5 Hidden Gems: Tanzania Off the Beaten Path
Find the Wildness of Tanzania Without the Crowds
🖋️ By Deb | 🕒 October 28, 2022 | 📁 Tanzania Off the Beaten Path
If you’re planning a trip or wildlife safari in Tanzania, you may want to see the Tanzania off the beaten path. The remote southern circuit and other lesser-known spots could be just what you’re looking for.
The national parks and game reserves of Tanzania are legendary. The Serengeti is on millions of bucket lists, and Ngorongoro Crater is visited by over 600,000 people each year.
There’s no question as to why – the wildlife viewing is epic.
But the crowds can be too.
Fortunately, there are still places where the animals are the only other living creatures around to see. And where the only sounds are the honey badgers scolding the lions for getting too close.
Below is a list of the best 5 remaining wild spots in Tanzania – maybe in all of East Africa. Visit just one, or string a few together. And if you really want to experience the wild, try fly camping.
There’s no better way to experience the African bush than under the stars!
Tanzania is a one-of-a-kind destination. Do you want to see the wildlife and also have space to appreciate the wild in Africa itself? Then seeing Tanzania off the beaten path is the way to go.
These southern circuit spots fit that bill perfectly. There are even a few to visit on your trip back north. Have a look at the map at the bottom of the page.
If you’re a bird lover, get your binocs ready. There are hundreds and hundreds of species that call these areas home. Not to mention the ones who drop in for the season.
For help with planning your trip to Africa hop over our planning guide. Check out the packing guide and a packing list, and you’re all set for an amazing adventure.
1. Nyerere National Park
Nyerere is the largest national park in Africa, but is still prime Tanzania off the beaten path territory. It’s wild, and a great place to experience the wildlife.
Nyerere was known as the Selous Game Reserve until 2019.
This is when the Tanzanian government designated over 30,000 square kilometres of the northern reserve as Nyerere National Park.
The difference between a national park and a game reserve is simply this: A national park falls under the ownership and management of the government.
A game reserve is privately owned and is managed by the lodges on the reserve.
This difference can have an effect on your safari experience. A game reserve will be more exclusive, which generally translates into fewer people paying more money to stay there.
There can also be a difference in the rules and in the options offered. For example, driving off of designated roadways is generally not permitted in national parks.
This means that you won’t be able to go off-road to get closer to the animals. As well, not all national parks permit night drives and walking safaris.
As a general rule, decide if you’re interested specifically in one of these activities. If you think you’d be interested, be sure to find out if they’re available before making a reservation.
That being said, night drives are not permitted in Nyerere, but walking safaris are a highlight.
If you have the opportunity, I’d highly recommend a walking safari/fly camping trip. There’s no better way to experience the African bush.
A boat safari is something else you can’t experience in a lot of other places. You’ll have the chance to see hippos, crocs, birdlife, and other animals.
This wildlife comes down to the banks of the River Rufiji, Tanzania’s largest river, to drink.
You should be aware that only a limited area of the park is open for game drives. Moreover, poachers have driven the number of elephants here.
Because of this, the remaining herds tend to be skittish.
While wildlife is plentiful here, you won’t find animals around every corner as you might in northern parks.
The appeal here in the south is the wild, the utter lack of crowds. You also get the unique experiences afforded to visitors, such as fly camping.
Nyerere may be the best place in Africa to catch glimpse of the critically endangered African Wild Dogs! Their population here is estimated to be around 13,000, the largest concentration in Africa.
There is also a good chance of seeing a lion make a kill while you’re here. It may not sound appealing, but it’s incredibly exciting when you see it happening.
It’s always a thrilling event to witness. Lions in the area number in the 4000s, and leopards, serval, and caracal also make their home in Nyerere.
Of the Big 5, only rhinos might disappoint. Sightings are rare, and it’s suspected that the few that are left keep themselves well-hidden in the park.
Park Fee: Adults are charged a US$50 park entry fee per 24 hours.
How to Get There: The park can be reached by road or air. If travelling by road, allow at least 6-6.5 hours of travel time, depending on which gate you’re aiming for.
The road is not a good one, and the last 75 km is a rough gravel stretch. If you’ll be arriving by plane, be sure you know which airstrip is closest to your accommodation, as there are several.
Where to stay: There are several accommodation options in the park, for all different budgets.
When to go: Nyerere is beautiful all year, but the dry season, June-October, affords the best chance to see the most wildlife.
The wet season from November to May is cheaper, and there will be even fewer people.
