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Tanzania Safari: The Perfect Itinerary to Satisfy Your Safari Wanderlust

by Cris Puscas

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A country located in East Africa, Tanzania offers amazing safari, interesting culture, and great landscapes.

Choosing to go on a safari in Tanzania opens a world of possibilities. Between observing incredible wildlife, climbing the highest peak in Africa, understanding its tribal culture, and relaxing on pristine beaches, there are endless activities to spend your time in this magnificent country.

While most travelers visit Tanzania to witness the Great Migration, it would be a shame not to explore more of what it has to offer.

That’s why, in this article, we have put together an itinerary for your trip to Tanzania that is created in such a way so you can pick and choose what destinations fit your travel style and budget.

 

But first, when is the best time to visit Tanzania?

zebras on a safari in tanzania

Thankfully, Tanzania can be visited year-round, especially if you are head to the beaches in Zanzibar.

However, the best wildlife viewing months in Tanzania are from June to October, during the dry season.

Should you want to visit the country for the Great Migration, plan your trip during June and July, when the herds are likely to cross the Mara River. While if you want to see the wildebeest calving, visit Tanzania between late January and February.

Kindly note that the high travel season in Tanzania lasts from July to March when the Northern Circuit Parks – the iconic Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire National Park, and Lake Manyara National Park – get crowded.

In general, Tanzania offers plenty of budget safari options regardless of when you travel but during the low season – April and May – there may be more affordable choices and special offers for your trip.

 

How long should I stay in Tanzania?

 

The length of your trip to Tanzania usually depends on your budget, what you plan to do during your stay, as well as the (vacation) days off you can take.

Should you decide to opt for a migration safari in Tanzania, a minimum of 5-6 days are enough, considering that you need to take a long haul flight to get to Africa.

However, if you want to combine wildlife viewing with climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, you need to allow at least 14 days for the trip, out of which 6-9 days are spent on the climb.

If you plan to combine a wildlife safari with some beach time, then plan to spend at least 7-9 days in the country.

Putting it all together – wildlife viewing, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and relaxing in Zanzibar – means you need to consider spending a minimum of 3 weeks in Tanzania.

The more time you decide to spend exploring this East African jewel, the more you’ll fall in love with it.

 

A flexible Tanzania itinerary for most popular safari destinations (+ things to do)

 

Tanzania is a large country and it is better to split the itinerary into three parts:

  • Wildlife viewing
  • Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
  • Relaxing in Zanzibar.

This itinerary starts in the north and travels south as we believe ending the trip with a relaxed beach destination is pure bliss. However, you can go in the opposite direction or combine the parts however you prefer.

Arusha

Mt Meru as seen from Arusha Tanzania

Photo credit: Phase9

This itinerary starts in Arusha, but your international flight may not land here.

Arusha is served both by the domestic Arusha Airport (ARK) and international Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO). Travelers may also fly into Dar es Salaam’s Julius Nyerere International Airport (DAR) and then connect on a domestic flight.

Do make sure to ask your safari operator what airport they want you to fly into and whether the transfer to/from the airport is included in the safari cost.

Arusha is the de facto gateway into Tanzania’s Northern Circuit Safari.

Set at the foothills of Mount Meru, Arusha is a bustling city that usually gets overlooked by travelers. Your safari operator will likely whisk you away once you land on the airport, without giving you a chance to explore.

However, we strongly advise you to add at least one more day to your itinerary to check out Arusha.

Learn about the origins of humans at the Arusha National History Museum. Another display takes visitors through the German colonial past. And you can also learn about the stunning lives of insects.

Any coffee lover will enjoy a tour of one of the plantations blanketing the mountainsides. The coffee plantation tour will take you from seed to cup and will leave you craving for more.

Give back to the community by attending a shanga necklaces workshop. What started with the idea to create shanga necklaces for a Christmas fair (in 2006) is now a sustainable business that prides itself on providing a protective, consistent, and warm environment for Tanzanians with disabilities.

And speaking of souvenirs, there a lot of places to pick up handmade objects that will remind you of the time spent in Tanzania.

If you like to hike but don’t plan to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, there are shorter hikes available out of Arusha. For example, you can choose a one-day hike on the mountain and still experience a lot of what it has to offer.

