African Safari – The Bucket List Tanzania Safari Itinerary
Going on an African safari had always been on my bucket list so when an opportunity to go on a Tanzania Safari with Shadows of Africa came about, I jumped at the opportunity. The team at Shadows of Africa created a 7 day Tanzania safari custom itinerary that maximized the chances of seeing the Big 5 Africa safari animals while also having authentic cultural experiences with local tribes. It might just be the best safari in Africa. I want to share with you my Bucket List Tanzania Safari Itinerary!
7 Day Tanzania Safari Trip Summary:
- Arrival in Tanzania
- Day 1-3 – Serengeti National Park
- Day 4 & 5 – Tarangire National Park and Maasai Tribe
- Day 6 – Ngorongoro National Conservation Area (including Ngorongoro Crater)
- Day 7 – Datoga and Hadzabe Tribes
- Depart Tanzania
Most visitors arriving in Tanzania for their safari land at
Kilimanjaro International Airport. With daily flights from Europe as well as
Kenya and Ethiopia, it is fairly easy to get to Tanzania from the US and
Europe. Non-residents must pay a fee to purchase a visa to enter Tanzania ($50
for European citizens and $100 for US citizens). You can pay with US dollars.
Tanzania recently began processing electronic visas so it may be worth looking
into obtaining your visa prior to your arrival to speed up your time in customs
The team at Shadows of Africa met me at the airport and we drove to their brand new Olerai Lodge in Arusha. Arusha is about an hour from Kilimanjaro International Airport, is the second largest city in Tanzania, and is the base of most safari expeditions. The Olerai Lodge is located near the Arusha airport (for easy transfers to the Serengeti) and is tucked away off a dirt (and slightly bumpy) road. With well-appointed bungalows surrounding the main lodge, you’ll be well rested and fed – making the Olerai Lodge the perfect starting point for your journey.
After a short night’s sleep at the Olerai Lodge, a delicious breakfast of eggs, toast, and fruit, I was transferred to Arusha airport for my flight to Seronera. Seronera is in the middle of the Serengeti and was chosen because the Great Migration was moving through that part of Serengeti National Park. The Great Migration is the constant migration of the zebra and wildebeest as they search for fresh grass. Any safari planning to the Serengeti should ensure that you are taken to where the Great Migration will likely be. While the flight to Serengeti from Arusha is about an hour, my flight plan had numerous stops – making my one hour journey closer to four. This is still faster than the almost 8 hours of driving it would take to get from Arusha to Seronera in Serengeti National Park.
Landing in Serengeti National Park opens your eyes to the visual treat that you will be in for once on the ground. A vast savannah with acacia trees scattered throughout, animals roaming in every direction. I was promptly met off the runway by my guide, Charles, and whisked off into our Toyota Land Cruiser to start my Serengeti safari. No photo or video can prepare you for the number of animals that you will see on a Serengeti safari. Within about 10 minutes from the start of the safari, I had already seen a couple hundred zebra and wildebeest, a few lions, and two cheetah hunting wildebeest. My first day finished with a few leopard sightings which was a real treat!
One of the most unique experiences that one can have in Serengeti National Park is to stay at a tented camp. I stayed at the Serengeti Heritage Luxury Tented Camp. This, and other tented camps in the Serengeti, are permanent tented camps. This means you will find things like running water, a toilet, and electricity in your tent. Hot meals and wifi are available in the main reception tent. The food was quite impressive and exceeded my expectations. Shadows of Africa ensured I was well fed with boxed lunches made by the camp that were exceptional as well. When walking back to your tent at night, expect to be escorted for safety reasons as I saw cape buffalo and hyena right outside my doorstep.
On my second day on safari in Serengeti National Park , I truly experienced the Great Migration. The Great Migration is a true wildlife safari. Literally hundreds (if not thousands) of wildebeest and zebra marching through the African savannah on the move to their next location. This coupled with my “National Geographic or Animal Planet” moment of zebra, wildebeest, and giraffes all together made my Serengeti safari worth it. This is of course in addition to seeing cape buffalo, African elephant herds, more giraffes (and baby giraffes!), and cheetah.
Day three was my transfer day back to Arusha and the Olerai Lodge. Before my flight out though Charles took me out for a quick safari. We saw a number of male lions, a large pride of lions, more elephants, cheetah, zebra, and wildebeest. Not bad for a short safari day! The flight back to Arusha from Seronera in the Serengeti took about an hour. It was then back to Shadows of Africa’s Olerai Lodge for the afternoon.