However, the animals will be harder to spot through the lush vegetation. They also have more choice of watering holes, so their appearances will be less predictable.
In addition, some of the camps and lodges close during the wet.
The best time for birding is November to April, when the migratory birds are in town.
2. Ruaha National Park
Ruaha is named for the Great Ruaha River, which is the focal area for wildlife viewing. In fact, only one-third of the park, near the river, is developed for tourism.
Still, the chances of successfully spotting wildlife are excellent. Everybody stops in at the river for a drink.
Ruaha NP is considered by many to be Tanzania’s most treasured secret.
It is its second-largest national park, and the least visited. This may be because it is more difficult to get to than other, more popular parks.
Access by car is by dirt road from Iringa, 128 km to the west. There are also 2 airstrips in the park – flights are a bit pricey.
Aside from accessibility issues, Ruaha is simply not as well-known as some parks, such as the Serengeti and Ngorongoro. It’s a great example of a Tanzania-off-the-beaten-path experience.
Of all the things to do in Tanzania, this is one of the best. Take advantage of it while it lasts. And keep it to yourself!
The terrain here has rolling hills, red desert, and vast grasslands, with stocky baobab trees growing along the river.
The Great Ruaha River is considered one of the last bastions of major lion and elephant populations in Africa.
Ruaha Park is one of Africa’s last remaining real wildernesses.
It’s also another place with a better-than-average chance of spotting the endangered African Wild Dogs. The third-largest population of Wild Dogs is thought to make their home here.
Also, 10% of the world’s lion population. Again, you won’t see rhinos here, so if that’s at the top of your list, I hope this isn’t your only stop.
Ruaha also offers night drives, giving you the opportunity to see a lot more action, as the animals tend to be more active in the cool of the night.
You can also choose to take a walking or boat safari, or go fly camping.
Some lodges, though, have stopped offering walking safaris due to the large elephant population, so be sure to check if you’re hoping to take one.
You can also go for a hot air balloon ride. The cost for the balloon ride is in the neighbourhood of US$600. If you can, save up for it. It truly is an unforgettable experience.
Park Fee: Adults are charged US$40 per vehicle and US$35 per person/24 hours
How to Get There: As mentioned earlier, you can drive into the park from Iringa, 128 km to the west. The drive is about 10 hours from Tanzania’s capital city of Dar es Saalam, or 740 km. Flights are available from Dar es Salaam and from Arusha to the park’s airstrips.
Where to stay: there are several options in Ruaha for accommodation, and will have something for your budget.
When to go: the dry season has the best wildlife viewing, May through December. If you’re a birder, you might want to be here between January and April, to see the migratory birds as well.
3. Katavi National Park
The smallest of the Tanzania parks on the list so far, Katavi is 4,471 square kilometres of beautiful.
Only a few hundred people visit each year due to the remote location.
Kativa has some of the densest populations of hippos and crocs around.
On top of that, in the dry season, the water sources dwindle to the Katumu River.
This causes crowding among the hippos, and you can always count on some drama in the water during dry periods.
Seeing a couple of these big guys fight over their cramped territory isn’t something you’ll forget.
It’ll become clear why they’re considered the most dangerous animal in Africa – second to mosquitos.
You’ll also get to see heaps of elephants and enormous herds of buffalo. This is on top of the roan antelope and puku, a sturdy, medium-sized antelope.
Lions, spotted hyenas, giraffes and zebra will all be a part of your safari experience here in Katavi. Even leopards have been known to show themselves.
Walking safaris are offered here, as well as fly camping. When it comes to Tanzania-off-the-beaten-path, these activities are part of why it’s amazing.
You may come across Stone or Iron Age sites while you’re exploring, something else that makes Katavi stand out.
Park Fee: Adults are charged US$20 per 24 hours.
How to Get There: You can drive to this remote park, and that trip is an adventure in itself. It will take 2-3 days from Dar es Salaam or Arusha.
A 4×4 is recommended; be sure you know the location of the air filter! The road can be incredibly dusty – you’ll need to clean it out a few times.
The easiest way to get to Katavi is to fly. There are a couple of scheduled flights out of Dar es Salaam weekly.
Alternatively, you can charter a flight from there or from Arusha. The simplest way would be to arrange everything from home if you can.
If you decide on an organized tour, your safari operator can collect you from the Kilimanjaro Airport.
This is where you will most likely enter Tanzania if you’re just arriving in the country. They can take care of the arrangements from there.
