In this section you will find the top ten destinations in Tanzania, listed in order of popularity. Reading it evokes the best Africa has to offer -- wonder, adventure, challenge, relaxation -- but this list is really only the beginning. For while Tanzania’s most famous and world-renowned destinations are the highlights that bring visitors to our country from around the globe, there’s much more to see and do than most people think. In 'places to go' we explore all the main destinations and venture far off the beaten track to give you an informed overview of all the places of interest in our country, from little-known but spectacular Swahili ruins on the southern coast to the hunter gatherer tribes of the northern highlands. You will find information on safari circuits and national parks and reserves to help you plan your safari itinerary, while the towns and cities section provides interesting and useful information whatever your interest. Not convinced that Tanzania really has it all? One look at the islands will certainly fix that. Finally if you would like to see some of the world's greatest natural features then take a look at mountains and volcanoes or lakes. Whatever your desire - Tanzania has it all.
Top 10 Destination
The Ngorongoro Crater is often called ‘Africa’s Eden’ and the ‘8th Natural Wonder of the World,’ a visit to the crater is a main drawcard for tourists coming to Tanzania and a definite world-class attraction. Within the crater rim, large herds of zebra and wildebeest graze nearby while sleeping lions laze in the sun. At dawn, the endangered black rhino returns to the thick cover of the crater forests after grazing on dew-laden grass in the morning mist. Just outside the crater’s ridge, tall Masaai herd their cattle and goats over green pastures through the highland slopes, living alongside the wildlife as they have for centuries.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area includes its eponymous famous crater, Olduvai Gorge, and huge expanses of highland plains, scrub bush, and forests that cover approximately 8300 square kilometres. A protected area, only indigenous tribes such as the Masaai are allowed to live within its borders. Lake Ndutu and Masek, both alkaline soda lakes are home to rich game populations, as well as a series of peaks and volcanoes and make the Conservation Area a unique and beautiful landscape. Of course, the crater itself, actually a type of collapsed volcano called a caldera, is the main attraction. Accommodation is located on its ridges and after a beautiful descent down the crater rim, passing lush rain forest and thick vegetation, the flora opens to grassy plains throughout the crater floor. The game viewing is truly incredible, and the topography and views of the surrounding Crater Highlands out of this world.
This truly magical place is home to Olduvai Gorge, where the Leakeys discovered the hominoid remains of a 1.8 million year old skeleton of Australopithecus boisei, one of the distinct links of the human evolutionary chain. In a small canyon just north of the crater, the Leakeys and their team of international archaeologists unearthed the ruins of at least three distinct hominoid species, and also came upon a complete series of hominoid footprints estimated to be over 3.7 million years old. Evacuated fossils show that the area is one of the oldest sites of hominoid habitation in the world.
The Ngorongoro Crater and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area are without a doubt some of the most beautiful parts of Tanzania, steeped in history and teeming with wildlife. Besides vehicle safaris to Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge, and surrounding attractions, hiking treks through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area are becoming increasingly popular options. Either way you choose to visit, the Crater Highlands are an unforgettable part of the Tanzanian experience.
Serengeti National Park
Serengeti is easily Tanzania’s most famous national park, and it’s also the largest, at 14,763 square kilometres of protected area that borders Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Park. Its far-reaching plains of endless grass, tinged with the twisted shadows of acacia trees, have made it the quintessential image of a wild and untarnished Africa. Its large stone kopjes are home to rich ecosystems, and the sheer magnitude and scale of life that the plains support is staggering. Large prides of lions laze easily in the long grasses, plentiful families of elephants feed on acacia bark and trump to each other across the plains, and giraffes, gazelles, monkeys, eland, and the whole range of African wildlife is in awe-inspiring numbers.
The annual wildebeest migration through the Serengeti and the Masai Mara attract visitors from around the world, who flock to the open plains to witness the largest mass movement of land mammals on the planet. More than a million animals make the seasonal journey to fresh pasture to the north, then the south, after the biannual rains. The sound of their thundering hooves, raising massive clouds of thick red dust, has become one of the legends of the Serengeti plains. The entire ecosystem thrives from the annual migration, from the lions and birds of prey that gorge themselves on the weak and the faltering to the gamut of hungry crocodiles that lie in patient wait at each river crossing for their annual feed.
