Tanzania

Iconic savannah panoramas, unfettered Serengeti wildlife, huge volcanic craters

Overview

Bumping by 4WD through the salmon pink light of dusk and ever hopeful of glimpsing a snow-capped Kilimanjaro, you begin to feel a stirring, a drum beat in your heart and an inkling of a sense of the power of this place. You think maybe you might know what Hemingway was getting at when he professed his passion in the acclaimed 1935 novel ‘The Green Hills of Africa’.   “Now, being in Africa, I was hungry for more of it, the changes of the seasons, the rains…the discomforts …the names of the trees, of the small animals, and all the birds”. Here, among the dust and the dirt is a readiness that is like shot of adrenaline in your soul, an unrefined rawness, a fabled wilderness on the edge of the Indian Ocean. Here you are in the home of ‘The Lion King’, at the very cradle of civilisation.

Adventurers take note, the dry mild Tanzanian winter June to September, is doubtlessly considered the peak visitor season with the very best game viewing. Not least it’s the time of the renowned migration when huge herds cross from the Serengeti to the Masaai Mara. But it is also the time of great crowds and inflated prices. Consider instead your low season alternatives during the wetter months. With November’s short rains come a long awaited beauty and freshness, although any flooding dries up quickly. The longer rains of March to May bring heavier downpours which turn off less intrepid explorers who sadly miss the dramatic skies and lush wildflower-filled scenery. This leaves fabulous crowd free opportunities for the rest of us wanting to hike to The Roof of Africa, set foot in a Masaai warrior village and embark on incredible safari adventures.

 

The Popular Northern Circuit

You can’t blame the hordes for wanting to get the best of Tanzania. This mega-popular route takes in Arusha National Park with its views of Kilimanjaro, the Rift Valley, and Tarangire and Lake Manyara National Parks. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a haven for birds and animals, is a 19km wide crater and a grand spot for hiking, while the plains of the Serengeti are a huge draw with some of the continent’s most superb wildlife viewing. It’s not unusual to spot lions, giraffes, elephants, zebras and wildebeest on the same day particularly from June to September when you’ll pay top prices and find the biggest crowds. Likewise the January-February wildebeest calving attracts many tourists, their cameras and their cash.  Try instead October-November or March-May. Yes, the green season brings rains, but these northern hotspots offer good game viewing year round while Lake Manyara attracts in summer thousands of migratory birds, flamingos, pelicans, storks and spoonbills. A twitchers’ paradise which inspired Hemingway to call the lake “the loveliest I had seen in Africa.”

The Hidden Gems of the South

Break the mould with the lesser known southern safari circuit, more heavily forested with a diverse landscape and undisturbed nature. This route is generally accessed from the capital Dar es Salaam’s Julius Nyerere International Airport and onwards by small plane. Explore, Selous, Africa’s largest game reserve, the size of Switzerland, three times bigger than Kruger. It’s home to thousands of lions, wildebeest, hippos, leopards, zebras and crocodiles, and yet many people have never heard of this UNESCO treasure. The reserve is crossed by the River Rufiji, the country’s largest, which forms a unique ecosystem of swamps, channels and lakes offering unforgettable boat safaris. Ruaha National Park provides a different experience again, with animals distinct from those in the north, such as the endangered wild dog and several unusual antelope species as well as huge prides of lion. This circuit is fairly uncrowded year round, and but becomes very muddy in the heaviest rains and many accommodation providers pack up. Those that remain open through November to May though provide good value for money, exclusive experiences with excellent local guides who are skilled at seeking out optimum wildlife opportunities.


Major Airport

Julius Nyerere International Airport - DAR, Kilimanjaro International Airport - JRO

Low Season Months

Jan
27°C
90mm
9hrs
Feb
27°C
120mm
8hrs
Mar
27°C
170mm
9hrs
Apr
26°C
240mm
7hrs
May
24°C
210mm
8hrs
Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct
25°C
80mm
9hrs
Nov
26°C
130mm
9hrs
Dec
26°C
100mm
9hrs

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Top Experiences

Pemba & Mafia Islands

Zanzibar remains the classic end to your safari-beach combo, but for a less commercialised alternative try other idyllic isles in the archipelago, namely Pemba or Mafia. Relax on beautiful white sand Indian Ocean beaches, snorkel coral reefs and dive with huge but harmless whale sharks.

Cubs, Pups and & Calves

Low season January to February sees the arrival of offspring among Tanzania’s herds. Who doesn’t love seeing baby elephants, zebras and giraffes running alongside their mothers? Be warned you’ll also experience larger predators attacking the fresh prey. It is the circle of life after all.

Empakaai Crater

A lesser known neighbour of the huge Ngorongoro Crater, stunning Empakaai lies about 40km away. A deep soda lake covers half of its 6km wide caldera, and is frequented by elephant, buffalo, hyena and flamingo. The 45 minute hike into the crater is a beautiful if slightly challenging experience.

Insider Tips

  • Favourite add-ons to the north or south circuit are the Gombe National Park or the Mahale Mountains in the west of the country. Both parks are full of primates, yellow baboons, red colobus, blue-tailed monkeys and a thousand chimpanzees as well as beautiful beaches and lush forest.
  • Tanzania is a very conservative country with a sizable Muslim population. Homosexuality is strictly illegal, and public displays of affection are frowned upon. Although travellers may be used to a more open-minded society, remember you are a visitor, wear long loose clothing and be respectful.
  • The Oldupai Gorge is one of the most important paleo-anthropological sites in the world. It holds the remains of the earliest hominins ever found. These were discovered by archaeologists in 1959 and include the skull of the ‘Nutcracker Man’, believed to have lived about 1.75 million years ago.

Good To Know

  • If you take on Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak at 5898m, balance the weather with the crowds. Most people make the attempt in dry Jan-Feb or Aug-Sept. Consider March or October avoiding both the heaviest rains and biggest crowds, and note that the northern Rongai route remains the driest.
  • Many of the best safaris take place camping out in pristine wilderness as per the explorers of old. These camps can be comfortable with electricity provided by generator, good wholesome good food and bucket showers. If you can do without wi-fi for a few days, it is such an incredible experience.
  • Visiting a Maasai village is often up there on a Tanzanian itinerary. It’s pretty clear that the welcome dance, school tour and souvenir selling are specially arranged for tourists, but don’t let that put you off. It’s a great way to learn about Maasai culture, snap some pics and give funds to the community.

Food & Drink

Street BBQ, Stonetown, Zanzibar

££

At sunset the picturesque Forodhani Gardens along the Stonetown seafront transforms into an exciting night food market. Choose from an array of culinary delights like Zanzibar pizza and fresh seafood. Be prepared to barter, remember no alcohol is allowed and watch out for pickpockets.

Nyama Choma

££

Perfectly grilled beef or goat is a favourite dish in Tanzania. Always fresh and slowly grilled to your liking over a bed of hot charcoal, seasoned with salt and pepper or marinated with onions, garlic and ground ginger. Served with barbecued bananas or a spicy salad of chopped tomatoes and onion.

Chapatis

£

Brought into East Africa by trade routes from the Asian sub-continent, unleavened chapatis are a treat for special occasions. They make for an exciting change to the starchy ugali maize staple usually served with meals. Fun to make and eat with a range of colourful sauces, veggies and meats.

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