For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to go on an African safari and see some of this world’s most majestic animals in the wild.
I think this particular trip must have been my #1 bucket list item for 20 years or more!
Sure, you can go and see most of these animals in the zoo.
But, trust me. It really just isn’t the same.
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The feeling of getting up close and personal with these beautiful, wild animals in their natural habitat is incredible!
(Well, not too close and personal!! But, we’ll come to that…)
Now, let’s get one main thing out of the way first: Going on an African safari is not cheap…
You’re going to need to do it with a guide. Or, more likely, with a tour company. Which costs money.
But, trust me when I say it is sooo worth it!
We opted for an 8 day camping safari with Intrepid Travel, followed by a week on the beaches of Zanzibar. All of it was just incredible!
We organised our own flights and accommodation in Zanzibar, which was easy enough to do. But, we were glad to have gone with a reputable company for the safari.
African Safari Top Tips
There are a few things to bear in mind when considering whether going on an African safari (especially a camping safari) is right for you.
Hopefully, the following top tips will help you with your decision!
1. Expect Long Days – Early mornings are often the best time to see the animals active. In the heat of the day, they’ll be a lot less mobile as they’ll be sleeping and lying low. Be prepared to get up early if you want to tick the “Big Five” off your list!
2. Have Patience – This is Africa. Roads are rough and travel takes time. We had a flat tyre. The truck overheated and wouldn’t start. We lost a jerry can with spare diesel that we had to go back for.
Yes, hopefully you will get to see lots of animals, but they’re not going to be lining up to have their photos taken.
Finding them in the first place will take time too, and you may not see every animal you were hoping for. While we didn’t get to see a rhino on our trip for example, that didn’t take away from the incredible experience we had!
3. Be Kind – If you go on a group safari like we did, there will likely be a range of personalities to deal with. Not everyone is going to become your best friend, and that’s ok. Enjoy it, have a laugh, and be nice to your fellow traveller!
4. Be Willing To Pull Your Weight – If you do a camping safari like us, you’ll have a cook who looks after mealtimes. But, everyone’s expected to chip in and help with setting up camp, meal prep, washing up and cleaning out the truck.
These are minor tasks, which won’t take long, but it helps make the trip enjoyable and manageable for everyone!
5. Stay Hydrated – Your truck is going to have plenty of large containers with safe drinking water. Make sure you bring a water bottle that you can refill, since you’ll get hot on your African safari!
6. Consider Your Wardrobe – Be sure to bring light and plain coloured clothing. You don’t want to be wearing bright pink on safari when looking for wildlife… Oh, and, wear a hat!
7. Bring a Warm Sleeping Bag – Yes, this is Africa and yes, it gets HOT during the day. But! It gets super cold overnight in the Serengeti, so make sure you have a decent sleeping bag that will keep you warm! There really is nothing worse than a poor night’s sleep.
8. Stay Safe and Listen – You’re going to get up close and personal with wild animals. You’ll be briefed by your guide but use your common sense and always heed the advice from your guide!
9. Be Prepared To Switch Off – You’ll likely go without WiFi and decent reception for a good portion of your trip. Enjoy it! Switch off and experience everything Africa has to offer!
10. Vaccinations – We had to get quite a few vaccinations and boosters for our trip to Tanzania. The main thing to remember is that the government of Tanzania requires proof of yellow fever vaccination on arrival, depending on where you’re coming from. Your doctor should be able to advise you ahead of time.
Malaria precautions are also necessary – ensure you use good insect repellent and take malaria tablets as advised by your doctor.
Nairobi – Kenya
Our trip got off to a slightly shaky start as we flew in to Nairobi, Kenya only days after Jomo Kenyatta International Airport burned down!!
But, they actually had the whole situation amazingly under control and in reality, the taxi drive to our hotel in Nairobi was more stressful than dealing with customs in a tent! (The rules of the road in Nairobi seem… flexible… at best…)
Note that you’ll likely need a visa to enter Kenya. We were able to do this on arrival, although (depending on your passport) you may also be able to apply ahead of time.
The processing on arrival was quick and painless, despite the whole tent situation!
The visa charge is $51 regardless of whether you do it on arrival or ahead of time.
As we only had one night in Nairobi, we didn’t get the opportunity to explore the city. We stayed at the Kivi Milimani Hotel, where our African safari tour with Intrepid Travel started. The hotel was nothing fancy, but perfectly adequate for a night pre-departure.
Heading To Lake Victoria – Tanzania
We headed off west towards Lake Victoria early on Day Two.
The next two days were pretty long days of driving but it was great to get our first glimpse of the African countryside.
