If a line had to be drawn around one place in Africa that contained the highest, longest or largest geographical giants, one could only choose Tanzania. About a quarter of the country is officially protected – a monumental tribute to its natural wealth.
Tanzania is Africa to the power of ten. Within its borders are Africa’s highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro; Africa’s biggest lake, Lake Victoria; Africa’s longest and the world’s second deepest lake, Lake Tanganyika; and the world’s biggest concentration of wild animals and most spectacular mammal migration in the Serengeti.
Entry requirements for Tanzania
Most visitors require visas with the exception of certain countries of the Commonwealth. Zanzibar remains independent, although it is a part of the union of Tanzania.
Requirements for obtaining a visa are:
- A passport valid for six months beyond the intended length of stay.
- Two passport photographs.
- Two application forms and a detailed itinerary stating reason for visit.
This is a guide only – please check with your nearest Tanzanian consulate for up-to-date information.
Summer: October – March
Winter: April – September
The climate is tropical on the coast, on the islands and in Selous. It is temperate in the other parks. Temperatures on Mount Kilimanjaro and Meru drop to below freezing. Late March to late May is traditionally the long rainy season and is considered the winter period in Tanzania. June to late October is the dry season. June, July and August can be very cold on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater. Mnemba Island is lovely at this time of year; the evenings are cool (not cold) and the daytime temperatures can be hot. Late October to mid-December is when the short rains occur. These are usually in the form of daily thunderstorms. The Ngorongoro Crater rim has a wonderful climate at this time of year. The Serengeti and Lake Manyara are quite warm and Mnemba is very hot. Mid-December to March is summer weather. It is dry and very warm until March. Due to its altitude, Ngorongoro Crater is much cooler than elsewhere.
Health requirements when travelling to Tanzania
Visitors must produce a valid yellow fever certificate obtained no less than ten days prior to travel. You will have to get malaria prophylactics before entering Tanzania. When purchasing these, tell your doctor or pharmacist that you intend visiting Tanzania. Precautionary measures to take to prevent contact with mosquitoes include: insect repellent, cover up at sundown, sleep under a mosquito net and wear long-sleeved clothing and long trousers in the evenings.
Immunisation against cholera, polio, hepatitis A and B, typhoid and tetanus is recommended if travelling by road. It is advisable to obtain medical insurance prior to travel. Emergency services and first aid is difficult to obtain outside major cities and tourist areas, so bring with you any medication which you may require.
We strongly recommend that you take out travel insurance, which includes curtailment and cancellation cover, as well as medical cover, upon confirming your booking.
When to go
Tanzania offers an astonishing diversity and concentration of wildlife, from the immense Serengeti and towering Mount Kilimanjaro to the remote national parks of Katavi and Mahale.
The best months for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro are August to October and January to March.
Tanzania boasts over 1 000 bird species, with Lake Manyara alone being home to more than 400. It is a year round birding destination, but at the height of the northern winter, some 160 species of migrating birds make their way south.
Botanically, Tanzania is a treasure-trove, with habitats ranging from afro-alpine to semi-desert. The months immediately after the two rainy seasons provide the best floral displays.
Tanzania offers excellent game viewing throughout the year as not all animals migrate and are year round residents.
Very important: packing space is limited on all modes of safari transport so you will need to restrict your baggage to 12–15kg (packed in a soft bag) including camera equipment.
Attractions and National Parks
Tanzania’s national parks and game reserves cover one seventh of the country and include the Serengeti National Park, which is famous for its vast migratory herds of plains animals, particularly wildebeest, zebra, eland and kudu.
There are small bands of chimpanzees that can be found in the Gombe National Park along Lake Tanganyika. The steep mountain walls of the Ngorongoro Crater provide protection and a natural enclosure for animals in an environment of great natural beauty.
The crater forms a part of the Ngorongoro Park. Rhino and elephant numbers are still low due to poaching in the past, despite the government’s protective measures.
The coastline is 1 424km of which over 800km are unspoiled, white, sandy beaches.
