Expert Reviews – Tanzania
Tim is a travel writer who has covered 10 African countries for Lonely Planet's Africa, East Africa and West Africa guidebooks.
96 people found this review helpful.
Crowded Favorites and Well-Kept Secrets
Tanzania is home to Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater; and this fact alone makes a solid case for declaring it Africa’s best safari country. But, of course, there’s much more that just these two places. Most visitors stick to the famed Northern Circuit – and why not? Besides the aforementioned destinations, with their unbelievable density of Big Five species and sublime beauty, this amazing region around the gateway city of Arusha also includes Tarangire (huge dry season herds) and Lake Manyara (flamingos, tree-climbing lions and Rift Valley scenery) national parks which are awesome in their own right.
But what surprises people, and attracts many safari veterans, is the quality of the parks in the rest of Tanzania, which has set aside a full one-third of its land as wildlife preserves. Some of the other safari destinations, like Katavi National Park, Ruaha National Park, and Nyerere National Park (formerly Selous Game Reserve), offer wildlife watching on par with the more famous parks, but without the crowds. In these places, the deep wilderness experience is a major draw, but there’s no need to sacrifice on comfort since the tented camps and lodges are as good as anywhere else. You can also visit habituated chimpanzees in Gombe National Park, where Jane Goodall did her revolutionary research, and Mahale Mountains National Park, the most remote national park in East Afric
And when you consider all the other options available to mix up your African experience – scuba diving and beach bumming on Zanzibar; mingling with proud traditional tribes like the Maasai, Barabaig and Sandawe; and climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, to name a few – it becomes clear why it doesn’t get any better than Tanzania.
Mary is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many Lonely Planet guidebooks, including South Africa, Tanzania, East Africa and Africa.
55 people found this review helpful.
Tanzania – Classic African Safari Destination
Few areas of the continent offer the amount, variety and accessibility of wildlife that Tanzania does, against such a scenic backdrop. Wildlife is abundant, species diversity excellent, and evocative acacia- and baobab-studded landscapes provide a wonderful setting. Most of Tanzania’s parks are easily accessible via decent roads or regular flights, the political situation is generally stable and Tanzanians have a well-deserved reputation for the warm welcome they extend to visitors.
Rounding all this off are the country’s three distinct safari ‘circuits’ – Northern, Southern and Western – each of which is unique in terms of animal populations and topography. Spot elephants silhouetted against the backdrop of Mt Kilimanjaro, hear chimpanzees hooting on the forested slopes of Mahale Mountains National Park, feel the pounding hooves of wildebeest on the Serengeti plains and float past snorting hippos on a boat safari down the Rufiji River.
There is also so much to explore before and after your safari: relax on idyllic islands and beaches, hike through rolling hills, and visit colourful market towns. For the quality and variety of its wildlife watching, as well as for the overall travel experience, Tanzania tops my list of African safari destinations.
Stephen is a travel writer and avid conservationist whose work appears in prestigious magazines such as Africa Geographic and Travel Africa.
45 people found this review helpful.
Much More than a Migration Destination
For me, Tanzania is a country of two halves. Both hemispheres have been richly endowed with natural beauty and plentiful wildlife, but there are some big differences when it comes to the type of safari experience you’re looking for.
The northern safari circuit takes in the world-renowned Serengeti migration, exclusive Grumeti, iconic Ngorongoro Crater, elephant-rich Tarangire, Africa’s highest mountain (Kilimanjaro), scenic Lake Manyara and the historical and cultural hub of Zanzibar. These diverse attractions make for an incredible safari itinerary in a wildlife-rich region synonymous with natural beauty and animal sightings of the highest order. There is good reason why everyone, including myself, raves about the wildlife viewing, lodges and safari experiences on offer in northern Tanzania. While you are unlikely to have the place all to yourself, especially at migration time, a safari around the northern circuit delivers a phenomenal wildlife experience at any time of year (except for rainy April).
