During our 56-day Oasis Overland Coast-to-Coast trip across Africa, we spent over two weeks roaming around Tanzania. It’s the first nation you spend a considerable amount of time in after departing Nairobi. The country was a blast, as there’s lots of things to do in Tanzania during an overland Africa safari. You’ll learn some Swahili words, discover the joys of Konyagi (a local spirit), and marvel at all the exotic landscapes packed into this country.
Tanzania is safari central, as people flock here to experience the Serengeti and the wildlife throughout other national parks. But there’s so much more to the country than that. Of course, there’s Mount Kilimanjaro. But in addition to this icy mountain peak, you’ll also find the warm blue waters that is the exotic island paradise of Zanzibar. Then there are some less trodden gems to discover such as hidden waterfalls and tea plantations, that make for great diversions in Tanzania.
With so many things to do in Tanzania during an overland safari, it can be difficult to decide which excursions are worth embarking on. Some overland safaris include these activities, as they’re baked into total cost. But with an Oasis Overland trip, you have the flexibility to participate in as little or as many excursions as you’d like and spend on them accordingly. This blog post will attempt break down all the different activities in Tanzania to give you our reviews and recommendations of the most common excursions encountered during an overland safari across the country.
The Tanzania Overland Route
Common overland routes across Tanzania begin in Arusha for a safari into Serengeti National Park, Ngorogoro Crater and possibly one other national park like Tarangire or Lake Manyara. Some overland trips stop on the outskirts of Mount Kilimanjaro in a town such as Marangu. Oasis Overland does so and also stops at the interesting coastal village of Bagamoyo to help break up the drive. Yet many overland routes instead tend to make the lengthy drive directly to Dar Es Salaam for the ferry to the African island paradise Zanzibar. From there, it’s typically onto Malawi with Mikumi National Park and the Tukuyu Tea Plantations along the way.
Things To Do Around Arusha
Ngorogoro Crater National Park & Tarangire National Park: 2-Day Safari
The very first optional excursion during the Oasis Overland 56-day trip is also the most expensive during the entire journey.
Description: While based outside of Arusha, most people opt to do a 3-day safari that includes Serengeti National Park, Ngorogoro Crater, and either Tarangire or Manyara National Parks. The 2-day safari we opted for instead included only Ngorogoro and Tarangire. (Why to skip Serengeti National Park is covered in the next section.)
Ngorogoro Crater is one of those places that photos or video simply don’t do justice to. It’s actually a caldera (a collapsed volcano), not a crater. And at 19 km wide by 21 km long, it’s one of the largest unbroken calderas in the world that isn’t a lake.
Once you make your way through the thick mist and down the steep dirt road to the bottom, you’re treated to 360-degrees of the caldera’s walls soaring around you, up to 600 meters up into the African sky. That’s when things get interesting.
These steep walls seem to trap in an incredible amount of wildlife. At fairly close range we saw zebras, wildebeests, hippos, elephants, hyenas, buffalo, elephant, warthog, and more. From afar we spotted rhinos and some particularly fat & happy lions, given there’s no shortage of prey. It’s no wonder this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Tanzania’s top draws.
Tarangire National Park was an underrated gem so full of wildlife! The park is renown for its elephant population. I think we may have seen over a hundred of them roaming around. Really! You’ll also likely witness the signature scene of various animals making their way to a watering hole. But perhaps most impressive for us were lions lurking around our safari vehicle within close range! Overall, I think we may have seen more close-up wildlife here than we did inside Ngorogoro Crater. Tarangire was a most pleasant surprise that we definitely recommend.
Value Rating: [usr=2.5]
This was by far the most expensive excursion, so it’s difficult to say it was good value. But it did include all meals for 3 days, 2 nights, so that helped a little to justify the price. Also, when comparing prices to other outfitters running similar tours, we could not find any pricing better than this package that Oasis was able to put together. So for that, we say this safari was great value relative to other tour operators.
Physical Rating: [usr=1.0]
Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the safari.
Adrenaline Rating: [usr=2.0]
If you’re lucky enough to have a lion or elephant approach your vehicle, that’ll definitely get your blood pumping. Otherwise it’s very mild thrills along sometimes bumpy roads.
Fun Rating: [usr=4.5]
You’re seeing some incredible wildlife scenes in one of the most unique settings in the world! We say that’s pretty fun!
