Tanzania in East Africa is one of the top safari destinations in Africa. Tanzania's vast Serengeti National Park is the scene of the annual Great Migration, a breathtaking wildlife spectacle which every serious safari enthusiast should observe at least once in a lifetime. Equally unique is the famous Ngorongoro Crater, home to unparalleled numbers of wild animals. It is easy to combine a safari in northern Tanzania with a tropical beach holiday on Zanzibar island, just off the coast of Tanzania. And for the serious traveller, the wild and remote southern region offers beautiful national parks which are relatively untouched by development and human settlement, with huge game reserves such as Selous Game Reserve and Ruaha National Park.
- Safari capital of Africa
- The Great Migration of wildebeest
- Serengeti National Park
- Ngorongoro Conservation area
- Lake Manyara
- Tarangire National Park
- Mount Kilimanjaro
- Zanzibar tropical island paradise
- Selous Game Reserve
- Ruaha National Park
Overview of Tanzania
Broadly speaking, Tanzania as a safari destination can be divided into the more popular northern circuit and less crowded southern circuit. In addition to this, the remote western part of Tanzania offers something different for the adventurous safari enthusiast and the coastal region is a popular addition to end off a safari in Tanzania with some beach time.
The Northern Circuit
Tanzania's northern safari circuit is the main destination for most safari visitors to Tanzania. The bustling town of Arusha is the gateway to this region and most safari operators are based here. The northern circuit includes Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara National Park, Ngorongoro Crater and the world-famous Serengeti National Park.
Tarangire National Park
About two hours from Arusha is the huge Tarangire National Park, famous for its beautiful scenery, ancient baobabs and thriving elephant population. If time allows, Tarangire is a good first stop on your safari and the park has a number of excellent safari camps and lodges. The dry season from June to October is the best time to visit Tarangire.
Unless you fly in, you will most likely pass Lake Manyara on your way to Ngorongoro and the Serengeti. The lake itself is huge while the surrounding national park is relatively small. It lies at the foot of the Great Rift Valley escarpment, and its most striking feature is the pink sea of flamingoes that can usually be seen in their thousands in the shallow water of the vast lake. The floodplain surrounding the lake is a good place to spot buffalo, elephant, giraffe and common game like wildebeest and zebra. The vegetation is quite diverse and includes beautiful forests. Lake Manyara is great for birding but does not score that high from a game viewing point of view. The park has a few nice lodges but most visitors do not overnight in the park. The majority stay on the rim of the escarpment which offers a glorious view over Lake Manyara which they explore on a full day or half-day game drive.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area
The town of Karatu is the gateway to the Ngorongoro Conservation area, of which the main attraction is the famous Ngorongoro Crater, an ancient, dormant volcano which has left a fertile crater floor 25 km in diameter. The rim of the crater rises to a high altitude and is often buried in clouds. A number of lodges are perched on the rim of the crater, with beautiful vistas over the crater floor on a clear day. The crater floor is about 300 m below the rim and home to thousands of animals, including the Big Five lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo. In most areas, the grass is short offering excellent visibility. The Ngorongoro Crater is a marvellous sight and well worth a visit. However, one or two days at most is enough time to explore all of the crater floor.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area extends far beyond the crater. One of the unique aspects of this reserve is that the local Maasai continue to live their nomadic lifestyle and graze their cattle in the area. To the west of Ngorongoro Crater, the reserve extends to the Ndutu area on the southern border of the Serengeti. This is a very popular area from January to March when the migration is in calving season.
Serengeti National Park
It is no secret that the great annual wildebeest migration in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park is among the most spectacular safari experiences out there. The sheer number of animals (over a million wildebeest, not to mention thousands of zebras and large numbers of other animals), the beauty and vastness of the land, the abundance of predators and predator-prey interaction, all combine to make the Serengeti arguably the top safari destination in the world. The Great Migration is a seasonal affair but there are also areas such as the central Seronera area which are great for game viewing all year round and have plenty of resident wildlife. The Serengeti is Tanzania's flagship national park and one of the best safari destinations in the world. A minimum of 3 nights is recommended to make the most of the Serengeti, and the ideal would be to stay 6 nights, in two different areas of the park. For a more detailed explanation of the migration and when to go, please visit the Serengeti Migration page.
Some people visit Tanzania specifically to climb Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa at almost 6,000 m. This is not an adventure to be undertaken lightly. It takes a certain level of preparation and fitness and will take several days. If climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is what you want to do, speak to us so we can put you in touch with a reliable operator who specialises in expeditions to climb Kilimanjaro.
