The first idea for a safari in northern Tanzania was to do it on our own with a rented car. But not because of the inevitable adventure, but rather to reduce the costs, which seemed extremely high in a guided safari in Tanzania.
At the end of our journey, it became clear to us that the costs did not really change for the better. But the feeling of driving a car through Tanzania and the national parks in the north was the best experience of our vacation and made up for the higher costs.
- We wanted to do 7 days safari in northern Tanzania
- Four parks were initially on the plan: Ngorongoro, Serengeti, Tarangire and Lake Manyara. In the end, only 2 remained (Serengeti and Ngorongoro).
- The idea was to rent a car and drive on our own without a guide
- As a car rental company we chose Tanzanian Pioneers (they rent the cars of Serengeti Select Safari in Arusha)
As I said, in the beginning we thought we would save money if we were traveling on our own and not on a guided tour. That was a fallacy. In the end it became much more expensive. But we did not think so bad about it, because we did get some features in our vacation, which we had not thought of at first: namely, the adventure of driving through the wilderness on our own and drive and thus to be completely alone and to see no other people up to the horizon. (Masai excluded, because these people are at least in Ngorongo NP everywhere)
In my opinion, this should be your main reason to do a self-drive safari in Tanzania: the adventure of really being alone in the wilderness and seeing wild animals on your own. So thats almost camping with attached safari.
Who wants to do this only to save money, is probably wrong here and should rather join a guided safari.
Which car rental company for a self-drive safari in Tanzania can be recommended?
We researched providers for a long time and most of them were very expensive. Many took way over $ 200 per day, and some even forbid driving to the Serengeti. The cheapest (but still expensive) provider was Tanzanian Pioneers or Serengeti Select Safari (TP arranges SSS Land Rovers and both have the same prices on the website).
The cost is $ 1.30 per km, while you have to pay at least 100km per day. According to Daniel of Tanzanian Pioneers, this is also the average distance that is usually driven per day. According to Nathan of Serengeti Select Safaris (who spoke with us on the spot), there is hardly one driving less than 100 km per day. An important information, because at 1.30 $ (including VAT) per additional kilometer, this can get very pricey in the end. And that was the case with us too. For our 7 days rental 700 km were included. In fact, we drove 1100 km and that without thinking we have really driven too much. Of course, we did not pay attention to the single kilometer. Very important in this context is to know that the return trip from/to Arusha is almost 300 km.
Apart from that we were very happy with the car. Although it was no longer the youngest with more than 200,000 km already, but it had a very comfortable roof tent and was reliable… at least on our tour.
Before the start of the tour you will get an introduction to the equipment and Nathan will discuss with you the route and the roads to drive in the parks or not to drive.
Even though we paid a lot more than planned in the end, we can recommend Tanzanian Pioneers as the provider, because in the end everything worked out well and there is no really cheaper provider.
How do I organise everything for my safari?
The exact route we went through with Nathan when handing over the vehicle. Of course you can not know in advance, exactly where the animals will be and especially with the lions it is more coincidence than good planning if you want to see them.
The guides of the guided tours are all connected to each other by radio and can therefore swap information very fast, where to find which animals. With us it was coincidence, or we drove the after the other cars or stopped where everyone else stopped. This has always worked quite well. Nevertheless, we have certainly not seen as many animals as we would have on a guided tour. But we were also happy about our own discoveries!
Park Entry Fees
Contrary to the information that we have previously read on the internet, it is totally easy to pay the entrance fee for the parks. You do not need a special credit card that you have to recharge at some arusha bank, as you can read on many other websites. All you need is a normal credit card (Mastercard or Visa). With it you pay the fees (per day, per night and car) at the gate. Cash payment is not possible however!
Sometimes you have to fight for your place in the queue at the gate, but overall we found it all pretty easy.
Camping Sites on Safari
You do not have to book the public campsites in advance, but at least book and pay them at the park gates. The public campsites have showers and toilets and you are there with many other campers together. Of course, the true wilderness atmosphere does not really come up. Much better is therefore the following alternative.
These are necessarily to reserve in advance. Daniel from Tanzanian Pioneers helped us a lot. In these sites you are completely alone. No one else is allowed to sleep there, but there are no showers or toilets though. Pure adventure!
These private campsites should definitely be preferred, even without the luxury of a shower. The feeling of waking up in the morning and really only hearing animals and having the wilderness to yourself is indescribable!
The roads are only partially signposted and have you have a maximum of one sign indicating the approximate location. Saving the correct location in a navigation app is therefore highly recommended. Unfortunately, some places are not really listed on maps or there are no exact GPS coordinates. Then you need help from Daniel (when you are planning the route in advance) or on the way from Maasai (they are only available in Ngorongoro) or rangers in the park.
What should I pay attention to in a self-drive safari??
You need an International Driver’s License to rent the car. The police on the other hand, did not really care about it. Once I was even asked why I have 2 driving licenses (one international and one Ggerman).
You will meet the police numerous times. There is a roadblock every few kilometers. Only once we were stopped because of a supposedly not working tail light (which was not true) and the other times it almost seemed like the police wanted to make only small talk. We were never forced to pay a fine and all the police were very friendly and sometimes even funny.