While the northern circuit is the more illustrious, I’m a strong advocate for exploring the south. The southern half of the country is far less visited and espouses a powerful sense of wilderness and wildness. The more remote south is the place experienced African safari connoisseurs escape to in search of wildlife without the crowds. Your logistics and travel arrangements might be more complicated, but your safari will be well worth the extra effort as you unlock some true African gems. From the huge wilderness expanses of the poaching-ravaged Nyerere NP (formerly Selous) to the massive herds that roam across Katavi and the Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystem, this is an extraordinary region indeed. Primate-lovers should include a visit to Gombe or the Mahale Mountains to see habituated chimpanzees, rounding off an incredibly memorable safari extravaganza in an amazingly diverse country.
Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.
41 people found this review helpful.
Africa’s Greatest Safari Destination
There is arguably no better safari destination than Tanzania. And, to be honest, I’m not even sure I should be using the word ‘arguably’ here! Tanzania’s superb network of wildlife reserves (including 22 national parks) is the most extensive in Africa, collectively covering a quarter of the country’s surface area, and harbouring around 20% of the continent’s large mammal biomass. It includes the justifiably renowned Serengeti National Park, the centrepiece of the world’s largest migratory ecosystem (around two million wildebeest and zebra, along with a well-fed entourage of lion, cheetah, leopard, hyena and various smaller predators) and lynchpin of a Northern safari circuit that also incorporates the superlative Ngorongoro Crater (the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera) and pretty Lake Manyara National Park, with its giant tuskers and tree-climbing lions.
Incredibly, however, Tanzania also hosts two other separate safari circuits of world-class quality. The under-publicised Southern safari circuit is dominated by the country’s two largest national parks. These are Nyerere National Park (formerly Selous Game Reserve), which reputedly supports the world’s largest surviving populations of elephant, buffalo, lion and African wild dog, and the even more untrammelled Ruaha National Park, whose wild baobab-strewn landscapes are home to plentiful elephants and large carnivores.
Then there is the Western safari circuit, where the underrated Katavi National Park, home to large numbers of lion and elephant, is complemented by the forested Mahale Mountains and Gombe National Parks (the latter made famous by Jane Goodall), which host typical Central African forest species, including habituated communities of common chimpanzee, which is the closest living relative to humans.
As if that weren’t enough, this compelling country is also the home of the world’s highest freestanding mountain in the form of Kilimanjaro (which straddles the border of Kenya but is climbable only from the Tanzanian side), as well as the alluring ‘spice island’ of Zanzibar with its postcard-perfect beaches and atmospheric Stone Town, and portions of Africa’s three largest lakes, Victoria, Tanganyika and Nyasa-Malawi. Better still, the Tanzanian people – drawn from more than 100 tribes, including the iconic Maasai, but united by the lingua franca of Swahili and a national ethos promoting tolerance and peace – are simply a pleasure to be around.
Kim is a travel writer who authored and updated over 15 guidebooks, including Lonely Planet's South Africa and Bradt's Tanzania guides.
36 people found this review helpful.
On the prowl
Tanzania is a wildlife photographer’s dream come true – even for wannabe National Geographic photographers like me. With one of the world’s largest and wildest animal populations, the country offers some of the best safari opportunities on the continent. Zebra, lion, elephant, antelope, flamingos, wildebeest, giraffe, cheetah, chimpanzees – you’ll find them all here. So don’t forget to pack your camera, some extra batteries, spare memory cards (or film if you still use it) and your charger.
The Serengeti National Park with its wide expanses of grassy plains and heaving annual migration is just the start. Nearby, Ngorongoro with its natural amphitheatre walls is home to some of Africa’s densest large mammal populations, while Lake Manyara is famous for its tree-climbing lions and flaming pink flamingos. All though form part of the well-trekked Northern Safari Circuit and are popular tourist hotspots. In peak season (July-August) it can get crowded with packs of khaki-clad tourists in safari vehicles jostling for position. But don’t let this put you off; all will surpass your wildest expectations as they did mine.
