10 Really Amazing Things To Do In Tanzania

With so many wonderful and unique things to do in Tanzania, it is justifiably becoming more and more famous world over. Largely this is thanks to its amazing safaris and incredible beaches, but we do find ourselves wondering why people don’t explore more of this diverse and stunning country…

Table of Contents

Introduction

Tanzania was the first place I ever lived ‘away from home’. In the time I was there, I knew I had not even come close to doing it justice. Though I had travelled a little as a backpacker, I didn’t have the common sense (or the funding) to get very far, and barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer.

Murray is walking towards Ol Doinyo Lengai mountain in Tanzania. He is wearing shorts and a t shirt and behind him, a Maasai, wearing a checkered shuka blanket is walking purposefully. The sky is very dramatic.
Views of Ol Doinyo Lengai

Two years later, I went back, prepared. I knew I wanted to see more, and I explored as much as I could. Since then, I’ve gone back many time; alone, with friends and now with my husband, Murray. Unbelievably, every time, I find something new and fantastic to see. I have never been so continually surprised and impressed by a destination.

Many travellers choose to visit Tanzania for the breath-taking safaris and perfect beaches of Zanzibar. This is absolutely a great reason to visit, but it is definitely not the only one. This list will likely be one we keep adding to as we keep returning, but for now, here are our favourite things to do.

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A beautiful sunrise on Mount Kilimanjaro. The sun is rising above the clouds and you can see a mountain peak in the distance. The foreground is snowy,
An incredible sunrise from Mount Kilimanjaro

Unique things to do in Tanzania

1. Hike a beautiful mountain

Mountains in Tanzania are in abundance and some are them are extremely famous. Here are some mountains in Tanzania you should definitely check out if you love hiking.

Kilimanjaro

Of course, the country is synonymous with Mount Kilimanjaro, and the mountain has a reputation well earned. The giant that rises above the clouds stands out vividly as you fly into the North of the country and makes an impressive spectacle.

We couldn’t not mention it! Kilimanjaro is justifiably at the top of this list. It takes around 5 days to reach the awe-inspiring Uhuru Peak of Kili, and 7 days in total to ‘complete’ the mountain. Kilimanjaro is the pride of Tanzania and makes for a jaw-dropping first impression. The views from the flight into Kilimanjaro Airport alone are enough to make you want to climb, let alone the stories you hear of sunrises above the clouds and breath-taking savannah views.

You need to dress for all weathers to make it to the top, and prepare for sickening altitude. Fitness will help, though it may not be your biggest barrier to completing the climb. Kili is undoubtedly Tanzania’s most popular and therefore most expensive mountain to climb. If you want the accolades and recognition though, this is the one to go for. Stay tuned for our full guide, coming soon!

Mount Meru. The foreground is some traffic lights at a road crossing. The mountain itself is very clear and has some beautiful clouds sitting on top of it.
Mount Meru from Sanawari Crossing

Mount Meru

In my opinion, Mount Meru is the most underrated mountain in Tanzania, and probably Africa. It is visible from almost every street in Arusha, nowhere better than the base of Sanawari road, where I used to live. One side of the mountain is entirely ash, and is nearly impossible to climb. The ascent of the other side takes around 3 days total, and is apparently a tougher hike than Kili! The views are also arguably better, because you get to see Kilimanjaro from certain viewpoints too.

Meru is considerably cheaper to hike than Kilimanjaro. Where Kili will set you back around $1500, you can usually find a guide willing to lead you up Meru for around 700-1000$ and you don’t necessarily need to prebook as far in advance to climb Mount Meru.

Ol Doinyo Lengai

Possibly the toughest but also one of the shortest mountain climbs in Tanzania. Ol Doinyo Lengai itself is sacred to the Maasai people and its name means ‘The Mountain of God’ in Maasai and Sonjo language. It is one of the steepest hikes in Africa and climbers usually start the ascent around midnight to avoid the midday heat. Since there is nowhere to stay on the mountain, hikers usually take it on in one go. The ascent takes between 4 to 6 hours but, unusually, the descent takes a similar length of time, since it is so steep and challenging.

You need to be a fit and experienced hiker to take on the climb, but those who do will have the reward of a sunrise view of a volcanic crater. Even from the base, the mountain is impressive, and its proximity to the ‘red lake’, Lake Natron ensures a dramatic view from the top. This is also one of East Africa’s cheapest mountains. You can usually secure a guide for around $70-100 USD.

Some other mountains we’re heard great things about but not had chance to see for ourselves are the Mbeya mountains, and there are plenty more!

