A safari to Tanzania has it all. Some of the best wildlife viewing in the world, top safari guides, luxury safari camps and lodges and some of the best beaches in Africa. There is more to a safari in Tanzania than the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater and this is what makes Tanzania a safari destination you can return to time and time again and never see the same place. The Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater are obvious choices for the first time safari as it offers fantastic wildlife viewing within easy reach of luxury safari camps and lodges. The great migration moves through the Serengeti National Park throughout the year following the rains. Knowing where to go on safari and at what time of the year is key to maximize your chances and overall Tanzania safari experience.
The Ngorongoro Crater is a world renowned World Heritage Site that again offers some of the best wildlife viewing in Africa.
Some of the off-the-beaten track safari destinations in Tanzania include Ruaha and Nyerere National Parks (formerly the Selous Game Reserve) in the south. These are vast reserves teeming with big game and is more of an adventurous safari destination with activities that include walking safaris and fly-camping. Known for their large elephants, big herds of buffalo and good lion, leopard and wild dog populations, the Nyerere National Park and Ruaha make for some exciting Tanzania wildlife safari experiences.
For those looking for the ultimate Tanzania safari experience you can head west to Katavi National Park and Mahale Mountains National Park. Katavi is a very underdeveloped park with very little in the way of tourist infrastructure and this is what the appeal here is. You would be very unlikely to bump into any other tourists giving you the feeling that this is your private Tanzania safari. During the dry season Katavi is home to the a unique wildlife phenomenon where large crocodiles dig holes into the river banks forming large caves that they then hide out in to get away from the sun.
Mahale Mountains National Park is on the shores of Lake Tanganyika and is home to the best chimpanzee tracking in Africa. Each day guests head out in search of man’s closest relative and once found they get to spend an hour following the troop as they forage in the forest.
Zanzibar and the Tanzanian coast offers luxury beach lodges where weary safari goers can relax after the adventures of the preceding days on their Tanzania safari. A safari to Tanzania is the perfect destination for family safaris, honeymoon safaris and those looking for a unique wildlife safari experience – it really does have it all.
Luxury Safaris to Tanzania
Tanzania is one of the most popular safari destinations in Africa and rightly so. It has some of the best wildlife viewing combined with some of the most incredible beaches and islands. From the Great Migration across the Serengeti, to the incredible Ngorongoro Crater, chimpanzee tracking, walking safaris, helicopter safaris, authentic cultural experiences, off the beaten track safaris, mainstream safaris, luxury safari lodges, rustic mobile safaris, fly-camping, tropical beaches and remote islands, a safari to Tanzania appeals to everyone from first timers, expert safari goers, honeymoon safaris, family safaris or anyone looking for an incredible safari. Have a look at some of our Tanzania safari ideas and then get in touch and lets start planning your dream safari to Tanzania.
Where are the best areas to go on safari in Tanzania?
The Best Safari Areas of Tanzania
When considering where to go on your safari to Tanzania, generally the best areas to visit are divided into the northern circuit, the southern circuit and the western circuit. Nowadays with regular flights within the country it is easier to combine the different safari areas within the same safari, but flight times can be long if you decide to do this.
Starting in the north, which is the most popular circuit, we look at Lake Manyara National Park, Tarangire National Park, the Ngorongoro Crater and the world-famous Serengeti National Park. Combining all 4 of these wildlife parks offers something completely different.
Lake Manyara National Park
Lake Manyara National Park is a small park that sits within the Great Rift Valley that runs from Ethiopia to Malawi. Dominated by a large soda lake and forested escarpment, Lake Manyara National Park is home to the famous tree climbing lions. Other wildlife includes elephants, buffalo, leopard and incredible birding, including flocks of flamingoes along the shores of the lake. For those with limited time, Lake Manayara National Park can be visited on a day safari enroute to the Ngorongoro Crater, but for those with time, we recommend staying at either of the Chem Chem Safari Camps which offer a private concession safari experience between Tarangire and Lake Manyara National Parks.
