It can be hard to choose where to go when you are planning a trip to Africa. We have visited both Tanzania and South Africa and decided to compare the two experiences.
Since the year draws to a close we thought that it was obvious to write a blog post based on the question that we have received most times this year: “Shall I travel to Tanzania or South Africa – do you have a favorite?”
The intuitive answer is: YES, we do have a favorite – but lets get back to that later. The more thoughtful answer is that the two African countries are unique in their own way and offers different experiences. We loved visiting both of them! But if you must choose one of the two our best advice would be that you choose based on what type of travel you dream about.
Safari in Africa
Are you hoping to go on a real safari in Africa – like the ones you see in nature programs on television, where the African plains are stretching as far as the eye can see and where you feel like a guest in the animal kingdom (and not vice versa) – then travel to Tanzania. Here you get:
NATURE OF AFRICA
Nothing beats the feeling of the bottle green and champagne-colored savannah of Serengeti unfolding before your eyes, leaving the impression that you have seen all corners of our planet. Or when you drive into the open crater of Ngorongoro and get up close with the wild animals – it’s like a scene from the Garden of Eden. Or the first time you come face to face with a lion, are in proboscis-distance from a colossal elephant or encounter large herds of wildebeest and zebra grazing on the plains – there is nothing like it.
The magnificent scenery of Tanzania is very authentic – and so are the roads. You will be shaken thoroughly when the safari jeep is trotting down the dusty gravel roads that cut through the endless natural scenes far far away from civilization. Often you will drive great distances and spend the night at various camps along the way.
So are you planning a safari trip as part of a family trip with small children or prefer a less strenuous experience you should choose South Africa:
Kruger National Park is the largest in South Africa and is a more comfortable choice for those who seek a taste of what you can experience on a safari. The bush is dense and the animals can easily hide but there is a very good chance that you will encounter lots of wildlife. On a good day you may even be lucky enough to see the “Big Five”. Also you can go on safari both on foot and after sunset. You can stay at the same hotel (often called a ‘Lodge’) and drive into the park on both half-day and full-day excursions. The park is partially paved and holds several camps with both cafes and toilets.
In short: ‘Safari-debutants’ will be very impressed with the experiences in South Africa. ‘Safari-veterans’ and ‘Discovery-National-Geographic-lovers’ should aim for Tanzania.
Adventures in hiking shoes
If you love to hike – both countries offers very scenic tours. Are you looking for a hike with a physical challenge the 5.895 meter high peak of Kilimanjaro will give you exactly that. The mythical and snowy mountain of Tanzania is the highest freestanding mountain range in the world so views are very unique. You do not have to be a mountaineer but the trip will and can be tough for those who are affected by altitude sickness.
If you prefer breathtaking experiences that do not include overnight stays in a tent and thin air, then South Africa offers some of the world’s most beautiful hiking. In the northeastern part of the country you will find the Drakensberg Mountains. It is South Africa’s highest and longest mountain range and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Highest point is almost 3.500 meters and is located in the small kingdom of Lesotho – the only state in the world whose entire area is more than 1.000 meters above the water.
In Cape Town you will find the majestic Table Mountain. With its 1.086 meters high and flat top it’s on the list of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Around Table Mountain you will also find the mountains Lion’s Head and The 12 Apostles. A drive down the Cape will lead you to Cape Point – located on the very tip of South Africa. All the sites provide picture perfect walks with options that can stimulate both families and fitness people.
Beautiful beaches and experiences under water
The east coast of Tanzania has some beautiful sandy beaches but Zanzibar is the epitome of a bounty-adventure. Here you will find white sandy beaches to the extent that sunglasses is an absolute must to prevent catching the sand-version of snow-blindness – oh yes, its that white! And if you ask the local divers they will tell you that the azure waters of the island offer the best snorkeling and diving of East Africa.
In Cape Town you will find some of the most famous beaches of South Africa. Atlantic waves are thundering against the big wide beaches where you can enjoy the sun in the warm beach sand. The water is too cold to swim and the current too strong to snorkel but the surroundings are picturesque. If you are a junkie for adrenaline a dive with the scariest creature of the ocean – the Great white shark – will certainly remedy your cravings.
Tanzania is a developing country but as a European you will still get a more authentic experience of Africa when visiting Tanzania compared to South Africa. If you visit the northern part of Tanzania you will also meet the Maasai. A tribal people – world famous for having preserved their traditional way of living. As a tourist you will not be presented with the real Maasai lifestyle. But you can visit one of the open villages, which offer people inside (for a fee) – and here you will get a very fascinating insight into the primitive lifestyle. You do not need to visit a village to see the red-clad people. They are indeed visible everywhere in this part of the country traversing the plains with their cattle. Also many hotels hire the proud people as guards.
Compared to Tanzania, South Africa is a more civilized country where you can experience modern cities and international shopping. But even though South Africa is on of the richest countries on the continent it is certainly not without its problems. Although Apartheid (on paper) has been replaced by a democratic government you still feel the ruins of a racist social system. The gap between rich and poor is among the highest in the world. With that said South Africa has a thriving and colorful culture with a thought-provoking story that is really exciting to dive in to. Tales of the first people – the Hottentots – and the European colonization of the country – and not least Mandela’s struggle against a horrific regime.
We experienced no major gastronomic moments on our safari in Tanzania. But we had amazing food at our beach hotel in Zanzibar. However, its seems a bit redundant to care much about high end gastronomy when you are on safari. In the end – you much rather spend time far out on the savannah with a little dry food pack than to sit at a hotel or coffee shop and feast on sumptuous food.
Are you a TRUE FOODIE
YOUR HEART WILL BEAT FOR SOUTH AFRICA!
If you like to experience a country through your taste buds you should treat yourself with a trip to South Africa. Rarely have we had such good food and wonderful wines – especially if you consider the low prices! The fertile land is enriched with lush plantations and beautiful vineyards serving the restaurants very well. Especially Cape Town has experienced a boom in the recent years as a culinary oasis. Here chefs combine African ingredients with international cuisines with very lip-smacking results! We could easily hang out in the beautiful city for weeks only with the mission to eat food and drink wine.
To be honest: We were blown backwards by TANZANIA! When travelling to Africa the big draw is the safari tours and the African nature (in our view). If you feel exactly the same way Tanzania is without a doubt what we would recommend. Compared to all our travels around the world Tanzania still a the top of the list as:
ONE OF THE GREATEST EXPERIENCES!
Next comes Cape Town and the Cape. We felt the city was a eloquent mixture of perhaps Sydney and Rio de Janeiro – though in a smaller and African version – where the beautiful scenery, interesting architecture and the many tasteful restaurants has meant that we very often dream about going back. With its charming towns, raw cliffs and beautiful natural scenes the Cape made a big impression (despite the very little time we had to explore the area). Thus, the very south of Africa is now on our list of upcoming road trips.
> Both trips were organized in collaboration with Afrika-Safari.dk. Text, images and attitudes are entirely our own. <
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What do you think? Please write if you think our tips were useful or if there is something you miss – we’ll gladly return with follow-up info. Contributing tips from people who have visited Tanzania and South Africa are also very welcome. Please share in the comments box below.
Bon voyage, M & M