Where to stay: there are only a few places to stay in Katavi, and you can find them at this website.
When to go: the dry season has the best wildlife viewing, June through November or December. The best time for birding is November through April.
4. Gombe Stream National Park
Just outside of the southern circuit you’ll find the mountainous region of Gombe Park. This is the smallest national park in Tanzania, occupying just a 52 km² strip of land.
And at only 2 hours from Kigoma, Gombe is an easy extension to a journey within the southern circuit. It sits on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, with a backdrop of the stunning Mahale Mountains.
It’s set in an unspoiled forest, the lake on one side and the eastern Rift Valley escarpment on the other. It really is as stunning as it sounds!
Lake Tanganyika is an African Great Lake, and is the longest freshwater lake in the world. It has a few other claims to fame as well.
It is the second-deepest, second-largest by volume. It’s also the second-oldest freshwater lake in the world. Be sure to do some snorkelling or diving and take in the underwater wildlife while you’re here.
The main draw in Gombe is the chimpanzees. You may be familiar with the research of Jane Goodall.
She is the conservation icon and primatologist who conducted ground-breaking research with chimpanzees. Her research was done here at Gombe in the 1960s.
The chimps are quite habituated to the presence of humans. This makes for excellent viewing. Hikes up into the forests are led by national park guides and ranges.
These experts are full of information about the amazing apes.
There are no roads in Gombe, only the natural trails that the park maintains. This is truly Tanzania-off-the-beaten-path.
Access is only permitted under the close supervision of the park personnel. This is for the protection of the chimps.
Once a troop of chimps has been located on a hike, observation is allowed for one hour. This time limit is strictly imposed.
Observing a troop of chimps on the move can be a real workout!
It’s an astounding experience to have these chimps, our closest relatives, go about their business, while allowing us to observe.
There are some rules in place for the protection of the primates here:
– No one younger than 15 is allowed to trek to see the chimps.
– Anyone trekking must be completely healthy.
– The size of a group can not be larger than 6 people at a time.
Every effort is made here to minimize human impact. This has helped Gombe stay beautiful, lush, and wild. As Africa should be.
This is despite the fact that it sees more visitors than some of the other remote areas listed.
Chimps are not the only primates that call Gombe home. You may also spot red-tailed monkeys, red colobus monkeys, or blue and vervet monkeys.
You may even come across the odd hippo or buffalo, a rare leopard, or bush pigs.
Once you’ve had the opportunity to observe the chimps, you can enjoy swimming or snorkelling in Lake Tanganyika.
You can also hike out to the Kakombe waterfalls while you’re here. Or through the forest on one of the trails maintained by the park.
There are some beautiful hiking opportunities in Gombe. This is some of the best of Tanzania off the beaten track.
Park Fee: Adults are US$100 conservation fee per 24 hours spent in the forest. Plus there’s a US$20 guide fee per group for each trek into the forest.
How to Get There: Gombe is definitely remote, but some planning will get you there. You’ll first need to reach Kigoma.
Driving from Dar es Salaam is an option, and will have you there in about 22 hours. A train from Dar es Salaam is another, and will take around 40 hours.
The faster way is to fly to Kigoma. From there, you can take a 1 or 2-hour speed boat ride, or a 4-hour lake taxi ride right into the park.
There is the option, as well, to contact a good tour company. They’ll who will take care of all transportation details for you.
Keep this in mind. Each leg of the journey into these remote parts of Africa is a chance to experience Africa.
Try not to focus only on the destination, but make the most of the time it takes to get there. It will always be worth it.
Where to Stay: people tend to stay in Kigoma and take a boat to Gombe to see the chimps. However, there are a couple of options if you want to stay in the park.
Contact Mbali Mbali Lodge on their website. They will take care of your boat and airport transfers in Kigoma if you stay with them.
There is also the hostel-style Gombe Bandas.
Accommodation information and fees, as well as activity fees for Bandas, are listed at their website.
When to Go: June through September is the prime time to visit Gombe. Mbali Mbali Lodge closes from March 1 to May 31 during the long rainy season. Birders will love it from December through March.
5. Mkomazi National Park
Mkomazi is in northeast Tanzania, between Arusha and Dar es Salaam. It’s a landscape of bush, hills and age-old baobab trees.
It’s home to 78 species of mammals.
The park occupies 3270 square kilometres. It’s contiguous with Tsavo West in Kenya, with whom it shares a border.
These 2 together make up one of the most important ecological communities that exist today.
