Best of Tanzania Vacation: Safari, Nature & Culture

A 15 day trip to Tanzania 
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From high in the mountains, across the savannah, and out into archipelagos, this two-week tour perfectly encapsulates all that Tanzania has to offer. Begin in Tanzania’s quiet corners, hiking through the Usambara Mountains with three-horned chameleons, and then driving beneath baobab trees in Tarangire National Park. Venture on to the golden plains of the Serengeti in search of the Great Wildebeest Migration, before exploring the historically saturated and impossibly beautiful shores of Zanzibar. Allow yourself to be captivated by Tanzania on this incredible two-week journey. 

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General Information

Photos
Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Usambara Mountains, Arusha, Tarangire National Park, Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Zanzibar, Kiwenga Beach, Stone Town, Dar es Salaam, Magamba Forest Reserve, Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, Mnemba Island 

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Welcome to Tanzania! Drive from Dar es Salaam to the Usambara Mountains

Karibu Tanzania! Welcome to Tanzania! Today you will finally touch down in the capital city of Dar es Salaam on the Indian Ocean. Your private driver will await you in the arrivals hall of the terminal, where together you will drive out of the city and towards the northern Usambara Mountains. Over the course of this five-hour trip, the landscape will shift dramatically from the urban city into farmland before you begin to climb into the mountains. You will arrive at Muller’s Lodge, a restored colonial farmhouse in the western portion of the Usambara range. Cozy and quaint, this tranquil retreat will be your base for exploring the region over the coming days. 

Arriving in the late afternoon, the remainder of the day will be spent relaxing around the lush lodge grounds. The property itself is in a stunning location, with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and ancient forests. Enjoy dinner in the main dining room before snuggling in beside the fireplace with a book as the cool mountain air blows through.

Day 2: Explore the Magamba Forest Reserve on Foot, Visiting Waterfalls, Mountain Peaks and Rich Bird Life

Today you will have the opportunity to hike through the neighboring Magamba Forest Reserve on a series of hikes that span from two to ten hours. Setting out with a local guide, you will be able to explore these forests, learning of the history, biology and culture that course through the mountains. A favorite and relatively easy walking trail carries guests through the forest towards the Lushoto waterfall. Moving through the dense tropical rainforest, you will pass through rare flora including euphorbias, acacias, giant ferns, lobelias, camphores, eucalyptus and fig trees. Alternatively, a longer path has great opportunities for exotic bird watching. Take a pair of binoculars and keep an eye out for the Trumpeter hornbill, which commonly resides in these trees. For those craving a more challenging hike, it is possible to climb the highest peak in the mountain range, Mount Mgamba, for spectacular views and sightings of Colobus monkeys. This entire region has a high level of biodiversity, and with a bit of luck you may have the chance to spot one of the five endemic vertebrates, or to learn about the 27 indigenous trees.

Whether you choose to spend the entire day hiking through the mountains, or would rather spend the day relaxing in the vicinity of the lodge, the day will be entirely yours to design. In the evening, enjoy another communal meal in the dining area before heading back to your cottage’s private fireplace.

Day 3: Hike to Irente Viewpoint in the Heart of Tanzania’s Cultural Tourism Program

The Western Usambara Mountains are famous in Tanzania for the successful implementation of a Cultural Tourism Program. Supported by the Dutch Development Organization and the Tanzanian Tourism board, there are a number of local development projects that benefit from the region’s growth in tourism. Today you will hike from the town of Lushoto to the Irente Viewpoint, which overlooks the Mazinde village and the Mkomazi floodplains 320 feet below. Led by a graduate of the local secondary school, this hike will carry you through local villages and farms, past unique rock formations and through lush forests. The walk itself takes under two hours and you would be wise to keep your eyes open for the Usambara Two and Three-horned chameleons, along with the Blue monkeys! You will stop for lunch at the Irente Farm, which provides a delicious and locally sourced lunch that supports local farmers.

