When it comes to picking a destination for an African safari, for most first timers it usually boils down to a simple two-way choice: Kenya vs Tanzania. These two countries are the joint kings of the safari adventure; both have huge open savannas full of astonishing wildlife and accommodation to suit all styles and budgets, so if you’ve never been to either, choosing whether to base your safari in Kenya or Tanzania can be tough.
And don’t get me started on the non-safari attractions! Both countries have so much more to offer than just wildlife-spotting. With pristine white sandy beaches, turquoise seas, culture, landscapes and mountains to climb, both Kenya and Tanzania are dream travel destinations. So how do you choose between them?
Well, one way to decide is to ask non-biased experts for advice. So I put the call out to travel bloggers and travel writers who have visited both countries, and asked them whether they would recommend Kenya or Tanzania. And here’s what they said…
Where to go for wildlife
Both Kenya and Tanzania are famed for their wildlife, and have plenty to offer. I’ve been on safari in both countries, and while they’re equally spectacular I find Kenya more alluring for wildlife.
Even though Tanzania has one of the most well known national parks in the world, Serengeti National Park, Kenya’s efforts for wildlife conservation far surpass that of Tanzania. According to the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association, there are 160 conservancies in Kenya covering 6.63 million hectares. Kenya is also home to 24 National Parks, compared to Tanzania’s 19, one of which – Nairobi National Park – is the only National Park in the world located next to a major city.
One of these conservancies is Ol Pejeta in Central Kenya’s Laikipia County. What makes this conservancy special is it’s the home to the last two Northern White Rhinos in the world, Fatu and Najin. They are kept under 24-hour surveillance and there are efforts to save the species using IVF. Ol Pejeta is also East Africa’s largest black rhino sanctuary and home to The Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, a refuge for chimpanzees rescued from the black market.
The Great Migration is a draw to both Kenya and Tanzania, but the best place to view it is in Kenya’s Maasai Mara. This is where the wildebeest cross the Mara River in droves making for a true National Geographic moment for visitors.
By Retha Charette from Roaming Nanny
Read more: Behind The Scenes On Safari In Tanzania
Kenya vs Tanzania: the national parks
When it comes to Kenya vs Tanzania, there is no wrong choice. Both countries are beautiful and have so much to see and do. We spent a week in Tanzania and two weeks in Kenya, but I would go back to either one of them right away if I could.
If you are choosing between safari options, I have to give the slight edge to Kenya. Tanzania has the Serengeti, but Kenya has the Maasai Mara. Both are part of the same territory – you can actually stand on the line between the two countries where the park splits and it changes names. Choosing which country to visit may depend on when you want to go, as the animals are free to roam throughout both parks. We ended up seeing the wildebeest migration and Mara River crossing in Kenya since we visited during the time of year when they were in the Maasai Mara.
The other park we loved in Tanzania was Ngorongoro Crater. This natural caldera with steep sides keeps the animals contained all-year round, so they’re easy to spot. It was the park where we saw the most adult male lions which helped, but even though there is no guarantee you’ll see lions, it definitely should be on your bucket list.
In Kenya two of our other favourites were Amboseli and Samburu parks. Amboseli is said to be the inspiration for the scenery featured in The Lion King and went on my bucket list as soon as I saw that film. From here you can see Kilimanjaro towering over the elephants, which makes for an incredible sight. Amboseli is special because of the range of unique animals found only in that park. While most people know the traditional Big Five, Samburu also has its own Big Five to try to spot.
If you have some extra time in Kenya, make sure to also visit Hell’s Gate Gorge. This landscape inspired the scene in The Lion King where the wildebeest stampede, and you can hike down into the gorge. You have to worry more about flash flooding than wildebeests here though.
If I have to pick an overall winner, I would probably pick Kenya. We did see more of the country, so there is a little bit of an unfair advantage, but I loved the variety in all the parks we visited and exploring some of the things to do in and around Nairobi as well. However, if the Great Migration is in Tanzania while you are visiting, I would let that be the deciding factor.
By Christine Wheeler from Live Love Run Travel
Non-safari things to do
When it comes to non-safari activities to enjoy in Kenya or Tanzania, there are two main options which are both fantastic: visit the coast or hike a mountain.
In Tanzania the main non-safari attraction is Mount Kilimanjaro – known as ‘the roof of Africa’. Kilimanjaro is a bucket list item for many serious hikers and attempting to climb this giant really is a serious undertaking that takes some concerted training efforts, mostly because of the altitude. This is a seriously once-in-a-lifetime kinda trek!
If you don’t fancy Kilimanjaro, Tanzania is also home to Mount Meru and Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano – both of which, while smaller than Kilimanjaro, present their own challenges.
Over in Kenya, Mount Kenya is still a tough hike, but takes less preparation and is therefore an easier option for many, whilst still involving some epic views.
When it comes to the coast, both Kenya and Tanzania have some seriously spectacular seaside scenery.
