With more than a third of its land area set aside as national parks or reserves, and with the Big Five and the Great Wildebeest Migration at its heart, it’s no wonder that Tanzania is considered Africa’s classic safari destination for first-timers and connoisseurs alike You can climb snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest freestanding mountain, or follow in Jane Goodall’s footsteps and track chimpanzees in remote Gombe Stream National Park. Dive pristine reefs off the islands of the Indian Ocean, discover diverse cultures and cuisines with Swahili, Indian and Arabic influences, or simply relax on postcard beaches with sand as soft as white pepper.
Travel restrictions and immigration requirements
Tanzania’s latest travel advisory states that fully vaccinated travellers must show proof of vaccination on arrival. If you’re not fully vaccinated, you’ll need a PCR test within 72 hours of departure, or you can pay around $10 for a rapid antigen test on arrival. You should also complete a Traveller’s Health Surveillance Form within 24 hours of arrival. On leaving Tanzania, check with your airline/country of arrival to see if they require a test. You’ll need to wear a mask if you go to a testing centre. UK travellers require a visa, which can be obtained online or on arrival.
Best time to go
Safaris are best in the dry season, when the grasses are low and wildlife is easy to spot, so between June and October in Tanzania’s northern and southern safari circuits. This also coincides with the famous river crossings of the Great Migration in the Serengeti, making it the busiest and most expensive time to visit. As an alternative, visit the southern Serengeti in February when around 200,000 calves are born. Kilimanjaro is also at its best – and busiest – from late June to September, but December to March can also bring good climbing conditions.
Top regions and cities
Serengeti National Park
The star of African safaris, the Serengeti means ‘endless plains’, an apt name for a 14,763km² national park famous for the Great Migration. You’ll witness up to two million wildebeest and zebra crossing the vast savannah in their never-ending quest for fresh food. As they stampede north, they cross rivers teeming with eager, evil-looking crocodiles to reach Kenya’s Maasai Mara, only to repeat the ordeal on their return. This frenzied phenomenon attracts predators in abundance, as well as crowds of tourists, so book your stay well in advance. Choose from a range of accommodation – from eye-wateringly expensive but classy camps like Singita’s Faru Faru to the simple huts and campsites of the national park. For some of the best big cat viewing in Africa, head east to the Soit le Motonyi area and the fabulous Namiri Plains Camp.
Part of the Northern Circuit, which includes the Serengeti and the smaller parks of Lake Manyara and Tarangire, Ngorongoro is home to a staggering 30,000 animals. It’s the largest intact caldera in the world, covering 260 square kilometres, and the Big Five (wildebeest, buffalo, lion, leopard and rhino) roam the crater floor, surrounded by dramatic escarpments that plunge 600 metres from the rim. Your closest hotels and lodges are on the rim: the quirky and ridiculously lavish &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge and the far simpler Rhino Lodge, which supports the local Maasai, are both close to the gate, giving you early-morning access before the hordes of visitors.
Island of Zanzibar
If you want to sunbathe on beautiful palm-fringed beaches, sail into the sunset on dhow cruises, or overindulge at full moon parties, then head to the Indian Ocean paradise of Zanzibar. While you’re there, check out the superb diving around Mnemba Island and snorkel over the pristine coral reefs of Chumbe Island, kite surf from Paje Beach or visit the friendly fishing villages of Matemwe and Jambiani.
Beyond the beaches, spot the endangered red colobus monkeys found only in Zanzibar in Jozani Forest and visit aromatic spice plantations (it’s called the Spice Islands for a reason). Discover the heartbreaking history of the slave trade in the labyrinthine streets of ancient Stone Town, once the capital of Oman. And at dusk, sip a cool beer in the bars around Kelele Square and watch the football on the beach below, before feasting on sizzling kebabs at Forodhani’s lively food market.
At 5,895 metres above sea level, Kilimanjaro’s summit is a magnet for keen hikers: you’ll never forget standing on Uhuru Point as dawn breaks over Africa. Every year, around 35,000 climbers make their way along the seven routes that start in the rainforest and end at the glaciers that crown the continent’s highest mountain. Don’t be fooled: it may look like a giant molehill and require no technical skill, but Kili can be a killer. Give yourself time to acclimatise to the lack of oxygen and avoid the shortest, cheapest, lung-destroying Marangu route (five days). Instead, take the scenic eight-day Lemosho/Shira trail or the more remote nine-day Northern Circuit: the longer your trek, the better your chances of reaching the summit.