If interested in learning more about the community development programs associated with the tourism program, it is possible to spend some time visiting the Irente School for the Blind, the Rainbow School for the mentally handicapped and the Irente Orphanage. There are numerous farms that have also benefitted from funding that has enhanced their irrigation systems and general productivity. If visiting on a Tuesday or Thursday, it is also possible to visit the local market in Lushoto before returning to your mountain sanctuary for the evening.

Day 4: Drive the Usambara Mountains to Arusha’s Karama Lodge

Today you will leave the Usambara Mountains and continue to drive North West through the Tanzanian highlands towards the city of Arusha. Today’s trip will carry you directly under the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa. You will have a few opportunities to stretch your legs and photograph the snow-capped tip of the mountain, before carrying on to Karama Lodge. Arriving into this oasis built into the side of a hill, staff will welcome you with fresh fruit juice before walking you to your private stilted wood cabin. Spend the late afternoon relaxing on your porch, admiring the phenomenal views of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru. Some may be interested in indulging in a massage after days of hiking. Join the lodge for an evening buffet tonight; this meal is a favorite with people living in Arusha.

Day 5: Drive from Arusha to Tarangire National Park, Arriving in Time for a Game Drive

This morning, it is finally time to begin your luxury safari in Tanzania! Driving out of Arusha early in the morning, you will head south towards the quiet Tarangire National Park. As baobab trees begin to consume the horizon, you know you will be nearing the park gates. Crossing into the park, you will head towards the Tarangire River, a permanent water source for wildlife. During the peak of the dry season, this river attracts an enormous number of migratory animals from surrounding regions. This afternoon, you will have the opportunity to drive slowly alongside the riverbank observing elephant, buffalo and perhaps a lion as they wander down for a drink.

The appeal of Tarangire is that it is, relative to other Tanzanian parks, seldom visited. Here you will drive for stretches of time without observing a single passing vehicle, giving you the chance to marvel at a leopard in total isolation. This park’s ecosystem is also unique from the Serengeti-Mara. Here, unique wildlife including the oryx and gerenuk – two prehistoric looking antelope – roam the grassland. The Kori bustard, the world’s heaviest flying bird, is also a remarkable spotting in this arid landscape.

Day 6: Drive from Tarangire to the Serengeti, with a Game Drive on Route

This morning you will slowly drive out of Tarangire, squeezing in a final early morning safari, and perhaps a scramble up a baobab tree. Driving westwards, you will head towards the famed savanna of the Serengeti National Park. Acacia trees and the occasional kopje (a rocky outcropping) are some of the sole interruptions to this otherwise expansive plateau.

Entering into this legendary park, there will be time for a game drive en route to tonight’s lodge. With truly prolific wildlife, it will only be moments before you happen upon a lion, cheetah or ostrich. Progressing further into the park and towards the rivers, you may have the opportunity to watch hippos as they bob in the shallow water while crocodiles lounge on the banks. If timed correctly, it will be impossible to miss signs of the Great Wildebeest Migration since wildebeest, zebra and impala positively coat the landscape. Your professional guide will drive you through some of the top locations in the park  (and a few secret corners) before you wind your way to tonight’s lodge.

Day 7: Game Drives across the Famed Plains of the Serengeti, Before Driving to the Ngorongoro Crater

This morning you will set out early for a safari amidst the Great Wildebeest Migration. Perhaps traveling with a breakfast picnic in the vehicle, you will drive into the heart of the migration. Pause in the shade of an acacia tree, or atop a kopje, for a perfect bush breakfast, while the wildlife wanders around. Take time to speak with your safari guide, learning about the birds, insects and plants that are fundamental to the region. Be sure to spend time looking for the threatened white and the endangered black rhinoceros that survive in the region, and are subject to intense conservation initiatives.

In the mid-afternoon, you will begin to drive east, out of the Serengeti and towards the Ngorongoro Crater. The landscape will shift dramatically in a short period of time as you approach the lip of this collapsed volcano. The lush jungle and forests perfectly compliment your time in the Serengeti, while still offering the opportunity for incredible wildlife encounters. The crater itself was formed two to three million years ago when an ancient volcano collapsed in on itself. Today, it remains the world’s largest inactive and unfilled caldera, and acts as a natural enclosure for the wildlife within.

