Planning an East African safari trip can be quite daunting. Especially if you’re trying to travel the region responsibly! But the best time to visit East Africa is now – many African nations’ economies are starting to boom, and these countries are using the tourism industry as a tool to overcome extreme poverty.
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East African Safari Destinations
If you’re having trouble narrowing down which East African country you should visit for the best East African safari experience these highlights from each destination may help narrow down your options.
Deemed one of the safest and easiest countries to visit on the continent, Rwanda has come a long way in the decades since its devastating genocide. Its eclectic capital city is a great jumping off point for your East African travel!
The best (and only) destination for a safari in Rwanda is Akagera National Park for a more off-the-beaten-path experience. This lesser-known East African safari destination is the only place in Rwanda to see the Big Five.
The sustainable tourism industry surrounding Akagera National Park has come a long way in empowering the local communities and ensuring wildlife numbers continue to flourish. However, tourism is still nowhere near where it could be. Visit now before the crowds move in!
Uganda should be considered a natural wonder of the world all on its own. It holds the continent’s tallest peaks, largest lake, longest river, AND the Nile River starts here.
It’s another great destination to experience mountain gorillas in their natural habitat, but it is also a fantastic country for a typical safari trip as it provides an opportunity to visit multiple national parks in one trip.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is Uganda’s most well-known park, and most safaris include chimp tracking opportunities, leopard, hippo, crocodile, and tree-climbing lion sightings.
While Kidepo Valley National Park is one of the countries most isolated. You won’t have to share its rugged landscape with anyone but its natural inhabitants.
At Uganda’s largest wildlife park, Murchison National Park, you’ll be able to experience the Nile, and some of the regions most beloved animals (4 of the Big 5).
Tanzania boasts some of the most iconic adventures you can experience on the African continent.
Whether you want to go on a safari in the Serengeti (the holy grail of East African Safaris), climb Mt. Kilimanjaro (Africa’s tallest peak), or relax on a beach in Zanzibar, this country’s got you covered.
Kenya is the most visited country in East Africa, and for good reason. The beautiful, unique landscapes of Kenya are what comes to mind when you imagine African savannahs and their wildlife. Kenya is also very forward-thinking in terms of conservation – so there is a higher chance that the safaris, wildlife interactions and any time spent in nature will be done responsibly.
Witness the incredible annual migration of wildebeest and zebra at the Masai Mara National Reserve, or for a more off-beat adventure visit Lakuru National Park to see the hundreds of thousands of flamingos that flock there every day.
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
Though the DRC has faced more hardship in the last century than any other country in the region, it should not be discounted as a destination for East Africa tours. The landscapes that blanket the country are unlike any other, the wildlife is unique, and the people are warm and welcoming.
While the majority of the country is rather dangerous to visit, the Virunga National Park remains a fairly safe tourist destination. Traveling in the DRC is a lot cheaper than in other parts of East Africa, yet you can still visit the world’s last remaining populations of mountain gorillas and have a typical East African safari experience Your trip will also contribute much-needed revenue to the regions local communities.
The Best Time to Visit East Africa
Traditionally the best time to visit East Africa for a safari is during the dry season when animals are forced to congregate around scare water sources out in the open. This season runs from July to September in East Africa.
However, if your not a fan of crowds, and you’ve got your heart set on visiting Kenya or Tanzania, consider visiting during the low or shoulder seasons to avoid paying premiums for safari tours, packages, and lodges. They run from March- May, then again from November- December. Don’t worry animals will still be out and about and many local guides actually prefer wildlife viewing in the shoulder season
If seeing a wildebeest migration is on your East Africa safari bucket list, then visiting in the high season may be unavoidable.
The wildebeests migrate through the Serengeti from November to August in Tanzania, and through the Kenyan Masai Mara from mid-August to October.
Uganda or Rwanda are excellent alternative destinations for uncrowded safaris – if you just really want to visit East Africa and experience the sprawling savannahs, incredible wildlife and welcoming people. However, avoid the area from April to June when gorilla-filled rainforests tend to experience heavy rains and flooding.
East Africa Travel Visa
If choosing one destination is proving to be tough, consider making your holiday a multi-country journey! East Africa is a great part of the world for this type of travel because you only need ONE visa to visit Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya.
