Things to Do in Tanzania
Tanzania’s oldest and most iconic reserve, Serengeti National Park is a bucket list stop for any wildlife lover. Its 12,000-square-mile (30,000-square-kilometer) savannah is home to the highest concentration of large mammals on earth, including more than 2,500 lions and the rest of Africa’s Big Five game, plus 500 unique bird species.
Few places in Tanzania are as beautiful or diverse as the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. This unique destination offers travelers a one-of-a-kind experience with unfettered access to the nature, wildlife and people that make this country an incredible destination. Its volcanic craters, vast savannah, thick forests and rugged bush cover some 8,300 square kilometers of protected land, making it the perfect place to spot high concentrations of African wildlife.
While the Olduvai Gorge and Maasai people make a visit to the Conservation Area memorable, it’s the Ngorongoro Crater that draws travelers to this natural wonder. Covering some 260 square kilometers, this sunken crater formed by a volcanic explosion is home to more than 25,000 animals. Black rhinos, thousands of wildebeests, zebras and gazelles graze on this fertile plain. The crater is also home to the densest population of lions in the world.
Travelers who visit the crater in December or June will also catch part of the legendary migration, when 1.7 million wildebeests, 260,000 zebras and 470,000 gazelles make the trip between the Serengeti and Maasai Mara. It’s a once in a lifetime experience that is not to be missed.
One of Tanzania's largest parks is Mikumi National Park, located in the southeastern part of the country. On its own, Mikumi National Park covers roughly 1,250 square miles spread across the floodplain of the Mkata River. Just to the south of Mikumi is Africa's largest game reserve, the Selous, making this a particularly interesting place to see abundant wildlife.
Animals you might see during a visit to Mikumi include lions, zebras, impala, buffalo, wildebeest, kudu, giraffe, elephants, baboons, and elands – the biggest antelope in the world. There have also been more than 400 bird species seen in the park, including lilac-breasted rollers, bateleur eagles, and yellow-throated longclaws.
Located on Zanzibar’s northernmost beach, Nungwi Mnarani Aquarium is home to the Marine Turtle Conservation Lagoon, a community-led project aimed at safeguarding sea turtles. Visit to see hawksbill and green turtles in a tidal pool, learn about marine life in the Indian Ocean, and even take part in the center’s ongoing release program.
Built in the 17th Century, Old Fort is one of the main attractions in Stone Town and perfect starting out point for first-time visitors to Zanzibar. Its giant stone fortress once protected the city from an outside attack, and it was later used as a prison to house local lawbreakers. Today, the Old Fort has been transformed into a cultural center that caters to tourists interested in exploring the history of the place and purchasing souvenirs like popular paintings and handmade jewelry.
The open-air theater is the perfect spot for travelers to catch a live dance performance or experience the local live music scene. The Old Fort also provides space for major festivals and even has an information desk for travelers in search of tips, advice and guidance from residents in the know.
Traveler to Meserani Snake Park can feed baboons, hold wild tortoises and get up close with dozens of slithering snakes. Expert guides explain the difference between each of the species protected at Meserani and explore the necessary steps to protect people from their poison.
In addition to lethal black mamba, spitting cobras and the impressive African python, Meserani Snake Park is also home to monitor lizards, crocodiles and other reptiles. Travelers can wander the grounds, explore the exhibits, and even venture to the nearby clinic that provides free medical services to the Maasai people. A popular cultural museum offers an opportunity to learn more about this iconic culture and the festive Snake Park Bar is a perfect spot to sip a cool drink and catch some serious shade after a day under the African sun.
Mount Meru, Kilimanjaro’s more accessible cousin, is located east of the Great Rift Valley in the small but beautiful Arusha National Park. Recognized as the second tallest mountain in Tanzania and the fourth highest on the continent, its towering peak and fertile soil attract avid hikers because of the easy trails and diverse wildlife.
