If you’re thinking about a big trip overseas and not sure about whether or not to do it as part of a group, on your own, or something in between, here’s the rundown on what the difference between guided, self-guided, and independent travel is and when to choose each type especially if you are visiting Tanzania for the first time.

What is a “Guided safari?”

Guided safaris are all generally all-inclusive group travel experiences led by a guide and following a specific itinerary with a local tour operator. These types of tours are popular in East Africa, and there are a wide variety of guided tours that cater to every age and budget. While many guided tours are geared at older travelers, there are also programs designed for young folks as well as family travel.

Guided group tours are convenient, include expert local guides that provide interesting background information on every place you visit, and are generally an easy stress-free option. People who choose group tours enjoy the company of other travelers, as well as the local expertise of the guides.

 Choosing a Guided Tour in Tanzania

Going on a guided Tanzania safari is great if you are nervous about visiting somewhere for the first time. Having a local guide is ideal for locations where you don’t speak the local language and especially for places well off the beaten path that may be difficult to access as an independent traveler, like Tanzania or Kenya. If you want a deeper intellectual or historical understanding of a destination, a guided tour is definitely the way to go.

The convenience of these kinds of trips is a huge reason people choose guided tours with local tour operator. Coordinating all the logistics of your own trip from transportation to event tickets to finding good places to eat every day and finding the right places to stay and piecing together ferry schedules in other languages and carrying your luggage from the bus to taxi to hotel day after day can be a hassle, especially if you’re visiting Tanzania for the first time. If you’re short on time, you may be able to fit more into your itinerary when it’s pre-arranged and handled by the local travel professionals.

Because the local tour provider has negotiated a group rate for everything, you’re also getting access to better hotels and other activities than you would get for the same price as an individual.

One of the common downsides of a group tour is the feeling of being forced to do everything the group is doing. This is an aspect the independent traveler may find irritating after a few days of marching between hotels and museums. Good local operators, however, are conscious of this and seek to balance group time with free time, snapshot moments, and organic experiences. You may even decide to plan a sole self-drive safari with a local tour operator.

 A Self-Guided or self-drive Tour in Tanzania

A self-guided tour is one where the traveler has a route, information, and some amenities arranged by a local company, but is responsible from getting between point A and B each day on their own. Self-guided or self-drive tours do not include the support of a group or a hired guide, although sometimes self-guided tour local operators organize accommodation, luggage transfers from starting point to final destination, or even basic travel maps and pointers for navigating the destination on one’s own.

Self-drive tours are best explained with examples. A popular example of a self-guided or self-tour is the visit to the northern circuit of Tanzania for a wildlife experience, done by thousands of travelers every year, most of whom are not professional safari planners.

Another example is the difference between doing a one-day, self-drive safari in Masaai Mara national park and doing a guided, multi-day safari in Tanzania’s more remote Serengeti. Driving oneself along an explicit trail through a self-contained national park is different than signing up to be led across a vast plain of Africa according to a specific itinerary, which are both different from deciding to go bushwhacking by oneself through the grasslands of Kenya. These two destinations are usually visited during the months of the great migration where it becomes expensive to get a local tour operator. However the local tour operator makes it easy to locate the animals during your trip.

When to Choose a Self-Guided or self-drive Tour

A self-guided tour is a good choice when there’s a popular established way of traveling through a specific region, like the northern circuit of Tanzania. If you can follow a clear trail and there are other people doing the same thing, self-guiding is perfectly reasonable. It’s also going to be much more affordable than hiring a guide who, in these cases, will do nothing more than follow the signs and routes you could have very well followed yourself.

Self-guided is an important distinction from independent travel. You wouldn’t want to just take a backpack and blaze your own adventure through the Tanzania wildlife national parks unless you were a very seasoned traveller. Most people aren’t, so opting for a self-drive safari tour experience as a safe way to have an adventure while not getting lost, stranded, or isolated especially if you are in the wilderness.

The Independent Traveler

We all know the “independent traveler:” they’re young, free, and wild traveling the world with nothing more than a backpack and the currency from their last destination.

Actually, independent travel takes many forms beyond the traditional “backpacker” image we all have in mind. If you plan a trip to East Africa on your own and arrange all the plane tickets, hotels, and ground transportation yourself then that’s independent travel. If you book a ticket to Tanzania, rent a car, and explore the North and South circuits on your own — that’s independent travel too. You’re doing it all yourself, no local guides or local tour operators are involved.

When to plan an Independent self-drive safari

Independent travel has distinct benefits: it’s cheaper, more flexible, and allows for a pace of travel that matches your travel preferences especially in Tanzania which has a lot of beautiful destinations. If you’re knowledgeable about the destination you want to visit (even if you’ve never traveled there), you may well be able to plan and execute the whole trip yourself. If you want flexibility to change your plans each day or have a lot of time in which to travel (weeks or months) especially when you visit Serengeti national park during the time of the great migration, independent travel may be the way to go.

Choosing independent self-drive safaris require you to have the most active role in the planning and experience of your trip. If you want to design every aspect of your trip to as rigid or flexible standards as you desire, independent travel is a good choice.

Which type of travel is right for you?

All in all, the type of trip you choose completely depends on your personality, budget, appetite for risk and adventure, and experience dealing with the travel grind. If you prefer to retain complete control of your trip, independent travel might be your style. If you want to visit a destination with a little help but still call most of the shots try a local self-guided tour. If you decide that having a local tour operator to guide you, it will make your experience better through convenience or helping you really immerses yourself in the culture of Tanzania.

The best time to visit Tanzania for a safari

The best season to go on a safari in Tanzania is during the long dry season, which falls from July to September. These are considered the best months for safaris, the Great Migration, trekking, and beach holidays in Zanzibar. Of course, these months are peak travel season.

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