Tarangire National Park
Tarangire National Park is often overlooked on the northern safari circuit, but a stop here is well worth it. The park is only 2 hours from Arusha making it easily accessible and a great start to your Tanzania safari. Known for its huge herds of elephants that move into the park during the dry season to feed along the only water source, the Tarangire River. The park is more like the likes of the Ruaha and Selous, than its northern counterparts, thus offering something vastly different on your Tanzania safari. The park is also home to good prides of lions, elusive leopards and cheetah. We highly recommend a stay in Tarangire National Park at the start of your Tanzania safari, enroute to the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti. Our preferred camps are in a private concession between Tarangire and Lake Manyara. The Chem Chem Lodges and Camps are the perfect base to explore this region away from the crowds.
The Ngorongoro Crater
One of the wonders of the world, the Ngorongoro Crater is a mecca for anyone visiting Tanzania and rightly so. Created when the volcano erupted almost 2 million years ago spreading its fertile ash on the southern plains of the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater left behind a wildlife haven within the caldera. Approximately 20Kms in diameter surrounded by an escarpment that rises over 600 meters in height, the crater floor is where all the action happens. Home to Africa’s Big Five, the game viewing inside the Ngorongoro Crater is phenomenal. Large elephants, black rhino, cheetah, lion and so much more are concentrated within this unique ecosystem. If you are doing the northern safari circuit, we would always recommend spending 2 nights at our favorite camp along the edge of the crater. This gives you a full day to explore the incredible big five game viewing on the Ngorongoro Crater floor. Entamanu Ngorongoro is one of few safari camps on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater offering incredible views from camp, but also the opportunity to be some of the first guests into the crater in the mornings.
The Serengeti National Park
Renowned around the world as some of the best wildlife safaris, the Serengeti National Park rarely disappoints. This is a vast park that is divided into various sections. For a more detailed breakdown of the Serengeti and the Migration, please click here.
The Serengeti is a vast grassland dotted with rocky outcrops, known as koppies, and riverine woodlands and rivers. In the south you have the Ndutu Lake and grasslands which is where the migration remains from around December to March when they give birth (usually late February). From here the migration moves north through the central Seronera and Grumeti Concession following the rains in the north that bring fresh grazing. The herds are on the move between April/May and July when they finally reach the Grumeti River in the north of the Serengeti. Between July and October, the herds are moving between the northern Serengeti and the Masai Mara in Kenya. From November, when the short rains start, the herds start moving back south in search of the fresh grasses the rains bring. Moving through the eastern corridor back towards the Ndutu Section of the park.
Aside from the millions of wildebeest and zebra that make up the migration, the Serengeti is an extremely rewarding park to visit with incredible predator sightings, especially lion and cheetah. We always recommend staying in at least 2 regions of the Serengeti National Park on your Serengeti Safari so that you can not only see the migration, but also get to experience the other wildlife of the park. Generally, when the migration is in an area, the other animals are pushed out due to the sheer numbers of wildebeest and zebra. By visiting different regions of the park, you have the opportunity to experience these other animals which include the Big 5.
Accommodation options within the Serengeti range from rustic 3-star mobile camps, fantastic luxury mobile camps that all follow the migration from South to North. There are also permanent luxury safari lodges and camps throughout the park suitable for all budgets.
Click here for a more detailed description of the Serengeti and Migration.
Nyerere National Park (formerly The Selous Game Reserve)
The Nyerere National Park (formerly called the Selous Game Reserve) is one of Africa’s largest wildlife reserves and is known for its adventure and great wildlife viewing. The Rufiji River forms the lifeline of the park as it snakes it way through the dry landscape attracting wildlife who come to quench their thirst, making this the focus of most safaris. Even though the park offers some of the best wildlife viewing in Africa, it is not as well known as its northern cousins, and so the Nyerere National Park is a lot quieter. The Nyerere offers incredible game viewing including some of the best wild dog sightings in Africa. One of the reasons we love the Nyerere is due to the adventure activities that the safari camps offer. These include boating on the Rufiji River, morning and afternoon game drives as well as walking safaris and fly-camping. There are a range of camps within the Nyerere National Park, but our favourites include Kiba Point, Sand Rivers Selous and Siwandu.