Travelers agree that Mount Meru offers incredible views of the summit crater and Mount Kilimanjaro, as well as access to numerous African animals. (The fertile soil surrounding this still active volcano is home to some 400 species of indigenous birds, several types of monkeys and a handful of Tanzanian leopards.) A trip to this less-traveled peak is typically done in conjunction with an excursion to one of Tanzania’s more popular destinations: Mount Kilimanjaro, the Ngorongoro Crater or Mount Kenya. But this just means travelers looking to get back to nature can escape the congestion on the trails of Mount Meru.
Travelers looking for an authentic East African experience need look no further than the crowded stalls and narrow passes of Darajani Market (Marikiti Kuu). From early morning until late at night locals and visitors alike wander between merchants selling tree-ripened fruits, freshly caught fish, savory stews and spicy local delights.
While Darajani is mostly a food-lovers paradise, with plenty of vendors selling fresh ingredients and homemade delights, visitors can also find some random items, like brand new electronics, spare tires and modern clothing shipped in from overseas. Travelers should be prepared to haggle for the best price—particularly on fragrant spices—one of the best souvenirs from a trip to Zanzibar.
House of Wonders, which is home to the Museum of History and Culture, is not only the largest—but also the tallest building in Stone Town. Built in 1883, the palace was the first building on the island to have electricity and the first in the region to have a working elevator. Since the early 2000s, House of Wonders has showcased a permanent collection of artifacts related to Swahili and Zanzibari culture.
Travelers can explore the grounds, which include a traditional Swahili boat, old-world fishing tools and famous ships, or wander the halls that offer an up close look at traditional garments, historic portraits of royalty and ancient furniture taken from former sultans’ homes. A visit to House of Wonders provides travelers with a window into the local culture and the island’s rich history.
Located in southeastern Tanzania, Udzungwa Mountains National Park is a lush area that's rich with wildlife. It is near both Mikumi National Park and Selous Game Reserve, the largest game reserve in Africa, and has one of the highest rates of biodiversity anywhere in Africa, with several different landscapes inside the park's borders that serve as home to hundreds of species.
Two of the six primate species in Udzungwa are only found there – the Iringa Red Colobus and Sanje Crested Mangabey. The park sustains more than 400 bird species, including four that occur nowhere else in the world.
More Things to Do in Tanzania
Often referred to as Mji Mkongwe—the Swahili word for old town—Stone Town is the oldest part of the Zanzibar and a popular destination for visitors to this incredible island. Pastel-colored mosques and ancient Persian, Indian and European-style stone buildings line the cobbled streets of lively place that was once a hub for spice and slave trade, but today, has become a hub for tourism and travel. Trans-continental influences can be seen in the culture and community of crowded city street corners and are also evident in the richly-spiced food available throughout Stone Town.
Visitors can navigate the maze of narrow passes that connect major city streets to the rest of this lively destination on foot or aboard bikes or motos. It’s the perfect way to explore the island’s unique architecture, which includes former palaces, churches and mosques that date back as far as the early 1800s.
In addition to the traditional Mwanakwerekwe Market, travelers should explore the Forodhani Gardens, the Darajani Market bazaar and the Peace Memorial Museum. And no trip to the Spice Island is complete without one of Zanzibar’s famous spice tours, which takes visitors straight to the forests and plantations where some of the nation’s most precious items are harvested and sold to the rest of the world.
This untouched island off the coast of Zanzibar offers travelers the perfect beachfront escape. Commonly referred to by locals as the “Green Island” because of its lush forests and tropical vibe, it’s Pemba’s incredible stretches of white sandy beach and turquoise blue waters that make it a destination for visitors from around the globe.
Chake-chake, Mikoani and Wete are some of the most popular cities on the island, and small-scale farms in the rural inland produce cloves, coconuts, bananas and cassava that are common in local cuisine. But it’s Pemba’s unspoiled beaches that draw travelers to this tropical getaway, where a history of (now resolved) political unrest and inaccessibility has left the island mostly untouched for decades.
