When To Go
As a general rule the climate is warm and humid at the coast, cooler and fresher in the central highlands, and hot and dry in the north and east. The rainy season is divided into two periods: the long rains fall between late March and May, whereas the short rains take place between October and November.
As well as the climatic, there are other considerations when deciding when to visit Tanzania. The Great Wildebeest migration spends nine months a years in Tanzania, following the grazing on a large circuit that meanders through the Ngorongoro Highlands and the Serengeti. In February, for example, the wildebeests calve in the Ngorongoro highlands, an amazing spectacle not least for the predators who follow the herds looking for the young. We can advise on the best place to be to see this depending on your departure date.
Likewise, if you goal is to see the chimpanzees in Mahale then it’s best to visit in July to October when they tend to live on the lower slopes of the mountains.
Dry season (hot): January – March.
This is the hottest time of year and an excellent time for game viewing. The grass and vegetation is thin and low, allowing for uninterrupted views and fewer places for the animals to hide. There is also less water, meaning the animals have to congregate around rivers and waterholes, making them easier to spot. This is considered one of the best bird-watching periods, with the birds visible and with migratory species moving through.
As many of the main National Parks and reserves are up in the central highlands the temperatures are not as high or humid as they are on the coastal plains. Early morning game drives are cool, and most of our preferred camps and lodges have pools with shaded areas to relax around during the heat of the day. On the coast it is hot and the water is at its clearest for diving and snorkelling.
Rainy season: April – June.
The rain start in late March and continue through until June. As a general rule the rain falls in the late afternoon as either spectacular thunderstorms or torrential downpours that can continue into the night. Mornings are generally clear and bright. The whole landscape comes to life, with the new grasses coming through and dotted with flowers. Many animals give birth during this period, so there are lots of young around and in hot pursuit are the lions, leopards and cheetah keen on feasting while they can on these easy meals.
Advantages of travelling during this period are that prices are lower, you avoid the crowds, the wet ground keeps the dust down when travelling off road and there are plenty of young animals to admire. It is also a great time for photography with the light, lush backdrops and lack of haze. Downsides are that roads can get damaged and impassable so a 4x4 is advisable.
Dry season (cool): July – September
Considered the best time for game-viewing. The rains have finished, leaving the air clear and the landscape green and lush. The grasslands are soon grazed down leading to excellent animal sightings. Days are mainly sunny and visibility good for photography. This is also an excellent time to climb Kilimanjaro.
Small rains: October - Mid-December
During these months come the small rains, a secondary wet season. They are a lot drier that the main rains but are a vital part of the annual cycle to keep the grazing growing for the animals to last through until the spring. They tend not to be as long or disruptive, but there can be downpours that damage roads and increase driving times. As a rule they do not affect itineraries or viewing, a fact illustrated by the fact that camp prices are much the same for this periods as for the dry seasons.
What To Do
The Northern parks and reserves of Tanzania - known collectively as the Northern Circuit - offer a superb combination of landscapes and animals, making it one of the finest wildlife tours in the world. The Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara and Tarangire make up the main attractions in the circuit.
The most famous safari destination in Tanzania, and possibly all Africa, is the Serengeti National Park, home to lion, leopard, cheetah, elephant, giraffe and many more animals. The Serengeti is typical of how many envisage a true African safari experience; vast undulating grassland, pockets of acacia trees and of course the flora and fauna. The Serengeti also plays host to the annual wildebeest migration where over one million animals cross the lands in search of fresh pastures; Its the largest mass movement of animals anywhere on earth and a remarkable sight! We can advise you on where to be when to ensure you get to see this amazing sight, from the calving grounds in the Ngorongoro Highlands in February to the famous river-crossings in July. In our portfolio of camps and lodges we always have somewhere near to the action.
Another must on a Tanzania safari holiday is a visit to the Ngorongoro Crater. This huge, extinct volcano, formed when the cone collapsed in on itself millions of years ago , now forms an unbroken crater some 2,000 feet deep and over 100 miles square. It is home to over 25,000 animals, including lions, leopards and black rhino and one of the most breath-taking safari destinations on earth.
As well as the Serengeti and Ngorongoro, there is also the alkaline Lake Manyara, lying on the floor of the Great Rift valley and offering excellent bird-watching. Tarangire National Park, following the course of the Tarangire River is home to large herds of elephants at certain times of the year. On a safari tour in the north its also possible to stop off in the Olduvai Gorge itself and see where the earliest fragments of early humans lived and their crumbling bones discovered.
