While we have no shortage of love for all of the other great safari countries in Africa, Tanzania has a special place in our heart, not least of all because of Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa at 19, 341 glorious feet. The parks are priceless, the cultures endangered, the diversity of habitats incomparable and the wildlife experiences among the best on Earth. Here are a number of our favorite “must-do’s” in Tanzania; even enjoying a couple of these will certainly light a fire that will burn a clear path back to amazing Tanzania for you.
1) PHENOMENAL KATAVI AND THE SOUTHERN CIRCUIT
One of the most surprising things for safari travelers to discover about Tanzania is the fact that uniquely, Tanzania is home to both true East African-oriented ecosystems and Southern Africa-oriented ecosystems. No other country can match that.
If time allows, and you are traveling in Southern Tanzania’s dry season (roughly May through early November), doing a Safari in the Southern Circuit of Tanzania to the under-appreciated parks of Selous, Mikumi, Ruaha and Katavi can be eye-opening when compared to what you see and experience in the north. Here you find species and habitat more in common with Botswana than the Serengeti.
Katavi especially is a true gem. Here “mobile tented camps” are set up in the prime months to see the highly concentrated game that relatively few travelers ever have the chance to see.
In the Southern Circuit, you fly from destination to destination, and depending on the location, you may have the opportunity to enjoy game walks, boat safaris, night game drives, and more. Another amazing experience in the Southern Circuit is the opportunity to observe our wild cousins, the active and fascinating chimpanzees, in the wild, both in Gombe Stream and the Mahale mountains.
2) THE NGORONGORO CRATER
Imagine yourself at the lip of a deep round African Grand Canyon, a vast bowl in the Earth, and 2,000 feet below you, a rich palette colors – pinks, browns, greens – and in the distance, the din of hyenas calling and you have imagined yourself then at sunset on the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater, one of the premier national parks in the world.
Why is it a premier park? Combine the natural power of the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera plus the thrill of seeing the Big 5 (including one of the rare places left in Africa to see gorgeous black-mane lions; in fact the Crater hold’s the world’s highest density of lions) and there you have it! Few parks can rival this dynamic duo of fantastic wildlife and a visually-jolting landscape.
The best way to finish your safari to the Ngorongoro Crater is to spend a night on the Crater rim at a lodge such as the Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge, the Sopa Lodge, the Serena Lodge or the Lemala Ngorongoro Luxury camp. And when you visit, if you have time, be sure to have your guide stop at the Olduvai Gorge – a massively important archeological site – and the unusual “shifting dunes”.
3) AUTHENTIC AFRICAN CULTURES
One of the frustrating aspects of travel in premier wildlife destinations like Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, can be the surprising lack of historically authentic tribal culture. Much of Africa has adopted Western-style dress, customs, housing, etc. which is not an indictment at all, but for travelers want to see an Africa of bygone days it can be disappointing.
Enter Tanzania: one of the great reasons to visit Tanzania is to see intact tribal cultures largely unaffected by the march of time. You’ll encounter real Maasai culture in places like Lake Natron and Ngorongoro Conservation Area, while Lake Eyasi presents opportunities to discover Hadzabe and Datoga people.
4) MOBILE TENTED CAMP IN THE SERENGETI
Everyone knows about the great migration but not everyone knows one the truly great and magical ways to experience the migration is by staying in a luxury mobile tented camp. Often referred to as ‘Hemingway-style’ camping, these camps were once restricted to the very wealthy given the expensive logistics involved.
Things have evolved significantly; now there are a number of awesome mid-range mobile camps like the Serengeti Halisi Camp that are more affordable than ever yet retain the core, charming characteristics of their luxury/elite forbears. Deluxe camping – including fine woods and vintage wines – in the wilds of the Serengeti under it’s blanket of stars as lions roar in the vast beyond is an experience that you’ll never forget!
5) HOT AIR BALLOON SAFARI
Speaking of the Serengeti, while you are there, if you have the chance be sure to book a breath-taking hot air balloon safari over the Serengeti.
It’s remarkable, quietly floating over the vast golden grasslands, with the sunrise on the horizon, and a 360 degree view of one of Nature’s finest and thriving ecosystems, the Serengeti. The hot air balloon safaris are also available in amazing Tarangire, home of East Africa’s largest elephant migration June through October.
6) HIKE MOUNT MERU
Doing a trek to Kilimanjaro is by far the most popular hiking experience in Tanzania; thousands summit the massive mountain yearly. But it’s impressive little brother, Mt. Meru, is widely considered a far more beautiful mountain, and at 14,977 feet, it doesn’t require the great physical strain of Kilimanjaro.
You can reach the summit and return in just 3 days, whereas Kilimanjaro at best takes 5 days. At the top, on clear days, you’ll have superlative views of Kilimanjaro looming next door. For travelers seeking a diverse African active outdoors experience, climbing Mount Meru is certainly worth the effort.
7) FLOCK TO THE PINK FLAMINGOS
Another little-known jewel in the Tanzania parks system is Lake Natron, home to East Africa’s largest and only pink flamingo breeding ground (July-October).
Lake Natron is situated in a rugged desert ecosystem best known as an enduring haunt for traditional Maasai families, desert walking and a gateway to hiking Ol Doinyo Lengai, “the mountain of the God.”
8) SUNNY ZANZIBAR
If you’re getting the impression that Tanzania offers an incredibly diverse range of experiences and destinations, arguably second to none in Africa, you are correct! In addition to everything else Tanzania features, Zanzibar is it’s blue ocean, white sandy realm just 20 minutes by flight off it’s shore.
The beaches here are among the world’s best, while Zanzibar is also revered for its snorkeling and diving right from it’s shores. Stone Town, the capital city of Zanzibar, is a bustling ancient city complete with winding narrow medieval streets, harrowing slave ruins and exotic Arabic-influenced architecture.
MORE, MORE, MORE
This short list of the best experiences in Tanzania is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s countless things to do and worthwhile places to see that aren’t in this post, so my advice is to contact us if there’s something you’d in particular you’d like to do, because there’s an excellent chance you can do it or see in Tanzania!