Kenya or Tanzania: Picking the perfect East African holiday and safari destination

More than 18 million travelers make their way to Africa every year. And around 70 percent of these tourists holidayed in only seven countries. Kenya and Tanzania were some of the most popular destinations. Why? Because of they are fantastic safari destinations and are brimming with culture. “Should we go to Kenya or Tanzania” is a common question when planning a trip to this region – and that’s where we’re here to help!

There’s no question that traveling to Africa should be one of your top things on your bucket list — the big question is where in Africa to visit.

Wildlife is far and away the best attraction for those who decide to holiday in Africa. The continent boasts a variety of wild creatures you won’t come across anywhere else in the world. The most popular of these animals are known as the Big Five, which consists of the lion, elephant, rhino, leopard, and buffalo.  

For a countryside African adventure, look no further than East Africa. That pits Kenya vs Tanzania in the fight for your affections for the best safari destination in Africa.

Here’s all you need to know before you decide whether to go on safari and holiday in Kenya or Tanzania. Including information on what months are best to visit both countries for safari, due to animal migration patterns!

Safari in Kenya

Kenya is considered the jewel of the East African region, despite being smaller than Tanzania. Like Tanzania, Kenya boasts the Indian Ocean coastline, Rift Valley grandeur, lakes, high mountains and game viewing, as well as a desert in the northern region—just to jazz things up a little!

Landscape and Climate 

Kenya and Tanzania share lots of similarities, as both countries have a common border and share the Indian Ocean coast. Kenya’s landscape is made up of a mixture of highlands in the middle, sandy beaches along the coast, and fertile western plains. 

The country has wet and dry seasons, with the wet season starting in April to June. On the other hand, the dry season runs from December to March. Moreover, there’s a short wet season between November and December, as well as a short dry season running from July to October. 

Kenya’s average temperature hovers around 20°C to 28°C, and the coast is both more humid and hotter than the mainland.

Wildlife in Kenya

As Kenya and Tanzania are immensely popular African safari destinations, the animals each country boasts are one of the biggest attractions.

While Kenya is the smaller of the two countries, it bursts with a huge variety of wildlife species within its borders. 

Here, you’ll come across every member of the Big Five (lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo, and rhino) at various game reserves, including the Maasai Mara National Reserve.

Also, you’ll find cheetahs, hippos, civets, servals, gazelles, impalas, caracals, zebras, antelopes, wildebeest, giraffes, waterbucks, bush babies, vervet monkeys, and baboons. 

Kenya is also home to 1,135 bird species, including ostriches and flamingos. Furthermore, you can also encounter the seriously-endangered black rhino in Kenya.

Food and Culture

While the main attractions in Kenya and Tanzania are the wildlife and nature that you’ll encounter on the Savannah during your trip, both countries also pride themselves on some pretty amazing cultures, with a dynamic culinary scene. 

Most of the Kenyan population is made up of the Bantu tribes, but apart from indigenous regional influences, there’s a very strong British influence carried over from the colonial era too. Furthermore, you’ll find Indian and Middle Eastern influences along the coast thanks to maritime trade.

The Kenyan culture is friendly and family-oriented, but conservative, so don’t expect folks to be outgoing or brash like you’d expect in some western countries. That said, you’ll find lots of emotion in Kenya’s clothing, music, and dance. 

Kenyan cuisine mainly consists of stews and other combinations of vegetables and meat that are often eaten with Ugali, a cooked dough made from cornmeal or millet. You’ll find nyama choma (grilled meats) and vegetable dishes such as Sukuma wiki (collard greens), cabbage, managu (African nightshade), saget (spider flower), and kunde (cowpeas leaves). 

The major red meats include beef or goat, while seafood is consumed at the coast. Moreover, central Kenya is renowned for its consumption of Irish potatoes, arrow root, and githeri (corn and beans mixture), while coconut rice is found along the coast.

Kenya or Tanzania: Cost and Infrastructure

Unlike most countries in Europe and the Americas, Kenya and Tanzania are affordable destinations. But there’s a significant difference between the countries when it comes to costs.

As Kenya is wealthier than Tanzania, it’s understandably more expensive. Flights are one of the costliest expenses, with an economy class seat from the U.S. to Nairobi costing about $1,400 on average. When you land in Nairobi, you’re looking at around $75 for a three-star hotel, but you can get considerably cheaper options outside of the cities. Even so, costlier hotels are normally safer. 

Food is quite cheap, costing around $1 per plate on the streets, and a decent meal at a 3-star hotel costs anywhere from $6 to $12 a plate.

Kenya’s Top Attractions

Kenya is a country that abounds with countless destinations and attractions, with many great for safari:

  • Mount Kenya
  • Lake Nakuru National Park
  • Aberdare National Park
  • Amboseli National Park
  • Maasai Mara National Reserve
  • Diani Beach
  • Seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Lamu Old Town, Fort Jesus Mombasa, Sacred Kaya Forests, Great Rift Valley’s Kenya Lake System, Mount Kenya National Park, Lake Turkana National Park, and Thimlich Ohinga Cultural Landscape

Safari in Tanzania

Like Kenya, Tanzania is blessed with countless world treasures. With various national parks and game reserves, here’s a little bit of what you need to know about a safari holiday in Tanzania versus a safari in Kenya.

