With its famous plains dotted with pristine wildlife sightings or its untouched beaches with azure blue waters, Tanzania is on every ardent traveller’s bucket list.
From the spectacle of watching millions of wildebeests trek across the country’s golden grasslands to the thrill of its unprecedented predator sightings, Tanzania is home to one of the densest wildlife populations on earth.
Its animal sightings are matched only by the habitats they live in – whether it’s the sight of Mount Kilimanjaro in all its glory, the palm-fringed beaches of Zanzibar, or the ancient beauty of the largest inactive volcanic caldera on earth – there simply few things compare to the diversity that Tanzania has to offer.
Planning your dream safari can be overwhelming, so below are guidelines for choosing the Tanzanian safari experience that will be the most memorable for you.
Best National Park to Visit in Tanzania
The best way to start planning your dream Tanzanian safari is by deciding which national parks you want to visit most. Tanzania’s most popular drawing card is the Great Migration – an unimaginably spectacular event where over a million wildebeest move through the country’s rolling grasslands in search of ever greener pastures.
The country is also famously known for its diverse national parks – each one being completely unique and home to an abundance of wildlife. There is the Northern Circuit, which covers the Serengeti, Tarangire, Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara National Park; and the Southern Circuit, which includes the vast Selous Game Reserve and Ruaha National Park.
For the adventurous at heart, there is Tanzania’s wild, wild West. The south and west of Tanzania offer some of the country’s best-kept safari secrets. The parks in this area are more remote and some are accessed only by a chartered flight.
Best Parks to Visit in the Northern Safari Circuit
Serengeti National Park
The centrepiece of the Northern Circuit is the Serengeti – home to one of the world’s densest wildlife populations. ‘Serengeti’ is a local Masaai word that is used to describe endless plains – a perfect depiction of the park’s rolling golden grasslands.
While the main attraction of the Serengeti is the Wildebeest Migration, the park is an all-year-round safari destination with ample opportunity to spot the Big Five.
A Northern Circuit safari is almost always accompanied by a visit to the Ngorongoro Crater, a wildlife wonderland nestled below a heavily-forested 600m volcanic rim that offers some of Tanzania’s best and most reliable safari sightings.
It is believed that before the iconic volcano erupted, it stood taller than the mighty Mt Kilimanjaro itself. The top of the ancient volcanic cone collapsed after the loss of its underlying body of magma and ultimately formed what is now known as the largest inactive caldera on earth.
The Ngorongoro Crater is home to some 25,000 large animals and is the most densely populated area of mammalian predators in Africa. The enclosed caldera floor is rich in minerals and teeming with life, making is one of Africa’s top safari destinations.
In the rush to see the Serengeti and its famous Ngorongoro neighbour, Lake Manyara can easily be overlooked. The park takes up a mere 330 square kilometres of which 230 square kilometres are covered by the shallow alkaline lake.
The rest of the landscape boasts a remarkable mix of floodplains, acacia woodlands, and forests that supports an equally impressive variety of wildlife like the spectacular flamingos or tree-climbing lions.
Tarangire National Park
As one of the untouched gems of Tanzania, Tarangire National Park sees fewer visitors than other parks on the Northern Safari Circuit. In stark contrast to the small crowds of tourists is the park’s teeming wildlife population that at the right time of year is believed to deliver some of the best game viewings in Tanzania.
Best Parks to Visit in the Southern Safari Circuit
Selous Game Reserve
Standing out in terms of size is the Selous Game Reserve, which holds the title as Africa’s largest game reserve – nearly four times the size of the Serengeti!
The park’s stand-out features include its resident Big Five population and the mighty Rufiji River that fills the landscape with interconnected lakes. Unlike Tanzania’s other parks, Selous offers the unique opportunity to experience guided walks and fly-camping.
Ruaha National Park
Home to sweeping herds of antelope, all-conquering prides of large carnivores, and the country’s biggest elephant population – the Ruaha National Park is one of the planet’s last remaining vestiges for nature in its rawest form.
The Park forms part of the Iringa region and was called ‘Ruaha’ by the Kihehe people – a name that aptly means river. The Great Ruaha River courses along the southern border of the park and is central to all life in the region, drawing people as well as wildlife to its banks.
The Wild, Wild West of Tanzania
To the west of the park is the secluded Mahale Mountains, Gombe National Park and Katavi National Park. The mostly inaccessible tracks that lead to these parks have deterred crowds of tourists and concealed some of Africa’s most iconic wildlife experiences.
