Tanzania vs South Africa Safaris

Written by Thomson Safaris

People ask us all the time: why choose Tanzania for safari?

Compared to other East African safari destinations, Tanzania is an obvious choice; countries like Kenya offer a similar, wildlife-focused experience, but due to years of active tourism campaigns and less far-sighted conservation policies, are packed with many more tourists and far fewer animals.

But why not choose a totally different destination? How would Tanzania stack up against, say, South Africa?

Both countries are beautiful, but the safari experience in Tanzania vs South Africa safaris is very different. Here’s why:


Tanzania has the highest wildlife concentrations on the continent

If you’re interested in wine or shark dives, South Africa may be the best choice, but if you’re heading out on safari for the wildlife, there’s no contest: Tanzania is the place to go.

Not only is nearly a third of Tanzania’s land protected (32.2% to be exact, many times more than in South Africa, where just 6.2% of the land is set aside in protected areas, according to World Bank data), it has been protected for decades.

This foresight has led to more robust populations of almost every major safari species. Tanzania has more cheetahs, more and larger groups of elephants, larger populations of rare species like wild dog, and 7 ½ times as many lions as South Africa (South Africa’s total lion population is around 2,100 animals; in the Serengeti alone, Tanzania boasts around 3,000 lions). Dozens of parks around the country mean that, no matter what you’re interested in seeing, you have a good chance of tracking it down in Tanzania.

lion pride in tanzaniaPhoto: Judi Wineland

You have a good chance of spotting the Big Five in Tanzania

Better wildlife management means that Tanzania also boasts sustainable populations of all of the Big Five species (lion, leopard, African buffalo, elephant, and black rhinoceros), considered must-see creatures for safari-goers.

Best of all, it has one of the only sites on earth where you might even manage to see them all in just one day: the Ngorongoro Crater.

elephants in tanzaniaPhoto: Thomson Safaris guest, Len Kurzweil

The Great Migration is only in East Africa

For many people, this is the iconic image of safari: hundreds and thousands of grazing animals thundering across the plains, crossing rivers to avoid predators, or giving birth to thousands of newborns as part of the ongoing circle of life.

This event takes place exclusively in East Africa; in fact, 80% of the migration takes place in Tanzania, specifically in the Serengeti (the other 20% of the time, the herds move into southern Kenya’s Maasai Mara).

If the Great Migration is on your safari wish-list, Tanzania is the place to choose.

Great migration river crossingPhoto: Thomson Safaris guest, Patti Sandoval

Tanzania is temperate year round; South Africa is seasonal

Tanzania is an equatorial country, which means there are only small seasonal variations. Barring November and April, when the rains are heavy, you can expect warm, pleasant days year round. Tanzanian “winter,” from June to September, is slightly cooler and drier, while “summer,” from December through March, is greener and a bit more humid…but that’s about it; temperatures are mostly in the 70s and 80s year-round. Whenever you go is therefore a good time for safari, and animals will be out in full force.

South Africa has a much more seasonal climate, with warm sunny days from November through February or March, and temperatures that can dip below freezing from June through August (especially in the interior of the country, where safari sites are located).

This means that from May to late September, South Africa may be charming to visit, but would not be a good location for safari.

africa sunsetPhoto: Claudia Dunn

Tanzania recreates authentic tented safaris; South Africa focuses more on ultra-luxury

In both Tanzania and South Africa, safari-goers can find a full range of accommodation options, from rugged adventure camping to extremely luxurious properties like the Four Seasons.

As a rule, however, South African safari accommodations revolve around a more western-oriented luxury hotel experience, while East African safaris are better at recreating the feel of a traditional tented safari (with significant modern updates for comfort). You can absolutely plan a luxury safari in Tanzania, but it’s easier to find an authentic safari experience there than in South Africa.

This focus means South African safari accommodations are more expensive as a rule (even when they’re less than ultra-luxury).

Nyumba tent at Thomson Safaris campPhoto: Thomson Safaris guests, Juliet & Steve Hochman

Consider what you want to do next

Many people decide to extend their visit to Africa post-safari; how you choose to do so may help you decide which country best suits your needs.

For a cosmopolitan city visit or vineyard tours, South Africa is a great choice. The country is far more urban than Tanzania overall.

For a relaxing beach visit or spice-island tour of Zanzibar, chimp-tracking, or gorilla-trekking, however, Tanzania is the better choice.

You CAN try to mix and match…but the countries are several hours apart by plane, so if you want to get the most out of your time in Africa, it’s smartest to commit to the region that makes the most sense from beginning to end!