If you want to escape the tourist treadmill head south where you’ll find relatively untrammelled parks like Ruaha and Mikumi which still offer plenty of big game viewing albeit in less abundance to their northern counterparts. The southern safari circuit was in fact a major highlight of my last tip to Tanzania. Alternatively, head west where you can track chimpanzees in the thick forests of the Mahale Mountains and Gombe National Park, where Jane Goodall carried out her groundbreaking research. I’m still yet to personally tackle the parks in the west, but they’re high up on my bucket list.
When you do manage to lower your viewfinder, you’ll find there’s much more to Tanzania than famous parks and abundant wildlife. There’s Africa’s highest mountain, the majestic snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, vibrant, bustling towns such as Tanzania’s safari capital, Arusha, and, my personal favourite, Mwanza on Lake Victoria, pristine sandy beaches and stunning coral reefs. Not to mention a handful of irresistible islands including the mythical Zanzibar with its labyrinthine old Stone Town, ruined palaces and Persian baths. With so many choices on offer, the hardest thing is trying to fit everything in… Oh well, that just gives me another reason to return.
Sue is an award-winning writer who specializes in African travel and conservation. She writes for national newspapers, magazines, Rough Guides and Lonely Planet.
28 people found this review helpful.
The perfect safari destination
With almost a quarter of this vast country dedicated to wildlife reserves and national parks, Tanzania is justifiably regarded as Africa’s premier safari destination. It’s one of my favourite countries, not just for the bush, beaches and big peaks, but also for the genuine warmth and friendliness of its people.
The Parks themselves are as diverse as the wildlife that lives in them. The famous Northern Circuit covers the world renowned Serengeti, where frenzied wildebeest gallop across the plains on their annual migration; the dramatic Ngorongoro Crater, home to around 30,000 animals; and the often-overlooked yet pretty Tarangire and Lake Manyara National Parks. Then there’s the Southern Circuit, much more of a wilderness experience than its northern counterpart. Spanning 30,893 sq km, Nyerere (formerly Selous)is the largest national park in Tanzania, followed by Ruaha, one of the most scenically beautiful parks in the country. Any lovers of chimpanzees should head to Gombe National Park in the far west, made famous by renowned primatologist Jane Goodall. And close to the Malawian border lies a botanist’s paradise Kitulo National Park, the first park in tropical Africa to be created to protect its flora that includes 350 different types of plants, of which 45 are orchid species.
No summary of Tanzania would be complete without a reference to Kilimanjaro, which attracts over 35,000 trekkers every year. I climbed it in 2000, loving (almost) every minute of it and as my first high-altitude peak, it holds special memories. Technically, it’s like climbing an enormous hill, but its altitude of nearly 6000 metres makes it a huge challenge. Don’t underestimate this – go at a slow pace and drink plenty of fluids to increase your chances of success to the summit. Although the fifth highest peak in Africa, another less-climbed summit is Mount Meru in Arusha National Park, with wonderful views of Kili from its summit. At 4565 metres and taking only 3 days, it may seem an easy option but I hadn’t expected its unrelenting steepness – it’s the short, sharp shock of Africa’s Big Five mountains. Again, don’t underestimate it!
To recover from your efforts on safari or trekking, there are plenty of gorgeous Indian Ocean beaches. If you prefer less developed places, try the islands of Mafia or Pemba – the beaches may not be quite up to Zanzibar’s standards but the crowds are fewer and the pace of life is beautifully slow. Mafia is also an ideal place to swim with whale sharks – a truly special experience.
Alternatively, head to Rubondo Island on Lake Victoria – you wouldn’t want to swim in the croc-infested lake, but you can go tiger-fishing, bird-watching and track chimps in this Noah’s Ark of a nature sanctuary that’s home to giraffes and elephants too.
Lizzie is a reputed guidebook writer and author of the Footprint guides to South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
28 people found this review helpful.
East African landscapes at their best with the enticing additions of a Kilimanjaro climb or Zanzibar beach
Most itineraries in Tanzania are designed around the world-famous Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater, and for good reason. The fabulously impressive African landscapes and sheer concentration of game are the reasons they’re so popular, where I for one have always had incredibly rewarding sightings of the Big 5. The other lesser known Northern Circuit parks are rewarding in their own right too, and I particularly like the baobab-strewn Tarangire with its excellent elephant-watching.
