The question of when is best to travel to Tanzania does not have a definitive answer, because different people want different things from their time in this breathtaking East African country. Some are hoping for optimum game viewing in the world-renowned reserves of the Northern Circuit, while others simply want good weather for a relaxing break at the beach. Weather is also a key factor in being able to summit Mount Kilimanjaro or Mount Meru; while many visitors want to be in the right place at the right time to witness the annual Great Migration.
In this article, we take a look at the factors that influence when is the right time to travel for you.
Weather is probably the most important thing to consider when planning your trip. Evidently, it's difficult to apply universal rules to a country as large and geographically diverse as Tanzania; but there are basic weather patterns that give a general idea of what you can expect at any given time of year. Tanzania has two rainy seasons - a long one that usually occurs between March and May; and a shorter one that takes place in November and December. The most pleasant time of year is the long dry season (June to October), when the weather is generally clear and sunny. Temperatures vary greatly depending on elevation, but in the reserves and on the coast, the weather is usually warm even in winter.
Catching the Great Migration
While weather usually dictates the best time to go on safari, those that are traveling specifically to see the migration will need to follow slightly different rules. If you want to witness the wildebeest calving season, visit northern parks like the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area between December and March.
In April and May, heavy rains make it difficult to follow the herds as they start their long journey northwest - so try to avoid booking a safari at this time. To witness the herds on the move, head to the Western Serengeti in June and July.
The Best Time to Go on Safari
If you're not too worried about catching the migration, then the best time to go on safari (whether you're headed to the parks in the north or south) is during the long dry season. From June to October, the lack of rain means that animals are forced to congregate at the waterholes - making them much easier to spot. The foliage is less dense, too, which also helps. The weather is generally cooler and less humid (which is a major plus if you're planning on spending long hours out in the bush), and the roads are less likely to be made impassable by flooding. From a health perspective, the dry season is a better choice because disease-carrying mosquitoes are also less prevalent.
With that being said, Northern Circuit reserves like Ngorongoro, Serengeti and Lake Manyara usually offer good game-viewing throughout the year (with the exception of Tarangire National Park, which is noticeably better during the long dry season).
The Best Time To Climb Kilimanjaro
Although it's possible to climb Mount Kilimanjaro all year round, timing is definitely a factor in your chances of a successful summit. There are two optimum climbing periods, both of which coincide with the dry season months of June to October and January to February. At other times of the year, seasonal rains can make the routes slippery and difficult to navigate. January and February are generally warmer than the winter months of June to October (although differences in temperature are minimal this close to the equator). Whatever time of year you decide to climb, make sure to bring cold weather gear, because the top of the mountain is perennially crowned with ice.
These rules also apply to Mount Meru, which is located in the same area as Kilimanjaro.
The Best Time to Visit the Coast
If you're headed to the coast for a spot of R&R (or to any of Tanzania's idyllic Indian Ocean islands), the best time to travel is during either of the dry seasons.
The March to May rains are particularly heavy on the coast, making this time of year unreliable for devoted sun worshippers. The rains also disrupt underwater visibility, which can be disappointing for scuba divers and snorkelers. If you're headed to the Zanzibar Archipelago, consider planning your trip around one of the island's cultural festivals. The Zanzibar International Film Festival is typically held in July, while the Sauti za Busara African music festival is held in February.