Tanzania is the place to be for those who love travel and adventure. This beautiful East African country, which borders the Indian Ocean, has something for everyone. Large cities and untouched landscapes means you don’t need to leave this sunny oasis to fulfill your vacation desires.
To help you plan the perfect trip, we have advice on how to plan, where to go, and tricks to help you get the most out of your travels.
Tanzania is the land of extremes. It is situated 600 feet (or 200 meters) above sea level and contains both the tallest mountain in Africa and the second deepest lake in the world. That’s right, Kilimanjaro, which is measured at 19,340 feet (or 5,895 meters), lives in this country.
The world’s second deepest lake is Lake Tanganyika, which measures 4,710 feet (or 1,436 meters). The gold medal goes to Lake Baikal in Russia which measures 5,387 feet (or 1,642 meters), creating a large gap between first and second place.
But just because these are the most famous parts of the country, doesn’t mean they are the only joys you can experience.
History Of Tanzania
In 1964, the mainland called Tanganyika and the islands called Zanzibar unified. It was at this point that the United Republic of Tanzania was born.
The merger wasn’t possible until both countries became independent from the British. Tanganyika reached independence in 1961, while Zanzibar only managed the feat in January 1964. 3 months later, Tanzania became united.
The country of Tanzania is known as “the Cradle of Mankind” as it holds the oldest human fossils in the world. With 120 different indigenous groups in the country, and very little emigration or colonial settlement in their history, Tanzania has kept a lot of its original history intact.
There are two official languages in Tanzania – English, and Swahili. Although English is spoken by many people in the country, it is only taught in higher education. Swahili is taught in the first 7 years of education and continues until the end of a pupil’s schooling.
Because the country is so vast and diverse in culture, there are many unofficial languages spoken by the locals too. For example, many of the 120 ethnic groups have their own language, and due to Asian influences Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, and Gujarati have become popular.
The concept of kin and family is critical to Tanzania’s culture. No matter the struggle or inconvenience, family matters and occasions are given the highest priority. The transport system in Tanzania has much to be desired, but that won’t stop a family member from arriving for a celebration.
Art and history are also extremely important in Tanzania’s culture. Storytelling through dance and speech creates the majority of entertainment. And because scientists from around the world sturdy human ancestry in Tanzania soil, the concept of history and nature are woven into one.
Planning Your Trip
The most important elements of planning a visit to Tanzania are the weather and the experience.
Why Should You Visit Tanzania?
Tanzania is a country surrounded by wildlife, beaches, archaeological discoveries, and a culture largely untainted by globalization.
We will go into detail about the things you can do while visiting this unique country, but the main reason to spend time in Tanzania is to explore the untouched world.
Many places like Katavi, contain wilderness that hasn’t been destroyed by progress or time. It is the ultimate escape from a fast-paced life.
When Should You Visit?
Tanzania has two seasons – wet and dry. The rainy season starts near the end of October and continues until January. It picks up again from March to June. Between these bouts of rain, is the dry season.
Visiting in the dry season (February, then July till September), means climbing mountains in a safe condition, and exploring areas in the beautiful sun of 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius). The roads will be easier to drive on and the wildlife will be around waterholes making them easier to spot.
However, if you want to see large movements of animals, you can also do this during the rainy season. The rain makes the wildlife happy, while the grassland will be colorful and luscious. You will develop the best photos and see a large variety of creatures. The experience will also be at its cheapest with fewer crowds to contend with.
There are areas that can’t be reached in the rainy season, but the whole northern circuit will normally be accessible throughout the year.
Do You Need A Visa?
The passport should be valid for at least 6 months before your arrival date, but the visa can be obtained at the airport.
Although you can wait until the last minute to receive your visa, this can cause delays and rejection. We advise applying for the visa in advance to avoid any raised prices and long waiting times with the immigration officers.
Duration Of Your Trip
Ideally, your Tanzania safari should be at least 10 days long. 10 days is enough to travel across the Northern Circuit (Serengeti, Tarangire, and Ngorongoro) which is the most popular safari in Africa.
