Tanzania is a great destination for anyone who loves the great outdoors. Its famous national parks, diverse wildlife, and beautiful beaches make this perfect for those who love immersing themselves in natural surroundings.
Most of Tanzania’s famous points of interest are located in northern Tanzania and are incorporated in what’s known as the Northern Circuit.
The south of Tanzania is also worth exploring but typically costs more than the north as the distances are greater.
In this guide, I’m going to share with you my favorite 10 things to do in Tanzania as an outdoor lover. I’ve focused my list on activities around Tanzania’s northern circuit which means it’s possible to do all of these activities in a single trip!
1. View Big Cats on Safari in the World-Famous Serengeti National Park
The Serengeti is one of the most famous national parks in the world and home to all of the famous ‘big five’: lions, elephants, rhinos, buffalos, and leopards. It’s one of the larger national parks in Africa and is touted as one of the best places to see wild lions in the world.
The name Serengeti means ‘endless plains’ which describes the incredible views which span into the distance. The flat open plains make the Serengeti outstanding for wildlife sightings on safari.
The Serengeti national park is incredibly vast, covering an area of 14,763 kilometers squared, so spending at least a couple of days here is recommended to truly make the most of this impressive ecosystem.
I’d recommend spending at least a day in Seronera in the heart of the Serengeti. Here you can expect to see big cats such as lions and leopards. You might even spot a tree-climbing lion, which has only been found in the Serengeti and southern Uganda.
If you have time, I’d advise journeying up north to the Mara River in the north to see the famous wildebeest crossing over from Kenya as part of the great migration. The migration takes place in July to August with parts of September and the last two weeks of October through early November.
The wildebeest migration is a spectacular spectacle to witness. Millions of wildebeest and zebras journey between the Serengeti in Tanzania and the adjoining Masai Mara in southern Kenya in search of fresh grass. The herbivores have to cross the mighty Mara River, running a gauntlet that sees only the strongest and most determined make it to the other side.
2. Visit the Iconic Maasai Tribe
The Maasai tribe are known as the cowboys of Tanzania due to their nomadic lifestyle as they search for fresh pastures to feed their cows. They are one of the most famous tribes in the world and are easily recognizable by their colorful patterned clothing and elaborate jewelry.
You can visit a Maasai settlement known as a boma around Arusha or the Ngorongoro Conservation area as part of a cultural tour. You can book a tour in advance online or even one on the day. There are numerous guides based in Arusha that organize visits.
The Maasai enjoy greeting guests with a traditional dance where the warriors jump as high as they can as a sign of their strength. You might even be invited to join in the dance!
You will also have the opportunity to learn about Maasai culture whilst walking around their village and looking inside their homes.
3. Swim in the Tranquil Chemka Hot Springs
Between the cities of Arusha and Moshi, roughly 1 hour’s drive from each, is a hidden oasis in an otherwise barren landscape. When driving through Tanzania’s arid interior, you’d never expect just what paradise is waiting for you behind a cascade of sleepy palm trees.
With crystal-clear turquoise waters, surrounded by lush green vegetation, Chemka hot springs are the perfect place to relax and rejuvenate after a busy safari or Kilimanjaro adventure.
There is a set of stairs that leads into the warm waters. From there you can enjoy a swim between two round lagoons which are connected by a narrow waterway overlooked by bending palm trees.
In the larger of the two lagoons is a natural spectacle that looks like an underwater volcano. Warm water bubbles up here and is incredible to witness. This is the underground thermal source which feeds the springs and makes them such a lovely temperature.
The hot springs are inhabited by some fish as well. Small fish enjoy giving you a foot spa, eating the dead skin away. If you’re lucky you may also spot some large catfish who prefer to keep a distance.
Amenities include rubber rings which are available to hire for a small fee. These are ideal if you want to float around in the water or aren’t a confident swimmer. There’s also a rope swing attached to a tree which is a great way to launch yourself into the water.
There’s a small eatery nearby where you can grab some lunch, although the menu is limited.
