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Adventure of a Lifetime: An Itinerary Combining Safaris in Kenya & Tanzania

by Cris Puscas

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When you think of Africa, it’s most likely that the endless plains of Serengeti and Masai Mara come into mind. Indeed, there are fewer things better to do during a vacation than a Kenya & Tanzania safari.

However, both countries are vast and covering distances between destinations takes quite a lot of time. That’s why planning the perfect itinerary for your Kenya & Tanzania safari may not be so easy. Plus, it would be a shame to completely ignore other amazing places in these two stunning countries in addition to going on a safari.

That’s why in this article we have put together a flexible set of suggestions that allows you to see the best of Kenya & Tanzania according to your travel preferences and budget.

But first, when is the best time to visit both Kenya & Tanzania?

giraffes in Kenya

Luckily for us, Kenya & Tanzania share the same seasons.

The dry season runs from June to October. The animals are easiest to spot as they concentrate around waterholes and there’s less vegetation. There are fewer mosquitos, too. It is also the high season, so the popular parks such as Serengeti and Masai Mara will be crowded.

June and July are the best months to see the Great Migration in Tanzania, whereas July to October are the best months to see the migration in Kenya.

The wet season runs from November to May. The wildlife is harder to spot but the Northern Circuit parks (Arusha, Manyara, Tarangire, Serengeti, Kilimanjaro, and Mkomazi) still offer good wildlife viewing. This is considered low season, so the parks aren’t as crowded, and the prices are more affordable.

Late January to February are the best months to see the cute baby animals as this is the calving season. While the migratory birds are present from September to April.

Please note that from March to May the rain can be continuous and would likely put a damper on your experience.

How long should I stay in Kenya & Tanzania?

Without having to feel rushed to commute by public transportation (or by car), you would need to allow a minimum of 4 weeks to see just the highlights of both countries.

And if you want to familiarize yourself with what the two countries have to offer, you would easily need at least 6 to 8 weeks.

With that being said, it does not mean you cannot enjoy both countries if you only have a few weeks for your trip.  You just need to choose what is a must experience and make them a priority.

Another way to travel by land is to take the shuttles. While it is more expensive than public transportation, they are faster and will give you less of a headache when it comes to planning the itinerary.

If you have the means, you can opt to fly between destinations as it saves a lot of time. And believe it or not, you can visit both countries without setting foot in any bus or car.

Kenya & Tanzania itinerary: Most popular safari destinations

Nairobi, Kenya

Nairobi, Kenya

Photo credit: Ninara via Flickr

Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) is East Africa’s de facto transport hub and the airport you are likely to fly into.

While most safari organizers choose to minimize the time spent here, it is not a bad idea to allow for a day of exploring. Sure, like most African large cities, it is congested and can be tricky to tackle, but that’s part of the joy of travel, right?

You can consider taking a guided walking tour in which to learn about the city and Kenyan culture.

If you are the more independent type, plan to visit the Bomas of Kenya, a tourist village where you can learn the local culture and experience the music and dancing.

A fan of Out of Africa? Then you should visit the Karen Blixen Museum, the home and grounds of the Danish writer and coffee farmer.

Should you be taking your kids on this trip, don’t miss stopping by the Nairobi National Museum, which highlights the history and culture of Kenya.

And don’t forget to try the local cuisine. Although not internationally renowned, the Kenyan food is diverse and delicious. Try ugali - the Kenyan staple made from maize flour- , githeri – a dish made of corn and kidney beans - , sukuma wiki – made fom collard greens-, and kachumbari – a salad made from fresh tomatoes, onions, green chillies, coriander, a few drops of lemon juice, and salt. If you eat animal products, try chips mayai – a combination of fries and omelet – and nyama choma – roasted meat usually served with ugali and kachumbari.

Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

migration in masai mara

Photo credit: VikramSathyanathan

Masai Mara is located 270km/167mi northwest of Nairobi. Since the roads are in poor condition, the drive would take at least 5 hours. That’s why most travelers prefer to fly. The domestic flights depart from Wilson Airport (WIL), 6km/4mi south of Nairobi.

It is a good idea to allow for 2-3 days to be able to fully experience Masai Mara.

One of Africa’s most famous parks, Masai Mara National Reserve offers stunning wildlife viewing all year round. The Great Migration crosses the Mara River in late July and August and this is one of the many reasons most travelers choose to visit the park. The herds return to Serengeti during the last two weeks of October and early November.

