Fulfilling the Swahili word for travel; Safari, Tanzania is is pure khaki kit stuff. With the remarkable Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater, this East African country is perhaps the best place in the world to go on safari - that’s if you can handle the dust and humidity. There are some great beaches and islands, and a rich cultural heritage to explore, but expect a bumpy ride to get to them.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: The snow-capped beauty of Mount Kilimanjaro; the remarkable bio-diversity of the Ngorongoro Crater; wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, cheetah and lions galore in the Serengeti; the lazy feel of the ‘Spice Island’ – Zanzibar, and its stunning beaches; the thriving metropolis that is Dar Es Salaam; Massai culture; warm and friendly people; lively markets and cheap mangoes and bananas.
What’s Not: Battered up old and dirty buses; ‘Delhi belly’; angry mosquitoes; heat and humidity; hassle from souvenir sellers; red dust in your hair and dodgy and corrupt officials.
When to Go
The best time to visit Tanzania is probably between June and September, when the rain is light and temperatures aren’t too extreme 70s (°F); you might even need a jacket in the evening.
The climate is typically tropical. Coastal areas tend to be hot and humid, and it’s not ideal to visit during the main rainy season from March to May. After the cooler season, the rain kicks in with a mini rainy season from November to January.
Getting There & Away
Dar es Salaam International Airport is the main gateway to Tanzania, but there is also an international airport near Arusha, Kilimanjaro International Airport. There are also connections to neighboring countries by boat on Lake Victoria, or Lake Tanganyika. The road conditions can vary hugely here and of course, if you go on safari, you’ll spend a lot of time bumping along dusty tracks. It’s pretty much impossible to avoid dust getting everywhere, but it’s worth it for the experience you will have.
Health & Safety
Travel in Africa generally has more risks that come with it than travel in other places, with malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, typhoid, cholera and AIDS all present. Take precautions, even if that means sleeping head-to-foot in clothes - the mosquitoes here are pretty resourceful. The tap water is okay for washing in, but not much else, so use the bottled stuff for drinking, brushing teeth and cleaning vegetables. Take care when walking around the cities late at night, and if you’re camping, take extra care; elephants are usually pretty good at avoiding tents, but they have been known to knock a few trees over.
Food & Hospitality
Tanzanian food is typical of East Africa generally - not particularly inspiring. But the strength of tourism has given rise to some good food in the top tourist establishments, which are often in some great surroundings. The local drink is often equally dubious, with the likes of banana-beer making an appearance, with its safety being questionable. Tanzania has the full range of accommodation options; if you want a safari lodge where flower petals are scattered in your bath, you can have it, but if you’re on a really tight budget, expect basic accommodation, and in some instances, very basic.
You’ll certainly want to spend at least 10 to 14 days in Tanzania, giving you the chance to explore the country’s amazing wildlife, but also to chill out on the beach.
One or two days to explore the Ngorongoro Crater.
Two to three days on the plains of the Serengeti National Park, perhaps the finest wildlife reserve in the world.
Four to five days on the Spice Island, Zanzibar.
Two days in Dar es Salaam
Six or seven days to scale Mount Kilimanjaro.
Two to three days to explore the Makonde Plateau in southeast Tanzania.
Two days to meet some chimpanzees in Gombe National Park, where Jane Goodall studied.
Ngorongoro Crater: basically a massive hole that is the size of Crete, and with 25,000 large animals, you’ll get just about as close as you want.
Zanzibar: after a dusty safari, the lure of the lazy spice island of Zanzibar is strong, with its old town and great beaches.
Dar es Salaam: a pleasant city with a good museum and the Arabic and Indian feel of the downtown area is enchanting.
Bagamoyo: David Livingstone I presume? Well not quite, but his body did rest in the tiny chapel here on its way to London. The mosque dates to the 18th century.
Makonde Plateau: few tourists venture to the Mozambique border, but this is where the famous makonde carvings originate, and an interesting area to visit.
Safari: the main reason for a trip to Tanzania, and you’d have to have ridiculous expectations to be disappointed. Unforgettable, stunning, amazing … you get the picture.
Climbing/trekking: for the energetic, a trek/climb to the peak of Africa’s highest mountain is a great experience, but you’ll need a beach break after it.
Water sports: if you can drag yourself from lazing on the beach, there is great scuba and snorkeling potential around Zanzibar and Mafia islands, with good coral reefs.
Big game fishing: fishing trips from the island of Mafia are popular, with big catches guaranteed. September to March is the best time. Zanzibar Spice tour: a chap called Mr Mitu has been running spice tours here since the year dot; a wealth of knowledge and bad jokes, but it’s a must do here.
Festivals & Events
Tanzania is not really known for its festivals, but there are a couple of interesting things to see, especially if the idea of men beating each other with big leaves appeals. Perhaps not worth basing your holiday around, but good fun if it coincides with your visit.
January: Makunduchi New Year Festival offers lots of singing, dancing, drinking and a bizarre tradition where men fight with banana leaves.
July: on July 7th, Saba Saba Day is a celebration of the founding of the Tanganyika African National Union, also known as Peasants’ Day.
July: Zanzibar hosts a colorful music and traditional dance festival known as Mwakakongwa Festival, or Tamasha Festival.
June/July: ZIFF, the Zanzibar International Film Festival, offers a great setting, an interesting mix of film, and a lot of fun.