Lying just south of the equator, Tanzania — East Africa’s largest country — is tremendously diverse. With a third of its expanse given over to nature reserves, Tanzania's wildlife is astonishing.
Meanwhile, Zanzibar's beaches and coral reefs are out-of-this-world spectacular. All that considered, it’s impossible to see everything in a single trip, so here’s our overview of the best things to do in Tanzania.
1. Serengeti National Park safari — one of the best things to do in Tanzania
Famously, the Serengeti — Tanzania’s oldest, largest national park — lies at the heart of the world’s largest wildlife migration. At its peak, the park the contains the highest concentration of mammals on earth. No surprise, then, that visiting Serengeti National Park is one of the best things to do in Tanzania.
Among the five million animals found here during the migration, there are typically around 1.5 million wildebeest, half a million gazelles, and some three hundred thousand zebras.
Even when the migration has moved elsewhere, the park contains substantial populations of plains game, including buffalo, giraffe, warthog, and a range of antelopes.
Also very visible are the park’s three thousand or so lions. Other predators include cheetahs, leopards and bat-eared foxes. Meanwhile, birders can expect to see several hundred species during a two- or three-day safari.
Top trip experience
Book a dawn balloon safari to be dazzled by landscapes and wildlife at daybreak.
- Best for families: Mbalageti Serengeti. Ideal for May-July migrations, with lodge rooms and tented chalets.
- Best for style: Serengeti Serena Safari Lodge. Thatched rondavels, slick service, ideal for April–May migrations.
- Best for wilderness walks: Serengeti Ikoma. En-suite tents on the edge of the May-July and Nov-Jan routes.
Where to stay in the Serengeti
Browse more of the best places to stay in Serengeti National Park.
2. Encounter chimps at Gombe Stream National Park
Covering a strip of hilly country from Lake Tanganyika to the eastern ridge of the Western Rift Valley, Gombe Stream National Park is sliced by thirteen wild river valleys.
Made famous by Jane Goodall, Gombe’s ecosystem is a primate paradise, home to olive baboons and red colobus, redtail and blue monkeys. While these would be a highlight in other parks, at Gombe they’re supporting acts for the real stars — chimpanzees.
Alongside tracking chimps in Gombe's evergreen riverine forests, you could also hike to the crest of the Rift Valley ridge, or enjoy a night walk to spot nocturnal wildlife.
Meanwhile, being one of Tanzania’s least accessible parks (there's no road access), Tanaznia's Mahale Mountains National Park is also one the world’s last strongholds for wild chimpanzees.
- Best for active couples: Mbali Mbali Gombe Lodge. 14 miles from the park, with hiking, canoeing and a beach.
- Best for indie road-trrippers: Mama Muni, Kigoma. A holiday home 18 miles from the park.
Where to stay near Gombe Stream National Park
Explore more places to stay near Gombe Stream National Park.
3. Climb Mount Kilimanjaro
Rising to a peak of 5892m, the ice-capped, dormant volcano of Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest mountain. It's also the world’s tallest free-standing massif, one of the world’s largest volcanoes, and exceptionally beautiful. Little wonder, then, that it features in our run-down of Africa’s most epic mountains.
For many visitors, the prospect of scaling the mountain is as exciting as it is daunting. The fact that no technical climbing skills are required to reach the summit means Kilimanjaro has something of an easy reputation. Ignore that — the high altitude means climbers many fall prey to acute mountain sickness.
That said, if you take your time and listen to your body, there’s no reason you shouldn’t make it all the way to Uhuru Peak. But fear not if you're looking for an easier option. The mountain also offers less strenuous alternatives, like walking the rainforest on its lower slopes.
- Best for families: Honey Badger Lodge. Great-value place with a pool, playground and lovely gardens.
- Best for views: Kindoroko Hotel. A friendly hotel with spectacular views of Kili from the rooftop restaurant.
- Best for couples: Kilimanjaro Crane Hotel. Doubles and suites with massive beds and bathtubs.
Where to stay in Moshi, gateway to Kilimanjaro National Park.