After another wonderful, but short, stay at the Olerai Lodge it was time to venture out from Arusha and experience some of the other parks and cultural experiences that Tanzania has to offer. First up was Tarangire National Park.
Tarangire National Park
Tarangire National Park is located about two hours outside of Arusha, Tanzania and is famous for the large number of elephants that roam the park as well as the unique baobab trees. While not located within the Great Migration route, zebras, wildebeest, gazelle, and impala all make their home within the park. As such, it is common to also see lion, cheetahs, leopard, and hyena. The baobab trees are reason enough to visit Tarangire as they truly are unique. For those not wanting to make the trek to do a Serengeti safari or who want to increase their chances of seeing elephants and big cats, Tarangire National Park provides a unique landscape worth visiting when on a Tanzania safari.
Upon entering Tarangire National Park groups of zebra and giraffes as well as a few warthogs greeted our safari vehicle. Working out way through the park we saw lots more animals before stopping for lunch. One of the great things about the safari with Shadows of Africa was that they served hot lunches! Yes, lunch in the middle of Tarangire was a soup, beef stir fry, rice, fruit, and of course a bottle of wine. After fending off the monkeys who were trying to steal the lunch, it was time to explore the park more. A cheetah cub and its mom were relaxing on the riverbed and herds of elephant roamed the open plains looking for food. I don’t think I was prepared for not only the number of different elephant herds that I would encounter in Tarangire National Park, but the size of the herds. Some herds that our safari vehicle came across were more than 30 elephants! It was truly remarkable.
As was the case in the Serengeti, I stayed at the Ang-ata Tarangire Camp – a tented camp in Tarangire National Park. While it was a permanent camp as well, it was slightly more rustic. As was the case with all of the food on my trip, it exceeded expectations. My tent contained a few single beds as well as a toilet and sink. Electricity was enough for a few lights but if you wanted to charge any devices that had to be done in the main tent.
Day 5 of my safari and my second day in Tarangire was highlighted by more giraffes and elephants. Seeing these amazing animals in such large numbers up close is truly remarkable. Many of the elephant herds passed within feet of our stopped vehicle. Just watching and listening to them as they walked, ate, and communicated with one another in their natural habitat is an experience I will never forget. After a few hours in the park it was time to make our way out of the park and on to our next stop – a visit to a local Maasai school and tribal village visit.
The Maasai are the largest tribe in Northern Tanzania and their proximity to many of the national parks means that many villages welcome visitors to come and experience their culture and traditions. The first Maasai stop was to a local school. The head teacher took us around and showed us the three buildings and what the students in each age group were learning. It was certainly eye opening as there were over 80 students in the kindergarten through about 3rd grade class! The students learn English, Swahili, and Maasai. The children were extremely excited to have visitors and their warm smiles and desire to share what they were learning was infectious. Afterwards they performed a song before school ended for the day. The amazing team at Shadows of Africa is working to sponsor this school to provide the students additional resources to include teachers, facilities, as well as basic school supplies.
My next stop after the school was to a local Maasai village. The great thing about Shadows of Africa is that they don’t take you to tourist villages where the tribes just want to sell you some trinkets. The village I visited was extremely excited and welcomed us in with some background and history of the village – the tribal chief (who had since passed away) had 8 wives and 50 children. It was now his family who lived in the village. After a tour of where they keep their livestock at night and how and why they construct their homes the way they do, the village broke out into song and dance. It was such a fun and authentic experience to be included in their song and dance. Definitely something I will never forget!