Ruaha National Park
The Ruaha National Park is the second biggest national park in Tanzania and is almost 50% bigger than the Serengeti yet receives a 10th of the visitors the Serengeti does – this is what Africa is all about. Raw, wild and full of wildlife and adventure. This means plenty of space to explore away from the crowds and that is exactly what guests do when they visit this incredible park. The park’s lifeline is the Ruaha River which attracts huge herds of animals that come to quench their thirst. The Ruaha National Park is a much drier region when compared to the Nyerere National Park, making this the perfect combination for a Southern Tanzania Safari. The Ruaha is renowned for its large herds of buffalo which are often followed by large prides of lions. This is fantastic walking country with open plains dotted with massive baobab trees and this is why we love the Ruaha National Park. There are very few camps here, but our favorites include Jongomero, Kigerlia Ruaha and Kichacha Expeditions. Staying in these safari camps means incredible walking safari opportunities with the option for fly-0camping along the way.
Katavi National Park
Heading west, even further off the beaten track, we move to Katavi National Park, one of the greatest, yet least known national parks in Africa. This is one of Africa’s best kept secrets. Between the dry months of June to October, Katavi National Park offers some of Africa’s greatest wildlife viewing, and with fewer than a handful of camps in the park, you are virtually guaranteed to have this experience to yourself. Made up of several floodplains that fill with water during the rainy season, these form the lifeline for the animals during the dry season as the surface waters dry up. During the dry months huge herds of buffalo, massive pods of hippos and large herds of elephants rely on the rivers of these wetlands to survive. Not far behind are the predators. As the rivers and wetlands start to dry up, super pods of hippos, sometimes numbering into the thousands cram together in diminishing pools. Crocodiles here have learnt that the best way to survive the heat and receding water is to dog themselves into the riverbanks, forming cool, damp caves. Katavi is a must for any serious safari goer looking for one of the best kept secrets in African safaris. Our top pick of safari camps here is Chada Katavi, which is a seasonal camp that offers game drives, walking safaris and some amazing fly-camping.
Mahale Mountains National Park
Located on the mountains along the shores of Lake Tanganyika, Mahale Mountains National Park is home to arguably some of the best chimpanzee tracking in Africa. Lake Tanganyika runs the length of western Tanzania from Burundi in the north to Zambia in the south. The crystal-clear waters and sandy beaches of the lake give the impression of a tropical beach destination, but it is for the chimpanzees that everyone comes to this forested national park. Mahale Mountains National Park is home to habituated chimpanzees that move between the lake shore forests and the upper mountain forests in search of fruiting trees. Between January, February and March the chimpanzees are in smaller family troops foraging in the higher mountains which can make tracking them longer. In June and July, they start to gather in larger troops, but remain in the higher parts of the mountains where the best fruits are found. From August they start moving down the slopes to take advantage of the fruiting trees along the lake and they can often be heard hooting in the forests behind the camp. This continues through to December before they start moving higher into the mountains. Our top pick of a camp here is Greystoke Mahale, set on a sandy beach of the lake with an impressive backdrop of thick forested mountains.
Zanzibar and the Tanzania Coast
World renowned for its turquoise water, coral reefs and powder white sandy beaches backed by swaying palm trees, Zanzibar and the other islands of Zanzibar are the perfect beach destination to relax on after the adventure of a safari to Tanzania. Generally speaking, the outer Eastern beaches are regarded as the best and this is where majority of the beach lodges and resorts can be found. With a large barrier reef, the tidal variations can mean that at low tide there is nowhere to swim unless you walk out over the coral to deeper channel. Zanzibar has it all, from scuba diving, dhow trips, snorkeling, dolphin tours, spice tours and history tours of Stone Town.