Browse more places to stay in Moshi.
4. Visit Kilwa Kisiwani’s UNESCO Heritage Site
The spectacular ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani (“Kilwa of the Island”) sit on the mangrove-rimmed island of the same name, 2km across the water from Kilwa Masoko’s port.
At its height, this island-state was the most important trading centre on the East African coast, its riches first made first from gold, followed by ivory and the slave trade.
Its ruins include a fourteenth-century palace that that was the largest stone structure in sub-Saharan Africa. There are also several mosques, dozens of Shirazi graves set amid gigantic baobab trees, and a well-preserved Omani fortress.
All of which adds up to a unique area that's been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which makes visiting it one of the best things to do in Tanzania if you're into history.
- Best for families: Kimbilio Lodge. Right on Jimbiza Beach, this has spacious, stylish rooms.
- Best for couples: Kilwa Beach Lodge. Classy rustic-chic with a laidback vibe on Masoko Pwani Beach.
Where to stay in Kilwa Masoko
Discover more places to stay in Kilwa Masoko.
5. Discover Ngorongoro's world wonder
Justifiably hailed as the “eighth wonder of the world”, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is genuinely jaw-dropping. Put simply, for animals, this place is a haven. For nature-loving humans, it’s pretty darn close to heaven.
Created by volcanic upheavals that accompanied the formation of the Great Rift Valley, the spectacular 8288-square-kilometre site occupies the highlands between the valley and the Serengeti Plains.
The magic begins the moment you pass through Lodoare Gate, where the road climbs through Oldeani Forest. Soon enough, you’re stunned by an unforgettable view of Ngorongoro Crater. This unbroken, enormous caldera was created by a collapsed volcano.
Offering a shifting patchwork of green and yellow mist-streaked hues, and the shimmer of the Serengeti Plains, Ngorongoro’s varied habitats virtually guaranteeing sightings of the Big Five. Namely, elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos and buffalos.
The birdlife isn’t half bad either, with ostriches, Verreaux’s eagles, Egyptian vultures, kori bustards and lesser flamingos among the many, many highlights.
Top trip experience
Pre-book a guided day tour of Ngorongoro Crater.
- Best for couples: Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge. Perfectly sited — most rooms have crater-view verandas.
- Best for style in the wild: Gnu Ndutu Camp. A welcoming, friendly place well off the beaten track.
Where to stay
Browse more places to stay near Ngorongoro.
6. Take to the lakes
Each of Tanzania’s great lakes — Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika and Lake Nyasa — has ferry services that afford another perspective on Tanzania. These journeys are often convenient, and invariably unforgettable.
The most relaxing and enjoyable way to travel between Bukoba and Mwanza on is on the MV Victoria. This was built in Scotland in 1959–60, and reassembled on Lake Victoria in 1961.
As it sails at night in either direction, you won’t see much more than the bobbing lights of fishermen, but the daybreaks and sunsets never fail to stir the soul.
The MV Liemba, has been ferrying passengers and cargo up and down Lake Tanganyika for over eighty years.
You won’t forget the gorgeous sunsets, or the frenetic activity that erupts in port villages when the ferry arrives. At most ports, it drops anchor offshore, and passengers, luggage and cargo are carried to and from it in small lighters.
A ride on Lake Nyasa is one of Tanzania’s great journeys. Located in the south-west of Tanzania, it extends into Malawi and Mozambique. As a result, it’s also known as Lake Malawi and Lago Niassa.
The most southerly lake in the East African Rift system, Lake Nyasa is beautiful, and astonishingly biodiverse. It’s home to around 30% of the world’s species of cichlid fish (you’ll see them darting through the clear water), plus plenty of hippos, crocodiles and birds.
7. Go large at Tarangire National Park
During the July to late October dry season, Tarangire National Park stands head, shoulders and trunk above the herd when it comes to seeing elephants.
In the dry season, when the bulk of the migration congregates around the river and water pools, the area is phenomenal. It draws up to 25,000 wildebeest and 30,000 zebras, along with rarities like the fringe-eared oryx. As for the elephants, expect around 3000 of them.
