Tanzania Safari Complete Guide 

by Kshaunish Jaini, on Jan 6, 2017

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Index

1. Tanzania Safari
2. Tanzania Safari Map
3. Safari in Tanzania - Best time to visit
3.1 Northern Parks
3.2 Western and Southern Parks
3.3 Other Considerations
3.3.1 Trekking Mount Kilimanjaro / Mt Meru
3.3.1.1 Mt Meru
3.3.1.2 Mt Kilimanjaro
3.3.2 Visiting Coastal Zanzibar
4. Tanzania Safari Tours
4.1 Two Day Tanzania Safari
4.2 Three Day Tanzania Safari
4.3 Four Day Tanzania Safari
4.4 Five Day Tanzania Safari
4.5 One Week Tanzania Safari
4.6 Day Safaris in Tanzania
5. Tanzania Safari Parks
5.1 Serengeti
5.2 Ngorongoro
5.2.2 Wildlife highlights
5.2.3 How to get to Ngorongoro
5.3 Lake Manyara
5.3.1 How to reach Lake Manyara
5.4 Tarangire National Park
5.4.1 How to Reach Tarangire National Park
5.5 Arusha National Park
5.6 Selous
5.7 Ruaha
5.7.1 How to get to Ruaha

5.8 Gombe
5.9 Katavi
5.10 Mahale
5.11 Mikumi
5.12 Mkomazi
5.13 Saadani
6. Tanzania Safari Prices
6.1 Tanzania Budget Safari
6.2 Tanzania Lodge Safari
6.3 Tanzania Luxury Safari
6.4 Tanzania National Park Fees
6.5 Tipping
6.6 Other Costs
7. Flights to Tanzania
8. Tanzania Safari Packing List
9. Different Types of Safaris
9.1 Jeep safari
9.2 Walking safari
9.3 Horse riding safari
9.4 Birdwatching
9.5 Day Trips
10. Tanzania Travel
10.1 Tanzania Visa
10.1.1 US Tourist Visa Fees
10.1.2 Other countries tourist visa fees for Tanzania
10.2 Documentation
10.3 Insurance
10.4 Tanzania Vaccinations
11. Swahili Phrases
12. A Final Word

A zebra herd in the wilderness of Tanzania.

Tanzania Safari

Most people going for a safari in Tanzania are interested in the Big Five. These were traditionally the animals considered to be the most difficult and dangerous to hunt. The Big Five animals consist of the Lion, the Elephant, the Buffalo, the Leopard and the Black Rhino. Of these the Black Rhino can only be spotted in the Ngorongoro Crater and the leopards are shy, and the highest probability of seeing them is in the Northern Region of the Serengeti (the Seronera Valley). Besides the Big Five, more than 80 large Mammal species call Tanzania home, living in the 25% of the area of the country that has been demarcated into conservation areas and National Parks.  

Tanzania has some of the best places that cater for an African Safari. Not only does it hold about 20% of the continent’s mammal biomass, it is also home to Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in the continent, the Ngorongoro crater, which besides having the densest wildlife population, is the largest intact caldera in the world, the largest lakes in Africa (Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi), the second largest number of variety of birds found in the continent and Olduvai Gorge, where some of the most important hominid fossils were found and the location where the Great Wildebeest Migration takes place. This is also the place which has been waxed eloquent about by authors like Ernest Hemingway and by naturalists like David Attenborough. Jane Goodall pioneered her study of chimpanzees in Tanzania near the Gombe Stream.

Lions are frequently spotted in the Serengeti, the most famous National Park in Tanzania.

Despite its abundance of natural wealth, Tanzania was not well known as a safari destination until recently, as it was overshadowed by both Kenya and South Africa. This was both due to lack of infrastructure, tourist centric policies and money spent in marketing. However, this has changed since the last two decades, where premier safari lodges and camps compete for the luxury market tourists and budget and mid-tier camps for the rest. There are now Tanzania safari packages that are tailored to help visitors experience the incredible variety of wild game found here. The areas occupied by many national parks and reserves have been expanded to cover important channels and routes that are used by the wildlife. There are also been a heavy crackdown on poaching and other illegal activities by bringing villages into the fold and enlisting their help in protecting the animals. This article compares the differences between a safari in Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.    

Tanzania Safari

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Tanzania Safari Map

The most interesting part about East Africa is the large amounts of natural conservation areas that occur naturally. To know why this happens, it is important to understand the Great Rift Valley. About twenty (or thirty) million years ago, the plateau that comprises of the bulk of East Africa was broken up by a shift in the tectonic plates. As these plates shifted away from one another, they led to the creation of huge gaps, which were populated by deep lakes and volcanoes along the rift and its branches. In fact, the lakes Natron and Malawi lie in the main rift itself, while Lake Tanganyika in the western branch. The volcanoes of Mt Kilimanjaro, Mt Meru and the Ngorongoro, were all formed by this same seismic event. Many of the most famous Tanzania safari locations exist only because of this.

A map of the parks and regions in Tanzania for Safaris

Since these events, millions of years have passed, and the areas, buoyed by the availability of water, fertile soil, grasslands and forests have become a sanctuary for wildlife.

The Tanzania safari map is divided into regions shaped by the geographical structure of the country. The Northern parks consist of the Serengeti, Lake Manyara, Tarangire and the Ngorongoro. The western part of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro are close to Lake Victoria, which itself occupies a massive area and straddles the countries of Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.

The western region of Tanzania is bordered by Lake Tanganyika and the Mahale Mountains, Katavi National Parks and Uwanda Game Reserve are found here.

The southern border of Tanzania has the great Malawi Lake and the conserved areas here include the Rungwa and the Ruaha National Parks in the centre and the Mikumi National Park and the Selous Game reserve in the south.

Safari in Tanzania - Best time to visit

Every season has advantages - time is highly dependent on which parts of Tanzania you want to include in your itinerary. It is important to know the rainfall patterns as they directly affect the vegetation and hence control the regions in which the animals are found.