This stunning volcano is located in a remote region of Tanzania near the Gregory Rift, just south of Lake Natron. It’s known by the Maasai people as “Mountain of God” and its impressive lava fountains harden midair—a real geological oddity.
Ol Doinyo Lengai’s erupting hornitos—the fragile rock formations that surround active volcano vents—draw thrill-seeking climbers to its slopes each year. It’s also the only known volcano to spout carbonatitite—a low-temperature lava that is black like oil, moves quickly like water, and cools to a whitish powder.
Travelers have put this incredible volcano at the top of their bucket lists for a number of reasons—not the least of which is its truly unique way it erupts. Ol Doinyo Lengai is a scenic place for hiking and climbing and because of its rare lava, the textured hillsides look otherworldly.
Famed for its natural beauty, as well as the evidence it has produced about human evolution, Tanzania's Olduvai Gorge is also a popular stop for tourists. Also called Oldupai, the official name since 2005, the gorge is where Mary and Louis Leakey discovered evidence some of the oldest known human species here, and excavations continue to this day. In fact, it was one of the Leakey sons who would find a fossil fragment of the first human species in Olduvai Gorge in 1960.
Olduvai Gorge is known by some as the “cradle of humankind,” with evidence of human species inhabiting the area roughly 1.9 million years ago.
Tarangire National Park is the sixth largest in Tanzania and covers some 2,850 square kilometers of the Manyara Region. While smaller in size than Serengeti or Ngorongoro, Tarangire is still known for its impressive population of elephants and lions. Travelers to this protected area will certainly see zebra, wildebeest, giraffe and baboons, as well as some of the 550 species of indigenous birds that call Tarangire home.
Because the park has only one major water source—the Tarangire River—it’s the perfect place for spotting all of Tanzania’s wildlife, particularly during dry season. Between June and October, animals from across the park flock to the river—a scene that makes for spectacular photo ops.
There are few mountains more iconic than Africa’s tallest peak. Mount Kilimanjaro has attracted authors, adventurers, travelers and thrill seekers for hundreds of year, promising a challenging climb and unprecedented views. With a summit that measures an impressive 19,341 feet and transitions through some five different climate zones, the snow-capped peak offers travelers a serious sense of accomplishment and an incredibly memorable African experience.
A network of seven official trekking routes wind up and down Kilimanjaro. Travelers agree that Machame—one of the most challenging routes—is the most scenic. Rongai, a less scenic but much easier pass, is accessible to hikers of all levels. Still, steep climbs, changing elevation and unpredictable weather can make reaching the summit a test for almost anyone. Those tight on time may not be able to climb Kilimanjaro’s peak, but they can still visit the base camp in the municipality of Moshi.
This ancient palace on the western shores of Zanzibar was the birthplace of the late princess Salme and today is among the top destinations for travelers to the island. Travelers can tour the grounds aboard a traditional donkey cart and wander through the Persian baths, main palace and beautiful botanical gardens.
Though this ancient structure is in ruins, Mtoni Palace provides visitors with a look into the Arabian royal past that played such an important role in the development of Zanzibar. Visitors can wander through what remains of the old reception hall and trace the Omani family footsteps through the palace garden, palace baths and remnant of the royal courtyard.
This national park, stationed in the northeastern region of Tanzania, is located an easy drive from the center of Arusha, making it a popular stop for travelers to this beautiful and diverse city. Despite its relatively small size, Arusha National Park offers visitors a unique opportunity to explore some of East Africa’s diverse environments, as well as gain access to many of the continent’s most famous mammals.
Visitors can explore the Meru Crater funnels in the Jekukumia River, hike to the apex of Mount Meru and enjoy breathtaking views, or embark on a wildlife adventure to grasslands of the Ngorongoro Crater. Though travelers won’t find the same number of animals in Arusha National Park as some of Tanzania’s bigger reserves, they’ll still get a taste of what makes this one of the country’s most popular destinations. The park may be lion free, but plenty of wild buffalo, giraffe, zebra and monkeys roam the land, as well as an impressive number of indigenous birds. Lucky adventurers may even spot one of the rare African elephants known to graze on grassy plains.
