How to Plan a Tanzania Safari Like a Pro

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The East African country of Tanzania is a wonder of the African continent. While few people will venture to other parts of Africa, you can pretty much guarantee that most people that have been will have done a Tanzania safari. 

The country is home to Mount Kilimanjaro – Africa’s tallest mountain, a portion of Lake Tanganyika – the world’s longest and second-largest (by volume), well over half of the famous Lake Victoria, the glittering paradise of Zanzibar, the world’s largest intact volcano caldera in the form of Ngorongoro Crater and the main portion of the most famous of African ecosystems, the Serengeti. 

A treasure trove of nature with 38% of its land dedicated to conservation efforts, it’s no wonder that taking a Tanzania safari is on the top of many bucket lists. 

But where should you go? And when should you go? And should you go at all – is it safe? We’ve put together a handy guide to help answer your questions and get you on the road to the safari of a lifetime.


How to Plan a Tanzania Safari

Sunset over the Serengeti - Tanzania Safari

Best Time to Plan a Tanzania Safari

As with many tropical countries, the climate of Tanzania is divided roughly into a Wet and a Dry season. And though each one may have its pros, there are certainly cons that come with each one, too.

Luckily the northernmost parks, including Serengeti National Park and particularly Ngorongoro Nature Reserve, are superb for safari all year round.

Wet Season

The clue is in the name: it’s wet in the wet season. Running from November to May, usually, these are just short afternoon showers, which actually help to clear the dust and haze in the sky. It’s only from March to May that the rain can get seriously heavy.

It’s often overlooked by tourists at this time, but this ‘low season’ effect means cheaper rates and fewer crowds. Also due to the rain, the flora is flourishing in the wet season, making everything look more verdant and beautiful.

The time of year is also important for cycles in the animal kingdom: migratory birds become more prevalent – perfect conditions for birdwatchers – and late January to February is calving time for wildebeests.

The latter also means that there’s a good chance of seeing a predator in action. As for specific parks, however, Tarangire National Park experiences a mass migration of animals during the wet season, so it is not recommended for viewing wildlife.

Dry Season

The dry season runs from April to October and guess what: it’s dry. You can expect clear skies and less water, which means a lot fewer mosquitoes buzzing around.

Also because of this dryness, animals congregate on certain stretches of river and around communal waterholes – meaning that there are ample opportunities to spot not just one but several different animal species in one go.

The lack of vegetation and leaves on the trees also makes it much easier to glimpse the wildlife you came to see.

There are mainly plus sides to the dry season (except for birdwatchers – sorry) but one thing that might bother some people is the temperature. Since Tanzania is in the southern hemisphere the usual summer months, for North Americans and Europeans anyway, are flipped.

While daytime temperatures are ok, it can be very cold in the mornings and at night. So if you’re planning to safari from June to August pack accordingly!

Lina and David Stock on Safari in the Serengeti, Tanzania

Getting to Tanzania to Start Your Safari

Air

Tanzania is located in East Africa and can be reached internationally by plane at the Julius Nyerere International Airport, the airport that serves Dar es Salaam – the capital city of Tanzania. Another airport served by international flights is Kilimanjaro International Airport, halfway between Arusha and Moshi.

The town of Arusha is the ‘gateway’ to the northern part of the country – and that means the famous regions of Ngorongoro and Serengeti; for that reason, it’s known as the safari capital of Tanzania.

Arusha is located just south of its own safari-prime area – the 137 square-kilometers of Arusha National Park (including 14,967.6 foot tall Mount Meru).

Many other airports and airstrips are located near to the National Parks and Reserves of Tanzania. Although domestic flights are often late, they are reliable and are a quick way to get around the country if your time is limited and you want to see a lot.

Road and Train

Driving around Tanzania is usually recommended only if you have prior experience of driving in developing countries. You will also need to get used to driving on the left-hand side of the road.

The roads are often not in the best of conditions either, especially in the rainy season, so a 4×4 sports utility vehicle is the best choice: think Range Rover, Land Cruiser or Hi-Lux.

There is also a domestic train system linking Tanzania’s main cities – including Dodoma, Kigoma, Tabora, Mwanza, and Dar es Salaam.

It’s cheap and reliable, which is ideal if you’re on a budget, and there are three classes to travel in: first (cabins with 2 beds), second (cabins with 4 beds), and third, which is open seating.

Food is usually available from a dining cart, or from local vendors who frequent the trains.


Ngorongoro Safari truck in Tanzania

Top Places for a Tanzania Safari

Clearly, there are ample opportunities all over Tanzania for a successful safari – and that’s at almost any time of the year (provided you don’t get caught in the deluges that occur at the height of the wet season).

Some places aren’t even safari destinations: the Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park on the island of Zanzibar, for instance.

If you are up for the challenge, Mount Kilimanjaro National Park awaits with wildlife such as blue monkeys and colobus monkeys to see in the treeline before the climb gives way to seriously rocky terrain.