Rainfall in the Serengeti. Tanzania experiences most of its rainfall between the months of November and May

Tanzania experiences most of its rainfall between the months of November and May, with a short dry spell in between. The long rains start from March and last till the middle of June. This coincides with the availability of vegetation and grazing grounds and hence with the calving periods of the ungulates. The long dry spell, from June to October, sees the majority of animals like the wildebeest and zebras, to migrate towards the northern regions, where there is better availability of water and feed. Therefore different areas of the northern parts are better during different months. The end of the dry season, during November, sees these areas being repopulated with the migrating wildlife.

Going by the numbers, the tourist arrivals to the country are the highest in the months of October to January, though the country can be visited any time of the year. Every month here has different advantages dependent on the region. This article gives a more detailed explanation on the best time to visit the East African countries of Tanzania and Kenya for a Safari

Northern Parks

The Northern Parks, also known as the Northern Safari circuit in Tanzania, are much better developed and the tourist trails are well known. Mainly comprising of the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater and conservation area,  Lake Manyara and Tarangire National parks, the region not only offers the best Safari trail, but is a preferred destination for those who prefer to engage in other adventurous activities like trekking. The most famous of these, of course, is the gigantic Mt Kilimanjaro, which features prominently in the national psyche, being portrayed in water bottles, beer, stamps and money.

Mount Kilimanjaro towers over the landscape, and is easily seen from the Northern regions in Tanzania

Most Safaris to this region focus on the Serengeti, particularly the southern plains. This is because of the availability of game and the accessibility from Arusha. The best time for this region is from November to May. The calving season in the region is usually around February and is the best time for those seeking to view some predator action. The northern region of the Serengeti is best visited during August to October, and the western region of the Serengeti during June and July.

The Ngorongoro region sees less seasonal movements and is therefore best visited during the low-season months of April and May. The Tarangire, on the other hand, sees peak concentrations of wildlife during July and Late November.

Western and Southern Parks

 Though not as well known as the Northern Parks, the southern region has some fantastic safari Destinations like the Selous Game Reserve and the Mikumi and Ruaha National Parks. They are better in certain aspects as they can experience the wilderness not only from the Safari Jeep, but can also take guided bush-walks, fishing and boat trips. The Katavi National park also offers the opportunity to track chimpanzees.

Hippos are abundant in Lake Manze and River Rufiji in Selous, Tanzania.

The southern parks are more seasonal and the best time to visit places like Selous, Ruaha, Katavi and Mikumi is during the dry season from June to October. Since wildlife is found around water sources like rivers, water holes and lakes they are easily found congregating in these areas. Added advantages of visiting these area during the dry season are the lower chances of contracting Malaria and the much better road conditions. If you are interested in tracking chimpanzees, Mahale and Gombe are your best options, where Gombe is suitable throughout the year and Mahale, the dry season around October.  

Other Considerations

Trekking Mount Kilimanjaro / Mt Meru

Mt Meru

Mt. Meru is Arusha National Park’s most famous landmark. Reaching 4,566m, it is the fifth highest mountain in Africa. Until as recently as 250,000 years ago, Mt. Meru used to be at a similar height as Mt. Kilimanjaro, till volcanic activity and massive eruptions decimated its eastern wall. Mt. Meru is a dormant volcano and the local people consider it as a Rain Deity.

Mount Meru is the 2nd highest mountain in Tanzania and makes for an an excellent trek

The trails of Mt. Meru are by far less crowded than Mt. Kilimanjaro. The trek is also much cheaper (about $700 per person) and is often done as a pre-Kilimanjaro acclimatization trek. There is a better probability of encountering wildlife on Mt. Meru, since there are lesser people here.

Mt Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa’s most famous mountain. Appearing on almost every product from beer to chocolate, currency and stamps in Tanzania, Mt Kilimanjaro is heavily present in people’s consciousness. This full guide to climbing Mt Kilimanjaro is descriptive and contains in depth information about everything you’d need to know before planning to climb Kilimanjaro.

Mount Kilimanjaro towers above the rest of the landscape.

Being one of the seven summits (the highest mountain in each continent), and the largest free-standing mountain in the world, Mt Kilimanjaro exerts an irresistible pull upon travellers. It is much helped by the fact that any person, with reasonable fitness, can attempt the climb with a decent chance of success as it does not require technical climbing knowledge. The only major problem that people face is acclimatizing to the high altitude. Mt Kilimanjaro has seven major routes and pacing your climb and opting for a longer route sees a significant improvement in the success rates for summiting (from below 50% on five day routes to over 96% on the eight day routes). It is to be noted that these climbs are not cheap, mostly due to the hefty park fees charged by TANAPA. The cost for a decent Kilimanjaro climb starts at $1400 and does not include the flights or the tips. A more detailed breakdown can be found in the article linked above and if you want to check a specific route or price, check here .

Visiting Coastal Zanzibar

Zanzibar is best known as the perfect beach holiday destination. Almost touching the equator, and a short distance away from the best Safari experiences in the world, zanzibar is steeped in culture, history and tourism.

Zanzibar is well known for it's Dhows and the old Stone Town

Zanzibar is comprised of two islands - Pemba and Zanzibar island (Unguja). Both of these are similar, with sandy palm-lined beaches, lagoons and mangrove swamps. Many people choose to unwind here after their African holiday (hikes, treks, bushwalks, safaris etc.). Zanzibar itself has plenty of attractions, starting from its relaxing beach atmosphere, the atmosphere of Zanzibar Town (or old Stone Town) with its fascinating buildings, the coral reefs off the coasts that offer excellent diving and snorkelling opportunities and the plantations that earned it the name of ‘Spice Island’. Zanzibar is also where most tourists shop, as it offers a much wider selection and a wide range of small shops cater to everything that tourists might want to buy.

The northern part of Zanzibar around Nungwi, is also famous for the traditional Dhows that are built here, and has excellent beaches that cater to the increasing tourist population.

Most of the local airlines have a presence in Zanzibar or Pemba.

Tanzania Safari Tours

Safari Game Drive in the Mikumi National Park in Tanzania

Two Day Tanzania Safari

A two-day safari in Tanzania is worthwhile when you are short on time. The experience is usually short and intense and most of the travellers on such a time constraint usually visit the northern safari parks. Usually, the Safari companies split the time between Lake Manyara National park and Ngorongoro Crater. Starting at about US $400, you can find the details and pricing here:

Three Day Tanzania Safari

The three days Safari tours will usually cover any combination of :

Do keep in mind that it is better to spend the few days you have in one or two of these national parks, as it’ll be more relaxing. You will also be spending less time on the road and more time in the parks and that will give you a better chance of spotting a wider range of wildlife. You could combine the Lake Manyara National Park and Ngorongoro if you have limited time. Or just spend it in the Serengeti.

