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Tanzania

With vast game reserves, prolific wildlife and exceptional scenery, Tanzania is regarded by many as East Africa’s most desirable wildlife destination

Tailor-Made Holidays
To Tanzania

Four times the size of Great Britain and covering nearly a million square miles, Tanzania is a huge East African country with an exceptional breadth of landscapes and wildlife.

Tanzania’s northern region contains some of Africa’s most iconic sites: snow-capped Mt Kilimanjaro; Ngorongoro’s perfect crater; the Great Rift Valley; and the Serengeti savannah, scene of the epic annual migrations. With a broad choice of excellent safari lodges catering for a wide range of budgets and interests, the north is understandably popular with seasoned safari lovers.

The south of Tanzania lacks some of the “wow!” factor of the north but also has far fewer tourists. Exciting big game encounters are frequent in parks such as Selous and Ruaha – both of which have particularly high numbers of elephant and lion – but safaris can also focus on the smaller creatures such as monkeys, birds, insects and rare mammals like wild dog and sable antelope. Walking safaris, wildlife river cruises and a handful of small independent lodges all add to the overall impression of being in true, unspoilt African wilderness.

The remote far west of Tanzania is home to the vast seasonally-flooded plains of Katavi and the chimpanzee-inhabited forests of Lake Tanganyika. There you can experience a beautiful and virtually untouched part of Africa, staying in a mere handful of top-end lodges and enjoying unforgettable and exclusive wildlife encounters.

Tanzania’s interior wilderness is perfectly balanced by 800 kilometres of untamed coastline with many stunning Indian Ocean islands. The largest, Zanzibar, offers white sand beaches, coral reefs, spice gardens, a rich Arabian history and a wide choice of quality hotels. The smaller islands of Pemba and Mafia host stunning marine life, sleepy fishing villages, clove plantations and a handful of small, independent resorts.

With a wide range of quality accommodation, prolific wildlife both above and below the water, and exceptional scenery, Tanzania is rightly regarded by many safari cognoscenti as East Africa’s most desirable destination.

A wonderful shot of an inquisitive young Gorilla in Nyungwe park

Photography by Dan Burton

Best Time To Visit Tanzania

The best wildlife viewing months in Tanzania are during the dry season from late June to October. The best chance of seeing the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti is during June and July and the time to see the wildebeest calving is late January to February. The southern and western circuit parks are best visited during the dry-season (June to October), unlike the more popular northern circuit parks that can be visited year-round. Tarangire is the only exception, since its wildlife viewing is considerably better in the dry-season as well.

Tanzania Travel

Getting There

Flight Time

11 Hours

Time Zone

GMT +3

Language

Bantu Swahili & English

Population

49.25 million

Highlights

What To See

Gombe Stream National Park

One of the smallest and most remote national parks in Tanzania, Gombe is dedicated to the preservation of chimpanzees originally made famous by the primatologist Jane Goodall in the 1960s. Observe the excellent work of her foundation and encounter some of the most intensively studied chimpanzees, perhaps including Frodo, Freud and Gimli.

Rising from the banks of Lake Tanganyika and extending to the ridge of the Western Rift Valley, Gombe consists of thirteen steep-sided river valleys containing a wide range of habitats hosting many animals and plants not found anywhere else in Tanzania. The park is also home to olive baboons and red colobus, redtail and blue monkeys.

Zanzibar and Pemba

Technically, Zanzibar is the name of an archipelago containing two main islands, Unguja and Pemba. However, most people (even the locals) refer to Unguja as Zanzibar and the old name is quickly fading out of use.

The main island of Zanzibar (Unguja) is blessed with a long white sand beach running from its northern tip, right down the eastern coast to the south. Alongside the beach is a long fringing reef offering good snorkelling and diving, although the large tidal range here leaves the reef exposed at low tide and swimming from the beach is usually only possible when the tide is high. Offshore is Mnembe Atoll offering the best diving in the archipelago plus one of the world’s most exclusive private island resorts.

The interior of Zanzibar is very lush and home to many of the spice plantations that once made the island very wealthy. You can visit these plantations to learn how many common spices are produced.

The small forest reserve of Josani is home to the endemic Zanzibar red colobus monkey, usually very approachable in the low vegetation thus allowing for exceptional photo-opportunities.

Stone Town, the ancient capital city of Zanzibar is a fascinating warren of narrow streets, overhanging balconies and huge, intricately carved wooden doors harking back to the days when Zanzibar was ruled by the Sultans of Oman. The town’s bustling souk (bazaar), where traders bargain excitedly, is full of the pungent perfume of exotic spices. This is the town where the famous 19th century explorers such as Livingstone, Stanley, Burton, Speke and Grant began their fateful journeys into the ‘dark’ interior. Outside the town there are many places of historic interest including the Maruhubi Palace, formerly the Sultan’s harem, and Mangapwani Village, the former site of the notorious slave pits.

Pemba Island is Zanzibar’s sleepy cousin. The interior is hilly and fertile with much of the land turned over to clove farming. Lacking the long sandy beaches of its neighbour, Pemba has been saved from any form of mass tourism and remains delightfully unspoilt. What Pemba lacks by way of beaches is more than made up for in reefs, affording exceptional diving especially on its west coast. Misali Island has particularly good reef snorkelling plus white sand beaches and is now part of a marine conservation area.