The road conditions in Arusha and on the way to the parks are exhausting (left-hand traffic, chaotic driving), but I would have thought of it much worse. If you adapt and look how the others are going you will not have any problems. We did not get in a brisk situation on the 300 km outside the parks. Of course you also have to be able to drive safely a large car. If you are overwhelmed in a big city like Berlin it will get into troubles most certainly. But who can steer his car with self-confidence and sometimes some audacity, will have no problems here.
Within the parks, this is quite different. The road conditions are catastrophic here! Especially the main streets are a nightmare! You are shaken to an extend that is not funny any more. After 2 days I had a stomachache and I thought I had caught something. But the roller-coaster-like ride probably wasn’t that good for my stomach.
For this I can give 2 general tips:
- The side streets are usually much better to drive than the main routes. Besides, there is much less traffic there. Of course, you also drive a lot slower.
- If the track is extremely bumpy then it is often more pleasant to drive very fast (60-70 km / h) than very slow. You are officially allowed to drive only 50 km/h, but no one keeps to it and it is not controlled.
Where do I sleep during a self drive safari?
On our Land Rover we had a hinged roof tent, which was set up with some practice in 10 minutes. There was a mattress in it, so the nights were actually very pleasant.
So we could just pick every day a nice spot on a campsite and crawl up into our tent.
The downside to our Land Rover was that the roof tent blocked the roof hatch, so we could only look out of the window, but not through the roof. Our car was apparently the only one with this restriction. Nonetheless, you should ask at the time of booking, because a hatch is quite a big advantage on a safari!
What do i eat during a self-drive safari?
Actually like any other camping trip. We had also rented a gas cooker and could eat something delicious every night.
We have already taken some food from home of which we did not expect to get in Arusha at all or as cheap as in Germany.
- Muesli, rice in cooking bags, single portions of instant coffee, vegetarian spread, brown bread, tea, mashed potatoes, tomato sauce, pasta and other things that are easy to transport.
The rest (milk, cheese, eggs, water, etc.) we bought in Arusha. In our Land Rover there was also a refrigerator, with which we could keep our food very cool. Unfortunately, most of the eggs did not survive the shaky tracks in the parks and therefore poured their contents into the fridge .. so be careful when packing!
What does a self-drive safari cost?
Since the cost of our Land Rover was not only calculated by days, but also by miles in the end we had much higher costs on the bill than we expected.
We were on the road for a total of 7 days and thus had an effective 5 days on safari (one day each was spent for arrival and departure)
The cost of the safari is divided into the cost of the park fees and for the car.
- mostly 60$ per person per day
- 40 $ for the car per day
- 30 $ per night on Public Campsites (50 $ for Private Campsites)
- Everything plus 18% VAT
Together that made 1400 $ for park fees. An Overview of the current park entry fees you can get here: Link.
Costs for the Landrover
- 1100 driven Kilometers
- fee for Flying Doctors
- fee for renting Camping gear
- Food and water (aprox. 36l)
- other small thinks
Together that made 1900 $ just for the Landrover.
Additionaly there were cost of about 100 $ for buying food in Arusha and in Germany.
⇒ That made a total cost for the complete self-drive safari of 3400$ for 2 people!
What are the advantages and disadvantages compared to a guided safari?
Of course it makes a huge difference, whether you are driving through the parks with a guided tour or trying to do it by yourself. In general, I would consider the decision for or against one of the two alternatives is a question of your character. But I’m still trying to deliver an objective comparison.
Advantages and disadvantages of a Self-drive safari
- The journey is like an adventure because you have to find every campsite and every animal yourself.
- You are on lonely routes and on private campsites really all to yourself
- At certain points you can get out of the car and smell the very atmosphere of the surroundings (of course you should not do that because it’s forbidden)
- You can also fly drone and enjoy the landscape from above (Of course, this is also prohibited)
- You can stop where you want and go anywhere you want (off-road driving is officially prohibited but sometimes impossible to prevent)
- The risk of getting stuck somewhere is always in the back of your mind.
- If you’re not a trained mechanic, you can be in trouble if the car gets lost in deserted areas
- You have to plan and drive the route yourself and therefore probably see fewer animals than on a guided tour
- It is a lot more expensive than a cheap guided tour with 5 other participants
You have to cook your own food
Advantages and disadvantages of a guided Safari
- You do not have to worry about anything
- You are being cooked for
- The total costs are fix from the beginning
- You probably see much more animals
- You are never alone
- You watch the animals that the guide wants to show you
- It is not a real adventure
Even though the safari ended up being a lot more expensive than it was originally planned, we had an unforgettable experience and had an indescribable time. The feeling being alone in the Serengeti with our Land Rover and to drive across the country and to camp in beautiful places for ourselves and to let our view wander over the sheer endless landscape was worth every single dollar.
We would always make the same decision for a self-drive safari!
So if the thought of 1 week with 5 strangers in a car deters you and you are not afraid to steer a four-wheel drive through the chaotic city traffic of Tanzania and the nightmare slopes in the national parks then I would totally recommend this adventure to you!
We hope to have helped you with the decision or planning a self drive safari in Tanzania. If you always wanted to do something like that then just start planning!
If you have further questions, feel free to leave a comment or send us an email. We are happy to help!
Hot Tip: In the Ngorongoro National Park you can book Walking Safaris (or hikes) on the Private Campsites directly with the Massai. This is not possible with Rangers in the park. But from the Maasai we were offered that several times directly on site.