Established in 2004 as the only protected park in Zanzibar, Jozani-Chwaka Bay is home to several animal species unique to the island. Travelers who wander the thick forests of this 19-square-mile park will likely spot the indigenous Zanzibar red colobus and families of Skyes monkeys. Travelers say close encounters with these playful creatures are one of the major highlights of any trip to Jozani, and a lucky few may even spot the indigenous Zanzibar Leopard—a wild cat found nowhere else on earth.
The surrounding mangroves at Chwaka Bay are also home to more than 40 species of birds, making it a popular destination for travelers looking to check some of these two-wing wonders off their lengthy Life Lists. A well-kept boardwalk that winds through the lush coastal flora makes navigating Jozani’s scenic landscape a breeze.
Ernest Hemingway called Lake Manyara National Park the most beautiful place in all of Africa. Today, the same winding roads, lush jungles, grassy floodplains and blue volcanic mountaintops that left this famous author with lasting memories, make it one of the most picturesque destinations in all of Tanzania.
Hundreds of species of birds glide through the air above Lake Manyara National Park, making it the ideal stop for international birders looking to check the rare and exotic off their life list. Travelers in search of bigger beasts will find wild buffalo, zebra and other African mammals wandering the grounds of this concentrated safari wonderland. Its compact size and close proximity to the Rift Valley escarpment mean Lake Manyara National Park offers plenty of wildlife for time-crunched travelers.
Eager trekkers embarking on Mount Kilimanjaro’s less strenuous route will likely find themselves in the market town of Marangu on the eastern side of this iconic mountain. Its surrounding area is filled with lush green forests, incredible waterfalls, well-worn walking paths and quiet local farms that offer a taste of life in the Tanzanian hillside.
Travelers to Marangu will likely get an up-close look at local mountain culture in addition to some pretty spectacular scenery, but visitors agree that with thousands of travelers passing through this remote destination each year, the impact of tourism is increasingly noticeable–especially in the rising local prices. Still, the town's breathtaking beauty and close proximity to Africa’s highest peak make it an ideal stop for travelers looking to summit Mount Kilimanjaro or experience the beauty of rural Tanzania.
This traditional African market is one of the largest and busiest in all of Zanzibar. Local Tanzanians wander the streets as the sun rises—or hop aboard rusty metal bikes just after the call to prayer—to collect fruits, vegetables and other family essentials well before the day kicks off.
Travelers can explore dozens of vendor stalls where cheap produce, fresh meats, dried maize meal, local crafts and inexpensive imported clothing line the narrow passes of this covered market. The thick smoke of cooking food mixes with dust, sweat and the sound of shouting voices, making a trip to Zanzibar’s Mwanakwerekwe Market a truly African experience.
A trip to Tanzania puts travelers face-to-face with beautiful beaches, exciting cultures and incredible African wildlife. But a visit to Amani Children’s Home, just outside of Moshi, offers a unique opportunity for travelers to connect with some of the people who make this country so unique—children.
Since 2001 Amani has been providing food, shelter, education, medical care and counseling to Tanzania youth left homeless due to poverty and HIV/AIDS. The cheerful yellow building with a bright green roof typically houses between 70 and 100 kids, making it the perfect place to spend a day—or even a week—volunteering time, services or material goods for a greater cause with the breathtaking backdrop of the Tanzanian countryside.
Small scale farms, lush banana fields and traditional mountain homesteads give this peri-urban town in near Arusha its distinct character. Travelers can visit old-world coffee farms and learn about the local production of this popular beverage or canoe out into Lake Duluti—a volcanic lake at the foothills of Mount Meru that’s home to some of the nation’s best fishing and bird watching. Several primary and secondary schools welcome travelers interested in learning more about Tengeru educational practices and even offer multi-day volunteer experiences for adventurers looking to give back to the communities surrounding Mount Kilimanjaro.
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