 

Serengeti National Park

giraffe in serengeti national park tanzania

It’s time to set off on an exceptional safari adventure.

Serengeti National Park is the oldest game reserve in Tanzania and one of the most iconic destinations in Africa.

The easiest way to get here from Arusha is by taking a flight into one of its airstrips. The flight time is about 1h 15 min. If you prefer to travel by land, the drive takes about 8 hours

For most visitors, the reason to visit Serengeti National Park is to witness the Great Wildebeest Migration. Such a safari usually combines Serengeti with visiting the Masai Mara National Reserve (Kenya) and Ngorongoro Crater.  You’ll likely be staying in mobile camps that are specifically designed to put you in the middle of action.

Other animals that take up residence here are the iconic Big Five animals – Serengeti is home to the largest population of lions on the entire continent -, zebra, gazelle, impala, hartebeest, topi, buffalo, waterbuck, Nile crocodile, hippopotamus, and monkeys

Serengeti is also well-known for the hot air balloon safaris, a bucket-list activity many visitors want to add to their trip. It’s an exclusive once in a lifetime chance which usually ends with champagne for breakfast – how cool is that?

Opting for a jeep safari is another great way to see the wildlife. Typically, you’ll go on both morning and afternoon drives to get a chance to see a variety of animals and their behavior.

However, do note that night safaris are only allowed in the private conservancies and are the only way to see nocturnal wildlife.

Plan to spend at least two or three days exploring this magnificent national park.

» Here’s our detailed guide to visiting Serengeti National Park

 

Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area

wildebeest in ngorongoro crater tanzania

Located right near Serengeti, Ngorongoro Conservation Area is certainly one of a kind. It’s the largest inactive, intact, and unfilled volcanic caldera on Earth, home to both wildlife and humans that coexist in perfect harmony.

The drive time between the two parks depends on what accommodation you choose. The good part is that you’d be driving within the parks – so catching a glimpse of the animals as you drive is assured.

While the highlight of the area is the crater itself, you’ll be equally mesmerized by the animals that took up residence here. The stars are the 26 black rhinos. Rhinos are notoriously hard to spot, but here, their behavior is predictable, increasing the chances of a sighting. The rest of the Big Five – the African elephant, lion, leopard, and Cape buffalo – also live in the crater.

Within the crater, you may also be able to get a glimpse of the wildebeests, zebras, hippos, cheetahs, and hyenas. While outside the crater, you’ll be on the lookout for giraffes – their anatomy isn’t suited for the steep descent into the crater.

Often visited as part of a Migration safari which also includes Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater is best explored during a walking safari. Depending on your fitness level, you can opt for shorter or longer walks. The alternative is to go on a jeep safari, which offers plenty of chances to spot wildlife, too.

If you want to get to know the Maasai tribe living in the area, make sure to opt for a cultural safari.

Ngorongoro Crater is a small park compared to Serengeti, but you should still plan for at least an overnight here.

» Read our detailed guide to visiting Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area!

 

Tarangire National Park

elephant mom and baby in tarangire national park tanzania

A more seasonal park than both Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire National Park sees a lot of migration movement. During the dry season – June to October – large herds of animals are attracted by the Tarangire River.

The drive from Ngorongoro takes a bit more than 3.5 hours.

Particularly known for the large number of elephants that are attracted by the river during the dry season, the same water source also provides sustenance for wildebeest, zebra, gazelles, and buffalos. Other animals that are easy to spot include giraffes and hippos. The predators are also present, but only lions are the easiest to catch a glimpse of.

The rare fringe-eared oryx and long-necked gerenuk call this park their home, too.

A great way to explore this park is during a jeep safari. The number of daily drives depends on the safari package you choose.

Most travelers don’t linger enough here to fully enjoy the park. While you can easily spend a day on a game drive here and then go on your merry way, it’s a far better idea to choose at least an overnight in the park.

 

Lake Manyara

giraffes and pink flamingos at lake manyara tanzania

Photo credit: Marc Veraart via Flickr

Often bundled in safari packages that visit Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara National Park is a lovely place to discover.