Mafia Island Marine Park

Accessed by a short flight from Zanzibar or Dar es Salaam, the delightful archipelago of Mafia Island Marine Park consists of many tiny islands, extensive coral reefs and beautiful white sand beaches providing excellent snorkelling and diving, perhaps the best in Tanzania.

Much quieter than Zanzibar, two of the main islands, Mafia and Chole, are wonderfully unspoilt with some attractive accommodation options. For keen divers it’s worth noting that dive sites outside the immediate bay on Mafia can only be accessed safely from September to February.

Saadani National Park

A former game reserve gazetted only in 2005, Saadani is Tanzania’s newest national park and the only one in East Africa with ocean frontage, offering a unique mix of big game, rivers and beaches.

Land animals include hippos, wildebeest, zebra, eland, buffalo, elephant, giraffe, lion and the rare Roosevelt’s sable antelope whilst marine-side, dolphins frolic and humpback whales migrate just offshore in the Zanzibar Channel. Green turtles nest on the beach and there is also good snorkelling to be enjoyed in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.

Mahale Mountains National Park

South of Gombe and much larger in size, Mahale Mountains National Park provides some of the best chimpanzee tracking in Africa. The crystal-clear waters of Lake Tanganyika lap gently at surprisingly good beaches behind which the 2,462 metre-high Mount Nkungwe rises from dense tropical rainforest.

Habituated chimpanzees are the undoubted wildlife highlight at Mahale, with the apes often allowing for close approach, creating great photo-opportunities. An incredible nine other species of primates also occur in the mountains, including Angola black and white colobus, grivet, blue and red-tailed monkeys and yellow baboons. Other fauna includes hippo, bushbuck, bush pig and a plethora of birds, butterflies and reptiles.

The Mahale seasons are:

June/July: First months of dry season, chimps form large noisy groups to feed on fruit trees high up on the mountains, around a two-hour steep walk from camp.

August/September/October: Groups split up and head for the lower slopes. Much more accessible (approx. one hour from camp) but vocalise less.

November/December/January/February/March: Rainy season months. The chimps tend to keep to the lower slopes but can range quite far as food is scarce at this time. Intermittent fruiting of Ilombo vines and mkibu trees attract large vocal groups making for great sightings. Paths occasionally muddy and slippery.

April/May: Very wet and the camp closes.

Katavi National Park

Remote and wild, Katavi covers 4,500 sq km, making it Tanzania’s third largest park. It is closed during the rains and sits on a watery flood plain that includes vast areas of miombo and acacia woodland, rivers, swamps, palm groves and shallow lakes. There is a high concentration of hippo, crocodile, buffalo, impala, eland, topi and zebra, while lion and leopard are never far away.

Large herds of buffalo and other herbivores are commonplace and the park supports a particularly large zebra population. Other common species include topi, hartebeest, eland, waterbuck, impala, southern and bohor reedbuck, giraffe, warthog and the rare roan antelope still persists here. The park’s waterways also support large densities of hippo and crocodile which congregate in huge overcrowded mud pools during the dry season.

Carnivores are well represented too with lion, leopard, cheetah, wild dog, spotted hyena, caracal, serval and African wild cat. The bird, reptile and butterfly diversity is also very impressive, all contributing to the park’s extra-special atmosphere.

Ruaha National Park

Large, remote and off the tourist trail, Ruaha National Park has a landscape of river valleys, miombo woodland and grassy plains. Ruaha is a decidedly a rare conservation gem: it has been likened to the Garden of Eden, particularly during the rainy season when it comes alive with a profusion of butterflies, birds and wildflowers.

During the dry season the Ruaha River often reverts to sand with water running underground. Large numbers of elephants come to dig for moisture resulting in waterholes which attract other game animals and carnivores including lion, leopard and cheetah.

The ranges of eastern and southern species overlap here to give a higher than normal biodiversity, including roan and sable antelope, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, lesser kudu, large herds of zebra, healthy populations of wild dogs and over 500 species of birds.

Selous Game Reserve

Four times the size of the Serengeti, the Selous Game Reserve is the largest conservation area in Tanzania. Comprising a vast network of rivers, lakes, woodland and savannah, the Selous protects some 4000 wild dogs (half Africa’s population) and large numbers of elephant, hippo, giraffe, zebra, antelope, buffalo and lion. Rare Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, sable antelope and black rhino also occur in the park but are seldom seen.

The terrain of the Selous is particularly suited to leopards which exist in greater numbers than lions, although spotted less often. As well as big game, the Selous has many smaller animals and over 350 species of birds. The reserve is explored in small boats, open-sided jeeps and on walking safaris – taken together, they amount to a complete wildlife experience.

Tarangire National Park

South of Lake Manyara and 100km from Arusha, Tarangire is a delightful yet overlooked and underrated national park. Covering 2,600 sq km, it has plenty of game and numerous bloated baobab trees creating a distinctive landscape seen nowhere else in the north of Tanzania.