With far fewer tourists compared to the north, the camps in the enormous reserves of the Southern Circuit tend to be seasonal, far apart and can only be visited on fly-in safaris or long road trips. The reward for me though is going on secluded game drives in vast areas of wilderness, which is refreshing from the sometimes crowded game circuits of the Serengeti. Equally difficult to get to are Gombe and Mahale on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, but they offer the few opportunities to see chimpanzees in the wild today, and their habitats are more reminiscent of Central Africa.
I always advise that careful planning is needed regarding when to go to Tanzania; the untarred tracks within the parks can be horrendously dusty in the dry season and alarmingly slippery in the wet, and being in the Serengeti at the right time to see the wildebeest migration is notoriously difficult to judge. Safari accommodation too needs a little bit of consideration; Tanzania offers a terrific range from tiny tented camps in sublime locations, to lodges that may seem overly large and busy, but are better suited for families and first-time safari goers.
The great advantage of going wildlife-watching in Tanzania is the ‘add-on’. In contrast to the flat plains, thousands of visitors each year achieve the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, and in my opinion, you just can’t beat a few days relaxing on a Zanzibar beach after the rigours of a road safari or mountain trek.
Gemma authored several Lonely Planet guidebooks, including the guides to Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa.
23 people found this review helpful.
Africa as I pictured it
I still remember the first picture of Africa I saw when I was a kid. Vast, stretching plains of undulating yellow grass, broken only by flat-topped acacia trees and the odd strolling giraffe, all set beneath the dome of a perfect blue sky. Well here’s the good news – it really does exist. Tanzania can guarantee immersion in the quintessential African landscape immortalized in a million films, album covers and cheap aftershave advertisements.
The country is divided into two distinct areas, or ‘circuits’. The Northern Circuit is the better known and most-visited of the two, consisting of the area surrounding the town of Arusha. The Northern Circuit’s main draw is the massive Serengeti ecosystem, encompassing the Ngorongoro Crater Highlands, which is one of the biggest remaining animal migration routes in the world. I love the Northern Circuit and would definitely recommend it to a first-time safarigoer, but I also always try to persuade people to get to the lesser-known Southern Circuit – Nyerere National Park (formerly Selous Game Reserve) and Ruaha National Park. Both of these are wild, remote and harder to get to than the northern parks. But some of the best safari experiences of my life have taken place in the south – the landscape is very dramatic, tourist numbers are much smaller and the lodges and camps have a personalized, ‘boutique’ feel.
Even more remote than Nyerere and Ruaha wilderness areas are Katavi and Mahale national parks in the west of the country. Mahale, only accessible by boat, offers the chance to watch the wild chimpanzees that inhabit its dense forest. Katavi, by contrast, offers wide open plains full of huge herds of buffalo and antelope, alongside rivers heaving with hippos and crocs. If you’ve got the time and the money, the west of Tanzania is a hidden gem you’ll share with only a handful of other visitors.
Mark is a travel writer who grew up in Africa and has written over 700 titles for CNN Traveller, Travel Africa, BBC Wildlife and others.
21 people found this review helpful.
As a safari destination Tanzania has it all!
Tanzania as a safari destination has it all. If this is your first safari and your ambition is to get some amazing sightings and rack up the big 5 as soon as possible, then Ngorongoro Crater is probably the best place in the world to do this. Head for the Serengeti, however, if you have time for a longer safari and your goal is to take time to roam – moving as a nomad with the vast herds, or simply scuttling across the savannah between the rock outcrops used as lookout posts by the Serengeti’s lion prides. The Serengeti remains for me (alongside Botswana’s Kalahari) one of the very best places in the world to experience the awe-inspiring vastness of the African wilderness. There is no feeling like being in the middle of the incomparable immensity of the savannah, with no other vehicle in sight, and a herd of wildebeest stretching towards the distant horizon.
Brian is an award winning travel writer, author of safari books and regular contributor to magazines such as BBC Wildlife and Travel Africa.
