When it comes to an African safari there are many options to choose from–South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania–each with their strengths and weaknesses. In this post we are focusing on our neighbor to the north, Kenya, and how a safari there relates to one in Tanzania.
Kenya and Tanzania are quite similar to each other, as both are key players in East Africa, both were formerly governed by the British, and both share the same language (although Kiswahili is more of a lingua franca in Tanzania). Relations between the two countries are quite cordial, and both do a good bit of trading with the other. The drive from the capital of Kenya–Nairobi–to the safari capital of Tanzania–Arusha–can be completed in a matter of hours.
Of course one may think we’re a bit biased, being a Tanzania-based safari company and all, but nevertheless we’ve done our best to provide a fair review of both country’s strengths and weaknesses below (based on the knowledge and experience of the owners, the guides, and prior guests).
- Home to Nairobi International Airport, which is a major East African hub for many carriers, thus reducing your flight time a bit (the connecting flight to Kilimanjaro International Airport [JRO]–the usual hub for safari tourism in northern Tanzania–is another 45 minutes away).
- Prices are cheaper because there is much more competition in Kenya (as the parks are smaller and more spread out, tourism numbers are higher, and there are many more hotels and lodges available).
- Many of the park roads are paved, which leads to a less bumpy ride while on safari
- The competition is fierce, meaning more shady business tactics than
- More incidents of petty crime stemming from high unemployment (especially in Nairobi and Mombasa)
- Maasai Mara National Reserve is only a sliver of the size of Serengeti National Park (1,510 km² vs. 25,000 km²), and the wildebeest migration is around that area only a short period of the year (typically July and August, although you can also see it from the Tanzanian side at this time of year as well)
- Less wildlife in general versus Tanzania–Tanzania is a bigger country, with bigger parks, and a larger population of animals within those parks
- Maasai Mara is too crowded–its fame has gotten the better of it (many guests complain about this)
- Parks tend to more spread out versus Tanzania’s Northern Circuit (see map below), which leads to more driving time and less safari time (if visiting more than just Maasai Mara)
- Higher threat of unrest and terrorism incidents, such as the al-Shabab attack of Westgate shopping mall (2013)
- Our prior guests have mentioned more than once that they thought the overall friendliness of the guides wasn’t there (as opposed to many of the guides in Tanzania–“it felt like more of just a business transaction”)
- Because of the competition the number of service-industry staff and guides pressuring for tips is higher
- Much of the roads through the parks are paved, which leads to more traffic and a less authentic “safari experience”, with many minivans and passenger vehicles dotting the landscape during peak months
Routes & Distances
In the map above you can see the city of Arusha and the major parks of the Northern Circuit of Tanzania in comparison to Nairobi and the Maasai Mara of Kenya.
If one was to fly into Arusha, it is quite easy to see four enormous parks in a matter of a few days, all along one road (as well as Arusha National Park , just outside of the city, as an optional day trip). Setting off from Arusha you drive 90 minutes or so and you’re at Tarangire National Park (4). Less than a 30 minute drive from there and you are in Lake Manyara National park (3). Another hour or so gets you to the caldera of Ngorongoro Conservation Area (2), and from there it is a beautiful three to four hour drive to your lodge in the middle of the Serengeti plains (1).
In comparison, it is about a four hour drive from Nairobi to Maasai Mara National Park (1, the most visited of all of the parks in Kenya). It is about four hours in the opposite direction to get to Tsavo National Park (3). More than four hours in another completely different direction (south) you have Amboseli National Park (2), where you can get a decent look at Kilimanjaro (but not climb it, as the entirety of Mount Kilimanjaro lies in Tanzania). Nairobi National park, much like Arusha National park, is an easy optional day trip from the city.
But don’t just take our word for it! If you do a bit of online research yourself you’ll see that the points we’ve brought up are the same ones listed on many other sites, including the safari outfitters that operate in both Kenya AND Tanzania.