Kenya vs Tanzania: Choosing the Ideal African Safari Destination

Africa

Three giraffe with Mt Kilimanjaro in background in Amboseli National Park, Kenya

If you’re planning an African safari in the near future, let our comparative guide help you choose between Kenya and Tanzania.

People in the west are notorious for looking at Africa as a one homogenous land and not a series of distinct countries. This becomes even worse when people try to tell the difference between two countries in the same region, as is the case with Kenya and Tanzania. That’s why comparative guides are so useful to figure out the truth about the incredible nations in Africa.

Here, we’ve broken down the essential differences between two of Africa’s most popular safari destinations: Kenya and Tanzania. We’ve focused on landscape and climate, expenses and infrastructure, landmarks, food and culture, and wildlife.

Landscape and Climate

There are a lot of similarities to Kenya and Tanzania, as both countries share a border and sit along the Indian Ocean. Kenya’s landscape is a mixture of sandy beaches on the coast, highlands in the centre, and fertile plains in the west. The country’s seasons are split between wet and dry, with the main wet season running from April through June and the dry season running December through March. There’s also a mini wet season for a few weeks in November and December, and a mini dry season from July through October. The average temperature in Kenya is between 20°C and 28°C, with the coast being both hotter and more humid than in-land.

Tanzania is similar to Kenya, but also around one and a half times larger. You’ll find coastline in the east, plains and plateau running west across the country, and highlands in the north and south. The seasons in Tanzania are very similar to those in Kenya. The average temperature in summer is 28°C while the country gets coldest in July when it sits around 24°C. Like Kenya, the coastal region is tropical, however the inland is not arid in Tanzania, instead being more temperate. The main wet season runs March through May, while the main dry season runs June through October. Like in Kenya, the shorter wet season comes in November and December, while January and February constitute the short dry season.

There’s no great temperature or geographic advantage between Kenya and Tanzania since both countries are so close to each other and share so many physical similarities. Just note the slight variations between temperature, geography, and the seasons, so you know what you’re going to get when you visit one or the other on your African safari.

Family of cheetahs on high ground spotting for prey during the wet season, Serengeti, Tanzania
Family of cheetahs on high ground spotting for prey during the wet season in the Serengeti, Tanzania

Expenses and Infrastructure

Both Kenya and Tanzania are affordable countries when compared to the vast majority of European or North American nations. However, there is a notable difference between the two in terms of costs.

Kenya is a wealthier nation than Tanzania, so it’s generally more expensive. Your flight will be one of your most expensive costs, with an economy flight from North America to Nairobi costing around $1,800 CAD on average. Once you’re there, you’re looking at around $100 CAD for a 3-star hotel in Nairobi, although you can get substantially cheaper options if you look outside the cities. That being said, more expensive hotels are generally safer. Food is fairly cheap, with street food costing around $1 CAD per plate and a sit-down meal at a restaurant running between $6 and $12 a person.

Nairobi city centre, Kenya
Nairobi city centre, Kenya

Tanzania is the larger country, but it’s not as wealthy as Kenya and is generally cheaper. However, an economy flight from North America to Dar es Salaam will be slightly more expensive than to Nairobi, costing around $1,900 CAD on average. Otherwise, food and accommodations are cheaper. A 3-star hotel in Dar es Salaam costs around $63 CAD on average, and a meal will cost you under $10 in a restaurant, with street food significantly cheaper.

Aerial view of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Aerial view of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

In terms of infrastructure, Kenya has a larger tourism industry with more hotels and guesthouses. You can easily exchange US dollars into shillings in any of the major banks, and taxis and matatus abound in the cities. There’s a large network of trains between the big cities, and flights can take you most anywhere, although they are the most expensive way of getting around. Trains and flights are also the safest and most comfortable way of getting around Tanzania, but the transit networks are less reliable than in Kenya.

