How to Book an Amazing (and Affordable) Safari in The Serengeti

Tell me, when you were a child learning the alphabet, wasn’t Q always for ‘queen’, and X was for ‘xylophone’?

And what was Z for?

Z was for ‘Zebra’, wasn’t it?

how to book an affordable serengeti safari
Geniuses at blending in

Such was my conditioning as a child in suburban California, dreaming of animals in Africa for as long as my memories go back even though I was a half a world away.

But my imagination lived in Africa, where E was for ‘elephant,’

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how to book an affordable serengeti safari
What a magical sight!

…and L was for ‘lion’,

how to book an affordable serengeti safari
It came so close to the safari vehicle! Look – she’s preggers.

In the Serengeti, a wonderland for safari holidays in Africa, you can see them all in just a few hours. They’re wild, free, and doing what animals do.

You might catch them in a kill, running from point A to B, eating, swimming, or in the heat of the day – sleeping.

how to book an affordable serengeti safari
Cats doing what cats do

There are giraffes taller and more intricately patterned than my imagination had previously allowed, and hippos that showed me that no, they’re not cuddly and cute, they’re ferocious and deadly.

how to book an affordable serengeti safari
Dun dun dun dun..

The leopards hang out in trees, oblivious of or maybe just ambivalent towards their fame, beauty, and popularity.

There’s probably no way this hasn’t already crossed your mind, but yes Pumbaa from the Lion King is around as well, crawling around on his knees looking for grubs.

how to book an affordable serengeti safari
Part of the ‘ugly five’

That’s not all, though. The Serengeti is also home to 2 million wildebeests, 900,000 Thomson’s gazelles and 300,000 zebras as the dominant herds (via the Unesco World Heritage site). The Serengeti is also hosts many other herbivores including; “7,000 elands, 27,000 topis, 18,000 hartebeests, 70,000 buffalos, 4,000 giraffes, 15,000 warthogs, 3,000 waterbucks, 2,700 elephants, 500 hippopotamuses, 200 black rhinoceroses, 10 species of antelope and 10 species of primate.”

That’s a boat load, no, more than a boat load, of animals!

how to book an affordable serengeti safari
And giraffes!

Indeed, the magic of the Serengeti is difficult to describe in words, which is why you see me reduced to referencing children’s movies and songs. The landscape of vast plains and a scattered outcropping of rocks (Kopjes ) here and there that was originally formed by volcanic activity is vast and diverse like few places on the planet.

When looking out at the Serengeti it’s easy to see why the Maasai, who are the native inhabitants, know it as ‘Siringitu’ –  the place where the land moves on forever. 

The Serengeti region spans over 30,000 square kilometers and encompasses the Serengeti National Park itself, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Maswa Game Reserve, the Loliondo, Grumeti and Ikorongo Controlled Areas, as well as the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.

How to Budget it

The part I visited was the Serengeti National Park and some of the surrounding conservation areas, sleeping just outside the park at the Simba Serengeti Lodge which is a tented lodge with a killer view.

how to book an affordable serengeti safari
Perfect sundowner spot

In the  Serengeti, as with all of Tanzania, you can spend a metric ton of money on a safari, or you can go the extreme budget route taking a local bus and skirting the outsides without going in, or something in between.

I opted for that something in between because I wasn’t about to go all the way to the Serengeti and not go in with a proper safari vehicle!

how to book an affordable serengeti safari
My safari tent at Simba, with a proper roof, an outdoor shower (which I LOVED), bathtub, and a view of the Serengeti

While I’m a huge fan of doing things independently (I’m traveling through East Africa at the moment with a couple of others who are self-driving in their 4×4), we ditched the truck for this adventure for a few reasons: The roads are insanely bad in the Serengeti and we didn’t want to pop a tire, you really want a guide with you who knows how to spot animals, and the safari vehicles with the pop-up top are way better for viewing.

how to book an affordable serengeti safari
What the safari vehicle looks like

Once we got there, we saw zero other self-drivers, thereby confirming we’d made the right choice.

Most people book a package, including a full-board few nights at a lodge, a safari vehicle with a driver, and maybe even a bush flight into the park to save time, and to have a killer view:

how to book an affordable serengeti safari
An overhead view of Lake Manyara during the bush flight. We saw some of the great migration from the air, too!

Safari packages can cost tens of thousands of dollars per person on the high end, closer to several hundred dollars per day in the mid-range (which is what Simba is, and what I did), and can be more like a day tour departing from Arusha if you’re on a tight budget but still want to enter the park. There’s no bush camping in the Serengeti, as it’s a National Park, but there are campsites with amenities.

How to save money

There are a few clever ways that you can spend less money during your trip, such as staying on the outskirts of the Serengeti in the conservation areas for some of the trip. The park fees cost just over $70 per person per day at the time of this writing, but the animals don’t know what is in the park and what isn’t, and you’ll find just as many animals in the conservation areas, and far fewer people.

We took the truck out and saw a family of elephants crossing a river and then the road right in front of us, escorting their two-month-old baby along the way.

how to book an affordable serengeti safari
This was magical

Many of the lodges, such as the Simba Serengeti Lodge, are located on the outskirts, so you can still stay in the vicinity of the park, see animals from your room (I saw a giraffe!), and hang out in the pool in the hot afternoons, all enjoying the Serengeti without having to pay to be in it.

how to book an affordable serengeti safari
Loved chilling in here during the day

In the conservation area, you can also get out of the vehicle (when it’s safe, of course), and do things like a bush breakfast.

how to book an affordable serengeti safari
Pretty cool having breakfast with zebras in the background

You can also book during the low season, which is right in the middle of the rainy season in April, or before the great migration begins in January and February. This is known as the green season in the Serengeti, when the dry and golden plains grasses turn more lush.

how to book an affordable serengeti safari
It’s not always green
how to book an affordable serengeti safari
You can get amazing lightning storms in the rainy season. This was taken at the end of February.

Nearby areas worth exploring

As mentioned earlier in the post, there are several areas that make up the Serengeti and several other national parks nearby as well. The Ngorongoro Crater, for example, is famous for Black Rhino sightings and Lake Manyara National Park has beautiful flamingos.

Tarangire National park also has plenty of wildlife, from monkeys to elephants and all kinds of species in between. Swimming in the pool just on the outskirts of the park, I saw a herd of male elephants walk by.

how to book an affordable serengeti safari
Hey guys! Welcome to the pool party
how to book an affordable serengeti safari
Spotting them from my room

Most of the time, when people come visit the Serengeti, they book safaris in these neighboring parks as well.

Might as well if you’ve come all the way to Tanzania, right?

All in all, I spent about 10 days in the Serengeti National Park, the crater, and the surrounding areas. Each day I saw something different and wonderful, including the big five: buffalo, lions, leopard, elephants, and rhinos.

how to book an affordable serengeti safari
The viewing platform at Tarangire Simba Lodge

So if you’re going on a safari in the Serengeti and want to do it right with a mid-range budget, get a few of your friends, rent a big safari vehicle with a driver, and hop around a few of the lodges to see it all. I like Simba for this because the price is right, the food is really good and healthy, the service is great, the rooms are super clean and the beds are comfortable, they have outdoor showers (and I LOVE me an outdoor shower), and they all have pools and nice views.

how to book an affordable serengeti safari
At the Karatu Simba Lodge

If you share the safari tented rooms, share the car, and enter the parks for one day each and spend the rest of the time on the outskirts, you’ll see plenty, spend less, and still be comfortable and happy with the experience. I definitely was!

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