With a longer stay, you can also include visits to the lakes and cultural hubs in the area.
Get Your Vaccinations
Before traveling to Tanzania, it’s recommended to ask for advice about the following vaccinations:
- Yellow Fever
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
If you are staying for longer than two weeks, some doctors recommend getting vaccinated for Typhoid. And if you are interacting with animals directly, (such as petting or working on a farm) some doctors recommend to include rabies vaccinations.
Speak to your doctor about what vaccinations you have already received, as many people have protection against illnesses such as meningitis during their childhood.
The national currency of Tanzania is the Tanzanian Shilling. It is often written as with TSh or /=. Coins come in 50s, 100s, and 200s, and notes come in 500s, 1000s, and 5000s.
Most towns will exchange US Dollars, UK pound Sterling and European Euros without issue. However, you may notice that US Dollars and Euros are accepted in large areas of the country.
As of July 2022, USD$100 is worth TSh233,200, £100 is worth TSh277,949,91 and €100 is worth TSh234,704.14.
Where To Go And Things To Do
There is tons to do in Tanzania, but they all come down to three things – exploring the wilderness, finding wild animals, and discovering the culture of the area.
See The Big 5
The Big 5 is a tick box exercise that lets you see the most iconic animals in Africa. Going on Big 5 safaris means searching for the African Lion, the African Elephant, the African Leopard, the Rhinoceros, and the Cape Buffalo.
Although these creatures are large, they can be extremely difficult to spot in the wild. The goal becomes even more difficult due to illegal poachers reducing the numbers of the population. However, hiring a Big 5 tour guide can show you the best places to find these extraordinary animals.
Experience The Great Migration
The great migration is the iconic trek made by thousands of wildebeest to cross the lands of Africa. It has been watched millions of times through hundreds of documentaries, but there is nothing like seeing a surreal experience in real life.
The wildebeest migration is the largest mammal migration in the world, and you can see the spectical in the Serengeti National Park.
Climb Mount Kilimanjaro
Mount Kilimanjaro National Park is unlike the other national parks in Tanzania. You won’t find a lot of wildlife on this tour, instead, the attraction is climbing Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa.
Even if you don’t reach the summit, the view of the wilderness below is a sight for the gods.
Go On A Safari To Serengeti National Park
Even if you aren’t traveling for the Big 5 or to spot the great migration, you should still visit Serengeti National Park. It is the second largest national park in Tanzania and is home to over 500 species of birds, and millions of grazing animals such as zebras and gazelles on flat land for easy viewing.
Travel The Northern Circuit
The Northern Circuit contains the most famous national parks in Tanzania. As we said before, you can visit national parks such as Serengeti, Tarangire, and Ngorongoro. But you can also explore Arusha, Lake Manyara, Lake Eyasi, Lake Natron, Kilimanjaro, Olduvai, and Mkomazi.
Traveling the entire area can take you around 10 days, and in that time you’ll spot animals in their natural habitat.
If you don’t have the time to dictate 10 days of endless plains travel, you can experience the whole area much quicker by skipping some parts or to make use of flights in safaris! Don’t let time keep you from enjoying all that Tanzania has to offer. Imagine yourself doing an amazing safari or overlooking the endless plains from a hot air balloon!
Visit A National Park
If you’re not near the northern park of Tanzania, don’t fret. There are 35 national parks around the country. North, East, South, and West. Each has its own highlights and attractions, so search for the park close to your hotel destination and create your wildlife experience from there.
Go To Stone Town
Stone Town is considered the architectural capital of Tanzania. Found on the island of Zanzibar, the majority of homes in the area were built in the 19th century. The wooden doors on the houses are often beautifully carved and delicately maintained.
Stone Town is the oldest functioning town in the world, which makes it a wonderful place for history lovers. The cultures of the area haven’t changed, allowing us to see culture and history in action.
Scuba Dive In Zanzibar
One of the best places to dive in Tanzania is the Zanzibar island called Pemba. Its white sand beach is often untouched, and the clear waters make it perfect for scuba diving.