But it’s not just the wildebeest who use the Serengeti as a migratory pathway. The adjacent reserves of Maswa and Ikorongo, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and the Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya all allow the animals and birds of the area a free range of movement to follow their seasonal migrations. Indeed, in the wake of the wildebeest migration, many of the less attention-grabbing features of the Serengeti are often overlooked. The park has varied zones in which each ecosystem is subtly different . Seronera in the centre of the park is the most popular and most easily visited area. The Grumeti River in the Western Corridor is the location for the dramatic river crossing during the wildebeest migration. Maswa Game Reserve to the south offers a remote part of the park rewarding in its game-viewing and privacy, and Lobo near the Kenyan border offers a change to see plentiful game during the dry season.
Aside from traditional vehicle bound safaris, hot-air ballooning over the Serengeti plains has become a safari rite-of-passage for travel enthusiasts. The flights depart at dawn over the plains and take passengers close over the awakening herds of wildebeest and zebra, gazelle and giraffe. The extra altitude allows guests to witness the striking stretches of plains punctuated only by kopjes. Up in the sky, you have Africa all to yourself.
Portuguese invasion and control of the Swahili Coast in the late 16th century ended the golden age of the archipelago, although the Omani Arabs returned to power less than a century later. Today, many of the winding streets and high townhouses of old Stone Town remain unchanged and visitors can walk between the sultan’s palace, the House of Wonders, the Portuguese fort and gardens, the merchants’ houses, and the Turkish baths of the old city. Day-long spice tours to working plantations offer visitors the chance to observe the cultivation of cloves, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and other spices that have made the island famous.
Zanzibar’s coastline offers some of the best beaches in the world, but sand and surf vary depending on what side of the island you’re on. On the east coast, waves break over coral reefs and sand bars offshore, and low tide reveals small pools of starfish, small minnows, and anemones. Up north, ocean swimming is much less susceptible to the tides, and smooth beaches and white sand make for dazzling days in the sun.
The port city of Stone Town dominates the west coast, and although the beaches of Mangapwani, where slave caves are visible at low tide and nearby Bububu are less than half an hour’s drive away, a night or two spent on the east or north cost is well worth the extra hour it takes to drive there. That said, the Chole Island Marine Park just off Stone Town – and nearby Prison, Grave, and Snake Islands – make a refreshing day-trip and a good break from exploring the winding passageways of the old city.
On the south coast of Zanzibar lies the Menai Bay Conservation Area, a sea turtle protection area for the endangered species that come to breed on the island. Roads to the southeast coast take visitors through the Jozani Forest, home to Zanzibar’s rare Red Colobus monkeys and a number of other primate and small antelope species.
Tarangire National Park
Tarangire National Park has some of the highest population density of elephants anywhere in Tanzania, and its sparse vegetation, strewn with baobab and acacia trees, makes it a beautiful and special location. Located just a few hours drive from the town of Arusha, Tarangire is a popular stop for safaris travelling through the northern circuit on their way to Ngorongoro and the Serengeti. The park extends into two game controlled areas and the wildlife are allowed to move freely throughout.
Before the rains, droves of gazelle, wildebeest, zebra, and giraffes migrate to Tarangire National Park’s scrub plains where the last grazing land still remains. Tarangire offers unparalleled game viewing, and during the dry season elephants abound. Families of the pachyderms play around the ancient trunks of baobab trees and strip acacia bark from the thorn trees for their afternoon meal. Breathtaking views of the Masaai Steppe and the mountains to the south make a stop at Tarangire a memorable experience.
Lake Manyara National Park
Located beneath the cliffs of the Manyara Escarpment, on the edge of the Rift Valley, Lake Manyara National Park offers varied ecosystems, incredible bird life, and breathtaking views. Located on the way to Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti, Lake Manyara National Park is well worth a stop in its own right. Its ground water forests, bush plains, baobob strewn cliffs, and algae-streaked hot springs offer incredible ecological variety in a small area, rich in wildlife and incredible numbers of birds.
