As two of the most iconic safari destinations on Earth, both Kenya and Tanzania are home to an abundance of wildlife. Together, the neighbouring East African countries form the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem – one of the world’s largest protected areas, spanning approximately 30,000 square kilometres.
While the countries share similar climates, wildlife species, vegetation, and opportunities to witness the Great Migration; they are also each characterized by unique wildlife spectacles and world-renowned landscapes. Ensuring that a visit to either country is equally as satisfying and yet different to the other.
In this article:
- Great Wildebeest Migration: Kenya vs Tanzania
- Best National parks of Tanzania
- National parks of Kenya
- Budgeting for Kenya vs Tanzania
- Best time to visit Tanzania and Best time to visit Kenya
Witnessing The Great Migration – Kenya or Tanzania?
The rolling grasslands of Kenya and Tanzania are most famously known for the Great Migration. Arguably, timing your trip to coincide with witnessing this unimaginably spectacular event is of paramount importance.
Understanding the pattern of the migration will help you decide where you’d like to witness it most. In general, the migration tends to be in Tanzania in the Southern Serengeti for the calving season from February to mid-March. From June-July, the herds can be spotted in the park’s Western Corridor as they gather near the Grumeti River.
From August-September, the grazers move into the Northern Serengeti and Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. During this season you have the chance of witnessing the famous river crossings across the crocodile-infested Mara River. The sweeping herds then head back down to the Southern Serengeti, and the cycle starts again.
Calving season in the Serengeti – Late January-February
As the migration slows down, the calving season in the Serengeti offers the safari experience of a lifetime. Not only does this time of year give you the chance to witness the wildebeest drop their young, but also brings with it an unprecedented opportunity for predator sightings.
With up to 8,000 calves being born each day, many travellers rate the calving season as the greatest spectacle of the Serengeti. The calves are quick to their feet, standing within a few minutes of being born and learn to run within a few days.
With lurking big cats looking to strike when the herds are most vulnerable, the calving season ushers in a high concentration of predators to the Southern Serengeti and Western Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
As the grasses of the Southern Serengeti become depleted, the herds then make their way back to the Masai Mara.
Famous Mara River Crossings – August and September
From August-September, the grazers move into the Northern Serengeti and Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. Here they face the daunting challenge of crossing the notorious Mara River.
The best time to witness this iconic event is generally in August. It is important to note, however, that the exact time the herds cross the river is very unpredictable – not even the wildebeest themselves know! The nervous herds often spend anything from hours to days along the bank before they pluck up the courage to face the crocodile-infested waters, strong currents and looming predators on the other side of the river.
The river also has many crossing points into Kenya so having the knowledge of an experienced safari guide is highly recommended. After the herd cross the Mara River, Kenya is the best place to continue to see them until they head back to the Serengeti once more.
Besides the Great Migration, there are other world-renowned aspects of both Kenya and Tanzania discussed below that will help you choose where to travel to for your dream African safari:
Exploring Tanzania – Main Attractions and Iconic National Parks
As Tanzania’s conservation centrepiece, the Serengeti is home to one of the world’s densest wildlife populations. Serengeti is a local Masaai word that is used to describe endless plains – a perfect depiction of the park’s rolling golden grasslands.
While the main attraction of the Serengeti is the Wildebeest Migration, the park is an all-year-round safari destination with ample opportunity to spot the Big Five.
Nestled below a heavily forested 600m volcanic rim is a wildlife wonderland that offers some of Tanzania’s best and most reliable safari sightings. Before the iconic volcano erupted, it stood taller than the mighty Mt Kilimanjaro itself. The top of the ancient volcanic cone collapsed after the loss of its underlying body of magma and ultimately formed what is now recognized as the largest inactive caldera on earth.
In the rush to see the Serengeti and its famous Ngorongoro neighbour, Lake Manyara can easily be overlooked. Conveniently located on the road from the town of Arusha to Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara offers a magical stop for traveller’s looking to explore the more popular parks on the Northern Safari Circuit.
The park takes up a mere 330 square kilometres of which 230 square kilometres are covered by the shallow alkaline lake. The rest of the landscape boasts a remarkable mix of floodplains, acacia woodlands, and forests that supports an equally impressive variety of wildlife. Most notable is the park’s large elephant population, resident baboons and black-maned tree-climbing lions. The lake is also home to thousands of pink flamingos and over 400 bird species.
As one of the untouched gems of Tanzania, Tarangire National Park sees fewer visitors than other parks on the Northern Safari Circuit. In stark contrast to the small crowds of tourists is the park’s teeming wildlife population that at the right time of year is believed to deliver some of the best game-viewing in Tanzania.
Not only does it tick off the classic safari sightings that every visitor hopes to see, but offers some unusual species to spot as well – like the long-necked gerenuk. With 550 species to encounter, Tarangire is a veritable bird-watching paradise.
Off-the-Grid National Parks
The lesser-visited national parks of Tanzania are hidden gems that offer some of the country’s most sought-after safari sightings. The mostly inaccessible tracks that lead to Katavi, Mahale Mountains, Selous and Ruaha National Park have deterred crowds of tourists and concealed some of Africa’s best-kept safari secrets.
As Tanzania’s third largest park, Katavi National Park is comprised of approximately 4,471 square kilometres of everything from open grasslands and forests to floodplains and seasonal lakes. As these floodplains retreat during the dry season, the sight of hippos by their hundreds cramming into dwindling pools is one of the main attractions of the park.
