Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is Africa’s highest mountain, attracting thousands of trekkers from around the world every year. As it’s a long hike up the mountain - 5 to 6 days at the minimum depending on the route, many visitors come for the Kilimanjaro trek alone. But for those who have some extra time on their holiday, take the opportunity to experience Tanzania’s other huge tourist attraction - safaris. The best Tanzania holiday consists of the Kilimanjaro climb and the African Safari, as shown in National Geographic for over a century. Kilimanjaro is ideally located for this as it’s right next to some major National Parks with world-famous safari opportunities. In this article, we’re going to look at the best Tanzania safari tours you might want to combine with a Kilimanjaro hike. These are closest to Kilimanjaro and the most commonly included in combination tour packages.
East Africa offers the best game reserves in the world to see magnificent African animals in their natural habitat. Here you can see the famous Big 5; lions, elephants, rhinos, buffalo, and leopard, as well as hundreds of other impressive wildlife species including giraffes, hippos, ostriches, antelope, crocodiles, zebra, cheetah, wildebeest and hyenas. Thanks to the protection of National Parks they are still abundant in these areas and it’s easy to see most of them on any safari. And there’s a lot of them - you’ll be blown away by the number of big game you will see!
Elephants and Zebra in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro seen on a Safari. Photo by Rohit
A safari allows you to get amazingly close to these animals in the wild and observe them. Because tours have been running in these parks for decades, in many safari destinations the animals are perfectly used to humans and practically ignore them, even in motor vehicles. This lets you get really close to the more dangerous animals safely and move quickly to exciting events such as animals on the hunt. Local guides and drivers are amazing too, adept at spotting well-camouflaged wildlife like leopards hundreds of meters away with the naked eye alone!
Having been on safari myself in Tanzania (to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater) I can tell you it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you will never forget. The amount of wildlife will boggle your mind, wildebeest, antelope and zebra everywhere, the chance to get close to lions, giraffes stalking the landscape, the occasional group of elephants roaming over the plains, and lots of other animal sightings. We saw every animal I hoped for. It’s also a beautiful, unspoiled place of grassland and solitary trees stretching into the distance. My personal highlight was a lucky dusk encounter where we followed a pride of lions hunting wildebeest - watching them moving silently through the grasslands before surrounding and attacking as a group, and then stopping to eat their meal. One of the lionesses walked past our vehicle, I could have reached through the window and touched her she was so close! Amazing!
Lion stalking it's prey. Photo by Joren
Ngorongoro is an ancient and vast volcanic crater with a flat bottom covered in grass plains and forest. This National Park is world famous and the only place in the world that you can spot the endangered black rhino. It’s the biggest inactive caldera in the world - over 260km squared in area and 600 meters deep. This is home to over 25,000 large animals - aside from rhinos, you can see elephants, hippos, crocodiles, monkeys and birdlife. Mighty herds of gazelles, wildebeest and zebra wander the plains as well. Views from the crater rim are impressive (and some pricey lodges sit here) before you descend to the floor to spot the animals.
Zebras grazing on the reserve just before Kilimanjaro. Photo by Joren
The crater is one of the easiest ways to see Masai lions in the wild as it has around 60 in total, one of the densest populations in the world, as they stay within the crater walls. It also has lakes which are often home to thousands of colourful pink flamingo.
There are a number of tourist lodges and campsites for accommodation in the conservation zone and the nearby town of Karatu. Ngorongoro is only around 3.5 hours drive from the town of Arusha, one of the main Kilimanjaro trekking towns, and it’s possible to arrange crater safaris from there as well as Karatu.
The dense concentration of a wide variety of wildlife makes Ngorongoro crater a great choice if you have limited time to go on safari outside of your trek. The time of year doesn’t matter either as the wildlife is there all year long! It’s guaranteed that you are going to see a lot of animals here of many types, even if you just have a day of safari. Bear in mind that it’s smaller area compared to the other safari locations does mean a higher concentration of tourists.
This protected area is even closer to Kilimanjaro than Ngorongoro, around 2.5 hours drive from Arusha. Aside from abundant wildlife it’s known for its massive termite mounds and the numerous and distinctive bulbous Boab trees. Here you can see animals such as buffalo, giraffe, baboons, gazelle, zebra and wildebeest. Tree-climbing lions are another highlight. This is also one of the best places to see elephants thanks to their large numbers in this park (over 3000!). There is also a large concentration of birdlife, with over 350 species to be found here.