So in general, Tanzania is more affordable while Kenya has a better travel infrastructure. That being said, most people go to East Africa to head on safari… and safaris are never cheap. Kenya has the larger tourism infrastructure and has more lodges to accommodate globetrotters heading on an African safari, so the cost of a safari in Kenya will likely be less than one in Tanzania. However, the fact that Tanzania is relatively more exclusive in terms of safari lodges means that you’ll likely end up having fewer fellow tourists to jockey alongside. No matter which country you to head for an African safari, you’ll be spending thousands of dollars per person for the chance to see lions and elephants on the African savannah.

Landmarks

Both Kenya and Tanzania are not lacking for landmarks. The most famous site in Kenya is the Masai Mara, which is home to all manner of animals and offers the sort of picturesque safari experiences people dream of when they think of the African savannah. Beyond the Masai Mara, you’ll find Lake Nakuru, which is famous for its flocks of flamingos that stand in its waters. Nairobi itself is a landmark as it remains one of Africa’s most vibrant and bustling cities, with a population of four million. The port city of Mombasa sits on the coast and offers you a chance to experience the mix of African, Indian, and Middle Eastern traditions. It’s also close to many beachside resort areas like Diani Beach. North of Nairobi, you’ll find Mt. Kenya, which is the second tallest mountain on the continent. And let’s not forget the Masai villages that offer a chance to experience a traditional manner of East African life.

Lake Nakuru, Kenya
Zebras and flamingo at Lake Nakuru, Kenya

Like Kenya, Tanzania is bursting with natural wonders. The Serengeti is the most famous safari park on the planet and remains ground zero for the Great Migration of wildebeest and zebra each year. You’ll also find the Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest inactive volcanic caldera. Nearby Ngorongoro, you’ll find Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa and one of the world’s Seven Summits. Just to the southwest, you’ll also find Mt. Meru, which is another of East Africa’s impressive peaks. Along the coast, you’ll find Dar es Salaam, the effective capital and one of the largest cities in East Africa. Continue into the Indian Ocean and you’ll reach Zanzibar, which is home to the ancient Stone Town, with its Old Fort and ancient traditions. On the opposite end of the country, you’ll find Lake Tanganyika, which is home to some of the best lakeside resorts on the continent. And finally, to the north, you’ll find Lake Victoria, the continent’s largest lake.

Elephants and yellow wild flowers in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Elephants and yellow wild flowers in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

As you can see from these impressive collections of landmarks, Kenya and Tanzania abound with world treasures. However, if you had to pick between the two, Tanzania likely has the advantage. Its combination of the Serengeti, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and Zanzibar is unbeatable.

Food and Culture

Portrait of a Maasai warrior on Diani Beach, Tanzania
Portrait of a Maasai warrior on Diani Beach, Kenya

Although the main pleasures of Kenya and Tanzania come from the nature and wildlife that you’ll find on its stretches of savannah during your African safari, both countries are also home to some pretty incredible cultures with a robust culinary scene. In Kenya, people from the Bantu tribes make up the majority of the population, but in addition to indigenous East African influences, there’s also a strong British influence leftover from colonial rule. As well, along the east coast, you’ll find Middle Eastern and Indian influences due to maritime trade. Kenyan culture is family oriented and friendly, but reserved, so don’t expect people to be blunt or outgoing in the manner you’d expect in certain western countries. That being said, you’ll find a lot of emotion in the country’s music, dance, and clothing. Like Kenya, Tanzania has a lot of cultural influences. The majority of the country consists of local East African tribes, but there’s also a sizable influence from British, German, and Middle Eastern cultures. Over a third of the nation is Muslim, so there’s no monolithic Christian culture as in Kenya. Tanzanian culture is also family-oriented and respectful. People are gracious and friendly, but there is a strong emphasis on being polite to strangers and respecting elders.