After a long day of seeing amazing safari animals and experience the life of the Maasai, I was taken to the Lake Manyara Kilimamoja Lodge. This was a place I was not expecting! Overlooking Lake Manyara, the Kilimamoja Lodge is true luxury in the heart of Tanzania. A huge main lodge with probably 50 foot ceilings, an infinity pool, and luxuriously appointed bungalows make the Lake Manyara Kilimamoja Lodge a place to relax and revitalize after a long day in the safari vehicle. I was only there for one night but I was blown away by this property and would have loved to experience more that it had to offer.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area
An early start was in store for day 6 after a restful sleep at the Lake Manyara Kilimamoja Lodge as it was off to the world famous Ngorongoro National Conservation Area. This area is most well-known for the Ngorongoro Crater – the largest inactive (and intact) dormant volcanic caldera. The views from the rim of the crater can’t really provide a full impression of how big the crater is. After a quick descent down 900 vertical feet, it was time to start looking for animals. As I didn’t get to see a rhino during my time in the Serengeti, I (and my guide) were on a mission to spot at least one of the approximately 20 black rhino that inhabit the Ngorongoro Crater. This would complete my viewing of the “Big 5” while in Tanzania – Lion, Leopard, Rhino, Elephant, and Buffalo. After coming across large groups of wildebeest, zebra, and hyena word came that a few rhino were in a field nearby. We raced to the spot and sure enough there was a mom and her baby! While a bit far away, it was truly remarkable to see these animals roaming in their natural habitat. Following the rhino excitement, it was time to move on to the hippo pool before heading out of the crater for our next step. Before we left the crater though, we saw lots more zebra, wildebeest, and a pride of lions! The Great Migration was not going through the crater during my time there but if you time it right, you can see this amazing experience in the Ngorongoro Crater.
Lodging for the evening would be near Lake Eyasi at the Ziwani Lodge. While a bit of a drive from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, staying at Lake Eyasi put me close by a number of tribes that I would be visiting the next day. When I arrived at the Ziwani Lodge I realized how worth the drive was. The Ziwani Lodge had a very North Africa/Middle East feel to it. The lodge, started by a husband and wife team, is a true off the grid property. It runs fully on solar power and from well water! A main lodge with a lounge, dining space, and pool over-looking Lake Eyasi is the focal point of the property. There are 8 “Hadza” or huts. Each with its own rooftop deck overlooking sunset and Lake Eyasi. I definitely recommend a stay at the Ziwani Lodge during a stay in Tanzania.
Datoga and Hadzabe Tribes
The start of day 7 was another early rise. The Hadzabe tribe is a nomadic tribe that is still allowed to hunt game for food. Most groups within the tribe are around 30 members. The men hunt while the women make jewelry and other items for sale. While they are nomadic they follow the rains so they set-up temporary huts or live in caves for 2 to 3 months at a time. I arrived at the Hadzabe tribe right at breakfast. (For those interested, there is an option to join them on their morning hunt.) The tribe had a successful hunt that morning and were eating a baboon. Following their breakfast, they showed me how they used their bow and arrow for hunting as well as performed a rain dance. It was quite an experience to see their primitive life.
The other tribe I visited was the Datoga tribe, known primary as blacksmiths The Datoga are not nomadic though some members who raise their cattle due live a more nomadic lifestyle as they follow the rains. As blacksmiths, they make spear and arrow tips as well as jewelry to sell to other tribes and tourists. Their jewelry is incredibly detailed and intricate. Bronze jewelry is designed to protect you from evil things, copper to protect your bones and keep you strong, and aluminum that you are a bright person – both smarts and the light you shine on others. To make the fire hot enough to melt the metal, they use elephant skin bags to pump air into the fire. To see how the Datoga utilize all the resources available to them is remarkable.
Visiting these two tribes – and the Maasai – was an eye-opening experience that likely will take additional time to process. For those visiting Tanzania on safari, I highly recommend adding tribal visits your itinerary. It will be humbling, give you a sense of life in Africa, as well as will most definitely have you wanted to find ways to support these tribes.
Summary – 7 day Tanzania safari
A 7 day Tanzania safari was a good length to see all the animals in a number of different parks while also getting to see more of the cultural side of Tanzania. Taking into account travel days this is about a 9 to 10 day trip depending on where you live in the world. For those with more time, I would consider adding on extra time in the Serengeti or visiting Lake Manyara. For those with less time, picking which parks and tribes to visit would likely depend on the time of year and where the Great Migration is in its cycle.
I can’t say enough good things about my Tanzania safari and the team from Shadows of Africa. Their professionalism, responsiveness, and communication in the planning stages was exceptional. When in Tanzania, all of the guides were absolutely delightful to be around in addition to being extremely knowledgeable. I can honestly say that my bucket list Tanzania safari exceeded my expectations. Is it the best safari in Africa? Book it yourself and let me know what you think!
On your way to South Africa? Then check-out this amazing South Africa itinerary recommendation from Claire!