Throughout Tanzania there are excellent lodges and camps. They range from larger lodges of 60-70 or so rooms in National Parks, which we don't tend to use, to small, intimate camps of just a few rooms or tents. The standards are pretty high, with larger lodges offering good facilities. The properties we recommend are selected to suit the requirements of individual client, matching their preferences and interests.
For those who want a Tanzania safari that gets well off the beaten track then they should consider visiting the National Parks of the south and west.
Both Nyerere and Ruaha are much less visited than their northern counterparts and yet cover much larger areas. They offer exceptional game viewing which can also include walking safaris and boat safaris. The areas are wilder and have less visitors. The camps here tend to be smaller but just as lovely with en suite facilities and some have pools. To get the best from these larger areas we recommend a stay of 3-5 nights in each place.
Even fewer visitors make it west to Mahale and Katavi - a magical place where you can track chimpanzees, dip your toes in the clear waters of Lake Tanganyika and enjoy safari with hardly another vehicle in sight.
Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in the whole of Africa and one of the most iconic images in the world. To climb it is not technically hard - so long as you are fit, determined and give yourself time to adjust to the altitude there is a good chance of success. Our favourite route is the Machame, perhaps the most picturesque and allowing good acclimatization time. We also take seven days to allow an extra day. Its a full camping trip, supported with porters, your own cook and guide, to make your adventure an unforgettable one. You also have your own private toilet!
Zanzibar is a name that conjures images of exotic Arabian architecture and the pungent smell of spices. A base for Arabian traders long before it was taken over by various European powers, its capitol Stone Town still shows their influences amongst the chaos of everyday life. Spices still dominate the markets and a stay on the islands beautiful beaches is a fantastic way to end your Tanzanian holiday. Zanzibar is not the only beach option however - we love Pemba, a more laid back less commercial Zanzibar while Mafia Island to the south is a dream with sandy streets, small lodges and wonderful marine life - the whole island being surrounded by a marine reserve. Mafia is accessed via Dar es Salaam and combines well with a safari in the southern parks. There are also lovely beach resorts on the mainland coast - favourites include The Tides at Pangani, 250km north of Dar, and Ras Kutani - a 2 hour drive from Dar/15 minute flight.
Why We Love
Zanzibar. The Serengeti. Mount Kilimanjaro. Lake Victoria. The Ngorongoro Crater. The Great Rift Valley. Tanzania has so many legendary places to visit and it is the Africa that many of us imagine. It's the Africa of David Attenborough documentaries like Life on Earth.
If you haven't visited Tanzania before then we would recommend the so-called "Northern circuit" as a first experience. Starting and finishing in Arusha (Kilimanjaro), this one week plus trip visits four of our favourite parks. You start at Tarangire, based around the Tarangire river and famous for elephants. Then Lake Manyara offers the contrast between the arid shoreline of a soda lake combined with the lush forest fed by spring water running from the Rift valley escarpment. Next is the Ngorongoro Crater and then you finish in the Serengeti, its landscape synonymous with the image of Africa in most peoples minds.
"Sitting on the verandah of my lodge, drink in hand, looking down over the edge of the Great Escarpment at Lake Manyara, its white shoreline picked out like a ribbon in the moonlight." Robert, Trustee, Explorers Against Extinction
What people don't realise is that Tanzania has the highest percentage of land area devoted to animal conservation than any other African nation and that within this vast area it offers a huge diversity of habitat and landscapes. Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa (and, in fact, the highest free-standing mountain in the World). Where else would you find glaciers on the equator? The Ngorongoro Crater must be the most speculator Conservation area in the World, a vast volcanic caldera surrounded by walls nearly two miles high.
And the Serengeti. This huge park is home to one of the greatest wildlife spectacles in the world - the great wildebeest migration. What people often don't realise is that this happens year round as over one million grazing animals need to be constantly on the move to ensure enough food for them all. We can advise you where to go when in order to see it. Our favourite time is in February when the calving season occurs, thousands of calves born within a few weeks of each other.
We love Tanzania because of the feeling of space you get. The Ngorongoro Crater gets busy as there are only a few access routes in, but in the other parks, such as the Serengeti, Ruaha and Nyerere you can get to experience an Africa reminiscent of the Out of Africa days.