Looking for the trip of a lifetime? Tanzania offers stunning African experiences for travellers looking for something unique. Read our essential guide to this beautiful and diverse country…
If you’re like me, you probably think that many of the picture postcard destinations are underwhelming and overrun with tourists. On the other hand, you have Africa, the dark and scary continent that the media love to write about and tourists are often afraid to visit.
But what does this mean for you?
Well, it means that Tanzania offers a very different experience than almost anywhere else in the world. It’s true, you can find culture in Southeast Asia and wildlife in the Amazon but nothing compares to the moment you step inside a Masaai village and realize just how soft we are in the Western world.
Tanzania is still part of a very old world and can often feel like stepping back in time. It’s here, in Tanzania, that you can re-enact your favourite scenes from the Lion King or maybe scramble up Kilimanjaro for mind-blowing vistas.
Either way, the attractions keep coming. But that’s just part of the story….
Why Tanzania Should Be On Your Travel Radar
Located on the east coast of the African continent, Tanzania has a surprisingly good tourist infrastructure and is best known for the Serengeti and Kilimanjaro. For many people, the chance to see an African lion up close is enough to book a safari. But there’s much more to Tanzania than wildlife and dry savannahs.
As already mentioned, you can find encounters with Masaai tribes at Ngorongoro Crater or visit orphanages, schools and non-profit organisations in small rural communities. Meanwhile, Zanzibar and the spice islands are easy to reach, where ancient Stone Town and endless white powdered beaches await the weary traveller.
In other words, whether you want to climb mountains, learn about culture, volunteer or just work on your sun tan – you can fit it all into the same trip in Tanzania.
Now, you might be wondering about….
The Best Time to Visit Tanzania
Most travellers try to time their visit to coincide with the Wildebeest migration in the Serengeti, the largest migration of animals on earth and often thought to be the best time for wildlife viewing in Tanzania.
However, what tour operators fail to tell people is that you can have just as good an experience at any other time of year. In fact, some might say that the lack of crowds and lower prices make the shoulder season the most enjoyable and best value-for-money time to visit Tanzania.
As a rule, it’s probably best to avoid April and May when the landscapes are extremely dry, while July and August can be overcrowded and slightly expensive.
Which leaves either June, September or October as the best time to visit Tanzania.
The truth is, any time of year is good for visiting Tanzania but these months strike a nice balance between wildlife viewing, weather and tourist crowds.
Weather in Tanzania
Tanzania is home to a tropical climate but there are certain factors such as the altitude which influence many regions. For the most part, the weather is hot and humid near the coast while the interior is a lot milder and certainly cooler after dark. Given its’ close proximity to the equator, Tanzania does not have a typical summer or winter but to make up for it, there is what locals know as a wet season and a dry season. In my own experience, every season is pretty much the same!
The Main Attractions in Tanzania
It’s true that Serengeti National Park, Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar are the main attractions in Tanzania. While it’s relatively safe and easy to travel almost anywhere in the country, these are the most popular places to visit for good reason. There are other parks such as Mikumi National Park, Tarangire and Arusha NP but they all pale in comparison to the above.
For this reason, it’s best to focus a travel itinerary around the first three and leave plenty of spare time in between to do as little as possible. Trust me, you’ll be glad of the breather!
Here’s everything you need to know about the main attractions in Tanzania:
Serengeti National Park & Ngorongoro Crater
For many people, Serengeti National Park is the main reason for visiting Tanzania. As you might expect, this immense park is home to a huge variety of wildlife and the “Big Five” as most safari operators refer to the elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard and rhino.
However, just before you enter the Serengeti, most safari’s will venture down into Ngorongoro Crater and camp on the rim of this spectacular caldera. Although overshadowed by the Serengeti, Ngorongoro is often the highlight of a multi day trip into the region and certainly the most spectacular setting for a wildlife safari.
The crater is 2,000 metres deep and 20km kilometres wide which makes it the largest unbroken caldera in the world. That being said, the 25,000 animals that live inside this spectacle is undoubtedly the highlight.
In most cases, tours will camp on the very rim of the crater before entering Serengeti NP the next morning. It’s quite a dusty and bumpy ride but the plains open up and you really get that feeling of being immersed in the middle of Africa. Travelling deeper into the park, dry savannahs are teeming with every species of wildlife and at the end of each day, intrepid travellers are usually treated to local food around the campfire followed by a slightly nervous night in the tent.
While it’s possible to stay in a private lodge overnight, the opportunity to camp in the Serengeti is highly recommended and a lot easier on the wallet.
As you may know, Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Situated next to a small town called Moshi in Northern Tanzania, the peak is such an awe-inspiring sight for those who get to see it but the truth is, the mountain is most often covered in cloud.
But what if you decide to climb Kilimanjaro?
If you climb Kilimanjaro, you will see an awful lot more than just the peak. In other words, the surroundings are nothing short of awesome and in many ways, the true highlight of the trek.
For example, the Machame Route starts out in a lush rainforest before climbing up onto a rugged plateau with stunning views. For the next four days, trekkers follow an undulating trail through the clouds and just below the peak at Shira Hut, preparations begin for one last push for the summit.
It’s an enjoyable trek but a lot more difficult than many operators would like to admit. That is to say, the success rate is good for trekkers reaching the summit but it takes some heavy leg work to make it up there. Aside from the Machame Route, trekkers can choose the Rongai, Lemosho and Marangu route with the last of these considered the slightly easier “Coca Cola” route.
