Tanzania, perhaps best known as the home of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, can often be overlooked in favour of Kenya by those searching for a dream East African trip. Many people don’t realise (and I certainly didn’t) that Tanzania has just as much to offer – if not more – than its northern neighbour, especially when it comes to breathtaking scenery and incredible wildlife. Throw in the white beaches of Zanzibar, a captivating (and incredibly long) history, and a diversity of cultures and language to rival any country on the planet, and you are set up for one amazing adventure.
For our trip to Tanzania we spent six days on safari, and four days on Zanzibar. I would definitely recommend doing the journey this way around – safaris are incredible but are full of early mornings and long days, so a mini break at an idyllic resort was the perfect way to end our holiday.
The best time to visit is during the dry season which runs from June to October. The wildebeest migration in the Serengeti happens over June and July. As a result, the accommodation and flights are also at their most expensive throughout these months.
We booked our trip through Freedom Africa and Kudu Safaris. It is worth noting that that while you can choose budget options, this adventure is not going to be cheap: I am not sure a safari can be. It’s one to save up for, but it’s worth it.
As we moved around so much and stayed in so many different places, the format of this post will be a little different. Instead of grouping together what to do and where to stay, it will follow our daily experiences and itinerary. So, sit back, relax, and read on to find out how to spend your ten days in Tanzania.
Day One – Arriving in Africa
Depending on where you travel from, you will probably change planes at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (formerly known as Nairobi International) in Kenya before travelling on to Tanzania. While initially this may feel like a hassle, especially if you’re the type of person who wants to get your journey out of the way as quickly as possible, there is one wonderful benefit that makes it so worthwhile. Your onward journey will take you past Mount Kilimanjaro at a lower altitude than an international flight, and it is a hell of a sight. If you can, try and get yourself a seat on the left of the plane for the best views, and make sure you have your camera handy.
We were met at Kilimanjaro Airport by a rep from Kudu Safaris. Kudu looked after us for the whole safari section of the trip (including all accommodation and meals), and were excellent. Our guide in particular was incredibly knowledgeable and friendly, and was a key factor in making our adventure so amazing.
One quick note for this part of your journey – we thought it would be a short drive and then we would get to shower and change after our international flight, but it was 150km and a good few hours of travelling before that happened. If I had known I would have taken a change of clothes in my hand luggage and had a quick wash at the airport before getting in the jeep.
The drive to our first stop, Tarangire National Park, was much like all of our other jeep journeys: beautiful, bumpy, and surrounded by amazing animals. We saw zebras, giraffes and elephants before we even arrived at our accommodation. Make sure you have your seat belt firmly fastened, and your travel sickness pills and camera to hand.
That night we stayed in the stunning Tarangire Safari Lodge, where you can choose from safari tents or larger (and more expensive) family bungalows. We stayed in the tents which were comfortable, although the signs warning not to leave at night were a little scary! At one point we thought a large wild animal was very close by, but it just turned out to be a guest’s snores – the walls of your tent are made of canvas after all.
Days Two and Three – Seronera in the Serengeti
The 5,700 square kilometres that make up the Serengeti National Park are famous for a reason. When it comes to wildlife, there are over two million wildebeest, half a million gazelle and 250,000 zebras. It is also one of the only places in the world where the ‘Big Five’ (lion, leopard, elephant, black rhinoceros and buffalo) roam together. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking. The plains to the south are the most iconic, but the black clay soil to the west and the open woodlands of the north provide incredible views that seem to extend far beyond the horizon.
Sometimes the animals are very far away from your car, and can only be seen through binoculars (your guide may provide these, but definitely worth bringing your own too). At other times they are just a few metres away, which is a truly awe-inspiring experience. But, be warned, they can come very close indeed – especially when your vehicle is providing the only shade in the midday sun. There are also known places that certain animals gather, including the Retima Hippo Pool. Oh and in case you don’t know, hippos smell. A lot. Forewarned is forearmed.
If you have the opportunity to go on a sunrise drive in Seronera, make sure you take it. Not only was it a spectacular site, it is also a popular hunting time. We saw two lionesses hunt down and kill two gazelles (one of which was then rudely stolen by a lion who played no part in the hard work). To see these strong majestic creatures hunt in real life, as opposed to on a David Attenborough documentary, made us all feel incredibly lucky. Well, all apart from the gazelle.
