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 that every serious safari enthusiast should experience 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. 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.

Highlights
  • Safari capital of Africa
  • The Great Wildebeest Migration
  • Serengeti National Park
  • Ngorongoro Conservation area
  • Lake Manyara
  • Tarangire National Park
  • Mount Kilimanjaro
  • Zanzibar tropical island paradise
  • Selous Game Reserve
  • Ruaha National Park
  • Chimp trekking in Mahale Mountains National Park

Broadly speaking, Tanzania as a safari destination can be divided into the more popular Northern Safari Circuit and less crowded Southern Safari 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.

Lake Manyara

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 that 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 the crater floor has to offer.

Crater animals Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania Sanctuary Ngorongoro Crater Camp

Ngorongoro Crater wildlife

(Image: Sanctuary Ngorongoro Crater Camp)

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.

Migration river crossing Serengeti Tanzania Camp Zebra Ndutu

The spectacular Great Wildebeest Migration

(Image: Camp Zebra Ndutu)

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 three nights is recommended to make the most of the Serengeti, and the ideal would be to stay six 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.

Kilimanjaro

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.

1 Final ascent to the top of Kilimanjaro or Uhuru Peak Crispin Jones I Unsplash

Final ascent to the top of Kilimanjaro or Uhuru Peak

(Image: Crispin Jones I Unsplash)

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 National Park 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.

Game drive Ruaha National Park Tanzania Jabali Ridge

Game drive in untouched Ruaha National Park

(Image: Jabali Ridge)

Ruaha National 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, African 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.

Zanzibar Tanzania Travel Guide Med J

Tropical paradise of Zanzibar

(Image: Med J I Unsplash)

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. The 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.

Lake Manyara National Park
Africa Travel Guide Lake Manyara National Park Tanzania Flamingo Game Drive

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.

Arusha National park
Arusha National Park Tanzania Giraffes Gather

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
Feature Buffalo herd Tarangire National Park Ray Rui I Unsplash

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 Crater
Feature Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania Mariola Grobelska

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 refuge 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.

Ndutu Region
Feature Ndutu Area Ngorongoro Tanzania Lion and cubs Ndutu Safari Lodge

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.

Serengeti National Park
Africa Travel Guide Tanzania Serengeti National Park Zebra

Covering a vast area in northwestern Tanzania, the Serengeti National Park is an absolute bucket-list destination. With over 70 mammals, including huge populations of lions and other predators and over 500 bird species, this is a wildlife viewing paradise. Beyond the incredible Great Wildebeest Migration that moves through the area seasonally, the Serengeti is an incredibly beautiful park with diverse flora and fauna.

Serengeti Migration Area
Africa Travel Guide Serengeti Migration Area Tanzania Giraffes Looking On

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 breathtaking scenery. Add to that abundant wildlife and the annual migration through the region of millions of wildebeest, zebra, antelope and their predators, and you have the perfect safari setting.

Mahale Mountain National Park
Africa Travel Guide Mahale Mountain National Park Tanzania Chimpanzee

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.

Katavi National Park
000 feature africa travel guide tanzania katavi national park chada katavi

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 so few visitors around, a Katavi safari is guaranteed to make you feel like the only people on earth! With large populations of elephants, lions, hippos and more, game viewing is beyond spectacular, especially during the dry season when water sources dwindle.

Zanzibar
Africa Travel Guide Tanzania Zanzibar Romantic Boat Trip

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 scents. Whether you're looking for the culture and bustle of historic cobbled streets in Stone Town or the peaceful beaches and the warm Indian Ocean with its dhow trips and excellent diving, Zanzibar is simply paradise.

Ruaha National Park
Africa Travel Guide Tanzania Ruaha National Park Guided Walking Safari

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 its 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
Africa Travel Guide Tanzania Selous Game Reserve Water Safari

Selous Game Reserve in southern Tanzania covers over 45,000km² 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 Region
Ngorongoro Conservation Area Tanzania Empakai Crater Empakai Camp

One of Tanzania's top safari spots, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area offers safari-goers and wildlife enthusiasts outstanding wildlife sightings and breathtaking scenery. A game drive on the floor of the Ngorongoro Crater with its incredibly diverse range of birds and animals including the Big Five is a bucket-list experience on any Tanzanian safari itinerary.

Ngorongoro Karatu Area
Africa Tour Guide Tanzania Ngorongoro Karatu Area Guided Bush Walk

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 enjoys easy access to Ngorongoro, with its breathtaking scenery and teeming wildlife, especially at Ngorongoro Crater.

Arusha
Mount Meru Looks Down on Arusha, Tanzania

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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