Custom Tanzania Safaris
East Africa’s largest country remains one of the continent’s most definitive and stirringly original safari destinations. Blessed with a string of superlatives unmatched on the continent: Africa’s highest mountain, its largest game reserve, its biggest volcanic caldera, its oldest human settlement; and – towering above all other safari experiences – the awe-inspiring spectacle of 1.5 million wildebeest, zebras and antelopes crossing the Serengeti plains, in what naturalists the world over consistently rate as “the greatest wildlife show on Earth.”
Tanzania’s wilderness defies the imagination, its sweeping plains alive with giant creatures – and perhaps the closest thing on Earth to a true Garden of Eden. Snowcapped Kilimanjaro towers above dusty red savanna, flamingo-carpeted lakes abut thick green forests, and lush grass plains seemingly stretch on forever. First-time visitors are invariably awed by the scale and color, before being bewitched by the diversity. You’ll find hidden waterholes, dazzling white sands, teeming volcanic craters, and ice-capped mountain peaks – all within a few hours of each other. These are landscapes that have inspired countless wildlife documentaries and Disney movies – evocative spectacles that remain indelibly raw and rugged.
No great landscape is complete without an inimitable cast of characters. During the great wildebeest migration, an estimated 1.5 million large mammals march across the Serengeti, while big cats roam freely through parks and reserves, and spotting hippos and elephants is an almost daily routine. No country can match the diversity of Tanzania’s national parks and the mind-boggling concentrations of its wildlife. First-timers are always wowed, while regulars return year after year because there is always somewhere new to explore, something new to see. Safaris in Tanzania aren’t about spotting a few animals – they’re a sublime immersion in an ancient and astonishing animal world.
Yet peel yourself away from the captivating wildlife, and the landscapes hold countless new experiences. Trek up the world’s highest free-standing mountain and stand at 5,895 meters on the roof of Africa. Or be lulled into hibernation on the idyllic beaches of the mystical Zanzibar Archipelago. And don’t forget one other resident. Tanzanians are famously relaxed and friendly – unsurprising, given that they also coined the phrase “Hakuna matata”.
For all its vast beauty and monumental scale, Tanzania always offers a very personal experience. Everybody leaves with different memories, unique snapshots that symbolize their vacation: a baby elephant being tenderly mothered, mellifluous taarab music wafting through Zanzibar’s Stone Town, a ferocious growl from a black-maned lion, or the incredible procession of wildlife wandering past your private veranda. While Tanzania can monopolize superlatives, a trip here is always an enthralling journey, full of iconic experiences and surprises.
- Customize a multi-day safari journey and explore a beautiful collection of national parks and private concessions, where you’ll have miles of untamed Africa to yourself. Go in search of magnificent leopards and lions, and marvel at some of the best bird-watching on the planet. Discover hippos and crocodiles in the northern rivers, marvel at chimpanzees in the western forests, and swim with dolphins and whale sharks at the coast. Experience it on a game drive, on guided bush walks, on horseback, or from the air. In the original land of safari, the options are endless.
- Marvel at the singular magnitude of the Great Migration, one of the world’s most dramatic natural spectacles, as upwards of 1.5 million wildebeest, Burchell’s zebra and Thomson’s gazelle sweep across the Serengeti in their age-old search for pasture and water. This ancient ritual delivers a variety of stunning wildlife-viewing opportunities: in February and March, when the wildebeest are calving on the Southern Serengeti Plains (with plenty of opportunistic predators in attendance); in April and May, when feisty mating bulls compete on the Central Plains; and in August and September, when the herds dodge giant Nile crocodiles on their dramatic crossings of the Mara River.
- The Serengeti plains are also celebrated as the “Cradle of Mankind” – the location where some of our earliest ancestors started to settle on the land. Tools and human remains unearthed at Olduvai Gorge, in the eastern Serengeti, show the site was occupied by Homo habilis about 1.8 million years ago and Homo erectus 1.2 million years ago – while footprints uncovered at nearby Laetoli date back nearly 3.6 million years. Fascinating guided tours of both sites, and the informative visitor center at Olduvai, offer a unique trip back in time.
