Looking for a budget safari in Tanzania?
They can be hard to find as safaris generally are expensive when see for a backpackers standpoint.
However I have been on several safaris in Tanzania over the years and this is what a safari into my favourite destination, the Serengeti National Park, is like, along with at the end explaining how to do it on a budget.
A Budget Safari in Tanzania
Serengeti Safari Day One
The word Serengeti alone brings up images of African savannah and wildlife.
It’s a massive national park in Northern Tanzania, home to many animals playing out natures game of life and death. The journey to the park itself passes through endless savannah, and dusty roads for many miles.
Your transport is in a four wheeled drive vehicle , carrying your camping equipment, with a roof that opens up so you can view the wildlife.
Finally after a long drive you arrive at the park entrance, and observe the vistas of the African plains.
Driving for a few hours to get to the campsite for the night, you pass typical wildlife scenes common in many parks in Africa. Hyenas, elephants, gazelles, baboons, hippos, and so on.
Hippos are lazy animals in the day, relaxing in the rivers and pools to keep cool, looking like boulders half submerged. They are very dangerous, one of the most dangerous animals in Africa, and have massive teeth and jaws.
Close to the campsite, just 300 metres away from where you sleep for the night, there is a big pride of around fifteen lions eating a buffalo kill.
Gorging themselves on the flesh, some go half way in too get at the good meat of the liver. The cubs played while the adults fed, and when full, the lionesses rolled around on their backs stuffed and content.
Hyenas, jackals and vultures waited patiently in the background, waiting for when the lions leave to get the scraps of meat.
Getting to the campsite for the night, you sleep in simple canvas tents. There is no fence around the campsites in the Serengeti, it’s all open to the wildlife.
With a big group of lions eating just 300 metres away, and hyenas roaming around, it can be a bit unnerving. Especially when you hear stories of lions coming into camp to drink from the toilets!
Nicknaming the area death-camp, with the sound of lions roaring in the distance, and the chilling sounds of the laughing hyenas, you try to sleep. Knowing there is just a thin piece of canvas separating you from the wildlife, it makes for a restless night.
Waking at three in the morning to very loud noises, you realise there is a group of hyenas roaming around the tents, their loud laughs echoing in the night.
The thought of needing to go to the toilet was suppressed as much as possible!
Serengeti Safari Day Two
Waking the next day at the break of dawn, with all limbs attached, you head back out for a full day of driving.
First stop was back to the lions from the day before, to see what was happening. The buffalo was stripped bare, with its ribs showing up white, and the bloated lions still picking away.
Hyenas and jackals still hovering around, waiting to get their fill. You leave the scene to search for more wildlife, as the sun rises on the Serengeti savannah.
Moving around in the chill of dawn you can see the usual suspects; giraffe, zebra, hippos and so on. It’s early enough to see the hippos out of the water, and too appreciate their huge size.
Then something that everyone wanted, a leopard had been spotted. Racing along the dusty terrain to get to the scene, you arrive to see the outline of a leopard in the tree.
Leopards are generally solitary animals, and are notoriously hard to find. This was a great opportunity!
They are beautiful cats, elegant and deadly. Getting up from its branch, the outline of the leopard can be seen more clearly.
Leaving the leopard behind, you discover a solitary lioness relaxing in the cool shade of a tree, just three metres away from you.
Then the lioness sees something in the distance, a movement, four zebras are walking maybe 500 metres away and have her attention.
She observes for several minutes, before getting up and disappearing into the long grass, perfectly camouflaged to stalk the zebras.
Reappearing a few minutes later she walks across the road in front of the vehicle, having driven closer to the zebras.
The hunt appears to be on, but alas in the midday sun, the lioness loses interest and finds another tree to take shelter under. A lucky day for those zebras.
Lions mostly hunt at night, so this lioness will most likely wait until then.
With time running out you get ready to leave for a fast drive out of the Serengeti, but not before running into a wildlife road-block one could only imagine in Africa, an elephant.
Drinking from a puddle on the road it is in no hurry, and neither are you, as you watch the big giant slurping up litres of water into its mouth.
With the elephant eventually leaving, it’s time to race to the next destination. Ngorongoro Crater is the next stop, for more wildlife viewing, and famous for the largest density of lions in Africa.
Standing up with the roof open, the wind blowing in your face, dust flying through the air, animals racing by, you couldn’t imagine anywhere else you would rather be.
Return To The Serengeti
It was time to return back to one of the best places for wildlife, the Serengeti.
This was a particularly gruesome visit, and as if to forewarn of the carnage ahead, a big dust-storm hit the vehicle upon arrival at the gates.
With visibility only a few metres, there was no choice but to wait for a respite.