North of Zanzibar is the less developed Pemba Island, making this our preferred choice in this region. A little tricker to get to, but well worth it when you have seclusion and some of the best diving in the world. This is what Zanzibar used to be like before it was overdeveloped. Our pick of places to stay on Pemba include the Manta Resort situated on a white sandy beach just meters away from a coral reef teeming with marine life. The Manta Resort has a unique floating room out amongst the coral reef just offshore. Consisting of 3 levels, the upper deck is a sun terrace, the middle deck (water level) is the lounge area and below the water is the bedroom with large windows allowing full 360-degree views of the coral reef and fish that live there. This is truly a unique experience. Fundu Lagoon and the Aiyana are the other 2 beach resorts we recommend on Pemba Island. Both are right on the beach and offer seclusion on Pemba Island.
Mafia Island lies directly south of Zanzibar and is nowhere near as developed as Zanzibar, making it an ideal beach destination for those looking to get away from the crowds. Surrounded by an expansive marine park, the diving off Mafia offers untouched coral reefs teeming with marine life. Between November and March Mafia Island offers some of the best opportunities to snorkel with whale sharks.
Fanjove Island is a private island further south and offer guests a Robinson Crusoe private beach experience with incredible beaches, coral reefs and snorkeling from the shore with some of the best diving in the Indian Ocean. This is the perfect beach destination after your safari in Tanzania.
The Great Migration across the Serengeti
Serengeti Wildebeest Migration
This is the main reason everyone comes to Tanzania and the Serengeti and considered to be one of the greatest wildlife experiences on earth. Up to 3 million wildebeest and zebra follow the rains from the Southern Plains of the Ndutu Section of the Serengeti National Park, north to the grassy plains of the northern Lamai Section into the Masai Mara in Kenya. Knowing where to stay at the different times of the year is key to maximize your chances of experiencing the great Serengeti wildebeest migration. Below is a rough outline of how the wildebeest migration moves through the Serengeti National Park and where is best to base yourself to be in the best place to see the herds.
The Great Wildebeest Migration is in the southern Ndutu Plains preparing to give birth. These fertile grassy plains are perfect for the herds during these times as the grasses are fresh after the short rains of November and December.
For about 2 weeks towards the end of February, the pregnant females give birth to several hundred thousand babies. This happens within a 2-week period, giving each baby the best chance possible as it is safety in numbers. Within minutes the newborns start standing and can run with the herd within a short space of time. With such an abundance of animals and in particular youngsters, the predators take full advantage as the pickings are easy.
Still occupying the southern plains of Ndutu, the herds start preparing to move north as the grassing plains start to dry up. With the long rains starting in March, the herds know the grassy plains in the north will offer fresh grazing, so the long trek north starts.
The great wildebeest migration moves north-west through the central Seronera and Grumeti regions of the park. Most safari camps close during the long rains, but for the few tourists brave enough to venture here, the reward is fewer tourists.
Similar to April, the herds are still on the march north, with columns of wildebeest stretching several kilometers in length making for spectacular sights. May marks the start of the mating season with males going head-to-head to win in battle to win the females. Towards the end of May the herds have reached the Grumeti River, their first barrier in their trek north and one they have to cross to get to the fresh grazing.
By June most of the herds have congregated at the Grumeti River, nervous to cross the crocodile infested river, but at some stage they all have to take the plunge. After crossing the Grumeti River the herds continue north towards the Masai Mara in Kenya.
The herds are now in the northern part of the Serengeti National Park, typically a quieter region compared to the central Seronera Region, offering a more exclusive migration experience. Late July the herds move up into the Masai Mara crossing the Talek and Mara Rivers. These offer some of the most spectacular River crossings as the herds bulge along the riverbanks and are finally forced to take the leap. Waiting for them are some of Africa’s largest crocodiles.
The herds continue to move between the Masai Mara in Kenya and the northern Serengeti in Tanzania. Crossing the Talek and Mara Rivers as they move. River crossings can offer some spectacular sightings, but it is not for the feint hearted as many animals drown in the masses and river currents. Others are taken by enormous crocodiles and for those that make it across, there are lions, leopards and cheetah to contend with.