The Great Migration
The Serengeti is probably most famous for the Great Migration. Over a million wildebeest and a couple hundred thousand zebra and Thomson’s gazelle move south from the northern hills to the southern plains fulfilling their instinctive role in the cycle of life following the sweetness of fresh grazing. To read more on the Annual Migration, please view the Ngwe Portfolio under Tanzania and Kenya.
Even when the migration has moved north, the Serengeti still offers excellent game viewing opportunities.
Tanzania’s national parks extend over some 33 660km²(13 000 sq. miles). In addition there is the unique Ngorongoro Conservation Area, in which wildlife is protected and where the Maasai tribespeople also live and herd their cattle.
Serengeti National Park
This is a plain dwellers’ stronghold of 14 763km², reaching up to the Kenyan border and claimed to be the finest in Africa. Here are 35 species of plain dwelling animals, including wildebeest and zebra, which feature in the spectacular Serengeti migration. There is also an extensive selection of birdlife. This is one of the best places in Africa to see lion and cheetah close up.
The vast, open grasslands of the Serengeti are without doubt one of Africa’s finest wildlife areas. Being there at the height of the migration is a never to be forgotten experience.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area
This is the largest intact volcanic caldera in the world. Some scientists maintain that before it collapsed, it would have stood higher than Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa.
Covering a mere 260km², the 600m deep crater is home to a permanent population of more than 30 000 animals, and is one of the only places in Africa where you stand a very good chance of seeing the “big five” (lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant) in the course of a morning or evening’s game drive.
Nights on the crater rim (2 400m), where the lodges are, can get icy cold. Unique to the crater is that the local Maasai graze their cattle on the floor, and it is not unusual to see Maasai cattle and buffalo grazing together, with a lion kill just a few hundred metres away. There are around 100 lions in the crater and about 20 black rhino. The spectacular Lerai Forest is one of the best places in Africa to spot leopard.
Lake Manyara National Park
This is one of the most diverse of Tanzania’s national parks, a tiny (325km²) combination of Rift Valley Lake, dense woodlands and steep mountainside.
Manyara was established specifically to protect the elephant herds that have made the area world-renowned. But heavy poaching in the 1970s and 1980s decimated the herds, although they are now recovering and returning to their former strengths. Manyara is a birding paradise (more than 380 species), especially for waterfowl and migrants. The forests are one of the best places to see leopards. Lions hunt on the grassy shores of the lake, and are known for their habit of climbing trees.
Best game viewing months are December to February and May to July, tapering off in August and September.
Arusha National Park
This park lies within the Ngurdoto Crater, a volcano that has probably been extinct for a quarter of a million years. Covering 137km², the terrain ranges from open savannah through acacia scrublands to afro-montane cloud and rain forest, and afro-alpine vegetation similar to Mount Kilimanjaro.
There are several alkaline lakes, and the spectacular Ngurdoto Crater is not to be missed. Mammal species include elephant, buffalo, various primates, giraffe and leopard. Hiking is allowed if accompanied by an armed guard, and the climb up Mount Meru is superb, often giving the best views available of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Mikumi National Park
This 1300km² park offers a chance to see lion, zebra, hippo, leopard, cheetah, giraffe, impala, wildebeest and warthog. A popular spot for visitors is the Kikaboga Hippo Pool. Although December to March is the ideal time for viewing at Mikumi, there are animals throughout the year.
Ruaha National Park
At 12 950km², Ruaha is only marginally smaller than the Serengeti, and is pristine and untouched Africa, unsullied by minibus tourism and large lodges with electric lights, discotheques and glitzy curio shops.
It is bordered in the north by the Kizigio and Rungwa River Game Reserves, and together, they form a 26 500km² conservancy, one of the biggest in East Africa. By road, it is a five hour journey from Iringa, but there is also an airstrip at Msembe for fly-in safaris. The best months to visit are from July to November when the animals congregate around the water holes, but the park is stunning all year round.
Ruaha is visually a treat, with rocky outcrops and mountain ranges giving it a topography that ranges from 750m to 1 900m on the peak of Ikungu Mountain. The focal point of the reserve is the Great Ruaha river, with its deep gorges, swirling rapids and excellent fishing. With over 10 000 elephant, 30 000 buffalo, 20 000 zebra and huge populations of lion and leopard (not to mention more than 400 bird species), Ruaha is a naturalist’s paradise (but watch out for tsetse flies).