The best spots on the Kenyan coast include the beachside resort of Diani, the alternative enclave of Kilifi and the remote island spot of Lamu, all of which offer white sandy beaches and Indian ocean splendour.
However in Tanzania, the coastal island of Zanzibar knocks it out the water with its amazing UNESCO-listed capital of Stone Town and the incredible diving opportunities in Paje, as well as beachside paradise in the north. Rich in Swahili culture, historic importance and stunning natural scenery, it’s hard to beat this uniquely epic destination.
Overall therefore, when it comes to Kenya vs Tanzania in terms of non-safari things to do, I have to pick Tanzania. With Africa’s tallest mountain and one of the most epic islands on earth, it takes some beating!
By Steph Parker of Big World Small Pockets
Read more: How To Climb Kilimanjaro In 10 Steps
Kenya vs Tanzania: getting around
Kenya and Tanzania offer much the same ways of getting around and demand similar safety considerations, but there are some key differences in infrastructure between the two countries. The most notable difference is that public transport is more readily available in Kenya and tends to be of a better quality.
Both Kenya and Tanzania offer good air travel between cities, with frequent flights and a smooth process. There are a number of small airports and airstrips within national parks for safari access in both countries. Trains in Kenya tend to be relatively fast, while trains in Tanzania are slow and can be unreliable with frequent delays. Nevertheless, Tanzanian train journeys are scenic and make for a fun cultural experience!
In both countries, the driving conditions are very similar. The roads have improved considerably in recent years, but they can still be quite sketchy once you get outside of the more built-up areas. You’ll probably come across a lot of potholes, and the roads are not well-marked in either country.
You can rent a car but you’d need to be a very confident driver as it’s likely to be a very different driving experience to what you’re used to. Taxis and minibuses will save you the trouble but they can be expensive. Buses are the cheapest way to get around in both countries, but they don’t have particularly good safety credentials!
In terms of accommodation, Tanzania has slightly fewer options but this also means smaller crowds and fewer tourists overall. The cost of accommodation in Kenya is generally more expensive than in Tanzania. All in all, due to being a richer country, Kenya is slightly further ahead in terms of its travel infrastructure. But the differences aren’t huge and more limited travel options bring their own unique advantages.
By Jessie Moore of Pocket Wanderings
Which has the best beaches: Kenya or Tanzania?
One of life’s greatest privileges must be swimming in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Kenya or Tanzania. If you have ever wondered where the most beautiful turquoise waters are located with the most deliciously warm inviting water, now you know.
But when it comes to choosing between Kenya vs Tanzania, to which country should you bring your bathing suit and sandals and spend a few days lying at the beach? The good news is that both offer beautiful beaches with soft white sand. It really depends on whether you want to be nestled along a beach with lots of resorts and many western conveniences or if you prefer a more authentic experience.
In Kenya, the area around Mombasa and 30 kilometres both north and south from there, is home to the majority of beaches in Kenya. There is a wide variety of options available here. You can find luxury resorts and private homes tucked away in private settings or more budget-friendly larger resorts located in busier areas. Mombasa has an international airport and lots of roads and infrastructure to make this an easy beach destination.
Tanzania also offers many pristine beach destinations, although they are far less developed. This gives you the advantage of a more remote authentic experience at the expense of fewer western conveniences in resort towns. The exception is Zanzibar, an island 395 km off the coast of Tanzania. Zanzibar has many beautiful and remote beaches with their own resorts, but also has the cool city of Stone Town to explore. You can stay close to Stone Town, or head elsewhere on the island for that remote experience. Zanzibar also has an international airport or can be reached by ferry from Dar Es Salaam.
By Nicole Hunter of Comfy Feet Pro
Kenya vs Tanzania: the cost of travel
Kenya and Tanzania, despite being neighbours, have a huge difference in prices and the cost of travel varies a lot. Kenya is considerably cheaper compared to Tanzania in almost every aspect, from food to tours to safari and spending money in the coastal areas. A lot of it comes down to the huge amounts the government of Tanzania charges to foreigners for entry fees and other taxes.
A 3-day decent safari in Kenya with good lodging options currently costs from $600 whereas the same safari with camping costs roughly $900.
In Tanzania, one of the biggest attractions, Ngorongoro Crater, has twofold fees where you pay the entry fee for 24 hours and then you will need to pay for your jeep as well as an extra $250 charge to go down into the crater. Similarly Kenya’s Maasai Mara and Tanzania’s Serengeti have different charges per day despite being essentially the same national park on different sides of the border.
A car rental in Kenya during peak season costs roughly $65 with the driver (fuel costs separately) whereas the same thing costs $120 in Tanzania.
The extent to which tourism is taxed in Tanzania is truly unique, the government even taxes the transfer cars to and from airport. A taxi transfer in Zanzibar starts at $50 whereas a transfer from the airport to Lamu in Kenya costs merely $5. Zanzibar also has a city tax of $11 per person per night which adds to the cost of accommodation.