But here are the parks that matter when you think ‘Tanzania safari’.

Safari trucks in the Seregeti, Tanzania

Serengeti National Park

This is the classic one, the one, and only Serengeti National Park. Almost everyone has heard of the Serengeti. This park is famous on TV shows and nature documentaries, in magazines and online – and Tanzania is home to the bulk of this geographical region.

In the Serengeti, you can find 70 large mammal and 500 bird species spread among swamps, grasslands, and woodlands. This includes buffalo, zebra, antelope, and wildebeest.

The latter is famous in the region: the wildebeest migration is the largest terrestrial migration on earth when the herd comprises 1.7 million wildebeest. This astonishing sight can be witnessed here, sometimes via hot air balloon safari.

Being Tanzania’s flagship conservation area there is no lack of accommodation for visitors and you can stay at one of many family-friendly lodges, join a mobile tent safari, or have a spot of honeymoon luxury.

But remember to book in advance for the June – July wildebeest migration.

Recommended Serengeti Lodges:

  • Serengeti Serena Safari Lodge: 4-star lodge with private guesthouses, meal plans, common areas and a large outdoor pool. Rated a 9/10.
  • Serengeti Pioneer Camp: Exclusive traditional safari camp that offers luxury glamping. Only 10 private tents available and a full program. Rated 10/10.
  • Kirawira Serena Camp: 5-star luxury safari camp with full-service programs. Think sundowners, private safaris and the like. Rated 9.2/10.

Safari truck in Ngorongoro Crater - Tanzania Safari

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Though not a national park, Ngorongoro Crater was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. It’s easy to see why: this neighbor to Serengeti National Park provides some of the easiest game-viewing in the country.

With surprisingly diverse habitats, stunning scenery (this is an extinct volcano caldera, after all), and a wide selection of animals to see, it’s not unusual for a day of safari at Ngorongoro to include glimpses of all the famous ‘big five’ animals.

Ngorongoro being a crater means that you can stay at one of many cliff-edge lodgings, offering astounding views out over the landscape. You can also stay at the nearby town of Karatu, where some lodges are in working coffee plantations, and guides can take you out for hikes in the picturesque hills.

Our time spent in Ngorongoro on safari was some of the best wildlife viewings we had in our 4 months of traveling through Africa. The crater is full to the brim with high numbers of wildlife. It’s really impossible to visit and not see something cool. 

Recommended Ngorongoro Crater Lodges:

Observing hippos in the Serengeti

Tarangire National Park

Named after the Tarangire River which flows through, this park is often overlooked in favor of the more famous Tanzania safari destinations. However, Tarangire has some unique sights to see.

Pythons can be found winding their way up baobab trees in the park, elephants are quite a common sight here, and most interestingly of all is Tarangire’s famous tree-climbing lions.

The 550 breeding bird species that call this national park home is thought to be the largest of any such park in the world – these include Africa’s heaviest bird, the Kori bustard, and the world’s largest, the ostrich. Accommodation here varies from honeymoon hideaways to family-friendly camps.

Recommended Tarangire National Park Lodges:

  • Tarangire Sopa Lodge: This is the most visited lodge in the Tarangire area. Features a pool and a full program. Rated 8/10.
  • Tarangire Treetops: A unique property with comfortable treetop styled guest houses. 

Giraffes seen on a Tanzania Safari

Wildlife in Tanzania

There is a whole host of wildlife in Tanzania’s Reserves and National Parks, each one offering a slightly different experience based on the fauna that’s most prevalent there.

The country is home to the classic ‘big five’ animals that people around the world associate with safari: we’re talking elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, and rhino. Wildlife viewing is said to be “without parallel in Africa”.

With 17 national parks across a whole host of ecosystems, plus conservation areas, game reserves and other parks, a Tanzania safari is bound to encompass crocodiles, warthogs, giraffes, and hippopotamus, too.

You can also see birds like the flamingo, African river eagle and much more. Species of monkeys are visible in more forested areas too, including blue monkeys and red Colobus monkeys.

The wet season is perfect for birdwatchers when many migratory species can be seen along with the new green and lush land fed by the persistent rain. But the most famous migration is also the biggest migration of land animals in the world: wildebeest migrating in a million-strong herd every year in June and July.

And if you prefer to watch predators at work, calving season for wildebeests (January-February) is a good time.

Lioness in Tanzania on Serengeti Safari

Health and Safety

Malaria is a concern in Tanzania, so it’s advised that you bring along anti-Malaria pills, as well as repellent containing at least 30% DEET; on top of that, covering up in the evening and early morning is recommended as this is when mosquitoes are most active.

Staying safe when there are big mammals and reptiles around is important. Some general points would be not to make too much noise, always walk in a single file and follow your guide.

Be sure to always watch your feet when walking in the bush, but other more specific things is not to drive between elephants, or come between a hippo and a source of water (that’s their escape route!).

The key point is to always listen to your guide.

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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA



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