The alkaline soda of Lake Manyara is home to an incredible array of bird life that thrives on its brackish waters. Pink flamingo stoop and graze by the thousands, colourful specks against the grey minerals of the lake shore. Yellow-billed storks swoop and corkscrew on thermal winds rising up from the escarpment, and herons flap their wings against the sun-drenched sky. Even reluctant bird-watchers will find something to watch and marvel at within the national park.
Lake Manyara’s famous tree-climbing lions are another reason to pay this park a visit. The only kind of their species in the world, they make the ancient mahogany and elegant acacias their home during the rainy season, and are a well-known but rather rare feature of the northern park. In addition to the lions, the national park is also home to the largest concentration of baboons anywhere in the world -- a fact that makes for interesting game viewing of large families of the primates.
Above the gently rolling hills and plateaux of northern Tanzania rises the snowy peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro, it’s slopes and glaciers shimmering above the rising clouds. Kilimanjaro is located near the town of Moshi and is a protected area, carefully regulated for climbers to enjoy without leaving a trace of their presence. The mountain’s ecosystems are as strikingly beautiful as they are varied and diverse. On the lowland slopes, much of the mountain is farmland, with coffee, banana, cassava, and maize crops grown for subsistence and cash sale. A few larger coffee farms still exist on the lower slopes, but much of the area outside the national park has been subdivided into small plots. Once inside the park, thick lowland forest covers the lower altitudes and breaks into alpine meadows once the air begins to thin. Near the peak, the landscape is harsh and barren, with rocks and ice the predominant features above a breathtaking African view.
Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is the highlight of most visitors’ experiences in Tanzania. Few mountains can claim the grandeur, the breathtaking views of Amboseli National Park in Kenya, the Rift Valley, and the Masaai Steppe, that belongs to Kilimanjaro. Hiking on the ‘rooftop of Africa’ -- the highest point on the continent at 5896 metres -- is the adventure of a lifetime, especially because, if paced well, everyone from seasoned trekkers to first-time enthusiasts can scale the snowy peak.
Selous Game Reserve
Located in south-east Tanzania in a remote and little-visited part of the country, the Selous Game Reserve is Africa’s largest protected wildlife reserve and covers more than 5% of Tanzania’s total area. It’s rivers, hills, and plains are home to roaming elephant populations, the area’s famous wild dogs, and some of the last black rhino left in the region. Due to its remote location, and because it is most easily accessible only by small aircraft, the Selous Game Reserve has remained one of the untouched gems of Tanzania’s national parks and game reserves, and offers visitors a chance to see a wild and expansive Africa far from paved roads and curio shops.
One of the more historic protected areas in Tanzania, the Selous Game Reserve was named after Frederick Courteney Selous, a British explorer and hunter in East Africa who wrote a book about the region and his travels, and was tragically killed in land now named after him during the First World War. In 1905, when few people in East Africa thought of land conservation and the preservation of wildlife for posterity, portions of the area were earmarked for a hunting reserve. In 1922, the land area was increased and named after Frederick Selous. From then until 1975, when the current boundaries were delineated, the Selous Game Reserve increased steadily in allocated land. These days, tourists flock to the north of the reserve, while large portions of the south are still reserved for hunting.
The Rufigi River Delta is a striking feature of the game reserve. It connects the Great Ruaha River with the Rufigi River and not far from the park boundaries empties out into the Indian Ocean along the Tanzanian Coast. The Rufigi River is the largest water catchment locations in the region, and as such, is home to a plethora of varied water and bird life. Along its shores, oppulent hippos sleep languidly in the mud and sun themselves, mouths wide open, as the river passes by. Crocodiles are also common along the Rufigi’s riverbanks, their armour plated skins the only rough edges in the rivers incessant flow. Stiggler’s Gorge, where the Great Ruaha River meets the Rufiji River, is a breathtaking example of the diversity and spectacular scenery along the game reserve's waterways.