While in the northern part of the Serengeti National Park we stayed at the Seronera Wildlife Lodge for two nights. There are amazing sights from every window, but make sure you go up to the viewing platform to get the best view of all. The restaurant served both local and international cuisine, and was a lovely setting for your evening meal.
Days Four and Five – Ngorongoro and the Cradle of Mankind
On Day Four we travelled the 150km from Seronera to our accommodation next to the Ngorongoro Crater, taking in some incredible sights – and yet more wildlife – along the way.
One of the most impressive places you’ll get to visit is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Olduvai Gorge, otherwise known as the Cradle of Mankind. Digs in this ravine have uncovered human remains and tools spanning millions of years, providing the most continuous known record of human evolution, as well as the longest known archaeological record of the development of stone-tools. On the site you’ll find a small but incredibly interesting museum, and enthusiastic guides who will answer any question you can think of. Unfortunately many of the most impressive artifacts – including the oldest human made object – are housed in the British Museum, but the feeling you get looking out over the ravine can’t be recreated behind glass walls in central London.
Travel just 30km south of Olduvai and you’ll come across the Ngorongoro Crater, which was created over two million years ago when a large volcano erupted and collapsed. This natural wonder is home to over 25,000 animals as well as Maasai and Hadzabe communities.
While in this southern part of the Serengeti we stayed at the Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge. Its position on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater provides panoramic views of the 600m deep caldera, which are best enjoyed through the floor to ceiling windows in the restaurant and bar.
Days Six to Ten – Zanzibar and Stone Town
After another incredible day at the Ngorongoro Crater, we set off to board one the smallest planes I’ve ever seen. The toilet had been removed to make way for luggage, and the pilots were within touching distance. I particularly enjoyed that there were buttons to request the assistance of the non existent cabin crew…
A short time later we landed safely in Zanzibar, and headed straight to the east coast to the beautiful boutique Kichanga Lodge. With a private beach, delicious food, stunning bungalows and excellent service, this is one of the nicest places I have ever stayed. It’s possible to organise diving, kite-boarding, sunset cruises, sailing and more, but lying on the beach and going for the occasional dip in the crystal waters was more than enough excitement for us.
You should definitely carve out time for a trip to Stone Town while in Zanzibar. A mix of Arab, Persian, Indian and European architecture dominates the winding streets, with bustling markets and impressive mosques just waiting to be explored.
Stone Town was major trade site for both slaves and spices, so there is a lot for you to learn here. Some of it is difficult, especially for those who will receive a sharp reminder that their ancestors treated other humans as products to be bought and sold, but the most unpleasant parts of our history are often the most important to study.
Don’t miss the slavery memorial, the Old Dispensary Building, the fort, and, if rock music is your thing, the house where Freddie Mercury was born.
Zanzibar Airport – don’t get caught out
When you are leaving via Zanzibar Airport, be prepared for a confusing and chaotic experience. We were told to pay an exit tax of around $30USD per person, even though we understood this to be included in the price of our plane ticket. While it may or may not have been correct to charge us, the reality is that when you are due to be heading home you aren’t going to argue the point or ask for a manager, you’re just going to pay. Infuriatingly, they wouldn’t take card and there was no ATM close by. There were however plenty of taxis out the front who were more than happy to charge premium price to tourists worried they were about to miss their flight. Arrive in plenty of time and make sure you have extra cash with you.
The history of Tanzania is long and fascinating. Take time to learn more before you go, or take a book to read while you are there.
The currency is Tanzanian Shilling, but US dollars are widely accepted (and sometimes preferred).
Dress modestly, and make sure you have something to cover yourself with (including hair if you are a woman) for some of the religious sites in Stone Town. Long light clothing in a neutral colour is a good idea when you’re on the safari itself.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises that you should ‘carry identification (a copy of your passport and visa/permit) at all times. Immigration officials and police have the power to request these documents at any reasonable time.’
Before you go
Most people will need a visa to enter Tanzania. It’s possible to buy them on arrival at some points of entry, but you’re better off sorting it before you go. Make sure you check for any vaccinations and anti-malarial medication you’ll need, and check if you are one of the travellers that could be asked for a certificate of yellow fever vaccination.
Finally, despite it being very warm during the time we were there (July), it does get cold at night. Make sure you bring some warmer clothes to make sure you don’t get chilly, but mainly so your fellow travellers can’t say ‘I told you so!’ all the way through the trip…
To find out more about this incredible country visit the Tanzanian tourist board’s website.