A land full of icons, with the names Serengeti, Kilimanjaro, Ngorongoro and Zanzibar immediately evoking images of exotic locations and abundant wildlife. A Tanzanian safari is an experience for all of the senses, and caters for every kind of traveller.
Tanzania is a country which was seemingly designed with the word "safari" in mind. There are enough national parks and different safari activities to keep travellers coming back year on year, with the added benefit of easily combining beautiful tropical beaches with the wildlife rich plains.
A Tanzanian safari is a journey in the true sense of the word, with each itinerary feeling like an exploration out into the wilderness. Moving from park to park, either by road or air, the countryside offers something new at each stop.
The plains of the Serengeti have become synonomous with an African safari, and by visiting the right areas and camps, you will be able to see the legendary wildebeest migration as it moves across the grasslands in constant search of fresh grazing and water.
To the south of the country are the remote reserves of Selous and Ruaha, while in the west you can trek into the mountains to witness chimpanzees along the shores of the mystical Lake Tanganyika.
Situated below Mount Meru on the eastern edge of the eastern branch of the Great Rift Valley, the city is the country’s safari capital located close to some of Africa's most famous landscapes and national parks, which are Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara, Olduvai Gorge, Tarangire, Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) as well as Mt Kilimanjaro - Africa’s highest mountain.
Founded by the Sultan of Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam remained only a small port until the German East Africa Company established a station there in 1887. During the German occupation in the early 20th century, Dar was the centre of colonial administration and the main contact point between the agricultural mainland and the world of trade and commerce in the Indian Ocean and the Swahili Coast. It served as the capital of German East Africa (1891 to 1916), Tanganyika (1961 to 1964) and Tanzania (1964 to 1974,) when Dodoma was designated Tanzania’s national capital.
Buildings in Dar often reflect the city’s colonial past and display a rich mix of architectural styles incorporating Swahili, British, German and Asian traditions. Post World War II modernisation and expansion brought contemporary multistoried buildings including a hospital complex, a technical institute and a high court. Educational facilities comprise the University of Dar es Salaam (1961), several libraries and research institutes as well as the National Museum. Other historical landmarks include St Joseph’s Cathedral, the White Father’s Mission House, the Botanical Gardens and the old State House, which make for an interesting walking tour around the waterfront and city centre.
Dar’s natural, nearly landlocked harbour is the outlet for most of mainland Tanzania’s agricultural and mineral exports and is also a transit port for the Congo River. The city is the terminus of a rail line west to Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika, north to Mwanza on Lake Victoria and south to Zambia.
Gombe is the smallest of all the Tanzania’s national parks: a fragile strip of chimpanzee habitat straddling the steep slopes and river valleys that hem in the sandy northern shore of Lake Tanganyika. Its chimpanzees – habituated to human visitors – were made famous by the pioneering work of Jane Goodall, whom in 1960 founded a behavioural research program that now stands as the longest-running study of its kind in the world. The matriarch Fifi, the last surviving member of the original community – only three-years old when Goodall first set foot in Gombe – is still regularly seen by visitors.
Besides chimpanzee viewing, many other species of primates live in Gombe Stream’s tropical forests. Vervet and colobus monkeys, baboons, forest pigs and small antelopes inhabit the dense forest, in addition to a wide variety of tropical birdlife.
Hiking and swimming are also popular activities here, once the day’s expedition to see the chimpanzees is over.
Quite possibly the wildest place in Tanzania, if not Africa, Katavi National Park can only be accessed by scheduled flights twice weekly, or private charter, or a 2 - 3 day overland trip from one of the main centres of Tanzania.
This obviously means that tourist numbers are incredibly limited, and a true adventure awaits anyone who puts in the effort and cost to experience the region. While not coming easy or cheap, the result is a safari experience enjoyed by only a relative handful of travellers, rewarding them with an epic wildlife bonanza. Katavi is most popularly combined with Mahale Mountains National Park, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, and these 2 together offer an unbeatable 7 day adventure.
Located along the rift escarpment in western Tanzania, it offers incredible scenery including immense wetlands, roaring waterfalls and original miombo woodlands, where the Sable antelopes often hide.
