Kenya and Tanzania are at the top of the bucket list for many people and perhaps the first things that come to mind when you think of a “safari”. Surreal landscapes, towering mountains, warm culture, and the most fantastic safaris African offer are just a few things you can expect from these two countries. The Masai Mara and Serengeti are also home to the Great Migration where millions of Wildebeests and Zebras cross from one reserve to the other attracting lurking predators making for the best safari experience you can imagine.
As Kenya and Tanzania share a border, it is very feasible to do the two countries together as part of the same trip. Like my two weeks spent in Peru and Bolivia, two weeks in Kenya and Tanzania is also a tight squeeze. You’ll be on the go constantly but you will end up seeing the main highlights of the two countries. I would recommend at least 4 weeks to see the two countries but that’s not the world we live in and who has 4 weeks off to travel somewhere??
In addition, this post will feature two itineraries: budget+midrange, and luxury (near the end of the post).
Where I went in Kenya and Tanzania
I came to East Africa in September which was at the tail end of the migration. The heart of the migration is in the month of August. I still was able to witness an insane amount of wildlife although not the crossing of the wildebeests. Expect to pay much higher rates during this period and be prepared to book accommodations well in advance!
Kenya and Tanzania share the same seasons. The dry season running from June to October offers the best game viewing in both countries. The rainy season runs from Dec to Apr with shoulder seasons in between.
In total, this itinerary is perfect for anyone with 14-16 days to see both countries. These are the highlights of the trip
- Masai Mara
- Ngorongoro Crater
If these places ring a bell and sound like the places you want to visit, this is the perfect itinerary for you! I did my trip in that specific order but it is easy to mix and match depending on what you want to see.
Zanzibar is a beach destination and if this isn’t your jam, then consider doing a hike up Mount Kilimanjaro after the safaris in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. Alternatively, the beaches around Mombasa, Kenya are just as pristine as Zanzibar but at a fraction of the costs and tourist numbers.
I did the entire trip on an overland tour with Acacia Africa. An overland trip will be more expensive than doing it yourself but I’d highly recommend them if you are one or two people and you don’t want the hassle of planning the trip. In addition, you get to meet some amazing people that will keep you entertained the entire trip. This itinerary focuses on those that are not planning to do an overland tour! For more info about overland tours, read my detailed Overland Tour Guide.
Is Kenya and Tanzania Safe to Travel?
This is a common question I always get about traveling through Africa. It’s not unfounded as you’re constantly being bombarded by the media in Western countries about crime statistics, poverty, political unrest and the like.
I’ve traveled extensively all around Africa and it’s like any other developing part of the world I’ve been to. There are some sketchy pockets but the vast majority of the country is completely fine. This is like every country I’ve ever been to, first world or third world. Like South Africa’s safety or Egypt’s safety, the big cities see more crime, and potential for crime picks up at night time. Avoid flashing the cash, reciprocate the friendly attitudes of the locals, try the local food and drinks, and you’ll be fine.
Visas for Kenya and Tanzania
Visas for the two countries can be purchased at the border or airport and do not require any preparation before hand. The Kenyan visa costs $50 USD. Make sure your USD bills are crisp, post 2006 bills. They will turn away bills with wear and tear without hesitation.
For Tanzania, the fee is $100 USD for American citizens. All other Western countries (UK, EU, AU, CA etc.) will pay $50 USD. Not sure why Americans have to pay more here but perhaps something to do with reciprocation.
As of 2016, Tanzania has pulled out of the East Africa Visa which let people travel Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda on one visa for $100 USD. If you are planning to visit Uganda or Rwanda after this trip, it will make sense to purchase the East Africa Visa. Otherwise, it’s more economical to just purchase the Kenyan visa by itself.
Budget vs Not Budget Travel in Kenya and Tanzania
Africa is not a cheap place to travel with the exception of South Africa (which is very easy and cheap to travel through). Sure the locals live off next to nothing but you’re not coming here to live like a local. You’re coming here to go on a safari and do touristy things. These safari experiences have long been catered to older wealthier retirees with money to spend.
