After spending several weeks on two different trips backpacking in Tanzania this is my advice for you on where to go, what to do, and how to have an adventure you will remember for the rest of your life.
Tanzania is an adventure travellers paradise!
Backpacking in Tanzania
This post is definitely not the be-all and end-all for backpacking in Tanzania.
It’s going to show you the main things that I recommend to see to be able get the best out of the country, plus an off the beaten path destination if you can make it there.
But with so many things to do in Tanzania this would be a very, very, long post.
With a few weeks backpacking in Tanzania for the first time these are the places you will want to visit.
The 3 main gateways into Tanzania for backpackers are Dar-es-Salaam if you plan to fly into Tanzania and are going to Zanzibar first.
The other is if you’re coming down from Nairobi in Kenya overland to Arusha in northern Tanzania.
And the third is coming in from Malawi or Zambia to Mbeya in southern Tanzania.
Of course you may not be coming into these places as Dodoma the capital of Tanzania also has flights. But the 3 mentioned here are the main ones.
I’ve chucked in loads of links to other articles (my own and others) to help plan specific parts of the trip and to some booking sites where you can book places to stay, tours etc (affiliate).
If you are only going on a trip to Tanzania and not neighbouring countries then I would suggest a Tanzania itinerary starting with flying into Dar es Salaam, have a few days relaxing in Zanzibar, before taking a bus up to Arusha and doing the things around there.
Arusha itself has nothing remarkable going for it except for the fact it’s the place to begin some of the best adventures in Tanzania.
Tour companies in Arusha are everywhere and you can book everything from a Serengeti safari to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
With so many tour companies there you should be able to easily show up and book a safari when there. This can also save you money if looking to do a budget safari in Tanzania.
Food tip for Arusha: The one thing I personally did love in Arusha was the amazing barbecued tandoori chicken at a place that is converted from a garage during the day to a street side eatery at night.
Ask for the garage that does tandoori chicken and the locals should know what you mean.
There are numerous budget hotels to stay at if you need somewhere cheaper to stay and a hostel or 2.
Otherwise plenty of mid-range and a few high end places.
Serengeti National Park Safari
The Serengeti National Park is one of the ultimate destinations for a safari in Africa.
If you have but one safari to do in Tanzania then make it the Serengeti along with a day in Ngorongoro Conservation Area (see below).
The vast African savannah and abundance of wildlife is what makes the Serengeti famous. You will see all the animals you could ever want when there.
An African road block…
The Serengeti has so many different wildlife species to see.
All the big cats are there, lions, cheetahs, and the most leopards I have ever seen on any safari in Africa.
Two leopards seen in the tree on safari.
Lions are the easiest of all the big cats to spot though and you will find plenty of them around.
The best time to see lions is at sunrise or sunset when they are more active as during the heat of the day they tend to laze around.
But the safari guide will know all this and all the safaris start early in the morning at 5-6ish.
Lion looks straight at us before going hunting.
A hippo (one of the most dangerous animals in Africa) opens its jaws wide.
Camping wild in the Serengeti is so much fun in itself and actually one of the perks of being on a budget safari (in my opinion) as you feel much closer to nature than in a luxury tent.
The campsites for the budget safaris will have a simple basic open shack where you get the food prepared for dinner and breakfast, and a small toilet block area, for, well you know.
I’ve heard stories about someone going for a shit in the middle of the night and finding a lioness drinking water from the toilet bowl.
I have a suspicion his shit came out a bit sooner after seeing that! He wasn’t hurt.
When at these campsites a group of elephants decided to come and rub their asses against the toilet building, and on numerous occasions hyenas came into camp.
Stay in your tent at night and make sure you piss and shit before sleep is my biggest advice!
Happy camping Tanzania style in the Serengeti!
As you’ll be backpacking you may be looking for a budget safari in Tanzania to save some money. As mentioned before this is possible but you may need to spend a few days in Arusha to do this.
Some tour companies in Arusha work together and will add on an extra person or 2 at a discount rate to a group who already booked a safari in order to make a bit of extra cash.
This is possible but you may need to spend a few days in Arusha to get on a budget tour like this
You will still be looking at around $150 a day upwards for a Tanzania safari budget (if you go on safari in Tanzania please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org about the rates if they change).
Also if you are travelling in Tanzania during the low season then the safari rates should be a bit cheaper as well.
But seeing the wildlife during the best weather period is when the animals will be easier to see and the great wildebeest migration will be happening in the Serengeti.
