When it comes to the magic that is Tanzania, it’s hard to beat the number of options available to you. From countless safaris with some of the most amazing wildlife, to the high peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro in Moshi, the white, sandy beaches of Zanzibar or strolling down the narrow lanes of Stone Town, the beautiful lakes of Tanganyika and warm waters of the Indian Ocean, it can be a lot. With a favorable exchange rate of $1 to 2,300 Tanzanian Shillings, it’s a backpacker’s paradise. In fact, you can check out our guide to backpacking Tanzania here. It’s safe, solo-female traveler approved (I lived there fore 3 years!), and has good, cheap and reliable transportation options. If you ever get lost, Tanzanians are always, always ready to lend an assist with a smile and maybe a 2-hour conversation about anything and everything. Most people who visit Tanzania usually head straight for the well known cities, parks, and attractions. For example, some people who come for the northern circuit might not even know there is a southern circuit. Zanzibar isn’t the only place in Tanzania with beautiful, white sandy beaches. Lake Manyara is teeming with an abidance of wildlife and Tarangire National Park is one of very few places to see the bizarre tree-climbing lions, but most people will skip these over for the Serengeti or Ngorongoro Crater. And I don’t blame them. The Serengeti is vast and the lure to visit is overwhelming, while no other place is like the Ngorongoro Crater. But unfortunately these places are also very crowded, so we provide an alternatives for those who want similar experiences BUT with lesser tourists. We guarantee you will still enjoy your trip, and if not, you can always come back to revisit your bucketlist.
Skip the Serengeti...and visit Ruaha National Park
Plus the Serengeti gets crowded. Very. Ruaha, on the other hand, does not. Located about 3 hours from the town of Iringa, in the Southern Highlands, Ruaha might be one of the lesser known parks in Tanzania but not any less spectacular. It’s home to a very important predator population; it has the 2nd largest lion population in the world, has one of only 4 East African cheetah populations, the 3rd largest population of endangered African wild dogs, leopards, and hyenas. Because it’s located at an intersection where the eastern and southern African eco-regions converge, Ruaha also has very rare and diverse species. If the idea of a wild and remote wilderness is interesting for you, then you want to visit Ruaha.
Skip Zanzibar...and head for Tanga
Another tough one since Zanzibar is practically unbeatable when it comes to your choice of beaches, turquoise waters and palm trees. But if you are looking for something different, somewhere quiet and off the beaten path, then check out Tanga. Sitting on the northeastern part of Tanzania and close to the Kenyan border, Tanga is a sleepy little town with aged buildings, a ghost of a vibrant past when the economy was booming. Despite the decline, Tanga still has a lot to offer, and hopefully the Tanzanian government’s plans to revive the area will prove successful. It’s a safe and friendly place to visit, filled with an incredible mixture of different cultures and friendly Tanzanians. For adventurers, it’s ideal coastline along the Indian Ocean with sheltered bays and lagoons, lush mangrove forests, pristine forests provide for the perfect destination.
Skip the crowds of the Ngorongoro Crater...and head to Tarangire National Park or Lake Manyara
Often overlooked over Ngorongoro and Serengeti, probably due to its proximity to the 2 giants, Tarangire is a park for those who want to step further off the beaten path and experience a truly wild area, much like Ruaha. It sits between the meadows of the Maasai Steppe and the lakes of the Great Rift Valley, and is cut by the perennial Tarangire River in the north. Because Tarangire is part of a larger eco-system, the wild animals you encounter there vary depending on the season. During the rainy season, from November to May, they move from the park towards the floor of the Rift Valley, and return during the dry season. Unlike the very crowded Ngorongoro Crater, where you often encounter road blocks from too many vehicles, Tarangire is another great choice for those who want more wildlife and less tourists on a safari. Interestingly, it’s one of the few places to spot the bizarre ‘tree-climbing lions.’ Apparently, this is either a behavioural adaptation to protect themselves from insect bites on the ground or escape the heat on the ground-level. Nonetheless, it’s a rare occurrence seen in only a few places on earth.
Avoid Arusha...and stay in Mto wa mbu
I understand the excitement of Arusha. It’s filled with history, plenty of restaurants, and amazing nightlife. There are 2 airports close by, with one serving international flights, which means it’s very accessible. Unless you are planning on a multi-day tour of Tarangire, Serengeti, or Ngorongoro, you will most likely be day-tripping from Arusha. And it’s a hike. The Ngorongoro or Tarangire, which are closer than the Serengeti, are at least 3 hours from Arusha, one way! Consider the village of Mto wa mbu. Though there isn’t much to see, it’s a very convenient stopover on the northern circuit. It sits close to Lake Manyara and Tarangire, and is on the road which leads to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro. There are tourist accommodations and camping sites in the village, but beware of mosquitoes. The name Mto wa mbu translates to ‘river of mosquitoes’ in KiSwahili, and the village is chockful of them. So make sure you bring your malaria pills and wear long pants and long sleeve shirts. Yes, even during the day.
The town of Moshi is another great alternative for those who want to avoid staying in Arusha. It’s only about a 45 minute drive from Arusha, and it’s the perfect place to observe Mount Kilimanjaro; on a clear day, the views of the mountain are breathtaking. It’s not, however, a better base to start the northern circuit, as it’s a bit further out than Arusha. But if you seek a quieter stay in the north than Arusha, then Moshi is where you want to stay.
Skip Dar es Salaam...and head for the laid-back charm of Morogoro
Dar might be bigger and therefore have more available to do, but if you want the lure of a city but quieter and more relaxed, the town of Morogoro is a good option. Only 4 hours by bus south of Dar, Moro serves as a good alternative for an introduction to Tanzania. It’s laid back, green, and sits at the base of the Uluguru mountains, giving it the freshness of mountain air and an abundance of fresh fruits and veggies. It’s also a good stopover and acts as a bustling transit for those going west and south, but at a much less unhurried pace than Dar es Salaam.