Overall Recommendation: [usr=4.5]
We recommend splurging on this excursion for almost everyone. We wouldn’t recommend it only to those who are on a VERY tight budget who are traveling all the way to Cape Town, as you may not find it to be worth it by the time you reach Cape Town. This safari will eat a lot of your funds and you’re likely to see some of the same wildlife during subsequent safaris that are much less expensive (or included). But if you choose to skip this, just understand you’ll be missing out on the novel experience of Ngorogoro Crater itself. You’ll also need to find something else to do with with your time since a safari like this is the main thing to do in the Arusha area.
Why NOT To Visit Serengeti National Park: Serengeti Vs Maasai Mara
Due to recent price hikes set by the Tanzania government, National Park fees here are becoming absurdly high. Adding Serengeti National Park to the 2-day safari mentioned above would have doubled the price to over $800 for the full 3-day safari. So that’s an additional $400+ in cost for a few hours out on the Serengeti. We simply could not justify that and neither could anyone else in our Oasis Overland group.
We had already toured the Serengeti Plains on the Kenya side, which is known as Maasai Mara. Here’s the cost breakdown of Serengeti vs Maasai Mara: In comparison, a 3-day budget safari on the Maasai Mara side of the Serengeti costs about $300 total including transportation, lodging, meals, and four game drives. Meanwhile you’ll fork over $400 for a few hours on the Tanzanian side of the Serengeti.
Additionally, during our time of visit (late July) the great migration had brought most of the animals North, into Kenyan, the Maasai Mara side of the Serengeti. So that added even more to our reluctance of including a safari of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park into our budget. Note: if visiting January-June, you may find these large herds are still on the Tanzania side, so take that into consideration.
For those travelers who are like us and are trying to stretch their Africa budget, instead of visiting Serengeti National Park, we recommend to visit Maasai Mara on the Kenya side. We particularly recommend this if the great migration has already occurred there (typically July-December, but varies). A full 3-day safari in Maasai Mara will actually cost less then spending a few hours on safari in Serengeti National Park, so do the math.
We hear Serengeti National Park is great and there’s a reason it is one of the most popular National Parks in all of Africa. But with limited funds, your money will go much further touring the Serengeti Plains of Maasai Mara on the Kenya side.
Other Things To Do In Arusha
- Cultural Heritage Center: This is more of a gigantic tourist shop than it is a cultural center. Still, there is some fantastic artwork on display here. Even if you have no intentions of buying anything, it’s worth taking thirty minutes to browse around all the intricate pieces on display.
- The Arusha Local Market: It’s fun to take a wander around the Arusha’s local market. It’s huge and full of fresh produce. Most overland safaris will stop here to stock up.
- Mount Meru: The 2-4 day trek up Tanzania’s second tallest mountain is an interesting alternative to consider instead of joining the Ngorogoro Crater / Serengeti safari. It is said to be a less time-consuming and less expensive climb compared to nearby Kilimanjaro that many find even more rewarding than it’s famous counterpart. Just note that this is an extremely atypical excursion to embark on. So you’ll need to arrange it on your own and you’ll depart from the rest of your overland group for those few days while they do a traditional safari.
- Meserani Snake Park: If you’re traveling around Tanzania on an overland safari, you’ll almost certainly be staying at the Meserani Snake Park campsite, outside of Arusha. Everyone camping here receives complimentary access to the actual Snake Park. Here you can spend at least a good thirty minutes observing all the many reptiles they have on display, which ultimately goes to helping snake bite victims.
Things To Do in Marangu Tanzania
Ndoro Waterfall and Cultural Tour
Description: A local guide tours you around a village area to see local life and farming, before then hiking down to the Ndoro Waterfall. The cultural tour gave an interesting glimpse into life on the outskirts of Arusha that was authentic and was not some sort of rehearsed show. But the highlight was the impressive 97-meter (318-foot) Ndoro waterfall! Also, the chicken lunch at the local restaurant was delicious and a bargain at $10,000 shillings ($4.50).
Value Rating: [usr=4.0]
Overall good value.
Physical Rating: [usr=3.5]
I’d estimate we walked somewhere in between 5-10 kilometers including some steep terrain for about a kilometer each way, to and from the Ndoro Waterfall.
Adrenaline Rating: [usr=2.0]
We saw a snake in the trail, so that was exciting. You can swim at the base of Ndoro Waterfall.
