9 Things to Do in Tanzania
Featured destinations: Africa
Published 20 May 2016
Encompassing Africa’s tallest mountain and its deepest, darkest lake; home to East Africa’s largest national park as well as its smallest game reserve; dotted with vast wilderness areas, gorgeous white beaches and vibrant and frenetic cities, Tanzania has it all.
Visitors to Tanzania typically choose between two circuits. First-timers looking for big game will probably opt for the Serengeti or Ngorongoro Crater in the more famous Northern Circuit, while for seasoned safari-goers, the lesser known Southern Circuit will offer a more remote and wild experience. A short hop across to the islands of Zanzibar, Mafia or Pemba where picture-perfect beaches and myriad water-based activities await can be added to either.
To help you make up your mind, here are our top 9 sights in Tanzania:
THE NORTHERN CIRCUIT
Watch a river crossing in the Serengeti
It would be impossible to talk about Tanzania without mentioning one of, if not the, most famous safari areas in all of Africa. The Serengeti stretches over 1.5 million hectares (roughly three-quarters the size of Wales) and plays host to the greatest animal migration on Earth. Estimates vary, but with up to two million wildebeest roaming the plains and half a million zebra jostling with them for space, the numbers are staggering. Predators are never far away, making this a fantastic area in which to see lion, hyena and cheetah in particular.
Although the Serengeti offers great year-round game viewing, come at the right time and you can watch one of nature’s greatest events: the crossing of the Grumeti (June-July) and Mara (August-September) Rivers by thousands of wildebeest and zebra. This already arduous task is made even more perilous by the waiting jaws of countless Nile crocodiles which lie patiently beneath the churning waters.
Explore the remnants of an extinct volcano in the Ngorongoro Crater
As if the Serengeti wasn’t large enough, the neighbouring Ngorongoro Conservation Area extends this already massive wilderness area even further. Formed roughly three million years ago when a large volcano collapsed in on itself, the Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest intact caldera, its rich volcanic soils supporting huge amounts of plant and animal life. Besides being remarkable for its sheer scale and beauty, this is also one of the best places in Africa to see the big five (lion, elephant, black rhino, leopard and buffalo).
Spot a tree-climbing lion in Lake Manyara National Park
Lake Manyara National Park is, as the name would suggest, largely taken up by its eponymous lake, a shallow body of water stretching for 30 miles from north to south. Although the wildlife densities do not rival those found in Tanzania’s better-known national parks, there are still large numbers of leopard and baboon here. But what the park is really famous for is its tree-climbing lions. This isn’t the only place in Africa where you’ll find such behavior, but the lions in Lake Manyara do seem to be particularly confident in their arboreal endeavors and the sight of a pride of lions relaxing up an acacia tree is still quite something to behold.
Climb to the Roof of Africa: Mount Kilimanjaro
At 5,895 meters, Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa’s tallest peak. More than that though ‘Kili,’ as it’s affectionately known, offers a realistic challenge to anyone with a reasonable level of fitness and determination but without any climbing experience – it is the world’s highest ‘walkable’ mountain. Most climbers will take between five and eight nights to reach the top.
THE SOUTHERN CIRCUIT
Discover the history of Selous, Africa’s largest game reserve
The Selous is Africa’s largest game reserve at around 4.5 million hectares. Activities here are varied and although the mainstay is game drives in open-topped land cruisers, you can also get out on a motorboat and explore the Rufiji River and its backwaters. Although there are several top-end camps in the Selous, the real stars are the animals; look out for healthy populations of lion, leopard and wild dog.
The historical significance of Selous should not be lost on visitors either. There is evidence of human habitation here dating back thousands of years and more recently the famous British explorer and hunter Frederick Courtney Selous, after whom the reserve is named, met his end in the reserve during the First World War. You can visit the battlefield where he was shot and see his final resting place which is situated nearby.
Get off the Beaten Track in Ruaha National Park
Despite being Tanzania’s largest national park Ruaha is still relatively devoid of visitors and contains just a handful of camps. This is one of the few areas in Africa where it’s possible to view both lesser and greater kudu in the same place, while the elephant population is reportedly the largest in the country. Unlike the Selous, Ruaha offers excellent cheetah viewing and the lion prides are unusually large and uncharacteristically comfortable around vehicles too. Leopard do well here and wild dog are more prolific in Ruaha than almost anywhere else in East Africa.
Excite the senses in Stone Town, Zanzibar
In total contrast to the tranquil safari feel found back on the mainland, Stone Town is the hustling, bustling heart of Zanzibar. Wandering through the narrow streets of this old port it is easy to imagine the sights, smells and sounds that would once have greeted European missionaries as they prepared to begin their journeys. Small markets and tiny shops sell curios and trinkets while industrious merchants sell you their wares. Zanzibar is famous for its locally-produced spices and you can find them here at Darajani Market which is still partly housed in its original building, dating from 1904. These days there is more on sale than just spices, but there is no mistaking the smell of cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon as it drifts across the hot and humid market hall.
Escape to the beach
If beaches are your bag, Zanzibar has no shortage of pristine white ones, plus a variety of accommodation options ranging from absolute simplicity to downright audacious. The waters around Zanzibar are clean, clear and warm year-round and offer plenty of watersports too.
Dive with whale sharks on Mafia Island
Diving on Tanzania’s islands is excellent with notably good reefs around Zanzibar in particular. But For something truly special, Mafia Island takes first prize. About 94 miles due south of Zanzibar, Mafia is easily reached by light aircraft from Dar es Salaam and adds on particularly easily to a safari in Tanzania’s southern reserves. Come between October and March when whale sharks pass by the island, offering you the chance to get up close with the largest fish in the ocean.
Explore Tanzania's best bits with Round the World Experts' East Africa Discovery Journey, which stops at both the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater, as well as spending time on safari in Kenya's Maasai Mara.