– Last Updated on: 24th February 2022
As one of the top safari and trekking destinations in the world, Tanzania’s unique animal and mountain world is popular with international travelers. Every year a small number of them think about whether they would rather explore the sights of the country with or without a guide. But what are the respective advantages and disadvantages of self-drive tours and guided safaris? Today’s blog aims to guide you to make the best decision.
In the year before the corona pandemic, almost 1.53 million guests from all over the world cavorted in Tanzania’s national parks. A small part opted for a self-drive tour. But what speaks in favour of not taking a seat in one of the Land Cruisers on a guided safari, as the majority do? And is the large number of those who have their guide with them so wrong? Since I am a guide myself, I am of course very familiar with the advantages of a guided tour. When traveling privately, however, I am also a passionate self-driver. Only in Tanzania I haven’t done that yet. A good reason to read through various blogs and forums to see what experiences self-drivers have had, especially in Tanzania, over the past four years. With that in mind, my next step is now to compare these self-drive experiences with a guided safari. Just remember, there are two types of the guided safaris we offer:
- The group tours for a minimum of 2 to a maximum of 7 people from all around the world, which operate according to a given tour plan.
- The privately guided tours for 1-7 people per vehicle who belong to the same family or the same group of friends. On these private guided tours you are not out and about with strangers and the schedule is discussed with you before booking.
The advantages and disadvantages of self-drive tours in Tanzania
In the overviews below I have listed the advantages and disadvantages that I could find in self-drive blogs and forums on the internet. For the sake of topicality, I made sure to only use experiences from the last four years:
Pros of self-drive safaris in Tanzania
- On self-drive camping tours (more so than on self-drive lodge tours) you are more flexible and can plan much better according to your own interests compared to guided group tours: Do I want to see more birds or more elephants? Do I want to watch the lions for 3 minutes or 3 hours? Do I want to stay in this national park one day longer or not? (Note that this is also possible on guided private camping safaris to a large extend.)
- You are not traveling with strangers as you would be on a guided safari, and you do not have to accommodate anyone. (However, on a private safari you only have to deal with the guide.)
- Self-drive trips can be more adventurous – especially when you are completely alone somewhere without any other people around (even without a guide).
- There will likely be more surprises (not only positive, but also negative).
- There is a tendency for more encounters with locals in situations where the guide would otherwise sort things out for you.
Cons of self-drive safaris in Tanzania
- Long handover times for rental cars due to briefing and sourcing of items that are on the inventory list but are not in the car. There are experiences such as:
- Rental companies having to go into town to collect required items
- Collect camping gear yourself in the rental company’s storage
- Rental cars are often very expensive, and some companies even prohibit driving into the Serengeti. Caution is also advised with flat-rate fees per kilometer, which can become very costly after exceeding the included free kilometers.
- Land Cruisers with a pop-up roof hatch are even more expensive.
- You need to plan the entire tour and route yourself.
- In some cases, there are badly signposted private campsites; a GPS is absolutely essential, and it is advisable to enter the coordinates beforehand. However, there are not always clear coordinates, which makes campsites even more difficult to find.
- Timing and scheduling are often difficult (routes take longer than planned).
- You’ll need to focus on the road at all times because of the speed bumps, the speed limits and the many police checks. Also because of the often-inconsiderate driving style of others (especially trucks and buses).
- Getting stuck in a sandy riverbed or being surprised by a tropical rain storm and getting stuck in the mud happens quite frequently and you often need assistance from someone else to get you going again. The result:
- Help has to be requested and it can take time to arrive.
- Risk of dead spots for cell phones on remote routes, which means that a call for help cannot be issued.
- Small and honest mistakes simply based on lack of knowledge or inexperience can cost more time and money (e.g. if gate times are not adhered to, or the 24-hour rule of admission tickets is misinterpreted, or you misjudge the need or forget to refuel).
- You can lose time at the gates if the payment or code selection technology does not work and you’re not sure how to sort it out and who to talk to in order to resolve the issue.
- Spots when waiting in the queue at the gate are sometimes hotly contested.
- On camping tours, you have to cook your own food.
- High prices in the supermarkets and rip-offs on the go.
- The roads can be in terrible condition, depending on region and season, and you may be rather reluctant to drive them yourself. (Eggs should therefore be stowed particularly carefully.)
- You definitely need to be extremely flexible any day and any time.
- Spotting wildlife is more often than not left to chance and likely less successful than with a guide. (That is why guides are often asked about travel suggestions.)
- Costs per person and care are more expensive than when traveling in a group. Some travelers therefore choose to skip the Ngorongoro Crater – which is a shame as it’s one of the main attractions.
- You might be hoping to save some money by driving yourself; however, more often than not this is not the case and on the contrary, in many cases a guided tour would have been cheaper or at least not more expensive.
What strikes you when reading about the experiences of self-drivers in the previous lists is the long list of disadvantages. Most self-drivers make no secret of this. But time and again there is a qualitative consideration that gives the few advantages mentioned a much greater personal meaning. For many, it is the adventure factor in particular that makes all the disadvantages worthwhile nevertheless.