The area is laid back and the island is so hilly that spending a weekend swimming and then mountain biking has become a popular activity.
Mafia Island Marine Park
The Mafia Island has the same beautiful beaches as Pemba, and the same almost see-through water. However, on Mafia Island, you can experience the Marine Park. This is a coral garden found just off the water’s edge. You can witness over 400 species of bright and colorful fish, dancing around the coral reef.
This island is also the traditional breeding ground for the endangered green turtle. Making it one of the only safe havens for the rare species.
Visit Rift Valley
Rift Valley got its name due to the earth’s weakened crust. The area is a geological phenomenon, as the valley cracks down for thousands of miles. The dramatic drop has created naturally hot springs, volcanoes, lakes, and geysers.
It’s in this valley that flamingos find a home, and baboons rule the roost. The rift itself runs from Syria to Mozambique and the tectonic plates are slowly making the split larger, year after year. In some places the top of the rift valley will reach 400 meters and has a very steep drop. The view from the top of this valley is amazing. One of the most popular locations on the top of this Rift valley is Manyara Best View lodge, a real attraction that is often combined with Tarangire, Ngorongoro or Lake Manyara national park.
Go To A Lake
Tanzania has over 14 large lakes around the country. The smallest surface area is Lake Chala which borders Tanzania and Kenya. It measures 4.2 kilometers squared or 1.6 square miles.
The largest surface area is claimed by Lake Victoria measuring 68,800 kilometers squared, or 26,600 square miles. For comparison, the United Kingdom is 243,610 kilometers squared, and Scotland is 77,910 kilometers square. Meaning the lake named after Queen Victoria is the same size as one of her countries.
Although this lake is only the second largest lake in the world. It is the largest tropical lake by miles.
The lake itself is so large that it touches on three countries – Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.
It was named after Queen Victoria in 1858 and contains fish you’ll find nowhere else on earth.
Lake Manyara is best known for its birds. You can find over a million flamingos, thousands of pelicans, hundreds of storks, and even rare creatures such as the chestnut-banded plover.
The fish are mostly carp, so we would recommend this lake for bird lovers over fish lovers.
To reach this lake, you’ll be taken on a jeep that goes through the wild forest and shrublands to reach the marsh. The travel and backdrop are jaw-dropping.
You are allowed to fish in this lake as you watch the flamingos fly by.
Natron is an alkaline lake with a pH level of 12 or more. Scientists believe this high alkaline level comes from lava underneath the water which produces large amounts of carbonate.
Because of the unusual alkaline disposition, salt-loving plants and animals live in these waters. Instead of using green pigments for photosynthesis, these flowers are almost all red. This creates an illusion of a blood lake.
Flamingos eat the redfish, animals, and plant life helping them create a red and pink tone in their feathers.
Reaching this area can be very difficult due to the lack of roads, a professional guide has the knowledge on how to reach this place best. But Lake Natron cant be accessed during the rainy season.
This lake is less of an animal reserve and more of a sporting experience. You can hike to the area, have a canoe in the waters, and cycle around the waterways. Swimming is prohibited, but the area allows for gentle water sports while you take in the beautiful scenery.
Lake Momella is actually made up of 7 lakes. Big Momela, Small Momelaa, Tulusia, Lekandrio, El Kekhotoito, Rishateni and Kusare.
They are all shallow alkaline lakes that are perfect for flamingo watching. You can also expect pelicans, guinea fowl, African fish eagles, Egyptian geese, and African jacanas in these lakes.
Most mammals don’t drink from this lake due to the high alkaline content, however, you can spot zebras, waterbucks, and giraffes in the surrounding areas too.
To really enjoy the experience, you should take a canoe trip to travel around the lakes.
Explore The Beaches Of Zanzibar
If you prefer an active vacation instead of an animal-watching one, then we suggest finding a surfing beach in the islands of Zanzibar. The white sand beaches, and clear shallow water, makes learning the sport easy.
You can also hire boats to explore the clear ocean water while staying close to the island’s land.
Visit Iraqw Villages
The Iraqw tribe is an ancient community that lives in the same way they did over 100 years ago.