You should know that sightings of the Big Five animals are pretty much guaranteed here. The park is also one of the best to spot the big cats.

If you haven’t had a chance to visit the Bomas near Nairobi, you can opt to visit the Maasai communities which are located just outside the reserve. You can check out their traditional villages and even see some dances.


Planning to go on a safari in Masai Mara but feel overwhelmed with choices? Then read our detailed guide to visiting Masai Mara National Reserve!


Combining Masai Mara with other national parks in Kenya

While it’s very much possible to travel between the destinations on your own, it is not recommended to do so unless you are already familiar with the country and its roads.

If you are planning to go on a family trip, the young ones and the elderly will benefit more from an organized tour. Not having to worry about bumpy rides and hours at the wheel, will make for a more relaxed trip.

Booking a multi-destination safari is a popular and affordable way to experience several destinations in one trip.

Four to seven days are enough to see the highlights of Masai Mara and add at least one more destination to your itinerary.

Some of the popular combinations include:

  • Masai Mara National Reserve, Lake Nakuru, and Amboseli National Park (6 days)
  • Masai Mara National Reserve and Lake Nakuru (4 days)
  • Masai Mara National Reserve, Lake Naivasha, Lake Nakuru (5 days)

Kindly note that most of these safaris have the pick-up and drop off point in Nairobi.

Arusha, Tanzania

Arusha Tanzania

Photo credit: Roman Boed via Flickr

Although Masai Mara and Serengeti share a border, unfortunately, there isn’t a way to cross the country border through the reserves.

So, you need to go back to Nairobi and from there, embark on a trip to Arusha, the gateway into Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area.

The drive time from Nairobi to Arusha is about 4.5 hours, not considering the time spent at the border crossing. If you prefer not to drive, you can opt for a shuttle or a flight.

Set at the foot of Mount Meru, Arusha is the typical small, dusty Sub-Saharan African town. It is home to bustling markets, good restaurants, and great nature. Allow for 1-2 days here to check out the highlights.

Since Arusha is surrounded by coffee plantations, this is the best place to indulge in excellent coffee and delicious pastries.

If you are looking to discover more about the local culture, head to the Cultural Heritage Centre which houses a museum, a restaurant, a coffee shop, a spice center, and shops. You’ll have plenty to do here especially if you travel with your little ones.

Interested in a more relaxed activity? Why not hop on a canoe or take a nature walk? Lake Duluti is just 10 min outside of Arusha (on the local dala dala). Alternatively, you can take a day trip to Arusha National Park where you can enjoy a two hours’ walk in the bush to see the wildlife.

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

migration in serengeti

It takes about 8 hours to drive from Arusha to Serengeti (335 km/208 mi). The most convenient way, however, is to fly directly into one of the strips serving Serengeti.

The place where The Lion King is set, Serengeti National Park is what everyone imagines a safari backdrop should look like - the endless plains, with the animals grazing peacefully, while hot air balloons can be seen flying above the majestic landscapes.

Serengeti is, without a doubt, one of the most popular national parks in Africa. And while you can easily spend endless days exploring its vastness, you can enjoy the highlights within 2-3 days.

Tanzania’s oldest national park, Serengeti is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the site of the Great Migration. However, at any time of the year, you can spot here endless herds of wildebeest, big groups of elephants and giraffes, as well as the big cats. The elusive leopards are often spotted lazing around in the trees along the Seronera River.

June and July are the best months for the Great Migration with the possibility to see the herds crossing the Grumeti River.


Planning to go on a safari in Serengeti but feel overwhelmed for choices? Then read our detailed guide to visiting Serengeti National Park!


Ngorongoro Crater Conservational Area

antelope in ngorongroro crater

The drive distance between Serengeti (central) and Ngorongoro Crater is 160km/99.4mi, which in Tanzania means 3 hours on a bumpy and sandy road.

This one of a kind inactive volcano offers unique wildlife viewing. Allow for 1-2 days to indulge in a safari here.

You’ll be happy to know that Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area is home to all of the Big Five animals. Between the possibility to witness the elephants sporting big tusks and the chance to spot the black rhinos, you are guaranteed a unique experience in this part of Africa.

Oh, and if you came here to spot the giraffes, look for them outside the crater as they cannot tackle the steep descent.