Lake Eyasi is a seasonal shallow endorheic salt lake on the floor of the Great Rift Valley at the base of the Serengeti Plateau, just south of the Serengeti National Park and immediately southwest of the Ngorongoro Crater in the Crater Highlands of Tanzania. The lake is elongated, orientated southwest to northeast, and lies in the Eyasi-Wembere branch of the Great Rift Valley
The Hadzabe bushmen live in this region, as do the Datoga and Mbulu tribes. A visit with the bushmen is worthwhile and they will graciously show you where and how they live and hunt. They subsist entirely off the bush and by bow hunting. Everything they use is made from local materials, including their bows which are strung with giraffe tendon and their arrows which are coated in lethal poison. Their language resembles that of Kalahari bushmen tribe with clicking noises used.
The scenery of Lake Eyasi differs dramatically to that of the surrounding areas. Compared to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Highlands this area seems downright tropical. Palm trees border the lake and make homes for birds such as Fischer’s lovebird. Other trees in this area include the umbrella thorn acacia and sand paper bush. The weather is nearly always very hot and intense, as the lake is located in floor of the Rift Valley, the oldest rift in the world.
Lake Eyasi’s water levels vary greatly between the rainy and dry seasons. During the dry season the lake is virtually nonexistent and animals are forced to share what water is left, which makes for easier wildlife viewing. The lake can get quite deep during the rainy season and it attracts hippos who like to cool off in its brackish waters.
Bird lovers will be in paradise here, as the lake attracts vast numbers of birds of all sizes and colors. Some main birds to be found here include: Africa spoonbill, flamingos, gray headed gulls, great white pelicans, pied avocet and yellow-billed storks. The main fish found in the lake are catfish and lungfish.
This region is particularly suited for exploring on foot, and day or half day hikes are highly recommended. It is also possible to go on a hunting trip with the Hadzabe or to visit the other tribes. Almost any time of year is a good time to visit Lake Eyasi with only April and May being questionable as they are when the long rains occur.
Being a relatively small park, and with Lake Manyara taking up the majority of the area, Lake Manyara National Park can be covered easily on half-day game drives, but these drives are usually very rewarding despite their brevity.
The scenery and birdlife are Lake Manyara's major attractions, with the lake being perfectly located to offer spectacular views along the Great Rift Valley.
Lake Manyara is not necessarily worth a diversion to visit, however, as it is so well located close to Arusha and on the road to the Ngorongoro Crater, it is ideal to use as a stop-off point on a road safari, and acts as a great introduction to a Tanzanian safari.
A soda lake at the base of the active Ol Donyo Lengai volcano, the area around Lake Natron is often described as having a desolate and almost lunar beauty. Lake Natron is found in the northern part of Tanzania. Nearest towns to Lake Natron are Arusha in Tanzania and Magadi in Kenya. It is the most important breeding site for Lesser Flamingos in the world.
East Africa has 1.5-2.5 million Lesser Flamingos, representing three-quarters of the world population and most of them are hatched at Lake Natron. Food is plentiful, nesting sites abound – and above all, the lake is isolated and undisturbed. The lake and its ecosystem provides a source of livelihoods to the local communities.
High levels of evaporation have left behind natron (sodium carbonate decahydrate) and trona (sodium sesquicarbonate dihydrate). The alkalinity of the lake can reach a pH of greater than 12. The surrounding bedrock is composed of alkaline, sodium-dominated trachyte lavas that were laid down during the Pleistocene period. The lavas have significant amounts of carbonate but very low calcium and magnesium levels. This has allowed the lake to concentrate into a caustic alkaline brine
Walks around the lake and to the streams and waterfalls along the nearby escarpment make for a fantastic adventure off the beaten track.
There are a number of campgrounds near the lake, which is also the base for climbing Ol Doinyo Lengai.
Shared between the 3 countries of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, Lake Victoria is surprisingly seldom visited by tourists, despite being splendidly scenic, and historically famous. As the source of the Nile River, Lake Victoria is an important body of water, and was searched for by many explorers.
Although a common sight to visitors to Uganda, due to the location of Entebbe and Kampala, travellers to Kenya and Tanzania generally do not make the journey to the lake shore, despite its proximity to both the Masai Mara and the Serengeti. And having been lucky enough to visit a fishing village on one of the lake's islands off Tanzania, we really think it is a pity that it is so overlooked.