Unlike South Africa’s Kruger which has accommodation and safari options in all price ranges, the offerings are much more scarce in Kenya and Tanzania.
For budget travelers, you can expect to stay in a tent if you want to keep costs below $100 a night. If you can spend $200-$400, you can expect to stay in a modest permanent tent with some amenities in place.
For luxury travelers, you can easily spend over $1,000 a night for a ridiculous 5* all inclusive lodge that has more amenities than you could ever imagine.
Full Kenya and Tanzania Itinerary
The Itinerary starts in Nairobi, the defacto International Hub of Eastern Africa. Nairobi’s International airport is world class and flights from all around the world come here. It’s most likely that the cheapest and easiest flights you can find will arrive here.
From Nairobi, head to the Masai Mara for an epic 3 day/2 night Big 5 safari in one of the most epic game reserves in Africa. Return to Nairobi before either taking the bus to Arusha or flying to Kilimanjaro. From these towns, an even more epic safari to the Serengeti for 3 days/2 nights and Ngorongoro Crater for 2 days/1 night awaits.
Then you will return to either Arusha or Kilimanjaro. A flight to Zanzibar is in order after this where you’ll spend the next 5-6 nights in paradise.
Day 1-2: Explore Nairobi
My flight landed in Nairobi around noon time. Because there is so much to do in this itinerary, I would elect to spend less time in Kenya’s capital and more time seeing the game reserves. There are plenty of things to do in Nairobi for tourists but like most African capitals, it is hectic and not a picturesque place. But like most African capitals, once you dedicate the time and effort to exploring the town (and meeting some cool locals), the place really opens up and is actually quite fun. For the purpose of this itinerary which is focused on tourism, Nairobi will just be a stopover before the Masai Mara.
As I had my whole afternoon to explore at my leisure, I went to the Giraffe Center. I very much enjoyed my visit here to learn and interact with giraffes. It is about 45 minutes from the downtown area but with Uber readily available in Nairobi nowadays, it is very easy and incredibly affordable to visit. For a 40 minute Uber ride to the Giraffe Sanctuary, expect to pay under 1,000 shillings. The entrance fee for the Giraffe Sanctuary is 1,000 shillings.
From the Giraffe Sanctuary, have dinner at the famous Carnivore restaurant. This is a Brazilian Churascarria style restaurant that serves many different cuts of meat. Unlike the Carnivore in Johannesburg, this location does not serve any game meats.
Where to stay in Nairobi: For budget travelers, I recommend the Wildebeest Eco Camp and for middle end accommodation, I recommend Salmiya Place.
Day 2-4: Masai Mara
Finally, on to the good stuff! From Nairobi, it’s time to visit the famous Masai Mara. During July and August, if luck is on your side, you may be able to see the Great Migration. Literally millions of Wildebeests and Zebras cross from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara to seek new food sources. Lions and other predators follow suit making this a prime time to view the Big 5 in action!
There are hundreds of tour companies in Nairobi that will offer to book your Masai Mara tour. You can join an overland tour like Acacia Africa or Nomad or G Adventures, where you you will travel in a truck for the next two weeks visiting the highlights I have mentioned. You’ll also meet other travelers which can and will make the trip a lot more enjoyable!
Booking a Masai Mara Safari
Booking a safari to the Masai Mara can be complicated. You need to book your accommodation in the Masai Mara, but this usually doesn’t include game drives (unless you’re staying in a luxury lodge) which will cost extra but that’s the whole point of coming here so you’ll want to pay for this. You will also need to book a car transfer from Nairobi. My advice? Book everything all in one.
My preferred choice of accommodation on a budget is Mara Explorers Camp and Backpackers which is next door to the Enkolong Camp, another good option. The rates at these places are all inclusive of meals which are basic but still tasty. For a tent, expect to pay 5000 shillings a night per person and up to 8000 shillings a night for a little cottage. The best option is just to book their safari packages which include accommodation, food, transfer to and from Nairobi, and all game drives. These normally run $400-$500 per person for 3 days and 2 nights.
