When is the best time to visit Tanzania? It’s a good question – and like most good questions a tricky one to answer, mainly because different areas in Tanzania have different attractions at different times of the year. There really is no right or wrong time to visit this well-loved country but as a rule of thumb, the dry season (from late June to October) is the most popular time for a Tanzania safari with all the trimmings.
During this dry season, animals congregate near water sources putting predators and prey in close proximity and making for some exciting game viewing. As a by-product of the water shortages the vegetation thins, thus improving visibility of animals. One important thing to bear in mind, however, is the crowding that can occur in certain reserves during these favorable periods. Should you wish to avoid other tourists, consider visiting Tanzania during the green season, usually from March to May, or even the short dry season from the end of December to February.
Below is a brief summary of some of our favourite Tanzanian parks and their seasonal perks. Hopefully this will simplify your planning process, whilst illuminating a few of the lesser-known regions…
Serengeti National Park
This national park needs no introduction. The Serengeti National Park contains exceptional game in high densities year-round, although peak time is during the dry season from June to September. If you’re visiting during this time and searching for the wildebeest of the Great Migration, your best chances of seeing them are in the western regions of the park in May and June at a camp like Singita Faru Faru Lodge or Ubuntu Migraton Camp, or in the northern section of the park for the famous river crossings. Camps like Lamai Serengeti, Olakira Migration Camp or Serian’s Serengeti North will fit the bill perfectly here. The Great Migration is always high on any safari enthusiast’s bucket list and planning a visit to coincide with the spectacle is popular so do book in advance!
Late January and into February and March is the wildebeest calving season in the southern Serengeti, which provides high excitement as lion and cheetah descend on the fragile and naive newborns. Although action-packed, these scenes are not for the faint of heart. Try staying at either Kimondo Migration Camp or Lake Masek Tented Camp for the best views.
The height of the wet season is March and April and causes the usually crowded Serengeti to empty, offering an intimate experience with the wildlife. You can expect rain showers, but they are usually short and sharp and certainly don’t last for hours. Another plus at this time of year is the return of migratory bird species, a big drawcard for all the twitchers out there.
Ngorongoro National Park
Ngorongoro’s dry season (June to October) is usually considered the best time to visit as temperatures are cooler and there is little chance of rain. The lack of rain means that the vegetation is thinner and animals, such as the shy black rhino, are easier to spot. The flip side of unbelievable game viewing in “Africa’s Eden”? Expect more than a few vehicles in the main sections of the crater…
The green season (November to May), which is considerably less crowded, is still a great time to view animals. For the most part, the wet season is simply an afternoon shower with slightly heavier rain in March, April and May – just make sure to choose a lodge like The Highlands or the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge that is fully enclosed! During this season, migratory bird species return creating a kaleidoscope of colour. Generally, game is more spread out because of the abundance of water and vegetation making it a little more difficult to find them, however this should not be a deterrent. Even during the wet season, there are few places on earth that can compete with Ngorongoro’s game viewing.
Selous Game Reserve
Selous Game Reserve’s dry, cooler months (June to November) make for excellent big cat and wild dog sightings. There is less water in the waterholes at this time of year and animals congregate around any remaining sources, making for incredible sightings. In fact, lion sightings are almost guaranteed! The wild dogs usually den from June to August making these the best months to spot the rare and highly endangered species.
The seasonality regarding game viewing in this area is quite clear, with animals spreading out during the wet season (March to May) and the heaviest rains falling in the months of March and April. Although you may be slightly more restricted in activities (and choice of camps – many close during these months), all is not lost as this is the birthing season and the time for migratory bird species to return.
A Zanzibar (or Mafia or Pemba!) Island adventure is best experienced from June to October, when the climate is cool and dry. Within this period, August and September have the best water clarity of 25 or more meters, offering incredible snorkelling conditions and whale viewing potential. It is important to bear in mind that some of the island restaurants will be closed during the Muslim festival of Ramadan, which occurs during the months of June and July, so check before booking if this is of concern.
December to February is also a lovely time to visit Zanzibar and her neighbouring islands, and it’s hot and dry with temperatures reaching into the 40 degrees celsius range. The wet season arrives in March and lasts until May. Water clarity is not as productive during this period and humidity can be a factor of concern when you are not in the water.
It’s possible to add a stop at the Tanzanian Coast to almost any trip in the country – have a peek at some of the top options including Zanzibar, or head slightly more off the beaten track to Mafia Island.