Top 10: best things to see & do in Tanzania

Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.

Today (February 5, 2018): top 10 best things to see & do in Tanzania.

Tanzania is one of Africa’s and the planet’s most beautiful and exciting travel destinations and a trip to this country should be on the bucket list of every traveler. Tanzania offers something for everyone, from climbing the famous Mount Kilimanjaro and observing spectacular wildlife in the Serengeti to exploring the labyrinthine alleys of Stone Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and relaxing on the exotic Indian Ocean beaches of Zanzibar. I consider a journey through Tanzania one of the 10 most epic trips one can make in a lifetime. The country is also a magnet for discerning travelers since it boasts some of the best accommodations in the world. To help you plan your next holiday to Tanzania, I have compiled a list with my 10 preferred things to see & do in this stunning African nation.

There is more information below the slideshow. Think I missed one? Share your favorite site or activity in Tanzania in the comments section, or take my poll below!

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Although the game viewing at Lake Manyara pales into insignificance when compared with that on offer in nearby Tarangire, Ngorongoro and Serengeti, this national park still merits a trip, not only as an introduction to any Tanzanian safari, but also because of the park’s famous residents, the tree-climbing lions (although sighting them is becoming increasingly rare). Why these lions habitually climb trees is still up for debate, but viewing a pride relaxing in an acacia tree is an incredible sight. Lake Manyara, which covers one-third of the park, hosts millions of flamingos during the rainy season. The forest around Lake Manyara also features Tanzania’s first Treetop Walkway and one of the longest in Africa. The Treetop Walkway starts with a short board-walk that gradually rises from ground level up through the canopy of the forest. As you walk over a series of suspension bridges with thick netting on the sides, you can experience untouched nature and wildlife from a unique perspective.


Considered one of Africa’s most underrated parks, Tarangire is lovely, quiet park in Northern Tanzania, located slightly off the main safari circuit. The majority of tourists skips this African gem on their safari holiday, or venture inside the park for just a few hours. Yet, Tarangire National Park deserves much more and should be added to any Serengeti centered itinerary because of two reasons. First, not only does Tarangire boast a variety of wildlife as exotic as its landscape, but the park is also home to Tanzania’s largest population of African elephants. Second, Tarangire is one of the few places in the world – besides Madagascar, Australia and a few other African spots – where you find plenty of Baobab trees; the species found in Tanzania is Adansonia digitata, the largest of all eight baobab species in the world. When visiting Tarangire, keep in mind though that game viewing is exceptional in the dry season (from June through October) but for the remainder of the year the majority of game migrates out of the park.


While Zanzibar has become a popular tourist resort, Mafia Island – lying only 160 km (100 mi) south – remains virtually unknown and untouched. Previously poor communications with the mainland and being much lesser known than Zanzibar have kept Mafia ‘original’, although a steady trickle of visitors are unanimous in singing its praise. Almost half the coastline of Mafia, has been declared a marine park by the Tanzanian government. To date over 50 genera of corals, more than 460 species of fish and 5 different species of turtles have been recorded in the waters around Maffia Island’s Chole Bay. Natural vegetation on Mafia ranges from tidal mangrove thickets and scrubby coastal moorlands to palm-wooden grassland and lowland rainforest. Magnificent baobabs are prominent along with the native Albizia. While Mafia makes an ideal holiday for people interested in nature and outdoor activities, its big attraction for many visitors is that it remains locked in a time warp of the early 20th century.


Gombe Stream, designated as a game reserve in 1943 and upgraded into a national park status in 1968, is located on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania. Although Gombe Stream is off the beaten path and Tanzania’s smallest national park, the park is wordwide renown because it’s here that Jane Goodall pioneered her behavioral research conducted on the park’s chimpanzee populations, which is believed to be the longest running study of primates in the world. Gombe’s main attraction is obviously the 100-plus chimps that live protected in the park’s boundaries and that are well habituated. Although hiking in Gombe Stream’s rainforest can be difficult and involves traversing steep hills and valleys, sightings are nearly guaranteed if you head out early in the morning. Besides chimpanzee viewing, many other species of primates live in Gombe Stream’s tropical forests, such as vervet and colobus monkeys, and baboons. Visitors to the park can not only trek into the forest to view the primates, but also swim and snorkel in Lake Tanganyika with almost 100 kinds of colorful cichlid fish.


The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a protected area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site located west of the Tanzanian city of Arusha. The jewel in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the Ngorongoro crater, the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic crater, formed when a giant volcano (as high as Mount Kilimanjaro) exploded and collapsed some three million years ago. The Ngorongoro crater sinks to a depth of 610 metres (2000 feet), with a base area covering 260 square kilometres (100 square miles). The crater contains over thousands of large animals including endangered black rhinoceros and herds of wildebeests, zebras, and Thomson’s gazelles. The crater also has the densest known population of lions, numbering more than 60. Higher up, in the rainforests of the crater rim, are leopards, large elephants, mountain reedbuck, buffalos, spotted hyenas, jackals, rare wild dogs, and cheetahs. Apart from the main caldera, Ngorongoro also has two other volcanic craters: Olmoti and Empakai, the former famous for its stunning waterfalls, and the latter holding a deep lake and lush, green walls.


