What to do in Tanzania
What to do in Tanzania
Our guide on what to do in Tanzania
Home to more than 43,000 elephants, 14,000 lions and 2 million wildebeest, the wildlife in Tanzania is second to none. As a result of expansive national parks, free from fences or boundaries, a safari is the first activity that comes to mind when you think of what to do in Tanzania. Thousands of visitors travel to Tanzania each year for a safari which, for many, is imagined to be done in a 4×4 safari jeep, guided by a professional guide.
This is certainly the most popular way to enjoy a safari and all of the national parks you can visit will offer game drives. A typical day on safari will include an early morning and late afternoon game drives – timings which take advantage of the animal’s most active parts of the day.
That said, there are many other things to do in Tanzania. Other safari activities include boat safaris, horse-riding safaris, walking safaris (also referred to as bush walks), hot air balloon rides, and bush schools for children. Tanzania has a rich culture and visits to see how the Maasai people live are always encouraged.
Of course, the Tanzanian coastline and paradise islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia are perfect destinations to relax. We always assume that ‘things to do’ in Tanzania must keep us active or busy, but for those who are looking for a low-key tropical retreat, these are your go-to places.
Aside from safari activities, there are lots of active things to do in Tanzania. These include climbing Mount Kilimanjaro (an average of 6-7 days), walking the Ngorongoro Crater rim and nearby craters like Olmoti and Empakai, climbing the Udzungwa Mountains and waterfalls, and trekking through the Mahale mountains in search of the habituated chimpanzees, among many others.
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Best activities to do in Tanzania
Along with the iconic game drive, there are many other safari activities that you can do across national parks and reserves in Tanzania. For those who are looking for more active trips, there are plenty of hikes up mountains and Rift Valleys on offer. Islands off the eastern coast of Tanzania offer an underwater paradise for divers and snorkelers.
The majority of safaris across Tanzania are dominated by the classic game drive, and rightly so. Game drives in 4×4 safari jeeps are the best way to see as much wildlife as possible as you can cover a considerable distance in a short amount of time. Although the landscape may be different, game drives in each national park in Tanzania usually follow the same schedule. Early morning game drives are a great way to witness the animals at their most active time – particularly big cats like lions and leopards. As it gets hotter throughout late morning, animals will tend to stay around the watering holes, or retreat to shady areas to sleep. You will then head out on another game drive late afternoon, around 3-4pm until the sunsets between 6 and 7pm. This schedule differs in some parks. For example in the Serengeti National Park, you can do full day game drives where you stay out all day in the vehicle and take a picnic lunch. This is a good option if you are waiting to see a river crossing. Another difference is that private conservancies, like Grumeti and Mwiba Conservancies, offer night drives as they are privately owned.
Tanzania is home to approximately 20 species of primates including the red colobus monkeys in Jozani Forest (Zanzibar) and the olive baboon in the north of Tanzania. Arguably the primate species that is most visited in Tanzania is the chimpanzee. There are approximately 2,500 chimpanzees in Tanzania which can be found in both Gombe National Park and Mahale National Park, both located in the west. Mahale National Park in particular is an untouched gem in Tanzania. The landscape is truly breathtaking, with dense green forests contrasting against sparkling waters of Lake Tanganyika (which is the world’s longest freshwater lake). Because of its verdant forests, there are no roads in Mahale and accessibility into the park is only via light aircraft plane or boat. There are lots of things to do during your time in Mahale including kayaking on the lake, hiking the forests and of course, trekking to see the chimpanzees. With your specialist guide, you will be escorted through the forest to experience one-hour with the chimpanzee family. Watching them interact with one another, eat and play flight is an experience of a lifetime, and there is nowhere quite as beautiful to do it than Mahale. Stay in the luxury camp, Greystoke Mahale, to enhance the experience.
Witness the Great Migration
One of greatest spectacles and iconic sights in Tanzania, if not all of Africa, is witnessing the Great Migration. This is a pilgrimage of approximately 1.5 million wildebeest, accompanied by over 200,o00 zebra, who make a 300-mile journey around the plains of the Serengeti National Park and the Masai Mara in Kenya each year. The main goal of the herds is to have a surplus of fresh pasture and rains. As areas of the Serengeti dry up, the herds move on to new areas in a clockwise direction. Although each year, the migration patterns differ slightly, the overall journey and loose timings of the herds can be identified. Between the months of January and March, the herds are in the southern plains of the Serengeti dropping their calves. The herds make their way up the western plains of the Serengeti into Grumeti during the rains (April, May and June) until they reach the northern plains in July. The period of July to September is iconic as the herds cross the Mara River, with dangerous crocodiles lurking in the waters.