The drive time from Tarangire National Park is about 2.5 hours.

Lake Manyara is particularly known for being one of the few places in Africa where you can see tree-climbing lions. Other big cats aren’t easily spotted, though.

But the park is also home to impressively tusked elephants, as well as large herds of buffalos, wildebeest, and zebras. You may also spot hippos here.

The forest located at the entrance of the park is home to olive baboons and blue monkeys.

The park allows both daytime game drives and nighttime game drives. During the night game drives you get the chance to spot nocturnal species, such as the nightjar.

Bird watching is also spectacular here. The lake is home to pink flamingos, yellow-billed storks, marabou storks, goose, turkey, weavers, pelicans, as well as other species.

For those who prefer a more active vacation, walking safaris, canoeing, and hikes are also available.

An overnight here is enough to explore the park. But if you prefer to slow down a for a bit, consider staying for at least two nights.

 

Combining Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater with other nearby parks

 

While it is very much possible to book a safari in each park separately and travel between the parks on your own, it’s best to leave these options for those who have been to Africa before.

Particularly if it’s your first safari or you travel with children or elderly, it’s advisable to let a safari organizer do the heavy lifting for you. You won’t need to worry about driving on roads you don’t know and won’t need to worry about much about the planning, either.

Also, opting for a safari package that visits at least two parks is a great way to make your trip more affordable.

Four days are enough to explore the Northern Safari Circuit Parks but to get better acquainted with the area and the inhabits, you can plan for a weeklong safari.

Some of the popular combinations you may consider include:

  • Tarangire National Park, Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater (6 days);
  • Arusha, Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater (5 days);
  • Arusha, Lake Manyara National Park, Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater (4 days).

Make sure to ask your safari operator what airport you need to fly into as both Arusha Airport (ARK) and international Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO) serve the area.

 

Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro

 

Whether you choose to do this part of the itinerary or not is completely up to you.

For those who prefer a more active trip, summiting Mount Kilimanjaro is a great choice.

Of course, you may just skip this section and head straight to the beaches!

 

Moshi & Mount Kilimanjaro

The gateway for Kilimanjaro climbs, Moshi is often an overlooked destination in Tanzania.

The drive from Tarangire National Park is about 4.5 hours, while if you depart from Arusha, it takes only about 1 hour 15 min to get to Moshi.

From Lake Manyara, it’s best to just hop on a flight to Arusha (1 hour) and continue by road from there.

A laid-back town, Moshi is more colorful than Arusha. You can go on a hike to explore the nearby villages, Marangu Waterfalls or Materuni Waterfalls.

If you love coffee, visit a private coffee plantation and learn how to make coffee the Tanzanian way!

Within the city, you can explore Moshi Market – make sure to pick up some mangos and avocados. The produce and souvenirs are cheaper than in Arusha.

hiking mount kilimanjaro tanzania

Photo credit: Selous Ngalawa Camp

Most of the Mount Kilimanjaro hiking routes depart from Moshi, so you just need to add a day or two to the itinerary to enjoy spending time in town, as well.

There are two distinct trekking seasons when it’s the best time to hike the mountain: January to March and June to October.

There are many routes to summit the mountain but only some of them are used regularly by the travelers who don’t have mountain climbing experience. The hikes take between 6 and 9 days.

The Machame Route is supposedly more demanding than the Marangu Route. Both approach the summit from the south. The Rongai Route is the easiest one but is less scenic and approaches the summit from the north.  

Both the Machame and Marangu Routes are crowded, whereas Rongai is the quieter option (although the descent is via Marangu).

Make sure to talk to your safari organizer before choosing the best one for your fitness level.  Also, talk to your general health provider about the hike and make sure to participate in physical activity regularly before you attempt the hike. You should have experience of multi day-trekking or walking trips before summiting Mount Kilimanjaro.

»  Is Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro Really for You?

 

It’s time for relaxation: Tanzania’s stunning beaches

 

The Mount Kilimanjaro hike will end either in Moshi or Arusha.

Since the next part of the itinerary takes to the relaxing beaches, there’s no real need to book an additional night in the area.

