Lions prowl across dusty savannah. Elephants gather at raucous waterholes. Wildebeest hoofs create a drum roll as herds cross the Serengeti. This is a Tanzania safari, a true immersion in wildlife and wilderness.
There are more wild land mammals in this country than anywhere else on the planet. There are almost a dozen different safari destinations and the complete suite of wildlife, with so much more than the big five.
Most preconceptions about an African safari can be realised in Tanzania. This is the country where you get closer, see more, and experience the wild at its untamed best.
But Tanzania is an enormous country and wild animals don’t live everywhere. In this detailed guide we’ll show you the places to go, things to see, experiences to try, places to stay and when to go; along with tips for planning your first time in the country.
Tanzania Safaris – Essential Information
Where is Tanzania and how do I get there?
Tanzania is a large country in East Africa, immediately south of Kenya. Dar es Salaam is the largest international airport but for most safaris it’s more convenient to use Kilimanjaro International Airport to the north.
Why are Tanzania safaris so famous?
The great wildebeest migration is in Tanzania for nine months of the year, in the most famous African destination of all – the Serengeti.
One glance at the Serengeti and you’ll immediately see this was the landscape that inspired Disney’s Lion King.
Tanzania is also home to Ngorongoro Crater and almost a dozen other national parks, all with their own wildlife specialisms.
What animals will I see on a Tanzanian safari?
Lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, giraffe, buffalo, wildebeest, zebra, Thomson’s gazelle…the list goes on and on, with Tanzania home to a stunning diversity of life.
Most impressive is the abundance. On a multi-day safari you don’t encounter a single lion but many different prides. Sometimes you’re confronted by herds of zebra numbering over 5000 individuals.
And none of the animals are seen in isolation. The beauty of an African safari is watching how everything interacts, especially at a waterhole or the battle between predator and prey.
How long do I need for a Tanzania safari?
This is not a one-day experience. Realistically you need at least four days. A week on safari is recommended as it allows you to visit different parks and really explore the wilderness.
What does a Tanzania safari cost?
A safari here is a once in a lifetime experience and it doesn’t come cheap. But can you put a price on watching lions prowl around tens of thousands of wildebeest?
You’ll need a permit for each park that’s visited, which ranges from USD 30 – 100 per day. Accommodation in basic camps starts at USD 50 per night per person, going upwards of USD 1000 per night.
While it is possible to rent a car and do your own safari, this really isn’t recommended and also attracts substantial fees. Almost everyone books a tour, so you must calculate the price of a sturdy four-wheel drive Toyota Landcruiser, a driver-guide or driver plus guide, then your meals and drinks.
The most basic multi-day safaris start at USD 180 per day per person. USD 300 – 400 per day is more realistic for using an experienced tour operator and clean, comfortable camps. At the top end a safari could cost you more than USD 2000 per day.
Why Tanzania and not Kenya or South Africa?
In Tanzania you explore with all the senses. Hippos grunting as they emerge from a lake. The smell of fear as you watch a leopard stalk a gazelle herd. Lions roaring, elephants hooting, buffalo charging and zebra grazing besides your tent.
Tanzania isn’t the only country in Africa where you can go on safari. However, it is the one that most reflects preconceptions about an authentic safari.
The scale – Tanzania’s parks are huge; as an example, the Serengeti ecosystem is roughly the size of Belgium and one of the country’s largest reserves. Such a scale stops anywhere from feeling too crowded.
The animal abundance – no other African country has as many wild animals.
Getting closer – with so many animals it’s very easy to get close; it’s common for lions to rest in the shade created by your safari vehicle.
Pure wildlife theatre – nothing is seen in isolation and on a multi-day safari you become centre stage in it all.
Diversity – on a multi-day safari you’ll explore a myriad of habitats and ecosystems, each with its own atmosphere and wildlife cast.
Unique safari experiences only found in Tanzania
- Follow the great wildebeest migration across the Serengeti plains; or witness the calving season from January to March.
