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When to visit Tanzania

Tanzania is one of East Africa’s premier wildlife-viewing destinations and embarking on a safari here is on many travellers’ bucket lists. But when it comes to planning your trip, when is the ideal time to visit to ensure the best safari in Africa? In this guide, we’ll break down the pros and cons of travelling during each season, whether you’re considering heading to the Northern Circuit, the Southern Circuit or the Western Circuit.

The Green Season - January to May

Northern Circuit

After a period of short rains, the main wet season settles in around January, with the landscapes of the Northern Circuit transformed a lush green and at their most photogenic. Migratory birds have flocked to the wetlands, making this an incredible time to visit for birdwatching, and most of the parks still offer plenty of wildlife spotting encounters. Keep in mind that the heaviest rains normally descend during March, April and May, so if you want to avoid the wettest conditions, don’t book a Tanzania safari package during these months.

If you’re specifically visiting to experience the Great Wildebeest Migration, they begin assembling in the southern part of the Serengeti during January and February when they give birth to their calves. Seeing the wildebeest calving is an experience in itself, although it also brings significant predatory action as large game preys on the vulnerable newborns.

This (together with a shortage of grass) is the catalyst for the wildebeest readying themselves for the journey north, with the herds normally starting to move around March or April. Momentum builds throughout May as the herds pass through the lion territory of the Simba Kopjes, making this an ideal time for a Serengeti safari. They’ll then traverse the Moru Kopjes and Seronera in the Central Serengeti before moving through the Western Corridor.

Southern Circuit

By January, the landscapes of the Southern Circuit parks are green and filled with vegetation while the birdwatching is at its very finest. Wildlife spotting, however, is not as good as it is throughout the dry season and you’ll have to be more patient when it comes to finding animals.

Humidity levels are gradually on the rise, with the steamy and damp conditions not suited to everyone. On the flip side, you will benefit from far fewer crowds and reduced rates at most camps and lodges. Keep in mind that some accommodation will close down during April and May while roads in some remote areas can become impassable following heavy downpours.

Western Circuit

If you’re heading to Katavi National Park, many lodges will close down during the green season, so check ahead if you plan on travelling during this period. Most of the wildlife disperses from the plains into the woodlands and become very difficult to spot. The heat and humidity also bring large numbers of mosquitoes and other insects that can make being in the outdoors less pleasant.

Chimpanzee trekking in Gombe National Park and Mahale Mountains National Park can become more treacherous during the green season, with slippery slopes and muddy conditions. The primates tend to retreat further up the forested slopes, so you may need to trek further to encounter them.

However, you’ll be accompanied by myriad birdlife along the way and butterflies are usually in abundance during this season. The air is also much clearer and without the haze that’s often experienced during the dry season.

The Dry Season - June to October

Northern Circuit

The dry season from June to October is generally considered the best time to visit the Northern Circuit, with the thinner vegetation and limited water sources making wildlife much easier to spot. Days tend to be warm and sunny (making them ideal for being out game driving) while there are fewer mosquitoes to bother you in the evenings.

This is the best time to visit Tarangire National Park if you’re wanting to see big game, although it’s worth keeping in mind that crowds are higher and most lodges and camps increase their rates during this period. Despite the warm days, early mornings and nights can get very cold, so bringing plenty of warm clothes is highly recommended.

If you’re planning a Serengeti safari for the Great Wildebeest Migration, the herds will begin congregating on the banks of the Grumeti River around June before crossing this crocodile-infested body of water. From here, some of the animals will head north through the Grumeti Reserve and the Ikorongo Controlled Area during July and August while others will travel east through the open woodlands of the Northern Serengeti.

By late-August/early-September, they’re starting to cross the Mara River and heading into Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve where they’ll graze throughout October. They’ll then make the return journey south through the eastern Serengeti and Loliondo Game Controlled Area, arriving in the popular Seronera area around November.

Southern Circuit

As with the Northern Circuit, the wildlife viewing becomes easier throughout the Southern Circuit as the landscapes dry out and the vegetation thins. Animals begin congregating around watering holes and rivers to replenish themselves, making it easier for drivers and guides to find them. The risk of contracting malaria also decreases due to the reduced numbers of mosquitoes and the lack of humidity means the heat isn’t overpowering.

On the flip side, dusty conditions and drought are common and the landscapes won’t be as photogenic as they are during the green season. This is also the most popular time for other tourists to embark on a Tanzania safari, so expect to pay more for your accommodation throughout the Southern Circuit.

Western Circuit

If you’re heading along the Western Circuit, the dry season sees the Katumi River reduced to a narrow stream, meaning that the floodplains of Katavi become filled with wildlife that are generally easy to spot. Rain is rare throughout this period while the heat and humidity are far less oppressive when compared to the wet season.

Finding chimpanzees in Gombe National Park and Mahale Mountains National Park tends to be easiest from around July to October when the families stick to the lower slopes. This means you won’t have to trek as far to see them or compete with slippery, dangerous trails.

The Short Rains - November to December

Northern Circuit

After many months of dry conditions, the rains finally begin to descend across Tanzania in November. This marks the return south for the Great Wildebeest Migration as the herds start to make the long journey to the southern plains of the Serengeti National Park to begin the cycle all over again.

Most of the big game species are migrating out of Tarangire National Park during this period, although much of the Northern Circuit still experiences good wildlife viewing. The short, daily downpours shouldn’t put too much of a dampener on game drives and the bird watching is exceptional as migratory species begin arriving.

Southern Circuit

As with the Northern Circuit, the landscapes of Ruaha and Selous begin to transform with the rains, turning a lush green and attracting myriad birdlife. However, the wildlife spotting of big game is not as good as during the dry season and humidity levels are on the rise.

Western Circuit

The arrival of the rains starts to clear the air throughout western Tanzania, making this a great time to visit Katavi National Park or go trekking to see chimpanzees in Gombe National Park and Mahale Mountains National Park. But keep in mind that the forest tracks will gradually become slippery and more difficult to traverse while the chimpanzees start to retreat further up the slopes.

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