Tanzania is one of Africa's classic safari destinations, most famous for the great wildebeest migration where a herd of some two million wildebeest, zebra and gazelle make their epic annual journey—with numerous predators hot on their heels.

But while the migration steals the lion's share (sorry) of the attention, there's a great deal more to the country, both in its range of wildlife and non-safari action. Beyond the Big Five, you'll find world-class birdwatching, some of the best chimpanzee tracking anywhere in Africa, history and beaches on the coast, and some incredible trekking at Kilimanjaro.

Figuring out where to go, when to go, and what to do can be tricky. That's where this guide comes in. Dig in and discover the magic of Tanzania, you're in for a ride!

Tanzania_Wilderbeastcrossing

One of the natural world's most iconic events: wildebeest making a perilous river crossing in Tanzania

Tanzania's best safari parks

By far the most popular safari region is the north of Tanzania, home to the Serengeti and the great wildebeest migration. But there are plenty of alternatives to beat the crowds, especially if travelling in high season, from the quieter protected areas of the south to the far-flung, remote-feeling parks in the west.

The Northern Circuit

Northern Tanzania is the most popular safari region in the country, easily accessible from Kilimanjaro International Airport or the domestic Arusha Airport.

Tanzania-Serengeti

Sunset game drive in the Serengeti

Serengeti National Park

The big-ticket park is the 12,000-square-mile Serengeti, home to the great wildebeest migration and a healthy population of big cats: lions, leopards and cheetahs. During peak season— July and August—when the famous wildebeest river crossings coincide with northern hemisphere summer holidays, the park can be very busy.

There are several private reserves around the Serengeti that offer the same wildlife experience but without the crowds—such as the Grumeti Reserve—but you’ll have to pay top dollar to stay there.

Tarangire National Park

Tarangire, just south of the bird haven Lake Manyara, is the antidote to the crowds of the Serengeti. There are large herds of elephants, huge baobab trees, lions and even wild dogs. In the dry season, the park has a particularly high concentration of mammals.

As with the Serengeti, there are some private reserves around the national park, offering more exclusivity, generally at a higher cost.

Tanzania Ngorongoro crater view

The classic view of Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater

The other major tourist attraction in the Northern Circuit is the Ngorongoro Crater, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and thought to be the world’s largest inactive, intact volcanic caldera that isn’t filled with water. The crater is home to an estimated 25,000 large animals, including elephants, giraffes, lions and black rhinos.

There are no camps inside the crater, but some perch up on the rim, with incredible views. It’s also possible to stay further out in the wider Ngorongoro Conservation Area and do a day-trip into the crater. Look for accommodation close to the access road to maximise your time.

Lake Manyara National Park

Just to the north of Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara National Park is a narrow, deeply forested strip of land that sits in the shadow of a dramatic wall in the Great Rift escarpment. The lake is a haven for some 350 species of waterbirds and the park is famous for its population of tree-climbing lions, as well as one of Tanzania’s most-studied elephant populations. In addition to wildlife drives, walking safaris are possible, and there’s a treetop walkway that takes you up into the forest canopy.

Southern Tanzania

Far less visited than the north, the parks of southern Tanzania suit those who’ve been to the Serengeti, or popular Big Five destinations elsewhere, and are seeking a wilder experience. There are two major destinations here: the Selous and Ruaha.

Rufiji River in the Selous Game Reserve Tanzania

Rufiji River running through the Selous in southern Tanzania

Selous Game Reserve

The Selous Game Reserve is one of the largest protected areas in Africa at 19,000 square miles – bigger than Switzerland. With only a few camps, it feels far more remote than the northern parks. As well as lions, leopards, elephants, black rhinos, hippos and buffalos, the Selous is a key area for endangered wild dogs. Poaching has led to a massive decline in species such as elephants – so although there are many animals to see, they’re not as densely populated as in the Serengeti, for example. There are several photo safari camps, but most of the reserve is for hunting.

Ruaha National Park

Ruaha is smaller than the Selous, but it’s the largest national park in the country with scattered baobabs, grasslands and rolling hills. There are lions, leopards and wild dogs here – and, like the Selous, relatively few tourists. You’ll find a mixture of luxury lodges and basic fly-camping operations for walking safaris.

Western Tanzania

Western Tanzania is the least visited of these three safari regions. Because it’s not easily accessible, it’s costly to travel here. It’s roughly a four-hour light aircraft flight from the main hubs of Arusha or Dar es Salaam. There are two scheduled flights a week, but these are also quite expensive; driving will take a couple of days. But if money isn’t an issue, you’ll be rewarded with a remote safari experience largely to yourself. Many travellers will come out west to track the chimps of Mahale.

Chimpanzee Gombe Stream National Park Tanzania

Chimpanzees in Mahale Mountains National Park

Mahale Mountains National Park

On the sandy banks of Lake Tanganyika, Mahale is a mountainous park known for its habituated chimpanzees you can visit in the forest. There are other primates – from vervets to the red colobus monkey – and the driest months (August to October) are the best time to trek through the forest.

There is a scattering of camps and lodges from where you can organise chimp trekking, including one ‘barefoot luxury’ option, Greystoke Mahale, and a government-run backpackers at the park HQ.

Katavi National Park

One of the largest parks in Tanzania, Katavi feels very distant from the likes of the Serengeti. In the dry season, there are great wildlife spotting opportunities, with big herds of buffalos, lions, elephants and lots of plains game (topis, zebras and impalas). With just a handful of small camps in the park, there will be few other vehicles with which to contend.

In this guide

The Best Safaris In Tanzania

Heather Richardson

Heather is an award-winning journalist and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. She writes for the BBC, Sunday Times, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, Departures Magazine, among others.

The Best Safaris In Tanzania

Anthony Ham

Anthony has been travelling around Africa for more than a decade. He has returned many times, seeking out stories about the people and wildlife of west and north Africa.

In recent years he has broadened his horizons into more traditional wildlife haunts, exploring Kenya, Botswana and South Africa. You can see his work in Lonely Planet and Africa Geographic.

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