What makes Mahale Mountains National Park especially unique is that it does not boast the usual Tanzanian safari suspects such as lions and elephants. Instead, it is famously known for offering an enthralling opportunity to trek and get up close with its world-renowned population of chimpanzees.
Selous National Park holds the title as Africa’s largest game reserve and is nearly four times the size of the Serengeti. The park’s stand-out features include its resident Big Five population and the mighty Rufiji River that fills the landscape with interconnected lakes. Unlike Tanzania’s other parks, Selous offers the unique opportunity to experience guided walks and fly-camping.
Home to sweeping herds of antelope, all-conquering prides of large carnivores, elephant families that churn up the river beds, as well as a vibrant bird population – the Ruaha National Park is one of our planet’s last remaining vestiges for nature in its rawest form. The park’s unparalleled predator sightings and resident lion population has put Ruaha in the spotlight in recent years.
Exploring Kenya – Main Attractions and Iconic Parks
Masai Mara National Reserve
Holding a similar status as the Serengeti in Tanzania is Kenya’s flagship conservation area – the Masai Mara National Reserve. While the park is most famously known for the role it plays in the Great Migration, it is also home to safari heavyweights like the Big Five and is especially popular for its big cat sightings.
Amboseli National Park
With only the Masai Mara outshining the park in terms of popularity, the Amboseli National Park is one of Kenya’s main drawcards. Amboseli boasts an impressive population of elephants and is the only safari destination in Kenya that offers unparalleled views of the snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro.
Nairobi National Park
As Kenya’s capital and the starting point of most safaris, a stop in Nairobi is almost inevitable. Contrasting the bustling city centre is the opportunity for a peaceful safari retreat set against the backdrop of skyscrapers.
In Nairobi itself is the famous Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage and the world-renowned Giraffe Manor. Just outside of the town is the Nairobi National Park – home to everything from lions and giraffes to an impressive 550 species of birds.
Samburu National Reserve
Nestled on the edge of the Ewaso Ngiro River is the Samburu National Reserve. With its diverse mix of grassland and forests, the reserve attracts all the big cats, huge herds of elephants and even a rare species of wild dog.
A major highlight is the ‘Samburu Big 5’ – a unique list of animals that aren’t found in the more popular reserves of Kenya. Adding a thrill to every Samburu safari is the chance to spot the Grevy’s zebra, the long-necked gerenu, reticulated giraffe, besia oryx and Somali ostrich.
A Private Safari Experience
One of the most authentic ways to experience the African wilderness is by visiting private game reserves and conservancies. Far-removed from the fleet of safari vehicles is an opportunity to encounter wildlife in its truest and most untainted form.
Kenya boasts an array of popular conservancies. The Mara Conservancies are pieces of land that have been set aside next to the Masai Mara National Reserve – far removed from the crowds that flock to this area during the wildebeest river crossings. Other popular private reserves in Kenya include Selenkay Conservancy, Ol Kinyei Conservancy, Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Naboisho Conservancy, Olare Motorogi Conservancy and the rugged Laikipia.
If you’re looking for a unique safari experience, most private conservancies usually offer the added adventure of signing up for a walking or nighttime safari.
Is Kenya or Tanzania Better for Your Budget?
With its great investment in the tourism industry and wide range of options when it comes to accommodation and flights, Kenya is generally more budget-friendly. With Kenya being a wealthier country than Tanzania, it is better equipped with airports, transport, hotels and guest houses. However, we have created a guide for enjoying Tanzania on a budget.
Both countries offer great off-season deals, however, and various accommodation options to suit your budget best. While the sky is the limit for both countries when it comes to organizing luxury safari packages, these can be easily avoided.
If budget isn’t the issue but rather safety, you’ll be happy to discover that both countries have a low crime rate against tourists. Precautions should always be taken, however, especially in the major cities like Nairobi, Mombasa and Dar es Salaam.
Best Time of Year to Visit Kenya or Tanzania
Kenya and Tanzania share similar climates that are notably marked by the wet and dry season:
Dry Season – Best Time for Safaris
The best and most popular time to visit Tanzania and Kenya is generally from mid-June to October. As East Africa’s dry season, this time of year has the most predictable weather and provides ideal safari conditions.
While early mornings and evenings might be cold, the temperature during this season is fairly predictable. Thermometer readings are often around 23°C/73°F, reaching a high of 28°C/82°F in the coastal areas.
Wet Season – Best Off-Season Deals
The dry landscapes of Tanzania and Kenya are transformed into a lush, green wonderland in the wet season. Temperatures increase during this period and usually range between 24°C/75°F and 27°C/81°F, reaching highs of 30°C/86°F along the coast. There are two types of rainy periods in this season:
Short rains (November-December): Afternoon thunderstorms are often expected to take place, but safaris are unlikely to be impacted. For this reason, the short rainy season is still considered an excellent time to plan a trip to Tanzania or Kenya.
Long rains (March-April): The long rains usher in the peak of the wet season. While it may still be a good time to visit Tanzania or Kenya, your trip will be impacted by the amount of rain and the type of conditions the area receives that year. Tourists who find hot, humid conditions unpleasant should preferably avoid this season.
If you’re up for an adventure, there are major advantages of travelling here during this time. Prices are reduced dramatically and with crowds being dispersed – you’ll have thrilling wildlife sightings all to yourself.
Read our article about the best time to visit Kenya or Tanzania.