A family of Cheetahs seen on a Safari in Tanzania

Three days is actually a good time to spend in any single national park in the north. If you are only there for a day visit (if you cover one park per day), you will likely only be taken to the northern regions of the parks in Tarangire and/or Manyara. Three or four days in a single park will give you much more time to explore the almost deserted southern regions of the park.

Here are some examples of budget safaris , mid-tier safaris and luxury safaris spread out over three days in the Northern parks.

Four Day Tanzania Safari

A four day Safari gives you the flexibility to cover the three areas of Lake Manyara, Serengeti Plains and Ngorongoro crater. Though if you choose to visit all three, your visit may feel a bit rushed. The Safaris prices per person are around:

A hyena testing his luck with catching a flamingo at Lake Natron.

Five Day Tanzania Safari

Most budget safaris will take five days to cover the following regions:

These parks form the core of the northern Safari circuit in Tanzania and make for excellent viewing, especially in the dry season that lasts from July to October. Do note that the roads between these national parks are poor and the distance will take about five hours to cover by road. You can choose to visit all parks, but it is recommended that you limit

The prices per person usually hover around:

A week's safari will give you the best chance to explore the National Parks

One Week Tanzania Safari

With a week on hand, you can actually start to experience the national parks in the Northern Safari Circuit much better than a hurried day trip. You will usually cover Lake Manyara, then visit the Serengeti, then to Ngorongoro crater and finally to Tarangire National parks. The trip will also give you an opportunity to see the less visited, and equally populated with wildlife, regions of the parks. The prices for a week long safari are obviously higher than the shorter trips, but are much more satisfactory and relaxing. Costs are usually:

Day Safaris in Tanzania

Day Safaris usually go to one of the parks that are near the cities (usually departing from Moshi or Arusha). The Arusha National Park, Lake Manyara National Park, Tarangire National Park or Kilimanjaro National Park are excellent choices for day safaris. Budget Day safaris usually cost under US $300 and can be undertaken in almost any conservation area. Luxury Day Safaris or photography tours usually cost around US $500. Mid-tier ones are usually priced somewhere in between.

Tanzania Safari Parks

Serengeti

Area: 14,763 square km
Best Time to visit: November to May

The Serengeti is the most famous National park here. Being the oldest and the largest national park in Tanzania, many people consider the Serengeti to be Africa’s best Safari destination. The name Serengeti comes from Maasai and translates to ‘Endless Plains’ , which certainly seems fitting.

Elephant in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, Africa

The Serengeti is home to some of the greatest natural wildlife on land. It hosts millions of ungulates and is the stage on which the great wildebeest migration takes place. It is also home to a dense population of predators like the Lion, estimated at about 3000 individuals, and sighting a pride everyday on your Safari is not unusual. Cheetahs, though less populous, are also often seen here. Other predators include hyenas (very common), jackals, civets, servals and foxes. Other animals that you are likely to spot are of course the numerous wildebeest, zebras and gazelles. They form a major part of the ecosystem. Elephants, antelopes, giraffes and ostriches also offer spectacular sights.

Spread over a huge area measuring about 14,763 square kilometers, the Serengeti National Park is a part of the ecosystem of interconnected and bordering National parks, that allows for the natural movement of wildlife. It neighbours other conservation areas like the Maasai Mara in Kenya and  the Ngorongoro Conservation Area among other smaller game reserves.

Apart from rivers like the Mara and the Grumeti, there are no perennial sources of water in this area. Therefore, the rainfall plays an important role in the vegetation and hence the amount of food available for the wildlife here, which directly causes the Great Migration .

Wildebeest and Zebra herding in the Great Migration, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

The Great Wildebeest Migration is one of the main reasons why the serengeti is so famous. The migration consists mainly of about a million and a half wildebeest and a lesser number of zebras, gazelles and other animals, moving across the greater Serengeti in search of greener pastures. The migration starts from the southern region of the Serengeti and ends with the animals crossing into the Maasai Mara in Kenya over the Mara river. Though it is heavily dependent on the local seasonal cycle, the variation in the timings is because of the variation in the rainfall patterns. A general timings are as follows:

Elephant in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The wall of the crater can be seen in the background.

Ngorongoro

Area: 8,292 square km
Best Time to Visit : Throughout the year

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (the NCA) is a huge biosphere reserve where the Maasai people, whose photographs you have doubtless seen, live. There is also a really large variety of wildlife that is found in this area, the concentration of which has to be seen to be believed. Of the area, the Ngorongoro Crater is the region’s main attraction. It is technically a caldera, which means that the crater was formed by a volcano collapsing onto itself. It is the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera and the lush vegetation that grows inside the crater floor provides sanctuary to an extraordinary number of wildlife. The Ngorongoro crater has by far the densest population of the large mammals that can be seen in Africa, and besides three, is home to every other species of the region. The crater was formed by the violent implosion of a volcano, that was as big as Mt Kilimanjaro!

When you visit the Ngorongoro crater, you will, usually, be driving down from Arusha, passing through dense forests to reach Hero’s Point. This is the place from where you will first get a glimpse of the crater in all it’s glory. The crater floor lies around 600m below the rim, and the breathtaking view of miles of grassland is astounding. The crater itself occupies an area of 260 square kms, and looking down from the rim, you will be able to see the vast herds of animals. Elephants shrink down to the size of ants from this distance, so be prepared with your binoculars. Also, carry a jacket, as the crater rim experiences a drop in temperature during the night and early morning.

Safari car on game drive with animals around, Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania, which has a high density of wildlife.

Wildlife highlights

The concentration of wildlife here is the highest in Africa, especially the predators. Lions are one the area’s main attractions and are regularly spotted here.The most numerous large predators are the hyena, and you are sure to spot one, as their density is almost two per square kilometer here. Cheetahs, Leopards, jackals are all present here.

