One of the most breathtaking and awe-inspiring trips I’ve taken in recent years was to Tanzania in 2019.
It is a lifelong dream for many to witness African wildlife on a safari, and my experience didn’t disappoint! It truly is a bucket-list experience, to be a guest in their wild habitat.
The black and white striped zebras, the giant elephants and hippos, the fuzzy and wild hyenas, and my personal favourite – cheetahs.
From the wild animals to the bright culture to the friendly people, Tanzania is not a country I’ll soon forget.
There are plenty of parks to explore within Tanzania’s borders, but none are so well known as the famous Serengeti National Park.
Read on for a complete guide to beautiful Tanzania’s Serengeti and surrounding National Park areas.
The Best Time to Visit Tanzania
Tanzania is a beautiful country year-round. The climate is naturally warm for the most part, but there are certain factors to be aware of when planning your visit.
The Dry Season In Tanzania runs from April to October, and the Wet Season runs from November to March.
Located in the southern hemisphere, months often thought of as “summer” will now be considered “winter”.
My trip in July was quite warm and even hot in the lower elevations but did get very cold overnight in, the higher elevations. All of the parks in Tanzania can be visited during both seasons.
However, it would be best if you didn’t plan your vacation to Tanzania based only on the weather. Other factors to consider are 1) the Great Migration pattern of the wildebeest, if this is something that you care to see; 2) the parks are typically more crowded during the dry season, so the wet season is a great time to avoid other tourists; and 3) if you are planning to go on a Camping Safari in the Serengeti as I did, it might be wise to lean toward the dry season.
Top Three National Parks to See in Tanzania
Serengeti National Park
First and most famous is the vast Serengeti National Park. The Maasai tribe, who still live in the area to this day, named the park Serengeti, which means “endless plains”. And that is precisely what you will see; tall grassy plains that stretch on forever. However, the Serengeti’s terrain varies greatly between these vast plains and rocky outcrops to volcanic lands, rivers, and forests.
Established in 1951, this large park hosts one of the most diverse collections of animals in the country. Zebra, wildebeest, elephant, hippo, lion, leopard, and cheetah are just the beginning. Varied birdlife is also a draw for many.
The Great Migration can be viewed in the Serengeti, typically starting in July and August, as the wildebeest head north toward Kenya. This is one of the most popular sights in the park, and I can attest that it is worth the trek. Besides wildlife viewing, the park offers burning red sunrise views, hot air balloon rides, and presentations by researchers held in the Serengeti Wildlife Research Centre.
Ngorongoro Crater is believed to have been formed over 2.5 million years ago. It was a large, active volcano that erupted and eventually collapsed inward, forming the vast depression in the land that we see today. The tall, unbroken walls have formed a natural border, allowing life to thrive in the volcanic soil over the years.
The crater is easily accessed by vehicle and showcases an incredible number of animals in such a small area. This is where I saw two rhinos, completing my quest to see the Big Five.
Tarangire National Park
Tarangire National Park is named after the Tarangire River, which is the animal’s only source of water in the region during the dry season. Tarangire is widely known for hosting hundreds of bird species, like flamingos, as well as tall and impressive baobab trees. Hundreds of lions and elephants also live in Tarangire.
The best time to view wildlife in Tarangire National Park is between June and October when large herds migrate into and through the park. This is also the dry season in Tarangire National Park.
Things to Know Before Going On A Tanzania Safari
Safaris in Tanzania run the gamut of rustic to ultra-luxurious. Most lodges are not for the faint of heart (or budget). Luckily, tour operators run a wide range of options in terms of accommodation and cost.
Though I’m a seasoned solo-traveller, I do strongly recommend hiring a knowledgeable guide for safari. They are well-trained on where each type of animal likes to roam.
Eastern Africa is quite a trek from many regions, and you don’t want to waste your time by trying to go it alone. There is a daily fee in Serengeti for every traveller, so self-driving will not save you very much anyway. Most importantly, you also run the risk of missing animal sightings.
Many safaris combine several different parks into the itinerary, and safari lengths range from 2 days to 2 weeks, or even longer. I would not recommend anything under four days, particularly if you need to reach the farther regions for the Great Migration viewing.