The Selous is unique among Tanzania’s more renowned preserved areas because it is a game reserve, not a national park, and therefore a larger range of activities are permitted. Boating safaris are becoming a popular alternative to vehicle-based trips, and offer visitors a chance to see the diverse life along the Rufigi River up close in all its splendour. Hiking safaris and fly camping are also ideal ways to explore the country and add a bit of adventure to your African experience.
Ruaha National Park
Ruaha was recently expanded and become the Tanzania’s largest National Park followed bySerengeti, Ruaha National Park is a remote bastion of spectacular wilderness, undisturbed wildlife, and breathtaking scenery. It lies 130 kilometers west of Iringa town.Its name derived from the Great Ruaha River, which flows through it creating spectacular gorges and scenery.Hippos, crocodiles, turtles and fish inhabit the river. The park is also known for its sable and roan antelopes, and its rich bird life. Photography blinds have been built at strategic places where wildlife congregates.With herds of more than 10,000 elephants, vast concentrations of buffalo, gazelle, and over 400 bird species, Ruaha’s limitless wilderness, together with the surrounding game reserves of Rungwa and Kisigo -- stretches over 40,000 square kilometres. Elephants are found in some of the highest concentration in the country, travelling in matriarch-lead herds through ancient grazing lands and seasonal supplies of water.
The Great Ruaha River is the main feature of the park, and meanders through its borders. On its banks, the game viewing is spectacular, whether done by land or by water. Hippos yawn under the midday sun and crocodiles lie lazily along the banks. Fish eagles dive and swoop along the riverbanks, and at night the sound of frogs croaking happily in the reeds extends across the hills and plains. Boating safaris are starting to gain in popularity, and provide a popular alternative to viewing the area by car.
Most of the national park is located on the top of a 900 metre plateau whose ripples of hills, valleys, and plains makes the game viewing topography beautifully unique. Small mountains run along the southwest borders of the park and their tree-covered slopes are visible in the distance. During the rainy seasons, dry river beds swell with the biannual deluge and within days, a thin coat of green covers all the land in sight.
Because of its rather remote location, Ruaha National Park is largely unexplored. Because of this, a safari to the national park often has the feel of a private adventure and an unique experience. For the intrepid wilderness lover and the avid safari explorer, a trip to Ruaha is uniquely rewarding and a perfect piece of Africa. The best months for game viewing are July to November, as animals concentrate at water sources. The park can be visited throught the year, but in March and April some of the roads are not accessible.
Mafia Island is a popular destination for visitors to relax after their safari and the island’s relaxed and secluded beaches offer privacy and comfort for discerning travellers. Mafia’s incredible and unspoilt dive sites have remained a well-kept secret of diving aficionados and beach recluses for years, but now the island is fast becoming a preferred destination.
For centuries, the island was a trading stop for Shirazi merchants travelling up towards Persia and under the rule of the Omani sultanate in Zanzibar, vast coconut and cashew plantations flourished. Today, all that remain of the island’s prestigious past are the coral ruins on Chole Mjini, the small island just off Hore from Mafia where the Arab landowners lived a sumptuous life removed from their plantations and slaves.
These days, Mafia’s remote location means it receives only the most selective visitors, but things are changing. The recent gazetting of Mafia Island Marine Park – the largest protected area in the Indian Ocean – to include surrounding villages in its conservation efforts means that the millions of fish and coral species that thrive in the warm waters of Mafia’s beaches will survive for decades to come.
The dramatic crater of Mt. Meru is often neglected in favour of nearby to the east, but a visit to this spectacular mountain, located within Arusha National Park, is an unforgettable experience. It’s lower slopes are covered in dense highland forest, where colobus monkeys play and buffalo graze concealed beneath the thick foliage. The extinct volcano’s extensive base gives way to a perfectly formed crater, and another internal crater whose walls are sharp, sheer cliffs. An ash cone forms a subsidiary peak, and the Momela Lakes and Ngurdoto Crater are visible from Meru’s slopes.