The grassland covering the crater floor is an excellent grazing ground and as such supports large numbers of wildebeest and zebra (about 15 to 18 thousand in total). It is also home to the buffalo, Gazelles (both Thomson’s and Grant’s), small herds of Tsessebe and other grazing animals.

Lions in the Ngorongoro Crater, which has the highest density of predators in Africa.

Elephants are mainly found along the forest and the Swamp regions here. It is a curious aspect that most of the elephants found here are old and bulls, which means that the are large tuskers.

Hippos are mainly concentrated near the Mandusi Swamp and the Ngoitokitok springs. Another special resident of the crater is the black rhino.They are a rare and very shy species and are usually found near thick vegetation. Surprisingly, this is not so in the crater. Here they have a predictable routine, where they spend the night in the Lerai forest, and the day near Lake Magadi

Surprisingly, the Impala and the Giraffe are two common species that aren’t found in the crater. This may be because of the lack of suitable grazing or their inability to descend down the steep crater walls.

How to get to Ngorongoro

You will be traveling to the Ngorongoro crater from Arusha, and the most populated settlement enroute is Karatu. The trip can take anywhere between three to four hours, mostly because, once you cross the Entrance gate ( which takes about three hours to reach), you will have to travel off road, and only 4x4 vehicles are allowed on the crater floor.

The timings here are from 7 am to 6 pm and these are strictly enforced by the authorities.

Lake Manyara

Area: 330 square km
Best Time to Visit: June to September, though it offers good wildlife viewing throughout the year

Two young lions sleeping on a tree branch in the Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania

The Lake Manyara National Park, which lies on the Northwest Shore of Lake Manyara, is a small area that is surprising in the diversity of wildlife found here. The Lake Manyara National Park is most famous for its tree climbing lions, besides the incredible variety of birdlife and large tuskers (Elephants). The tree climbing lions draw many tourists to this region and though the phenomenon is well documented, the reasons behind why these lions climb trees is unknown, but it has been noted that they favour certain trees over others.

The Lake itself comprises of two thirds of the National Park. The other third is varied land and comprises of grasslands, acacia woodlands, rough and rocky slopes and lush forestland.

Animals you can see here : Elephants are the most popular animals for tourists here, besides the tree climbing lions. The other wildlife you can spot here are giraffes, buffalo, different antelopes, blue monkeys, baboons, hippos, impalas and warthogs.

Lake Manyara is also a haven for ornithologists, with over 350 species of birds here , the most famous of which are the flamingoes, the grey-headed kingfisher and the long-crested eagle. Most commonly spotted are the barbets, kingfishers, bee-eaters, the massive ground hornbill and different pelicans.

Also worth a mention is Lake Natron, which lies a short distance away and is famous as the breeding grounds for flamingos.

Flamingos are a familiar sight in the National Park

How to reach Lake Manyara

From Arusha, the Lake Manyara National Park entry gate lies about a 120 km, which is about two hours away. Look out for signs pointing to Mto wa Mbu (interestingly, this translates to The River of Mosquitoes), which is an area comprising of three villages, from where you turn off the main road for Lake Manyara. Mto wa Mbu is the base for the budget safaris that operate in the region.

Tarangire National Park

Area:  2,850 square km
Best Time to Visit :  June to October

The Giant Baobab trees tower over the rest of the landscape Photo by Leon

The Tarangire National Park is a very interesting area. Not as famous as some of its neighbours, it is one of the best places to for viewing wildlife in the dry season, when animals congregate around the water available because of the Tarangire river (after which the park is named). The Tarangire National park lies bang in the middle part of the portion of the Great Rift Valley passing through Tanzania.

The general area of the National Park is drier than the Serengeti and the main time that it comes magically alive is during the dry season in the later half of the year. The Tarangire river is surrounded by interesting vegetation. The well named “Elephant Grass” that grows here is concentrated in dense patches and grows tall enough to hide an elephant!

Tarangire is well known for it's large elephant population

The Tarangire National Park is also famous for the unusually large populations of Elephants and the Giant Baobab trees. It is also well known for the Marula fruit trees, which animals gorge upon and the resulting mixture ferments in their stomach, causing them to get drunk.

During the dry season, animals from the southern regions of Tanzania start migrating towards the Masai Mara in Kenya. The Tarangire River, with its perennial waters, attracts them and the river banks are a great place to spot wildlife during this time. It is especially known for the unusually high population of elephants where people report seeing over three hundred elephants over the course of a day.

Tarangire, of course, has many other animal species. But are a little difficult to spot because of the denser vegetation here. Some of the other animals that can be found here include lions, leopards, oryx and the gerenuk - a very interesting creature popularly called the Giraffe Gazelle.

Tarangire is a haven for birdwatchers and hosts about 400 to 500 species of birds.  

A flock of Ostriches seen in Tarangire, which is well known for it's bird population

How to Reach Tarangire National Park

You will mostly be coming to the Tarangire National Park from Arusha, about a 100km away. Taking the main road to Dodoma, the Tarangire National Park lies about 7km off the main road, where you would turn offroad from from Kwa Kuchinja.

Arusha National Park

Area: 542 square km
Best Time to Visit: June to September

The Arusha National is a small area near Arusha in the Northeast region of Tanzania. The National park is most famous for Mount Meru, which is the second highest mountain in Tanzania, and lies about 60 km away from Mt Kilimanjaro.

The Arusha National Park is one of the most easily accessible ones with the main gate being just 25 km away from the city. The city of Moshi is about 59 km away and the Kilimanjaro International Airport just 35 km. If you are looking for a walking safari in Tanzania, Arusha is one of the better National Parks to offer them.

The Arusha National Park is small and despite the varied wildlife, is overshadowed by the incredible game viewing experience of the neighbouring areas. It is mostly neglected by the Safari Operators as it offers limited possibilities of seeing the Big Five game animals.

Forest primates like the colobus monkey are frequently spotted in Arusha National Park, Tanzania

It is the place of choice if you want to see forest primates like the colobus and the blue monkeys. Other large animals include leopards, hyenas, giraffes, zebras, hippos, buffalo, antelopes and Elephants. Though the Elephants are mainly found in the forest zone around Mount Meru.

