A huge country with much regional variation in geography and climate plus two distinct rainy seasons, the question of when to go to Tanzania depends on what it is that you want to experience.
January and February capture Tanzania swathed in greenery with migratory birds flitting amongst foliage and the calving season in full swing. Being low season, it’s also less crowded. Generally, there is only one period to avoid– the rainy months of
March, April and May. Kilimanjaro climbs are risky, the wildlife spreads out and beach holidays in Zanzibar will be soggy; afternoon downpours are heavier along the coast and islands. Some lodges in the lesser-visited south and west will also close during this period. You can get some excellent rates, however, so if you are on a tight budget this may be the best time to visit Tanzania.
July and August are peak months – with the Great Migration, the dry season, milder temperatures and the school holidays melding in a maelstrom of safari vehicles. Prices are also at their highest.
If you are able to travel outside of the holiday period, the river crossing is still taking place – but you won’t be jostling for space. If you must travel during peak months, consider visiting the south. This is still relatively unexplored and never overcrowded with visitors.
Although May through to August will be warm during the day, nights are cold. Bring insulating layers for early morning game drives and evening sundowners. Open safari vehicles are teeth-chatteringly cold. The Ngorongoro Crater is also jammed as it’s a relatively restricted area; again, travelling either side of the peak season, June or September, means your view will be less restricted by cars.
Most species in Ngorongoro don’t migrate – so you’ll still see just as much wildlife out of peak season. September and October are the best months to climb Kilimanjaro, thanks to moderate temperatures, lower rainfall and less cloud cover – which means the mountain can get crowded, particularly in September. Book your trip well in advance – and remember, rain can fall at any time and it’s always icy cold at the top.
Climbing is most dangerous during the rainy season due to slippery conditions and poor visibility. Tours still run – but you’re best booking a less strenuous route and you’ll be at the mercy of the weather. Waterproof packs are essential. Kili is chilly year-round – but in June-August it’s at its most freezing. Pack appropriately, and don’t underestimate the cold; remember – you’ll be camping. A beautiful way to experience Kilimanjaro’s summit is during a full moon. As well as lighting your way in the dark African night, the moon reflects off the glaciers; fabulous. But again – this brings more climbers.
November and December bring the short rains. These shouldn’t disrupt travel – other than attracting a few more mosquitoes – but will freshen up the dusty landscape, creating lovely scenes, particularly for photographers. For marine life, the best time to go to Tanzania is
November to March, when snorkellers and divers stand the best chance of encountering whale sharks, and April to September, when green turtles hatch – particularly along the shores of the Mafia Archipelago.