Tanzania is home to stunning wildlife, pristine beaches, friendly people and fascinating cultures – oh, and Mount Kilimanjaro!
Tanzania is home to the famous Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, as well as sixteen national parks. This means that Tanzania is the perfect destination for trekkers, wildlife lovers and adventure seekers alike. From the offshore hideaways of Zanzibar to the vast planes of Serengeti National Park, nothing encapsulates the African experience quite like a tour of Tanzania. Take in all the heart of Africa has to offer and explore these beautiful bucket-list destinations.
Here are eight of the top things to do in Tanzania:
Many of the best spots to visit in Tanzania – especially the national parks – are in northern Tanzania. We’ve put together the map below to help you understand the locations of many of the places we mention below in this blog post.
Mount Kilimanjaro is the world’s highest free-standing mountain and one of the continent’s most magnificent sights. When climbing Kilimanjaro, expect to witness breathtakingly beautiful views and experience peaceful quiet moments. Share stories with your guide and fellow travellers beneath brilliant stars. You’ll be overwhelmed by a pure feeling of joy and satisfaction upon reaching the summit – nearly 5,900 m (19,340 ft) above sea level – early in the morning when the sun comes up. Read our article on what it’s like to climb Kilimanjaro.
“Whatever greater power you believe in, when you see the sun rising from the top of that volcano, you get to feel it. It gave all of us a great story to tell our grandchildren some day :)”. Bernardo Guimarães da Fonseca
Ah, the Serengeti. Is there any more iconic African locale south of the Sahara Desert? A visit to the Serengeti is the highlight of any African safari holiday. It stretches 5,700 square miles and is home to the largest concentration of big game mammals in the world; truly a treat for the eyes! The national park is home to more than 2,000 lions and hundreds of species of birds.
As with Lake Manyara National Park, the best time to visit depends on what you’re looking to see while you’re on your wildlife safari holiday. If you come to behold the majesty of the great Wildebeest migration, come between December and July. While you may see some of the larger predators during that time, you can best see lions, cheetahs and more from June to October. Given the sheer size of the Serengeti, you should probably allot three to four days for your safari for the full experience and the best photos. Watch our Tanzania safari video below.
Ngorongoro Crater is a gem among the natural wonders of Tanzania’s northern regions. Ngorongoro Crater is the largest among a series of volcanic craters and is in fact the largest in the world. Because of its fertile, rich grazing grounds, it’s an ideal feeding ground for mammals large and small. Since it draws grazers of all shapes and sizes, it also attracts Africa’s big game predators and countless other species of wildlife not found anywhere but the heart of Africa – truly a great experience for wildlife safari goers!
As the crater is a natural wonder and attracts safari tours all year long, it can get very busy, it’s not recommended to stay more than a couple of days. Generally speaking, due to the sheer size of the Serengeti alone, the latter is better for longer safari excursions. Crowds aside, the crater is not a park you will want to pass up. It’s a wonder of the natural world the likes of which can’t be found anywhere but Tanzania.
Turquoise and cyan blue waters of the Indian Ocean sparkle like diamond powder under the African sun, enchanting snorkelers and divers to Zanzibar. The Zanzibar archipelago has some of the best undisturbed coral reefs in the world. On land, take a stroll within the islands heart, Stone Town, where you will meander through alleyways discovering an exotic mixture of Arabic, Indian, Moorish, Persian and European cultures that will delight all your senses.
Located at the foot of Mount Meru, the city of Arusha is the perfect central location for exploring the glories of northern Tanzania. That said, it has its own attractions which shouldn’t be overlooked in the hurry to go on safari or visit Kilimanjaro! Be sure to stop by the Clock Tower, the city’s oldest landmark. The Clock Tower marks the midway point between Cairo and Cape Town. There’s also the magnificent Cultural Heritage Centre, which is well worth a visit.
Arusha is home to the Tanzania Tourist Board, which is a limitless source of information and potential excursion opportunities to some of the smaller, unsung villages.
In addition to safaris and hikes around Mount Meru, there are tours on offer to learn about the Maasai and Meru tribes that live in the area. Additionally, 30 minutes away from Arusha sits the village of Nkoaranga, which offers private tours of the coffee industry that blooms on Mount Meru. Follow the rich journey of the humble coffee bean and those who cultivate it for a very modest fee.