Selous

Area: 54,600 square km
Best Time to Visit: June to November

The Selous Game Reserve is the largest game reserve in Africa. It is located in Southeast Tanzania. Though Selous (pronounced Seloo) holds larger number of animals, the density of wildlife here is lower. Interestingly, this huge reserve no permanent structures.

Bordering Mozambique’s Niassa Game reserve, the Selous-Niassa forms Africa’s most important conservation area. It contains about 10% of the elephants present in the entire African continent (about 70,000), and is home to large numbers of wildebeest, zebras, giraffes and  impalas. It also contains the largest buffalo and black rhino population in Africa and huge numbers of hippos and lions. It is also home to the rare African wild dog, and Selous is the only place where they are seen regularly. Selous is home to about 30% of the entire population of the African wild dog.

Tourists on a boat trip on the Rufiji river watching Hippos, Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania. Selous was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.

The area of Selous accessible to the public is relatively small and most of it is divided into private hunting concessions. Since there are lesser government regulations applicable to these areas, there are a variety of activities that are available. These range from bush walks, boat trips, night drives, fly fishing and camping.

Ruaha

Area: 20,226 square km
Best Time to Visit: June to November

The Ruaha National Park lies in the central region of Tanzania and is the largest National Park in Tanzania, since the addition of the Usangu Game Reserve and other wetlands to the park in 2008. It is one of the best places for a safari in Africa, though not many people visit this national park as compared to the northern Tanzania Safari circuit. The semi-arid region is particularly famous for the giant Baobab trees and the density of Elephants. Besides these two icons, Ruaha is well known for the volume of different game that can be seen here as well as the astounding variety of mammal and bird species (over 570). Big cats like the cheetah, African leopard and lion are regularly spotted and Ruaha holds about 10% of the world population of Lions.

Leopard resting on a branch, watching a group of baboons. Taken in the Ruaha national park.

The road conditions of the tracks leading to Ruaha are quite bad, and the internal roads are quite rough as well. Consider flying in to Ruaha, if you have back trouble.

How to get to Ruaha

You can either fly into Ruaha or drive down to the park as it is well connected by the Dar es Salaam highway. By road, it is about a five hour drive from both Mbeya and Morogoro.

Gombe

Area: 52 square km
Best Time to Visit: Throughout the year

Lying on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, this forested and mountainous National park is a haven for chimpanzees. The Gombe Stream National Park is the smallest national park in Tanzania. It is one of the two parks in the country, where you can track chimps. Jane Goodall’s seminal study on chimpanzees was conducted on the banks of the Gombe Stream, where her Research Centre is located. The chimps here are some of the most approachable primates in the wild, as they have been habituated to human presence since the 1960s. The park has about a 100 chimps, divided across three communities.

Female chimpanzee with her young in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania

Chimpanzees are very closely related to humans and are susceptible to the same diseases, despite having much lower immunity. Therefore, you will not be allowed to participate in the tracking, if you are unwell (even a mild common cold can wreak havoc in the chimpanzee population). Besides chimpanzees, other primates like the olive baboons, the colobus, blue, red-tailed and vervet monkeys are found here, as are bushpigs, snakes and leopards. There are also over 200 varieties of birds to be found in this small area and visitors can swim and snorkel in Lake Tanganyika. With crystal clear waters and about a 100 different varieties of colorful cichlid fish, it is an unforgettable experience.

Though most of the visitors fly in, the Gombe Stream is easily accessible from Kigoma and transport like buses and cabs are available and is more suited for independent trekkers.

Katavi

Area: 4470 square km
Best Time to Visit: August to November

The Katavi National Park is Tanzania’s third largest National Park, yet remains the least visited of the major reserves in the country. It has therefore become the go-to destination of those looking for an authentic bush experience. The best time to visit Katavi is from August to November, during the late dry season. The region’s rivers and floodplains then attract large number of wildlife.

Some of the game that can be seen here are elephants, lions, buffalos and hippos. All of them are commonly spotted. Katavi’s excellent wildlife and low tourist numbers have earned it the moniker of Africa’s best kept secret.  

Katavi is known as Africa's best kept secret.

Mahale

Area: 1613 square km
Best Time to Visit: From July to early November

The Mahale Mountains National Park is famous for the chimpanzee tracking experience it offers.  The largest known population of chimpanzees calls Mahale home. One of the most beautiful National Parks in Africa, Mahale is bordered by Lake Tanganyika. The crystal clear waters of the lake, set against a background of thickly forested mountains adds to the picturesqueness.

The chimpanzees here are used to human presence and it is not unusual to have a close encounter with one of them on the trail. In fact, the government mandated guidelines set a limit of 10m, that you should try to maintain.

This Male Chimpanzee pauses to wait for the rest of the family to catch up in the Mahale Mountains, Tanzania.

The best time to visit is towards the end of the dry season around October. Mahale is also famous for the colourful birds that can be seen here.  Most people fly-in to Mahale as it is the most convenient option available and the majority of visitors here arrange an organized tour, rather than travel independently.

Mikumi

Area: 3230 square km
Best Time to Visit: June to October

The third largest National Park in Tanzania, the Mikumi National Park lies close to Dar es Salaam and consists of classic African Savanna and forested hills, bordered by the Uluguru Mountains to the North and the Selous Game Reserve in the south.

Giraffes in a rainstorm on the African plains in Mikumi, Tanzania.

The best time to visit Mikumi is towards the end of the dry season, when the wildlife congregates around the water in the area. Animals found here in large numbers include zebras, buffalos, elephants and lions. As are troops of vervet monkeys, babboons, antelopes, waterbucks and giraffes.  

Mikumi is also known for the incredible variety of birds found here and over 400 species have been recorded in this region.

Mikumi is well connected by road from Dar es Salaam and it takes about four hours to reach by road.

Mkomazi

Area: 3,234 square km
Best Time to Visit: June to October

Located to the east of Mt Kilimanjaro, Mkomazi is essentially the southern extension of Kenya’s Tsavo National Park. The Mkomazi National Park is an important area because it is home to many species which are rare or are found only in this this region. It is also an important bird sanctuary (listed officially as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area) and has over 400 species.