The Tanzania July weather and August make for the best time for a safari in Tanzania as it’s the dry season. It will be busy with other tourists though due to that and prices will be a bit more.
Ngorongoro Crater Safari
Ngorongoro is not so far from the Serengeti and is a very beautiful destination just for the scenery never-mind all the wildlife you can see.
It has the highest concentration of lions in Tanzania and most of Africa.
The area is a massive crater with a lake in the middle full of flamingos.
Handily it’s on the way back to Arusha after the Serengeti and most people will include one night camping on the crater rim and a one day safari in Ngorongoro.
An overcast day inside Ngorongoro Crater.
Hyena amongst a flock of flamingos on the lake.
The best way for accommodation and saving money as well is to go on a camping safari as mentioned before.
If you’re lucky you may have some animals like zebra wander through your camp at night and just feet away from your tent listen to them munching away on the grass.
Camping above the Ngorongoro Crater.
The weather in Ngorongoro crater can go from a cloudy overcast morning to a bright sunny afternoon easily.
Either way it’s an unmissable place to go.
A view into Ngorongoro crater on a clearer day.
With any Serengeti safari a Ngorongoro Crater safari for one day and night should be done on the way back to Arusha.
Another option when in the Arusha area is to do a safari into Tarangire National Park. This is where you will see a lot of elephants!
Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa reaching 5895m above sea level at its summit.
It’s one of the ‘must climb’ mountains in Africa if you love trekking and climbing up high.
Unfortunately for me I didn’t manage to climb Kilimanjaro simply due to time and budget constraints on the activities to choose, plus the fact that I was addicted to seeing the wildlife on safaris.
Having said that a return visit to Tanzania someday will definitely include a Kilimanjaro trek and it comes highly recommended by other travellers and a ‘must do’ for adventure in Tanzania (if you can afford it).
That’s why I have included it.
If on a shorter backpacking in Tanzania trip, for example on a 2 weeks in Tanzania itinerary then you can get it done.
But be aware it takeS 6-8 days to climb Kilimanjaro, so only plan this if it’s something you really want to do.
As I didn’t do the Kilimanjaro trek I have linked to a travel blogging friend who did do it and wrote an in-depth guide for trekking Mount Kilimanjaro.
As mentioned before Arusha is a great place to organise the trek or you can also book a trek in advance.
You will pass through the town of Moshi on the way to Arusha or base yourself in Moshi instead of Arusha.
Photos here are stock pics just to show you the mountain as I don’t have any.
Gombe National Park On Lake Tanganyika
Getting off the beaten path in Tanzania can be done in a bunch of places that most backpackers won’t head to.
Taking the boat from Kigoma to Gombe National Park.
Gombe Stream National park became known due to Dr. Jane Goodall the well respected primatologist and anthropologist who studied the chimpanzees at Gombe and helped protect them and the environment.
Dr. Jane Goodall quote:
Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help shall all be saved.
From Kigoma (the main town on the lake closest to Gombe National Park) you will take a small local boat run by the park along the lake for an hour or so to get to the entrance to the park.
Upon arriving you will be given some information about the chimpanzees before being taken with a guide into the forest to go looking for the chimpanzees.
The rangers are experts at finding them.
The ranger takes us looking for chimpanzees.
It really is one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ adventures seeing the chimpanzees in the wild.
A Gombe chimpanzee in the tree.
Seeing a group of chimpanzees in Gombe National Park wandering through the forest.
Even after seeing the chimpanzees the national park itself is beautiful for hiking in and you will come across remote waterfalls and beautiful untouched forest.
Waterfall while hiking in Gombe National Park.
You have the option to camp on the beach near the park, but a day trip along Lake Tanganyika to Gombe National Park and hiking there for the day to see the chimpanzees is the perfect way to do it.
Getting to Kigoma in the first place is a mission!
You can fly and save a lot of time and hassle, but if you’re on a budget then you will need to take a very uncomfortable bus ride for over 18 hours from Arusha via Dodoma, or a bus from Arusha to Dodoma and change to a train there.
If coming from Dar es Salaam you can take a train all the way. More on train travel in Tanzania.
One other lake option of course is to go to Lake Victoria. I didn’t go to Lake Victoria in Tanzania as I explored the Victoria Lake on the Kenyan side before coming to Tanzania.
If you decide to head to Lake Victoria then Mwanza is the main town there and where you should head to first.