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, Kenya is the best option without a doubt.
By Ucman Scher of Brown Boy Travels
Read more: Top 34 African Birds: A Safari Photo Guide
Kenya: hidden gems
I grew up in Kenya since my parents lived as ex-pats for much of their adult life. So I know first hand that Kenya and Tanzania are both amazing places to visit.
Everyone knows about the absolutely incredible safaris and resorts but few tourists venture to the many other amazing places to visit in Kenya and Tanzania. Growing up as locals in Western Kenya, we spent more time visiting the non-touristy attractions of Kenya. These are hidden gems that only locals know about. Here are a few of my favourites.
The tea gardens of Kericho feature rolling hills covered in lush green tea bushes, neatly organized in rows. Kericho has the cool mountain air all year and rain every afternoon. It’s just the place to be for a warm afternoon tea with baked treats in one of the cafes. If you have time, take the kids to one of the few tea factories and see how simple yet sophisticated the tea making process is. Be sure to buy Kenyan tea at the source. It’s the best.
Other favorites of mine are the lush forests of Kaptaghat, the Webuye waterfalls, Kakamega forest, and Lake Victoria. On the drive from Nairobi to the western Kenya, you’ll drive through the great Rift Valley and cross the equator. Plan to take the time to stop, smell the crisp and fresh mountain air and take lots of pictures. All along, make an effort to talk with the locals, you’ll be surprised how friendly and warm the Kenyans are.
For a traveler that has not been to either country, I would recommend visiting both, despite my bias towards Kenya. While there is a lot of similarity, both offer unforgettable experiences unique to the culture.
By Jyoti Baid of A Story At Every Corner
Culture, food and drink in Tanzania
If someone asked me to choose between Kenya vs Tanzania, I’d choose Tanzania because it has so many attractions that are worth exploring.
To better understand the Tanzanian way of life, I highly recommend a homestay in one of the villages off the tourist trail, either in mainland Tanzania or in Zanzibar. You can experience how people live around Kilimanjaro, in villages covered in red sand and surrounded by green, lush, vegetation, or in Zanzibar you can enjoy day-to-day life in a fishing village. They are both fantastic learning experiences.
When it comes to getting away off the beaten track, the north of Tanzania has so many beautiful things to offer, from swimming in hot springs to hiking to hidden waterfalls, from kayaking on a lake dividing the border between Tanzania and Kenya to spending the night in a Hadza speaking community where people click when they speak. You can even get clothes tailored in Tanzania. There are so many talented tailors in Moshi that will transform the vibrant African fabrics into elegant dresses and skirts in just a couple of days.
Another fantastic thing to do in Tanzania is learn about the Maasai culture. My recommendation would be to go on a day trip to a Maasai tribe, rather than just stop for an hour during your safari. The difference is that due to the popularity and the increased number of tourists coming to Tanzania, many of the Maasai tribes along the safari routes have become extremely money-orientated, losing their authenticity. There are Maasai villages in remote areas hard to get to, close to Kilimanjaro Airport, where you can experience the real culture of the tribe.
When it comes to food, Tanzania surprised me with delicious dishes, both for meat lovers and vegetarians. The staple dish of Tanzania is ugali, a white maize porridge-like dish, with a stiff texture, used to scoop sauces and stews from the plate. Other fantastic dishes to try in Tanzania are pilau – a spiced rice eaten as a side dish, banana and beef stew, mishkaki – delicious meat and vegetable skewers mostly served as street food, and chipsi mayai – a French fries omelette eaten with loads of ketchup. When you visit Zanzibar, you must try the seafood platters. They are expensive but worth every penny, with enough fish and seafood to share with at least one other person.
When it comes to drinks, Tanzania is the second largest wine producer in sub-Saharan Africa, after South Africa. The grapes grown here are processed into two main categories: a delicious bold, spicy red wine, and the most delicate natural sweet dessert wine.
I highly recommend visiting Tanzania. It has so many beautiful places to see, traditions to discover and fantastic people to meet. Tanzania is so much more than a safari or a beach destination and I highly advise on adding an extra week to your holiday here so that you can get a glimpse of what the country has to offer.
By Joanna from The World In My Pocket
Kenya vs Tanzania: the winner
So there you have it! As many different viewpoints as there are things to do, and it really depends on what you are looking for. If budget is an issue, you’re probably better off going to Kenya for your first safari. But if you want to get a bit more off the beaten track, maybe Tanzania is the one for you. If you’re into mountains, pick Tanzania. For beaches, it depends if you prefer fancy resorts or something a bit simpler. But since both countries have incredible wildlife, scenery, culture and beaches, it doesn’t really matter which one you pick. Either way, you’re going to have an incredible trip.
Have you been to one or both? What did you think? Which one would YOU recommend? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.