Sukuma Wiki - Kale Greens Wilted with Ground Beef and Tomatoes, Kenya
Sukuma Wiki

Kenyan food largely features stews and other mixtures of meat and vegetables that are usually served with ugali, a paste-like dough made from millet or cornmeal. You’ll find grilled meats (nyama choma) and vegetable dishes like Sukuma Wiki, a dish of cooked sweet potato leaves, pumpkin leaves, or cassava leaves that is similar to collard greens. Beef or goat are the main red meats, while seafood is eaten on the coast. Also, along the coast you’ll find coconut rice, while central Kenya is more known for its use of sweet potatoes, cassava, and taro root. Like Kenyan food, Tanzanian food also uses ugali as a staple. On the mainland, you’ll find grilled meats, biryani, a green banana stew (ndizi-nyama), and even pilau. Like Kenya, along the coast, you’ll find coconut milk as a key ingredient, although Tanzanian food tends to use more spices, lending to its robust Indian influences. Stews are also common in Tanzania, with bananas and plantains often used as ingredients (supu ya ndizi has plantains cooked down into a paste and turned into a soup along with veggies and meat).

In terms of food and culture, neither Kenya nor Tanzania has a clear advantage. They both have so many myriad influences and offer a different sort of cultural experience to what westerners are used to back home.

Wildlife

Since Kenya and Tanzania are hugely popular destination for an African safari, the animals that call each country home are some of their biggest draws. Kenya is smaller than Tanzania, but it isn’t lacking for the number of species to be found within its borders. You’ll find all of the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo) at game reserves in the country, like Masai Mara National Reserve. You’ll also find hippos, cheetahs, servals, civets, caracals, gazelles, impalas, antelopes, zebras, wildebeest, waterbucks, giraffes, baboons, vervet monkeys, and bushbabies. There are also 1,135 species of birds in Kenya, including flamingos and ostriches. As well, you can also find the highly-endangered black rhinos within Kenya.

Elephant with baby in Masai Mara, Kenya
Elephant with baby in Masai Mara, Kenya

Tanzania is larger than Kenya, and the number of wild animals in the country reflects just how large it is: there are more than 4 million wild animals here. You’ll find the Big Five, as well as zebra, wildebeest, hippos, giraffes, antelopes, dik-diks, gazelles, elands, kudu, cheetahs, hyenas, wild dogs, crocodiles, vervet monkeys, and even chimpanzees. There are over 1,000 species of birds, including grey crowned cranes, fish eagles, and flamingos. There are also 60,000 types of insects in the country and countless species in the waters along the coast.

As both Kenya and Tanzania are home to the Great Migration, they can both claim to be one of the best countries in the world for wildlife encounters on an African safari. However, if you have to go by sheer numbers, Tanzania gets the slight edge. It’s a larger country and the Serengeti is so iconic that it essentially guarantees a life-changing experience for any globetrotter who is lucky enough to visit it.

Related Article:
What is the Great Migration and When is the Best Time to Go on an East Africa Vacation?

Great Migration at Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Wildebeest during the Great Migration in Serengeti National Park

Which Destination Is Right for You?

There’s so much that’s similar about Kenya and Tanzania, and yet, there are so many subtleties about these countries that make them so distinct. Much of this similarity is a result of their being colonial states until the mid-20th century and the fact they’re conglomerations of smaller regions and tribal collectives; in many ways, they are not homogenous countries in the least. However, after reading our breakdowns, hopefully you’ve got a better understanding of key differences between these countries and which country to choose depending on what type of vacation you’re focusing on.

To clarify:

  • If you want a temperate climate with a better tourism infrastructure, more accessible cities, plenty of natural landmarks, and a polite culture with a robust food scene, head to Kenya.
  • If you want a more tropical climate spread over a larger landscape, more iconic natural sights, more animals, and a vibrant blend of cultural influences, head to Tanzania.

Both Kenya and Tanzania are some of the most vibrant countries that you’re ever likely to visit and offer you the chance to experience the majesty of East Africa on a memorable African safari.

Safari game drive with wildebeest, Masai Mara Reserve in Kenya
Safari game drive with wildebeest in front of Mt. Kilimanjaro

  • Dianne Mariz Catapang

    Thanks for the info. If you’re travelling with a tight budget, Tanzania will definitely be a nice option. It also has amazing natural wonders and famous safari parks like Kenya.