Either way, climbing Kilimanjaro is a truly rewarding trek with colourful vistas and more than enough opportunity to experience some local hospitality. For the duration of this trek, a local guide and team of porters cook, guide and encourage each trekker all the way up to the roof of Africa.
Booking the Kilimanjaro Climb: Park fees are incredibly high for Kilimanjaro which means the climb is priced a little higher than most people would like. At the same time, this seems like a very reasonable cost for an experience of this magnitude. The duration of each tour depends on the route but in most cases, 7 – 9 days is standard with one night before and after the trip spent in a guest house in Moshi.
G-Adventures are one of the biggest providers of adventure travel tours. Take a look at their Africa and Tanzania tours via the banner below.
Visiting Zanzibar and the Spice Islands
Also known as the spice islands, Zanzibar is actually an archipelago or what you might call a cluster of islands. That being said, most people refer to the largest island “Unguja” when they talk about Zanzibar and this is where you will find ancient Stone Town and the stunning north beaches.
For the most part, visitors arrive via the airport but it’s also possible to reach Stone Town by ferry from Dar es Salaam. As for the town itself, you will find a myriad of narrow lane ways, crammed full of craft shops, massage parlors and amazing little restaurants.
In fact, food is one of the highlights of Zanzibar, for you will find every variety of seafood along with a very exotic influence of Indian spices. After dark, there is also a night market that consists of food only and to the surprise of most visitors, it’s necessary to barter a price for everything you eat!
As you might expect, it’s also possible to take a trip to a spice plantation but the real highlight of Zanzibar is found in the beaches to the north. Located in Kendwa and Nungwi, these stretched of white powdered sands are enough reason to stay and never, ever return home. As for the resorts, there’s one for any budget and everything from five star palaces to bare-bones backpacker hostels.
After a dusty few days in the Serengeti or a week on freezing Kilimanjaro, the simple comforts on Zanzibar offer the perfect way to finish a memorable trip to Tanzania.
Other Activities in Tanzania
Volunteering – Iringa, Arusha and Moshi are great places to volunteer with many schools, orphanages and non-profit organisations who are always eager for volunteers to join them.
Visiting Tribes – You can visit tribes and remote villages on tours into the Serengeti. However, it’s also possible to visit these tribes on standalone tours. For an independent visit, tourists are welcome to visit the masaai village next to Meserenani Snake Park on the outskirts of Arusha.
Old Duvai Gorge – Known as the birthplace of mankind, this gorge is also enroute to the Serengeti but visitors must pre-arrange this with the operator. Entrance costs $35 and includes entry to the museum along with an informative talk while overlooking the gorge.
Heritage Centre Arusha– You will find several museums in Tanzania but in truth, they are mostly thin in terms of content. One exception is the Heritage centre in Arusha which has a huge art gallery, endless crafts and a chance to purchase a rare stone called tanzanite.
How to Get Around Tanzania
How you decide to travel around Tanzania depends on where you want to go and what you want to experience. For example, most of Tanzania consists of barren landscapes and rural communities. With this in mind, unless you happen to be volunteering in one of these areas, there is little reason to venture to most parts of the country.
In fact, tourism is usually confined to the north and east of Tanzania where you will find the main attractions. Now, that’s not to say you cannot or should not go anywhere else but the truth is, most of the country is populated with unassuming towns with little infrastructure for visitors.
As for how you can get around, there are three main modes of transport: local bus, flights and organised tours. The last of these is definitely the most popular and arguably the most fun but local buses are extremely cheap and flights can be very good value for money.
Two types of bus services exist in Tanzania and to be honest, the standard of safety is almost non existent with either option. Bus drivers are known to be extremely erratic in Tanzania and the smaller buses (matatus) are always jam packed and almost falling apart.
That being said, if you really do want to risk it for the “experience”, you can take long distance bus trips for less than US$10 and they tend to be very quick at reaching their destination.
Just a few years ago, flying around Tanzania was reserved for the wealthy safari goers. What’s more, there was little interest in domestic flights as backpacking and independent travel was not the most popular. On the other hand, today you can fly anywhere in Tanzania and often for a great price.
In fact, if you happen to visit Serengeti National Park or climb Kilimanjaro, you might not fancy being cooked up in a vehicle for a while. For this reason, taking a flight to Zanzibar is a fantastic option and if you time it right, this can cost less than $100.
Either way, you can take domestic flights between many of the major destinations including Arusha, Moshi, Iringa, Dodoma and Stone Town in Zanzibar.
Organised Tours in Tanzania
As already mentioned, this is probably the most popular way to get around Tanzania and many tour operators run regular trips between all the attractions.
In this sense, you can take an overland tour that includes Serengeti NP, Ngorongoro and Zanzibar which includes all park fees, transport costs and sometimes food. What’s more, you also have a local guide to take care of logistics and a few fellow travellers to bond with along the way.
As for taking a safari into the Serengeti, most organized tours depart from Arusha. As part of the itinerary, the group will spend one night in Ngorongoro followed by two nights in the Serengeti. If you cannot afford the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater only tour is an excellent option and just a fraction of the cost.
Let’s be honest, the chance to see Simba and friends really is enough reason to visit Tanzania and despite what the media wants you to believe, this is one destination that is completely safe and far from underwhelming.
Getting to Tanzania
Search flights to Dar-es-Salaam, Dodoma or Arusha on our handy SkyScanner flight widget below.
We have also linked to several tour operators in this article who provide packages to the safari and hiking hotspots across Tanzania, so take a look. Exxotica & G Adventures.