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Lake Victoria. There is a group of Tanzanian people loading a boat in the port and in the background is a collection of rocks in the lake. One of the rocks is balancing precariously on top of the others.
Bismarck Rock, Lake Victoria

2. Visit a stunning lake

I don’t think I realised before visiting Tanzania that lakes could be so beautiful! Tanzania has so many all over the country, and they all have their own appeal. Here are four we really enjoyed, with a few more suggestions below.

Lake Victoria

Lake Victoria is unique in that it straddles 3 different countries: Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya (just). In Tanzania, you can see the famous Bismarck Rock (the balancing rock in the picture above), the beautiful blue and red lizards and also huge Marabou Storks. The lake itself is really pretty and surrounded by lovely hiking trails and viewpoints.

The main lakeside city in Tanzania is Mwanza. We’ve stayed there a few times, and parts of it are absolutely beautiful, especially on the lake edge. Sadly, a lot of Mwanza does not have a great waste disposal system and the city itself has a lot of litter. If you go, please consider picking up some litter around the lake to help the local ecosystems out and try to leave no trace yourself.

Lake Tanganyika

Lake Tanganyika runs down the whole western side of Tanzania and, as such, gets some of the country’s most beautiful sunsets. The town we loved visiting on Tanganyika was Kigoma, but there are many others as well. The lake is huge and actually sits across four countries; Tanzania, the DRC, Burundi and Zambia. Interestingly though, it isn’t as big as Lake Victoria!

Lake Malawi

Many people are surprised to find that you can visit Lake Malawi from Tanzania, but actually you can! There are many lake-side towns on the edge of the lake, where you can enjoy swimming with the cichlids and soaking up the beautiful vibes of this lake. We visited Lake Malawi from the Malawian side and it has such a lovely feel to it and beautiful blue waters.

Lake Natron

This was possibly our favourite lake in Tanzania, though not for the reasons we initially visited it. We heard that it has beautiful red waters because of the high salt concentration and couldn’t wait to see this! Actually, when we visited, it wasn’t red at all, BUT we did see some incredible wildlife and the views of nearby Ol Doinyo Lengai are really something else. This is a lake I wish more visitors to Tanzania were able to see!

Other lakes which are definitely work visiting: Lake Manyara (for a beautiful safari), Lake Eyasi and Lake Rukwa.

Three elephants of different sizes (including one baby). They are probing the ground with their trunks and eating salt. The baby is playing with her mum with her trunk. It is nighttime.
Beautiful elephants in Tanzania

3. Take a safari

Yes, everybody goes to Tanzania for the safaris, but honestly – we can see why! The only thing we would say is: don’t make the mistake of ONLY visiting for the safaris. Here are some of the best safari parks in Tanzania (and possibly the world):

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The Serengeti

Vast, expansive desert planes, pretty much every type of African animal and some wild and unfiltered scenery. The Serengeti is everything you would imagine from an African safari. If you want to stay on safari for a few days, delve into the depths of the savannah and see a wide variety of animals, the Serengeti is the place to do it. While its vastness gives a great chance at seeing more diversity over a longer safari, those on shorter trips should be aware that it’s hard to go very deep in a short amount of time. You’ll find a denser population of animals in…

Ngorongoro Crater

As the name suggests, Ngorongoro is a crater, outside of the Serengeti, closer to Arusha. It’s much smaller than the Serengeti and, because of the landscape, the animals do not migrate out of it at the same frequency, which essentially means you’ve much more chance of seeing more animals in a shorter time span. For both Ngorongoro and the Serengeti, you can see the infamous Big 5. Near Ngorongoro, you’ll find…

Tarangire and Lake Manyara

Many people visit Tarangire and Lake Manyara together with Ngorongoro. This is a great way to take a short safari over multiple parks, and still have chance to see a lot of wildlife, without diving right into the Serengeti.

There are so many parks to choose from in Tanzania and Kenya that it can be overwhelming, so I will save listing any more. The above list is a good way to get started, and decide on what your priorities would be.

A chimpanzee in a tree in Gombe Stream National Park. He is holding a branch with his hand and his foot and he looks bored
A chimpanzee in Gombe Stream National Park

4. Trek with chimpanzees

You’ll find a much less well-known, but no less jaw-dropping, wildlife experience in Tanzania in Gombe Stream National Park. As the place Jane Goodall first studied chimpanzees, Gombe receives surprisingly few visitors each year. This is strange, because nearby Bwindi Impenetrable Rainforest (in Uganda) is one of the most popular National Parks in Africa.

We’ve visited both and the experience is really similar. We actually saw the chimpanzees after about two hours of trekking, whereas for the gorillas we trekked around 6 hours. Beyond that difference and the physical differences between the animals themselves, the experience was much the same (same terrain, similar set up etc). Chimpanzees themselves are absolutely beautiful creatures and it’s so fascinating to see how similar they are to humans!