Located only an hour and a half outside of Arusha, Lake Manyara National Park covers 402 square miles of lush forest and miraculously lively shorelines. Lake Manyara a perfect and incredibly underrated destination for an African safari holiday. Lake Manyara is home to quintessential African wildlife, including elephants, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, the lake’s famous tree-climbing lions, impalas, leopards, dik-diks, warthogs and more!
Considered one of the more casual safari holiday destinations, Lake Manyara is ideal for a day trip. While the lake does not have the same big game or wildlife density as Tanzania’s bigger parks, there are a number of species exclusive to that area. According to Tanzania National Parks, June to October is the best time to view large mammals while if you’re more of a bird watcher, you’re better off going from November to July.
Tucked away in the north part of the country sits Tarangire National Park, the sixth largest national park in Tanzania. The Tarangire gets its name from the river that runs through it. It is best known for its elephants, there are major predators that call Tarangire home, including the leopard and cheetah.
July through October are the peak months for visiting the Tarangire, during the dry season; this time of year, in terms of biodiversity and game concentration, is comparable to life in the crater during its peak season. Up to 3,000 elephants wander the park during the peak months in addition to giraffes, gazelle, zebras and much more. Keep in mind that during the off season, there isn’t nearly as much game in the area as the grazing herds and consequently the predators and other fauna generally move elsewhere. That’s not to say game won’t be present when the season dies down, and the crowds will be down; either way, consult the experts first!
In the south along the Swahili Coast, there are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites waiting to be explored. Both are towns constructed from coral and lime mortar. Kilwa Kisiwani was East Africa’s most important trading centre during the fourteenth century. Most of the city hasn’t as yet been excavated, yet remnants amongst the ruins include the Great Mosque, an Omani fortress, burial grounds, a prison, and a grand palace. On the adjacent island to the south is Songo Mnara. This site contains the ruins of six mosques, four cemeteries, and a couple of dozen house blocks.
“When I tell my friends what I did last summer they don’t believe me, still neither do I. I tell them I climbed mount Kilimanjaro during a full moon night, that I had breakfast in the jungle surrounded by lions and partied in a remote African city at night. A dream come true!” Stefano
Maintaining your health whilst abroad means including a variety of vaccinations: typhoid, TDP, varicella (unless you had chicken pox), and Hepatitis A and B, which are given in a series over a six month period. A yellow fever vaccination is not required, unless you visit an epidemic country first. If you are an adventurous eater, you might want to add cholera to the list. Malaria tablets are needed, order enough to provide taking them seven days after returning home. Your doctor may recommend a rabies shot, a series of two doses over a four-week period, if you plan on caving or working with animals.
As well as vaccinations, bring enough insect repellent and sunscreen. It is not easy to find these products and when you do, they are pricey. Whilst on safari, you will need to protect yourself from tsetse flies. These flies can transmit African trypanosomiasis, also known as, sleeping sickness. It is best to wear light colour clothing; they are attracted to dark colours, especially shades of blue. Unfortunately, products containing DEET usually do not discourage them from biting, so try to find a natural insect repellent containing eucalyptus oil.
The official currency in Tanzania is the Tanzanian shilling (TSh). You can take along US dollars with you and these will be accepted in most tourist areas, sometimes even preferred over the local currency. Ensure these notes were issued after 2006, otherwise they won’t be accepted. There are ATMs in most major cities but be wary that these can sometimes be unreliable. If you want to exchange any Tanzanian shillings back into dollars at the end of your trip, this will need to be done before you leave the country. Also remember to bring dollars along with you to tip when climbing Kilimanjaro or on safari. Tipping on Kilimanjaro is expected and so you should factor this into your budget before departing.
There are a number of ways to get around town: dala-dala (small local bus), tuk-tuk or boda-boda (motorcycle taxi). The dala-dala is the least expensive way to travel around town, 500 TSh, yet be aware that you may be sharing the ride with non-caged live chickens under the backseat. It is also important to make sure you have the exact amount or give a small bill. Hiring a tuk-tuk or boda-boda will cost about 4,000 TSh, for the same distance as the dala-dala.