Ruaha National Park
If raw wilderness is your thing, head to Ruaha. Together with Nyerere (formerly Selous Game Reserve), Mikumi and Udzungwa national parks, it forms the country’s little-visited southern circuit. Ruaha is home to 10 per cent of Africa’s lions, East Africa’s largest elephant population and several packs of rare wild dogs. But you won’t see many visitors, apart from the in-the-know safari connoisseur. With just a handful of lodges, it feels like you have Ruaha’s vast savannahs, rolling hills, golden sand rivers and baobab groves all to yourself. Try the new Usangu Expedition Camp in the remote south for hands-on conservation with a touch of luxury.
Mafia is what Zanzibar might have been like before tourism arrived. Quieter, smaller but with fewer beaches, it oozes Swahili culture and is still relatively undeveloped, with a handful of lodges dotted around Chole Bay. Come here to dive in the Mafia Island Marine Park, which protects over 450 species of tropical fish, sharks and dolphins, and 50 species of coral. The island’s special guests are the migrating whale sharks. You can swim with these gentle giants of the Indian Ocean from October to March – up to 12 metres long, with around 350 rows of teeth, they eat only plankton and are completely safe.
Rubondo Island National Park
Uninhabited by humans, this extraordinary emerald island off the southern shores of Lake Victoria is an unlikely home to chimpanzees, giraffes, elephants and rare sitatunga antelopes. The chimpanzees were rescued from captivity and reintroduced here in the 1960s, while the elephants and giraffes were later relocated. While there’s no guarantee you’ll see our primate cousins, you can help acclimate them to humans by taking the trackers out. Be prepared: chimpanzees are restless creatures and you’ll need to be fit to keep up with them. Alternatively, try bird-watching, fishing for huge Nile perch (up to 100kg), driving and walking around the island, or boat trips on the lake. There’s only one camp on the lakeshore, but with crocodiles and hippos in the water, don’t even think about swimming.
Best things to do
Walk on the wild side of the Serengeti
Even at the height of the migration season, you can avoid the crowds of the Serengeti by walking and camping in its wilderness areas with Wayo Africa. It’s not too basic – you’ll have proper beds, private outdoor toilets with composting toilets and good, old-fashioned bucket showers, hearty meals cooked by your chef and excellent guides who know exactly what to do if you come across a lion on your walk…
Zanzibar’s Sauti za Busara Swahili Music and Culture Festival
For four days in February, Zanzibar vibrates to the beats of Swahili music from across Africa in Stone Town’s atmospheric Old Fort. Up to 400 performers cover everything from traditional taraab and spiritual music to fusion, urban and hip-hop, with fringe events, a parade and beach parties. Around 20,000 people come for the vibe.
The jewels of Arusha
Arusha, Tanzania’s third largest city, is the country’s safari capital and the hub for most northern tour operators. If you have a day to spare here, ignore the annoying safari touts and take a tour of The Tanzanite Experience. The museum explains the history and process of mining this rare gemstone, which is unique to Tanzania and sparkles in shades of blue, purple or burgundy. Buy the real thing here: hawkers and shops sell ‘gemstones’, but beware of scams.
Scheduled flights with Precision Air, Coastal Aviation and Auric Air, among others, take you to all the main safari and island destinations, with a good network throughout the country. Safaris booked through a tour operator include a 4WD and driver/guide to take you around and between destinations. Express buses run between Arusha, Moshi (the nearest town to Kilimanjaro) and Dar es Salaam. Local dala-dalas (minibuses) are ubiquitous, but are usually overcrowded and sometimes unsafe. Self-drive is also an option. Several ferries run between Dar and Zanzibar and other islands, but be aware that there have been some tragic accidents in the past, so travel with reputable companies – and never by dhow.
How to get there
Tanzania’s two main airports are Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam and Kilimanjaro International Airport, halfway between Arusha and Moshi, which is the best option for most travellers. Flights vary widely in cost and duration, and there are no direct flights to Tanzania from London. Kenyan Airways and Ethiopian Airlines offer the best value and are the quickest, via Nairobi and Addis Ababa respectively, with Turkish Airlines also a contender. Etihad and Qatar Airways are also goo