Wildlife Safaris, best seasons
December-February and June-September (but NOT late July-Sept for Serengeti safaris!); the weather is relatively cool and dry, meaning less mosquitoes, wildlife is more concentrated due to limited water supplies, more visible due to shorter grass and you have more light to enable use of your new super-telephoto lens!
However, if you head for the Serengeti AFTER the mass migration to Kenya (July/August?) you're going to be a few animals short of a safari.
OK: November - December, short rains.
Worst: March-May due to long rains on the coast (and July-August for Serengeti safaris because wildlife takes a drought hike into Kenya).
A lake in the Ngorongoro crater after rains.
to go for Tanzania safaris
Tanzania tourism is often divided into either/or...
Go North for teeming wildlife, grand scenery and tourist herds photo-grazing everywhere. The dream of a magical, remote safari experience may be killed stone dead if every time you get near something interesting - such as lions chowing down on a fresh wildebeest breakfast - a dozen open-top 4WDs screech up and jostle for pole-picture position. If you decide to go north, which you should, then go with expectations of a wildlife Grand Prix, factoring in thousands of animals pursued by tens of jeeps and you won't be disappointed.
Go South for less animals, less tourists, worse roads, better ambience, more cost.
A little advice on wildlife-safaris in Africa:
- Crowds tend to gather around the relatively rare predators; as far as other wildlife is concerned - elephants, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, hyenas and so on - there is no shortage of these so tourists can get a lot more space and sense of isolation even in busy game parks like Masai Mara and Serengeti, with an experienced and knowledgeable guide.
- A good (human, as opposed to book!) guide is invaluable in any of East Africa's game parks, leading you to dramatic scenes and rarer animals before the herds of camera-wallies arrive, as well as providing information and lifestyle snippets of the beasts you come across. This is definitely worth paying a premium for!
- Sometimes it's better to go to more popular safari places where the animals are accustomed to human spectators and don't flee at the sight of the first safari truck. You could find yourself, for example, on an expensive, personal safari in a remote location where there are not only fewer animals around but all of them run for their lives as soon as your wheels get within half a mile.
- If you are travelling individually or on a budget head for Arusha town and pick up a tour or wildlife-safari package there.
A Serengeti cheetah and cub well outnumbered by safari vehicles.
Picture © Uros Ravbar
North Tanzania parks:
Arusha town is comfortable, reasonably well-organised and a popular base for exploring northern wildlife parks (aka The Northern Safari Circuit), climbing local mountains such as Meru and Longido, hiking forests, shopping for souvenirs or taking part in cultural tourism, especially involving Maasai lifestyles. Nightlife is lively and inexpensive.
Arusha is about 10 hours by bus from Dar es Salaam.
Arusha has its own pretty little game reserve, Arusha NP, with magnificent views of Mt. Meru and Mt. Kilimanjaro, a lush and restful rainforest and no shortage of wild things.
***Serengeti National Park, the grand old man of wildlife-safari parks, Serengeti's vast golden plains are breath-taking and crammed with critters, though several million of them will head for Kenya's water holes sometime between May and July so do check with tour operators on timing if you plan to tour the great Serengeti plains.
Most tourists get there via Arusha.
A view from the rim of the massive Ngorongoro crater (caldera).
***Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a uniquely lush and picturesque volcanic bowl, the largest unbroken caldera in Africa, with its own micro-ecosystem of lakes and forests that attracts many species of animals, including the 'Big Five'. However, due to Ngorongoro's relatively small land area human overload may detract from the ambience.
Views from the crater rim are worth the trek up there.
Most tourists get there via Arusha.
***Tarangire NP/CA, a massive, somewhat uncared-for game reserve encompassing both a National Park and a Conservation Area (CA), offers almost the number of animals as Serengeti or Ngorongoro but far less tourists and a fine river to boot, in the NP.
Tarangire's three specialities are elephants, birds (more than any other Tanzanian park, best time for bird-watching is September-March) and baobab trees, those obese, alien and extremely photogenic trees that are not, in fact trees, but super-size succulents. Guided bush walks are offered in Tarangire CA.
Tarangire NP is best July-October, Tarangire CA is best December-March (migration time), also July-October.
Tourists can get there in two hours from Arusha.
*Lake Manyara NP is a smaller NP in a scenic location at the base of Africa's Great Rift Valley, with plenty of scattered shrubbery and differing habitats in place of the wide-open spaces enjoyed by the grand old NPs, but is nevertheless home to abundant wildlife, with particularly impressive flamingo gatherings.
Unfortunately human expansion around the town of Mto wa Mbu is reducing land available for wildlife and at the same time polluting the lake waters, so the future of this pleasant little park is bleak, though the town is home for over forty ethnic tribes and has accommodation and an excellent cultural programme if you have an interest in ethnic groups.
A down-market lodge in Lake Manyara National Park.
*Engaruka, just north of Mto wa Mbu, is another spot of ethnic interest with a large and mysterious, 15thC stone town in an arid location currently occupied by the Maasai but not -apparently - of their making.
Central/South Tanzania parks:
**Selous Game Reserve, a well-organised space with varied safaris possible, including walking and boating. Only a limited section is open to tourists but the whole park is the size of Switzerland so that's not a problem and the number of visitors is way less than up north, so the atmosphere is more exclusive.
The scenery around the Rufiji river is especially attractive and awash with hippo, elephant, zebra, lions and others; most lodges and tented camps lean towards luxury living. Best July-October, the dry season or January-February for bird watching. Get there from Dar es Salaam though roads are bad and flights are encouraged.
*Mikumi National Park is primarily woodland and sports plenty of wildlife but can be tricky to find predators. Best September-October. Get there from Dar es Salaam, 300 kms away.
West Tanzania parks:
**Katavi NP, quiet, remote and undeveloped yet loaded with beasts and birds so Katavi is the place for those who really want to get away from the human hordes, though camps are limited in number and access difficult other than by plane. Best July-October (dry season).
**Ruaha NP, another excellent small park with as much wildlife as big northern reserves but a fraction of the visitors. Bush walks with an armed ranger are a feature of Ruaha. Best July-October (dry season).
Extract from PJ O'Rourke's hilarious and educational book 'Eat the Rich':
A trip to the game lands of Tanzania isn't a lonly, meditative journey. Everything I saw was also being ogled by dozens of other folks from out of town, and they were reeling off enough video tape to sart a Blockbuster chain solely devoted to out-of-focus fauna. But the tourists pay money, and money is what it takes to keep the parks and reserves more or less unspoiled, and to buy the bullets to shoot poachers. If the animals of Africa aren't worth more alive to rubbernecks than they're worth dead to farmers, pastoralists, and rhino-horn erection peddlers then that's it for the Call of the Wild.
Tanzania, other than wildlife | Mt. Kilimanjaro hiking | Zanzibar culture, beaches and diving.