Tanzania is unsurpassed for both magnificent scenery and the wildlife experiences it can offer. Over 25% of the country is set aside for national parks and game reserves, and during the great migration it provides one of the most dazzling wildlife spectacles on the planet.
The Serengeti – so vast that you can see the earth’s curvature – is famed for its dense animal population and particularly for the host of predators that stalk across its 14,800 sq km of grassy plains. For eight months of the year seemingly endless herds of wildebeest, zebra and Thomson gazelles swarm into the Serengeti: an extraordinary spectacle that reaches its climax in February when wildebeest calving begins and both predators and scavengers reap their rewards.
The Selous Game Reserve, a massive 50,000 sq km, is wilderness on a huge scale but also has great subtlety: wildlife encounters are intimate and dreamlike, as animals appear and disappear into the bush, and the scenery is breathtaking. This remote wilderness is home to over a million large animals including Africa’s largest populations of buffalo, elephant, hippo and crocodile as well as great numbers of lion, leopard, giraffe, roan antelope, giraffe, sable, eland, and both greater and lesser kudu. It is also one of the last strongholds of the African wild dog – the second most endangered carnivore on our planet.
Ruaha National Park covers 23,000 sq km and its remoteness means that it attracts relatively few visitors and so offers one of the most private game viewing experiences in Africa. Its rugged and harsh landscape contains an extraordinary diversity of animals, plants and birds including elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, impala, eland, hippo, crocodile, lion and leopard. With 530 different species of birds recorded in the park, it is also one of the continent’s premier birding destinations.
The Ngorongoro Crater is the largest intact caldera (sunken volcano crater) in the world. Within it are great areas of acacia forest, hippo filled swamps and open grasslands. These different habitats contain over 30,000 animals – including the rare black rhinoceros and all the predatory cats, as well as magnificent birdlife. The Maasai can also be seen grazing their cattle alongside the buffalo, under the fixed gaze of the lions.
Katavi National Park in remote western Tanzania is thought to contain the greatest density of mammals of any of the nation’s reserves. Its floodplains support the last great herds of buffalo in East Africa, while its rivers are full of hippos and crocodile. This is a truly great game area.
The Mahale Mountains National Park on the shores of Lake Tanganyika is extraordinarily beautiful. Thanks to Jane Goodall’s pioneering research in the 1960s wild chimpanzees are habituated to humans and guided walks offer a good chance of encountering them. While chimp tracking is the chief attraction you can also hike the forest paths looking for birds and butterflies, as well as other shy mammals; swim in ice-cold pools at the mountain waterfalls; take a kayak out for a dawn paddle towards the middle of the lake; go for sundowners on the old wooden dhow; lazily follow the shoreline and stop to fish along the way; or just relax on the warm sands of the beach with a drink in hand.
Once the trading centre for the whole of East Africa, Zanzibar and its surrounding islands are part of a great coral reef stretching down Africa’s Indian Ocean coast. The coastlines of these “Spice Islands”, which have supplied the world with aromatic spices like cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon ever since they were discovered by Arab traders in the 8th century, are some of the most seductive in the world. They lie in aquamarine seas under the huge equatorial sun. Sugar white beaches slope gently to waters teeming with life. The sensual beauty of the islands of Zanzibar make this is a perfect part of the world to unwind in the warm breeze, relax and enjoy life.
Tanzania has a tropical, equatorial climate, but there are large regional variations influenced by altitude and latitude. Similar to Kenya, the main rains are April, May and November but there are some regional variances.
The best time to visit Tanzania depends on what you want to do. If you’re interested in wildlife viewing, the best time to visit is during the dry season from June to October and also the shoulder seasons of December to February though the southern areas of Ruaha and Selous are best avoided between December and May. The best time for the coast is late June to March though there can be some short rains in the afternoons or at night in November.