Large African Elephant Against Acacia Tree and Safari Vehicles in Background

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When you travel to Tanzania, the best places to visit and enjoy a safari include Katavi, Selous, Ruaha, Tarangire, and Ngorongoro. Of course, there’s also the Serengeti where you can witness the great annual migration of millions of wildebeest. Some of the best beaches on earth can be found in the Zanzibar archipelago, and Mafia Island is equally idyllic. For more action, you can hike up Africa’s tallest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro. Other incredible mountains include Mahale, where you can visit the largest remaining population of chimpanzees in the wild. Explore all 10 of Tanzania’s best destinations below.

Wildebeest Herds gathering for annual migration, Serengeti, Tanzania
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The Serengeti National Park offers the absolute classic African safari setting. The migration of millions of wildebeest and zebra starts here. The vast expanse of grasslands makes the Serengeti fantastic for spotting lion kills because you can see the whole spectacle clearly. There are mobile camps that are worth staying at because the wildlife concentrates in certain parts of the park depending on the time of year and the rains. The best time to go is between December and June, but you can’t really go wrong any time of the year. A hot-air balloon ride at dawn is a truly magnificent experience.

Man walking towards Mt. Kilimanjaro

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Africa is known as one of the best destinations for adventure travel and what can be more adventurous than hiking up the world’s tallest free-standing mountain? Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, stands at 19,340 feet (5896m) and will take you 6 days to conquer. The exciting thing about this mountain is that anyone who is fit and determined can make it up. ​No special climbing equipment or expertise is needed.

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    Sailboats on a tropical ocean
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    Zanzibar is one of Tanzania’s top destinations because of its fascinating past and its incredible beaches. Zanzibar’s location in the Indian Ocean has made it a natural trading center throughout its history. Famous for its spices, Zanzibar also became an important slave trading post under its Arab rulers. Stone Town, Zanzibar’s capital, is a World Heritage site and boasts beautiful traditional houses, narrow alleyways, a Sultan’s palace, and many mosques.

    Zanzibar has many beautiful beaches, that can be enjoyed on any budget. Some of the surrounding islands offer a total paradise for the luxury traveler, Mnemba island is absolutely idyllic for a romantic vacation.

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    African Elephant on safari

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    The Ngorongoro Conservation area borders the Serengeti in northern Tanzania and includes the world’s largest crater which acts as a natural enclosure for almost every species of wildlife found in East Africa. This includes the very rare black rhino. The Ngorongoro Crater is where you’ll witness some of the densest population of wildlife in the world and it’s a truly amazing place for photographers. The Maasai still live within the conservation area, and it’s also home to Oldupaiwhere some of the ​man’s earliest remains have been found.

     
     
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    The Selous, Southern Tanzania

    The Selous, southern Tanzania

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    The Selous is Africa’s largest reserve, a world heritage site, and not as crowded as the Serengeti. You can see elephants, cheetahs, black rhinos, African hunting dogs, and plenty of hippos and crocodiles. The Selous swamps, rivers and wetlands allow tourists to take their safari by boat, which is a big draw. Walking safaris are also popular here and you can also enjoy night drives.

    Accommodations in Selous and surrounding areas are somewhat limited but all offer a very intimate and unique safari experience. 

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    Mahale Mountains, Western Tanzania

    Common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) sitting outdoors

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    Mahale was the research base for a team of Japanese anthropologists for several decades. Despite the gorgeous clear waters of Lake Tanganyika and the obvious draw of the chimps themselves, Mahale was not an established tourist destination until about decade ago. It’s still remote, but absolutely worth the trip. Besides the 1000 chimps, there are other primates to see too, including the red colobus and yellow baboons.

    The best time to visit Mahale is during the dry season from May to October. A visit to Mahale is often combined with at least a few nights in Katavi. Mahale is linked by chartered aircraft to Dar es Salaam, Arusha, and Kigoma.

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    Colorful bird on a branch

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    Tarangire is a popular day trip for those following a standard northern safari itinerary, but its baobab dotted the landscape and numerous dry riverbeds are worth much more time. During the dry season (August to October) Tarangire has one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in Tanzania. It’s an excellent spot for those who love watching elephants, zebra, giraffe, impala, and wildebeest. 

    Tarangire is a good place to enjoy walking safaris and an excellent birding destination. Be prepared to swat tsetse flies here, at certain times of the year they can get annoying.

    Accommodations in Tarangire include lodges, campsites, and luxury tented camps.

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    Katavi, Western Tanzania

    Crane eating a fish

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    Katavi has all the credentials of being a top wildlife destination in Africa. It is teeming with animals, beautiful and unspoiled. The reason Katavi sees so few visitors is that it is so remote. This is a good reason to visit if you’re looking for a unique safari experience since there are only two camps and it’s only accessible by light aircraft. 

