If you're planning a vacation to Africa, there are some up-front decisions to make. Do you go for a classic big game safari or a tropical beach holiday? How do you include a cultural element to your visit and what if you want to mix iconic landmarks with off-radar destinations?
Happily, there's an answer: go on a Tanzania safari. Set at the heart of East Africa, Tanzania is where the Rift Valley savannahs merge into mountainous rainforests, a place of red-robed Maasai tribesmen, dazzling coral reefs and white-sand Indian Ocean beaches. And equally happily, these diverse destinations can be blended into a single, multi-experience itinerary such as a safari and beach holiday or big game and gorilla safari.
Tanzania is a vast country – twice the size of California. Although its infrastructure is geared to tourism, complex itineraries are best planned and executed with professional help. Aside from managing logistics in a developing country, an African safari expert ensures a good fit for you with the many accommodation options on offer. After all, it’s no fun arriving at a large, family-friendly resort while on a romantic, 'just-the-two-of-us' adventure
Game time: the Northern safari circuit
Ask a dozen people to close their eyes and describe Africa. Chances are that they'll talk of golden-grass savannahs, flat-top acacias and large concentrations of wildlife. That description paints an almost perfect picture of northern Tanzania, which is where to go for a classic African safari.
Head for the heavyweight destinations of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater for some of the best game viewing in Africa. These areas are a wildlife hot spots between November and July, when the annual wildebeest migration rolls into the Serengeti. Tarangire and Lake Manyara National Parks are easy add-ons to complete this popular route. Moreover, many lodges offer authentic interactions with the local Maasai community, an experience that for many outweighs the wildlife dramas of the savannah.
Iconic: Mount Kilimanjaro & Zanzibar
Only in Tanzania can you climb (or gaze at) Africa's highest peak and explore the continent's most famous Indian Ocean island. Postcard-perfect Mount Kilimanjaro reaches nearly six kilometres into the air and can be climbed over four or five days as part of a guided group. Cultural melting pot Zanzibar, on the other hand, blends the old cobbled streets of World Heritage Site Stone Town with powder-soft beaches and crystal clear waters. Activities on the island range from diving and snorkelling to swimming with dolphins and sunset dhow cruises – the perfect post-safari wind down.
Top secret safari: Selous, Ruaha & Katavi
The reserves of Northern Tanzania may be the most well-known, but hidden away in central and southern Tanzania are three huge, virtually unvisited national parks: Selous, Ruaha and Katavi. Packed with wildlife and well off the beaten path, these wild savannah parks are best visited in the dry season when they boast plenty of action-packed game viewing and a kinder climate. With their great accommodation options, these reserves are perfect for travellers who want all the drama of a big game safari but without the crowds. In fact, the only crowds you'll see here will be those of animals.
Something completely different: the Mahale mountains
Tired of lions? Seen enough elephants? Had it with buffalo? Try the rainforests of the Mahale Mountains for a totally different take on a Tanzania safari. Accessible only by air and boat, Mahale is home to wildlife you won't see anywhere else in the country. Chimpanzees are the main stars, but you'll be ticking off other primates, forest mammals and plenty of birds, like Peter's twinspot and trumpeter hornbill. There's not much accommodation in Mahale, but what there is will leave you speechless – Greystoke Mahale is one of the most extraordinary lodges on the continent.
Sun, sea, sand: Tanzania beaches
After a days of early starts and bumpy road trips, lolling around in luxury on a tropical beach for a few days is the perfect way to finish off a Tanzania safari. And there's no need to book a flight to the Seychelles, Tanzania has the full range of Indian Ocean experiences from activity rich family resorts to super-exclusive private islands and honeymoon hideaways.
For most travellers, a Tanzania beach holiday is all about Zanzibar, but there are several mainland destinations near Dar es Salaam as well as a handful of small islands off Zanzibar's coast that offer superb diving and deserted beaches (Mafia and Pemba are especially good).
Safari and beach combinations are easy to arrange, and regular flights between travel hubs Arusha and Dar es Salaam mean that you can spot wildebeest in the Serengeti in the morning and sip on a cocktail ocean side that evening.