The trekking is hard work and getting to Kigoma can be a little tricky. There are not really many international airports nearby, and overland travel can be arduous, but the reward is certainly worth in our eyes!

Emma, a white woman, is standing below a mangrove tree holding one of the branches. She is smiling at the camera.
Mangrove trees in Pangani

5. Lie on a pristine beach (with a chance at seeing bioluminescence)

Zanzibar is the best known place to find beautiful beaches in Tanzania and, no denying, it’s gorgeous! However, it’s by no means the only place to find a beach in the country. Here are some other places you can find incredible beaches in Tanzania:

The Swahili Coast

This is kind of cheating, because the Swahili Coast is such a vast area. The Swahili coast is the East Coast of Tanzania and Kenya, and it holds some truly stunning beaches. Most of them are little-known and therefore usually pretty empty when you visit. Our favourite, personally, is Pangani beach, where we were first lucky enough to see beautiful mangrove trees, and bioluminescent algae.

This a breath-taking experience, and there are multiple spots up and down the Swahili Coast where you can catch bioluminescence, depending on the time of year. The first time we saw it, we were in Pangani in November. The second time, we were in Kilifi in Kenya in February, so the time of year does vary. Most hotels and hostels will have a bioluminescence schedule (for example, we stayed in Distant Relative Ecolodge and Backpackers in Kilifi and they had a schedule of when it would be happening).

Zanzibar

It is fair to say that Zanzibar is a really fun area of Tanzania. The beaches are stunningly beautiful, the culture is rich and the food next level. That being said, it is one of the most expensive areas of the country to visit because it is very popular. Whenever we visit, we try to stay in Stone Town. It doesn’t have the best beaches on the island, but it is probably the most affordable and interesting areas to stay.

Most of the rest of the island is split up into resorts and resort towns, and they have different things to offer. The hotels also have different price points, so don’t give up if you’re only finding expensive hotels at first!

Mafia Island

Mafia Island is one of the most remote and beautiful places in Tanzania and the world. In recent years, it has become much more popular with tourists (especially backpackers) in Tanzania, but getting there can still be a challenge. You can fly, but if you’re taking the responsible travel route, there is a ferry. It takes around 4 hours and goes from Nyamasati, which is a couple of hours South of Dar Es Salaam. The ferries have improved dramatically in recent years, and the reward is a stunning island with pure white beaches, beautiful snorkelling and unique culture.

Emma, a white British woman, and Sarah, a black Tanzanian woman, are standing with their arms around each other smiling at the camera on a beach in Dar Es Salaam. They are both wearing sunglasses and corduroy skirts. Emma is wearing a halterneck aztec top and Sarah is wearing a polka dot shirt.
The Swahili Coast in Dar Es Salaam with one of our closest friends, who is from Tanzania

6. Find whale sharks

Interestingly enough Mafia Island is one of the best places in the world to see and snorkel with whale sharks. You can actually find them on the island year-round, but one of the best times to do so is October-March. This is because they feed at this time on the Western side of the island (Kilindoni) and are easiest to find. You don’t need a PADI (diving licence for this) and can snorkel with the sharks.

How to make sure you do so responsibly:

  • NEVER touch the whale sharks – keep your distance. If a whale shark approaches you, let it and stay still, but always allow them the freedom to move on their own terms and never touch them. If it comes close, move out of the way and allow it to pass.
  • Choose a responsible company if you take a tour – make sure there are no pictures of people touching whale sharks on their website, look for accreditations and make sure their language puts the animals first (e.g. ‘we don’t allow you to get within x metres of the whale sharks’).
  • Keep suncream to a minimum – of course, Mafia is very sunny. Suncream is kind of necessary, but if you can wear a cover-up swim suit and reduce the amount you use, this is significantly better for the reef and marine life. Of course you do need some suncream for exposed areas so…
  • Follow suggestions on savethereef.org – to find a less toxic suncream.
Ruins in a field in Tanga. There are multiple rocky walls and piles of rocks in the middle of a grassy field, surrounded by trees.
Tongoni Ruins, Tanga

7. Visit some cool ruins

Tanzania has a surprising amount of ruins! These come in various forms, such as mosques, churches, tombs and forts, but all are pretty interesting. One thing you’ll find is that many of them do not have much in the way of explanation, as they’re not really preserved in the same way we might typically find in some other countries. If history interests you though. they’re absolutely worth a visit. Many of them also have some beautiful views and nice surrounding areas. Here are three we think are worth it:

The Old Fort (Ngome Kongwe) – Zanzibar

The Old Fort is pretty much the epicentre of Stone Town in Zanzibar. It’s striking and beautiful, with a small market and amphitheatre inside. There are a few signs (more than you get at most ruin sites in Tanzania!) with information, and it’s totally free to enter. Stone Town is one of my favourite places to find historical sites in Tanzania. If it interests you, here is our guide on the most picturesque spots in the town.