You can visit by arranging a taxi on your own or alternatively go along with your guide. There is a small entrance fee.
4. Drive into the Breathtaking Ngorongoro Crater for an Epic Safari
A Ngorongoro Crater safari is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that offers the chance to witness incredible wildlife such as the rare black rhino in a truly breathtaking setting.
The creator, which is an inactive volcanic caldera, is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
Your safari will begin by driving along the rim of the crater, through a vibrant jungle. This jungle is home to a host of wildlife including lions and elephants but they are elusive, hidden by the dense swathes of forest. At one point the foliage abruptly ends and you can enjoy an uninterrupted panorama of the crater floor which is guaranteed to leave you speechless. This is a great spot where you can capture a unique selfie with the crater in the background.
You will then descend into the magnificent crater itself, a large plain that is protected on all sides by steep crater walls. In the center of the crater is a large alkaline lake called Lake Magadi.
Ngorongoro Crater is home to the densest population of lions in the world. Also in the crater are elephants, leopards, herds of buffalos, and much more. The star of the show however is the elusive black rhino. One animal that you won’t find in the crater is the giraffe and that’s because descending into the crater was too steep of a journey for these long-necked beings.
5. Meet Some of Tanzania’s 120 Tribes on a Mto Wa Mbu Cultural Tour
Mto Wa Mbu is a vibrant town located in northern Tanzania, near the Lake Manyara National Park, and is the melting pot of Tanzanian culture – housing 120 different tribes.
This town is nestled in a unique location, where a large river feeds into Lake Manyara and provides a year-round water source. As a result, Mto Wa Mbu is surrounded by verdant pastures, the ideal location for farming.
Over 120 different tribes live peacefully here, side by side, all making the most of the supreme farming opportunities.
A great way to explore the town, and to see and interact with some of the resident tribes, is through a cultural tour. There are a number of companies offering this but my favorite is the Mtoni Cultural Tourism program, a local company.
On a cultural tour, you will get to visit the Makonde tribe. The Makonde are subsistence farmers. Additionally, many have also become skilled craftsmen and artists, producing intricate sculptures and carvings from various materials, including wood, ivory, and ebony.
The cultural tour will allow you to see the Makonde’s incredible carving skills which have been passed down from generation to generation. This is a good opportunity to purchase some souvenirs handmade by the Makonde, which supports the local people.
6. Enjoy a Walking Safari in Ngorongoro Highlands
The Ngorongoro Highlands, which include the Ngorongoro Crater rim, are home to wildlife including elephants, buffalo, baboons, and a range of antelope species as well as an array of bird species. The highlands are beautiful – hills and mountains covered with dense jungle.
A walking safari in the highlands with an experienced guide is a very intimate and authentic way to experience the area which has been home to the Maasai people for centuries. There are a range of treks to choose from, some lasting from as little as a few hours to some spanning over several days.
You will have the opportunity to explore some of the highlands’ less visited craters including Empakaai and Olmoti.
7. Marvel at African Elephants on Safari in Tarangire National Park
A couple of hours west of Arusha, at the beginning of the northern circuit, Tarangire National Park is famous for its numerous impressive herds of African elephants and iconic baobab trees.
On a visit to Tarangire National Park, elephant sightings are almost guaranteed. I was blown away by their vast numbers, bumping into more elephants than I could count and even enjoying watching a baby elephant frolic about in a watering hole.
Tarangire is also home to a wide variety of other animals, including lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, zebras, giraffes, and 500 bird species.
On Safari in Tarangire, you’ll visit the Tarangire River which spans the park and offers great game viewing opportunities in the dry season as animals come to drink.
8. Visit the Hadzabe and Datoga Tribes in Lake Eyasi
Located in the Lake Eyasi area, the Hadtzabe is one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer tribes in Africa. They talk in a unique click language and are skilled huntsmen using bows and arrows to hunt their food.
Visiting them requires a special guide who has spent time living with the tribe and can communicate with them. Your local tour company will be able to arrange this for you. Visiting the Hadzabe is never guaranteed due to their nomadic nature, which makes a successful visit all the more special.