We stopped off to take in the amazing views of the Great Rift Valley, and saw tea plantations, rural villages and markets, and met some sweet kids from a local orphanage while we stopped for lunch.
We spent a bit longer than anticipated at the Kisii soapstone carving cooperative, as this is one of the times we had some engine trouble…
Like I said, patience is important!
But, we loved seeing the skilled workers creating amazing hand carved stone items and beautifully painted plates and bowls. It’s safe to say we picked up a few souvenirs here!
We camped on the shores of Lake Victoria on the second night.
Lake Victoria is the largest tropical lake in the world, sharing its shores with Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
It truly did feel tropical, and after the heat and dust of driving through rural Africa for two days, it was a welcome change!
Kenya – Tanzania Border Crossing
The border crossing between Kenya and Tanzania is nothing to worry about.
Yes, it can be hectic and it can take a bit of time but it was fairly painless and your guide will walk you through the process.
In reality, the whole process shouldn’t take more than an hour.
Serengeti National Park – Tanzania
We camped in the Serengeti for two nights. Not surprisingly, this was my absolute favourite part of the whole trip!
The campsite did have toilets and (cold) showers, but in reality, it was pretty basic.
There were no fences around the camp so we were literally right in the middle of it all.
The highlight (?!) or certainly the most memorable part of our stay in the Serengeti national park happened on the second evening…
We’d had dinner and others from the group were trundling off their tents to sleep as we were getting up early the next morning for another game drive.
My husband and I stayed on a little longer by the campfire with our guide, finding out a bit more about life in Tanzania, drinking cups of tea and enjoying the crackling of the fire.
Suddenly the driver starts shouting and waving his arms frantically.
Our guide jumps up and yells for us to get on the bus!!
Bewildered, we do as we’re told, not understanding what’s suddenly changed.
Some of the others who heard the commotion poked their heads out of their tents to see what was going on.
“Lions!!! Stay where you are! Get back in your tents!”
It turned out that a tribe of 17 lions were coming into our camp…!
The water for the showers and toilets had been refilled a little earlier that night (there’s no running water out there in the Serengeti… The toilets and showers run off big tanks on top of the buildings that are refilled regularly).
The lions could smell the water and came looking for it.
Dry season and all that…
Looking out the windows of the bus into the darkness, we could see a long row of glowing eyes circling around the camp only meters from where we’d been sitting seconds before.
As I mentioned, make sure you listen to your guides – they are the experts and your safety will be their primary concern.
We were told not to use the toilet that night while it was dark… Understandably…. The lions decided to hang around and camp nearby that night.
So, I got to do my nature call near the bus with a hyena watching me instead… Fun times!
Surprisingly perhaps, I wasn’t scared at all and slept like a baby that night!
Unlike some of the others… Apparently some of the lions had a good hunt and killed a buffalo not far from our campsite during the night.
I’m not entirely sure if it’s a good thing or not, but I didn’t hear a peep!
Then again, I’ve slept through a pretty serious earthquake too so… Ha!
Anyway, we saw animals.
A lot of animals.
Up close, and further away.
All of it was incredible!!!
We saw a whole herd of elephants with young ones hiding behind the adults’ ginormous legs.
We saw lions lazing under trees.
We saw two cheetahs chasing down a gazelle in a David Attenborough documentary-worthy episode.
We saw zebras. So many zebras!
Monkeys, warthogs, buffalos, hippos, and beautiful, graceful giraffes….
Honestly, as cliche as it sounds, this really was a dream come true for me!!
Ngorongoro Crater – Tanzania
After exiting the Serengeti National Park, enjoying a leisurely game drive on the way out, we camped overnight on the Ngorongoro Crater’s edge.
With little sleep, mind.
Did you know that grazing zebras sound like zips being opened and closed really loudly!?
The zebras were roaming around freely and clearly the grass right by our tents was the greenest and juiciest of all…
Driving into the crater the next day, we drove past Maasai tribes people herding goats and were treated to a spectacular view of the crater lake.
The Serengeti was awesome.
But, nothing could have fully prepared me for the breathtaking wildebeest migration in the Ngorongoro Crater.
Even though we weren’t there in the midst of the migration, we still got a sense of the general spectacle.
And… Just… Wow!
In the Ngorongoro Crater, we also spotted ostriches, flamingos, buzzards/birds of prey and other birds. Plus, many of the animals we also spotted in the Serengeti National Park.
With the Ngorongoro Crater being home to some 30,000 animals, you’re likely to get a pretty decent game drive in!
Plus, another highlight… (There were so many!!)