Day 8: Explore the Floor and Plateau of the Ngorongoro Crater before Returning to Arusha

This morning you will rise early to descend 600 meters to the floor of the Ngorongoro Crater. As you drive through this prehistoric looking landscape, look to the trees for playful Colobus monkeys and hungry leopards. The region is also home to a large lion population, which can be observed wandering near the huge flocks of flamingos on the shores of Lake Magadi. Had you not seen a rhinoceros in the Serengeti, Ngorongoro is also a great place to observe black rhinoceros in their natural habitat. Having explored the crater floor, you will then return to the surrounding plateaus where you will witness impressive views of Mount Meru, Tanzania’s third highest peak. There are a series of alkaline lakes in these highlands, which are home to rich birdlife. Circle these lakes in search of the perfect spot to lay down your checked Masai blanket for a picnic lunch.  In the early afternoon, it will be time to leave the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and return to the city of Arusha. Arriving in the late evening, you will sleep here tonight in order to catch tomorrow’s flight to the Swahili coast!

Day 9: Fly from Arusha to Stone Town in Zanzibar, Driving to the Stunning Eastern Beaches

This morning you will fly from Arusha towards the white sand beaches of Zanzibar. Arriving in Stone Town, this trip will again enter a radically different phase. Driving immediately towards the eastern shores of the island upon arrival, you will spend the following nights at the tranquil Shooting Star Inn. You may detour quickly for a spice tour outside the city of Stone Town, where you will learn and sample the island’s famous cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper.

Shooting Star Inn is an intimate and relaxed family-run lodge. Built atop a coral cliff overlooking Kiwengwa Beach, this unpretentious lodge blends in effortlessly with its surroundings. White washed walls, high beamed ceilings and a perpetual ocean breeze instantly carries you into the magic of the island. Full of thoughtful touches and family charm, this lodge is a pleasant alternative to the large resorts further afield. You will arrive just in time for a mojito and appetizers at the lodge bar as the sun sets, before migrating towards the dining area for a fresh seafood dinner. After a final glass of wine on the beach with the ocean washing up around you, move to your private cottage and collapse into your hand-carved Zanzibari bed.

Day 10: Stroll the White Shores of Kiwenga Beach, Marveling at Seashells and the Turquoise Ocean

The coming three full days at Shooting Star will be completely flexible, catering perfectly to your wishes and desires. Having had a fairly adventurous ten days thus far, today may be the perfect opportunity to laze quietly on the shores of the Indian Ocean, dipping occasionally into the turquoise waters. Kiwenga Beach’s powdery white sand will inevitably beckon you over for a stroll in the early morning, where you can scour the seashells that washed up overnight. At low tide, it is possible to walk out across the coral reef in front of the lodge, exploring the marine life trapped in the clear tidal pools. Alternatively, you may prefer to spend the day lounging beside the infinity pool, with a refreshing cocktail or fruit juice in hand. At some point, you may be interested in migrating over to the Shooting Star Spa, where you can indulge in a pedicure or massage.

Stroll towards the beach bar as cocktail hour rolls around, and enjoy a crisp Kilimanjaro beer while dangling your toes in the pool or swinging in a hammock. Enjoy a fresh seafood dinner or a family-style braai (an open outdoor barbeque) with the handful of other guests, before wandering back towards your cottage.

Day 11: Set Sail on the Indian Ocean on a Local Dhow, Stopping to Snorkel at Mnemba Island

Today it may be of interest to set sail on the calm Indian Ocean, heading towards the Mnemba Island Marine Conservation Area. Sailing in a traditional dhow with a snorkel and fins in hand, today could be spent hopping in and out of aquamarine waters in search of tropical fish, brightly colored coral and perhaps even an endangered Green sea turtle. Three species of dolphin live within the area, and Humpback whales migrate through from July to September.  Scuba divers may want to explore this same area with a partnering PADI certified lodge. No matter how you explore this spectacular part of the ocean, be sure to keep an eye out for the Dragon Moray eel and the world’s largest nudibranch, the Djibouti Spanish Dancer.