The schedule works like such:
- Pick up early in the morning from Nairobi
- Arrive in Masai Mara in the afternoon, just in time for a sunset drive
- Full day game drive on day 2
- Morning game drive on day 3 before arriving back in Nairobi at 17:00-18:00h
Where to stay in Masai Mara: For budget travelers, Mara Explorers Camp and Backpackers Lodge, or Enkolong Camp. For midrange travelers, the Sekenani Camp.
Day 5: Nairobi to Arusha
After returning from an amazing Masai Mara safari, the next step is to reach Arusha, the gateway to Tanzania’s Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. From Nairobi, there are numerous bus companies that make the journey to Arusha.
There are two companies I have experience with, Riverside Shuttle and Marangu Shuttles. The cost for this transfer is $25-$30 USD one way. They will pick you up from your accommodation in Nairobi as well. The vans/buses that they use are actually quite comfortable.
The Namanga border crossing can be quite a disaster at times but overall, the journey will take 4-6 hours depending on traffic on the road and at the border. Remember to have USD cash ready for the Tanzanian visa.
US Citizens need to pay $100 USD while other Western countries pay $50. Make sure the cash bills are crisp without any wear and tear.
What to do in Arusha
The transfer arrives in Arusha in the early afternoon. This is too late to go to the Serengeti right away as those trips only leave in the mornings (like in the Masai Mara). Don’t worry, there is plenty in Arusha to occupy you for a half day.
Accommodations in Arusha are in abundance and fairly cheap. I would recommend staying at the White House of Tanzania which is run by an amazing family. Loads of travelers stay here before going to the Serengeti which makes for a fun place to meet people.
Go for a Masai village walk here which is quite interesting and insightful. I loved my stay in Arusha and could have used another day to be honest. The food in town is delicious and the views of Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance is stunning as well!
Day 6-8: Serengeti Safari
Having been to a dozen different major game reserves on the continent, the Serengeti is firmly at the number 1 spot. The sheer abundance of wildlife here is stunning as I saw the Big5 within an hour, and the landscape is as picturesque as you can imagine. It’s the first image that comes to mind when you think of a safari. The Lion King movie is based off the Serengeti after all which is perhaps why the Serengeti comes to mind first for so many people.
Like the Masai Mara, the Serengeti is also expensive and the options are few. You can either do a camping safari for budget prices, or spring out for the ultra luxury lodges that can eclipse prices of $2,000 per night. There are various mid range options as well for $250-400 a night which I would highly recommend doing if you can swing it!
I would recommend 2 nights in the Serengeti and 1 night in the Ngorongoro Crater for a total of 4 days and 3 nights for the two parks. The Serengeti is 6-8 hours west of Arusha and the Ngorongoro Crater is 4-5 hours west of Arusha. It is very common to do these two parks on the same trip as they are both along the same road.
Where to stay in the Serengeti: For budget travelers, you will likely be staying at a campsite within the outer ring of the park (still inside the park) as a part of a budget safari tour. For mid range, stay at the Mbalageti Serengeti Camp.
Day 8-9: Ngorongoro Crater
The Ngorongoro crater is next up on the itinerary. This is one of my favorite places in Tanzania and the game viewing is spectacular. It’s much smaller than the Serengeti so one significant game drive is enough to get a feel for the area. Most tours will spent just 1 night in the Ngorongoro crater with a long game drive in the morning.
Due to its size and its crater shape, there are many animals densely packed in allowing for some fantastic game viewing. There are not many options to stay here, and everyone that is camping will be staying at the Ngorongoro Simba Campsite which I found nice enough. If you want something a little nicer that is not camping, try the Rhino Lodge which is about $300 per night.
Where to stay in Ngorongoro Crater: For budget travelers, you’ll likely be staying in the Ngorongoro Simba Campsite. For midrange travelers, I recommend the Pembani Rhotia
Day 10: Getting to Zanzibar from Arusha
From Arusha, there are two ways to get to Zanzibar; take a bus to Dar Es Salaam and then a ferry to Zanzibar, or fly. While the traditional backpacker way would be to take a bus and the ferry, I’m here to say that flying is the much better option.