Katavi National Park
As Tanzania’s third largest park, Katavi National Park is comprised of approximately 4,471 square kilometres of everything from open grasslands and forests to floodplains and seasonal lakes. As these floodplains retreat during the dry season, the sight of hippos by their hundreds cramming into dwindling pools is one of the main attractions of the park.
The Mahale Mountains and Gombe National Parks
What makes the Mahale Mountains National Park and the Gombe Stream especially unique is that they don’t boast the usual Tanzanian safari suspects such as lions and elephants. Instead, it is famously known for offering an enthralling opportunity to trek and get up close with its world-renowned population of chimpanzees.
A Tanzanian Beach Safari
Just when you thought travelling to Tanzania for a safari couldn’t get any better, you discover that your wildlife experience can be heightened by the chance to visit some of the most idyllic beaches in the world.
With the palm-fringed beaches of Zanzibar or Pemba Island, just a stone throw away, you have the opportunity to create the ultimate coastal/safari getaway.
Zanzibar lives up to every high expectation that’s been placed on it. The beauty of its clear, idyllic waters is matched only by the vibrant reefs below – a piece of paradise for every adventure-seeker that enjoys the thrill of diving or snorkelling.
Rich in more than just its natural beauty, Zanzibar’s cultural heritage, particularly in Stone Town, is truly captivating. Explore the little villages, spice plantations and remote beaches.
Hidden in the shadow of Zanzibar is Pemba Island – an Arabic name that aptly translates to ‘the Green Island’. While it may form part of the Zanzibar Archipelago, Pemba Island is unlike any of its flat, sand-strewn neighbours.
While most islands offer palm-lined beaches and azure waters, Pemba offers a seaside escape set against a lush, hilly landscape that’s teeming with life.
If you’re looking for an authentic island experience, Pemba not only offers a green wonderland begging to be explored but an underwater world that makes for some of the world’s best diving and snorkelling.
Another one of Tanzania’s secluded, lesser-known islands is Mafia Island. Head 160 km south of Zanzibar to discover an off-the-grid farming and fishing community. Mafia also boasts some of the best whale shark diving in the world.
The Mafia Archipelago prides itself in being the country’s first marine park that protects everything from the turtles that nest on its shores and resident whale sharks, to its unparalleled coral reefs.
Read our ultimate guide about how best to combine a safari with a beach trip in Tanzania.
Is Kenya or Tanzania Better for a Safari?
As two of the most iconic safari destinations on Earth, both Kenya and Tanzania are home to an abundance of wildlife.
While the countries share similar climates, wildlife species, vegetation, and opportunities to witness the Great Migration; they are also each characterized by unique wildlife spectacles and world-renowned landscapes. A visit to either country is equally as satisfying and yet different to the other:
Witnessing The Great Migration – Kenya or Tanzania?
Understanding the pattern of the migration will help you decide where you’d like to witness it most. In general, the migration tends to be in Tanzania in the Southern Serengeti for the calving season from February to mid-March. From June-July, the herds can be spotted in the park’s Western Corridor as they gather near the Grumeti River.
From August-September, the grazers move into the Northern Serengeti and Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. During this season you have the chance of witnessing the famous river crossings across the crocodile-infested Mara River. The sweeping herds then head back down to the Southern Serengeti, and the cycle starts again.
Besides the Great Migration, there are other world-renowned aspects of both Kenya and Tanzania discussed below that will help you choose where to travel for your dream African safari.
For more, read our guide about choosing between visiting Kenya or Tanzania.
Best Time to Visit Tanzania for a Safari – Dry Season (June-October)
The best and most popular time to visit Tanzania and Kenya is generally from mid-June to October. As East Africa’s dry season, this time of year has the most predictable weather and provides ideal safari conditions.
As the rain subsides and mighty rivers become shallow pools, Kenya and Tanzania’s national parks truly come to life. Thick vegetation thins out and animals congregate around scattered sources of water, giving safari-goers the prime conditions to spot wildlife.
While early mornings and evenings might be cold, the temperature during this season is fairly predictable. Thermometer readings are often around 23°C/73°F, reaching a high of 28°C/82°F in the coastal areas.
