Tanzania is one of the great holiday destinations. Had it stayed allied to the West at independence 57 years ago, it would probably be the most visited country in Africa, such is the diversity of what’s on offer. However, it didn’t, and thirty years of well principled, but ultimately flawed socialist governance removed it from the mind’s eye of most of the folk well-heeled enough to afford a trip to Africa in the 70’s and 80’s. The upside to this for those inclined to dip their toe these days, is an opportunity to explore an undervalued nation with world class destinations, many of which can be enjoyed in near isolation.

Over the past 27 years Tanzania has played a central role in my life. I have worked as a safari operator, wildlife researcher, and elephant politician. The journey has taken me to wonderful places, many of which will be on few people’s radar, but all of which offer something very special. Here is my list of 24 not-to-be-missed experiences on offer in Tanzania.


When you walk a lot, sometimes jog for hours across open plains strewn with thorns, you don’t compromise on footwear.

For the Maasai warriors of Tanzania, it’s a rite of passage to claim your first tyre tread sandals. Not just any tyre tread; it has to be motor bike tread. The front tyre for those a daintier foot size, and the junky rear for big guys.

Don’t think second hand cast offs either, this is not an exercise in saving money. We’re talking brand new tyres, each one cut to make two pairs of warrior shoes; six years of wear if you’re in your prime.

Take a pair home and leave your own special mark next time you’re on the beach in Brighton.


Selous Game Reserve is unique for many reasons, but is perhaps best defined by its lakes.

The boat safaris here are legendary, and climbing aboard, hippos can be seen in several directions, ears flicking, nostrils snorting, all to the tune of a brass band warming up.

The crocodiles are less conspicuous until, that is, you round the corner of the first bay to witness several large green logs, logs which suddenly streak into the water with a considerable splash.

When the crocs jump in, the fish jump out, and on a good day, five or six can leap straight into the boat!


Mahale Mountains is a spectacular and remote national park. Only accessible by boat, it protects a beautiful forest which slides down the steep slopes to the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

Tanganyika is no ordinary lake; its incredible depths hold a dazzling array of cichlids, and seventeen percent of the world’s fresh water.

The forest harbours a population chimpanzees which has been studied since the 1960’s. This study has built an incredible understanding of the dynamics within the different groups and to walk among their sophisticated, if often cruel, society is an experience to treasure


In February each year musicians from all over Africa, and even beyond, gather to perform in the heady atmosphere of Zanzibar’s Stone Town. The music is spectacular and varied, covering a rich variety of tastes.

The festival now has the kind of clout to launch local bands on the road to international celebrity and is a must visit for all lovers of world music. The programme at the Old Fort on the opening weekend is usually one not to miss.

Many say 2018 was the best yet.


Well south of Zanzibar, east of where the Rufiji River pours its waters from the Selous Game Reserve into the Indian Ocean, lies Mafia Island.

Its beaches are unspectacular, and the island itself is more gently attractive than spectacularly beautiful. However, the waters around Mafia are a diver’s paradise, and the opportunities to dive among whale sharks are fabulous. There is a resident population of these great fish, never too far from the island, and they move closest to shore in the period October to March.

So huge are the whale sharks, they are often first seen from the plane as you approach the island!


Everyone knows Lake Victoria, most don’t quite know why. Those that do probably know it as the source of the Nile, and little else.

The truth is Victoria is the second largest expanse of water in the world. It all but touches the Serengeti along the Easterly shoreline of Speke Bay, supporting a dazzling array of avian life.

It also offers fascinating opportunities to explore wild shores and islands far from the familiar tourist trails.


Tarangire may well be one of the most under-rated parks in Africa. Its Baobab strewn landscape is starkly beautiful. The high density of mighty pythons wrapped around the giant tree limbs adds an invigorating chill to the atmosphere.

The Tarangire river traverses the park and attracts phenomenal gatherings of elephants in the dry season. The iconic giants and much more besides can be viewed in remarkable isolation across the remote South of the park.

If not quite the hidden gem, Tarangire is remarkably overlooked among the Northern parks of Tanzania. Those in the know treasure the fact.


It’s February in Selous Game Reserve. The landscape appears manicured, almost man-made after the year end rains have created a carpet of lush grass, filled with new born grazers. Atop the dried stands of old, dead ebony trees dazzling birds of blue and red sit in small gatherings.

As the Land Rover passes, and takes a deliberate turn off the dirt tyre tracks, onto the grassy verges, insects leap to avoid the vehicle. The birds spring into life, leaping from their perches, one after the next.

Five minutes after commencing the gentle figure of eight drive-byes, hundreds of the stunning Carmine Bee-eaters are dive bombing the flanks of the car, snapping up insects as they go.

It is a spectacle to bring tears to the eye; little known but one of the great safari experiences.


A real treat, easily missed, is a visit to the Swahili language.

It’s good to pick up a phrasebook before departure and essential, once in Tanzania, to learn some of the fabulous sounds and quirks Swahili has to offer.

Swahili is phonetic, easy to read and offers the chance to wrap your tongue around words like “uluguru” and mbuyuni. In the latter case, remember the invisible “u” before the “m”.

