Trying to determine best safari location and cost

I have 3 weeks in Eastern Africa in July of next year (2019) and am flying into Nairobi, Kenya and out of Lilongwe, Milawi. But now the challenge begins, what to do! We have been looking and trying to figure it all out and are trying to figure out how to stitch all of the informaiton together.
Other information:

  1. We are very well traveled but never to Africa previously. Our travel bags in the past for 2-3 weeks are two changes of clothes + toiletries and designed to fit under an airplane seat. If we need more, we can buy it- but never do.
  2. Two teenagers in tow so a party of 4!
  3. We have family in Lilongwe that we will connect with and do a 3 or 5 day walking safari in nearby Zambia National parks

So we could spend anywhere between 3 days and 14 days in Kenya/Tanzania if we want them.

But quite simply, with a budget of $4000 (including ~$1600 flight from Nairobi to Lilongwe), where should we go and do? With a budget of $10,000 does it get that much better?

We have found 5 day safaris around Kenya (Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru, Lake Naivasha) plus a couple of days in Mombasa. But are we going to regret being that close to the Serengetti+Ngorongoro and not going?

Are Kenya and Tanzania effectively interchangeable if we do them well? Or do we need to do both?

Could you please post some links to 5 day safaris there. That’s less than half the time of those I researched. Appreciate it! :slight_smile:


I assume if you’re in Lilongwe that you’re doing South Luangwa (and if you’re not, then you need to.) Honestly, I think that you’re already at the pinnacle of Safari. It’s uncrowded and has sweeping Savannahs along with more dense thickets. I guess Serengeti is a bucket list type of place, but honestly I think you’re probably going to see ‘more of the same.’ in any of the Kenyan or Tanzanian parks. Maybe if you tried the Lake Victoria parks it would be worth the additional cost, but if it were me, I would extend my stay at South Luangwa and save the money. Have fun on the Lilongwe to Mfuwe road. It can be a bear. As an addendum, there’s a place just south of Mfuwe called ‘Tribal Textiles’ that makes gorgeous hand painted fabric items. Well worth stopping.

I stayed at Luangwa River Camp, just north of the park entrance. It was an awesome experience. Hippos would be right outside your door at night. My only word of warning is be very careful with the pool. I caught cholera at some point in Zambia and since we only did bottled water, my theory is that I swallowed some pool water that was filled from the river. I might be wrong, but cholera is not a fun situation. is a great site for selecting different options and locations for Kenya and Tanzania. Safaris elsewhere (i.e. other countries) are far more on a brute force searching strategy. We have found that the cheaper safaris and resorts are generally not found by Google but rather are called out in forums for budget Africa travel (i.e. “Is there a good bus from Lilongwe to South Luangwa?”) and someone will highlight their accomodations. Searching those accomodations will give you an email address and everyone responds within 24 hours with info on packages and the negotiation begins!

Senoy, Yes we are headed to South Luangwa and would love to also do one of the walking safaris as they sound beyond awesome, but the $1000-3000 per night! for the 4 of us is making it difficult to commit!!! The challenge with just committing to the week long full South Luangwa experience is just that we are literally hours from the Serengetti and it seems like a bad idea to just ignore the opportunity. Too many decisions!!! But thank you for the South Luangwa push.

A thousand a night for Luangwa! Dude, you’re getting robbed. I guess there are four of you, but I guarantee you you can do 200 a day for lodging. If you’re willing to sleep in a safari tent, probably closer to 60 bucks for all four of you. With meals I’m almost certain you could do a tent for 400 bucks a night. Try Croc Valley. They were a bit cheaper. Google map Mfuwe and click on all of the little safari lodges and you might find one cheaper as well. If it were me and I was strapped for cash, I’d just stop in Chipata on my way in and grab the food I needed for however long I was there. Food is cheap in Zambia. It might not be gourmet, but if you want to save money, you can do your whole family food and lodging for under a hundred bucks a day. You will have to pay for them to drive you into the park though.

BTW, for transport to Luangwa, there were about 12 of us and we rented a bus and driver. I forget the cost, but it was relatively small. Once you’re away from the park itself, everything is cheap sometimes ridiculously so. They just try to ream European tourists at the park. All of the money is going to the owners too and not the people actually running the place.

We did 14 days in Kenya in 2008: 3 in Lake Nakuru, 7 Massai Mara and 3 in Mombassa. It was incredible and we completely regretted planning the beach in Mombassa. Would have rathered 3 more days on safari.

Oh hey, speaking of beaches, Lake Malawi might be another place to add to your itinerary. There are a bunch of little beach lodges on Senga Bay that if memory serves were relatively inexpensive, south of Livingstonia. Also if you do make it out that way, between Salima and Senga there’s a roadside craft market that has ridiculously inexpensive wood carvings and is worth the stop for souvenirs. There’s also a little game reserve called Kuti that is just west of Salima that lets you rent bikes and wander around the park. Mostly zebras and various ungulates for wildlife and not even remotely comparable in any way to Luangwa, but riding a bike through a herd of zebras is still a fun experience.

I would absolutely not miss Ngorongoro, Olupai Gorge and the Serengeti. The crater alone is worth the trip. If you can afford it, stay at the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. Stunning views of the crater from any room in your bungalow, luxury accommodations, good food, and plentiful wildlife on the crater floor.

Oh, and on the way in, you can stop at Lake Manyara Park to see the tree-climbing lions. On the way out of the Serengeti, you stop at a Masai village where they’ll put on local dancing for you and sell you souvenirs, if you like. The money you pay for this goes to their village fund for schooling and medicine.