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First time Safari to Zim, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Kenya

Chicago, Illinois
Level Contributor
9 posts
9 reviews
First time Safari to Zim, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Kenya

Hello all,

Thanks in advance for reading, and any advice you may have.

My husband and I are planning our first trip to Africa and I need some help.

I'll be honest and say that a trip to Africa has been a dream of mine since I can remember (as a child I dreamed of learning Swahili, a dream I've never realized). As such, I've got high expectations for the trip.

After researching, ideally, we'd like to visit Zimbabwe for Mana Pools for a walking/canoeing Safari and Victoria falls for white water rafting; Rwanda for mountain gorilla trekking; Tanzania for the Serengeti, Ngorongoro crater, and Manyara (Tarangire and Kilimanjaro sound great too); Kenya for Masai Mara, David Sheldrick, and Diani Beach (I'm sure Kenya has a lot more to offer).

We're both very active travelers, so we really like the idea of Zimbabwe for the canoeing and white water rafting. Additionally, I really want to see the gorillas in Rwanda.

We can take up to 25 days of vacation (this has to include international flights).


1. For the number of days we have, is this too much to expect to see? I don't want to travel so much within Africa that we miss actually spending time in Africa (if that makes sense).

2. What should I expect a trip like this to cost? We have a budget in mind, but we're not sure how realistic it is.

Any other thoughts and advice are appreciated.



P.S. I'm not sure how to cross post this to other forums. Can someone advise?

African Wanderer Safaris
Nature & Wildlife Tours
ThisAndThat Safaris
Nature & Wildlife Tours
Ride Zimbabwe
Nature & Wildlife Tours
Destination Expert
for Zambia, Selous Game Reserve, Ruaha National Park
Level Contributor
5,870 posts
1. Re: First time Safari to Zim, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Kenya

I think this is too much.

If you cut out the Kenya bit, it looks a bit more realistic. The Mara and the Serengeti are basically one park sliced in two by the border, and although there will be differences in terrain between the two, there's not a lot of point visiting both.

I think in, say, 14-15 days you could do a decent northern circuit safari in Tanzania and gorilla trekking. Then for the rest you could get in Mana and a few days at the falls, but you are also probably going to need nights in transit between all these places too. So even this might be a squeeze.

I reckon you need to budget at least $500 per person per night on top of your flight into and out of Africa. Some nights will be cheaper (eg city nights, the falls), but you will have some big costs in there like gorilla permits, the flight from Mana to the Falls (Mana is not actually very accesible from the Falls) and your internal flights.

If you want to do it more cheaply, it might be possible but I think you'd need a lot more time.

Wayzata, Minnesota
Level Contributor
633 posts
2. Re: First time Safari to Zim, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Kenya

Dear Tobrien13,

What an amazing adventure that lies ahead for you! I actually lived in Chicago myself for 18 years and just moved back to Africa, where I was born. I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with one more winter, although I love the windy city!

I have to agree with Stokeygirl, you may need to cut out one destination in order not to feel rushed getting from point A to B. You want to enjoy what each region has to offer especially if it has been a lifelong dream for you to visit these countries.

You have not mentioned which month you wish to travel in, this may play into some of the logistics in terms of routing. I’ll give you some of my thoughts for each destination, perhaps that will help you in the planning process. For Mana pools I would look at Goliath camp, http://www.goliathsafaris.com/ The tented camp is situated on the river’s edge and walking in this area is spectacular. The camp is owner run and Stretch Ferreira the founder has quite the following. You can’t go wrong with this product.

Victoria Falls town itself offers a few options in various price ranges, Ilala Lodge is a nice mid-range property http://www.ilalalodge.com/ and also home to one of the best restaurants in this area.

The Gorilla trekking portion will be pricy. Realistically speaking if you are looking at 3-5 days on the ground in Rwanda and the per person costs will vary between $3000-$5000 per person all in (including your permits to trek, depending on the accommodation you decide on). I would recommend 2 treks as you only spend up to an hour per trek with the Gorilla family. Doing two treks allows you to have a well-rounded experience, you never know how the silverback might behave on one trek only, you may end up leaving before the hour is up. By doing two treks, you are setting yourself up for the best possible experience. I am actually leaving this week, I am staying at Sabyinyo Silverback lodge but there are many other more cost effective options.

For Tanzania weather would be more of a factor; are you interested in following the migration? The short answer is the migration would be in the Serengeti (again this is weather pattern dependent) but for arguments sake let’s say the following would be true;

Migration would be around Lake Ndutu and Serengeti in Dec – March (the rains start falling in March) – They have long and short rains in East Africa. Babies are dropping so the Serengeti flourishes during late January/February over this period specifically for calves.