That wasn’t always the case. Prior to 1989, the area was known as the Mkomaze Game Reserve.
It was overrun with poachers, cattle, hunters and snares, and the wildlife populations had been reduced to almost nothing.
The dramatic turnaround that has taken place since then is nothing short of astounding. More info can be found at the George Adamson site to better appreciate the beautiful area Mkomaze has become.
Space to Enjoy Africa
Mkomaze doesn’t have the dense populations of wildlife that you’ll find in the Serengeti or Ngorongoro Crater.
What you find here is beautiful open African bush. It’s possible to drive through the park for one or 2 entire days without seeing another car.
In fact, your best sightings will be while on walking safaris. These can be arranged with the park, and a guide will accompany you.
The wildlife is worth looking for in Mkomaze. The area is a haven for various antelope species, including the dik-dik, the fringe-eared oryx and the gerenuk.
You also have a chance of seeing all of the Big 5, as well as giraffe, eland, and hartebeest.
The Rhino Sanctuary
Other exciting aspects of Mkomaze are its black rhino sanctuary and its Africa Wild Dog conservation project.
The programs have been ongoing for 20 years and are successfully raising the populations of healthy animals!
Visit the Rhino Sanctuary to see the miraculous progress that’s being made there.
As for the Wild Dogs – keep your eyes peeled. They aren’t easy to spot, but once you do, it’s a sighting youwon’t forget!
Mkomaze is also a great place for camping and for fly camping. There are lodges and camps within the park where you can stay.
Park Fee: Adults will be charged US$20 per 24 hours. There are extra fees for each safari, and for the Rhino Sanctuary.
How to get there: Mkomazi is near the town of Same. It’s 168 km from Same to the park gates, but the circuitous route is a 3-hour drive. Same can easily be reached by road from any of the area towns or airports.
There is also an airstrip within the park for charter flights.
Where to stay: there are several accommodation options in Mkomaze Park.
When to Go: the dry season in this area is June through October, and is your best time to visit. Birding is at its peak between November and April, when the migratory birds make an appearance.
Tips For Visiting Tanzania:
- Visitors require a visa to enter Tanzania. These can be obtained upon arrival or in advance online on Tanzania’s government website. There tends to be a crowd at the airport visa counter. If you have time, I’d advise applying online before you leave home.
- There are vaccinations strongly recommended for travel to Tanzania. None are required unless you’re travelling from a country with a risk of yellow fever transmission.
In this case, you’ll need to provide a Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate to enter the country. It needs to document that the vaccine was given at least 10 days before arrival.
- Tanzania is a high-risk area for malaria; be sure to talk to your doctor about antimalarial medications.
- Be sure to pack sunscreen and hat, along with insect repellent with DEET. This is tough to find locally.
- Expect to pay extra for guide fees, camp fees, hiking fees, etc. Credit cards are not always accepted. Try to arrive at your park with Tanzanian Shillings on hand.
- In order to blend into the background when on safari, always wear neutral colours, like khaki or tan, even when you’re in a vehicle. But take note that camouflage clothing is illegal in Tanzania unless you’re a member of the national military. Moreover, dark colours like navy will attract tsetse flies and mosquitos.
- If you prefer to drive to your destination(s), make sure you have a reliable vehicle.
- Also be sure you know the basics of your vehicle’s maintenance, like how to clean the air filter. Then have the time of your life!
If you’re considering taking a drone from the amazing photo opps, stop. Read the Truth About Drone Use in Tanzania first.
Women Travelling Solo
Women tend to wonder if Tanzania is a safe place for them to travel solo. Honestly, it’s been my experience that the people I meet are more curious than anything else, and very friendly.
Don’t be surprised if you find some to be a bit protective of you when they realize you’re on your own. Scary or unsafe situations are very much the exception rather than the rule.
The best way to protect one’s self is just to remember your common sense. Also try to be aware of what’s going on around you. These are just a couple of the tips you’ll find in the list of safety tips.
Then enjoy the trip of a lifetime. You are your own best travel companion, and if this is your first time going solo, you’re going to wonder why you waited so long!
Remember – Carry-on only!
Summing it Up: Tanzania Off the Beaten Path
There are still a few remote places in Africa to experience a safari the way it used to be. That is, without the crowds, the noise, or the exhaust fumes.
Even the journey to reach them can be an adventure, and that’s all part of the fun.
Once you’ve been to one of the remote, lesser-known parts of Africa, you’ll be seeking them out. It will become a criterion to meet whenever you need to decide where to go on safari.