- Drift away on the pristine Indian Ocean beaches of the Zanzibar Archipelago, where palm trees and turquoise waters combine in postcard-perfect harmony. Dive or snorkel on the spectacular marine worlds off Nungwi and Pemba Island, tour the 19th century palaces and bustling markets of Stone Town, sample exotic fruits and spices on a visit to the island’s legendary spice farms – or simply stroll on miles and miles of deserted white sand that squeaks beneath your feet.
- Immerse yourself in the stunning lost world of Ngorongoro Crater, an ancient volcanic caldera bursting with animals, which is regularly described (by seasoned guides as well as awestruck travelers) as “the 8th wonder of the world”. An astonishing concentration of wildlife lives in this lush prehistoric landscape, and all of the Big Five – elephants, rhinos, buffalos, lions and leopards – can be seen, sometimes with a single sweep of the binoculars. Lions lounge in the shade of your safari vehicle, hippo pods cover lake shores, while fearless black rhino stop and return your gaze.
- Be inspired by the unforgettable challenge of Mount Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest free-standing mountain, which can be conquered on an epic (although non-technical) five- to seven-day hike. Traverse numerous ecosystems and relish stupendous beauty as you climb to the 5,895-meter summit of Uhuru Peak on Kibo – the youngest and highest of Kilimanjaro’s three volcanic cones. Then enjoy the indescribable feeling and the incredible views that accompany every journey to “the roof of Africa”.
- Witness huge herds of up to 300 elephants wandering through Tarangire National Park, then smile at the playful interactions within these giant herds. Babies and mothers endearingly share a moment, youngsters chase warthogs away from a waterhole, and quarrelsome males test out their strength. This large, well-watered park is renowned for its diversity of wildlife, including long-necked gerenuk antelopes and tree-climbing lions – often spotted in the branches of its bulbous baobab trees.
The Great Migration, the Serengeti, Zanzibar, Ngorongoro Crater? Tanzania isn’t short of world-famous attractions. But every Tanzanian adventure will also, invariably, scratch deep below the surface. This is a country that’s full of surprises, unique moments, and personal experiences that will indelibly mark your journey.
- A cacophonous soundtrack welcomes you to Lake Manyara, a provocative national park that’s home to more than 400 bird species. Hornbills shout from the treetops, eagles soar on the thermals, while kingfishers share the lake with huge pods of hippos. This small park is nearly two-thirds water, and consequently draws a huge crowd of wild characters. Giraffes and antelopes roam the floodplains, while the dense forests are home to raucous baboons, stealthy lions, and marauding elephants.
- Tanzania’s landscapes have no fences or boundaries. Lions, leopards, elephants, hippos – all roam freely and without inhibition. So now it’s time to get out of your vehicle and explore this wilderness on foot. Don’t be too concerned: the Maasai tribes people have coexisted with the wildlife here for millennia, and the warrior-guides use their intimate knowledge of the environment to keep you safe while taking you close to the action.
- Take an atmospheric journey through the meandering alleyways of Zanzibar’s Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site with 1,200 years of living history. Barbecued squid sizzles on street barbecues, locals gather around a game of dominoes, and the symphonic call to prayer sails across ancient rooftops. The labyrinthine streets are barely wide enough for a donkey, yet they’re packed with secrets: colorful Indian temples, fragrant chai vendors, grand Persian baths, decaying Portuguese cathedrals, and – always – the welcoming smiles of the Zanzibari people.
- Almost all of Tanzania showcases untouched Africa, but head south to the Selous Game Reserve and the Katavi and Ruaha National Parks and you step into another, eminently wilder world. All three reserves are larger than many countries, and you’ll almost certainly be alone with nature in these raw and rugged areas. The Selous is Africa’s largest game reserve and one of the world’s largest unspoilt wildernesses, its 54,600 square kilometers home to the continent’s largest populations of elephants and wild dogs – and huge numbers of buffalos, hippos, crocodiles and lions.
- The Zanzibar Aarchipelago has been igniting the imagination of travelers for over a thousand years – and it still keeps offering more. Exclusive lodges carefully blend romance with seclusion, offering private white sand beaches and hidden bungalows. Great seafood banquets are served over lingering sunsets, monkeys swing through the jungle, and an incomparably personal experience awaits. The island has recently again made headlines with the opening of Africa’s first underwater hotel room at the Manta Resort on Pemba Island.