Return to the palm-fringed coastline in the late afternoon, in time for a now familiar routine of sundowners and pleasant company. Take some time to learn the traditional Zanzibari game of bao on one of the many lodge boards, before wandering over to the dining area.

Day 12: A Final Day of Relaxation at Shooting Star, with an Optional Burst of Adventure

For the final day at Shooting Star, you may wish to do little other than sit in the shade with a book and a cool drink, breathing in the fresh ocean air. Whether you set up on your private porch or in a lounge beside the infinity pool, you will easily be able to disappear into the tranquil rhythm of the lodge. At some point, you may wish to wander over towards neighboring Gabi Beach Bar for some variety in cuisine – though perhaps a quiet lunch on the outdoor terrace is just as appealing. Pastries and tea will be served in the mid-afternoon, tiding you over until appetizers, cocktails and dinner. Soak-in the final rays of sun and watch as millions of stars emerge in the uninterrupted night sky. Return to your bedroom decorated with fresh hibiscus flowers before drifting to sleep to the sound of the ocean.

If however, you have some energy left and a desire for adventure, Shooting Star will happily organize alternative activities. Kitesurfing and parasailing have become very popular in recent years, with teachers and gear located only a short drive from the lodge. If interested in an alternative perspective on the island, a flight in an ultralight aircraft may be the perfect conclusion to the day. The staff prides themselves on their ability to cater perfectly to their guests! 

Day 13: Spend the Day Hiking in the Jozanzi Forest alongside Red Colobus Monkeys

This morning you will head back towards Stone Town, spending the day in the Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park. This island rainforest is home to the endemic Red Colobus monkey, along with a number of Sykes monkeys, bush babies and over 50 species of butterfly. Surprisingly seldom visited by the broader tourism circuit, hiking through these easy trails will be a perfect pause from the sun and the beach. Local guides are available for a guided tour, leading you through the forest towards the mangrove swamp and forest, where diverse birdlife can be observed. A tour will also take you to the see the remarkable 200-year old Mama Mtondoo – the Mother Mahogany.

In the late afternoon you will carry on back to Stone Town, reaching the city in time for dinner. The city has a wide variety of dining options, though we might recommend trying Forodhani Gardens where you can sample a classic Zanzibar pizza.

Day 14: Spend the Final Day Exploring the Cobbled Streets of Historical Stone Town

Today you will have the entire day to meander through the cobbled roads and twisting alleyways of Stone Town. Formerly a critical point in the spice and slave trade, the city has since been converted into a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Architecture, cuisine and culture exemplify Swahili culture and its ability to combine Arab, Persian, Indian, European and African influences. While an entire day can be spent aimlessly exploring the labyrinth of streets, a few sites certainly are worth visiting. Beit-al-Ajaib, the House/Palace of Wonders, is a spectacular landmark in the city. Built in 1883 as a Sultan’s residence, this building has since been converted into a museum for Swahili and Zanzibari culture. Next to it lies the Old Fort, a substantial stone fortress created during the island’s Omani period. A tour through the Old Slave Market and the Anglican Cathedral sheds light into the island’s involvement in the slave trade. A poignant tour through the underground chambers provides incredible insight into the horrors of this period in human history. 

As this final day winds to a close, head to Mercury’s Restaurant for an evening of drinks and seafood. Formerly owned by Queen’s Freddy Mercury himself, this relaxed bar offers some of the best views of the sun setting over the continent.  It has been, for many years, somewhat of an institution in town. The Café at Emerson Spice offers up a more sophisticated meal, with just as wonderful a view, for those interested in sampling Zanzibar fusion cuisine.

Day 15: Return to Dar es Salaam by Air, in Time for your Outbound Flight

This morning you will say goodbye to this Swahili paradise and board a plane back to Dar es Salaam. Sneak a few final looks at the ever-transforming aquamarine ocean, before descending back into the capital. You will arrive in time to connect onwards to your international flight home after this truly comprehensive tour of the country. 

Price

Starting Price 

$6,745
This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.