 

Pangani

The easiest way to get to Pangani is by taking a flight either out of Arusha or out of Kilimanjaro airport. The flight time is under an hour and you’d be flying into Tanga (TGT). From the airport, there’s an additional 1.5-hour drive to the city.

If you were to drive the entire distance, it takes about 7.5 hours (from Arusha).

Pangani used to be a powerful 19th-century trade center. Nowadays, crumbling ruins of the old buildings remind everyone of its past. The city, however, retains the most traditional Swahili character of the ports located on the coast.

The city is an excellent choice to enjoy some downtime after the strenuous hike. There is a superb beach you can relax on or you can take a boat trip on the Pangani River. Walking tours are also available, and you can also explore the charming old town.

Plan for at least an overnight here before heading to Bagamoyo and finally, Zanzibar.

 

Bagamoyo

bagamoyo tanzania

A former prosperous slave and ivory trading port, Bagamoyo nowadays offers a pleasant mix of culture and beach.

The drive from Pangani takes a little more than 4.5 hours.

The heart of the town comprises the crumbling Swahili stone town. Some old German colonial architecture is also standing. And you can also visit the old prison-fort. The best way to explore is by putting on your walking shoes.

Head to the dhow harbor to do some people watching or sample some freshly caught fish in one of the many stalls dotting the beach.

The Kaole ruins are interesting to check out as well and you can easily do that during a half-day trip. There’s a museum on site which explains the stories about the ivory trade, slavery, as well as the lives of today’s Kaole people.

Spend some time checking out the museums, markets, and churches, too.

But do make sure to allow for some downtime at Bagamoyo Beach.

If you prefer a more active trip, the New Bagamoyo Resort offers a lot of watersport activities, such as surfing, paddle boarding, scuba diving, and kiteboarding.

It is a good idea to spend at least an overnight in Bagamoyo.

 

Zanzibar

sunset in zanzibar tanzania

From Bagamoyo, travel by car to Dar es Salaam. The drive takes about an hour.

Then hop on a flight or a ferry to Zanzibar City. While the flight takes only 20 minutes, the ferry crossing takes 2 hours.

Zanzibar City’s central point is also a Stone Town. It used to be a fishing village which quickly turned trade center thanks to its strategic position off the coast. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Stone Town is best explored on foot, allowing yourself to get “lost” in the narrow street maze.

Aside from admiring the buildings, you can also learn about the slave trade at the Slave Museum, visit the Old Fort, see the house where Freddy Mercury was born or check out the Darajani Market.

A unique thing to do here is to take a spice tour. And why not also try the traditional foods or even learning to cook some local dishes.

Zanzibar is one of the best places in Africa to watch the sunset. And the best way to do that is to take a sunset cruise.

If you prefer a more active trip, you can snorkel, dive, swim or even try kitesurfing in Zanzibar.

Spend a day or two exploring Zanzibar Town, but make sure to allow for enough time to relax on the beach, as well. Head to the north and spend time on Nungwi Beach. The photos don’t do justice to the perfect white and soft sand and clear turquoise waters.

It’s a good idea to spend three or four nights in Zanzibar.

Then, just hop back on the flight or ferry to Dar es Salaam before you embark on the flight back home.

» Read more about the bucket-list things to do in Zanzibar

 

Putting all together: safaris combining multiple destinations in Tanzania

 

It is possible to book accommodation and plan the travels between destinations on your own. But unless you’ve been to Tanzania before, it won’t be so simple nor easy to do.

Plus, safari organizers benefit from reduced accommodation rates and may also offer accommodation options that are otherwise un-available to the traveler.

If you want to combine a wildlife safari with a beach vacation, nine days in Tanzania are enough. But if you also add the Kilimanjaro hike consider spending at least three weeks in the country.

Some of the popular combinations you may consider include:

  • Arusha, Tarangire National Park, Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, Mount Kilimanjaro, Arusha, Zanzibar (22 days);
  • Arusha, Lake Manyara National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti National Park, Zanzibar (12 days);
  • Arusha, Tarangire National Park, Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Zanzibar (9 days).

Do make sure to ask the safari organizer what airport you need to fly into as both Kilimanjaro airport (JRO) and Arusha airport (ARK) may be an option. 


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