When you visit the Hadzabe you can learn about their culture and even join them on a short hunt.
The Datoga tribe, famous for their blacksmith abilities, are also located in the Lake Eyasi area and can be visited after the Hadzabe. You can see their skills as metal workers as they craft jewelry and arrowheads using a small furnace.
9. Canoe with Local Fishermen on Lake Manyara
Located in northern Tanzania at the base of the Great Rift Valley escarpment, Lake Mayara is a shallow alkaline lake. Although sadly the lake has receded in recent years due to climate change, it’s still an incredible place to visit and canoe across the shallow waters.
Canoeing excursions can be arranged with local tour operators such as Mto Wa Mbu’s Mtoni Cultural Tourism program and involve taking to the waters in locally-made canoes, guided by experienced fishermen, who canoe in these waters every day.
If you’re lucky, you might see some hippos who reside in the lake and even if you don’t meet them, the chances are that you’ll hear their distinctive bellows.
Lake Manyara is a popular destination for bird enthusiasts, with over 400 species of birds recorded in the park.
10. Spend a Day Trekking in the Foothills of Kilimanjaro
Around 1 hour east of Arusha, near the border with Kenya, sits one of Tanzania’s most famous landmarks and one of Africa’s best destinations for travelers, Kilimanjaro.
If you’re not quite feeling like conquering the 5,895 volcano just yet, a day trip to the mountain provides the unique opportunity to enjoy part of the trek.
A day trip to the mountain can be arranged by your tour company or you can arrange directly with a specialist Kilimanjaro guide.
The slopes of Kilimanjaro are home to the Chagga people and they will usually act as guides and porters to assist with your hike.
Your day will be spent on a guided hike through the lower slopes of the mountain which will provide spectacular views.
Allow a full day for the trip which usually begins early in the morning and finishes in the evening.
Tanzania for outdoor lovers FAQs
How long should you spend in Tanzania to make the most of your adventure?
Although some people visit the country for as little as 3 to 5 days, I’d recommend spending between 7 and 10 days on safari in Tanzania to give yourself the opportunity to see the best that the country has to offer.
A 10-day Tanzanian adventure gives you the opportunity to relax for a few days on the idyllic island of Zanzibar at the end of your trip.
What’s the best time of the year to visit Tanzania for outdoor activities?
The best time of year to visit Tanzania for outdoor activities largely depends on what activities you want to do.
For example, if you’re interested in seeing the wildebeest migration, July to September is the best time to visit.
If you want to view big cats in the Serengeti or climb Kilimanjaro, January to March is best.
For a cultural visit, anytime is good. Finally, for swimming in hot springs or visiting Mto Wa Mbu, the dry season (June to October) is best.
Is Tanzania a safe destination for outdoor activities?
Tanzania is generally a safe destination for outdoor activities, provided you take the necessary safety precautions. You should research the areas you are visiting before you go, plan ahead and exercise caution during your travels. Be aware of your surroundings at all times and stay with your tour group if you have one.
A good way to stay informed is to check the latest travel advice from your home country’s government.
What is the best way to get around Tanzania?
The best way to get around Tanzania largely depends on where you are planning to go and what you want to experience. If you’re visiting the main tourist attractions such as the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire National Park, and Lake Manyara, it is best to hire a car and driver, as these areas are quite remote.
You can also explore these regions on a guided tour.
Will you need a guide for your outdoor activities?
For some outdoor activities, like trekking Kilimanjaro, it is highly recommended to hire a professional guide.
Most other outdoor activities can be done independently, although you may need a guide with specialized knowledge in some cases, such as visiting the Hadzabe tribe or taking a canoeing excursion with local fishermen. In these cases, it is best to arrange your guide through a local tour operator.
Tanzania is an incredible country, ideal for those who love the outdoors. These are just some of the many outdoor activities that you can take part in. Which is your favorite outdoor activity in Tanzania?
Ella McKendrick runs Adventures by Ella.