Admittedly, there are relatively few accommodation options available within easy access to Lake Victoria, and it does add to time and costs when including a stopover in an itinerary, but if you have any inclination in seeing this majestic expanse of water, it does provide a very special experience.
Mahale Mountains National Park is wonderful. It is difficult to write this description without filling it completely with superlatives.
Located right on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, an expensive and relatively long flight from Arusha (operated only twice weekly), followed by a relaxing dhow cruise, takes you to the lush and stunningly beautiful Mahale Mountain range, which slopes right down to the water's edge.
In the distance, across the water you can see the hills of the DRC as the horizon, confirming that you are now deep in the African continent, in one of the most remarkable locations.
The major drawcard of Mahale is the chimpanzee trekking, which is a heart-racing, dream fulfilling excursion, which takes you through the jungle of Mahale, and within touching distance of wild chimpanzees.
Besides the chimp trekking though, Mahale can be enjoyed for its serenity, beauty, water activities, fishing, the amazing locals, and the relaxation of the sandy beach. While it is a costly exercise, if funds allow, Mahale Mountains must be visited at least once in a lifetime. Combining Mahale with Katavi National Park, which lies just to the east can create an unbeatable Tanzanian safari itinerary.
Mikumi National Park abuts the northern border of Africa’s biggest game reserve – the Selous – and is transected by the surfaced road between Dar es Salaam and Iringa. It is thus the most accessible part of a 75,000 square kilometre tract of wilderness that stretches east almost as far as the Indian Ocean.
The open horizons and abundant wildlife of the Mkata Floodplain, the popular centre piece of Mikumi, draws frequent comparisons to the more famous Serengeti Plains.
Lions survey their grassy kingdom – and the zebra, wildebeest, impala and buffalo herds that migrate across it – from the flattened tops of termite mounds, or sometimes during the rains, from perches high in the trees. Giraffes forage in the isolated acacia stands that fringe the Mkata River, islets of shade favoured also by Mikumi’s elephants.
Criss-crossed by a good circuit of game-viewing roads, the Mkata Floodplain is perhaps the most reliable place in Tanzania for sightings of the powerful eland, the world’s largest antelope. The equally impressive greater kudu and sable antelope haunt the miombo-covered foothills of the mountains that rise from the park’s borders.
More than 400 bird species have been recorded, with such colourful common residents as the lilac-breasted roller, yellow-throated long claw and bateleur eagle joined by a host of European migrants during the rainy season. Hippos are the star attraction of the pair of pools situated 5km north of the main entrance gate, supported by an ever-changing cast of water-birds.
Its proximity to Dar es Salaam and the amount of wildlife that live within its borders makes Mikumi National Park a popular option for weekend visitors from the city, or for business visitors who don’t have to spend a long time on an extended safari itinerary.
The highest peak in Africa, and an iconic landmark which has intrigued and challenged travellers for many years, Mount Kilimanjaro stands guard over the East African plains, casting its shadow over the lands for many miles.
Although usually best seen from across the border in Kenya (especially from Amboseli National Park), Mount Kilimanjaro slips into the boundaries of Tanzania, and all Kili climbs must begin from here.
The snow-capped peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro have been written about in numerous tales and legends, and play a role in much of African folklore. Conquering the mountain takes some courage, determination and patience, and the reward of reaching Africa's highest point is hugely fulfilling.
A unique and fascinating game viewing destination in Africa, the Ngorongoro Crater is a must-see on any Tanzania safari.
Being the world's largest intact caldera, and the result of a collapsed volcano thousands of years ago, the 260 square kilometres of crater floor hosts up to 25 000 animals at all times of year. This makes it one of the most dense wildlife areas in Africa, and allows for many memorable sightings.
Driving down the steep walls of the Crater early in the morning is an experience in itself, and you can always sense the excitement of heading deep into one of the world's natural wonders.
With lodges perched directly on the rim, hundreds of metres above the Crater floor, Ngorongoro accommodation provides you with some of the most incredible views, and the location will surely be a highlight of your holiday.
While being criticised at times for the number of vehicles on drives along the Crater floor, it is necessary to expect that tourist numbers here will be quite high, and be prepared to share this phenomenon with other travellers. Once your mind is not concerned with other vehicles, you can enjoy the Ngorongoro Crater for what it is; one of the world's truly remarkable wildlife areas.
