The question of when is the best time to visit Tanzania is a question that we are often asked and, in a nutshell, every season has its highs and lows. In this article, however, we have endeavoured to sum up what you should expect at each time of the year as well as giving you a few of the best accommodation and location tips based on our many years of travelling out to this fantastic country!
The weather in Tanzania, situated within the tropic of Capricorn, varies little in its temperature range throughout the year sticking to an average of around 30 degrees Celsius during the day and dropping to a comfortable 15 at night.
The main variation to the impact of the temperature is both the humidity and the annual rains.
The main rains in the country arrive around the beginning of April and run through until the end of June, traditionally. We talk about where to head to in this period below but, needless to say, it is worth considering a raincoat as the downpours are full and often! The second, slightly less strong, rainy period, is from the beginning of November (around 2 weeks later on Zanzibar) to the middle of December, roughly speaking.
The humidity in Tanzania varies throughout the year with the driest and hottest period in the country starting in mid-June and running through to the end of October. This (as discussed below) is known as the “dry period” and is a reliable time to head out to Tanzania as it offers good game viewing along with a comfortable climate.
From November until the main rains in April, the humidity starts to climb in the country with the most humid (and, arguably, most uncomfortable) period in January and February. There are, of course, exceptions to this that are mentioned below.
This doesn’t really just apply to the time of year as far as weather goes, but more as regards the best times of the year to head to the different areas and what you will be able to see while you are there…
Dec to March – as mentioned in the weather section, this is one of the most humid times to head out to Tanzania and, as such, it feels muggy in most of the destinations. This is, however, not the end of the world as for many, it can provide some exceptional game viewing, as well as a much quieter overall experience.
The Migration herds in the Serengeti will be located down in the very southern areas of the park and so this is, arguably, one of the best times to visit the northern parks. While the country is more humid, the high altitude at the Ngorongoro Crater and the open expanse of the Serengeti mean that you don’t feel the heat here as you would in other areas such as the Selous. With great game numbers, and plenty of new calves, this is definitely one of the best times to go and camps such as Ndutu Lodge, Olakira Tented Camp and Nomads Tented Camp tend to get booked up well in advance.
Mahale and Katavi
Katavi National Park, while one of the best in Tanzania, is a very season park and, while it is still accessible in these months, this is not considered to be the best time to head here.
Mahale National Park, likewise, becomes a lot harder to access by plane as the airstrip becomes a long mudslide into Lake Tanganyika! For this reason, and the fact that the park will be very humid, we would not overly recommend heading here in this period.
The Selous and Ruaha
This is probably one of the best times of the year for those that are keen on birders to come to both of these stunning parks. With the short rains, the Selous becomes quite a bit greener and, as such, the game becomes quit a bit harder to actually see. But, this is the time in the year when the European migratory birds arrive into this region of Africa and, therefore, the park comes alive with males displaying and the sound of birds of all types and variety.
As with the national parks, Zanzibar does become quite a bit more humid at this time of the year and so it can, if the wind is not blowing, be a little uncomfortable in the evenings. It is not, however, a bad time to head here as the beaches are far less busy, and the weather is fairly reliably sunny on the east coast of the island. Choosing a property with air conditioning such as Mchanga Beach Lodge, Breezes Beach Club or Essque Zalu is essential!
April to May – as the main rains arrive into Tanzania, many of the hotels and properties start to close up shop for the year and let their staff have a couple of months off. This is not a bad time to visit though as the Migrations herds in the north are easily accessible, the parks are empty (comparatively) and the prices are at rock bottom. If you have ever dreamed of staying in somewhere like the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge then this is the time to go as they sell at more than half their normal price (of £1,000 per person per night!)
As mentioned above, this is actually a great time to head up to the northern parks of Tanzania as the game is still good (with the occasional break for a storm or two), there is virtually nobody up here, and the prices are at the lowest of the year. Our top tip is to get yourself a Landcruiser for this period as it can become very difficult to get around otherwise.
Katavi and Mahale
As with the December to March window, this is not really the best time to come and see either the chimps or the remote Katavi as both parks are very tricky to access.
Selous and Ruaha
Due to the use of bush runways in both of the parks, as with Katavi and Mahale, the Selous and Ruaha, and all of the properties, are closed for the couple of months.
The island is a bit of an enigma as far as the weather patterns are concerned as, when it is raining heavily on the western side, it can be completely dry on its eastern side. Fortunately the eastern side is where all of the beach properties are located and, as such, with a bit of luck you can still enjoy really good weather at absolutely rock bottom prices!
June to November – far and away the busiest time of the year to head to Tanzania for all of the parks and the beaches. This period is popular due to the reliably dry weather and, therefore, very good game viewing that can be had in all of the parks. For us, it is a good but expensive time of year to travel and so we tend to recommend to clients to try, if possible, to travel in the last couple of weeks in June or the first couple of weeks in November, when prices are low, game is good and the parks are less full.
The period when the great migration herds have reached the northern-most point in their cycle, this is when the herds are crossing rivers, and moving northwards. It can be an absolutely superb time to visit and, for those that are on a lesser budget, it is worth aiming for the central regions of the park in June or early November to have the best chance of seeing game.
For those with a little more to spend, you are in for a treat! The very northern region of the Serengeti, known as the “Lamai wedge” is one of the most impressive and less well known regions of Africa and, on its day, has some of the best game viewing that Africa offers. It is true that this area is becoming busier and, as such, more expensive, but, in our view, it is definitely worth the money!
Katavi and Mahale
As with the rest of the parks, the dry season is when these two parks really shine…in particular Katavi. With its open grasslands and vast buffalo herds, the daily gauntlet to the water side is a spectacle that few will ever witness. Some would argue that you are better aiming for later in the dry season, when things become more and more fraught, but we think it is a great park year round.
Mahale and the chimpanzees are also one of Africa’s highlights and there is no better time to visit than in this period. The lake shores of Tanganyika provide a welcome retreat from normal life and are a great substitute for a beach holiday, and the interaction with the chimps really rounds this magic place off.
Selous and Ruaha
The lesser known parks of Tanzania, in the south, are certainly one of Africa’s last true strongholds for game and safari enthusiasts. Both of these parks complement one another perfectly with walking and boating safaris in the Selous, and walking and night driving in Ruaha, completing the “set’ of safari activities.
The game viewing, as the parks dry back, becomes frenzied in and around the main river systems and, as such, the parks regularly offer game experiences that rival the northern parks and with much more intimacy and privacy.
The final destination on the list, Zanzibar at this time of year, as with all of the coastal destinations in Tanzania, becomes the idyllic, Indian Ocean paradise that you are looking for. White coral sands lapped by azure blue waves…what is not to love!?
We hope that this has give you a bit of a taste of what Tanzania has to offer in every season and please follow the links or give us a call if you would like to discuss things further or if you would like us to put together an itinerary for you.