    Katavi is best during the dry season (June to November) where the pools are literally filled to the brim with as many as 3000 hippos.

     
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    Ruaha National Park, Southern Tanzania

    Africa- Tanzania- Ruaha National Park

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    Ruaha is remote, large, and full of wildlife — especially elephants. There are also lions, cheetah, leopard, lots of kudu, and almost every other African mammal you’d like to see. The park is home to the Great Ruaha River and it’s here during the dry season (May to December) that you get some spectacular game viewing.

    Ruaha is only accessible by light aircraft and it’s suggested you stay at least 4 nights to make it a worthwhile trip. This also gives you enough time to explore this huge area of the unspoiled African wilderness. Luckily the accommodations in Ruaha mean it’s a pleasure to spend several nights.

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    Mafia Island, East Coast (Indian Ocean)

    Tropical island

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    With less than 1000 visitors per year, Mafia Island is an undiscovered Tanzanian gem. It has a rich history, and a strong Swahili culture unspoiled by tourism. Much of the island and its beautiful beaches have been designated as a marine park. It is one of the best places to deep-sea fish, dive, and snorkel in Africa. You can watch whale sharks, turtles, and many other interesting species of wildlife.

    There are about half a dozen boutique hotels and intimate resorts to stay at. They include the eco-friendly and intimate Kinasi Lodge, Pole Pole, and Ras Mbisi Lodge.

    You can reach Mafia island by plane from Dar es Salaam, Coastal Aviation has regularly scheduled flights.

anzania is home to some of Africa’s most famous national parks and the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro rising above the Serengeti. Most visitors will find themselves passing through Dar es Salaam and heading out on safaris and various wildlife viewing adventures. For those who want to take a break and spend some time soaking up the sun, the beautiful beaches of Zanzibar beckon. Off Pemba and Mafia islands is a whole other kind of natural wonder, one most appreciated by the scuba divers and snorkelers who come here from around the world to experience the coral gardens, colorful fish, and crystal clear waters.

 

1 Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro
 
Mount Kilimanjaro

One of the most frequented attractions in Tanzania, Mount Kilimanjaro National Park is home to Africa’s highest mountain peak. Unlike other parks in northern Tanzania, this one is not visited for the wildlife but for the chance to stand in awe of this majestic snow-capped mountain and, for many, to climb to the summit. Mount Kilimanjaro can be climbed at any time, although the best period is from late June to October, during the dry season.

Kilimanjaro, a World Heritage Sites, was formed over 1 million years ago by volcanic movement along the Rift Valley. Three points – Shira, Kibo, and Mawenzi came to be about 750,000 years ago. The highest point is Uhuru Peak on Kibo, which is one of the Seven Summits of the world.

The mountain rises from farmland on the lower level to rainforest and alpine meadow and then barren lunar landscape at the peaks. The slopes of the rainforest are home to buffaloes, leopards, monkeys, elephants and eland. The alpine zone is where bird watchers will find an abundance of birds of prey.

2 Serengeti National Park
Serengeti National Park
 
Serengeti National Park

Serengeti National Park is a vast treeless plain with thousands, even millions of animals searching for fresh grasslands. As the largest national park in Tanzania, the Serengeti attracts thousands of tourists each year. The best months for wildlife viewing are between December and June. The wet season is from March to May, with the coldest period from June to October. The annual migration of millions of zebra and wildebeest takes place in May or early June. This migration is one of the most impressive natural events and the primary draw for many tourists.

Large herds of antelope as well as lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena, bat eared fox, hunting dog and jackal are also found in Serengeti National Park. Nearly 500 species of bird have been recorded on the Serengeti. Many of these are attracted to the swamp area. ‘Serengeti’ means an ‘extended place’ in the Maasai language.

3 Zanzibar Beaches

Zanzibar Beaches
 
Zanzibar Beaches

The Zanzibar archipelago consists of the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba. The island of Zanzibar, also called Unguja, is a major holiday destination known for its beautiful beaches. This island has some of the best beaches in the world with varying surf depending on what side of the island you are on. Visitors will find soft white sand and clear shallow water, along with traditional boats. Stone Town is located in the heart of Zanzibar and features old Arabian townhouses, narrow alleyways and a busy port.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Zanzibar 

4 Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Ngorongoro Conservation Area
 
Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Located between the Serengeti and Lake Manyara, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is home to the famous volcanic Ngorongoro Crater and one of Tanzania’s most popular wildlife viewing areas. This huge volcanic crater has a permanent supply of water which draws all kinds of animals who stay in this area rather than migrating. Visitors come here primarily for viewing large game and bird watching, but also of interest in the conservation area is the Olduvai Gorge. This important archeological site has revealed ancient skull and bone fragments that have delivered critical information about early mankind.