Landscape and Climate

While Tanzania has many similarities with Kenya, it’s also about 1 ½ times bigger. Like Kenya, the coastline is in the east. Highlands are found in the south and north, and plains and plateaus run west across the nation. 

Tanzania and Kenya have very similar seasons. The average summer temperature in Tanzania is 28°C while the coldest time of the year is July when the temperature hovers around 24°C. The coastal area is tropical like Kenya, but mainland Tanzania is more temperate, rather than arid. 

The major wet season runs from March to May, while the major dry season lasts from June to October. Like Kenya, the short wet season runs from November to December in Tanzania, while the mini dry season runs from January to February.

Wildlife in Tanzania

Tanzania is bigger than Kenya, and it’s home to over four million wild creatures. You’ll also come across the Big Five here, as well as wildebeest, zebra, hippos, antelopes, giraffes, gazelles, dik-diks, elands, cheetahs, hyenas, kudus, crocodiles, vervet monkeys, wild dogs, and even chimpanzees. 

The country is also home to more than 1,000 bird species, including flamingos, fish eagles, and grey crowned cranes. There are at least 60,000 species of insects in Tanzania, and countless animal species in the coastal waters.

Food and Culture

Food and culture is an important part of any safari experience, and like Kenya, Tanzania boasts plenty of cultural influences. Most of the country’s population is composed of Bantu tribes, but there’s a considerable influence from Middle Eastern, British, and German cultures as well.

The country’s culture is respectful and family-oriented. People are friendly and gracious, but there’s a strong focus on respecting elders and being nice and polite to strangers. 

Like Kenyan cuisine, Ugali is also a staple of Tanzanian food. In the mainland, you’ll choose from grilled meats, ndizi nyama (green banana stew), biryani rice, and even pilau. Along the coast, coconut milk is a key ingredient like in Kenya, but Tanzanian cuisine tends to be spicier, thanks to its strong Indian influences. Tanzania is also renowned for stews, with plantain and banana often the key ingredients. For example, supu ya ndizi is a plantain dish mashed into a paste and served with vegetables alongside soup and meat.

Tanzania or Kenya: Cost and Infrastructure 

Tanzania is larger than Kenya, but it’s poorer and generally cheaper. However the average economy class seat from the U.S. to the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, is slightly dearer than to Nairobi, setting you back about $1,450. 

On the other hand, accommodation and food is cheaper. A three-star hotel in the commercial capital costs about $48 on average. You can get a good meal at a restaurant for less than $10, and street food is much, much cheaper.

Tanzania’s Top Attractions

Some of the major attractions and destinations in Tanzania, many of which can be included in a safari, include:

  • Zanzibar
  • Mount Kilimanjaro
  • Selous Game Reserve
  • Ngorongoro Conservation Area
  • Lake Manyara National Park
  • Seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Stone Town, Mount Kilimanjaro National Park, Songo Mnara, Selous Game Reserve, Kilwa Kisiwani

The Great Migration

This is one of the hottest attractions in both Tanzania and Kenya, and the world’s biggest migration of wildlife. Every year, over two million wildebeest, gazelle, and zebra move between Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve and Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.

If you wish to catch the Great Migration, you need to be in the right place at the right time. The wild animals graze in Tanzania in December to June, but begin crossing into Kenya from July to August.

They actually cross River Mara twice annually, in July and late November. At both times, visitors to both the Serengeti National Park and Maasai Mara National Reserve can witness the phenomenon. The migration occurs roughly around the same time each year, but the actual timing depends on rainfall patterns. The wild creatures move to look for better pastures and water. 

Our tip: If your trip falls around September to November, travel to Kenya. If you plan to travel between December and June, go to Tanzania. If you are traveling in July or August, you’ll witness the migration in Tanzania or Kenya and can catch the animals crossing River Mara. That’s one way to solve the Kenya vs Tanzania dilemma!

Kenya vs. Tanzania: Which is the best safari destination?

When it comes to an African safari, there’s little to choose between Kenya or Tanzania, and quite frankly, you really can’t make a mistake with either.  That being said, you could end up getting a more inspiring experience based on which nation is more aligned with your interests.

If you want a more accessible destination, with better tourism infrastructure, a nice balance between natural attractions and modern cities, visit Kenya.

However if you’re looking for adventure, in a country that’s more remote, more old-fashioned than modern, cheaper, with more iconic natural attractions, and a higher number of wild animals, look no further than Tanzania. 

Still can’t choose between the two countries? Then you can very easily tour both of them. And if you’re after a little more adventure, perhaps you can even scale Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania!