is now based in Nairobi. We use it for self-drive itineraries around the country. As explained elsewhere in this article, good road networks, cell coverage, the fact that English is widely spoken, mean there are few if any barriers to self-driving.
We usually help create an itinerary that mixes a few nights in hotels and safari lodges, alongside some nights camping.
Tanzania isn’t as well suited to a self-drive safari holiday. Not only is it harder to find suitable rental vehicles, but the distances are that much greater between national parks, and the country’s infrastructure is less forgiving should you encounter unforeseen issues. The exception to this is a self-drive safari in the Serengeti… this most definitely IS an option… one that I would recommend in fact. You can read about my Serengeti self drive honeymoon doing exactly this in the ‘Adventurers’ section further down in this article.
Family safari holidays
Arrrgghhh... Such a tough call… I really want to give Tanzania a chance.
But I can’t.
A family holiday in Kenya is about as good as it gets in my book. Literally THE BEST... most rewarding, most varied, most straightforward, most personalized, most flexible family safari holiday you can get.
Is a week-long Serengeti safari, including the Ngorongoro Crater. Completed with a second week spent on the beach on Zanzibar at somewhere like Breezes Beach Club, Zuri Zanzibar or Zanzibar White Sand – and you have a fantastic holiday full of engaging experiences for young and old.
Although these are differing family safari suggestions, they share a few things in common:
1/ Diversity. These itineraries provide – in one single trip – the same quality and quantity of experiences it might take 3 different trips in other countries to get. Thanks to the Great Rift Valley Kenya delivers a dizzying array of classic safari landscapes and incredible wildlife viewing experiences to go with it.
2/ Comparatively it is very easy to get to Kenya – direct flights from the UK for example take only 8 hours (compare that to nearly 12 for South Africa).
3/ Internal travel can be done by road in a 4x4 safari vehicle, or by light aircraft – or a combination of the two.
4/ No other country can deliver as much variety in as straightforward a way. I say ‘straightforward’ as of course, with enough money spent on private planes etc you can get a diverse family holiday in many southern African countries, but doing so costs an enormous amount in not only money, but precious time.
5/ Time efficiency. Critically important to a good family safari holiday – and too often overlooked – are the ‘bits in-between’. How easy is it to get between the different places on a multi-centre holiday? And how interesting? In Kenya transfers are usually an interesting part of your experience not just a necessary evil.
Put all of these things together and you end up with a compelling argument for Kenya family holidays being the best on the continent.
Tanzania has some vast protected wilderness areas. Alright, getting to many of them is hard work and expensive – but they do offer a real sense of adventure. On my honeymoon we hired a safari equipped 4x4 from Shaw Safaris in Arusha. Owners Erika and Paul showed us the ropes, and importantly helped us booking the different camp locations within the Serengeti. The result was a completely independent week-long day safari adventure through the Serengeti.
Kitted with a sat phone for emergencies, and all the provisions and camping gear and maps we’d need, we felt secure at all times and therefore able to enjoy the adventure…
...and what an adventure it was… in the northern Serengeti we camped miles from the nearest other humans, and woke up surrounded by wildebeest and zebra as far as the eye could see. You couldn’t have this experience in Kenya.
But Kenya does have a ‘adventure’ variation every bit as engaging. Many of the wildlife areas in Kenya are privately run conservation areas or ranches. Unlike government run national parks which tend to have strict rules governing night game drives (not allowed) and walking safaris (heavily regulated and not encouraged) – these privately run areas allow for a much wider range of activities. Wildlife hides, sleepout platforms, rafting down rivers, horse riding safaris, multi-day camel assisted walking safaris and fly camping are all easily arranged in conservancy areas such as Sosian, El Karama, Borana and Lewa to name but a few...
What I like about these options is they can easily be mixed into a more conventional safari experience – say in the Masai Mara viewing the Wildebeest Migration. Again, this is Kenya showing its unique ability to provide a varied holiday experience.
As with most life experiences – what best for one person may not be the best for another – so there is no definitive answer to the question of whether Tanzania or Kenya offers the superior safari experience. In the end it will always come down to...
Which is best for YOU?
And in that short question lies the founding principle of our company. Far & Wild Travel works by finding out what it is that you want to do, and then using our knowledge and experience to guide you to what is best for you… ‘our expertise, your holiday’ is the strapline our marketing team often use.
It means we’re only as good as what we know (and of course our ability to be sufficiently organized to be entrusted with what for many will be the most important and expectation vested two weeks of their annual calendar).
So if you’re thinking about a safari holiday to Kenya or Tanzania - do give me or my colleagues a call and we’ll do our best to help work out what’s best for you.