The Serengeti was all dried up waiting for the rains to come, which meant excellent conditions for wildlife spotting.
The dust storm clearing up it was time to get going, and after just thirty minutes, you came across three lions right next to the road, one of them a male tearing into a zebra with its mighty jaw.
Watching hyenas circling in the background with the fading light, it was time to make fast to the campsite before dark.
Just several minutes further on, four hyenas were ripping into a zebra also next to the side of the road.
It was almost as if the wildlife were putting on a show for you as you entered, as if to say ‘welcome to the wild-side’!
The zebra appeared to have died naturally during pregnancy, you could see the massive belly with the unborn calf inside.
The hyenas jumped all over the zebra, shredding into its genital area to get at the dead baby. One hyena was successful and the dead baby popped out of the zebra, spilling fluids everywhere.
The hyena carried the baby of to feast on by itself.
Then one of the worst smells I have ever known hit us. The hyenas had torn into the lower abdomen, and its bowels burst everywhere.
The smell was simply horrendous, making the decision easier to leave and to get to camp.
On the way out a jackal tried to get the baby zebra away from the hyena, but the hyena chased it away easily.
Then a male lion raced out of nowhere to the scene and chased the hyena away, to claim the dead baby as its own, carrying it off in triumph.
What the hell next, we thought to ourselves, this was an amazing wildlife spectacle.
We stayed at the pre-named ‘death camp’, from a previous to the Serengeti a few weeks earlier.
This time around an elephant wandered through the camp during the night, crashing around by the toilet area, and hyenas encroached into the camp, with their cackling laughs.
Waking up to the cool morning air, you grabbed a quick bite to eat, before once again heading out in the vehicle.
This time it was more lions, with a dead zebra at the side of the road. Slashing open its head and exposing the ribs, the adults and cubs together feasted.
Carnage ensued, the adults getting a good fill of fresh meat, blood splattering their coats.
You can see the half remains of the zebra on display as you drive away from the scene, lions looking on delighted.
This was definitely one of the bloodiest safaris I had ever been on, a truly gruesome display of hunter and hunted, and was spectacular to witness nature at its rawest.
A Day Of Leopards In The Serengeti
Leopards are the hard to find animal that many want to see on safari, and such was the case in the Serengeti.
Some people go on many safaris and never see one. So would you believe me if I said we saw nine leopards in the space of twenty-four hours in the Serengeti?
Previously I had only seen two leopards after many safaris, so my expectations are always low about spotting them.
A friend in the vehicle in the Serengeti asked me ‘is that a leopard on top of that tree’? Yes it was, far away and silhouetted up in the branches.
I congratulated her and joked I would love to see one right next to us, little did I know that wish would be granted.
Driving just a few hundred metres further there were two leopards lounging on the grass.
Getting up, they moved to a tree where one climbed up, but with its partner staying on the ground, it decided to come back.
This was great, two leopards just twenty metres from the road.
The leopard that jumped from the tree then started to move towards us, and my wish of just fifteen minutes previous was granted. A leopard right next to our car, and such a beautiful cat to observe up close.
Leopards are the masters of the trees, being expert climbers, so when one came directly beside the vehicle and looked up into my eyes, I knew it wouldn’t take much for it to jump up.
It was quite thrilling.
Its friend then decided to come and join, and both wandered on by us as we all looked at each other, realising how lucky we were.
Watching them play together as they passed, and their keen eyes watching us was fascinating.
They moved to a different tree next to the road, and this time both decided to climb up.
It turns out the leopards had an impala kill stored up in the branches. Leopards carry their kills up into the tree to keep them away from other animals.
While one of them started to snack on the impala, the other relaxed on a branch, until the one eating came down for them to be together.
Leaving them alone as they seemed happy to do nothing now, we left amazed at having seen three leopards in such a short time.
Thinking we would not see the same again, we were in disbelief the next day when we came upon two more leopards.
Then not so far away another one, lazing around on a so-called sausage tree.
Three more leopards were seen after that, unbelievable.
Many people go on safaris and never see any, so seeing nine in such a short time was a wildlife dream come true.
For some of my fellow travellers in the vehicle with me, it was their first safari, which just goes to show with animals, you never know what may happen.
A Serengeti Budget Safari
The trick to getting a budget safari in Tanzania:
Some tour companies in Arusha work together and will add on an extra person or 2 at a discount rate to a group who already booked a safari, in order to make a bit of extra cash.
This is possible but you may need to spend a few days in Arusha to do get on a budget tour like this. You will still be looking at around $150 a day upwards (if you go on safari in Tanzania please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org about the rates if they change).
For more African wildlife take a look at my very detailed guide for safaris in East Africa.
And for backpacking in Tanzania my recommended itinerary.
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