Over 150 tribes live and thrive in the country of Tanzania, but the Iraqw tribe allows visitors to experience their way of life. You can talk to the residents, enter their homes and join in on their agriculture.
If you visit on the 7th or 25th day of the month, you can experience the Iraqw market. Here the people of the village sell their goods, from cattle to art, herbs to clothing. It would be a unique souvenir to take home.
Visit A Maasai Village
In the Maasai Village, you can expect the same raw culture as the Iraqw Village. However, the Maasai people continue to live in the heart of Africa. There are lions, and elephants roaming their lands, but they aren’t afraid of these deadly creatures.
Instead, the Maasai people know how to live in harmony with nature – a skill they could pass on to you.
Visit Ngorongoro Crater
We have mentioned the Ngorongoro National Park a couple of times, because it is so special. It is known as one of the 7 African wonders. It has the highest concentration of wildlife per square kilometer. And perfect circumstances for the wildlife to live.
The crater creates a permanent supply of water for the animals, allowing us to see the beautiful creatures flock to the watering hole.
The crater itself is around a million years old and was once one of the tallest mountains in the world before its destructive explosion. It has been higher than Mt. Kilimanjaro and due to the volcanic eruption this amazing area has been created. It is actually not a crater, but a caldera. But it is known as Ngorongoro Crater.
Explore The Arusha Cultural Heritage Center
The Arusha Cultural Heritage Center is filled with African art from across the continent. You can find masks, furniture, statues, and crafts, displayed with the history of active and long past tribes.
One particular gem you will learn about is the Tanzanite. Named after its one known source, Tanzania, this gem can only be found in Mirerani Hills.
The desire to find such a rare and beautiful gem created wars in countries around the world. You can learn about the impact this gem had on Tanzania and the surrounding countries.
Visit Olduvai Gorge
The Olduvai Gorge is a historical archaeological site that you can visit. The oldest human bones have been found in the area, including skulls aged around 2 million years old.
If you visit between June and October, you may be able to talk to an active archaeologist digging on the site. They can tell you what they have found recently and what that means in terms of knowledge about our ancestors.
If there are no active archaeologists, you can still talk to the tour guides and visit the museum to take home replicas.
Luxury Accommodations In Tanzania
If you want a hotel that gives you 5-star treatment and is close to the animals you’ll explore during the day. Then you should stay at Singita Faru Faru Lodge or Melia Serengeti Lodge. It is situated on the outskirts of the National Park, allowing you the most beautiful views as the sun sets on the plains.
The hotel has a spa, a personal walking safari tour, a fine dining restaurant, and more. You can expect access to the outdoor pool, and to the hiking trails either with or without a guide.
If you would rather stay near the cultural hub of Tanzania, you can book with Legendary Lodge or Elewana Arusha Coffee Lodge. It is at the center of all activity in Arusha while keeping a cool and distant vibe inside.
As a coffee-focused lodge, you can experience the best coffee from across the continent, alongside a fine dining experience and access to the spa and pool.
And lastly, if you prefer your hotel to act as an entertainment center in itself, then try Tulia Zanzibar, the best luxury romantic resort. With a private beach, scuba diving experiences, shows, and evening fine dining, you’ll need to be reminded that there is more outside of their doors.
Luxury Accommodations In Zanzibar
If you want to enjoy your holiday in Zanzibar specifically, then we have a couple more hotels to suggest.
The Residence Zanzibar is a secluded hideaway near the coastline of the ocean. There are 66 luxurious villas to choose from each with cultural comforts from around the world. Allowing you to pick options from your own country to try something new.
Each room has a balcony, a private beach, ocean views, and access to the pool.
Baraza Resort and Spa Zanzibar is a resort that brings heritage to your holiday. You can expect influences from Arabic as well as Swahili culture in the architecture. The beach is just on the doorstep and the food is divine.
Hotel Riu Palace Zanzibar was recently renovated in 2019. They have pools, whirlpools, a spar, and entertainment for the evening and the day. The steakhouse produces 5-star food, and you can enjoy your stay while looking out onto the clear beach.