The Ngorongoro Crater is the largest intact ancient caldera in the world, nearly three million years old. The Ngorongoro volcano was one of the world’s tallest mountains before it exploded and collapsed. Thousands of wild game can be seen on the crater floor, including lions, elephants, rhinos, Thomson’s gazelles, and buffaloes, but wildebeests and zebras account for over half of the animals that call the Ngorongoro Crater home. Bird watching is superb, especially around Lake Migadi, which attracts flocks of flamingoes to the shallows. Hippos are content to submerge themselves during the day and then graze in the nearby grass in the evening.

Olduvai Gorge

The Olduvai Gorge is an archeological site situated on a series of fault lines, where centuries of erosion have revealed fossils and remnants of early mankind. As early as 1911, a German professor found some fossil bones while looking for butterflies in Olduvai Gorge. In a later expedition, the Leakeys collected skull fragments, a skull, and bones determined to be approximately 2 million years old. Tools and hunting weapons from 1 to 1.5 million years ago were also discovered in Olduvai Gorge. Another exciting find were the famous footprints of a man, woman and child at Laetoli, near Olduvai. These and other discoveries provide more evidence to the theory that at least three hominid species were in this region over 2 million years ago.

5 Lake Manyara National Park

Lake Manyara National Park
 
Lake Manyara National Park

Lake Manyara National Park is comprised of forest, woodland, grasslands, and swamps. Two-thirds of the park is covered by water and Lake Manyara is host to thousands of flamingoes, at certain times of year, as well as other diverse bird life. The highlight of Lake Manyara Park is the large population of elephants, tree-climbing lions and hippos that can be observed at a much closer range than in other parks. This park is also home to the largest concentration of baboons in the world.

Wildlife drives, canoeing (when water levels are high enough), mountain bike tours and bird watching are the most popular activities in Lake Manyara National Park.

6 Mafia Island

Mafia Island
 
Mafia Island

Mafia Island draws divers and snorkelers from around the world to the undersea world protected by the Mafia Island Marine Park. The best months for diving are October to March but the best weather on Mafia Island is May to October, March and April are months of heavy rain. Mafia Island Marine Park has excellent coral gardens, an abundant variety of fish and a relaxed diving atmosphere. Countless birds and over 400 species of fish can be seen in the area. Mafia Island is also a traditional breeding site for the green turtle, which are unfortunately close to extinction.

Mafia is also a desirable location for deep-sea fishing, especially tuna, marlin, sailfish and other big-game fish.

This island paradise first saw settlers in the 8th or 9th C, but Mafia became a more important settlement during the 12th to 14th C when it held a key position in the East African trading routes.

7 Tarangire National Park

Tarangire National Park
 
Tarangire National Park

Tarangire National Park was established in 1970 and is best visited in the dry season from July to September when the animals gather along the river. During the dry season, Tarangire National Park has one of the highest concentrations of migratory wildlife. Wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, impala, gazelle, hartebeest and eland crowd the lagoons. One of the most noticeable highlights of Tarangire National Park is the baobab trees that dot the grassy landscape.

The park is excellent for birdwatching, with more than 300 species recorded in Tarangire. These species include buzzards, vultures, herons, storks, kites, falcons and eagles.

8 Pemba Island

Pemba Island
 
Pemba Island

Pemba Island is the northernmost island in the Zanzibar archipelago. Around Pemba are many desert islands and some of the best scuba diving in the Indian Ocean, with visibility that is unparalleled. Lush coral gardens, colorful sponges and sea fans are all found in the underwater haven. The city of Chake Chake, the main population center on Pemba, is a popular base for scuba divers.

Pemba is less visited than Zanzibar and as a result has a more laidback atmosphere. From December to February visitors can watch traditional bullfighting; a sign from the days of Portuguese dominance in the 16th and 17th C. The island is hilly with deep valleys so it has become popular with mountain bikers who are drawn to the 1,000-meter peaks.

Pemba is a major world clove producer and is also well known for the juju traditions of medicine and magic. People come from throughout East Africa to learn from the voodoo and traditional healers or seek a cure.

9 Stone Town

Stone Town
 
Stone Town

Stone Town is the cultural heart of Zanzibar and little has changed in the last 200 years. The grand old Arabian homes lining the narrow streets and winding alleys give the city its own unique charm. The majority of homes in Stone Town were built in the 19th C when Zanzibar was one of the most important Swahili trading towns in the Indian Ocean. Visitors will notice the bras-studded, intricately carved wooden doors on many of the houses.

As the world’s oldest functioning Swahili city, many of the landmarks in Stone Town have been restored to their original glory. Some of the historic buildings are now museums which can be visited. The town also has a couple of interesting old churches of historical significance. A walk along Creek Road takes visitors to the original Stone Town area and the location of the Central Darajani MarketBeit el-AmaniCity Hall, and the Anglican Cathedral. Some of the other key highlights include the Forodhani Gardens, the Old Dispensary with its carved wooden balconies, the former home of the sultans known as Beit el-Sahel or the People’s Palace, the Hamamni Persian Baths built in 1888, and the oldest structure in Stone Town, the Old Fort.