Tarangire is particularly known for its large numbers of elephants and justly so. During the long dry season, the park offers reliable water and grazing bringing elephants from the wider conservation area and creating mega herds many hundreds strong. Combined with the other herbivores that seasonally move into the area, this gives rise to a huge migration of animals dwarfed only by that in the Serengeti.

Buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, greater kudu and eland can be easily seen at Tarangire, where there is also a small population of tree-climbing lion and African wild dog. Leopards are also widespread throughout the park and the very rare fringe-eared oryx can be seen on occasion. African rock python is often found resting in acacia trees close to wetlands near Silale and other reptiles include puff adders, and Speke’s hinged and pancake tortoises. Birdlife is also impressive with secretary birds, martial and crested eagles and the endemic yellow-collared lovebird often sighted.

Lake Manyara National Park

Lake Manyara itself comprises around 230sq km of the total park size of 330 sq km and plays host to a wealth of water birds. Hippo can easily be found in the Simba River and there are large numbers of elephant and a resident herd of buffalo on the open plains at Mahali Pa Nyati, meaning, ‘the place of the buffalo’ in Swahili. With luck, the famous and highly unusual tree-climbing lions will also be seen.

Lake Manyara National Park is particularly well known for its primates, having large numbers of olive baboon, blue and vervet monkeys. The park boasts more than 400 bird species, including large numbers of lesser flamingos, great white pelican, yellow-billed stork, southern ground hornbill and many raptors.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Two-and-a-half million years ago a volcano the size of Kilimanjaro imploded, creating the vast crater known as Ngorongoro. Now blessed with a staggering variety of wildlife, Ngorongoro is one of the wonders of the natural world. Thick forest surrounds the crater, whose floor contains tracts of practically every habitat found in East Africa: open grasslands, acacia woodlands, swamps, fresh water pools, sand dunes and a small soda lake with flamingos.

Large game is wonderfully abundant and includes elephants, buffalo, zebra, gazelle, impala, eland, waterbuck, lion, leopard, cheetah and spotted hyena. Smaller species also often seen in the crater include serval, black-backed jackal, bat-eared fox, dwarf and slender mongooses and olive baboons. The crater is regarded as one of the very best places in all of Africa to see the now highly endangered black rhinoceros which finds a relatively safe refuge there.

Masai tribesmen live on the crater rim where walking tours are also permitted. In nearby Olduvai Gorge the Leakeys found important hominid remains, giving rise to their theory that East Africa was the birthplace of modern man.

The Migration

The annual migration of over two million animals through the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem is certainly one of the world’s great wildlife events. Dominated by wildebeest but also involving zebras, gazelles and expectant carnivores, its timing varies according to the annual rains.

The short rains begin in late October or November, drawing the herds from the Mara through the Northern Corridor towards the plains of the south. By late December the migration usually settles in the southern plains, often spreading as far as Ngorongoro. The animals remain there for a number of months bearing their young in late January and February. Around April the migration starts to move again, passing through the central Seronera area and spilling into the Western Corridor during May and June. The herds usually pass back through the Northern Corridor in July and spend the rest of July, August and September crisscrossing the border with the Maasai Mara, requiring many crossings of the Mara River.

Despite its size the Serengeti is relatively easy to traverse, enabling interception of the migration wherever it occurs: however, for the most rewarding spectacle involving the least amount of travel it is of course best to stay at a lodge close to the migration route.

The Serengeti National Park

Although ten times the size of Kenya’s Masai Mara (with which it is combined to form the huge Mara-Serengeti ecosystem), the Serengeti receives only a fraction of the Mara’s tourists, leaving much of the park wonderfully uncrowded and unspoilt. Derived from the Masai for “endless plains”, Serengeti National Park actually has a surprisingly diverse landscape, savannah being found only in the south and east towards the Ngorongoro crater.

The central Seronera area is hilly with granite outcrops (known as kopjes) and forested river valleys harbouring year-round wildlife. Up to the Kenyan border, the lightly forested northern Serengeti holds plenty of resident game and forms the crucial Northern Corridor during the migration. Following the Grumeti River almost to the shores of Lake Victoria, the Western Corridor is especially remote and attracts plentiful wildlife since it normally retains water throughout the dry season.

The Serengeti supports an exceptional diversity of large game throughout the year with elephant, hippo, black rhino, giraffe, buffalo, eland, Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelles, Burchell’s zebra and many more. The migration swells these numbers by around two million and helps the Serengeti support some of the highest carnivore densities in the world with large numbers of lion, leopard, cheetah and spotted hyena.

During the migration, the Grumeti and Mara Rivers have spectacular crossing points where the massing animals run the gauntlet of waiting crocodiles, lions and other hungry predators.

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Your Very Own

Tanzania Specialist

Jonathan Morris

Area Specialist

Don’t rule out the early rainy season months (November to February): rainfall can be surprisingly light, the landscape is pleasantly green, animals are having babies, there are much fewer tourists and some great deals to be had. Old safari hands call this the ‘secret season’ for very good reason.

If you have any questions regarding travel to Tanzania, please feel free to contact me on +44 (0)1803 866965