Booking a Safari to The Serengeti & The Ngorongoro Crater | Tanzania, Africa

Andrew and I have just returned home from our amazing and eye opening two week trip to Tanzania, Africa during the first two weeks of June. I have started to write and then re-write several different blog posts because I don't know where to start! I want to dive right into the safari experience. But first, I felt I should give an overview of how I booked the trip.

From finding the right safari company (and knowing who to trust), the extreme price differences from mid-range to luxury lodges (rooms starting at $1,000 per night!), and why safari's can be so expensive. 

Here are some examples of lodges that were on my 'wish list' until I found out most were starting around at least $600 A NIGHT! How unbelievable is the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge?? (I still don't know how much a room is there as they don't list their prices)


FINDING A SAFARI COMPANY

For those of you who know me, I prefer to plan our entire holiday on my own. From the flights, to researching the hotels, and then reading other bloggers posts on the best activities & restaurants to try. I honestly enjoy it. 

But when it comes to a safari in Africa... you have to let all of that go and trust whichever tour group you choose. 

And why is that? Because, there is no way I could have planned a trip through the Serengeti just with me and my trusty MacBook Air. In Tanzania, everything is different. What should be a 30 minute drive anywhere else actually takes 2 hours there due to the quality of the roads. The best tented lodges? You cant find them on expedia. All of the best routes, lodges, guides & game drives are learned through years of experience. 

I'll admit, it was hard for me to let go of the travel-planning-control. I had started to research our trip back in February, emailing about 15 different tour groups which looked the most legit to me.

I'd email each of them the same thing: We are looking for a private safari for about 7 days in the beginning of June. We'd like to see the Serengeti & the Ngorongoro Crater, as well as do some sort of 'cultural' experience. We are looking to spend xx amount of money, what do you recommend?

I'd get emails back quite fast with a sample itinerary and very varying prices. I'll be honest with you, this trip was by far the most expensive trip we've ever taken. BUT... it was completely worth it. 

 I literally have an excel sheet with each tour group, what they were quoting, and the itinerary details. Is there such a thing as Travel-OCD?

After months of emails back & forth with countless tour groups, we had decided on JorAfrica, and our decision was 100% based on the trust factor.  Although there were others that sounded perfectly good, I always had this thought in the back of my mind of "what if they're a scam??". You have to pay in full before you arrive, and it was my worst nightmare that we'd land in Tanzania with no one there & thousands of dollars gone.  JorAfrica was recommended to us by a coworker who personally used them two years ago and had nothing but spectacular things to say about them - so they were the best/safest option! (which by the way, we absolutely LOVED them as well).

I personally recommend either using a company that a friend has experienced & trusts, use JorAfrica (feel free to email me with any questions), or just do a lot of research to make sure you're getting the most for the money you're about to spend.  

If you like researching lodges/hotels as much as I do, check out the Expert Africa website which does a nice job of rating accomodation in East Africa.


PRICING OPTIONS FOR A SAFARI IN TANZANIA

Here is a quick breakdown of what I experienced with prices. This is for a 7 day private safari, international flights NOT included. I've found that in the end its the lodges that rack the prices way up.

BUDGET: UP TO ABOUT $2,500 PER PERSON

  • The cheapest way to do a safari in Tanzania is to opt into a group tour. But this means your days are at the disposal of what the group wants. You can also stay in the 'budget tents'. I will admit, I don't have much details about this option as I knew I wanted to be at the 'mid-range' lodges. 

MID-RANGE: $2,500 - $6,000 PER PERSON

  • Example of Mid-Range tours:

    • JorAfrica:  This is who we ended up using. If you'd like more details, please feel free to email me!

    • Africa Travel Resource : They were quoting me about $4,000 per person for the mid-range lodges.
  • Example of Mid-Range Accommodation: (these are both lodges we had stayed at)
    • Maramboi Tented Lodge: Situated right on the Manyara Lake. The 'permanent' tents were up on stilts and felt more like a beautiful hotel. (they even had a hair dryer! the only one I saw all week). Highly recommend a sunset dip in the pool with a glass of wine (free drinks!) as you watch the zebra walk by. 
    • Rhotia Valley Tented Lodge: We stayed here on our third night in Tanzania. What makes this lodge amazing (other than those views from the tents!) is their reasoning for opening it. The profits of this lodge goes to the childrens orphanage across the hill. (which you have the option of visiting if interested - highly recommend it!)

LUXURY: $6,000 - +++  PER PERSON (I got one sample itinerary back for $15,000 per person! what?!)

  • Example of Luxury tour groups:

  • Example of Luxury Accommodation:
    • FOUR SEASONS SAFARI LODGE : If you've ever seen a travel blogger on a safari in the Serengeti, they most definitely have stayed at this lodge. And i'm going to bet, they've taken a picture of themselves in the outdoor infinity pool situated in the middle of the serengeti with a family of elephants right behind them. Starting at $1,000 a night - I'd expect to swim with the elephants. 
    • NGORONGORO CRATER LODGE:  One of the only lodges literally at the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater. Take a look at the pictures... this place is unreal. It looks like a movie set. 

WHY IS A SAFARI SO EXPENSIVE?

Reasons why a safari may seem expensive:

  • FULL ROOM & BOARD: You are not only paying for lodging, but also breakfast, lunch (they will pack lunch boxes for you to have on your game drive) and dinner. (3 course dinners btw)
  • PRIVATE TOUR: You are getting a private, curated tour. This means, you can do whatever you want, whenever you want. You work with the Safari Company to make the trip exactly to your liking.
  • PRIVATE GUIDE & VEHICLE: It was just us and our amazing driver/guide Malaki.  Which meant he was all ours to ask a million questions about animals and Africa. No matter how silly the question ("Do you guys really use 'hakuna matata' as a typical phrase?" - turns out no, Lion King made that popular). If you want to wake up at 6am for a game drive and come back to the tents after lunch to relax with wine and a book? You got it! (we actually did that one day!)
  • PARK FEES: You have to pay a fee (per person) for every day you are in each of the parks. For the Serengeti - this was $142 (for two people) each day. 
  • YOU'RE IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE: It took us 1.5 hours on a VERY bumpy road to get to our tent in the middle of the Serengeti from the next main town. So keep in mind, everything else at that beautiful lodge also had to make that trek. Including your breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

OPTIONS TO KEEP THE COSTS DOWN:

  • Do a 'group tour', or get some friends to take the trip with you.
  • Don't go during the 'peak time'. This varies depending on which area of Tanzania you're going to. We went during the beginning of June which was just before peak season, and just after the rainy season. 
  • Go with the more 'basic' tented options on the safari. This is where you will save the most money. Or do what we did and stay a few nights in a more 'luxury' lodge, and a few nights in the 'basic' or 'mid-range' lodges. 

Keep a lookout for more blog posts on our trip to Tanzania, Africa! 

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