But here even these mighty beasts are dwarfed by the park’s huge baobab trees, many of them over a thousand years old.
The park contains a range of different habitats, from grassland and woods in the north, to low hills, scrub and swampland further south.
Cutting through these habitats is an evergreen corridor, the Tarangire River, which empties into Lake Burunge in the west. The river is the key to life here, and its northern extent is the most popular area for game drives.
Find more places to stay near Tarangire National Park.
8. Hike the Udzungwa and Usambara and mountains
Ancient rainforests, rare plant and animal species, and encounters with primates — hiking the Usambara and Udzungwa mountains is one of the best things to do in Tanzania.
Udzungwa Mountains National Park is an immaculate forest-cloaked wilderness whose 1900 square kilometres are among the most biodiverse on earth. And in good news for visitors looking to get back to nature, there's an extensive network of established trails.
While new discoveries of rare bugs and plants are pretty much two a penny here, Udzungwa is no stranger to turning up new mammals. These include the world’s largest shrew and a new genus of monkey.
The craggy and often mist-shrouded Usambaras also contain some of Tanzania’s most spectacular hiking terrain, and plenty of chameleons, too.
East Usambara, separated from the western range by the Lwengera valley, is renowned for the monsoon-fed rainforests of the Amani Nature Reserve.
Take your pick from eight walking trails to see incredible bird life. Over 335 species have been spotted in the reserve, among them the endangered Amani sunbird, the long-billed apalis, and the banded green sunbird.
9. Kondoa-Irangi rock paintings
The area between Singida and the Maasai Steppe to the east contains one of the world’s most beautiful collections of rock art. Here an estimated 1600 works give a vivid insight into humankind’s earliest recorded history.
Collectively known as the Kondoa–Irangi rock paintings (or “Kolo rock paintings”), the oldest are estimated to have been created up to 30,000 years ago. This makes them among the world’s most ancient examples of human artistic expression.
There are fourteen major sites, each with an average of three painted shelters. Depending on their orientation, the sites are best viewed in the morning or late evening. During these magic golden hours, sunlight enhances the paintings, and suffuses the rocks in rich orange hues.
10. Roam Rondo Forest Reserve
One of Tanzania’s remaining patches of indigenous coastal forest rises to over 900m on the flanks of the Rondo Plateau. Part of this is protected as Rondo Forest Reserve, with a network of nature trails and eco-tourism experiences.
Somewhat confusingly, Rondo's coastal forest isn't actually by the sea — the term refers to forests that are watered by cyclical monsoon rains.
Here the surviving semi-deciduous forest is surprisingly biodiverse, with dozens of unique plants, and the world’s smallest known bushbaby. Namely, the Rondo dwarf galago.
Rondo Forest Reserve is also home to some extremely rare birds, among them the East Coast akalat, spotted ground thrush, and Rondo green barbet.
11. Bliss-out on Zanibar’s beaches
There’s no better place to relax after a hot and dusty safari, or epic hiking expedition, than on Zanzibar’s beaches.
With a wild and windy beauty, Jambiani's beach stretches unbroken for 7km. Arguably, this is the best place in Zanzibar to enjoy the pleasures of both beach and village life.
Meanwhile, Bwejuu’s beach has excellent snorkelling spots within walking or wading distance at low tide. Kite-surfing can be arranged through one of the Paje-based centres.
For an intimate experience of rural life, head to the beautiful palm-fringed beach that stretches south of Matemwe. This fishing village retains a tangible sense of community, and the beach is a stunner.
Feeling drawn to this idyllic island? Discover why now is the time to visit Zanzibar.
- Best for couples: Casa Beach Hotel, Jambiani. A classy choice on the beach. All rooms have sea views.
- Best for families: Mustapha’s Place, Bwejuu. This beauty has a gorgeous garden, pool, playground and activities.
- Best for foodies: The Seles, Matemwe. Pretty thatched bungalows, and sumptuous Swahili cuisine.
Where to stay
Explore more places to stay in Zanzibar.
