The first Tanzania safari I took came with a bit of sticker shock, I will admit it. I had completely different expectations of lodging and transportation costs and was especially surprised to see that internal flights in Tanzania were similarly priced to those in Europe or North America. A one-hour flight from Arusha to central Serengeti can run range from $200-$300 and made me reconsider if we should just suck it up and drive there. After a few email exchanges with my tour operator of choice, I decided to do a mixture and fly in but drive back.
Internal flights on African safaris
I will never forget our first internal flight from Arusha to central Serengeti. The Cessna held about eight people, not including the pilots, and had a bit of room for luggage (see the luggage section on why you should keep it light). As soon as we were airborne, I watched the lush green landscape of Arusha slowly get smaller and smaller. As we headed west, I saw some of the Masai lodges and villages and could even see Kilimanjaro! What a treat! The further west we headed, the browner the landscape became. As we began our descent into central Serengeti, I watched as the miniature acacia trees became larger and larger. From high above, they resembled bushy clumps of broccoli. What a change in such a short flight. I wanted to take in every second of my first African safari experience.
Wait! What was that that just moved? I took a closer look and was nearly giddy at my first sighting of a giraffe! From the air! How tiny they looked from above. Before I knew it, we were on the ground and shaking hands with our guide. I was on a giraffe-high for the rest of the afternoon.
On the way back, we drove from Serengeti to Ngorongoro Crater and then on to Lake Manyara and Tarangire (this was over several days, of course). After Tarangire we set off for Arusha. It’s about a three-hour drive on the tarmacked roads. This was one of the first tarmacked roads we’d been on, and the first thing we had to do before we set off was put the top on the vehicle. We had to do this as we’d be driving at much higher speeds now that we were off the dirt roads. Suddenly, my safari was over and I was just riding in some large vehicle. I could have been anywhere. The three hours did seem to drag on after a while.
I am glad I opted to experience both methods of transportation and would not change it if I had the opportunity to do so. I do think it’s a great opportunity to sample both transportation methods and advise those who are deliberating over the ‘to fly or not to fly’ quandary to do a mixture of both. That is, of course, unless you are considering a super-short safari of only a few days. In which case, I would advise flying in and out of the Serengeti and forgoing the other parks as you will absolutely need at least three full days in this wondrous park. I’ve since been on a few more safaris in Tanzania, and have opted to incorporate some internal flying on each one. I cannot imagine a more dramatic way to enter or exit a safari park!