Tanzania vs South Africa as a Safari Destination

safari activities
Materializing a dream-come-true Africa vacation is a rare experience. For many travelers, the ultimate question usually is: Which country should I go? Tanzania or South Africa? With so many fantastic safari locations in the continent, choosing between Tanzania vs South Africa as a safari destination makes it quite a challenge. In this article, we’ll help you choose your most ideal destination. In a nutshell, travelers who are looking into focusing on an authentic safari and a classic African scenery, Tanzania is the perfect destination. It is also an excellent choice for those who are planning to go to only one safari in their life. South Africa, on the other hand, is the go-to destination for travelers whose travel goal is not focused on wildlife safari but would like “to do it all.” That means safari plus whale watching or perhaps cage shark diving plus wine tasting and other activities.

MAJOR FACTORS

Planning a trip to Africa entails a lot of careful thought – unless you have all the luxury to visit all its beautiful countries. If you’re torn between Tanzania and South Africa, well, we can’t blame you. Here are the factors to consider when mulling over which country to visit:

Scenery

South Africa and Tanzania are both gorgeous in their own ways. Both offer picturesque sceneries, incredible diversity and interesting game parks. But there’s just something radically different between them. In South Africa, you will see sandy coves, flat and rocky desert plains, jagged mountains, green foothills, valleys and plateaus covered with rolling grasslands and tree-dotted plains. You will also have a grand backdrop of a beautiful coastline with vineyards and pine plantations leading to it. Not to mention the wonderful underwater wilderness. Hello, sharks and whales! Tanzania, on the other hand, has a more barren and arid landscape that makes a picture-perfect classic African scenery anyone can think of – hot, dry grasslands with lone acacia and baobab trees framed in a natural backdrop of Africa’s highest snow-capped mountain. You will also see soda lakes, volcanic calderas, rolling hills, volcano and mountain ranges as well as pristine white sand beaches and diving spots in the island of Zanzibar.

Climate

Climate-wise, South Africa is more temperamental than Tanzania. Since Tanzania lies near the equator, there are very little seasonal variations, making temperatures fairly consistent all year-round. April and May are “long rains” season and November has “short rains.” You have to watch for the “long rains” season because some lodges and parks shut down during this time. Other than that, the climate remains to be pleasant and wildlife remains in full force, making it a year-round safari destination. South Africa has a much more seasonal climate, with warm sunny days from November to March, the cooler weather around April and May as well as September and October, and then “winter” in June through August. December to February also is rainy season characterized by torrential downpours in the afternoon and high humidity. The best time to visit Tanzania is between July and October which is the “dry season” and the peak of the Great Wildebeest Migration. But, bear in mind that Tanzania has a relatively consistent weather all year-round so going anytime of the year is still a good idea. For South Africa, May to August is the best time to see wildlife, although this is wintertime and can be very cold. If you wish to visit the Cape, the hot, drier months of November through February is best; and for whale watching, go between July and November.

Wildlife

The famous “Big 5” animals (lion, rhino, elephant, buffalo, leopard) represent the safari royalty. All these big game animals can be found in both countries, with leading parks such as The Serengeti and Kruger National Park for Tanzania and South Africa respectively. Both countries are also stellar birding destinations and wildlife encounters, featuring baboons, spotted hyenas, jackals, antelopes, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, hippos, crocodiles and many other safari staples. However, when it comes to sheer volume of wildlife, Tanzania is world-renowned for having the highest concentration of wildlife in Africa. This is not surprising given that almost a third of the land area of Tanzania is made up of protected nature parks and conservatories. while only 6% of South Africa is protected. Moreover, Tanzania has nearly 1,000 more lions compared to South Africa.

Safari experience

If you’re looking for a more profound safari adventure, Tanzania is your best bet. Usually, you will start your day early and go on a game drive for an entire day. Since parks are usually far from each other, you will spend a lot of time on the road, with sweeping views of the breathtaking Tanzanian landscape teeming with wildlife. Of course, this gives you a more authentic feeling of the “African experience.” South Africa, in comparison, offers safaris that usually last for about 3 hours only or half the day. Most of the time, you go on a game drive for 3 hours in the morning and then another one in the afternoon, spending most of your time at the lodge. Other times, you go on a safari for half a day and then spend the rest of the day at your lodge. Parks also fenced in this country whereas Tanzania has unfenced parks, allowing freer animal movement and migration. The beauty of South African safaris is the extra luxurious amenities they offer such as spa services. For vehicles, Tanzania and South Africa offer very different ones. Since game drives last for hours in Tanzania and roads can be rough and rugged in most areas, you will be riding enclosed safari vehicles featuring pop-up roofs and enormous windows for optimum game-viewing. In South Africa, open-sided Land Cruisers are usually used since game drives are short and usually very near the lodge. This is ideal for close and intimate encounters with the animals in the wild.

Self-driving

If you are aiming to do a self-drive, your best bet for this is to do it in South Africa. In Tanzania, you are welcome to go on a self-drive, too, however you must know that roads in Tanzania are not well-marked if marked at all. Many roads are also unpaved and some, especially during the wet season, are impassable. Some parks like Ngorongoro Conservation Area also do not allow self-driving. They require each vehicle to have a tour guide. Not to mention the fuel costs and safari vehicle rental costs in Tanzania.