Firstly, the bus ride from Arusha to Dar Es Salaam is long and arduous. The total journey time is 10-12 hours. Then you’ll have to overnight in Dar Es Salaam or a nearby town before taking the ferry to Zanzibar the following day. There are some cool little towns around Dar Es Salaam like Bagamoyo but it’s not worth the trouble to go all the way there just to stay a night. While the journey by road does offer some fantastic scenery and rustic experiences of the Tanzanian country-side, your precious time is much better spent Zanzibar with just two weeks!
Therefore, I would highly recommend taking a 1 hr flight from Kilimanjaro Airport or Arusha Airport to Zanzibar. Numerous airlines make the flight (Air Tanzania, Precision Air, ZanAir). These flights cost $100-$150 for a one way flight from Kilimanjaro and slightly more from Arusha.
For comparison, the bus from Arusha to Dar Es Salaam is $25. You’ll also need to pay to get to the bus station in Arusha and then to get to your guesthouse when you arrive in Dar Es Salaam, so add another $15 to that price and you get $40 for the bus transfer. The ferry from Dar Es Salaam to Zanzibar is $35 one way so the total cost to get from Arusha to Zanzibar is at least $75 USD.
That’s not a big savings when you compare it to a flight!
Day 10-15: Stone Town and Zanzibar
The last part of the trip is enjoying the culture and pristine beaches of Zanzibar. You can’t go wrong with any itinerary in Zanzibar to be honest but do know that the island itself is very large and getting around is expensive. Having a plan of attack is definitely necessary. With 5 nights, you can adequately explore a bit of the island.
Stone Town, Zanzibar City
Stone Town is the starting point for most visitors to Zanzibar. It’s the largest city on Zanzibar Island and is one of the most fascinating cities in Africa. It reminds me a bit of Ilha De Mozambique. Spices from all around the world were brought to Zanzibar in the old days and are harvested to this day. It’s also a giant melting pot of cultures as African, Arabian, and Indian all converge on one island. The result is some incredibly unique and delicious food.
There are no nice beaches in Stone Town but the food and cultural experience alone is worth at least a night. If you’re looking for a budget trip to Zanzibar, I would stay 2 nights in Stone Town to explore the markets, go on a Spice Tour, and visit the historic sites like the slave markets. Then spend 3 nights in a beach destination like Nungwi or Kendwa
Beaches in Zanzibar
Zanzibar is perhaps known for two things: Pristine Indian ocean beaches and the birthplace of Freddy Mercury. Focusing on the beaches part, Zanzibar has a long coastline of turquoise waters and white sandy beaches. The resorts are scattered all along Zanzibar’s coast with the highest concentration on the eastern part of the island.
The whole Eastern side of the island is one long atoll reef. Like the Quirimbas Archipelago in Mozambique, the tide movements are quite drastic. In the mornings, it’s possible to walk out a half kilometer on the sandy beach.
Zanzibar has fantastic scuba diving and snorkeling, as well as a myriad of other water activities on tap like kitesurfing, windsurfing, the Safari Blue day trip, and the ultra famous Rock Restaurant.
Where to stay in Zanzibar: For budget travelers, Garden Beach Bungalows, Sagando, and Paje hotels can be booked for under $50/night. For a slightly better experience, I’d recommend Queen of Sheba, Zanzistar, and Mnana Beach Bungalows. You can find rooms at these mid-range accommodations for around $100 a night.
For a higher price range, stay at the Dreams of Zanzibar Hotel in the Northeast area of Kiwengwa. You can get an all inclusive stay for 2 people for $300-350 a night. The food here was absolutely fantastic and the rooms were a treat especially after 10 days of (not so difficult) camping.
Kenya and Tanzania Two week Itinerary Day by Day breakdown
Here is a day by day breakdown of my two week Kenya and Tanzania itinerary.