Elephants are the biggest of the Big 5. Photo by Joren
The amount of wildlife in Tarangire depends on the season, so check in advance to see if it’s worth choosing over one of the other safari locations, in case animal numbers are low in the month that you visit. Numbers are highest in dry season (June to November). It also has the advantage of being one of the least-visited of Tanzania’s reserves so is nice and quiet. You can explore most of the park in a day or two, so it’s another good option for those with a short amount of time. Many Tarangire safaris can be arranged from Arusha, making it easy to plan along with a Kilimanjaro trek.
The closest safari destination to Kilimanjaro with the main gate only 25 kilometers from Arusha, this small park doesn’t have all the big animals but is a good option if you are short on time or money. It is a varied and green landscape with great views, containing Mount Meru (a large volcano and popular trekking destination), forest, grassland and lakes. Common animals include giraffe, buffalo, zebra, warthogs and monkeys. It’s uncommon but possible to see lions here and there is a large bird population in the forests with plenty of chance to spot them, and flamingos in the lakes. Walking tours are popular and let you get up close and personal with the animals! Arrange tours from Arusha town. This is a quiet park and although you won’t see as many animals as the other options it’s still nice and can be a good introduction to Africa’s wildlife and nature, especially if you want to include a quick safari into your trip.
Giraffes are commonly seen in Arusha National Park. Photo by Rohit
The Serengeti is the Big-Daddy of safari destinations and very famous. The park covers a massive area - over 14,000 square kilometers and continues into Kenya’s Masai Mara National Park. The south part of the park holds the epic Serengeti plains (Serengeti comes from the Maasai word for endless!) which stretch as far as the eye can see and is home to a large variety of wildlife and giant herds.
Most Serengeti safaris will take you into the heart of these plains, up to a day’s drive from Arusha - so it’s a bit further out from Kilimanjaro than the other parks. But here in this unspoilt wilderness you can see a lot of wildlife in amazing surroundings. These include giraffes, vast numbers of wildebeest and zebra, buffalo, lions, leopards, cheetah, ostrich, hippos, elephants, hyenas, jackals and plenty of birdlife. Although animals tend to be less concentrated than Ngorongoro crater, there is a wider variety and the vast size of the park means that tourists are well spread out except at key animal sightings. It’s a great place to see lions as they are numerous and if you are lucky you can see the prides hunting, an amazing experience.
The Great Migration of the Serengeti. Photo by Marc
In and around the south part of the park there is plentiful accommodation ranging from unfenced campsites where you may encounter the wildlife, to luxury lodges and romantic tented safari camps.
The most epic event each year is the world-famous Great Migration, where over a million wildebeest and zebra travel en-masse to new feeding grounds in the rainy seasons. If your Kilimanjaro trip will coincide with this event, don’t miss an incredible opportunity to see this unique spectacle.
An expensive, but unique, perspective to view the plains is to take a hot air balloon ride which soar at dawn for a few hours allowing you to see the animals active from above with amazing views.
Serengeti safaris can be arranged from Arusha and Karatu. The Serengeti takes longer to get to from Kilimanjaro and can be more expensive thanks to its isolation, but offers a unique experience, great wildlife and is an amazing environment.
Kenya is the other main safari destination that’s combined with Kilimanjaro tours. It has a large number of protected zones which are great for seeing African wildlife. The most common destination is the impressive Masaai Mara National Reserve in the Narok county, which joins with the Serengeti. It boasts the same kind of wildlife as its neighbour and is famous for big cats. It is also a place you can see the Great Migration. The next most popular is the Amboseli National Park which has great views of Mount Kilimanjaro and Meru. In the north you can find the popular parks of Meru, Lake Nakaru and Samburu. Each offers different varieties of wildlife and landscape.
Zebras and Giraffes in a stereotypical African Safari picture. Photo by Joren
Further afield, Africa has plenty of other great safari destinations such as Botswana’s Duba plains, Namibia’s Mundulea Nature Reserve, Zambia’s Zambezi valley, Rwanada’s mountains to see wild gorillas and South Africa’s Kruger Park.
It’s a real shame to miss out on a safari if you’re going to be in Africa anyway for Kilimanjaro. Safaris are available in combination with a Kilimanjaro trek from the vast majority of tour operators, or you can easily arrange a safari yourself by adding extra time to your holiday. Either book a safari from home or sort it out in a nearby town like Arusha with little hassle. It will also help you unwind and give your muscles some rest after your trek.
We hope this article has given you some insight into why safari is such a great activity, and that you found our recommendations useful. There’s nothing like seeing some of the greatest animals in the worlds in their natural habitat. Don’t forget your camera!