12. Explore Stone Town, Zanzibar
Formerly the centre of East Africa’s slave trade, Stone Town is the historic area of Zanzibar Town, the island's capital.
Known locally as Mji Mkongwe (“Old Town”), Stone Town's tangle of twisting streets, bustling bazaars and grand mansions resembles the medinas of North Africa and Arabia.
While wandering aimlessly is a pleasure, there are specific places to aim for, including the harrowing cells of Africa’s last slave market, and two cathedrals linked to the abolition of the slave trade.
Stone Town’s showpiece is its grandiose waterfront, home to two majestic palaces and a brooding Omani fortress.
- Take a guided history-themed tour followed by lunch.
Top Stone Town trips
- Best for waterfront class: Mizingani Seafront Hotel. Fronted by cannons, with big rooms and a courtyard pool.
- Best for couples: Kholle House. This elegant boutique hotel was built in 1860 as a palace for Princess Kholle.
- Best for good-value beauty: Dhow Palace Hotel. An 1870s mansion with pool and rooftop restaurant.
Where to stay
Browse more places to stay in Zanzibar City.
13. Scuba dive the Mafia Archipelago
The coral reefs off Tanzania’s coastline offer some of the world’s finest scuba diving, with the Mafia Archipelago being a prime destination.
Comprising Mafia Island, the much smaller islands of Chole, Juani and Jibondo, plus a host of minor atolls, much of the archipelago is protected by Mafia Island Marine Park.
Home to more than four hundred species of fish, over sixty types of corals, 140 forms of sponge, and seven mangrove species, it’s also an important nesting site for hawksbill and green turtles.
If that wasn’t enough, it’s an extended stopover on the migration route of the world’s biggest fish — docile whale sharks.
- Best for families: Kinasi Lodge. Part classic resort, part boutique hideaway, this offers lots of activities.
- Best for divers: Big Blu. Primarily a scuba operation, this boasts comfy dome-tents and beach bungalows.
Where to stay on Mafia Island
Check out more places to stay on Mafia Island.
14. Explore Mnazi Bay–Ruvuma Estuary Marine Park
The Mnazi Bay–Ruvuma Estuary Marine Park encompasses a network of estuarine, mangrove, tidal, peninsular, island and coral reef environments.
The reefs offer superb snorkelling and diving, and its beaches are among Tanzania’s most beautiful, with all the white sand and warm turquoise water you’ve ever dreamed of.
But beyond all that, the park is a haven for Hawksbill and green turtles, and humpback whales during the July-December migration season. And, largely thanks to its large population of crab-plovers, it's an internationally recognised Important Bird Area.
15. Scoff sensational seafood
Seafood features prominently in Swahili cooking, especially in Zanzibar, where fish, prawns, squid and lobster are served with subtle spices and blended with sauces. Coconut features large, too.
Stone Town is Tanzania’s culinary highpoint. In fact, if you love your grub, spending time in Forodhani Gardens' nightly food market is one of the best things to do in Tanzania.
Scenically sited in a park between the sea and the House of Wonders, it's the perfect place to pick up local produce and fresh fast food with Tanzanian flair. Think ghee-fried Zanzibar pizzas stuffed with seafood, veg, chicken or beef, and Swahili doughnuts.
If you prefer a scenic sit-down experience, Stone Town is home to dozens of romantic restaurants. Head to a shorefront or rooftop restaurant to enjoy sublime sunset suppers.
If that’s left you longing to learn more about Tanzania, you might want to discover beautiful Tanzanian proverbs. Or, if you fancy getting back to nature, read our guide to planning a Tanzania safari.
In addition, the picture-packed Insight Guide to Tanzania and Zanzibar is perfect for pre-trip planning, with in-depth features on culture, plus practical tips.
Not a fan of planning? Consider booking a customisable trip curated by Rough Guides’ experts. For example, you could enjoy a trip that takes in East Africa’s top highlights. Namely, gorilla tracking in Uganda, spotting the Big Five in Tanzania, and chilling-out on Zanzibar’s beaches.
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