In July/Aug the migration patterns start moving to northern Serengeti and into the Mara in Kenya – both would be optimal over this period. Game is good in Tanzania year round depending on the region you visit. Ngorongoro Crater is also a highlight in Tanzania and worth the trip. This is usually a full day excursion into the Crater floor. It’s a national park so you can’t off-road or night drive. One full day here is really enough, so 2 overnights. There are a few lodges on the rim with breathtaking views of the crater, if you have the budget this would be the place to stay! Asilia is a great option in this region, and they have quite a few specials, if you book multiple lodges or a certain number of nights, worth checking out; asiliaafrica.com/east-africa-safari/… If not, you could look at doing a day-trip into the Crater and stay somewhere like Gibbs Farm; http://www.gibbsfarm.com/ It makes for a long day but it’s often much more cost effective.

Other areas of interest would be Tarangire National Park and Lake Manyara National Park. Here is a quick breakdown; The best wildlife viewing months in Tanzania are during the dry season from late June to October. The best chance of seeing the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti is during June and July and the time to see the wildebeest calving is late January to February. The southern circuit (Ruaha National Park and Selous), and western circuit (Mahale National Park and Katavi National Park) are best visited during the dry-season (June to October), unlike the more popular Northern Circuit Parks (Serengeti National Park, Ngorgongoro Crater National Park, Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Park) that can be visited year-round. Tarangire is the only exception, since its wildlife viewing is considerably better in the dry-season as well. Chem Chem which sits outside the park and offers walking only is a good option (you can do a game drive into the park on a 3 night stay), it’s sister property Little Chem Chem sits inside the park and is intimate and offers regular game viewing activities. http://www.chemchemsafari.com/

For Lake Manyara Gibbs Farm is again a great place to stay and do a day trip into the park. Gibbs is a working coffee plantation and adds a unique element to the safari experience.

Remember that March and April is the peak of the wet season while July to October offers the best weather as there is no rainfall. As Stokey girl said, no need to visit both the Serengeti and the Mara, however if you wanted to add something different Kenya has some amazing options! Samburu and Lewa are both amazing; This region is known for large herds of elephant and big cats, as well as the Reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, Beisa oryx, Somali ostrich and the Gerenuk antelope. These species are only found north of the equator. The Lewa conservancy is known for their conservation efforts relating to Rhino. Black and White Rhino are often seen here. It is truly a very special area and would offer you something uniquely different. You can do activities like camel rides vs. 4x4 game viewing, or horse riding if you are a good rider. Lewa Wilderness http://lewawilderness.com/ and Borana are both great options http://www.borana.co.ke/

Anyway, I don’t want to bombard you with information - I hope this helps in your planning process. Africa is such an amazing continent and you are on your way to make your dream of visiting come true! Best of luck with all the planning!

Marguerite Smit - Safari Consultant - Travel Beyond

Manchester, United...
Level Contributor
1,790 posts
26 reviews
3. Re: First time Safari to Zim, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Kenya

There isn't much I can add to the above advice which is fantastic, other than to say, try and do Tanz, the Gorillas, then Mana and finally Vic Falls. Starting with Tanzania will give you that magical first time feeling of the sweeping plains and game as far as the eye can see, but you'll likely be in a closed vehicle with a pop/up roof with little option to be out of foot. The Gorillas is a perfect change of scencery, pace and activity as it's much more physical as well as being a once in a lifetime moment. I 100% agree do a minimum of two treks. When you start to waiver as the cost is so high, sit down and have a word with yourself because you are unlikely to do it again and two treks will be different and offer a bit of insurance. Whilst you are unlikely not to see Gorillas anything can happen in Africa and if you miss one trek because of a flight or other problem you'll have one in reserve. I prefer to resist the temptation to do some crazy connection or journey in a single day as things go wrong in Africa and so if you don't build in a bit of slack you can find yourself losing an expensive Safari night and nobody wants that. As Stokeygirl says, the flight to Mana pools from Vic Falls is very expensive and you'll need to fly back again. Don't imagine you'll see any change out of 1000 dollars per person for that return trip! Although it takes longer and much depends if it's even possible but you could look at flying into Lusaka, staying somewhere like Pioneer camp and then driving into Mana. I would be surprised if a good agent couldn't arrange that for you and Goliath may even be able to advise on how to arrange this. It's a trade off between cost and time, but if cost is an issue then perhaps worth looking into. Finally, I would absolutely finish your safari in Mana. It's such a special place and to be out on foot with the Goliath guys or indeed any of the private guides out there is very special indeed. You might see less in Mana than the Serengeti but there is no substitute for the walking experience in Mana Pools. You can drive up to look at anything, but in my view you haven't really experienced it until you've tacked lions on foot, crawled up to a pack of wild dogs or looked up into the eyes of a big Tusker. Being out on foot is a whole different experience and a great thing to do at the end, after you have seen a lot already and maybe not so worried about the tick-list.