Tarangire National Park
At 2 600km², Tarangire is far from being the biggest of the Tanzanian parks, but its unrivalled landscape of open plains, dotted with thousands of baobabs, is unforgettable.
About 120km south of Arusha on the Dodoma road, Tarangire rivals the Serengeti for the size of the game herds that congregate here at peak season (June to November). This is when many of the animals crowd around the only source of permanent water in the park, the Tarangire River.
This is also the best place in Tanzania to see really big herds of elephant – up to 300 at a time. Tarangire is another park known for its tree-climbing lions, and for its very big herds of buffalo. This is one of Africa’s little known gems and should be on the itinerary of all lovers of wilderness and solitude. The game numbers are staggering: 30 000 zebra, 25 000 wildebeest, 5 000 buffalo, 3 000 elephant, 2 500 Masai giraffe and over 1 000 fringe-eared oryx (gemsbok).
Predators include lion, cheetah and leopard. Birders will want to look out for the endemic ashy starling, rufous-tailed weaver and black-collared lovebird.
Gombe National Park
This park is on the shores of Lake Tanganyika and chimpanzees are more easily seen here in their natural habitat than anywhere else in the world. Gombe was created to protect the chimpanzees and is set in the beautiful Mahale Mountains. It is renowned for fantastic sunsets over Lake Tanganyika and eastern Zaïre, which makes it an essential stop for the keen photographer. The habitats include rain forests, grasslands, alpine bamboo and woodland. The best time to visit is between May and October.
Kilimanjaro National Park
This park comprises the 756km² area above the 2 700m contour of the highest mountain in Africa – Mount Kilimanjaro. At 5 895m, it is also one of the world’s highest freestanding mountains. It was formed 750 000 years ago and is made up of three extinct volcanoes – Kibo (5 895m), Mawenzi (5 149m) and the Shira Plateau (3 962m).
The most popular route for climbing the mountain is the Marangu Route. The best time for climbing is in the dry seasons, August to October and January to March. Mount Kilimanjaro is divided into five distinct zones, starting with cultivated farmlands on the lowest levels. Higher up is the rainforest zone, followed by heath and moorland with alpine vegetation. Just before the barren, snowy summit is highland desert. The climate and animal life is dependent on the zone, with elephant, buffalo, rhino, leopard, monkey and a variety of birdlife plentiful in the lower zones.
Selous Game Reserve
This is the ultimate African wilderness experience, a vast region of largely unexplored bush, teeming with wildlife, and with almost no roads into the hidden interior. Selous is a bird-watchers paradise with over 350 species of bird. Walking is permitted (with an armed ranger). More than 2 000 plant species make this a most diverse sanctuary to explore. Bisected by the mysterious Rufiji River, the Selous is one of the most remote and least visited parks in Africa.
At 55 000km², it is the second biggest conservation area in Africa, and the largest game reserve on the continent. Selous is also a proclaimed world heritage site. The Selous is a grand African experience. Once home to the biggest concentration of elephant on the continent (over 110 000) the “Ivory Wars” of the late 1970s and early 1980s had a devastating effect on the herds, reducing numbers to an estimated 30 000 to 50 000 today. The defining feature of the Selous is the great Rufiji river, which naturally splits the ecosystem into two distinct parts.
Stiegler’s Gorge, 100m deep and 100m wide, is a magnificent natural feature with a rickety and gut-wrenching cable car that ferries safari vehicles across the river – not for the faint-hearted. While the bulk of the reserve is miombo (brachystegia) woodland, there are sections of magnificent grass plains, wetlands and swamps and areas of dense canopy forest. Perhaps the most sublime way of exploring the reserve is by boat, meandering through channels and swamps, and exploring hidden lagoons where elephant often come to bathe. Angling in the river for tiger fish and the giant catfish (vundu) which can reach up to 50kg, can be an exciting way to pass an evening, keeping a wary eye open for crocodiles, hippo and lion.
Other National Parks include:
- Mahale Mountains
- Udzungura Mountains