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A Beginner’s Guide to Tanzania

A Beginner's Guide to Tanzania

Going on a safari is a bucket list experience, and there is no better place than Tanzania for safari first timers. 

With thirty national parks and reserves across the country, Tanzania is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Tanzania’s popular northern parks are home to all Big Fives: lions, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants and buffalos. Although spotting these iconic animals is a dream for most safari goers, there is much more to see in Tanzania: giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, cheetahs and gazelles are also part of the experience.

With more than 1400 kilometers of Indian Ocean coastline and several paradise islands such as Zanzibar, Mafia or Pemba, Tanzania is the ideal country to combine an exciting safari with a relaxing beach holiday. If you are looking for a physical challenge, hiking Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, is also a unique adventure. 

One of nature’s most extraordinary phenomena takes place in Tanzania: the Great Migration.  All year long, more than a million wildebeests and hundreds of thousands of zebras migrate across the Serengeti National Park looking for greener plains. In July and August, the Mara River crossing in North Serengeti is a fascinating and unforgettable event. 

Planning A Trip To Tanzania

A Beginner's Guide to Tanzania

Tanzania can be visited almost all year around. The most popular season is June to September when the weather is dry, the vegetation is scarce and spotting animals is easy.  July to August is the best time to observe the Great Migration in the northern part of the Serengeti, while January is the wildebeest calving season in south Serengeti. When it comes to Zanzibar,  the island is most enjoyable from June to September (cool and dry) and December to February (hot and dry). 

Staying healthy while traveling should always be a priority, and visiting Africa requires some extra pre-travel care. Malaria is endemic in Tanzania and it is recommended to take a course of anti-malaria treatment and be extra careful in avoiding mosquito bites. There is no specific vaccination required for Tanzania, but it is best to be up to date with most common vaccinations such as diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), hepatitis A, polio, and typhoid. Yellow-fever vaccination is only compulsory if you are traveling from, or have been transiting through, a yellow fever endemic country 

Tanzania has two international airports, Julius Nyerere International Airport (DAR) and Kilimanjaro Airport (the closest to the northern parks). A US$ 50 entry visa (US$ 100 for US nationals) is required for most western citizens and can be obtained either online or directly on arrival. 

Planning A Safari In Tanzania

The easiest option to do a safari – especially as a first timer – is to book a package with a safari agency. I would recommend to not go with a standard “ready to go” safari tour, but to take the time to do your research and challenge a few agencies until you find your ideal package.

A few things to take into account when “shopping around” for a safari package :

  • Accommodation standard: are you looking for budget options (cheap lodges and camping), mid range (simple tented camp, lodges with AC), high-end (glamping, swimming pool, laundry service, etc.) or full on luxury. 
  • Group vs private: During your daily game drive, a private car with driver gives maximum flexibility and tranquility, while sharing a car reduces the cost and gives you a chance to meet fellow travellers.
  • What to see: if you have a clear idea of specific animals or landscapes you would like to see, it will help the agency tailor made the perfect itinerary. 
  • Driving vs flying: Driving across Tanzania parks can take up to 10 hours, while bush flights would take you everywhere in under 1 hour. It is an extra cost, but it also means extra time for wildlife watching, or relaxing downtime between the game drives. When planning your itinerary, ask the safari tour company to indicate clearly the driving time between locations. 
A Beginner's Guide to Tanzania

Don’t hesitate to challenge and question the safari tour companies until they offer exactly what you have in mind but be open to suggestions and comments too. They are the experts after all! After gathering quotes and itineraries from 4 different agencies, I booked my Tanzania trip with Duma Explorer, and it is was a flawless experience. Stacey, the American owner of the company is easy going, very available, ready to answer all questions and gave some great comments that helped me organize my trip. They also own the Chaka Camps, a group of high end, eco-friendly) tented camps in Tarangire and Serengeti parks that we stayed at, and loved.  

Top Attractions in Tanzania

Serengeti National Park is the finest park in Tanzania if not Africa. Some of the things that sets Serengeti apart are its impressive size, the variety in landscape (from woodlands to endless plains, and the iconic flat top acacia trees), and the density and diversity of its wildlife. 

It is also known worldwide for the wildebeest migration, that sees over a million gnus and a few hundred thousand zebras and Thomson gazelles roaming the vast plains of Serengeti in search of greener pastures. Aside from the Big Five, you can expect to see lots of giraffes, cheetahs, hyena, and some wildcats. Less popular but not less impressive, Serengeti is home to over 500 species of birds. Amazing to visit in July and August, the Serengeti deserves at least 3 days. 

A Beginner's Guide to Tanzania

Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest inactive volcano with a perfect surrounding caldera, and was voted one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. The floor of the crater is mostly vast open grassland with a couple of small wooded areas. There are good chances to see families of lions as the crater has one of the country’s highest densities of the predator. Around 40 of the endangered black rhinos are still living in the crater, together with hippos, elephants, cheetahs, etc. Notably absent in the crater are giraffes. The hippo pond and the Lerai forest are two of the most beautiful areas of the park. Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge is a comfortable lodge sitting on the rim of the crater with an incredible sunset view. 

A Beginner's Guide to Tanzania

Tarangire National Park is much smaller than the Serengeti but fully deserves a couple of days to visit. The park is famous for the density of elephants roaming its plains, the iconic baobab trees and the red termite mounds.  During the dry season, observe the elephants planting their trunks deep into the ground of the dried out Tarangire River to find water, and drive around the green Silale swamp for a wonderful view of distant mountains  and a variety of wildlife coming to refresh in the morning. 

A Beginner's Guide to Tanzania

Located between Tarangire National Park and Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara is also worth visiting, especially for birds watchers and flamingo lovers. All the way south of Tanzania is the Selous Reserve, a beautiful park to be explored by foot or by boat. A complete different way to experience a safari. 

A trip to Tanzania wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the paradise island of Zanzibar. Only a 45 mins flight (or 3 hours boat ride) from Dar Es Salam, Zanzibar has a completely different vibe than mainland Tanzania. Once the capital of the Sultanate of Oman, and strategically located on the trade route between India, the Middle East and Africa, the Spice Island is a blend of both Arab and Indian influence. That shows especially in the beautiful architecture of Stown Town, Zanzibar’s capital. Don’t miss visiting the slave museum: Zanzibar was once a key slave trading center, and you can learn more about their stories in the Stone Town Slave Museum. Think about how much tranquility you would like to get when deciding on the best beach to stay at.  The Eastern coast are relatively quiet, except for some renowned kitesurfing spots (Paje & Bwejuu) . If you are looking for more developed touristic infrastructure and maybe a little party, then stay in the Northern beaches (Nungwi) . Michamvi Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. 

A sundowner and diner at the iconic restaurant The Rock is a must-do on the island.  

A Beginner's Guide to Tanzania

What To Wear In Tanzania 

While on safari, although not compulsory, it is better to wear plain earthy colors, rather than flashy prints! That should help blending in your environment and feel at ease in the bush. Avoid wearing navy blue or black clothes, both colors attracting the dangerous Tsetse fly.  Pack comfortable and breathable clothes, and a good pair of sneakers or hiking shoes if you are planning walking safaris, and you should be fine. Zanzibar is a Muslim majority island, and women should dress accordingly. Of course, on the beach, bikinis are more than welcome. Read more about the ultimate packing list for an African Safari here

A Beginner's Guide to Tanzania

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