Zanzibar is a unique archipelago of about 50 coral islands, lying in the Indian Ocean a short distance from Tanzania. The main islands are Pemba and Unguja, the latter commonly refered to as Zanzibar. Zanzibar was originally an independent country until 1964, when it was united with Tanganyika to form Tanzania under President Julius Nyerere. It currently has its own President and a degree of autonomy. Both Pemba and Unguja are major holiday destination known for their magnificent soft sugar-white beaches, which rank among the best beaches in the world with varying surf depending on what side of the island you are on. Both Pemba and Unguja are surrounded by miles and miles of patches of white sandy beaches, coconut palms, warm turquoise water, mangroves and coral reefs and have extraordinary possibilities for an idyllic beach holiday and (under)water sports. The best beaches are found on the east coast, near Nungwi on Unguja’s northern tip, and on the exclusive private island enclave of Mnemba Island.


Selous is Africa’s oldest and biggest game reserve, and one of its last great wilderness areas. Measuring twice the size of Switzerland, it is the largest protected wildlife sanctuary in Africa and is widely accredited as being the most pristine wilderness. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has long been renowned for having more wild dog, elephant, lion, hippo and buffalo than any other game reserve in the world. Species commonly seen are bushbucks, red and blue duikers, eland, hartebeest, hyena, kipspringer, impala, giraffe, oryx, reedbuck, waterbuck and zebra. The bird life in Selous is extensive and the 400 species recorded include the globally threatened wattled crane and the corncrake. Black rhinos are close to extinction, but can occasionally be seen in Selous. The topography of the Game Reserve varies from rolling savannah woodlands, grassland plains and rocky outcrops intersected by the wide Rufiji and Ruaha Rivers. A major draw is Selous’ relative lack of tourist congestion in comparison with Tanzania’s northern parks. Most of the time, you will have the wildlife for yourself.


Over the last 2000 years, Zanzibar has been in contact with Persia, India, Arabia and the coast of East Africa, which has resulted in nothing short of an ardent history which is evident in the historic center of its main city, Stone Town, a UNESCO protected world heritage site. The story of Stone Town dates back to the end of the 15th century when the Portuguese arrived on the island. They remained there until the end of the 17th century, before being ousted by the Omani Arabs. Its heyday came in the early 19th century when the Sultan of Muscat moved his court to Stone Town: as spice cultivation was developed (particularly the clove tree) and the slave trade was at its height, Stone Town became the most important city and harbor in East Africa. Today, the traders have left but the town retains its urban fabric and townscape virtually intact. Stone Town’s winding alleys and bustling markets are lined by historic Omani palaces and filled with rich aromas of spices, perfumes and local handcrafts.


One of the most visited sites in Tanzania, the Mount Kilimanjaro National Park is home to Africa’s highest mountain peak, about 4,900 metres (16,100 ft) from its base to 5,895 metres (19,341 ft) above sea level. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, the Kilimanjaro is also the world’s tallest freestanding mountain; it’s standing there all by itself in a plain without being part of a mountain range. Unlike other national parks and game reserves in Tanzania, the Kilimanjaro is not visited for the wildlife but for a chance to stand in awe of this majestic snow-capped mountain and, for many, to climb to the summit. While you do not have to be an expert climber to conquer the mountain (just regularly fit), do not take the exhausting climb – which takes as least 5 days – lightly. There are several climb routes up Kilimanjaro, varying in length and difficulty, with the best times to climb the mountain being the driest months of the year, especially January and February (short dry season) and July to September (the long dry season).


The Serengeti National Park offers the most dramatic stage for a classic African safari during the Great Migration, a 2000 km (1200 mi) annual circular odyssey of 1.5 million wildebeest and 200,000 zebras, all of them chasing the rains and fresh grasslands in a race for life, while being purchased by numerous predators. This spectacular phenomenon takes place in a unique scenic setting of treeless expanses of spectacularly flat short grasslands, dotted with rocky outcrops (kopjes) and interspersed with rivers and woodlands. The Serengeti also hosts one of the largest and most diverse large predator-prey interactions worldwide, providing a particularly impressive aesthetic experience, on condition that you visit the area in the right season. The best time to witness the migration in the Serengeti is probably February and March, when the wildebeest and zebra congregate and calve in the Serengeti at the start of the rainy season. Not only can you enjoy seeing baby animals, but the predators are at their highest number too.  In June and July, the great migration hops over to Kenya’s Masai Mara and this is the time that you can witness spectacular Grumeti River crossings with crocodiles killing their prey (although it is hard to predict the exact time of this event).

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