When to go to Tanzania for safari...
Tanzania features some of the best year round climates of any of the African safari destinations. The main dry season runs from June until the middle of November when the weather is dry and temperatures hit the low 30s. The short rains of late November and early December bring humidity to the country until the long rains of April and May clear this out again. Game viewing is, arguably, at its best between June and November and again from January until April. Below is a breakdown for the various months and where to visit during them.
This window of the year can be very humid inland and windy along the coast as the trade winds kick up from the north (the “Kazikazi”). For a more in depth view of the different areas of Tanzania please follow the link below.
Traditionally this is seen as the “green” season in the southern safari parks. A time when there is plenty throughout, with new-borns bouncing around the place, plenty of migratory birding and full rivers. It is worth bearing in mind that, with greenery and puddles tend to come mosquitoes!
In our view it is a great time to head down south as the parks are practically deserted from a tourist point of view. It is also worth noting that most of the lodges and camps offer a low season rate at this time. The game viewing can be a little harder to track and see due to the dispersal of water and the thick bush…but birders, especially, will be in their element!
Generally not held as being the best period of the year to head to the western parks. Katavi is usually flooded at this time and, due to the black cotton soil, practically impassable. They are open for the month of January and, for those looking for adventure at this time of year then it may be worth considering but, as with the southern parks, there will be plenty of mosquitoes!!
Mahale is less affected by this period and so is still accessible for the three months. Where the temperature is humid and moist, the chimps can still be visited and this is actually a good time of the year to visit of you are on a budget or looking for some real peace and quiet.
A superb time to visit the northern safari parks and certainly ranks as one of the best periods of the year. This is the main foaling season for plains game in the southern Serengeti and so there are huge congregations of wildebeest, impala and zebra in and around the Ndutu Plains.
In and around the crater too you can benefit from the slightly warmer climate that is the southern hemisphere (just!) summer and so it is possible to dine outside during the day quite comfortably. (something that is not necessarily possible at other times of the year).
With very little vegetation there are much fewer mosquitoes than down in the south at this time of year.
Along the coast the humidity has really picked up and builds from the front of the January through until the main rains arrive in April. Temperatures are fairly consistent around 30 degrees Celsius, and the trade winds are a lot stronger as they come in from the north. This is still a good time for get some winter sun on the island and, when the rain does fall, it is a short burst and then sunshine again!
Have a look: The Coast and Islands
Traditionally this is held as being the worst time to visit Tanzania, as this is the period of the main rains. In our book, however, while most of the safari hotels and lodges have closed for their annual holidays and repair, there are still a few that are open and it can still be a rewarding time to both safari and be on the beach…as the storms arrive the humidity drops and the skies are lit at night by lightening and thunder!
Due to accessibility being an issue on bush runways, this is a no go period for all of the parks in the south.
As with the Southern parks, it is virtually impossible to get into any of the parks at this time of year and so all the lodges are closed.
While it is often said that this is not the time to go out on safari….if you are on a budget and are willing to take a bit of a gamble, then the northern parks are where to head! Superb safari viewing is year round out on the plains of the Serengeti and, as the herds start to move north, into the central and western regions of the park, it is possible to bear witness to some spectacular sights.
It is a given that, if you are unlucky you will see quite a few unimpressed zebra and wildebeest…but, if you are lucky and hit a window of sunshine, this is as good as it gets…and with nobody about! You will have the entire place to yourself!
Along the coast the same logic as in the northern parks applies. At the worst you could spend a week relaxing in your room and swimming out in the rain….at the best you could have perfect sunshine and the whole island to yourself for a fraction of the prices than in high season!
Have a look: The Coast and Islands
Probably the pick of the seasons to visit for both safari and beach, this is known as the dry season in Tanzania and is also when 60-70% of tourists arrive into the country. The weather on the whole is very good with reliably clear skies. This is not to say that the occasional shower does not happen, but these quickly pass. Temperatures are around the 30s both along the coast and inland and, with the cooling breeze of the “Kuzi” trade winds from the south, the air is clear and fresh.
As with all over the country, this is the perfect time to visit the southern parks. As the vegetation and small rainwater puddles of the rains dry up, the animals of the parks all head to the remaining rivers for their water. With this concentration of game the safari viewing is like no other time of the year. Along with this dry heat is the blessing of relatively few mosquitoes, which makes it all the more enjoyable. If you are after good game populations and few people then a safari to the south will suit even in this busier period.
Again, this is the perfect time of year to visit. As the vast floodplains of Katavi dry up again the vast swathes of plains game and buffalo are forced to seek water in the small river system of the Katuma. This evening and morning ritual is well known to the parks’ lion and predator element offering some of Africa’s finest game viewing at times. Later on in the season, as the watercourse dries further, it is also possible to witness the remarkable phenomenon that is hippo pools of up to 4,000 and the crocodiles that dig into the riverbank in their hundreds to sleep out the failing supplies.
This was, until recently, seen as the period when it was best to start thinking about a safari in Kenya rather than Tanzania (especially from the middle of July until the end of October) as the Migration herds move up to the north o the Serengeti. However, with the Mara River cutting through the northern plains and the grasslands drying up, the herds can be easily seen from the Tanzanian side of the border. Up in the very northern region of the park there are few lodges and so, even with this being the busiest time of the year, this area manages to side step the crowds.
As the months go on, the coast heats up again rising to highs of around 34 degrees Celsius in places. The “Kuzi” trade winds serve to provide the islands with a cooling element, but it really is time to hit the sun bed and get that tan! A great time to go.
Take a look: The Coast and Islands
With the arrival of the countries “short” rains (meaning that when it does rain it is only for a brief time and then becomes sunny again) comes a range of changes in Tanzania. The first important one of which is the shift in the trade winds. What was a light breeze from the south turns into a stronger (but still not too bad) breeze from the north. Along with this, the rain brings humidity to both the coast and inland and also the return of mosquitoes. We would argue that the first couple of weeks in November are probably the best time to go on safari to the south as the first fall of rain carpets the barren land with a layer of green, the game is much happier but it is still possible to see everything…oh, and the prices are much lower!
As mentioned above, if you can time it right (around the first week of November) and catch the period in between the first rainfall and the short rains arriving then this could not be a better time to plan a safari to Tanzania. Further into the period, while most of the lodges are still open, game sightings start getting harder as the game spreads out into the park. Another thing to note is that, on whole, when there has just been rainfall in Africa this is when most of the bugs and mosquitoes appear…they are harmless, but not for everyone.
As with the southern safari parks, right at the beginning of November is still fine for game viewing in Katavi. As the time moves on the game disperses into the bush and becomes harder to view. Mahale is not really affected by the short rains and so it is still a great time to head here to see the chimps and spend a bit of time on Lake Tanganyika.
This period signals the movement of the herds back down to the southern Serengeti from the northern borders and is, generally, one of the harder times to predict the Migration’s whereabouts. On the whole we recommend heading for the central Serengeti…but the game is still superb and, in this period, it is possible to see the herds as they are filing along, for miles and miles!
With the arrival of the short rains also heralds the turning of the trade winds from the south to the north. This means that it is a windier period for heading to the beaches, but this can also work to your favour as the winds then move any potential clouds either inland or down the coast. On the whole this is still a good period to head for the islands and the temperatures are high at around 32.
Take a look: The Coast and Islands