- Find Africa’s ultimate Eden with a morning game drive in Ngorongoro Crater, where all the big five can be spotted at once.
- Spot hundreds of elephants and baobab trees in Tarangire.
- Search for rare tree-climbing lions in Lake Manyara National Park.
- Go on thrilling walking safaris in Selous Game Reserve.
Safari experiences that are commonplace in Tanzania
- Utilise light aircraft to land on dusty wilderness airstrips, deep within national parks.
- Camp in the wild and wake up to zebra and buffalo grazing around your tent.
- Track large lion prides on a hunt, or even a leopard or cheetah stalking its prey.
- Be surrounded by elephants or giraffe.
- Cross vast open landscapes that seem to have no end.
- Watch hyenas and vultures fighting over a fresh kill, or hear the crack of carnivorous teeth ripping through bone.
- The safari never stops – you don’t just do a game drive or walk, you live the wildlife experience for 24 hours a day.
When to Visit Tanzania for Safari
Tanzania is marked by wet and dry seasons and there is no best time to go on safari. Different times of year are better for different destinations, while the spread of tourism numbers across the year means that nowhere gets uncomfortably crowded.
January to February – Wildebeest calving
- This is the hottest and driest time of the year in Tanzania.
- The Great Migration is at the most accessible south-eastern part of the Serengeti, and the wildebeest are calving on the plains. This is a great time to visit the Serengeti and see predators on a hunt.
- The warm dry weather makes wildlife spotting easy in all of Tanzania’s parks.
March to May – The long rains
- The main rainy season lasts for three months and tropical downpours occur on most days.
- Many safari lodges close and these months are low season in Tanzania.
June – August – Cool, dry, popular, and great for wildlife viewing
- The long dry season is the most popular time to visit Tanzania. That’s partly because it has the most agreeable weather.
- Wildlife viewing is good although the Great Migration will probably be in Kenya at this time of year.
- The popularity of these months mean that Northern Tanzania’s destination can get crowded. However, the southern parks are never crowded, whatever month of the year.
September – late October – End of the dry season
- As the dry season continues wildlife must come to the waterholes to drink, making animal spotting very easy.
- Even though wildlife viewing is superb this is an unpopular time, so lodges and safaris are cheaper.
Late October – December – The short rains
- Short afternoon showers are common at this time of year although they’re not as heavy as in March to May.
- Wildlife viewing is still generally good, although the abundance of water means that game is widely scattered and harder to find.
Where to Safari in Tanzania
This article provides a more detailed guide to the best safari destinations in Tanzania. These are your options:
Open plains and epic savannah make Northern Tanzania a refuge for millions of wild mammals. This is the most popular region to explore. Just fly in and out of Kilimanjaro International Airport then set off on a five to eight-day overland safari.
You can use local flights to access the Serengeti directly, bypassing the other parks. This is a good option for a Tanzania and Kenya safari, or if you only have three to four days in the country.
The Serengeti – These endless grass plains are home to the great wildebeest migration. It’s the most unmissable destination in Tanzania and you really need three days to explore different areas of the park.
To the west of the national park, Grumeti Game Reserve offers exclusive and expensive experiences, particularly with the wildebeest migration.
Ngorongoro Crater – The world’s largest intact volcanic caldera is home to some 30,000 wild mammals including the full big five. For the best experience visit on a sunrise game drive, just as the gate opens. One morning is ample time.
Tarangire – The wild home of elephants and baobabs, along with a superb diversity of other mammals. A good introduction to the safari experience with some intense pachyderm encounters. 24 to 48 hours is recommended.
Lake Manyara – Tanzania’s most beautiful park, with tree-climbing lions, lots of hippos, all manner of antelope species and the world’s largest baboon population. Unlike other destinations, Manyara is as good during the day as at early morning or late afternoon. One day is all you need.
