When to travel to Tanzania
When to travel to Tanzania
Lying just south of the equator, Tanzania on the whole enjoys a tropical climate, except in the high mountains (like Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru) where temperatures can get below freezing. The seasons in Tanzania are defined by wet and dry seasons. The ‘long rains’ occur between March and May. Afternoon tropical downpours are the norm – which are heavier and more predictable along the coast and on the islands. The humidity is high and daily temperatures reach the low to mid 30°s. The ‘short rains’ generally arrive during late November through December. These are much lighter than the main rains and less reliable.
The long dry season, from June through to October, is when rainfall is unlikely, even on the islands. Temperatures vary hugely with altitude and location, but fine, clear skies and sunny weather are the norm – a great time to visit Tanzania. If rain did occur during the ‘short rains’ (late November through December), then it normally dries up for a few months in January and February, which is Tanzania’s short dry season.
One of the most spectacular sights of the migration is when the herds gather to cross the Grumeti River (Tanzania) and the Mara River (Kenya) between July and September. As the herds cross, crocodiles are lying in wait for any weak and feeble ungulates that can’t cope with the strong currents, injured, or young that are separated from their mothers.
But the river crossings aren’t the only spectacle. Just witnessing thousands of animals on the plains is a sight in itself. Particularly because they attract many of Africa’s impressive predators. Lions, leopards, hyenas and wild dogs follow the herds and give safari goers an excellent chance of seeing a kill in action.
Being a natural event, the migration changes from year to year in both timing and location, but generally follow the movements below.
- In December through March the Serengeti plains and the Ngorongoro Conservation areas in northern Tanzania are home to giant herds of wildebeest, zebra and other ungulates. This is calving season. Most of the wildebeest calves are born in just a three week period, usually around the beginning of February. Calves attract predators and this is an amazing time of year to watch impressive lion kills.
- By April/May the herds begin to migrate west and north to the grassier plains and woodland of the Serengeti’s Western Corridor. The rain during this time of year makes it difficult to follow the herds during this stage of their migration. Many of Tanzania’s smaller camps in fact shut down due to impassable roads.
- By the end of May, as the rains stop, the wildebeest and zebra gradually start moving north and individual groups begin to congregate and form much larger herds. This is also the time the wildebeest mate. The Western Serengeti is the best place to watch the migration unfold.
- By July the herds reach their first big obstacle, the Grumeti River. The Grumeti River can get deep in places, especially if the rains have been good and drowning becomes a distinct possibility for many wildebeest.
- By late July, the grasses of the western Serengeti are turning yellow and the herds continue north. After crossing the Grumeti River in Tanzania the wildebeest and zebra head towards Kenya’s Lamai Wedge and the Mara Triangle. But, before they get to the lush plains of the Mara, the animals need to cross the Mara River, sometimes a major obstacle, both with regards to the river itself and the predators in and around it.
If you want to track chimpanzees in Western Tanzania, the best time to go is the dry season, June through to November. However, during the wet-season (December to April) it is a little easier to find the chimps since they don’t have to roam too far to get water.
Best Time to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru is January – March and September – October.
The islands of Zanzibar stay warm and humid year-round with some humidity offset by the Indian Ocean breeze. Rainfall can occur during any month, but the heavy rains fall from mid-March to May and in November. Many people visit during the hot and dry December to February months. The June to October spring months offer dry weather, but with cooler temperatures, and this period is often regarded as the best time to visit Zanzibar. This period also combines particularly well with a visit to the safari areas.