The Southern Circuit
Tanzania's southern safari circuit is less popular than the northern circuit. The capital city of Dar es Salaam (usually just called Dar) is the gateway to this region. Typical game reserves include Mikumi National Park, the huge Selous Game Reserve and the beautiful Ruaha National Park.
Mikumi National Park
A small game reserve to the north of Selous Game Reserve, Mikumi is a quiet and scenic reserve with a couple of safari camps. Mikumi is a good first stop for a safari starting from Dar. You can also explore the Udzungwa Mountains National Park from here, as a day trip.
Selous Game Reserve
Selous is Africa's largest game reserve. However, only a small portion in the far north is open to safaris. To the south, there are hunting concessions. Selous gives you the feeling of a truly wild, remote safari destination, with few other vehicles and tourists. For some, this is a real attraction. However, if it is your first African safari and you are keen to see as many animals as possible in as short a time frame as possible, perhaps Selous is not the right destination for you. Since it is not a national park, the reserve offers a bit more flexibility with regard to activities. Depending on the choice of lodge, it is possible to do walking safaris, boat safaris, and regular game drives.
Ruaha National Park
Ruaha is one of Tanzania's best-kept safari secrets. It is remote and expensive to get to (it requires a flight from Dar) but once there, you can enjoy some of the most amazing scenery and game viewing without the crowds that you encounter on the northern safari circuit. The park is huge but most of the wildlife concentrates along the Ruaha River, especially during the dry season from June to October. The park is home to an incredible variety of wildlife, including healthy populations of lion, leopard, cheetah, wild dog and hyena.
The Wild West
Tanzania's far west is best known for the chance to see chimpanzees in the Mahale Mountains National Park. In fact, it is one of the best places in the world to see chimps in the wild. Katavi National Park is also a hidden gem of a park. Very remote, expensive to get to, and consequently completely uncrowded. This is truly the wild west of Tanzania, visited by few but among the best memories of those who have been lucky enough to visit.
The Coast and Islands
A popular way to end a safari in Tanzania is by spending a few days on the beach, either along the east coast or, more commonly, on one of the nearby tropical islands like Pemba and Zanzibar. The island of Zanzibar is by far the most popular beach destination in Tanzania. The island has a rich history and an interesting mix of cultures, with Indian, Arabic and African influences the most common. A huge number of beach lodges and resorts are situated all around the coast of Zanzibar, from cheap and cheerful budget lodges to the most luxurious, upmarket resorts.
Climate and weather
Tanzania is situated in the tropics and most of the country is warm to hot during the dry season, and warm and humid during the wet season. The highlands and areas at altitude (such as the Ngorongoro Crater rim) can be surprisingly cold though. There are generally two wet seasons; the short rains from late October into December, and the long rains from March to May. April is the wettest month. Many remote lodges close during the rainy season as roads become impassable.
When to go
Tanzania can be visited any time of the year but the wettest months (especially April) are usually quiet. When to go depends in part on what you want to see. If you are keen on birding, December to March is a great time. This is also a good time to see the calving season of the Great Migration on the southern plains of the Serengeti. Peak season for most safari destinations is the dry season from June to October. During this time, the far north of the Serengeti is where you are most likely to find the migration.
The spectacular alkaline Lake Manyara forms the centre point of this small and very beautiful park with surprisingly diverse fauna and flora. A circuit drive through the park passes through forest, wetlands, grassy plains and acacia forests, offering views of different animals and multitudes of birds. Elephant, hippo, giraffe, tree-climbing lion and baboon are just a few of the game that call Manyara home.
Don't be fooled by the fact that Arusha National Park is small (552 km2). Within its borders, it has a diverse topography and wonderful wildlife. From the rugged peaks of Mount Meru to the marshy depths of the Ngurdoto Crater where warthog wallow, to monkey-filled montane forest and rolling grassy hills on which giraffe and zebra graze, there's plenty to see here.
Tarangire National Park is traversed by the Tarangire River which never dries up. Being the only source of water during the dry season from July to October, it draws hundreds of animals to the park, making for spectacular wildlife and bird spotting. The landscape is varied, with grassy savannahs, swamps, hills and spectacular baobabs.
Ngorongoro is a Tanzanian must-see. The Ngorongoro Crater, a caldera or collapsed volcano, while only covering 260 km², includes a diverse range of habitats including montane forest, grasslands, acacia forests, a salt-lake and swamps. The diversity of the habitat provides home to an incredibly wide range of birds and animals, including the Big Five, in a concentrated area. Accommodation around the rim of the crater provides spectacular views and easy access to the crater.
Consisting mainly of sweeping grasslands, the Ndutu area in the northern part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area joins the Serengeti. As such, it forms part of the annual migratory route of hundreds of thousands of wildebeest, zebra, antelope and their predators who come to graze and calve between November and March, depending on the rains. The forests around Lake Ndutu and small koppies are also home to prolific resident wildlife.