Travelling by bus throughout the country is not scary and it’s a fantastic way to see the countryside. It’s an 11-hour road trip from Dar es Salaam, the capital city, to Arusha. This includes a 30-minute lunch stop. The cost is a mere 36,000 TSh.
Overall, Tanzania is considered a safe, hassle-free country. That said, of course the usual precautions need to be taken. Avoid isolated areas, which includes isolated stretches of beach. If you plan on strolling the beach, away from security, leave your valuables and money in your hotel room, this includes your mobile phone. To capture the stunning view, bring a cheap camera. That way, if something happens to it, you aren’t devastated by the loss.
Also watch out for the ‘flycatchers’. These are men that act like they are your new best friend, ready to save the day. The flycatcher job is to bring you to excursion companies to make themselves look good. Their goal is to be hired permanently by the company and to receive a tip from you. The tip is their only income. These men usually act as a group. If you say no, they will follow you. When they see another opportunity, a partner will approach you. Whilst having a guide will keep you safer and they can negotiate prices on your behalf, not every flycatcher is honest.
Other considerations should be public display of affection and suitable clothing. If you’re coming with your significant other, please be aware that public display of affection is not acceptable outside of the hotel; homosexuality is illegal and is punishable by a harsh prison sentence. Women should avoid wearing above the knee shorts and shirts that display the collarbone and shoulders in public, unless you are on Zanzibar or at a private beach. The exception to this rule is on safari and trekking Mt Kilimanjaro, where it’s acceptable. Respecting the local culture makes you a thoughtful traveller.
There are over 120 languages spoken throughout Tanzania. After the country gained independence in 1961, the Government decided that an official language must be chosen in order to strengthen national unity. They chose the language Swahili. Speaking Swahili can be picked up pretty easily. Each letter in a word is pronounced. Note that e sounds like “ah”, and i sounds like “e”. Here are some helpful Swahili phrases. Get practising!
How much? – Bei gani?
Take me to … – Nipeleke …
Goodbye – Kwaheri
Do you know? – Unafahamu?
Thanks very much – Asante sana
Let’s go! – Twenda!
Have a nice day – Siku njema
You’re welcome – Karibu
Expensive – Ghali sana
Lower your cost – Punguza kidogo
Please – Tafadhali
Purchasing your visa upon arrival is standard, the cost is $50 for anyone whom is non-American; again, it’s illegal to purchase Tanzanian shillings outside the country, so the Government accepts US dollars. After departing your aircraft, the first step will be filling out your entry form. An immigration officer will look over your passport and entry card, then ask about your accommodations and departure date, before sending you to the cashier’s window.
Once the cashier receives your passport and payment, you’ll be asked to wait in a designated area. After processing, they’ll call your name, return your passport (visa stamp in place), and provide you with a receipt. Your new tourist visa is good for one year, but you can only stay in the country for 90 days at a time.
For more information about your Tanzanian visa visit the country’s Ministry of Home Affairs website.
A couple of quick tips on using your smartphone and camera in Tanzania …
You won’t find an official store to purchase your mobile service. Instead, there are makeshift stands. The individual you purchase from will ask to see your identification; they’ll then take a photo of it on their phone and send it to the company. You then wait to receive an approval text.
Airtel and Vodacom are two popular mobile phone companies that have reliable service throughout the country. To give you an idea of price, an Airtel SIM card with 12 GB on the 4G network for 30 days cost 40,000 TSh in 2019.
Tanzania has many fantastic photo opportunities, but taking photographs of military installations and personnel, hospitals, schools, bridges, industrial sites and airports is strictly prohibited. Before you click, ensure there’s nothing in the photograph that can get you into trouble with the authorities.
There are lots of tour operators organising trips to Tanzania. It can be hard to choose who to go with! We can assure you that when Following Alice to Tanzania, you are travelling with friends. Whether you are interested in climbing Kilimanjaro, going on safari in one of the many beautiful national parks, or snorkelling in Zanzibar, we’ve got you covered.
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“I followed Alice to Kilimanjaro and it was an absolutely amazing experience. On the mountain we were guided by Chris and his outstanding crew. They made it possible that all of us were able to summit due to their great support carrying our bags, preparing the camp, motivating us and pushing us forward. I’m happy I did the trip with Follow Alice and would do it again right away!” Seraina