Planning to go on a safari in Ngorongoro Crater but feel overwhelmed for choices? Then read our detailed guide to visiting Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area!


Combining Serengeti with other national parks in Tanzania

To get the most of your time and budget, it’s a good idea to look into booking a multi-destination safari in Tanzania. Aside from choosing the most popular safari parks, you could also add a less-crowded park.

Three to seven days are enough to get the most of a safari combining Serengeti National Park with at least another park.

Some of the popular combinations include:

  • Tarangire National Park, Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater (6 days)
  • Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater (3 days)
  • Lake Manyara, Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater (4 days)

Kindly note that most safaris’ pick up and drop off point is Arusha.

Getting more from your Kenya & Tanzania trip: towns and beaches

Bagamoyo, Tanzania

german boma in bagamoyo

Photo credit: Janetmpurdy

Looking to soak up even more sunshine while you’re in Africa? It’s time to head to Tanzania’s world-class beaches.

The town of Bagamoyo was one of the most important trading ports on East Africa’s coast and the penultimate stop before ships set sail to Zanzibar.

Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a quiet village with a few German colonial buildings still standing.

Getting here from Ngorongoro Crater is not an easy feat, though. You have to go through Arusha and either embark on a very long drive (about 12 hours) or take a flight (2.25h) to Dar es Salaam, and then drive to Bagamoyo (about 1h).

Allow for 1-2 days to explore this magnificent city.

Put on your walking shoes and explore central Bagamoyo (also known as Stone Town). Between the crumbling German-era colonial buildings you can still see the interesting old German boma and Liku House.

Just south of the village, you can find the Kaole Ruins. At its center, there are remains of a 13th-century mosque, one of the oldest in mainland Tanzania.

Or head north and check out the Catholic mission and museum, one of the highlights in the village. In the same compound, you can find the chapel where David Livingstone’s body was laid before being taken to Zanzibar Town en route to Westminster Abbey.

At the southern edge of the town, you can find a variety of beaches. Bomani Beach is a good choice and offers not only some much deserved beach time but also activities such as village walks.

Zanzibar

sun setting in zanzibar

Off the coast of Tanzania, you can find Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous archipelago.

To get here from Bagamoyo, you need to travel back to Dar es Salaam and then hop on a 20-min flight to Stone Town. Alternatively, you can catch a 2h ferry between the two cities.

Allow for 2-3 days here to explore the two main cities on the island and spend time on the beach.

Stone Town is the main city in Zanzibar. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is a city of prominent historical and artistic importance in East Africa.

The House of Wonders is the most well-known landmark. Built in 1883 it is the former sultan’s residence. It now houses a museum about the Swahili and Zanzibar culture.

Don’t miss checking out the Old Fort, a stone fortress built in the 17th century, which now houses a cultural center with shops, workshops, and a small arena where live dance and music shows are held daily.

You should also visit the Palace Museum, the former Sultan’s Palace, which shows the daily life of the Zanzibari royal family.

At the northern tip of Zanzibar, you can find Nungwi, a charming village and the second most popular place to visit in the archipelago. It takes between one and two hours to get here by road from Stone Town.

This is the perfect place to stroll along the beach, soak up the sun, and take shots of the breathtaking sunsets. It is also possible to scuba dive in the area.

Kindly note that there are no ATMs in Nungwi but some hotels and restaurants may accept cards (when the connection works).

Combining the most important safari destinations in Kenya & Tanzania

If you are planning a family safari, it is highly recommended that you consider booking a multi-country safari.

By allowing the safari operator to handle all the transfers to/from the airport and the transport between the safari destinations, you can enjoy a stress-free holiday in Kenya & Tanzania.

You should allow for up to two weeks for a safari combining the best of Kenya & Tanzania. Most safaris include the very popular Serengeti National Park and Masai Mara National Reserve, but you should be happy to know that you can even add some days on the beach to your trip.

Some of the most popular combinations include:

  • Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru, Amboseli National Park, Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti National Park, Lake Manyara, Arusha (13 days)
  • Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru, Arusha, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti National Park, Arusha, Zanzibar (10 days)
  • Tsavo East National Park, Tsavo West National Park, Amboseli National Park, Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru, Zanzibar (11 days)

Kindly note that the pick-up and drop off is most often in Nairobi.


Ready to embark on an African adventure? Then book one of the affordable safaris in Kenya & Tanzania and experience the most of what East Africa has to offer!

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