The East Africa Travel Tourist Visa is a great option for anyone looking to move around a bit over the course of up to 90 days – but keep in mind that you can only use the visa for a single entry into each of the countries. Tanzania and the DRC both require a unique visa to enter.
Other Considerations for East Africa Tours
Undoubtedly, if you’re planning a trip to East Africa you’re interested in wildlife experiences and safaris but considering how beautiful and unique each of these countries is, there are lots to consider before you go.
Don’t limit yourself to one park, or region.
There are countless great parks and wildlife reserves throughout the whole of East Africa, and as we mentioned getting around is relatively easy with the East Africa Tourist Visa.
Not all safaris are experienced from Inside a Jeep
There are self-driving, walking, horseback, and even airborne safaris. But keep in mind, that no matter the type of your safari, you’re not visiting a zoo. Spotting animals in the wild is not always guaranteed, but you’re bound to have better luck by muting your phone, and keeping your voice down when you’re on the hunt.
Don’t miss a chance to learn about the local cultures
Outside of wildlife viewing, experiencing the traditional cultures in the region you’re visiting is unmissable. Whether it be the Maasai in Kenya, the Pigmy or Bantu in Uganda or many others – learning about the history and culture of East African tribes can enrich your experience in the region.
You can connect with locals through a number of different activities! Whether it be a local cooking class, a village visit, participating in a cultural festival, taking a language class, or a workshop all about tribal medicine, as long as your visit is respectful, you are bound to learn a ton!
Be mindful that that “tribal tourism” is a controversial topic for anyone visiting an African nation. Participating in tours that make a spectacle out of local tribes and traditions is disrespectful, irresponsible and should be avoided at all costs.
Instead, look for experiences that empower communities, contribute to the local economy, generate jobs and allows visitors to have a more authentic interaction with the locals.
Ethical Tour Operators in East Africa
Ensure you’re choosing responsible tour operators for your next safari. Opt for companies that demonstrate their knowledge of conservation issues, pay attention to their impact on the local economy, and offer job opportunities to locals. Here are a few of our suggestions to help you kick-start your search:
andBeyond is an award-winning responsible luxury travel company, renowned for their exclusive tailor-made East Africa tours. We loved our safari with andBeyond in Tanzania and enjoyed spotting countless animals with fantastic guides.
Their core ethic of Care of the Land, Care of the Wildlife, and Care of the People was evident int eh way they operate their business and we were particularly impressed with their large-scale conservation efforts that have helped reintroduce rhinos, lions and other wildlife into parks all across Africa.
Nomad Tanzania is another luxury East Africa travel company, that operates safaris throughout Tanzania. They actively invest in local communities and wildlife conservation through their NomadTrust health-care, education, and conservation projects.
Campi Ya Kanzi is a remarkable community-owned, eco-lodge and safari operator located in Kenya. They offer exclusive safaris on their 283,000 acres of pristine property with a local Maasai guide. They have received a multitude of awards for their sustainable practices, and proactive approach to eco-tourism.
Ashanti Africa offers sustainable small group or tailor-made tours that have a positive impact on wildlife and local communities. One of their most popular tours is their gorilla tracking and tree-climbing lion safari in Uganda. Funds from the safari go back into the conservation of these incredible creatures.
Eco-Friendly Safari Accommodation
There are many responsible safari accommodation options throughout each of the countries in East Africa. Many of them are the starting points for safaris, but you can also find eco-lodges in unique locations throughout the region.
andBeyond couples great safaris with luxurious sustainable 5-star accommodation in unique locations around Kenya, and Tanzania in East Africa. Simply sit back and wait for animals to come to you. At times they are the only lodge located within the national park and are able to offer guests an incredibly unique and exclusive sunrise/sunset safari experience when wildlife viewing is at its best.
Lemala Camps are a more affordable option for anyone visiting Tanzania. They’ve got multiple locations throughout the National Parks in Tanzania and one in Uganda and their safari accommodations range from tented camps to lodges, and villas.
If you’re visiting Uganda, Wild Places has several different locations that all keep conservation at the core of their mission. And they do so without skimping on luxury.