Covering a vast area in northwestern Tanzania, the Serengeti National Park is an absolute must-see. With over 70 mammals, including huge populations of lion and other predators and over 500 bird species, this is wildlife viewing paradise. Beyond the incredible Great Migration that moves through the area seasonally, this is an incredibly beautiful park with diverse flora and fauna.
The Greater Serengeti Migration Area refers to a huge area that incorporates a number of national parks, including Serengeti and the Ndutu region of Ngorongoro. Vast plains, rolling hills, volcanic mountains and forested areas make for breath-taking scenery. Add to that abundant wildlife and the annual circular migration through the region of millions of wildebeest, zebra, antelope and their predators, and you have the perfect safari setting.
The Mahale Mountains National Park is situated on the eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika in remote western Tanzania. It's spectacularly beautiful, with the backdrop of the Mahale Mountains and lush, tropical flora. The main attraction is walking safaris to observe the chimpanzees who live here. They share their forest paradise with a range of other primates, mammals and beautiful birds.
Known for its diverse landscapes and abundance of game, Katavi National Park's drawcard is its remoteness. This has ensured that the area has remained completely unspoilt, with few visitors, allowing a safari guaranteed to make you feel like the only people on earth! With large populations of elephant, lion, hippo and more, game viewing is beyond spectacular, especially during the dry season when water sources are few.
Zanzibar island along with Pemba Island to the north are referred to as the Spice Islands. Zanzibar is best known as a tropical beach paradise, which is easily combined with a safari in Tanzania or Kenya. The history here harks back to ancient trade routes. In Stone Town, Indo-Arabic influences intertwine with African Swahili origins to create a heady fusion of sights, sounds and aromas. Whether you're looking for the culture and bustle of historic cobbled streets in Stone Town or the peaceful beaches and warm Indian Ocean with its dhow trips and excellent diving, Zanzibar is simply paradise.
In the heart of Tanzania where the Zambezi miombo woodlands meet the Tanzanian/Kenyan savannahs, lies Ruaha National Park. This vast park, with its few camps, offers visitors an uncrowded glimpse of untouched Africa, with a huge diversity of game, birds and landscapes. It's an area known for its incredible animal sightings, including large herds of elephant and plenty of predators.
Selous Game Reserve in southern Tanzania covers over 45,000 km² and is one of the country's three World Heritage Sites. The reserve is world-renowned for its unspoilt bush and vast numbers of game, including elephant, lion, hippo and over 440 species of bird. Incredible scenery and the option to enjoy the African bush not only on game drives but game walks and boating safaris too make Selous an incredible safari destination.
Ngorongoro Crater is a Tanzanian must-see. Situated within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a vast park of spectacular beauty, this caldera or collapsed volcano has created a mini game reserve with many habitats in a very small area. This provides a home to an incredibly diverse range of birds and animals including the Big Five in a concentrated space.
Accommodation and park fees within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area can be high. Just 20 km out of the park lies the bustling town of Karatu, surrounded by beautiful coffee plantations. It is here that comfortable, affordable accommodation in spectacular settings can be found. The area has easy access to Ngorongoro, with its breathtaking scenery and teeming wildlife, especially at Ngorongoro Crater.
Situated at the foot of the beautiful Mount Meru, Arusha is known as the safari capital of Tanzania's Northern Safari Circuit. It's a bustling city filled with an interesting mix of markets, chaotic traffic, old colonial buildings and modern conveniences, like coffee shops with WiFi, and an array of great restaurants.
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Situated up on a hill on the border of the spectacular Tarangire National Park, Treetops offers magical tented rooms on stilts built around beautiful trees. Each spacious room is open at the front and has its own balcony with panoramic views across the bush. A waterhole at the camp provides regular sightings of lion, leopard and elephant.
Situated on the eastern side of the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater, the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge offers comfortable accommodation with breathtaking views. Watching the sun set over the crater from your private balcony or the welcoming central lodge area is an experience not to be missed. With easy access to the road down to the crater floor and its concentration of wildlife, including the Big Five, this lodge is a great base at Ngorongoro Crater.
Situated in Zanzibar on a spectacular, long beach with pristine white sands, Breezes Beach Club and Spa gives guests everything they could desire of a holiday in paradise. Being a large hotel, they offer a wide range of activities, from all the watersports and a diving school to a number of restaurants, swimming pool and tennis courts, including an incredible spa. Whether you want to relax, be active, or combine the two, Breezes Beach Club and Spa is a good place to do it all.