Mkomazi was formally registered as a game reserve in 1951 and was declared a National Park in 2008. Though not famous for its game viewing opportunities, Mkomazi has the advantage of beautiful scenery, views of Mount Kilimanjaro, and solitude.

Family of Giraffes seen in the Mkomazi National Park

How to get to Mkomazi

Starting from Moshi, you take the Dar es Salaam Highway and reach the town of Same ( about an hour and a half away). From Same, the entrance gate to Mkomazi is a short distance away

Saadani

Area: 1,062 square km
Best Time to Visit: June to August

Saadani was, till very recently, a very obscure area and faced heavy challenges with poaching. Efforts taken to crack down on poaching by using the adjacent villages to aid in the conservation effort has yielded some results. The Saadani National Park is the only such sanctuary here which borders the Indian Ocean and has a host of activities like bush walks, game drives, bird watching and boat trips. These serve to attract tourists as it is the closest National Park from Zanzibar.

Zebras in the early morning mist in the National Park

The easiest way to get to Saadani is from Dar es Salaam by road. It takes about four and a half hours by road as you circle around Saadani and approach it from the north . Zanzibar, though closer, is an island separated by a sliver of the Indian Ocean and taking a ferry and then driving down is the best option, besides flying.

Tanzania Safari Prices

The Prices of a Tanzania Safari can sometimes surprise many people. I’ve tried to give a full breakdown of costs here, and hope that this helps get a better idea of what you are paying for.

Your Safari Price Includes:

Your Safari Price Excludes:

Hot air balloons preparing for departure in the Serengeti

Tanzania Budget Safari

Most Safaris tend to cover as many areas as possible, unless directed otherwise. This is especially true of Budget Safaris, which cover the Serengeti, Manyara, Ngorongoro and Tarangire in five days. This may not actually be the best way to spend your time as the distances between the reserves and poor road conditions can mean that you are spending about five hours on the road.

Most parks offer two slots for Safaris, one in the morning and one in the afternoon and they close in the evening (about 6 pm), so visits to the parks can feel rushed if you are travelling a long distance and just cover one NP in a day. It is better to plan for fewer reserves if you have less time and experience the best region, which depends on the time of the year you visit.

The basic feature of the budget safari is that you will usually be spending your nights in a public campsite. between the budget safaris. The approximate rates you can expect to pay for a budget safari are as below:

These include your pickup and drop from/to the airport, all meals, entrance fee, taxes etc. The things not included, are usually the tips, and your accommodation before and after the Safari.

A Tanzania Safari has some excellent places to camp

Tanzania Lodge Safari

A Lodge Safari is a much better way to experience the wildlife. Lodges are usually located closer to the game reserves, which means they offer more flexibility to your itinerary. It is easier to relax and you sleep in a cabin / lodge in a comfortable bed. The difference between a public campsite and a lodge safari is quite noticeable and you will return from your safari exhausted, but happy.The approximate rates you can expect to pay for a budget safari are as below:

Tanzania Luxury Safari

A Luxury Safari is by far the best way to get up close and experience the wildlife in Tanzania. Lodges or canvas tents will usually be extremely comfortable, and the food impeccably cooked. If you are staying in one of the luxury canvas tents, it will be a spacious and comfortable glamping experience. Expect en-suite facilities, four-poster beds draped in mosquito nets and river-view verandas overlooking a the savannah. A luxury experience is usually so good, that you’ll find it hard to leave. You will be able to have every whim (almost) catered for. Not only will your experience be more enjoyable, but also much more comfortable and relaxed.

A black rhinoceros, classified as a critically endangered species. Image taken in the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania.

Tanzania National Park Fees

If you have booked your safari through an operator, this is something that will be covered in the cost of your Safari. On the other hand, if you are on a self-drive safari, you will have to bear these fees yourself. You can pay them at the entry gate via a Visa or a MasterCard, as cash payments are not accepted. Park fees vary from park to park and the fees (per adult) for the more popular ones are as below:

Your driver and guide will be the person with up-to-date knowledge of where the game will be found

Tipping

The prices quoted to you should include the vehicle hire and fuel, the cost of hiring your driver and guide, Hotel Accommodation and meals. They should also include the Government mandated Camping fees, Park Entry fees.

Do be prepared to tip your driver / guide as they are paid very poorly and tipping is mandatory in practice, if not in theory.

Side Note: Tipping here is viewed very similar to the American Service Industry ( restaurants ). It forms the major part of the porters / guides / driver’s salaries. Be generous if you can, especially if they have done a good job.

The expected tips are about US $10 per day (for your group).

Other Costs

Flights to Tanzania

You can read more about these below , but a typical flight to Tanzania will cost about USD 700 to 1500. This depends on your starting location, your ending location, your travel dates and when you book. The following should give an approximate idea:

These figures are only indicative. The airline industry is quite variable in terms of price and depends not only on the distance and fuel costs, but also on expected traffic on the routes (demand), competition (supply), local and global events, personal information about you and even the time of the day that you book.

A group arriving in a small airplane at the Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania

More interesting are the internal flights that connect the various national parks. A host of carriers, mentioned below, connect the major town of Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, Arusha, Kilimanjaro to the national Parks like Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara, Selous, Kigoma, Mahale Mountains, Mwanza and others. And almost all National Parks, game reserves and conservation areas have a nearby airstrip.

The Airlines:

Most flights to Tanzania fly into Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO, though often abbreviated as KIA). JRO is well served by international airlines like KLM, Ethiopian Airlines, Air Kenya, Rwandair, Turkish Airlines etc. This article gives more details about flying into JRO.

Most Safari Operators will include a pickup from the Airport, so you don’t have to worry about travelling from the Airport to your accommodation.

Make sure that you are well prepared and have everything that you will require on your Safari.

Tanzania Safari Packing List

Your packing list will heavily depend on the kind of safari you are going for and the kind of traveller you are. If you are a frequent traveller who likes to travel light and without too many constraints, you can do so with just a few clothes, your toiletries and your medical kit. However, if you want to be sure that you will have everything that you might need at any given time, you will, of course, bring everything along.

It is also prudent to take into account the duration of your stay, the weight limits on your flight, and other constraints like how you will travel on ground in Tanzania. If required, you can get a hold of the majority of the things you would need in the major centres of Tanzania. It does cater to a huge population of tourists, and it is unlikely that you wouldn’t find something that you have forgotten, in a major city.