These four destinations are contiguous and easily combined on the Northern Circuit safari route. This can be done over five days but it’s worth making that a week – Lake Manyara, Tarangire, Ngorongoro, then two to three days in the Serengeti.
This is Africa’s most famous multi-day safari circuit. It’s also the best option for a budget Tanzania safari as you won’t need expensive internal flights.
Also in the north of the country is Arusha National Park. This could be a one-day safari option if you don’t have time for elsewhere, for example if you’re visiting Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro. However, it’s not worth adding Arusha National Park onto a longer itinerary – the other parks are so much better.
Southern Tanzania is untouched and under-visited, a vast space of raw and redolent wildlife scenes. If you want to see nature truly untamed then this is where to come. Expect a real off-road adventure.
An overland safari through Southern Tanzania will require eight to ten days if you depart from Dar es Salaam. Local flights land at all these destinations and are recommended if your budget allows. These flights also provide a connection between Ruaha and Selous with the Serengeti and Ngorongoro.
Mikumi National Park – Green floodplains and large populations of wildebeest and zebra make Mikumi feel like the Serengeti in miniature form. It’s a good standalone destination if you’re short on time but avoid the weekends, when the park gets busy with day-trippers from nearby Dar es Salaam.
Ruaha National Park – One of Africa’s best hidden gems, this enormous park is packed full of scenes of predators meeting prey, along with Tanzania’s largest wild dog and elephant populations.
There’s over 20,000 square kilometres of untouched savannah and only a few visitors. Most game viewing takes place around the Ruaha River and you can mix game drives with walks. Allow at least three days.
Selous Game Reserve – Offering a superb variety of safari activities, this vast reserve (over 50,000 square kilometres!) is home to almost all of Africa’s great mammals.
Take a boat along the Rufiji River, walk in lion country, game drive to wild scenes, and see everything from giraffe to leopard around the camps. 48 hours is ideal.
Udzungwa Mountains National Park – Halfway between Mikumi and Ruaha, this woodland park provides an excellent contrast to Southern Tanzania’s savannah.
Go walking on narrow trails in search of 400 different birds and six species of monkey, including the endemic Iringa red colobus monkey and sanje crested mangabey.
Dominated by forest and wild plains, Western Tanzania provides off the beaten track experiences in three very different parks. These destinations are difficult to get to without internal flights, but very rewarding, especially for anyone who has been on a safari before.
Gombe National Park – Best known for its chimpanzee safaris, this remote western park contrasts the safari experience you get on the savannah. Come to see lots of primates in lush, tangled forest.
Katavi National Park – Thousand-strong buffalo herds and plentiful hippos make this grassland savannah a stunning little destination. Katavi is vastly underrated and you may be the only visitors amid a great abundance of wildlife.
Mahale Mountains National Park – Trekking to habituated chimpanzee troops is the major experience here, at a park that’s hard to reach and wild beyond words.
Where to Stay on a Tanzanian Safari
Where you stay is part of the experience. Through the night you hear the sound of elephants. Around camps and lodges you spot animals grazing. The safari never stops as you look out across plains or waterholes.
Location, location, location
Almost everywhere you can stay is deep within nature. So forget some of your modern luxuries. The experience is about wildlife and wilderness, and you’ll connect with your wild side by having canvas as walls, rather than dedicated Wi-Fi or plush bathrooms.
Your tour operator will suggest accommodation and these choices have a big impact on the total safari cost. Look first and foremost at location.
Camps within national parks are the best but are more expensive. Those around a park’s boundaries are in buffer wildlife zones and will be much cheaper, while still connecting you with wildlife.
Be wary of safari itineraries that use camps or lodges in towns, or anywhere more than a few miles from a national park gate.
For example, budget operators will try to use cheap camps in the dusty, rundown town of Karatu, where there’s traffic rather than wildlife, even though Ngorongoro and Lake Manyara are both only 30 kilometres away.