- Weave your way through the enchanting forests of Gombe and the Mahale Mountains, home to some of the world’s last remaining troupes of wild chimpanzees. Mothers skip along the trail, babies clinging to their bellies. Males shout and squabble, while inquisitive individuals take a keen interest in you. Habituated through five decades of study and exposure to humans, these creatures are remarkably relaxed with visitors – enabling both sides to admire the 98% of genes they share with each other.
Tanzania is a huge country just south of the equator. It’s always warm or hot and the weather is dictated by the annual cycles of rains. Precisely when to go will depend on your specific interests, such as the best time for a beach vacation or following the Great Migration.
As a general rule, the weather can be divided into four seasons. Go back two generations and the Maasai tribesmen could accurately predict exactly when the storms would start. However, the weather is becoming more unpredictable, and there can be significant overlaps between the seasons.
A long dry season runs from June to mid-October. This offers the best weather for visitors, particularly for anyone who isn’t suited to the tropics. It’s the coolest time of year, with nighttime temperatures dipping into the 60s, and the mercury only starting to get above 80 degrees from September onwards. Beach destinations are idyllic and wildlife spotting is easy, as the larger game congregates around rivers and waterholes. However, the great wildebeest migration will largely have passed north into Kenya by this time.
Sporadic showers mark the climate from late October to December. These are known as the “short rains” and certainly don’t happen every day or everywhere. Zanzibar and the coast aren’t really affected by them. Temperatures gradually rise into the 80s and this is also generally a very good time to experience any of Tanzania’s natural wonders.
January and February is the hottest and driest time of the year. Temperatures are somewhere between 75 and 90 degrees but the lack of humidity makes it manageable. This is arguably the best time of year for climbing Kilimanjaro, and for marveling at the Great Migration on the Southern Serengeti Plains.
March to May brings the “long rains”. Along the coast, tropical afternoon downpours arrive with an almost metronomic consistency. In the isolated national parks, they are much less predictable and flash flooding can occasionally occur. This is low season for tourists in Tanzania, although anyone braving the long rains will find that they have the national parks almost to themselves.
Integral to the Tanzanian experience is its wonderful array of accommodation. Safari lodges and camps harmoniously blend into the landscapes, almost always constructed from replenishable local materials. Private verandas overlook a procession of mammals drinking from local waterholes, lion roars filter through opulent canvas tents, and cute bungalows are hidden within palm tree plantations. In Tanzania, you’ll find the luxury and quality demanded by the most discerning of travelers. You’ll also discover that it’s often surrounded by elephants, perforated by nature’s soundtrack, and imbued with an individual style that makes every night memorable.
While Tanzania does have large hotels and international chains, the most common type of accommodation is in a lodge. These are often spread over immense grounds, ensuring that privacy and seclusion are on the agenda. Rooms usually come in the form of spacious bungalows, often featuring private balconies with phenomenal views over the surrounding landscape. “Eco-lodges” have recently become very popular in the industry – although Tanzania was offering them long before the term was even invented.
The word “camp” tends to cause faces to drop and negative thoughts to swirl. So let’s just clarify things. When on safari in Tanzania, a tented camp offers an opportunity to be completely immersed in nature. Extremely spacious canvas tents allow nature to sing a lullaby and provide an acoustic wake-up call. Many operators offer fully-staffed mobile camps, which enable you to visit some of the more remote reserves and concessions – and literally follow the migrating wildlife. These luxurious mobile outfits have facilities and standards that far surpass anything you could imagine in the wilderness, from hot showers and raised beds to proper toilets and private balconies. And they’re all incredibly charming and romantic.
Tanzania also revels in its ability to offer something totally unique. Private two-person camps are set up on the endless grasslands of the Serengeti. Sumptuous tree houses overlook waterholes in indigenous forests. Colonial farmhouses have been converted to offer discreet opulent experiences. Exclusive lodges are set in their own private concessions, meaning that just eight guests share a teeming animal kingdom that’s bigger than many US states. Whatever you’re looking for, let Zicasso wow you with a breathtaking range of accommodation options.
Visa and Passport Requirements
North American and European visitors require a visa to enter Tanzania. This is easily obtained on arrival at the country’s international airports or land borders. It’s essential that you have clean and recent US dollar bills to pay for the visa. Bills with tears or marks, or bills dated pre-2006, may be rejected by customs. Have all your travel documents and confirmations to hand, just in case you’re asked to prove that you’re a tourist.
