Best things to do in Tanzania

written by Joanne Owen
updated 10/12/2022
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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.

Inspired? Read our guide to planning a Tanzanian safari

that’ll quicken your pulse as it presents priceless memories of a lifetime. We also recommend reading up on how to safari safely and ethically .

Going on safari in the Serengeti is one of the best things to do in Tanzania © Shutterstock

Top trip experience

Book a dawn balloon safari to be dazzled by landscapes and wildlife at daybreak.

Where to stay in the Serengeti

  • 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.

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. 

Where to stay near Gombe Stream National Park

Explore more places to stay near Gombe Stream National Park.

Checking out chimpanzees is a highlight of trips to Tanzania © Shutterstock

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.

Where to stay in Moshi, gateway to Kilimanjaro National Park.

  • 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.

Browse more places to stay in Moshi.

Elephants basking in the glory of Kilimanjaro © Shutterstock

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.

Where to stay in Kilwa Masoko 

  • 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.

Discover more places to stay in Kilwa Masoko.

The great mosque of Kilwa Kisiwani. a UNESCO World Heritage in Tanzania © Fabian Leu/Shutterstock

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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.

Where to stay

Browse more places to stay near Ngorongoro.

Visiting the Ngorongoro crater is one of the best things to do in Tanzania © Travel Stock/Shutterstock

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.

Lake Victoria

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.  

Lake Tanganyika

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.

Lake Nyasa

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.

Lake Nyasa © Karl Beeney/Shutterstock

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.

Where to stay

Find more places to stay near Tarangire National Park.

Elephants in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania © LMspencer/Shutterstock

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.

Keep a close eye out for chameleons in Amani Nature Reserve, Tanzania © Shutterstock

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.

Tanzania's forests are excellent hiking territory © C. Na Songkhla/Shutterstock

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. 

While Rondo Reserve's endangered dwarf galagos are elusive, you're sure to see plenty of monkeys © Shutterstock

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

.

Where to stay

Explore more places to stay in Zanzibar.

Matemwe beach, Zanzibar. Tanzania © Marius Dobilas/Shutterstock

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. 

Top Stone Town trips

Where to stay

  • 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.

Browse more places to stay in Zanzibar City.

The House of Wonders in Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania © LMspencer/Shutterstock

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.

Where to stay on Mafia Island

  • 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.

Check out more places to stay on Mafia Island.

Scuba-diving is a top Tanzania experience © Shutterstock

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.

Expect to see tonnes of turtles at Mnazi Bay–Ruvuma Estuary Marine Park © Willyam Bradberry/Shutterstock

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.

Top foodie experiences

  • Sample Swahili cuisine on a street food walking tour of Darajani Market and Forodhani Garden market.
  • Take a spice tour to discover spice plants, herbs and tropical fruits on a small plantation.

Watch the sun set from a waterfront restaurant in Zanzibar - it's one of the best things to do in Tanzania © Robin Babista/Shutterstock

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.

Fancy travelling further afield? Read up on amazing African journeys

, and explore safari options in South Africa .

We may earn commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

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written by Joanne Owen
updated 10/12/2022
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Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her @JoanneOwen on Twitter and @joanneowenwrites on Instagram.

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