Here is a list of what I recommend that you should take:

Remember that everything you wear, will get dusty!  

A note for women: Tanzania is a country with a large muslim population and it is also prudent to keep in mind the cultural preferences and sensibilities of the local community. Long skirts, at least the ones that cover the knees, are ideal. In the game reserves, shorts or trousers can also be worn, as in the beach resorts, where the locals are familiar with tourists. Also, note that bare shoulders and exposed cleavage is frowned upon.

Besides your basic camera equipment, which depends heavily on your choice, you will need the following:

If you want to click pictures of the locals, always remember to take permission before you photograph someone. It is unacceptable to click photographs unless you have their permission. Many locals here will refuse, and some may ask for a small donation. It is an accepted protocol here and as such, you should respect their wishes for privacy.

This is another blog post that discusses a packing list for a Safari.

Different Types of Safaris

Jeep safari

It is to be noted that the roads you will be travelling over in Tanzania aren’t in great condition, especially during the rainy season. The car ride that gets you to the remote places in the bush is sometimes nicknamed the African Massage.

A jeep is actually one of the better ways to experience Tanzania’s National Parks. Photo by undefined

That said, travelling by road is actually one of the better ways to experience Tanzania’s National Parks. Considering that about 25% of the land area here is divided into conservation areas, driving to your Safari destination actually helps you get a better feel of the changing landscape. Driving also helps keep the cost down. The time taken to travel between the national parks hover between three to five hours from one of the bigger towns. Some of the national parks, like the Ngorongoro crater, do not allow you inside unless you are in a safari vehicle and have an ranger with you. Usually, the cars used are jeeps of varying makes, but the most popular one is the VW Kombi minivan, which seats eight and has a raised roof for better game viewing.

Usually your Jeep Safari will include a packed picnic lunch, and you will have an English-speaking driver-cum-guide who will be responsible for your experience and safety.

The higher end Safaris do not place miles/ fuel consumption restrictions on your driver-guide, which means that you will be free to scout as far as required during your drive.

A jeep safari gives excellent opportunities to spot wildlife

Movement within the National Parks is usually limited to a 4x4 vehicle, usually a traditional Jeep if the number of people are less, or the eight-seater for more.

Note that the road to leading to certain parks, especially the Ruaha National Park, the Serengeti National Park and the Selous Game Reserve are quite rough. If you have serious back problems, it is recommended that you fly down to these regions. Though more expensive, the light aircrafts offer excellent air connections within Tanzania and cut down on travel time. Some private concessions bordering most National Parks, also offer Night Drives, which are an excellent variation and a chance to see the wildlife that comes out at night.

Walking safari

Unlike the National Parks, which have strict rules regarding whether you can even set foot out of your vehicle, most private reserves offer excellent walking Safaris. A walking safari can be experienced by anyone who is reasonably fit. Though you may not get many large mammal wildlife photo opportunities as you would from a vehicle, a walking safari in Tanzania is a much more thrilling experience. Some of the areas which have the most exciting walking Safaris are Chem Chem, which borders Lake Manyara, Selous Game reserve, where guided bush walks and boat trips complement your safari drive, the Mahale Mountains and Gombe National Parks, which lie beside the beautiful lake Tanganyika and offer some of the best Chimpanzee tracking experiences in Africa. Walking Safaris are also the best way to see the ever-present and huge variety of birds in the Game Reserves and National Parks in Tanzania. The best walking safaris though, take place away from the National Parks and in the private concessions which border them.

Discovering African wildlife on a walking safari

While taking part in a bush walk, pay particular attention to the recommendations and warnings of your guide. Don’t wander too close to water bodies, as hippos are the major cause for human fatalities. If something comes between them, and the safety of water, they tend to panic and attack. Wearing good boots when walking in the bush will prevent deadly snake bites. More dangerous and lethal than any animal though, are the mosquitoes. Be well prepared with clothes, mosquito repellents and anti-malarials when you choose to go on a walking safari in Africa.

Horse riding safari

A horseback safari is one of the more unique Tanzania Safaris that can be experienced here. The main attraction is to explore the heart of Africa, like the early pioneers would have, and to be honest, watching elephants from horseback is a much more intense experience than from a 4x4. The northern parts of Tanzania are well suited for horseback rides, with open fields, incredible views of Mt Kilimanjaro.
Horse riding safaris through the northern areas surrounding Mt Kilimanjaro area are usually between 4 and 10 days long. While on the trail, you will explore diverse areas and the changing landscapes and 360 degree views from horseback are incredible. The safari passes through landscapes ranging from exploring coffee plantations, visiting Masai-land, riding through tropical rainforests and rocky regions to the savannah.

A horse riding safari is a much more intimate way to experience the African wildlife

Even if you're not an experienced rider or you have a tight time schedule, some operators and agencies offer trips around the Kilimanjaro area. Though these will not be a hardcore safari experience, you will be able to get an inkling of African culture as you will mostly be riding around the traditional farms alongside experienced guides.

Horse-riding is not just spectacular around the Kilimanjaro, and we offer various horse-riding safaris in other countries, too. South Africa, Malawi, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia are excellent countries for horse-riding.

Birdwatching

After the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania is home to the continent’s second largest variety of bird species, and ranks amongst the top birdwatching destinations in the world. With over a thousand different species recorded (~1130 according to the latest count), it is impossible to give a short introduction to the rich avifauna of Tanzania. A comprehensive list of the bird species of Tanzania is found here and here (a list put up by Tanzania Birding, an excellent resource for those interesting in Birdwatching and other ornithological pursuits in Tanzania). First time visitors and novice birders are stunned at the mindblowing variety of birds here and even beginners can spot upto a hundred different species a day. Tanzania is not only known for the large volumes and species in Africa, but also the number of endemic species (numbering in the 30s) - species of birds that are only found in Tanzania.

A Tree full of Vultures in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Varied bird species can be found in every game reserve and national park, but some of the better known ones for birdwatching safaris are Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro, Tarangire, Arusha, Mikumi, Lake Victoria, Ruaha, Saadani, Serengeti, the Udzungwa and Mahale Mountains.

