You've cracked the Kruger and witnessed the Masia Mara: now it's time for something entirely different. Tanzania's unbeaten paths lead to extraordinary destinations, perfect for seasoned safari-goers or intrepid first-timers who want an unorthodox introduction to Africa.
Tanzania has earned its reputation as a safari destination par excellence over decades. These days, names like the Serengeti and Ngorongoro trip off the tongue as easily as the Masai Mara and Amboseli. The drawback is that now everyone else has heard of these places, too. Visitors on a peak-season game drive in the Ngorongoro Crater will have to contend with dozens of other vehicles clustered around a good sighting, while migration season in the Serengeti sees the lion's share of the 100 000 visitors who flood into the park each year.
1. The Last Great Wilderness - Selous
How about a reserve the size of Switzerland with visitor numbers hovering around 5 000 a year - less than one percent of Tanzania's annual total? While stretches of the Selous Game Reserve are off limits, the vast territory that is open to visitors is wildly beautiful and, game-wise, very rewarding. Selous is jam-packed with animals - its nickname is 'Giraffic Park'. And by 'jam-packed' I mean Africa's densest populations of buffalo, hippo, wild dog and lion, not to mention a tenth of the continent's elephants. A handful of fly-in lodges in secluded settings offer game drives as well as guided nature walks and riverboat safaris.
Best time to go:
the June to September dry season offers Selous' best game viewing and most pleasant climate. The 'short rains' of October and November are followed by a drier spell from December to February after which the 'long rains' of March and April begin. Avoid the peak rainy months as parts of the Selous are flooded and camps are often closed.
2. Mountain Retreat - Mahale
Another of Tanzania's off the beaten track parks is Mahale Mountains National Park: it is accessible only by boat and protects the rainforest-covered mountains that tumble down to the echoing shores of Lake Tanganyika.
A cacophony of unfamiliar calls rings out from the forest when you stand at its edge, awestruck, by the majesty of the setting. Home to a dozen primate species, Mahale's signature activity is guided chimpanzee trekking, though with annual visitor numbers struggling to make it into three figures, you may simply want to revel in the tranquil solitude of this wild place. Relax on the lake's footprint-free beaches, go fishing, watch birds and butterflies, or trek into the cathedral-like forest for a face to face encounter with wild chimpanzees, our closest living relative.
Best time to go:
Mahale is best for chimp trekking from July to October.
3. Secret Savannahs - Katavi & Ruaha National Parks
Equally far from the beaten path are Katavi National Park (safari-goers barely top a thousand a year) and Ruaha, attracting only about 20 percent of the volume of visitors who pack the Serengeti each year.
Both are big, rolling savannah parks with healthy populations of the heavyweight species - elephants, buffalo and the big cats - and both are serious contenders for that most coveted of Tanzanian titles: 'Best-Kept Secret'. The game viewing is great, the scenery spectacular and the parks retain a truly wild ambience. Fly in and see them now before the secret gets out: there are a few luxury lodges scattered in each, usually set next to rivers for easy armchair game viewing.
Best time to go to Ruaha:
the dry months of June to October are best for a Ruaha safari but temperatures increase dramatically as the dry season wears on. Although game viewing is at its peak from August to October, so is the heat. The rains begin in November and continue into late May.
Best time to go to Katavi:
like Ruaha, the June to October dry season is the best time to visit Katavi. Most travellers avoid the December to April rainy season but if you are a bird watcher then these hot summer months deliver sensational birding in both parks.