Below are some top tips to know before you fly to Tanzania as well as tips to help you navigate your experience on the ground.
Before You Go:
Check Tanzania Visa requirements based on your nationality. Many countries are able to obtain a visa-on-arrival, though the rules can change at any time.
I was able to get my visa on arrival at Dar Es Salaam airport, though the process was crowded and only somewhat organized. It was easy enough; it just took a long time.
If you have travelled to Tanzania through a country where Yellow Fever exists, you will need proof of a Yellow Fever vaccination.
Decide on the time of year you want to visit. The easiest way to do this is to decide if you want to see the Great Migration or not.
Read all safari details before booking. Different seasons bring different prices, so double-check the listings. The total price will usually include all accommodations, meals, and entrance fees, no matter what “level” of luxury you choose.
Know that most safaris will depart from Arusha. If you fly into Tanzania, you will likely fly into Dar Es Salaam or Kilimanjaro. Arusha can be reached by bus or flight if flying into DAR. I was able to purchase the domestic flights for under USD 100.
Be very aware of baggage weight limits; there are strict domestic rules that could cost you extra money on the spot. Plus, you don’t need much luggage on safari anyway.
Most safari drivers recommend soft-sided luggage or duffel bags. They are easier to pack into tight quarters in the safari vehicles, and less likely to get damaged.
A comfortable wardrobe is key. On a traditional safari, you will spend most of your time in the vehicle, driving and viewing animals at each destination.
Think yoga pants, trekking sandals, muted colours, and lots of layers. As mentioned previously, you will likely go through many different elevations, and some of them get quite chilly.
Avoid black and dark blue. These colours tend to attract disease-carrying tsetse flies.
Make sure you bring sunscreen, insect repellent, sunglasses and hats year-round. You will thank me for this. Ladies, hair ties and hats are a must if you have long hair. The top of the car is perpetually open, and your hair will be blowing around and in your face.
Bring an external battery and the correct cords for cameras and cell phones. There is usually one plug in the safari car, but with the ride being super bumpy, I noticed them falling out frequently. I was glad to have my battery packs!
After Your Safari
No matter how long your safari lasts, plan to spend additional time in Tanzania once you finish. The culture is so vibrant and alive! And while seeing the animals is a once in a lifetime type of memory, you won’t get much of a feel for the country or its people inside the parks.
Below are a few unforgettable add-ons and stops for your trip.
Dar Es Salaam
This is the capital of Tanzania and is a lively place to spend some time. While walking around my guesthouse, I discovered a nearby food market with the most delicious street foods and pieces of bread, as well as clothing markets and fruit and vegetable stalls. It was crowded, alive, and smelled delicious everywhere.
If one bucket-list item is just not enough for your time in Tanzania, you can also add on a trek to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Routes varied from 8 days or more, purposefully leaving time to adjust to altitude sickness. A guide and porter is required; you cannot climb the mountain solo. “Kili” as it’s known, is the largest mountain on the entire continent. As you ascend, the jagged rocks are covered in ice no matter what time of year you climb.
Note that there are waterfalls and museums nearby, so even if you are not up for climbing, you can still visit and see Mount Kilimanjaro from the base.
In my opinion, Zanzibar is the best way to end a Tanzania trip. Located a short ferry ride from the mainland, Zanzibar offers beautiful white sand beaches and turquoise waters to refresh you after trekking through the wildlands.
The northern end of the island is the most popular area due to its picturesque stretches of white sand.
The east is where you’ll find more locals, and when the tide goes out, you can walk for ages in ankle-deep waters. Starfish and tiny fishes are visible in the shallow seawater.
Stonetown is where you will learn about the history of the island, which is at times dark but very important. Zanzibar was one of the highlights of my trip, so I highly recommend a stop here.
And there you have it! Take my advice, and you will be well on your way to a perfect Tanzania safari and vacation. Enjoy your trip; it is sure to be unforgettable!
Monica is the founder and writer at This Rare Earth. She has been a solo female traveller for well over a decade, across 6 continents. Her current favourite areas for travel are off-the-beaten-path destinations throughout the Middle East and Asia.