10 Selous Game Reserve

Selous Game Reserve
 
Selous Game Reserve

Selous is the largest game reserve in Africa. Established in 1922, it covers 5% of Tanzania’s total area. The southern area is a forbidden zone that is undeveloped, heavily forested, and contains a series of steep cliffs. Travelers are limited to the area north of the Rufiji River. This area of the Selous Game Reserve has large open grassland, woodlands, rivers, hills and plains. The best time to visit is July through October.

The Rufiji River bisects the Selous Game Reserve and has the largest catchment area of any river in East Africa. The river is an important feature of the reserve providing the opportunity to watch the diverse water-based wildlife. A broad range of game can be found including elephants, hippos and rhinos as well as buffalo, antelope, giraffe, warthog, wildebeest, lion, leopard and cheetah. The diversity of bird life in Selous includes over 350 recorded species.

 

11 Arusha National Park

Arusha National Park
 
Arusha National Park   

Arusha National Park, although smaller than most in Tanzania, has a range of habitats that consist of the forest of Mount Meru, Ngurdoto Crater in the southeast section of the park, and Momela Lakes, a series of seven crater lakes. Black and white Colobus monkeys are easily spotted in the forested area while the marshy floor of the crater is dotted with herds of buffalo, zebra and warthog. Momela Lakes is home to a large selection of resident and migrant waterbirds. People come here to see wildlife and also to climb Mount Meru.

Mount Meru is one of the most beautiful volcanoes in Africa and the second highest mountain in Tanzania. The summit is reached by a narrow ridge, which provides stunning views of the volcanic cone lying several thousand feet below in the crater. The ascent is steep but the route passes through parkland, forest, a giant heather zone and moorland.

12 Ruaha National Park

Ruaha National Park
 
Ruaha National Park

Ruaha National Park is the least accessible park in Tanzania and as a result the landscape remains relatively untouched. Birdwatcher’s can enjoy over 400 species of bird that are not found in northern Tanzania, and the river, spectacular gorges, and majestic trees are especially appealing to photographers. As Tanzania’s second largest park, Ruaha has large herds of buffalo, elephant and gazelle. The concentration of elephants are some of the largest in Tanzania. The Great Ruaha River is the main feature of Ruaha National Park providing magnificent wildlife viewing on the banks. The river also provides much of the electricity to Tanzania through a hydroelectric dam at Kidatu.

13 Katavi National Park

Katavi National Park
 
Katavi National Park

Katavi National Park is located in a remote location offering unspoiled wilderness. A predominant feature in Katavi is the enormous flood plain, split by the Katuma River and several seasonal lakes. The lakes support enormous groups of hippos, crocodiles and over 400 species of birds. One of the spectacles in Katavi is the hippos at the end of the dry season when as many as 200 try to squeeze into a pool of water. The male rivalry heats up causing territorial fights.

The dry season brings Katavi National Park to life, herds of impala, reedbuck, lions, zebras and giraffes can be seen at the remaining pools and streams. An estimated 4,000 elephants and several herds of buffaloes in the thousands also converge on the park when the flood waters retreat.

14 Gombe Stream National Park

Gombe Stream National Park
 
Gombe Stream National Park diasUndKompott / photo modified

Gombe Stream National Park is primarily for those who want to get a little off the beaten track and see chimpanzees. This is the smallest national park in Tanzania and is famous for the work of Jane Goodall. This British researcher arrived in 1960 to study the wild chimpanzees and her work turned into what would become the longest running behavioral research program of its kind in the world. Guided walks take visitors into the forest to observe chimps in the wild. Many species of primates and mammals live in the park. Over 200 bird species have been recorded in the tropical forest, including barbets, starlings, sunbirds, crowned eagle, kingfishers and the palm-nut vulture.

Hiking and swimming are other popular activities; a trail leads into the forest to a waterfall in the valley.

15 Lake Victoria

Lake Victoria
 
Lake Victoria 

Lake Victoria is the largest freshwater lake in Africa and is bordered by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. This lake is the source of the White Nile and provides an income for millions of residents along its shores. The Tanzanian section of Lake Victoria is one of the least visited regions in the country, however the towns of Bukoba, Musoma and Mwanza have a number of attractions. Near Mwanza and Musoma are many islands, some have become wildlife sanctuaries. Bird watching and fishing trips are popular excursions, and boat trips or hikes can be arranged around Lake Victoria.

Rubondo Island National Park, which includes several other smaller islands, is on the southwest shores of Lake Victoria.