20 people found this review helpful.
Tanzania may be one of the world’s poorest countries but its national parks and game reserves are the crown jewels of Africa. First among equals is the Serengeti, probably the most famous wildlife refuge on the planet, a wilderness the size of Holland renowned for its lions and great migration of wildebeest and zebras that spend every year chasing the rains across its endless savannahs. It fits perfectly into the northern safari circuit along with three other fabulous big game sanctuaries: Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater and the hugely underrated Tarangire national park.
Wilder still are the great animal strongholds of Tanzania’s southern circuit. Nyerere (formerly Selous GR) is Tanzania’s biggest national park and the best place to go for the thrill of seeing wild dogs, while the Ruaha is even bigger than the Serengeti and a huge favourite with lion junkies like me. Wildest of all is Katavi, well worth going the extra mile to see, as are the chimps of Gombe Stream on the idyllic shores of Lake Tanganyika where Jane Goodall carried out her ground breaking research into the behaviour of these, our closest wild cousins. And after a week or two of life in the bush, where better to wash off the dust than on the coral sands of Zanzibar or the unspoilt islands of the Mafia archipelago?
Mike is an award-winning wildlife writer, former editor of Travel Zambia magazine and author of the Bradt Guide to Southern African Wildlife.
19 people found this review helpful.
While Kenya may be the African destination most synonymous with safaris, Tanzania – its larger neighbour – boasts Africa’s single most famous park, and arguably offers even more than Kenya in terms of variety and quantity of wildlife. The scale and wilderness of its magnificent landscapes suggests a endless world of possibilities, and after many years enjoying safaris across the continent it is certainly the country that I most want to explore.
The famous park is, of course, Serengeti, which hosts the vast annual migration of over one million wildebeest and other herbivores, plus a bonanza of other wildlife. It forms the centrepiece of the country’s celebrated ‘Northern Circuit’, which also includes Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara and Tarangire, each a spectacular wildlife destination in its own right and easily combined within a single package tour. The ‘Southern Circuit’ was less well known until relatively recently but now offers numerous exciting safari options. Based upon Nyerere NP (formerly Selous) – a vast park even larger than the Serengeti, where activities tend to centre on the Rufiji River – this circuit also takes in Ruaha, a remote destination that is more the home of the exclusive lodge than the package safari. Here the bush is very different from the open plains of Serengeti and wildlife highlights include wild dog.
As well as its famous game reserves, Tanzania offers some unique attractions all its own. There are the forested shores of Lake Tanganyika – home, at Mahale and Gombe, to Africa’s best chimp tracking; the snow-covered summit of Kilimanjaro, for safari-goers who need to stretch their legs (and lungs) after a week in a Landrover; and the beaches of Zanzibar and other Indian Ocean islands, on which to kick back and wash off all that safari dust.
Christopher is a British travel writer and has contributed to various Fodor's guidebooks and a range of travel magazines.
14 people found this review helpful.
The capital of safari in word and deed
If I think about everything that I imagined safari to be before I moved to South Africa and began travelling Africa, it turns out that what I imagined was Tanzania. For me, the striking variety of landscapes and the staggering density of big game are in a different league to anything else I have seen in Africa so far.
The Northern Circuit boasts what is surely the most celebrated park on the continent, the Serengeti, and few feelings will ever compare to the incredible moment when I saw a cheetah chase down a gazelle across the seemingly endless plains of this great wilderness, without another car in sight. Aside from playing host to the annual wildebeest migration, the Serengeti also boasts one of the largest lion populations in Africa. In fact, Tanzania is home to almost 40% of Africa’s entire lion population.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area is equally special, with roughly 25,000 mammals coexisting with more than 50,000 Maasai in an area the size of a small city, albeit not in the most harmonious of fashions at times. Human wildlife conflict is a big and complex issue in Tanzania, but from a tourist point of view it can add yet another layer of intrigue to the experience.