If you’d like to experience a camping safari without shelling out thousands of dollars, check out the Tanzania Budget Camping Safari.
The most important things to look out for while choosing your safari accommodation are that they support the local community WITHOUT harming the local environment.
One great example is the Maji Moto Cultural Camp in Kenya. It is run by a local Maasai community chief who’s created a sustainable business that not only welcomes visitors but helps the people in his community provide for their families. While staying at this cultural camp, you can take warrior classes, eat the local cuisine, and learn about what it means to be a Maasai today.
East African Safari Cost
While the countries in East Africa are some of the poorest in the world, traveling within them can be quite costly. Especially if you opt for an all-inclusive tour with lots of activities.
Things to keep in mind when budgeting for East Africa travel:
Pre-departure East African Safari Costs
Your vaccinations need to be up-to-date before traveling to these countries – the cost will vary depending on your health insurance
You’re also going to need to take anti-malarials for the duration of your stay. You can opt to get these in your home country or purchase them upon arrival in East Africa, where the cost will be much lower.
Travel insurance is always a great thing to have, especially when traveling to developing parts of the world – which is usually about 4%-10% of your total trip cost. We always recommend purchasing travel insurance before you go with our preferred provider, World Nomads. If you are not sure if Travel Insurance is right for you, here are some questions you should ask before making a purchase.
The East African Tourist Visa (Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya) costs $100US. The other countries in the region have individual visas ranging from $50-100US
Daily East African Safari Costs
Your accommodation budget is going to depend on the level of comfort you want/need while on a trip. Big cities in this region have basic dorms/hostels/guest houses/camps available for $10-$30, but you can also opt for luxury accommodation that can cost more than $200-$300US a night. Outside of the capital cities, cheap accommodation is harder to find and is usually limited to campsites.
Transportation costs are going to vary depending on where you are, what you’re comfortable with, and what activities you are doing. If you’re trying to get around a city, local buses will serve you well for very cheap. To explore the country and visit some of the National Parks, you can rent a car for $100+ a day, or if you’re trying to get between destinations you can get a private taxi for around $50-100 depending on the distance
Food & Drink
Meals and drinks are almost always included in the price of your East African safari. The quality and variety will vary between tour operators although they will almost always offer you locally sourced ingredients and their twist on local dishes.
Otherwise, your only other option is to travel shoestring-budget-style. As we mentioned, outside of cities accommodation is often confined to campsites, and restaurants are either non-existent or hard to find so cooking must be done on your own at the campsite.
Outside of cities, there really is no middle ground between the two so we recommend you save yourself the trouble and opt for an all-inclusive safari.
In terms of alcoholic drinks, it is hit or miss whether they will be included in the price of your safari package. Cocktails can get a little pricey but a local beer typically isn’t going to cost you much more than a few dollars, if it isn’t included in your package (plus, you should always try the local beer!).
Safaris and wildlife experiences are probably going to take up quite a bit of your budget. Don’t shy away from the ones that cost a bit more – those are the ones that are most likely investing more money back into conservation and preservation!
East African Safari Park Fees
Park fees are also going to be a big part of your budget. Each park has its own set fee:
- Serengeti is $60 a day plus camping fees
- Ngorongoro Crater costs $78 per person per day, and a vehicle permit costs upwards of $300
- Lake Manyara costs $53 per person per day
- Premium parks in Kenya (like Nakuru and Amboseli) cost around $60 a day, and Maasai Mara costs $80 per person per day
- Parks in Uganda cost between $3- and $40 per person per day
Total East African Safari Cost
The total cost of an East Africa safari can vary greatly, with budget safari tour starting from $100-150/per person/night and luxury options often going well above $300-400/per person/night.
East Africa is not a great destination for cheap backpacker options and getting around on a budget without a tour provider can be not only difficult but also quite limiting. Park fees, lodge costs, and transportation add up quickly.
But trust us, despite the high ticket price, an East African safari is worth every penny and the experiences you will have in this incredible region are truly once in a lifetime.
Traveling to East Africa is taking a peek into a world much different from your own. It’s mystery, intrigue, jaw-dropping beauty and incredible culture will rope you in the moment you arrive. And traveling this part of the world responsibly is not only incredibly important but actually pretty easy!
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