Many visitors prefer the moderate dry season over the hot, humid and rainy summer months. Another benefit to consider during the dry season of winter is fewer mosquitos and a smaller chance of catching malaria.
There is, however, the risk of an occasional cold front in July when temperatures can reach close to freezing. The five-month window also draws the biggest crowds, which is the biggest disadvantage of the dry season.
Pro Tip for a Beach Safari: Generally, August and September are the best months for travellers who enjoy diving and snorkelling as water clarity is at its highest.
Best Rates and Off-Season Perks – Wet Season (November-May)
The dry landscapes of Tanzania and Kenya are transformed into a lush, green wonderland in the wet season. Temperatures increase during this period and usually range between 24°C/75°F and 27°C/81°F, reaching highs of 30°C/86°F along the coast. There are two types of rainy periods in this season:
Short rains (November-December): Afternoon thunderstorms are often expected to take place, but safaris are unlikely to be impacted. For this reason, the short rainy season is still considered an excellent time to plan a trip to Tanzania or Kenya.
The first two weeks of December are considered a highly underrated time to visit. With many travellers flying to East Africa for the festive season, the lower demand over early December can result in good deals and special off-peak rates.
The landscape will be spectacularly lush after the November rains and safaris can be planned around the usual afternoon showers.
Long rains (March-April): The long rains usher in the peak of the wet season. While it may still be a good time to visit Tanzania or Kenya, your trip will be impacted by the amount of rain and the type of conditions the area receives that year. Tourists who find hot, humid conditions unpleasant should preferably avoid this season.
If you’re up for an adventure, there are major advantages of travelling here during this time. Prices are reduced dramatically and with crowds being dispersed – you’ll have thrilling wildlife sightings all to yourself.
Between the Rainy Seasons (January- February)
The start of the year is often a time that is overlooked by many people planning a trip to East Africa. A dry spell usually takes place during this time between the end of the short rains and the start of the long rains.
The savannah is green and fewer visitors makes this an excellent time to avoid the crowds. Generally considered to be the ‘shoulder season’, festive season rates have dropped and Wildebeest calving season is about to begin in the Serengeti. Many seasoned safari-goers rate the shoulder season as the best time to plan a trip to Tanzania or Kenya.
Budgeting for a Tanzanian Safari
Tanzania is on almost every ardent traveller’s bucket list, but budget restraints often keep the dream destination from ever being ticked off.
A safari package is not cheap, but it often saves time and money when compared to the process of renting a car, paying park entry fees, and navigating the local roads. Depending on the type of package you choose, a safari in Tanzania can cost anywhere from US$200 per day per person to over US$1,000 per day. These quoted costs include transport, camping or lodge accommodation, the majority of meals, and activities.
Many parks in Tanzania are world-renowned and reserve the right to charge as they see fit for the experience of entering the reserve. Safari companies also operate in very remote areas and need to be fully prepared to make a trip into deepest Africa as comfortable as possible. With that being said, there are many ways to cut costs when planning your trip – like choosing the best time of year for off-season deals, the right kind of transport, and the most cost-effective accommodation.
Read about our tips for creating a budget-friendly safari in Tanzania.
Tanzanian Camping Safari
A safari through Tanzania is always special, but a camping safari arguably provides the most immersive experience into the great East African wilderness. While the experience of being separated from the untamed elements by only a thin sheet of canvas may be daunting for some, others find the thought of being one with nature around them thrilling.
If you’re an adventure-seeker on a budget, the biggest advantage of a camping safari is without a doubt the cost. Travellers can save hundreds of dollars without compromising in the slightest on realizing their wildest safari dreams.
Guided Camping Safaris
The most intimidating part of a self-navigated camping safari for most travellers is the planning and logistics required, as well as lacking the right equipment. If that’s the case, a pre-planned and guided camping tour ticks all the right boxes.
Nothing quite compares to the experience of pitching camp in places you would have never otherwise been able to find on your own. Special campsites are bought on a bidding system by safari companies before the safari season, allowing access to some of the most unique and breath-taking locations on earth.
Requirements for a Tanzanian safari
There are a number of vaccinations that you should get before you travel. We recommend you check with your local GP or travel clinic which vaccinations you require.
Certain vaccinations are required to enter Tanzania including Diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, Measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), Hepatitis A and polio. It is also highly advised to go on a course of anti-malaria medication and to pack some insect repellent.
Read more information in our guide to visas, vaccinations and medication.