Zanzibar is where you can just simply relax.
Those white sand beaches and the warm Indian Ocean breezes mixed with excellent Swahili food is the perfect way to unwind at the end of your trip to Tanzania.
Or, if at the beginning of your trip, a great way to unwind and ease your way into the backpacking adventure to come.
When looking for things to do in Zanzibar then lying around on the beach is certainly the most relaxing but there are of course more options.
That being said you really should plan just a few days of lazy beach time!
Woman carries sack of food on her head along the pristine white beach of Eastern Zanzibar.
Zanzibar white sand beach.
Man climbing a palm tree to get coconuts.
On the east coast is where you will find a lot of accommodation options and although not a very cheap destination it is still easily affordable for the budget traveller.
Budget bungalow accommodation can be found on Zanzibar’s coast.
Just stroll along those beaches, but make sure you have a good sun hat and lots of high factor sun screen and cover up a bit.
The sun in Zanzibar can be brutal and you can burn very easily.
Waiting for the tide to come up: a small local canoe used for fishing.
Zanzibar isn’t just about the famous white sand beaches.
Head into Stone Town, also known in the local language of Swahili as Mji Mkongwe (old town) to find stone alleys to explore with the myriad of cafes, restaurants, and small shops.
Discover the old mix of cultures in Zanzibar, Arab, European, Indian, Persian, that have influenced life in Stone Town and Zanzibar.
I love coffee, and if you do as well you can find some really great little cafes around there.
At night time head to the night food market in Stone Town and feast on fresh seafood and regional delicacies.
Relaxing in a coffeehouse in Stone Town.
Prison Island is a fun getaway from the main island.
A 3 hour Prison Island tour is plenty to get the best out of the place.
Traditional dhow boat at sunset.
If you plan to start your journey in Zanzibar you can continue afterwards to Dar es Salaam and then to Arusha by bus to organise your adventures around there.
If you’re looking for any safaris in Zanzibar specifically then you will be a bit disappointed as the island isn’t for that.
Your best bet is to head to Arusha and go to the Serengeti National Park area.
If you are short on time you can fly from Dar es Salaam to Arusha instead of taking the bus.
However if this is the case I recommend to organise any activities in Arusha area before going to save time.
Practicalities For Travel in Tanzania
Most countries can get a Tanzania visa (check that link for your countries requirements ) on arrival. Otherwise you can apply online or at an embassy.
You will need to show proof of a yellow fever vaccination if you have been to certain countries, most notably African, South American, and Central American countries.
Check the Tanzania visa link shown earlier to see what countries are required for yellow fever proof.
Wondering what to pack for Tanzania travel? Take a look at my guide for what to pack for backpacking light which is what I recommend to bring with you.
Also in my guide to safaris in East Africa I have a specific safari packing list.
For transport in Tanzania the budget option is to use the buses especially for getting to Arusha.
If going through the centre of the country you can use the train which crosses all the way.
There are internal flights but they won’t be budget friendly. But hey if you’re short on time you gotta do what you gotta do.
Adventure travel tip:
Take travel insurance!
Seriously if you plan to do any kind of adventure like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, getting off the beaten path to more remote places like Gombe etc, then make sure you take insurance.
If something serious medically was to go wrong in places like these it will cost you to get out of there to good medical treatment.
Personally I had a serious medical incident happen to me while backpacking in India and travel insurance saved me thousands of dollars in medical bills.
Also when I was mugged in Columbia insurance covered all costs for what was taken.
I use World Nomads and find them perfect for the adventurous traveller and backpacker.
Get a quote here for your trip:
Go Backpacking in Tanzania
Backpacking in Tanzania is a very rewarding experience and is also one of the easier countries in Africa to travel as it gets it fair share of tourists so the infrastructure is not so bad for that.
However get off the beaten path and travel can get tougher but as far as backpacking goes that’s part of the adventure.
There are so many more places you can go to in Tanzania but these ones listed here are the best for an overall feel for the country.
Going from Kenya through Tanzania and onwards to Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa, makes for an awesome African backpacking route and is the one I have done twice now.
For more information on the region take a look at my backpacking in Kenya guide with a 2 weeks itinerary.
It’s perfect if you plan to do Kenya and Tanzania on the same backpacking trip (highly recommended if you have the time).
Further reading for East Africa:
There are 2 guidebooks to Tanzania I recommend for an overall view of the country.
Happy backpacking in Tanzania!
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