Day 1 – Nairobi: Explore Nairobi
Day 2 – Nairobi to Masai Mara: Early morning transfer to the Masai Mara, afternoon game drive
Day 3 – Masai Mara: Full day game drive
Day 4 – Masai Mara to Nairobi: Morning game drive, transfer back to Nairobi
Day 5 – Nairobi to Arusha: Transfer to Arusha by bus
Day 6 – Arusha to Serengeti: Early morning transfer to the Serengeti, afternoon game drive
Day 7 – Serengeti: Full day game drive
Day 8 – Serengeti to Ngorongoro Crater: Morning Serengeti game drive, afternoon transfer to Ngorongoro crater
Day 9 – Ngorongoro Crater to Arusha: Morning game drive in the Ngorongoro crater, transfer back to Arusha in the afternoon
Day 10 – Arusha to Zanzibar: Flight on Air Tanzania or Precision Air to Zanzibar, stay in Stone Town, night markets exploration
Day 11 – Stone Town: Full day in Stone Town, Spicy Tour, explore night markets
Day 12 – Stone Town to Nungwi: Early morning transfer to the north of Zanzibar, Beach time
Day 13 – Nungwi: Beach
Day 14 – Nungwi: Beach stay in Zanzibar
Day 15 – Nungwi: Beach stay in Zanzibar
Day 16 – Fly Home
Luxury Travel Itinerary For Kenya and Tanzania
Luxury travel around Kenya and Tanzania is a whole different ballgame. You may as well disregard everything above this section! If you’re going on a honeymoon or if money is of no object (or both), this is the itinerary for you.
There will be no 7 hour car rides or waiting 2 hours at the border for no reason other than it just being Africa. No tents with sleeping bags, and certainly no drop toilets. For luxury safari seekers, this is the perfect itinerary for you. Note that it is of course possible to combine elements of a luxury trip with a more budget trip, it all just depends on how much money you want to spend.
Flying everywhere in Kenya and Tanzania
Believe it or not, there are actually flights from Nairobi to the Masai Mara, the Mara to the Serengeti, the Serengeti to Ngorongoro Crater, and from the crater to Arusha or Kilimanjaro. Technically, you do not need to take any bus rides in Kenya and Tanzania if you don’t want to. Not a single one! Safari Link is a charter airline that flies within Kenya to all the little airstrips in the Masai Mara. Coastal Aviation is its counterpart in Tanzania.
Fly from Nairobi to the Masai Mara
Instead of the grueling 7 hour drive from Nairobi to the Masai Mara, take a flight with Safari Link airlines instead. From Nairobi, there are two daily flights to the Masai Mara. Your lodge will pick you up from the airstrip when you arrive. Expect to pay around $200 USD for a one way flight.
Fly from the Masai Mara to the Serengeti
This one is a bit trickier. There are no direct roads leading from the Mara to the Serengeti even though it might look like it does on a map. For the average traveler, getting from the Masai mara to the Serengeti involves going back to Nairobi, taking a bus to Arusha, and then a transfer to the Serengeti the following day. All in all, about 2 full days of travel.
Alternatively, you can fly from the Masai Mara back to Nairobi, and take another flight to Kilimanjaro Airport. Kilimanjaro airport is the larger more central airport in Tanzania (about 1 hour east of Arusha). There are multiple daily flights from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro airport. From Kilimanjaro Airport, take a land transfer to the Serengeti (7-8 hours).
This is all a lot of work. There must be a way to just fly direct from the Masai Mara to the Serengeti right? The answer is yes.
Coastal Aviation in conjunction with Safari Link offers flights between the two reserves. From the Masai Mara, take a Safari Link flight to Migori Airstrip, which is the border town of Kenya and Tanzania. From Migori, you’ll take a car transfer to Tarime, Tanzania which is included in the price of the airfare. Similar to crossing the Peru-Bolivia border, Safari link can only operate in Kenya and Coastal Aviation only in Tanzania.
From Tarime, take the Coastal Aviation flight to Arusha. There are numerous airstrips within the Serengeti where different ultra luxury lodges reside, and this Coastal Aviation flight stops at each of them like a bus.
Fly from the Serengeti to the Ngorongoro Crater
Continue with Coastal Aviation and take the flight to Lake Manyara where your lodge in the Ngorongoro crater will pick you up. It’s a 1 hour car transfer from Lake Manyara airport to the Ngorongoro Crater.