Tips And Tricks
Before packing your bags, we have a couple of tips to give you. Whenever you travel to a new country, there will be cultural and practical differences that you need to be aware of.
If you are exploring the Northern Circuit, we suggest taking or hiring a car. A lot of Tanzania isn’t well connected but these safaris have a driving route to help you across the vast plains.
The route connects Tarangire, Serengeti, and Ngorongoro with a brief stop off at Lake Manyara.
Consider Hiring A Professional Guide
Depending on the hotel you are staying at, you may have access to a professional guide throughout your stay. If not, it is worth going to an information center to secure one. With a professional guide, you’ll be able to find the hotspots for rare wildlife, and will have access to the more secure areas.
Without a professional guide, you may miss out on the details and hard-to-find animals on the safaris.
Head Off The Beaten Track
In the height of the dry season, Tanzania can become crowded. When there are more people than animals, it’s time to avoid the well-known paths. We suggest visiting Rubondo Island in the middle of Lake Victoria.
Imagine a Robinson Crusoe adventure, where the mountains are empty of people and the wildlife sanctuary continues as if humans never touched it.
Check Your Airports
There are multiple different airports in Tanzania, so don’t just fly to the capital city of Dar es Salaam and waste a day traveling to your hotel. There are airports just outside of Arusha, directly to Kilimanjaro, and easy connections to Serengeti.
Check which options make the most sense for time and money, so you don’t waste either going with the capital.
Purchase A Local Sim Card
To make sure you don’t get charged extra for using your phone abroad, you should buy a sim card locally. These sims will have better wifi and signal connections, and they will be cheaper due to their expected use in the country.
We recommend choosing Vodacom, Airtel, or Tigo. Airtel is a budget brand and has the worst network of the three, but they will be cheaper than your foreign sim. Tigo has a good connection at a reasonable price. Vodacom has the best network connection but comes at a cost. If you can afford it, definitely buy a Vodacom sim card.
Use The Railways
Unless you are driving through the Northern Circuit, the best transport in Tanzania is the train system. You can hire a private car, but it costs a lot of money and takes time. Trains are less expensive and allow you to see the area around you, and experience life as a native Tanzanian.
Always Travel In Groups At Nightime
Although Tanzania is very friendly to tourists, there will always be people ready to catch a holidaymaker. To make sure you don’t fall victim to muggings, travel at night in groups. Criminals can spot a tourist from a mile away, so don’t take the chance.
Only Carry Your Daily Basic Essentials
This leads us to our next trip. Only carry the essentials you need for the day. If you lose your passport or your visa, you can land in big trouble trying to leave the country.
On the other hand, don’t leave your hotel room without sunscreen and mosquito spray. These sprays will become your best friend as the heat beats down on you.
This is more general advice than Tanzania specifically. Only take what you need for hiking, lounging, and swimming at the beach. You can buy more clothes when you arrive, and you can wash them at your hotel. Instead, save your bag room for gifts and souvenirs.
The lighter you pack the less you have to pay for travel too. To make the most of the savings, buy disposable products when you arrive. Shampoo, travel toothpaste, and other small needed toiletries can be bought anywhere near your hotel, so don’t waste travel space.
Remember To Tip
In Tanzania, tipping is the same as breathing. You will be expected to tip around 10 to 12% for basic interactions such as having your picture taken, driving, or being served at a cafe. However, if you are in a fine dining restaurant or a 5-star hotel, the tipping expectancy jumps up to 20%.
You are expected to tip for every interaction, so be sure to count those extra coins before committing to a purchase.
The best places to visit in Tanzania are Mount Kilimanjaro, the Northern Circuit safaris, Lake Victoria or Manyara, the Iraqw Village, and the Arusha Cultural Heritage Center. If you don’t visit at least one of these places on your trip, then you will end up missing the most iconic areas of the county.
Remember, as you plan your trip be sure to include days of rest, as the wonderful wildlife can overwhelm a tourist. So don’t forget to soak in the spar days, and relax by the sea.