We were treated to a close up with a mama lion with her two baby cubs! They seemed totally unbothered about all of us watching them go about their business. I guess the animals in the Ngorongoro Crater are wild but with the amount of people coming in each day, they’re probably quite used to us humans by now.
Zanzibar – Tanzania – Beach (and Culture) Time!
We hopped off our tour in Arusha on the last day, rather than circling all the way back to Nairobi.
In Arusha, we made our way to the tiniest of tiny airports!!
Our little (Precision Air) propellor plane took us safely to Zanzibar, where we stayed a night in Stone town before heading to the coast for some sun and relaxation.
Stone Town – Zanzibar
Before we left for Africa, I had decided it would be nice to stay in Stone Town for a night after our week on safari, before heading off for some luxury beach time.
To be honest, after a week of “roughing it” on a camping safari, we secretly wished we hadn’t booked the night in Stone Town after all. But, as soon as we arrived at the House of Spices, we immediately changed our minds.
What a Gem!!
I really can’t recommend the House of Spices enough. We could very happily have stayed there for longer than just one night.
The owners were genuinely lovely people and extremely helpful. They organised a taxi to pick us up from the airport, and ensured the driver walked us through the maze of winding streets to the guesthouse.
Top Tip: The old part of Stone Town is only accessible on foot, so I would highly recommend that you have your driver walk you to your accommodation to avoid getting lost.
Once you start exploring Stone Town, though, you’ll find your way soon enough.
Stone Town felt like a complete change from what we had experienced on safari the week before.
With its eclectic mix of Arab, Indian and European influences, it can be easy to forget you’re technically still in Tanzania!
It’s easy to spend hours just wandering around the narrow streets, peeking into hidden courtyards and photographing the elaborately carved double “Zanzibar doors.”
Top Tip: Do be prepared to be woken up by the early morning prayers at the nearby mosques.
Food & Drink
After exploring Stone Town on foot, we took advantage of the “Tea Room” at the back of the House of Spices. Just as in the main part of the House of Spices guesthouse, the Tea Room is beautifully decorated in vibrant colours.
Along with the local coffee, we happily made use of the free WiFi that is available in the Tea Room as there is no internet elsewhere in the guesthouse.
In the evening, we enjoyed a glass of wine at the House of Spices’ roof-top bar, and then moved to the restaurant which served delicious pizza from their wood fire oven (although there are plenty of other choices besides pizza too).
The setting alone should be enough to encourage people to eat here.
After spending the day in the hustle and bustle of Stone Town’s maze of streets, the rooftop restaurant was peaceful and cozy.
In the morning we had breakfast at the same roof-top restaurant which was included in the overnight stay.
Honestly, the whole stay was ridiculously great value!
We were blown away by the luxurious array of food presented to us. Fresh fruits, fresh orange juice, croissants, pancakes, eggs cooked to your liking, bread, coffee…
Kiwengwa – Zanzibar
The lovely couple from the House of Spices organised another taxi for us to take us to the Melia Zanzibar in Kiwengwa on the north-east coast.
The taxi ride should cost you around $40-50. Make sure you haggle with your driver! And, ensure you agree a price before you head off as taxis here don’t run on meters.
We stayed in a garden room at the Melia Zanzibar for six nights, on an all-inclusive basis.
If your intention is to stay at the resort to relax, swim and sunbathe, I would strongly recommend that you do go for the all-inclusive package as there are no other options for eating anywhere nearby.
We really couldn’t have been happier with the beautiful room. To this day we still feel like this is one of the best hotel rooms we’ve ever stayed in, even though it was the cheapest room category at the Melia Zanzibar.
The bathroom was probably even bigger than the bedroom! And each day, housekeeping decorated the room with flower petals and cute towel art.
To get down to the beach, which is a little further away, the hotel offers golf-cart shuttles which go to and from very regularly. The tides are pretty extreme here though, so we opted to spend most of our time at the beautiful infinity pool.
I will say, however, that the Indian Ocean is stunning!!
And, while the extreme tides aren’t ideal for swimming, they make for pretty spectacular photos.
NOTE: Please be aware that there may still be a departure tax at Zanzibar airport, which is NOT included in your ticket. We were taken completely by surprise, so make sure you leave some cash for this!
At the time, if you were flying domestically (e.g. to Dar Es Salaam) the price was US$8 per person.
Internationally (e.g. to Nairobi), the departure tax was US$48 per person.
What type of holiday person are you? Do you prefer to be active and explore the area you’re visiting, or are you more of a relax by the pool with a cocktail kind of person?
I’m a bit of both, and our African Safari and Beach Holiday combo trip in Tanzania was simply perfect!
If you’re considering a trip like this, all I can say is go for it!