Types of safari accommodation
All the national parks have dedicated camping sites within their boundaries. These can be used if you’re on an overland safari. Tents and camping gear will be packed into your safari vehicle and you’ll set up camp at different locations each night. This is simple accommodation and the best budget option that’s available.
Tented camps provide beds and bathrooms within larger safari-style tents. They are more comfortable than camping sites and a good balance between price, comfort and location. Most visitors don’t need to go for anything more than a tented camp.
Mobile camps are temporary structures that move with the wildlife dependent on the seasons. They are similar to tented camps although more expensive and usually more luxurious, kind of glamping with animals.
Permanent lodges are bigger structures and vary in quality. Again, look for location as much as the facilities on offer.
Five Top Tips for Maximizing the Tanzanian Safari Experience
Everyone has their pre-safari dreams. Perhaps it’s spotting a black rhino, maybe a leopard out on a hunt, or ticking off the full big five? These dreams excite and inspire. But sometimes the preconceptions start detracting from the experience.
Take a Tanzania safari and it’s almost certain you’ll enjoy intimate encounters that reflect all your dreams. But it won’t happen in the first 30 minutes. So don’t worry if the first day doesn’t deliver five lion prides, a 100 strong elephant herd, and quarreling buffalo.
There is beauty to be discovered at every turn; don’t miss it because you’re worried that a certain animal hasn’t been seen. Relax, soak up every moment of the experience, and the famed big game will come to you.
2. Forget Animal Tick Lists
A Tanzania safari is not like being in a zoo. It’s an authentic immersion in the wild. Every game drive is different and every moment is unpredictable.
Many people have long tick lists of essential sights. But the beauty of a safari is not glimpsing an animal and putting a tick next to its name; it’s admiring the interaction and realism of a world untouched by man.
Don’t worry about tick lists because they don’t reflect the quality of the experience. Watching a giraffe give birth or lions stare down elephants at a waterhole can’t be reflected with a tick.
3. Always Have Your Camera Ready
The Tanzania safari isn’t restricted to game drives or the time you spend with a guide. It’s a 24 hours a day experience.
Drift off to sleep and you can hear the trumpeted calls of elephants in trees nearby. Drink morning coffee and a zebra herd is grazing beside your tent. Wake up to evocative paw prints in the dirt nearby. All these are part of the safari yet not part of any game drive or activity.
So when a hippo pod rampages across the riverbank, just below your tent, you’ll want to make sure that you have the camera ready. You don’t want to rummage in your bag to find it and miss out on the experience. So always keep your camera to hand, because the wild Tanzanian landscape brings treats at the most unpredictable of times.
4. Dress Comfortably
Tanzania is usually hot and often dusty. Remember, you’re heading out into a wild animal world, so there won’t be the comforts of air-conditioning.
There’s lots of advice out there about the exact clothes to wear on a Tanzania safari. It’s not complicated. Just dress in clothes that you are comfortable in. There’s no need to arrive in full khaki gear and thick walking boots, especially if you’re only going to be doing game drives.
Just one piece of essential advice: avoid wearing blue. This colour attracts tsetse flies, which can be a painful nuisance.
5. Respect the Animals and the Animals Will Reward You
It’s always important to remember where you are. No, not in a theme park or zoo with captive animals. On a safari! You’re catapulted into their world, so it’s essential to respect the rules and not interrupt the natural cycle of life.
Most importantly, don’t make unnecessary noise or leave an impact on the environment. Respect the animals and they’ll reward you with increasing intimacy.
For example, scream wildly because you’ve just seen a rhino, and the rhino is likely to turn around and march the other way. But stay silent, be patient, and the rhino might walk within just a few meters of you.
Upset an elephant with the camera flash and it’s likely to get frustrated and lose all its endearing elegance. But take photos discreetly and you can be treated to the elephant gently caressing her calf and guiding it to water.
Planning a Tanzania Safari
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