Ten Tanzania Travel Tips

Wandering Tanzania’s national parks for an entire month taught me many things—like how to stay very quiet and still when there’s a 7-ton elephant rubbing against your tent. In all my travels in all the world, I have never had such rich and fulfilling wildlife encounters as I did in Tanzania, which is why I recommend it to so highly to anyone who loves animals.

As travel tastes are so varied and personal, I typically refrain from dispensing advice, but if my friends were to ask me for sugestions on Tanzania, this is what I would tell them:

  1. Take Time I spent a month in Tanzania and feel like I barely scratched the surface of this immense country. If you are going to travel all that way, it would be a pity not to stay for a minimum of two weeks (and preferably a month). Keep in mind that distances are grand and every destination rich with experience and wildlife. Skimp on time or pack your schedule too tightly and you’ll be sorry. I’d recommend 3-4 days for the larger parks and 1-2 days for the smaller ones.

  2. Skip the Serengeti —No offense to Tanzania’s most well-known national park (which is beautiful—I know, I was just there), but frankly, it’s the midtown Manhattan version of going on safari, complete with frenetic crowds and a jumble of jeeps skidding in a circle around some poor animal. I say, step away from the madness and venture into the areas where you will get much more one-on-one time with the wildlife. For huge herds of buffalo (and thousands of hippos), try Katavi, for big cats and big savanna, go to Ruaha. For a taste of the exotic and virgin Indian Ocean shore, stay in Saadani, for elephants and proximity to civilization, go to Mikumi, for total exotic, delve into Udzungwa, and for chimpanzees, venture over to Mahale and Gombe.
  3. Sleep Cheap Going on safari is not just a rich man’s game. By booking into the bandas (national park cottages), travelers only pay $30-$40/night compared to the $500-$1,000/night charged by some private safari lodges. Staying in the bandas offered total immersion into the park’s wildlife, from hunting geckos at night to prowling lions and baby elephants on my doorstep!
  4. Enjoy Endemics Elephants and giraffes and zebra are all very splendid to see (and you will see them) but Tanzania’s real treat are the outrageous amount of endemic species that inhabit so many of the national parks—species like the Sanje-crested mangabeys of Udzungwa and the rare flowers of Kitulo. Focus on the strange beauties that you can only see in Tanzania.
  5. Take the Train Very few travelers know that you can actually reach several of Tanzania’s national parks by railway. In fact, you can travel to some of the wildest stretches of the country in relative comfort by riding the train from Dar Es Salaam. One line goes right through the remote and brilliant high rain forest of Udzungwa National Park and is much cheaper than a bush plane or a private car with driver. For more information, check out TAZARA.
  6. Mind the Little Stuff Lions and leopards always seem to be the big prize on safari, but focusing all your energy on getting the big stuff makes you miss the big picture of the complex ecosystems and diversity of Tanzania. For me, the real thrill of safari were the dik-dik, jackals, genet cats, bush babies, honey badgers, chameleons, ant lions, reed frogs, water monitors and of course, the birds, which are glorious everywhere. Most parks in Tanzania average a staggering 400-500 different bird species!
  7. Read the Classics Tanzania is not lacking for good narrative, but I still prefer reading the cornerstones of travel literature in East Africa — books like Jane Goodall’s In the Shadow of Man, Stanley’s Through the Dark Continent, and Livingstone’s diaries. Also, check out National Geographic Traveler‘s Tanzania Guide. If you are looking for an in-depth comprehensive guidebook that covers all the parks, I recommend the Bradt Guide by Philip Briggs.
  8. Climb Kilimanjaro (at least some of it)—If I can do it, anybody can do it, however, if you’re not interested in conquering Africa’s tallest peak, you should still consider going and opting for a day hike near the base. It’s an amazing national park and well worth a visit simply for the landscapes and rare trees, plants and animals that surround the great mountain.
  9. Pack Light It’s the most generic and over-quoted travel advice in the world, but I wished I had followed my own counsel more closely in Tanzania. Hopping about the country in tiny bush planes, and moving in and out of tents, I would have preferred having less. To that end, I would suggest keeping your luggage to a 20 kg (44 lbs) maximum — your hiking boots and camera should be your heaviest items, Remember that much of Tanzania is quite high in altitude and can get very cold at night, so carry at least one warm cover-up. Also, bring a flashlight or miniature headlamp. I used those far more than I expected I would.
  10. Carry a Big Lens Though I preach strongly against gear snobbery (capture the best images you can with whatever camera you have), should you come to Tanzania hoping for stunning close-up shots of real wildlife, you will need a large (400mm) lens. If an animal is several hundred yards away from your jeep, the only way to get a crisp and full image is to zoom, so if you don’t own one, think about renting or borrowing one. That said, if (like me) you insist on shooting pics with your iPhone (or other point-and-shoot), use your safari vehicle to stabilize the camera before shooting — this should reduce shake and blur with the built-in zoom. Without surprise, I took my best animal photographs from between 5:30-7:00 a.m. and then the hour before sunset at around 5:30-6:30 p.m..

Most of all, have fun! I know I did. I cannot express enough gratitude for the many helping hands I had on my expedition throughout Tanzania. I could not have done this alone and to all of you who helped me I say asante sana . . . and to those intending to travel to Tanznia, I wish you safari njema!

10,000 Tanzanian shillings (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)


  1. Renee Everett
    South Africa
    December 29, 2012, 9:41 am

    Great post! Thank you for sharing

    @ReneeEverett on twitter

  2. Canuck5461
    December 29, 2012, 9:58 am

    In just over a week we head to South Africa, followed by Tanzania – can’t wait! Pack light? Mmmmm…will work on it!