Chicago, Illinois
Level Contributor
9 posts
9 reviews
4. Re: First time Safari to Zim, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Kenya

Hello all!

Thank you for your advice. I knew in my gut that it was too much to hope to see those four countries in the time we have. Now my husband and I have to make the difficult decision on what to cut. Any ideas on how to choose?!? :)

I am sorry that I forgot to mention when we plan to travel. We're lucky to have flexibility. We can travel in June or August through October.

Finally, how can I decide who to book with? Is it possible to book this vacation on my own? I've planned a lot of travel for us on my own (including a 1 month trip to Europe that visited seven countries and 13 cities), but this seems like something I cannot get my head around.

Thanks again!


Wayzata, Minnesota
Level Contributor
2,929 posts
31 reviews
5. Re: First time Safari to Zim, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Kenya

Hi Taylor,

How about this?

Option 1 – Do a complete Tanzania circuit including the northern and southern parks along with Rwanda for Gorillas. Optimal time would be any time in your period July through mid-October. Earlier is better as the southern portion of Tanzania heats up rapidly in September so perhaps leave after Labor Day. Perhaps skip Mahale Mountain if you are going to do Rwanda or just go all-out and do a complete Tanzania circuit.

For option 1, doing a combo of Asilai and Nomad properties in Tanzania and Sabyinyo in Rwanda should be around $22,000 per person +/-.

Tarangire – Olivers Camp x 3

Ngorongoro Crater – The Highlands x 2

Northern Serengeti – Siyari or Lamai x 3

For Ruaha, Selous and Katavi (x 9) you could do a Nomad circuit. Chada in Katavi would be magic in September.

Rwanda x 4

Option 2 – Do a Zimbabwe circuit with Mana Pools, Hwange, Victoria Falls (8 nights total) then head up to Kenya for 8 nights in Lewa or Meru (one or the other) plus the Mara. Finish up in Rwanda. Zimbabwe will also heat up rapidly in September so start in Zimbabwe around Labor day and end up in Rwanda.

If you did these lodges in these places option 2 would be in the range of $20,000 per person +/-.

Mana Pools – Ruckomechi x 3

Hwange – Little Makalolo x 3

Victoria Falls – Ilala x 2

Lewa Downs or Meru - Lewa Safari Lodge or Elsa’s Kopje x 4

Masai Mara – Naboisho or Elephant Pepper or Serian x 4

Rwanda – Sabyinyo + 2 gorilla treks x 3

How to book? I suggest engaging with a US based safari specialist agency. This should be a high value experience for you (combination of service and price) and for an upscale trip it should be the same price as booking direct. Also you will have additional layers of financial protection and the US court system to back you up. Keep in mind, there are several places were you will need to use an agent if you choose certain product such as Wilderness Safaris in Zimbabwe or Asilia in Tanzania. I traveled to Rwanda with Elizabeth Rand from Explore (based on Steamboat Colorodo). She would be one person to consider. I can personally vouch that she has been all over Rwanda and seen just about every upscale accommodation and had every major wildlife experience in Rwanda because I was with her (chimps, gorillas, golden monkeys). I also know she was in Tanzania extensively last November as she was about week behind me on a very similar trip. All she has done for the past 25 years is plan safaris and travel to Africa. You could also consider Chris Liebenberg at Piper and Heath in San Diego. He has been to every place I mentioned in option 1 and option 2. Many of the more off-the-beaten path places will end-up referring you to an agent because they won’t take direct bookings so you may get into a pickle pretty quick with some of the stuff you are considering.

Good luck!

Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond

Olympia, Washington
Level Contributor
89 posts
11 reviews
6. Re: First time Safari to Zim, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Kenya

What ever you do don't skip Tanzania and The gorilla trek in Rwanda, this is what I did, and I have to say it was great the people in both countries were wonderful!!!! I loved the gorillas !!!!!! Don't cut this out because of cost !!!

7. Re: First time Safari to Zim, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Kenya

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