Situated just south of the equator, Tanzania is a vast country with a variable climate that depends heavily on the elevation and geography of your chosen destination. Generally speaking, the weather is tropical, particularly on the coast, where heat and humidity prevail. However, the northwestern highlands are consistently cool, while the central plateau remains dry and arid all year round.
Most of Tanzania's popular tourist destinations experience two rainy seasons and two dry seasons every year. The long rains usually last from early March to late May, bringing with them heavy afternoon downpours and high humidity. Temperatures at this time of year frequently exceed 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius). The short rainy season (November and December) sees lighter, less reliable rains and the start of the hottest time of year, which lasts until the end of February. Temperatures during this period can get as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius).
January and February constitute the short dry season. The most pleasant time of year, however, is the long dry season which lasts from late June to mid-October. During this time, rainfall is uncommon, while clear skies and plenty of sunshine are to be expected. Temperatures are relatively cool and can be chilly on early morning game drives. Of course, the higher slopes of famous Tanzanian peaks including Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru can experience sub-zero temperatures at any time of year.
Cyclones in Tanzania
Much of central and southern Tanzania is just below the equator, near the area where tropical cyclones are commonly formed. While these storms hardly ever affect the country's northern coast, including popular tourist destinations Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, the southeastern coast near Lindi and Mtwara may sometimes be affected by cyclones near Comoros. These usually occur from late December through mid-April.
Popular Cities in Tanzania
Dar es Salaam
Located two-thirds of the way up the country's coastline, Dar es Salaam is Tanzania's largest city. It stays hot and humid throughout the year, with rainfall a possibility even during the dry seasons. During the rainy seasons, precipitation is more reliable here than it is inland. Afternoon downpours are heavy but brief, and often bookended by sunny weather. Even in the hottest months (December to March), the humidity is offset by cooling ocean breezes, making the coast the most pleasant place to be at this time. Temperatures for Dar es Salaam are similar to those for other coastal cities like Pemba and islands like Zanzibar, the bustling destination that is just a quick ferry ride from Dar.
The port town of Kigoma lies on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania. The weather here is representative of the weather at other western destinations, including Gombe National Park, Katavi National Park, and Mahale Mountains National Park. Temperatures remain stable all year round, with daytime highs of around 82 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius) and lows of around 68 F (20 C). Precipitation follows the same pattern as the rest of the country, with the majority of the region's rain falling between November and April. June, July, and August are Kigoma's driest months.
Nestled at the base of Mount Meru, the city of Arusha is the gateway to Kilimanjaro and the country's iconic northern safari destinations, including Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Arusha's elevation at 4,590 feet (1,400 meters) means that temperatures remain relatively cool all year round. In fact, the weather can be decidedly chilly at night, especially during the June to October dry season. Rainfall is almost negligible at this time, with most of the precipitation falling in March and April. These months are the greenest, and the best for viewing the annual wildebeest migration.
Spring in Tanzania
For the first part of spring, much of southern Tanzania is overwhelmed with rain. By mid-April, the climate becomes much drier, but this is a season of warm temperatures and high humidity. Temperatures typically range from 82 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit (28 to 31 degrees Celsius).
What to Pack: Malarial mosquitoes are common in Tanzania and are especially active after heavy rains. Be sure to pack a prescribed anti-malarial medication and mosquito spray, as well as long sleeves and pants for the evening.
Summer in Tanzania
Summer is actually the cooler time of year in Tanzania, with more moderate temperatures and drier weather overall. In central Tanzania, daytime temperatures are usually above 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius). Summer is an ideal time to visit overall, but especially if you're planning on visiting a beach, as water temperatures are usually close to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius).
What to Pack: Pack light clothing including a sweatshirt or jacket for the evenings. If you're visiting a higher altitude destination including Ngorongoro or one of the mountains, make sure to bring a jacket and sweaters, as well as a warm hat and scarf.
Fall in Tanzania
Temperatures start to increase a bit by September, but nights are still cool and Tanzania is mostly dry. By October, rain is more common. Despite this, these rains are short—rarely lasting more than an hour or so. Temperatures usually average around 89 degrees Fahrenheit (31 degrees Celsius) as a high and 61 F (16 C) as a low during the fall months.
What to Pack: Your packing list for fall in Tanzania will closely resemble that of summer, but if you're visiting during the latter half of the season, you'll want to add appropriate raingear to your list. While you won't get soaked, a lightweight poncho or jacket to keep you dry is a good idea.
Winter in Tanzania
Winter is the hottest time in Tanzania, with temperatures frequently reaching 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius). In the south, this marks the true beginning of the rainy season, which continues through April. January is typically the wettest month, with 9 inches of rain on average. Those who are sensitive to heat should take extra precautions as the combination of high temperatures and humidity can make breathing difficult.
What to Pack: Given the temperatures, light clothing (preferably made of natural materials) is best. Include a light sweatshirt and raincoat, as well as a sun hat and sunscreen. At higher elevation, a jacket might be necessary for the evening when temperatures drop.