Fly from the Ngorongoro Crater to Zanzibar
From Lake Manyara, take Coastal Aviation to Arusha or Kilimanjaro. Both airports offer regular daily transfers to Zanzibar. You also don’t need to continue flying with Coastal Aviation if you don’t want but it might be easier just to continue with them all the way to Zanzibar.
Luxury Lodge Options in Kenya and Tanzania
There are so many expensive lodging options that anyone not planning a luxury trip will be sad to read this section. You have been warned. I will list the options by luxury ($350-$1,000 a night for two people) and ultra luxury (Over $1,000 a night for two people).
Note that the Serengeti is absolutely massive and if you are targeting a visit during the migration months, I would recommend staying in the Northern section of the Serengeti. This is where all the action will be as the herds migrate from the Serengeti into the Masai Mara.
Giraffe Manor – World famous lodge outside of Nairobi where you can have breakfast and feed giraffes directly outside your window. Perhaps the most Instagram worth place on the entire trip!
- Neptune Mara Lodge
- Sand River Lodge
- Sekenani Camp
- Governor’s camp
- Entumoto Safari Camp
- Amani Mara Camp
Masai Mara – Ultra Luxury Lodges
- Angama Mara Lodge
- andBeyond Kitchwa Tembo Tented Camp
- andBeyond Bateleur Camp
- Ngerende in the Wild
- Mahali Mzuri – Sir Richard Branson’s Kenyan Safari Camp
- Great Plains Conservation Mara Plains Camp
Serengeti – Luxury Lodges
- Nomad Serengeti Camp
- Nasikia Migration Mobile Camp
- Serengeti Simba Lodge
- Grumeti Migration Camp
- Mara Under Canvas Tented Camp
Serengeti – Ultra Luxury Lodges
- Any of the Singita Lodges
- Any of the Lemala Lodges
- Any of the Lamai Lodges
- andBeyond Serengeti Under Canvas
- andBeyond Grumeti Tented Camp
- andBeyond Klein’s Camp
- Ngorongoro Serena Lodge
- Oldeani Mountain Lodge
- Neptune luxury lodge
Ngorongoro Crater – Ultra Luxury Lodges
- andBeyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge
- Lemala Ngorongoro Lodge
Luxury Travel Two Week Kenya and Tanzania Day by Day Breakdown
The luxury tour differs from the budget tour itinerary because you have an extra two days by not having to drive anywhere. In addition, one night is added for Nairobi to stay at the Giraffe Manor and another night is added for the Ngorongoro Crater.
Day 1 – Nairobi: Giraffe Manor Lodge
Day 2 – Nairobi: Giraffe Manor Lodge
Day 3 – Nairobi to Masai Mara: Flight from Nairobi to Masai Mara, afternoon game drive
Day 4 – Masai Mara: Full day in Masai Mara
Day 5 – Masai Mara to Serengeti: Morning game drive, transfer to Migori Airport at 11:30, take a car transfer to Tarime, Tanzania and take the Coastal Aviation flight to the Serengeti. Arrive in time for an afternoon game drive
Day 6 – Serengeti: Full day in Serengeti
Day 7 – Serengeti: Full day in Serengeti
Day 8 – Serengeti to Ngorongoro Crater: Morning Serengeti game drive, Coastal Aviation flight to Lake Manyara, Lake Manyara car transfer to the Ngorongoro Crater
Day 9 – Ngorongoro Crater: Full Day in Ngorongoro Crater
Day 10 – Ngorongoro Crater to Zanzibar: Morning game drive in the Ngorongoro Crater, flight from Lake Manyara to Arusha to Zanzibar
Day 11 – Zanzibar: Full day in Stone Town, Spicy Tour, explore night markets
Day 12 – Zanzibar: Early morning transfer to the north of Zanzibar, Beach time
Day 13 – Zanzibar: Beach
Day 14 – Zanzibar: Beach stay in Zanzibar
Day 15 – Zanzibar: Beach stay in Zanzibar
Day 16 – Fly Home