Known for its wilderness and spectacular wildlife, Tanzania is a special family vacation experience you can’t get elsewhere. It’s perfect for kids of all ages — whether toddlers or teens, they can’t help but be thrilled when they spot elephants crossing the dusty road barely five feet away from the safari Jeep!
While Tanzania requires more precautions and preparation than, for instance, Europe, don’t be intimidated by the thought of a lengthy flight and a few vaccines. Here are five reasons for your family to visit Tanzania sooner rather than later.
Why Visit Tanzania with Kids
A Safe, Satisfying African Adventure
No one wants a jaunt into a potentially dangerous country, especially with kids, but Tanzania is reliably safe and the local people are very friendly. I remember journeying past villages in our safari truck, waving to the people we passed; nearly everyone waved back. I was amazed by how welcoming they were, with smiles on their faces. Most people speak English (one of the official languages, in addition to Swahili), which puts kids at ease and simplifies logistics. Tanzania is also politically and economically stable, with a booming tourist economy.
Rich Cultural Immersion
You may come to Tanzania mainly to see wildlife, but the country’s culture is vibrant and alive. Take the opportunity while you’re there to visit local villages. There are more than 120 ethnic groups living in Tanzania, like the Maasai, the Chaga, the Hadza and the Kimbu, each with their own unique dialect. We visited a Maasai village and they performed traditional dances and displayed crafts for us. The dances were unlike anything I had seen before, and the crafts were exquisite. Build in time for a stop at the Cultural Heritage Center in Arusha, where you can gawk at carvings, statues and art, or shop for souvenirs like jewelry and figurines.
I also recommend visiting a local school during your time in Tanzania — it’s eye-opening for adults and kids alike, as you’ll realize how fortunate most of us in Westernized countries are to attend schools with ample supplies, books and technology. Don’t ever pass up a chance to widen children’s view of the world.
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Wildlife in Tanzania is so exotic, and there are so many national parks to choose from. They represent different types of ecosystems, from forests and plains to beaches and mountains. It’s impossible to visit all of them, so pick and choose the ones that appeal most to you. You have a good chance of seeing zebras, wildebeest, gazelles, impalas, buffalo, elephants, giraffes and lions no matter where you go, but you may also glimpse other, rarer animals (too many to list here). With luck, you can check off the Big Five: elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards and Cape buffalo.
National parks to consider include:
- Ngorongoro Crater, a volcanic caldera
- Arusha, by Mounts Meru and Kilimanjaro
- Tarangire, famous for elephants
- Serengeti, the most famous plain in Africa
- Lake Manyara, known for baboons
- Mahale, nestled in the mountains
TIP: Bring a camera with a good zoom lens, as animals can be far away.
Sleeping Under the Stars
Tanzania offers all matter of accommodations: beach bungalows, treetop rooms, safari tents, lodges, and, of course, traditional hotels. At Tarangire National Park, we slept in nifty little tents with beds and, incredibly, plumbing. The best part? The tents were in the middle of the park, and animals came right up. We were woken one morning by a herd of elephants marching just outside!
If you want more space, the Four Seasons Safari Lodge in Serengeti National Park is big and luxurious. It has views of the plains as well as the herds roaming around. There is even a watering hole by the pool where you can watch for elephants.
Most Tanzania hotels have WIFI and a pool for cooling off, which is a relief after a sweltering, dusty afternoon in a safari truck.
Near the equator, Tanzania is warm and sunny virtually year-round. There are two rainy seasons: March to June, with longer showers, and October to December, with shorter rain bursts. The different areas in Tanzania have varying climates — the central plains are arid and dry; the northwest is cooler; and the east coast is more humid and tropical.
The best overall time to travel to Tanzania is from June to September, when temperatures are coolest and mosquitoes are fewest. Another good time to travel is during the winter, to escape the cold under the African sun. But no matter when you go, you will cherish the memory of your adventure.
Families Should Know
It’s likely that you’ll need to take antimalarial precautions before visiting Tanzania. Consult a travel medicine specialist well in advance. Insects are abundant, so stock up on bug spray and wear light-colored clothing to reduce your chances of being bitten.
Unfiltered water in Tanzania generally is unsafe. Avoid street food and drink only bottled water. And don’t get sunburned; wear hats and sunscreen, and try to stay in the shade.
For U.S., European, Canadian, Australian and some other visitors, a visa is needed for entry. Always check official requirements with your country’s department of state.