If you are not deterred by the many possible disadvantages – you can be lucky afterall – you should, in my opinion, pay attention to the following:
- Make absolutely sure without exception (!) that the rental car is in good condition when you receive it. You might be member of an Automobile Club that can easily provide you a checklist for taking over a rental car on the internet. Having your car break down in the national park will cost you time and money, because it is unlikely that you will be reimbursed by the rental company for an extra day caused by the breakdown.
- Also make sure to have a navigation system or a reliable app for your mobile phone with up-to-date maps on board. Tracks4Africa, PocketEarth and maps.me are repeatedly mentioned as recommendations. Signposts in the parks are scarce and often non-existent the further you get away from the main roads. In the Serengeti you will certainly find a lot of zebra stripes along the roads. Unfortunately, they are not a sign of well-organized road crossings here, but rather an expression of the vast wilderness.
- It is also important to have a working cell phone. If you are traveling as a couple, then it is good to carry two fully-charged cell phones. One of them should definitely have a local SIM card in order to be able to better use the local networks. Especially if you are stuck somewhere, two cell phones increase the chance that one of the two will pick up a signal in areas with very weak reception.
Advantages and disadvantages of a guided tour in Tanzania
In the following overview I have summarized my own experiences from the feedback of numerous guests with whom I have been traveling on group tours or on privately guided tours in recent years.
Cons of guided safaris in Tanzania
- Everything feels a lot „safer“ because your trip will be planned and organized in detail. The adventure factor is still very high, but it is no longer quite as “adventurously unpredictable and unforeseeable” as on a self-drive trip.
- On guided group safaris, you have to accommodate different interests and expectations: some travelers in your group might be avid birders first and foremost, others just want to see the Big 5. (This disadvantage does not apply to a private guided safari or at least is a lot less of an issue.)
- On guided group safaris, you have to be lucky to be the only ones in the vehicle – only if you are lucky and no one else has booked the tour, your group trip turns into a private trip. But your guide will always be there in any case.
Pros of guided safaris in Tanzania
- Your tour operator will guarantee the best possible maintenance of the Land Cruiser safari vehicle.
- A guided group tour is usually cheaper for the individual participants than if you went on a self-drive trip with 1-3 people.
- Private guided tours can be tailored to your individual preferences. While a private trip might sound rather expensive, it is in fact only slightly more expensive than a guided group tour as long as you are 4 people or more in your private group. One of the reasons is the shared cost for the safari vehicle as well as the guide.
- The tour price always includes the best car category: a spacious Toyota Land Cruiser with guaranteed window seats and a pop-up roof for a 360 ° panoramic view.
- It is clear from the start which costs of your trip are covered and for which cases you might need to budget some extra cash.
- A team of experienced and professional travel experts plans, organizes and runs your safari. So you have peace of mind before and during your holiday.
- During the trip, most of the decisions are made for you. Many of my guests who are decision-makers in their jobs at home have told me they find this very pleasant and relaxing.
- Instead of driving yourself, you can lean back and enjoy the view. You don’t have to worry about distances, driving times or police checks either. Your guide will also anticipate any possible road or weather challenges.
- Your guide takes care of car breakdowns and repairs.
- Depending on where in the world you live, you might feel very uncomfortable at the thought of driving your own rental car on the left-hand side of the road. On guided safaris, you don’t have to drive at all.
- Guides in East Africa are connected to each other by radio. While on game drive in national parks, they can exchange ideas and find the animals faster and better. They do also have greater knowledge and experience of animal migration routes in the Serengeti than any guide book or app will ever have.
- Your guide has excellent knowledge of routes and area in general. This way, you will find what you’re looking for more easily, whether it’s wildlife or your accommodation.
- You don’t have to cook yourself and delicious meals are served by your crew on guided camping safaris.
- You get to know new people on the guided group tours.
- Your guide will not only share exciting information about the wildlife and their habitat, but be your window to a new culture and share first-hand insights about the country and its people.
- With a guide you can always feel much safer in a foreign country than traveling alone. This is especially true if it’s your first trip to an African safari destination.
If you look at the above lists, it becomes clear that the advantages clearly outweigh the disadvantages of guided tours. Whether self-drive or guided is often a question of personal preference. Most guests like to start with a guided tour and stick with this option even when they return to the country for a second trip. However, a relatively small number of them opt for a self-drive tour on a second or third visit. At this point, you already have a different understanding of the country and are better equipped for a self-drive trip. The bottom line: Whether you choose to go on a self-drive trip in a rental car or book a guided safari, the most important thing is to come to Tanzania at all and not miss out on this amazing country!
Safaris in Tanzania are some of the most exciting opportunities you can imagine encountering wilderness and wildlife. A visit here is definitely worthwhile. We are happy to answer any questions you may have and plan your guided Tanzania safari. Here on site, we are always well informed about the current situation. So get in touch with us! Your dream, our expertise – your very own Tanzania experience.