  3. Vedran Krokar
    January 3, 2013, 12:23 pm

    Thank you so much Mr. Evans for this wonderful travelogue, and good advice for future visitors. I had no idea you can do Tanzania on a budget.
    A couple more book classics on Tanzania, if I may: George Schaller’s The Serengeti Lion, and Golden Shadows, Flying Hooves, Bernhard Grzimek’s Serengeti Shall Not Die, as well as Wild Heart of Africa – the Selous by Rolf Baldus.

  4. CharlieBeau 'Diary of a Muzungu'
    Kampala, Uganda
    January 15, 2013, 10:29 am

    Wow – you had a great time! I’ve lived and written from Uganda for the last 4 years and it all sounds wonderfully familiar – tho Tz is of course a lot bigger. Would so love a train ride to the national parks – one thing we can’t do in Uganda. Totally agree with you re not focusing too much on the big stuff. One of my Safari highlights was lying down in the dirt at Lake Mburo, Uganda and being eye to eye with two inch high dung beetles, expertly rolling a perfectly spherical ball of dung towards me. Will never forget it.

  5. ramasinv
    July 15, 2013, 4:56 pm
  6. john
    August 10, 2013, 9:24 pm

    also i tried to get some information about national park through safirinami, i cant wait to be there, get the link too, http://www.safirinami.com/EN/home.html

  7. Mzuri @ Amani Afrika
    February 3, 2014, 9:58 pm

    Great tips, Andrew! Thanks for sharing. Yes, Vedran, you can do Tanzania on a budget. You can go for a “mobile camping” safari instead of sleeping at tented camps and lodges. Your tent, mattress, camping equipment and food are supplied. Your driver guide will take care of pitching the tent and setting everything up for you. Plus you get your personal chef!

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    October 3, 2014, 5:59 am

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  9. evord millinga
    Dar es salaam ,Tanzania
    December 12, 2014, 2:10 am

    Good and Amazing story Mr. Evans…..Your so truly story about my country Tanzania…..you have respect what you had a cross the National Park and cities….Karibu tena” your welcome again!

  10. Aleeza Morgam
    January 8, 2015, 12:50 am

    This tips are all useful and all important tips for traveling. While spending some time in Tanzania it also the extreme amount of wildlife that you are going to be seeing in Tanzania. The different species that you will see include a number of different primates including baboons and chimpanzee’s. Apart from all these offering, our Tanzania tour is a unique combination of wildlife safari with various sporting activities like hiking, balloon safari, sea fishing, walking, caving and much to offer high-end rewarding experience to every visitor. Do you want to enjoy the beauty of Tanzania? Then contact us today for immediate booking to our ultimate Tanzania tour and feel the uniqueness of serene African natural beauty. http://safarispackages.com/

  11. Carmen
    February 1, 2015, 1:57 pm

    Loved Tanzania!
    Great article, though have to disagree regarding Serengeti 😉
    For some more inspiration and tips, check out my blog: https://bonatravels.wordpress.com/2014/08/08/country-summary-tanzania/

  12. Charles
    Boston, MA
    March 17, 2015, 6:12 pm

    Great Tips, Andrew.
    I agree that travelers should pack light, but don’t forget the precautionary measures to take to prevent contact with mosquitoes which include: insect repellent, cover up at sundown, sleeping under a mosquito net and wear long sleeve clothing and long trousers in the evenings.
    Check out our itineraries at http://www.safariwire.net

  13. Elliott
    May 15, 2015, 11:26 am

    Nice to hear it can be done on a budget. I hope to be backpacking here within a year!

  14. […] might want to skip Serengeti tours, as they have been described as the midtown Manhattan of safaris. Instead, check out the Arusha National Park or the smorgasbord of other safari and […]

  15. Tanzania Tours
    July 31, 2015, 5:27 am

    Thanks for sharing this valuable information ….Its very help full for us…

  16. Dominik
    Dar es Salaam
    September 4, 2015, 3:51 am

    I can fully support your recommendation of Ruaha for a quieter Safari experience. I’ve been there in August 2015 and it was great! Some pictures can be found on my blog https://dominikfincatanzania.wordpress.com/2015/08/30/ruaha-national-park-where-are-the-elephants/

  17. Giulia Raciti
    April 26, 2016, 10:03 am

    Why would you skip Serengeti?

    It’s such an amazing park, I have done lot of safaris in Africa and Serengeti with Ngorongoro are my 2 favorite parks.
    Also, I guess the crowds depend on the guide you have. I have seen, in very high season, amazing animals, like 20 lions all together, and there was nobody around.
    So better to pick a knowledgeable guide that knows where to go and what to do.
    But Serengeti is definitely one of the most impressive safari park in Africa.

    Pity skipping Serengeti as it is the savanna you would expect.

    I would also add Pangani, Swahili coast, and Mafia island as alternative to Zanzibar.

  18. Nina @ Safari Junkie
    July 12, 2016, 6:31 am

    Great post although have to disagree about Serengeti. As Giulia already mentioned depends on the guide and unfortunately the cheapest safaris usually end up on cookie cutter tourist routes. It simple, Serengeti is vast area, operators have to save on fuel according with the budget. I have been several times to Serengeti with different operators, and yes, the cheapest was the worst in experiencing the safari itself. While going with more upscale operators, booking mobile tented camps that are isolated and remote, its totally different story. On the other hand yes, Tanzania is beautiful and i am sad because people are flocking only to Northern circuit and Zanzibar and Kilimanjaro mostly. Hope this will change in the future. Mountain Hanang near Katesh, Usambara mountains, Mwanza and Ukerewe island on Victoria Lake, Mbeya region Mahale NP are just some of the gems i highly recommend. I wrote about them on my blog http://safarijunkie.com/

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