Safari in Tanzania is extremely seasonal. An appreciation of weather patterns, game movements and visitor traffic flows are essential in planning a high-quality safari. This section provides a quick introduction to the main factors that affect seasonality.
Tanzania has two International Airports and many regional airports and bush airstrips. Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam is the best port of entry for the Southern and Western Circuits safari circuits. Kilimanjaro International Airport is the usual port of entry for the Northern Circuit. If you are landing in Zanzibar the Island has an international airport Abeid Amani Karume International Airport is the main airport in the Zanzibar Archipelago located on Unguja Island. It can be an entry or exit point before or after your safari.
The roads of Tanzania are a mixture of well-maintained tarred roads to bare tracks. Driving safaris are popular, especially for small groups of 4 to 6 people travelling together, sharing a vehicle during a safari often works out cheaper than flying. Road safaris can guarantee a private vehicle and the same guide throughout your safari. The disadvantage is that the distances between areas can be vast and much of your time is spent between getting from one destination to the other, whereas by air the distances are covered quite quickly and smoothly. The distance from Arusha town to Dar es salaam can take between 8-10 hours of driving with a short stop over for toilet and a meal.
When planning for you Safari in Tanzania it is important to choose your entry airport and exit depending on where you will begin and end your safari. For example, if you are starting your safari in Tanzania from north Tanzania then it only makes sense to book your flight into Tanzania at the Kilimanjaro international airport which is closest to the northern circuit. Tanzania has predominantly three safari circuits, each offering travelers a different aspect of
the country. Each showcases the immensity of land set aside for conservation and wildlife protection. As the landscapes change in the differing areas, so do the habitats and species found there.
The Northern Circuit
The Northern Circuit encompasses; the mighty Serengeti National Park, home to millions of wildebeest, gazelle and zebra. It is here that these animals, migrate in search of fresh pastures, travelling from water source to water source, constantly on the move in an endless circle, better known as the Great Migration. Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Parks complete this circuit. With Arusha at the hub and Mount Kilimanjaro
and Mount Meru dominating the skyline. Typically, the Northern Circuit attracts many first time safari visitors and returning safari goers. Due to the area being well serviced by, a variety of camps and lodges and transport in and out
of the area being organised and easily accessible. The wildlife sightings are almost guaranteed, there are plenty of predators, large herds and bird species to fascinate and excite everyone. The downside to this circuit is its popularity and during peak season can be a little congested.
The Southern Circuit is suited more for travelers that have already experienced a busy safari and are looking for a more quiet region where you can still see all the game, but avoids the crowds and vehicle congestion that often occurs in the northern parks. The Selous Game Reserve, Mikumi National Park and Ruaha National Park form the Southern Circuit. The Selous Game Reserve, the largest and oldest reserve in Tanzania offers diverse habitats, which can be explored on foot, boat and vehicle. It’s close to the coast and often gets very humid. The animals are more dispersed due to a lot of water available throughout the year, but for seeing the highly endangered wild dogs, it is most certainly the reserve to visit. Ruaha, being much drier than the Selous, the prolific wildlife tends to be more concentrated along the Ruaha River; making game spotting is very rewarding.
Totally off the beaten track are Katavi National Park and Mahale Mountains National Park. These remote parks are certainly perfect for the safari traveller looking for something out of the ordinary. Katavi, consists of a series of flood plains fringed with woodland. This park has two very different sides to it, depending on the season. During the very hot dry months, the water holes shrink and the game is very concentrated around the little water available, making for some unforgettable, raw and stark sightings. During the wet months the game disperses across the plains, the grass grows high and the area becomes a paradise for bird watchers. With the only access to the park by boat or plane, Mahale on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, is possibly one of the most isolated parks in East Africa. With three distinct habitats in a single area, this park offers adventurers the opportunity to trek in a tropical rain forest inhabited by forest animals including wild chimpanzees. No roads, sandy beaches, rugged mountains, tropical fish and a freshwater lake, this utopia it worth the effort to here.
Weather is the primary determinant of both the quality of game viewing and the viability of access to some of the interior camps and lodges. Tanzania weather is remarkably variable, largely thanks to the presence of the Ngorongoro mountain range running through its heart. Summaries of weather conditions for each season are provided in the specific sections for each safari area.
Rain directly affects the growth of grass and other foliage cover. During the dry season when everything has died back, game becomes a lot more visible. During the wet season, from around 6 to 8 weeks after the start of the rains, the growth of new cover starts to significantly impede gameviewing. The primary driving forces behind the major animal movements and migrations in the area are the quality and availability of grazing and drinking water, both of which are intimately connected with rainfall. Understanding these links is critical to safari planning. Generally speaking, during dry months seasonal waterholes dry up and game migrates in towards permanent sources of water, providing predictable and high density game viewing. During wet months the converse happens, with seasonal waterholes filling, enabling game to migrate outwards across a broad hinterland, making game viewing much more difficult. On top of these movements are overlaid some other more specific game movements, relating
to certain particular animal behaviours. The most obvious of these is the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti, which does operate to the same basic principles of grazing and water, but which operates over a much more complex annual cycle.
Tourist seasons and traffic in the parks
Another critical part of safari planning is to gain an insight into the typical volumes and movements of safari and other vehicles within the parks. In common with all of the major safari areas of Africa, this region can experience very high levels of traffic during high seasons. But this is a vast area and the traffic tends to congregate in only a very limited set of areas. Those wishing to avoid traffic and enjoy vast landscapes all to themselves can easily manage it.
The general rule of thumb is that wherever the animal density is highest and most accessible, so will be the density of safari vehicles. Heading to a low-density game area or paying extra to access a remote but game rich area can get you away from the crowds completely. But we should not get too obsessed with this, for the effect of traffic is extremely variable. On the main road out from Arusha it matters little that you are passing safari vehicles on a regular basis. But when quietly viewing a cheetah out on the plains of the Serengeti, having it to yourself or sharing it with other vehicles often makes the difference between a really memorable experience and an eminently forgettable one.
During the planning process we need to concern ourselves with choosing the right overnighting locations with respect to this issue. You are then free to make decisions on a day to day basis as to whether to follow the flock or drive off in a totally other direction.