Originally named after the legendary hunter and explorer Sir Frederick Selous, the Selous Game Reserve, now known as Nyerere National Park, is one of the largest in the world, at over 50 000 square kilometers. Being on the less touristed southern circuit of Tanzania, Nyerere allows you to get off the beaten path, and enjoy an active and exclusive safari.
With the Rufiji River delta flowing through Nyerere and out into the Indian Ocean, the park offers activities on the river, including boat cruises and fishing trips, and another plus is that it is well located to take a short flight to one of Tanzania's tropical islands.
Visiting the less-touristed southern circuit of Tanzania offers you a very different experience to the northern parks of the country, and the Nyerere National Park is an exciting and activity laden destination.
Being about an hour flight from Dar es Salaam, or a 3 hour flight from Arusha, Nyerere is far removed from the main Tanzanian parks, and for this reason is a great place to wander away from the tourist track and enjoy a Tanzanian safari with a difference. While not being able to offer the same volume of wildlife sightings, and also being quite seasonal, Nyerere works on a basis of quality over quantity, and offers some of the higher ranges of safari experiences in Tanzania.
Also on the southern circuit, but even further removed than the Selous, Ruaha National Park provides a wild and game rich safari experience, with an incredible dry season concentration of animals.
With its variety of landscapes, and excellent sightings, as well as the remote location far from any major human habitation, Ruaha has made a name for itself as one of Africa's great game reserves.
A unique mix of species is found in Ruaha, with the park being located in the transitional zone between the acacia savannah of East Africa and the miombo woodland belt of Southern Africa.
Flowing along the eastern border of the park, the great Ruaha River is the lifeblood of the area, being the only source of water during the dry season, and therefore attracting an enormous concentration of wildlife.
The word "Siringit" means "endless plains," and this is understandably from where the Serengeti National Park takes its name. The iconic, endless, golden plains of Africa are nowhere more evident than within this national park, as they stretch off into eternity, dotted throughout with thousands of animals.
Located in the north-west corner of Tanzania, alongside Lake Victoria, the Serengeti has earned its place as one of the world's most famous wildlife areas. While best known for the enormous herds of the wildebeest migration, there is far more to the Serengeti than this, and the national park can be enjoyed even when you are not in the vicinity of this spectacle.
The national park itself is roughly 14 500 square kilometres, but it forms part of the greater Serengeti eco-system, which comprises the neighbouring Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and the bordering Masai Mara, in Kenya, with the country boundary between Kenya and Tanzania seperating the two.
The Serengeti can be accessed on a road safari, usually in combination with the Ngorongoro Crater, or there are regular daily flights into the park from Arusha.
In the past, Tarangire National Park was often overlooked by visitors to Tanzania, however it is now holding its own as one of the best dry season parks in the region.
During the dry months of July through to October, an enormous amount of wildlife is drawn inside Tarangire to access the water from the Tarangire River and the Silale Swamps, allowing for very rewarding game viewing experiences.
The park is home to some of the largest elephant herds of East Africa, and the scenery is particularly popular for the wide open, Serengeti-like plains, decorated with enormous and commanding Baobab trees.
Being only an hour and a half's drive from Arusha, Tarangire is easily accessible, and a great option to start or finish a road safari.
The Zanzibar Archipelago has lured travellers to its pristine, white beaches for centuries, and continues to be the drawcard for sun-seeking, beach-loving tourists from all over the world.
The main island of Zanzibar (correctly named Unguja), has a plethora of accommodation options, ranging from rustic beach bungalows to large and glitzy resorts, and can offer something to everyone's taste. Sandy beaches run the length of the coast, shaded by green palm trees, and caressed by turquoise waters.
The lesser-known islands of Pemba and Mafia, north and south respectively of Zanzibar, are still able to offer the quieter, and less touristed options, with fewer resorts, and far less infrastructure.
These islands contribute to the many assets Tanzania owns as a safari destination, as they create the easy "bush and beach" combination so sought after by modern travellers.
After the rigours of safari, flights to Zanzibar direct from most national parks make it simple to add on a tropical beach break, and allow some total relaxation before the return journey home.