Day Trips

Day trips in Tanzania are the best way to get a quick glimpse at a particular conservation area that you want to visit, but don’t have enough time. Day trips here usually start from Arusha, Moshi or Marangu, unless you stay overnight in a lodge. The excursions are ideal for those short on time as they allow you to visit the National Park and view the diverse wildlife or spend some time with the indigenous people of Tanzania. Day trips will usually include a pick-up and a  drop-off and a picnic lunch along with mineral water.

Some of the best day trips can be experienced in the National Parks of Arusha, Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Kilimanjaro and the Ngorongoro.

Tanzania Travel

Tanzania Visa

You will require a Visa for Tanzania if you plan on visiting the country for a Safari. Do budget for about US $50 for the visa. An Ordinary / Tourist visa should be sufficient. A single entry visa enables you to enter Tanzania once and is valid for 90 days from the date of issue.

Also note that this section covers only the visa for entry to Tanzania. If you are planning to visit Kenya or any of the neighbouring countries, or planning to travel over land from them, you will also have to get a visa for that country. Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda offer a single visa under an East Africa Common Visa plan and though Tanzania is not a member of this initiative, it makes sense to get that visa if you are planning a visit to these three countries as well.

The easiest way is to obtain Tanzania Visa on arrival at any entry point into Tanzania such as at Airports or Border posts. The most common ones are Dar-es-salaam International Airport, Kilimanjaro International Airport, Zanzibar International Airport, Namanga (Tanzania - Kenya Border Post to the North), Tunduma (Tanzania - Malawi Border post to the South), Taveta and Holili (Tanzania - Kenya Border post to the North East). Along with your visa application documents, you will need a passport that is valid for at least six months, a few passport size photographs. If you are getting a visa (on arrival) at these, you will have to pay in cash.  

US Tourist Visa Fees

The cost of a tourist visa for US citizens is US $100 on arrival. The Tanzanian embassy website also notes that US citizens are allowed multiple entries on the same visa. This is valid for 90 days from the date of issue.

Other countries tourist visa fees for Tanzania

A Single-entry tourist visa costs US $50 or £40 on arrival.
A double entry visa costs £70 or US $100

The tourist visa is valid for 90 days from the date of issue. You can re-enter Tanzania on the same visa (providing it is still valid) if you are coming into Tanzania for a second time from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda or Burundi

Documentation

It is best to keep copies of Documents with you as well as on your email, in case you lose them. I would especially advocate for keeping photocopies of your passport and visa handy. It is far easier to get a new one issued, in case one is lost or stolen, if you have these.
The list of Documents to keep a copy of include :

Do report any theft to the local police as this is an important step to claiming insurance. I also email a copy of all these to myself and a few people I trust, before I leave. I also keep a full copy of my planned itinerary and where I expect to be on each day. Scannable is an excellent app that I use for taking copies of my documents.

Insurance

It is important that you buy insurance before you travel. Make sure that your insurance fully covers hospitalization and repatriation. If you are planning on trekking or climbing ( eg. Mount Kilimanjaro or Mt. Meru), you need to ensure that your insurance covers high altitude trekking as well - this will increase the cost of your insurance, but will be well worth it.

Tanzania Vaccinations

Tanzania is still a developing nation and as such there is still a lot to be done for the Public Health. What this means for you, dear traveller, is a pre-emptive strike against pathogens and germs that threaten to mess with your health and your holiday.

The best way by far is to visit your doctor about six weeks before your trip and ask them about the innoculations and vaccinations required for Tanzania . This ensures that you will get the latest information about the health conditions there and be prepared for it! Briefly, these are the vaccinations you should worry about:

Even though each vaccination has been mentioned separately, many of these will be combined into one dose. You can read more about the vaccinations required for Kenya and Tanzania here.

Though not covered under vaccinations, you should consider taking a course of anti-malarial tablets. Mosquitoes will not be a problem when you are climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, since your starting point itself is higher than the maximum altitudes where these mosquitoes are found (around 1200m). But you should consider taking them because you are at risk before and after your climb. Tanzania is considered as one of the highest risk countries for contracting Malaria. The two most recommended antimalarials are Malarone and Doxycycline. Do consult your doctor before taking them. Also, liberally use mosquito repellent, which are now available in the form of easy to carry and apply sprays, and wear long sleeved clothes. This helps with all mosquito related diseases like zika, yellow fever, dengue and chikungunya

Maasai men in traditional dress. Taken in northern Tanzania

Swahili Phrases

Interestingly, the word Safari means “going on a journey” in KiSwahili, which is derived from the Arabic word ‘Safara’ (to travel), which itself has Indian roots, in the word ‘Safar’ meaning journey. On your Safari trip, there are many phrases that you will hear, or require, and this small guide should help you get the basics.

Common Phrases:

Common Greetings:

Regular Conversations:

The below phrases in Maa (the language of the Masai) will also be useful:

Maasai men in grazing their cattle in Tanzania.

You will find yourself requiring a few of these:

Here are a few others you just may need:

Places

Transport

Accommodation

Food

Numbers

1 - moja

........

10 - kumi60 - sitini
2 - mbili11 - kumi na moja70 - sabini
3 - tatu12 - kumi na mbili80 - themanini
4 - nne20 - ishirini90 - tisini
5 -  tano21 - ishirini na moja100 - mia
6 - sita22 - ishirini na mbili200 - mia mbili
7 - saba30 - thelathini1000 - elfu
8 - nane40 - arobaini2000 - elfu mbili
9 - tisa50 - hamsini100,000 - laki

Along with English, Swahili, is the official languages in Kenya and Tanzania.Swahili is the most widely spoken language in sub-Saharan Africa.

A Final Word

I hope this guide has been useful in helping you plan for your Tanzanian Safari. In case you have further questions, my email address is kshaun@alienadv.com  . You can also visit the AlienAdv blog  , browse our website  for various trips and generally feel free to reach out to me regarding your adventures. The best way to support our work would be to book a trip  via AlienAdv. If you would like to see more guides like this, you can buy this guide on Amazon as well. I would be glad to receive suggestions on how to improve the guide and some of your experiences on your African Safari.

Cheers!