The standard tourist visa is valid for three months. A single-entry visa costs $50 and a multiple-entry costs $100. However, US passport holders must take a multiple-entry visa. It’s also possible to organize a visa in advance from a Tanzanian embassy.
Officially, the local currency is the Tanzanian shilling. However, US dollars are accepted almost everywhere and are the preferred currency for anything that costs over $100. Post-2006 bills are recommended.
Visa and Mastercard facilities are in their infancy and will only be available at high-end stores and hotels. Expect for the commission to be added to your bill. You can also use Visa and Mastercard in many ATMs. However, Tanzanian ATMs only dispense Tanzanian shillings and $300 equals a wad that barely fits in your pocket. It’s also possible to purchase US dollars with a credit card, but expect a fee of 7 – 15%.
Tanzania is generally a safe and hassle-free country, where crime against tourists is taken extremely seriously. When on safari, there is genuinely a greater risk of being trampled by elephants then having something stolen. However, it is important to follow basic precautions when in tourist areas like Arusha, Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam. Don’t leave anything unattended on the beach, keep your passport and valuables in the hotel safe, and don’t obviously advertise your wealth. Like all of Africa, life is lived during daylight hours; after dusk there are very few people on the streets and very few places open. So it’s recommended to take taxis after dark. Many people hold erroneous preconceptions about high crime levels in Tanzania and other parts of Africa. In truth, you’re more likely to be robbed in a busy European capital than in Tanzania.
Malaria is endemic throughout Tanzania. This disease is transmitted by mosquitos and doesn’t have a vaccination. Visitors must take preventative measures, which involve a combination of anti-malarial medication and protecting yourself against mosquito bites. It is advisable to wear long sleeves and to cover your feet, limbs and neck with insect repellent before dusk. Hotels should all have mosquito nets over the beds. Typhoid, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS and other diseases are far more prevalent than in North America and Europe. You should consult your doctor or physician about vaccinations.
Outside of Dar es Salaam, Tanzanian medical facilities do not meet US or European standards. Excellent medical facilities can also be found in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Safari operators and travel agents will have procedures in place in case of medical emergencies. Even the most isolated national parks have their own airstrip and an aerial evacuation to Dar es Salaam or Nairobi is usually easy to arrange.
Tap water is not safe to drink but bottled water is readily available. Anywhere catering for tourists will usually offer good standards of food hygiene. However, precautions should be taken with street food.
Tanzania’s official language is Swahili, and if you’ve watched The Lion King you’ll already know a few words. For example, “simba” is the Swahili word for lion and “pumba” means warthog. “Hakuna matata” really does translate to “no worries” – a symbolic saying that reflects the easygoing nature of the local people. Tanzania runs on a relaxed rhythm, an informal and welcoming way of life that’s very different from the high-pressure, high-tempo Western world.
English is also a de facto official language and is spoken by most of the population, and certainly everyone involved with the tourism industry. Tanzanians are invariably open and enthusiastic. Sharing stories and swapping tales with them is part of the cultural experience –an opportunity to learn and genuinely make new friends.
Time runs differently here. Most Tanzanians could gaze at the clouds and accurately predict how long it will be before the first drops of rain. But they’ll probably not be wearing a watch. You’ll regularly hear things like “dinner will be ready at sunset” or “we’ll leave just after dawn”. Similarly, the duration of a game drive isn’t dictated by a time. It might continue into the night because you’ve been trailing a lion pride. Or you could spend two hours not moving after discovering a hidden waterhole that teems with life. So don’t worry if something starts 15 minutes later then scheduled; there is always enough time on Tanzania’s relaxed clock.
Going on safari is not like going to the zoo. You can never guarantee what you’ll see. These are wild animals, so forget any preconceptions of stroking lion cubs or kissing elephants. A safari provides a unique submersion in the animals’ natural habitat, a raw and unedited experience that is different for everyone. Certain rules apply when on safari and these will be explained by your guide. They’re about respecting the environment – fully experiencing it, while never changing it.
Tipping is standard and usually expected for tourist experiences. Working as a guide or driver is seen as a very good job in Tanzania. But the country’s GDP per capita is barely 1% of the USA’s and $1000 a year is considered an excellent salary. So tips make an incredible difference in the quality of life for many workers in the tourism industry. Some companies will provide guidelines as to the percentage, while others will leave it to your discretion.