Tanzania lies at the crossroads of Africa. While it is listed as being an East African country, environmentally and socially it straddles a little bit of Southern Africa in the south and a little bit of East Africa at the top, with areas which resemble neither in between. It is a country which all should visit at least once in their lifetime, even if it would take many lifetimes to see all of it.
Tanzania changes in climate from north to south and from east to west. The warm, tropical climate of the coast and the spice islands rises fairly quickly to the northern and western highlands of Tanzania. Most people are surprised to learn that the Serengeti lies at the base station height above sea level of many Alpine ski resorts, with the peaks soaring to heights in excess of the highest peaks in the Alps, and with well-known safari areas - such as the Ngorongoro Crater - at well over 2000 metres above sea level. This east to west rise in topography results in the warm, moist winds of the coast cooling quickly as it scales the heights of the craters and peaks of northern Tanzania - and creates pockets of high rainfall across all seasons. In the south and west, the rise in altitude is less dramatic - and so seasons are more closely adhered to by the weather gods. As a general rule, Tanzania has a long rainy season in April and May and a short rainy season in November. This is true for the popular north but, in the south and west, the weather is similar to Zambia, with a long rainy season from December to March, a green season in April and May when some rain is still prevalent - and then long dry season from June to November. The seasons in the west can be shorter, though - for example, in the Katavi, the rains may extend from November all the way until June. Perhaps Lake Tanganyika plays a part in creating a regional climate in this area - in much the same way as Ngorongoro has its own micro-climate.
List of the main safari areas of Tanzania:
- Northern Safari Circuit of Tanzania: We include the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater & highlands, the areas around Arusha (Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru), Lake Manyara, and Tarangire in the list of northern circuit safari areas - as do most safari companies.
- Southern Circuit of Tanzania: Here we refer to the two main southern parks called Ruaha National Park and the Selous Game Reserve. There are also other smaller parks dotted around the southern circuit, but these are often not visited by international guests.
- Western Circuit of Tanzania: Two main safari areas are in the west: Katavi National Park and Mahale National Park on Lake Tanganyika. Again, there are other smaller parks, but they are not often visited. For more information on Katavi and Mahale, read our article about Tanzania's wild west.
Top 5 tips for packing for a Tanzania safari:
What does this all mean for the traveller seeking packing advice for a Tanzanian safari? Here are our top 5 tips for packing for a Tanzania safari.
- 1. No matter what time of year you are travelling, if you are going to the northern circuit of Tanzania, pack a long-sleeve warm layer. The height above sea level, and distance from the coast, means that it can be cool to cold at night, early in the morning, and late into the evening at any time of the year.
- 2. If visiting the Ngorongoro Crater, ignore the seasons completely. The height above sea level means that the local climate is unique to the area. It can be hot and sunny, cold and raining through any one day on safari in the Crater area and surrounds. Layering is really important for the Ngorongoro Crater as a result - and so always take a warm layer, a waterproof layer, a beanie for your head, and wear safari clothing such as zip-off trousers which allow you to adapt to the conditions.
- 3. Many of the safari areas in Tanzania are home to perhaps the greatest conservationist of them all: the tsetse fly. This is not something which is always mentioned by safari lodges, perhaps for obvious reasons. While we find that Bushman Insect Repellent works well against the tsetse, there are a few other things you can do to make sure that they are less of a presence - and nuisance - on your safari. For starters, my research - and experience - has found that tsetse flies are much more voracious after it has rained and as the grass goes green and starts to grow. This has been confirmed by a client who was bitten while on safari in Tarangire - and it had rained just before she arrived. After much discussion, her conclusion was, "I have been to Tarangire many times before outside of the rainy season and only saw the occasional tsetse fly. That’ll be my season next time." The link between rain and tsetse flies going into a bit of a frenzy may simply be to do with breeding. The female fly will lay the larvae on to the soil and the larvae then digs into the soil to develop further. With rain, the soil softens and so it may be that the female flies need to feed in order to breed, so that they lay the larvae at an optimal time when the soil is still soft after the first rains have fallen. If tsetse flies are not something you wish to encounter on safari, then avoid the rainy season and travel when Tanzania is drier and dustier. You are also able to reduce the risk of being bitten by wearing lighter colours (safari clothing made in colours such as our Katavi Khaki, Baobab, Serengeti Stone, and Willow are ideal) and avoiding darker colours, especially dark blue, black, and very dark brown. Tsetses seem to target darker colours - perhaps as, in the wilds, they usually feed off darker skinned animals such as buffalo, roan, and sable. Another tip is to re-apply insect repellent, such as Bushman, at least once an hour while out on safari. Spray all over your body and on to your clothing. We have found that the flies are masters at finding a little bit of exposed skin where you forget to spray yourself.
- 4. The landscapes in Tanzania tend to be wide open and vast - and the wildlife you are viewing may not always behave like traffic police and hang out along the jeep tracks. As a result, packing a really good pair of binoculars becomes even more important - or you may be frustrated by only seeing a speck of a lion in the distance, rather than in detail through your binoculars. Here we would recommend any of the Swarovski range of binoculars, or the Vortex binoculars of a specification of the Diamondbacks or better. The Vortex Viper binoculars are ideal. For the brightest image, always opt for at least 10 x 42 binoculars, unless you are buying a pair of Swarovskis where the light transmission across the full range is superb and so any combination of 10 times magnification and front lens aperture will offer you a fantastic image when viewing wildlife.
- 5. If you are doing a combination of safari and beach - which is a highly recommend thing to do - make sure you pack insect repellent for both parts of your trip. Many clients make the mistake of only packing insect repellent for their safari, thinking that the risk or being bitten is greater, when in fact the risk is higher in coastal areas which often have much higher local populations of people. Also, take more than you think you will need so that you are able to re-apply insect repellent often. If you run out, it often means that you may as well not have taken any with you in the first place.
Of course, there are many more tips for packing for a Tanzania safari, but many of them are covered in our safari packing lists. Dress in layers for all safaris. This is something which is often repeated on our safari packing lists, but it really is true for Tanzania where a two week safari may take you from the tropical heat of Zanzibar to the chilly heights of the Ngorongoro. You want to pack clothing which allows you to stay cool when it gets really hot and warm - and dry when it get cold and wet. Wear a hat, wear sunscreen. Please do use our safari packing lists as they are, well, packed with useful information and advice. Our expert safari advice pages are also highly recommended. If you have any questions or need advice for your safari to Tanzania, please do not hesitate to contact us.
What is the most important thing to pack for your Tanzania safari? An open mind and a sense of adventure. It truly is an incredible country to visit.
Images from Tanzania:
To whet your appetite a little more for a safari to Tanzania, these are few snaps Steve took on his last visit to Tanzania which touch on the diversity of landscape and wildlife in this great land.
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