Tongoni Ruins – Tanga

Tanga is a small fishing town on the East Coast of Tanzania, but it has a lot to offer. Besides being the gateway to beautiful Pangani, it has its own array of lovely beaches, the Tongoni ruins, and the impressive Amboni Caves. The Tongoni Ruins have a very reasonable entry fee of 10,000 TSZ (around £3) and it’s quite extensive. The ruins themselves used to be a mosque and several tombs. There isn’t a lot of information, but some might say the real highlight anyway is the views! Either way, they’re worth a visit.

Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani – Kilwa

You can find the ruins of Kilwa in port town on an island just off Tanznia’s East Coast and they’re actually a UNESCO World Heritage site. Kilwa island used to be a trading port for merchants and much of the island actually still lies unexcavated. The main site, the Grand Mosque, is seriously impressive and made predominantly of coral! The island is down South, around 5 hours’ drive from Dar Es Salaam, so if you’re in the area, it’s well worth taking a look.

A street vendor in Zanzibar making a kebab at a street stall. There are lots of different kinds of bread, salad, kebabs, chips and sauces on his stall and he is wearing a white chef's outfit.
Nightlife in Tanzania is always fun!

8. Have fun with the nightlife in one of Tanzania’s fun cities

The cities in Tanzania are often overlooked in favour of the National Parks and beaches. This makes sense, but anyone travelling to Tanzania, in my opinion, should consider taking a look at the cities as well. Here are some we’ve loved:

Arusha

Arusha is the gateway to the safari parks and a vibrant and fun city. It has a great restaurant scene nowadays and plenty going on in the evenings. Those in search of a good time can also try one of the nightclubs popular with local people, such as ViaVia! Bear in mind that this is a club that’s really popular with locals, volunteers and tourists alike, so there will be a real mix of cultures there.

Dar Es Salaam

Dar Es Salaam seems to have something going on every night of the week. There are actually some really great restaurants popping up now in Dar, but they also love their sports bars, and have developed a really fun karaoke scene, especially on Thursday nights!

Singida

Singida is another really fun city, only a few hours away from Arusha, and has a lot to offer now. Part of the main appeal for the town are its lakes, Lake Singida and Lake Kindai, but it is also huge! Nowadays it has some great restaurants and bars to explore.

Moshi

As the gateway to Kilimanjari (very close to Arusha), Moshi has become a real backpacker’s paradise. Though not exactly a party town, you can never be bored in Moshi and there are lively bars and fun restaurants popping up everywhere.

A beautifully clear lake with a flock of flamingos standing on it. There are mountains in the background.
Flamingos on Lake Natron

9. See flamingos

Flamingos aren’t an animal that people expect to see generally when visiting Tanzania, however they actually reside in a few areas of Tanzania, one of which is actually Lake Singida (which we mentioned above!). We saw them on Lake Natron, which is an absolutely fascinating area of natural beautiful in the North of the country.

Of course you can’t get very close to the flamingos, but you don’t need to! Usually, they collect in large flocks and, especially on Lake Natron, the colours are extremely striking. Because Lake Natron is a salt lake, the lighting can often make it look red, which is a striking and unusual contrast to the pink flamingos, especially with the backdrop of Ol Doinyo Lengai Mountain.

You can find flamingos in many of the Tanzanian safari parks, like Ngorongoro and Lake Manyara as well. The breeding season is between October and December, so during this time, you can even expect to see chicks.

Emma and Murray are standing next to a beautiful blue lagoon, surrounded by draping palm trees. They are both wearing swimming costumes and smiling.
Maji Moto – Chemka Hot Springs

10. Swim in a hot spring

There are actually quite a few nice hot springs and natural places in Tanzania, but the one that’s easily accessible for most tourists is Chemka hot springs near Arusha. It’s roughly an hour out of town and easy to reach by a mix of public transport and tuktuk, or you can easily drive. The hot springs are completely natural and really fun for a day out.

Set in a secluded forest grove, you can swim through draping trees and gorgeous scenery. Lately, it’s become a popular spot after safaris, so it’s now pretty well-known. This doesn’t make it any less fun, and there are rarely huge crowds of people. The locals have a great set-up too, as they hire out inflatables and tired to help people visit safely.

Chemka is a lovely little addition to any trip and, if you’re visiting independently, just ask for (or Google) maji moto, which is the local name for it, meaning ‘hot water’.

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    Written by Emma

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