In Zanzibar, education was introduced by the British and school is spelt “skuli” with a hard “k”. In mainland Tanzania, education was introduced by the Germans and here, students go to “Shuli” with a soft “sh”.

What most people are left tickled by, is the Swahili “I”. A petrol station is still a “Shelli” despite the Dutch giants being absent from the country for fully forty years. A roundabout is a “keep lefti; note the British influence again.

If your name is Arnold expect to be called Arnoldi, David, Davidi, and yet, to the Swahili speaker, the most famous park in the world is the Serenget, and the stringy pasta you may enjoy with bolognaise is, wait for it, supaget.


Foot safaris are a wonderful way to get close to nature. They heighten the senses to the thrill of being vulnerable to big nature.

Don’t expect to wander through herds of animals, waiting to witness a kill. No mammals have lost their instincts as we have, they need them to survive and usually have you sussed long before you get near them.

Foot safaris are about studying the signs of nature, witnessing the smaller superstars of the bush, and just occasionally holding your breathe for the megafauna.

Nowhere offers foot safaris quite like the salt flats at Saadani National Park. The tidal sands fill with the prints of the previous night’s activity, allowing guides to easily interpret what was sat on the sand, and what was watching it from the fringes!

In the best Harry Potter tradition, the high tide sweeps away the prints and the marauders map is again clean for the next mosaic of wanderings to show up.


February in the Serengeti sees 1.5 million wildebeest gathered in the South-East of the eco-system, split between the Serengeti National park and its neighbour, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Over a handful of days, hundreds of thousands of calves are born among the mass gatherings.

Predators lurk everywhere, looking for a cheap meal, with concentrations of cheetah, the highest found anywhere in Africa.

Frequently, the vehicle stops to witness a new born struggling to its feet, and when it does, it is hard not to turn your attention to the industrial landscape among the grasses. Soft ground, caused by the gathering rains, encourages dung beetles, on a mission to bury delicious dung balls across their patch.

Where ever you happen to be stationary, these giant, hard working beetles will be seen in their thousands, rolling dung balls and digging holes to keep them.


In a slightly creaky rocking chair, before a blazing fire, stuffed trout over the hearth, I sit imagining. Behind me there is a library full of 1940’s women’s magazines and faded fly fishing manuals, stacked on beautifully finished and polished shelves. The hard wood doors and staircases carry the hallmark of great skill and attention to detail.

In the dining room, solid home-made recipes, using home grown produce are served up with bread, butter, jam and even wine made on the premises, or at least within these mountains.

Outside, the temperature is cool and pleasant, the lawns are lush, but well-trimmed, and trails through the forests and villages revel occasional faded facades from a world of Hansel and Gretel.

A world away from the great wildlife parks and tropical beaches of Tanzania, a visit to the Usambara offers a wonderful distraction between the two.


There are few cultures left on the planet still practicing the hunter-gatherer existence nature intended for Homo sapiens. The Hadzabe of Lake Eyasi are one.

Their language is defined by rhythmical clicks, they still sleep under rocky overhangs, and they make fire with sticks barely slower than you or I with a box of matches.

They forage fruits, dig out tubers for water and hunt for their protein. Disguised with the scent and skins of the species they hunt, the Hadzabe track down and move in on their prey, killing them with poison-tipped arrows.

All aspects of their life are fascinating, and humbling to those of us now ordering ours on the internet. It is possible to join a hunt, but remember it is for real!


For much of the year the elephants of Saadani move in close proximity. It is a legacy of insecure days, and is gently lessening with the good news that the great pachyderms now feel less threatened.

However, the groups keep a keen ear out for each other and, particularly when the bush begins to dry out, gather in massive numbers around favourite feeding and drinking spots.

At these times, the waterholes are filled with raucous screams and thunderous splashes as hundreds of tonnes of cavorting mammal goes nuts in the water. As many as two hundred elephants can clamber into a single bathing spot to gasps of delight from those lucky enough to witness the scene.


If you happen to spend some time in a major urban area, perhaps Dar es Salaam, you should try and take in a football match. The games are always a fun spectacle, offering a snapshot of urban life and another nation’s take on a very familiar event.

What makes football a little more spicy in Africa is Juu Juu, and in Tanzania the “kamati wa ufundi” take centre stage. This body of witch doctors are tasked with weaving their magic to unhinge the best endeavours of the opposition, whilst protecting their own boys from the unwanted attentions of the other team’s “kamati”.

It is not unheard of for a star player to be told to spend the night before a big game, bedded down in a graveyard!


Zanzibar is known as The Spice Island. It is one of those few spots where the rarest of spices will flourish. Nutmeg grows on Zanzibar, and was so treasured 300 years ago that European nations went to war over islands, like Zanzibar, whose climate allowed production of the spice. Its price surpassed that of gold and famously, Manhattan was swapped for one such island in the East Indies.

At the less glamorous, more fundamental end of society’s meal plan, there is fruit. Whether viewing it as necessary vitamin intake, or essential culinary ingredient, the place of fruit in your world is going to be elevated once you’ve visited Zanzibar.