Lesser-known gems on the Northern Circuit include Tarangire, with its large elephant populations and baobabs, and the remote and other-worldly Lake Natron, which is home to two million lesser flamingos and is presided over by an active volcano known to the Maasai as ‘Ol Doinyo Lengai’, meaning ‘Mountain of God’.
Speaking of mountains, Tanzania has its fair share. The unique, snow-capped Kilimanjaro is the highest in Africa, whilst the smaller Mount Meru is still a challenging four day hike and boasts great views of its big sister.
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s Lake Tanganyika, the still-relatively-unexplored southern circuit, the chimpanzees of Gombe and then the island paradise of Zanzibar.
All of this makes Tanzania a great “combination” destination, though bear in mind that it certainly doesn’t come cheap.
Harriet is a zoologist with more than 20 years’ experience. She has the privilege of working with the world’s top wildlife photographers and photo-guides.
7 people found this review helpful.
The Serengeti and so much more.
Tanzania is “the” classic safari destination and should be top of every Africa lover’s wish list.
The starting point for most visitors is the northern safari circuit, comprising the iconic Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater, with Lake Manyara and Tarangire national parks en route. Having dreamt of going to the Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater since I was a child, these destinations spectacularly exceeded my expectations, with jaw dropping scenery and a breath-taking abundance of wildlife. If you want to see the migration, make sure you go to the right area, at the right time of year – some short tours just go to the central Seronera region of the Serengeti and may miss the migration.
Tanzania offers so much more than just this northern safari circuit. Less well-known is the southern safari circuit, which includes the huge expanses of Nyerere (formerly Selous) and Ruaha national parks. Although, sadly, both parks have recently been the target of ivory poaching, they are still stunning, wild destinations with a fraction of the number of visitors. When I was last in Ruaha there were elephants everywhere!
Tanzania also has other wonderful safari destinations, a little more off the beaten track. Katavi in the west has huge herds of buffalo and incredible gatherings of hippo in the dry season. Tanzania offers Africa’s best chimp sightings at Gombe and Mahale national parks. And if you tire of animal watching, there is Mount Kilimanjaro to climb and Zanzibar’s beaches to relax and recover on.
Tanzania is a high-end destination – with luxury lodges and expensive park fees, although mobile camping safaris can provide a more budget option. The roads are notoriously bad, so if your budget allows, consider flying in to your safari. But despite this, just go – Tanzania is the stuff of dreams!
Anthony is a photographer and writer for travel magazines and Lonely Planet, including the guides to Kenya and Botswana & Namibia.
7 people found this review helpful.
Tanzania: The Great Abundance
Tanzania belongs among the elite of African safari destinations, and its northern safari circuit in particular is one of the best places on the planet to see wildlife.
The northern parks are rich in everything there is to love about Africa – the massed ranks of migrating herds pursued by predators in the Serengeti; the lost and beautiful world of Ngorongoro; the kingdoms of baobabs and elephants in Tarangire; the tree-climbing lions of Lake Manyara. Elsewhere in the north, landscape trumps wildlife in the climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak and in the otherworldly volcanic Crater Highlands crowned by the shapely Ol Doinyo Lengai and given stark beauty by the flamingo-rich Lake Natron. The north’s accessibility and safari infrastructure also make it an ideal starting point for your first East African safari, although it’s such a wonderful experience (and there’s more than you can possibly see in a single visit) that the region is worth visiting over and over again.
If Tanzania’s north is classic safari territory, the rest of the country is an altogether different experience. Wilderness dominates the wild west with the chimps of Gombe National Park and the wild, wild country of Mahale Mountains and Katavi. Down south, Ruaha and Nyerere (formerly Selous GR) National Park are massive protected areas with the largest lion populations on earth and with visitor numbers far lower than in the northern parks there’s an excellent chance that you’ll experience wild Africa in its raw and silent beauty.
And then there’s the coast, so many long untrammeled kilometres of palm-fringed beauty watched over by so many languid towns and welcoming communities from the Swahili heartland. To crown it all, Zanzibar, at once classy escape from the rigours of African safari trails and sophisticated, spice-laden and stirring architectural showpiece that makes it a worthy destination in its own right.
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