Tanzania’s safari seasons march to the tattoo of the hooves of migrating wildebeest, but a country this large and diverse has more than one ace up the sleeve of its safari jacket. You may find that your best time to visit Tanzania on safari could be when prices are lower, or the adventure stakes higher.
As with its northern neighbour, Kenya, arguably the best time to visit Tanzania on safari is from mid-June to late October. The marquee attraction during this period is the humongous herbivore upheaval that is the Great Wildebeest Migration, with its attendant predator action and heart-in-mouth moments.
The long dry season is justifiably very popular in Tanzania, and market forces determine that having put on its best show, premium rates apply. Milder weather and the absence of rain help explain the esteem in which this period is held, along with the drama of the Grumeti River crossings.
If you can tear yourself away from the Serengeti, July is the ideal time to visit Mahale, where thinning vegetation makes chimpanzee tracking more rewarding.
As the dry season progresses, the remote wildernesses of southern Tanzania come into their own, with phenomenal game viewing (but few visitors) in Selous Game Reserve and Ruaha National Park. And as the November rains approach, rising temperatures mean fewer fellow travellers – particularly in Ngorongoro Crater.
Apart from the occasional shower, the weather from June to October is also ideal in the Spice Islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, so now is the perfect time to soak up both the sun and the unique coastal Swahili culture.
BEST VALUE FOR MONEY
Tanzania’s shorter dry season, from December to March, can be an excellent time to profit from off-peak safari pricing, without necessarily compromising on the quality of your wildlife experience. You’ll enjoy weather that’s essentially the same as in the peak season (cool and dry) and witness a similar foliage phenomenon, as the rain-fed greenery starts to wither away.
If you’re a birder, this the time to take wing for Tanzania. You’ll be arriving at the same time as many migratory species, including the famous influx of white storks into Ruaha in southern Tanzania.
Also arriving, and en masse: wildebeest calves in the southern Serengeti. Birthing begins in January, with peak appearances in February. As March ends, and the long rains loom, the herds – including the youngsters – start chomping at the bit for the long trek north, and it’s not hard to muster enthusiasm for watching them gather.
Consider the Rift Valley as the dry season ends: elephant herds concentrate along the river in Tarangire and flamingos descend on Lake Manyara.
If you’re a dedicated follower of passion, then a Tanzania safari in either rainy season – the long rains of April and May or short rains of November – will slake your thirst for adventure. The water transforms the bush into a lush green wonderland, and many species time the arrival of their young to coincide with this bonanza.
In April, the Ngorongoro Crater erupts into a carpet of flowers to rival any lava flow, creating a colourful backdrop for black rhino pictures. Southern Tanzania experiences spectacular electric storms that linger long in the memory, while the resident wildlife of northern Tanzania seems unfazed by either May’s steady downpours or November’s showy cloudbursts.
We’re also talking glorious mud, but it’s nothing your guide won’t be able to drive (or dig) his or her way out of. And besides, the quintessential rainy season experience is enjoying a G&T in your poncho as the setting sun pierces the clouds.
If you’re planning some beach time to complement your safari adventures, we’d definitely recommend November over April and May. November’s showers won’t detract from time spent on Zanzibar and Pemba, but the shirt-sticking humidity of the long rains could well tip your adventure into ‘mission: impossible’ territory.