Most of the wildebeest and zebra are in the Masai Mara grazing on the grassy plains, occasionally moving back into the Serengeti National Park. During September, the best place to be is the Masai Mara, but it is to be noted that the Masai Mara is a smaller park and so can get overcrowded at this time, especially along the main river crossing points.
Still moving between the northern section of the Serengeti and the Masai Mara in Kenya, the great migration is preparing to start the long trek back south again as the onset of the short rains in November trigger their instinct to start moving.
With the start of the short rains in the Serengeti, the herds start the long trek back south along the eastern corridor. As the herds are on the move, seeing the huge numbers of animals together can be hit or miss. Rather, long lines of animals can be seen moving with a purpose towards the grazing in the south.
The short rains have meant the grasses in the southern Ndutu Section have flourished again and this is what draws the great Serengeti Migration down here. By December the herds have started to gather here in numbers as they prepare to give birth.
It needs to be noted that the above month-by-month description of the great Serengeti Migration, is based on years of data. Each year, however, is different and the movements of the wildebeest and zebra is determined by when the rains happen. Some years the rains come earlier than others which triggers the migration to move earlier than usual.
When is the best Season to go to on a safari to Tanzania?
We get asked this a lot, but it is an impossible question to answer as each season has something special to offer different guests. Tanzania is also a big country and so seasons differ across the regions. To best answer this question, we need to look at the different safari regions of Tanzania and look at the different months.
Starting in the north as this is the most popular area for a safari in Tanzania. There are 2 rainy seasons. The long rains which start in March and end in June and then the short rains which happen in November. During the long rains of April and May, many of the safari camps in the Serengeti and other northern parks close.
The daily temperature in the Serengeti is constant throughout the year, with maximums hovering between 75 and 80 Degrees, dropping to a low of around 55 Degrees in the evenings. The area around the Ngorongoro Crater is at a higher altitude and so temperatures during the day range between 70 and 75 Degrees but drop as low as 50 at night.
For detailed information and the best time to see the migration in the Serengeti, please click here.
The Selous and Ruaha National Parks, are located further south and are more arid and humid compared to the northern parks. During the dry months of June to November, the game viewing in both parks is exceptional as the surface water dries and the animals must rely on the permanent waters of rivers and lakes, making it easier to know where they are. These parks receive 1 rainy season that starts in November and ends in May. Many of the safari camps close during March, April and May as it becomes impossible to land light aircraft on the dirt airstrips. During the short rains of November, the bush thickens, and the humidity rises and so can be an uncomfortable time to be in the south.
Heading west to Katavi and Mahale National Parks, these are a little more off the beaten track. Both parks have their dry season between June and October which has a bigger effect on the game viewing in Katavi than it does on chimp viewing in Mahale. This is evident by the fact that Chada Katavi (our preferred camp in Katavi) is closed from December until the end of May. During the dry season of June to November, game viewing in Katavi can be incredible. Day time temperatures in Katavi range between 86 and 93 Degrees, dropping to between 60 and 70 Degrees at night. Mahale’s rainy season starts in November and ends in May. Greystoke Mahale closes for the months of April and May. For the best time to go chimp tracking in Mahale, please click here. Day time temperatures in Mahale range between 79 and 84 Degrees and drop to between 55 and 68 Degrees at night.
Finally ending up on the beaches and islands of Tanzania. The perfect end to your safari in Tanzania. Zanzibar and the other tropical islands are a year-round destination and so the “when is the best time to visit Zanzibar or neighboring Islands” would coincide more with when you are going on your safari. Zanzibar and the other islands have 2 rainy seasons, like the rest of the country with the long rains starting in April and ending in June and then short rains between November and December. The rains usually consist of afternoon thunderstorms that clear to bright blue skies. Day time temperatures range between 80 and 85 Degrees dropping to between 75 and 80 Degrees at night. Being tropical, the humidity is high.