Available activities

Tanzania offers a plethora of safari activities including chimpanzee safaris in Gombe and Mahale, off-the-beaten-track experiences in Katavi, Selous and Ruaha, game driving in world-famous parks like Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara, bird watching and even hot air ballooning across the vast plains of the Serengeti. You may also go beach hopping, snorkeling, diving, mountain climbing, white water rafting and go on a cultural tour in Zanzibar. South Africa, albeit a little short on the ultimate safari adventure, offers a myriad of other exciting activities including whale watching, shark diving, mountain climbing, white water rafting, wine tasting, garden route tours, paragliding, and first class city tours that guarantee awesome gastronomic, fashion and shopping experiences. Simply put, Tanzania is a well-rounded safari destination while South Africa is a well-rounded tour destination with a high-caliber of customer service.

Why Tanzania? Why South Africa?

We have already tackled the major factors for comparison of the two gorgeous countries. Here, you will explore more about each country and learn why you should visit one or the other.

Tanzania…

…is Home of the Great Wildebeest Migration.

Lion attacks a zebra Every year, millions of wildebeest thunder across the plains of the Serengeti along with thousands of zebras, elands, impalas and gazelles as they search for better grazing and water. This annual event has been named “the greatest show on earth” and is known to be one of the World’s Natural Wonders. Certainly, there is nowhere in the entire planet where you can witness such sensational wildlife drama.

…has world-famous safari attractions.

Mount Kilimanjaro Tanzania has always been famous for its wealth of picturesque and wildlife-ridden safari parks. It is where you can visit Africa’s Garden of Eden, a world UNESCO site and the world’s largest caldera, Ngorongoro Crater; Africa’s highest peak and the world’s highest free-standing mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro; the famous Lake Manyara where you can see hundreds and thousands of vibrant flamingoes and rhinos in one place; and of course the iconic Serengeti National Park, home to the Great Migration and the highest concentration of wildlife in the world.

…offers an ideal beach holiday.

zanzibar beach While South Africa has Durban beaches, Tanzania offers an amazing string of shorelines in Zanzibar. In fact, some travelers in South Africa still fly to Zanzibar for the most glorious and ideal beach experience – not to mention the coral wilderness it offers which makes it perfect for snorkeling and diving.

…can give you an ultimate camping experience.

Camping safari in Tanzania With a wide-range accommodation option, Tanzania is where you can have an authentic African camping experience. South Africa is popular for being a well-developed country with a string of luxury lodges. And while it offers both budget and luxury accommodations, staying in a tent (aka roughing it out) is not an option in South Africa.

…is where you can meet many cultural tribes.

Maasai tribe in Tanzania A visit and meet-and-greet with the tribes is an essential way to complete that authentic African experience. In here, you can meet the Maasai, Hadza, Sukuma and many others. You get a chance to immerse to their culture and even learn stuff like cultural dancing and even cooking their meals!

South Africa…

…has the World’s Best City.

Wine tour in Cape Town For the fifth consecutive time, South Africa’s Cape Town has been heralded as the World’s Best City. First of all, the Cape is absolutely stunning. It’s where you can see Table Mountain, ride cable cars, go cage diving with great white sharks and most popularly, visit gorgeous vineyards as well as experience world-class wining and dining.

…features the epitome of luxury lodging.

Luxury lodge in South Africa South Africa has long established itself as the premier safari luxury destination. Luxury lodges are the most common type of safari accommodation with topnotch amenities and impeccable customer service.

…displays the extraordinary Sardine Run.

Shark attacking during the Sardine Run If Tanzania has the Great Migration, South Africa has the Sardine Run. It occurs between May and July where billions of sardines move northward along the east coast of South Africa while a feeding frenzy from anything with teeth or beaks begins. This remains to be one of the greatest global events of the marine calendar since 1853.

…is home to fascinating sceneries.

Bourke's Potholes in South Africa Yes, Tanzania has the quintessential African scenery and it’s just as awe-inspiring. However, South Africa displays a plethora of fascinating and “unique-to-Africa” sites including Valley of Desolation and Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve.

…offers a myriad of unique adventures.

tobogganing in South Africa Other than safari drives, South Africa also offers many different exciting activities for any age. It also allows self-driving which is not available in Tanzania.

Recommended Tours

We’ve rounded up some of the best itineraries for you!

East Africa

South Africa

The Final Verdict

The final verdict, of course, depends on you. What do you prefer to do and see and how much are you willing to shell out for a once-in-a-lifetime holiday? If you’re looking into having a more authentic safari experience and if you want to see the raw beauty of Africa the way most people imagine it to be, Tanzania is the best place to go. If you want to add other experiences like wine tasting and whale watching on your itinerary, or if you’re more keen on having a gastronomic treat during your vacation, South Africa is your best bet. Needless to say, your season of travel should also coincide with what you’re going to do, what you’re planning to see and ultimately, which country you’ll go.

Written by: Branded Africa