Although boat safaris are limited to only a handful of destinations in Tanzania, they are a great way for you to enjoy game viewing at a slower pace. The best place to enjoy boat safaris in Tanzania is the Selous Game Reserve in the south. Whereas game drives can be quite fast, a boat safari is all about cruising along the rivers, lakes, channels and waterways, taking in the smaller things along the way. This includes bird watching, with king fishers, storks, skimmers and bee-eaters aplenty. That said, there are always larger animals to watch from the boat. Underneath, thousands of hippo and crocodiles lurk in the waters. On the river banks, antelope, giraffe and zebra come to drink. In the bushes, hidden away, you may get the chance to see predators like leopards or lion prides who are waiting for their opportunity to hunt. Another regular sighting is elephants that come to swim in, or cross the waterways. This is a beautiful sight and there is something very vulnerable and humbling about the experience.
Climbing Mount Kilimajaro
Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa’s tallest mountain, standing at a height of 5,895 meters above sea level. For many, seeing the mountain as a backdrop to their safari is satisfying enough but for others, climbing it is on their bucket list. Although the local guides and porters do not show it, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is challenging and should only be climbed by those who are fit, healthy and up for the training beforehand. In terms of logistics, you would fly into northern Tanzania (Kilimanjaro airport) and allow yourself a couple of days to recover after your long-haul fight before starting your assent. There are six routes up Mount Kilimanjaro, each offering different landscapes, lengths and difficulties. The Marangu Route is the only route that offers hut accommodation, the others are tented options. The Machame Route is the most popular because of its higher success rate. This is because it a longer route (seven days) so you have more time to acclimatize. Our specialists can advise best routes and itineraries for those who are thinking about climbing Africa’s peak.
Visiting the Maasai
East Africa is very rich in culture and tradition, and for many people who come to Tanzania for a safari, they are keen to visit, learn and embrace the culture of the Maasai people. Local to northern Tanzania and southern Kenya, the Maasai are an ethic group of people, known famously for their colourful clothing, decorative beads and their impressive high-jumping displays. The Maasai people live in close-knit communities and live in traditional small huts made of mud and cow dung. These are known as bomas, and are shared by extended family members, children, and in some cases, their livestock too. During your time in Tanzania, you can visit the Maasai people and experience their way of living. There are some Maasai villages that can be visited around the Ngorongoro Crater area, but these tend to be quite commercial as they are on a ‘safari route’. For guests who are interested in visiting an authentic Maasai village, school or community, we can organize this in your itinerary.
As one of the pioneers of walking safaris, Norman Carr, once said “you do not know a place until you have walked it”. The walking safari, also referred to as a bush walk, is one of the most exhilarating activities to do in Tanzania. On a walking safari, there are no more than six guests, accompanied by a professional walking guide and an armed ranger. As you are on foot, this safari activity feels much more vulnerable than game drives and boat safaris, where you have the safety of the vehicle. That said, you will always be guided safely and run through some rules and practices to make the walking safari as successful and safe as possible. In Tanzania, you can do a walking safari in the Selous Game Reserve which are usually early in the morning when the temperatures are cooler. In Ruaha, Kichaka Expeditions offer longer 3, 5 and 7 night walking safaris for those who are looking for an authentic and wild walking experience. You can do bush walks in certain areas of northern parks too, including Tarangire National Park, the crater rim, and northern Serengeti.
Diving and Snorkeling
Tanzania is fortunate to enjoy the white sands and warm waters that the coastline of the Indian Ocean brings. The coral off the coast of Tanzania is home to a myriad of fish, rays, sea aneonomies, turtles and many other creatures That said, there are some areas that are better to snorkel and dive in that others. Mafia Island, located south of Zanzibar, is probably one of the best destinations to head to for ocean and underwater activities. The marine park was created in 1996 and since then, the coral has been blossoming with life, colour and fish species. Specific dive spots include Kinasi Wall and Milimani Reef – both found within the Chole Bay. You can also see whale sharks as they migrate past the island between late October and December. This is a fantastic opportunity to see the underwater giants, but as there are only a handful of hotels and lodges on the island, we would recommend booking this in advance. Pemba is also a great place to enjoy underwater activities in Tanzania. There is a hotel called the Manta Resort which features an underwater room so for those who are looking for something completely unique, this may be a good option!
Fly camping is a term used in the African safari industry to describe sleeping out in the bush, under the stars, with the bare minimal facilities or equipment. Although most of the time, you will have a mosquito-netted tent surrounding you, fly camping is still more luxurious than you can image. Professional safari guides, chefs and staff will set up your ‘room’ for the night and cook you a three-course meal under the stars. The food, drinks and service will be nothing short of perfection and will often replicate the same quality as the lodge you have come from. Most fly camping experiences are just for the night – enough to hear hyenas and lions roar in the distance, and wake up to elephant footprints outside your tent. You can do fly camping in Selous and Ruaha in southern Tanzania, and some private conservancies in northern Tanzania. This beautiful fly camp is in Kiba Point in the Selous.
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