Thanks to the presence of some of Africa’s biggest and best national parks, a Tanzania safari is a tour de force. It’s also a dauntingly large country, though, so a trip here requires some advance decision-making. Here's everything you need to plan a safari in Tanzania.
Which region should I choose?
This is the big decision. Tanzania has three main safari areas: the Northern and Southern Circuits, and Western Tanzania. Travelling between each is a challenge, so most visitors tend to stick with just one.
Containing the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania’s Northern Circuit is decidedly the headline act. This is where you’ll find both the most prolific wildlife (aka "game") and serial crowds. Travel to whichever Serengeti corner the spectacular Great Migration currently occupies, and 4x4 vehicles will generally be bumper-to-bumper.
If you’ll happily swap a few animal sightings for extra tranquility and authenticity, head south. The massive main parks here, Selous and Ruaha, are untamed, multi-dimensional expanses where tree-clogged waterways give way to parched plains. You have to work harder to see wildlife, but spying other humans is also rare.
The still-wilder west offers equally good game (including the Mahale Mountains’ chimpanzees) blended with serious remoteness. Parks like Katavi are the preserve of long-term Tanzania safari junkies seeking a new fix.
Going out for a game drive © AdangRuj/Shutterstock
When is the best time for a safari in Tanzania?
For wildlife sightings in the west and south, June to October is the best time to plan your Tanzania safari. This is dry season, which means vegetation is lower, improving visibility. There are fewer mosquitos to contend with too. It also means animals tend to congregate around known watering holes. To see the Great Migration in the Serengeti, June and July are the best months. In April and May several parks in the south and west close to visitors, while the parks in the north can be visited all year round. The northern parks also tend to be more crowded.
Do any parks specialise in particular animals or activities?
Ruaha National Park has the largest elephant and giraffe population of any African reserve. That's why it's sometimes known as "Giraffe Park". It's also home to 10% of the world’s lion population. Selous is Tanzania’s best national park for seeing rare wild dogs and – together with the Ngorongoro Crater – the best place to see rhinos. Lovers of the endangered cheetah are directed to the Serengeti’s Ndutu Safari Lodge or Namiri Plains, ideally during January’s calving season.
Walking safaris are available in most parks, but try Beho Beho camp in the Selous to enjoy them in league with some of Tanzania’s finest guides.
Rough Guides offers Tanzania safari tours with our Tailor-Made Trips service. To find out more please get in touch.
Elephants have a drink at the watering hole © Andrew Molinaro/Shutterstock
What about the Great Migration?
Though dependent on the caprice of rainfall, this never-ending procession of hundreds of thousands of wildebeest – plus vast zebra and gazelle herds – can usually be accurately pinpointed to certain Serengeti areas at certain times of year.
September and October see the skittish omnivores attempt risky crossings of the Mara River – optimum time for lion, leopard, cheetah, crocodile and hyena to strike. This spectacle happens in the Serengeti’s further-flung north.Go to the Lamai Wedge to watch it unfold with some semblance of exclusivity.
If you time it right, you can see the wildebeest migration © GUDKOV ANDREY/Shutterstock
How do I get around on safari in Tanzania?
Light Cessna planes – dinky, 2-18-seat affairs in which you can sit beside the pilot – are the standard transport mode between Tanzania’s camps. In fact, for visitors to the remote south and west regions, they’re the only means of getting from A to B. If you're a nervous fliers be prepared; otherwise, the experience tends to be magical.
It’s possible to do the Northern Circuit by road, but – despite plentiful concrete – this is a long-winded process thanks to Tanzania’s size. Then again, you do earn the opportunity to stop in non-tourist towns and villages, and sample local life.
Antelope grazing on the Serengeti © Vaclav Sebek/Shutterstock
Do I need a guide?
Having a guide for your trip is definitely advised. In fact, in many parks – the Serengeti included – you must travel with one by law. Having a guide also means you needn’t worry about park entry fees. Even more important is the fact that guides are trained to spot wildlife and and have superior local knowledge, so you're more likely to see the animals. Most guides are charming, too, making their constant company a pleasure rather than a chore. Rough Guides works with local experts in Tanzania to provide qualified guides.
Can I go to the beach afterwards?
Most visitors do. The main draw is Zanzibar, an Indian Ocean island whose beautiful name is adequately matched by a glut of white-sand beaches and teeming coral reefs. Hotels here range from billionaire boltholes to very affordable, charming guesthouses.
Just south of Zanzibar is the quieter and similarly idyllic Mafia Archipelago, especially good for diving. Other options include Pemba, a more remote isle, and the mainland, where a top-notch villa and beach lodge scene has more recently sprung up.
How long do I need?
On the Northern Circuit, spending 2-3 nights at each park will give you time to enjoy every experience – daily game drives, often plus Maasai village visits and walking safaris – without risking cabin fever. Slightly longer per camp is advised in the South, however, to enable true immersion.
Top image © Vaclav Sebek/Shutterstock