Mangos, pineapples, bananas and much more have a rich and fragrant sweetness. Experiencing the sublime flavour after decades of eating supermarket fruit back home is like trading in your donkey and cart for a magic carpet.


The Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania are one of the nine world hotspots for endemism. They consist of the Usambara, Uluguru and Udzungwa ranges, stretching from North to South in the Eastern half of Tanzania.

Udzungwa National Park is the least explored area, and contains thick rainforest, protected on all sides by steep mountains.  There have been many new species discovered here in recent years, including the world’s largest elephant shrew (Senge), a completely new genus of tree and even a new primate in 2005.

The giant trees and stunning waterfalls of the most accessible parts of the park, make for wonderful day hikes, where endemic primates such as the Uhehe red colobus, will likely be spotted.


For most of the day, Mwaburuga is a small fishing village on the shores of Lake Victoria, with little going on. However, turn up at 7am, as the boats arrive back from a night’s fishing, laden with some of the finest fresh water flavours on the planet, and the place crackles with activity.

There are the lake giants, Nile perch. These fish attract anglers from all over the world, hoping to catch a 200 pound monster.

The connoisseur will prefer tilapia, a truly delicious fish, which is so popular a 1000km away in Dar es Salaam that the new airline connecting Mwanza to the coast offers as standard, a 20kg suitcase allowance or a bucket fish.

In rural Tanzania, the people’s choice is the minnow of the lake, known as dagaa. This is a national favourite served with ugali.

Back at the market, it’s fun to watch the massive marabou storks sidle in among the crowd, brushing shoulders with the busy villagers, and trying to grab themselves an easy meal.


The Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania are one of the nine world hotspots for endemism. They consist of the Usambara, Uluguru and Udzungwa ranges, stretching from North to South in the Eastern half of Tanzania.

Udzungwa National Park is the least explored area, and contains thick rainforest, protected on all sides by steep mountains.  There have been many new species discovered here in recent years, including the world’s largest elephant shrew (Senge), a completely new genus of tree and even a new primate in 2005.

The giant trees and stunning waterfalls of the most accessible parts of the park, make for wonderful day hikes, where endemic primates such as the Uhehe red colobus, will likely be spotted.


If seeing wild dogs is the ultimate goal for some, witnessing the migrating wildebeest throw themselves into the Mara River is the piping, on the icing, on the cake for most.

From July to October, the vast herds move around the North of the Serengeti ecosystem, crossing back and forth over the Mara River, driven by a wild-eyed, potentially suicidal urge to go where the grass is greener.

Often thousands pour over cliff edges, far too pumped up to notice the easy exit left or right, instead heading straight into a flailing mass of beasts, trapped beneath a steep mud wall. Many drown, and the crocs get fat.

Choose your operator careful. This is a very popular event to witness, and only the smartest know where to find the crossings without the cars.


What is left to say about the roof of Africa. The highest free standing mountain in the world offers the perfect end goal for any fitness regime.

With no technical expertise required, the great mountain is a realistic target for most of us. It sits a hop and a skip from some of the world’s greatest safari destinations, and the fabled beaches of Zanzibar. Such rewards on the doorstep add considerably to the appeal of Kili as the bucket list climb of choice.


Witnessing the Serengeti migration is not surprisingly, the most sort after safari experience on the planet. Very few people realise it is possible to be in amongst the great herds on foot.

In the company of the Maasai, the great warrior tribe of these plains, it is possible to explore remote areas of the stunning Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), walking in an incredible landscape, shared by pastoralist’s own livestock and thousands of migrating wildebeest and zebra.

The traditional lifestyle of the Maasai is significant enough culturally, to mean Ngorongoro has been given a unique status. It protects a centuries old relationship with the wild inhabitants of the area and offers a very special experience.


The lateen rig sails of the great dhow’s have been pulling massive cargoes, both sinister and sweet, across the Indian Ocean for centuries.

At 6 pm, the guide books pull all new arrivals on the island of Unguja (Zanzibar) to Africa House, now a hotel, but once the colonial HQ for the British authorities. The draw is a sundowner overlooking a flotilla of dhows heading into the Zanzibar Channel to fish for the night.

Come the dawn, the Muezzin pierces the air with his call to pray and golden silhouettes of porters haul massive fish from the docked vessels.

Sunset cruises are available across the islands fishing communities, and a deeper immersion into life on a dhow may be found for those hooked by its romance.


Few countries can offer the diversity of experience available in Tanzania. Its safari parks are the best in the world, and house massive numbers of Africa’s great megafauna.

Its mountains are record breakers, whether famed or forgotten. Many are among the great biodiversity hotspots on the planet.

Its lakes, fabled from the great Victorian explorers, contain a significant portion of the world’s fresh water, and fish.

Its coast offers magnificent beaches, dazzling dive sites, and a rich cultural heritage.

However, without doubt Tanzania’s greatest asset is its people. The beaming smiles, the caring nature, and the sheer warmth of the welcome take most visitors by surprise.  At the end of most accounts in praise of a great holiday, is an emotional reference to wonderful human beings.