Fun Rating: [usr=4.0]
This excursion makes for a fun day roaming around Marangu.
Overall Recommendation: [usr=4.0]
We think this is the best thing to do in Marangu. The Ndorodoro waterfall is impressive.
Other Things To Do in Marangu Tanzania:
- A longer version of this tour also includes a visit to a local blacksmith and the Chagga Live Museum (which you can also easily visit on your own).
- Trek to base of Mount Kilimanjaro. This 3-4 hour hike costs around $100 and depending on weather, you’re likely to not even see Kilimanjaro during your walk. And if it is a clear day, you see Kili from town anywhere there’s a break in the trees. $100 seems wildly expensive for a half-day hike, so we recommend instead spending $15 and go see an awesome waterfall.
Things To Do in Bagamoyo Tanzania
The coastal village of Bagamoyo is more of a pitstop to break up a long drive than it is a destination unto itself. There’s some history here as Bagamoyo was the original capital of German East Africa. There are some nice free/cheap things to do in Bagamoyo to kill a few hours. We recommend:
- Ruins: You don’t have to look far to find colonial ruins throughout town.
- Holy Ghost Church: Built in the late 1800’s this is reportedly the oldest church in East Africa, which seems out of place in this predominantly Islamic area. It’s free to visit and there’s a museum for just a few bucks.
- Beach: It may not be the nicest beach in the world, but still makes for a good walk or a quick dip.
- Sunrise: With a beach facing east, it was arguably one of the best sunrises we saw in Africa. Bagamoyo comes to life early in the morning. Fishermen prepare for the day as a symphony mosque prayer calls compete with church bells.
Things To Do in Zanzibar
Zanzibar Spice Tour
Description: During this tour a guide leads you around a local spice market before having a delicious lunch prepared at a local home that utilizes many of the spices and fresh fruit. This lunch was one of our favorite meals during the 56-day Oasis Overland Coast-to-Coast journey.
After lunch, it’s off to a spice farm. It’s not an actual spice farm used for the purpose of spices, and rather an example that has been set up by the government for tourists. So while it was somewhat inauthentic, it was still interesting to learn about and taste some of the fresh plants and spices cut fresh from this makeshift spice farm. After that you’re treated to tea and an assortment of fresh fruit, including the opportunity to try the super stinky durian fruit. The experience is all topped off with watching some dude climb to the top of a coconut tree while his friend is busy crafting hats for you out of palm fronds. It’s all quite touristy but is in good fun.
Value Rating: [usr=4.0]
Overall good value. Worth it for the lunch alone.
Physical Rating: [usr=1.5]
You’ll walk for about a kilometer total and stand intermittently.
Adrenaline Rating: [usr=1.5]
Nothing too exciting here aside from tasting some otherworldly fruits and spices.
Fun Rating: [usr=3.5]
It’s a touristy activity but it’s all in good fun. Don’t fight it and just wear your palm frond hat.
Overall Recommendation: [usr=3.5]
While the spice farm’s primary use is for tourists, not farming, it was still interesting to learn about Zanzibar’s spice trade and the different plants grown on the island. The local lunch is what made the trip worth it for us.
Zanzibar Sunset Cruise (Booze Cruise)
Description: Fun levels come to an apex during this sunset cruise into the warm blue Indian Ocean waters off the Northern coast of Zanzibar. The experience isn’t complete without a handful of random drummers who join you to provide an appropriate soundtrack to this boozy boat ride. It all begins with a few beers and some head-bobbing to the drum beat. But soon you’ll move on to the rum or Konyagi which will have you dancing to the drums as the sun begins to sink into the sea. Before that happens there’s a swimming stop that doubles as a chance to relieve yourself after all those drinks.
The entire booze cruise (err… sunset cruise) lasts just a few hours before you’re dropped back on the beach of Zanzibar all sauced up.
Value Rating: [usr=4.5]
The price includes the boat ride, the drummers, a few beers, and what amounts to as much rum or Konyagi as you can drink. So we thought this all provided for excellent value, particularly when considering cocktails back on land were about $4-$5.
Physical Rating: [usr=2.0]
You’ll want to be able to swim and tread water while under the influence of alcohol.
Adrenaline Rating: [usr=3.0]
You’ll have the opportunity to jump into the ocean from the very top of the boat, which is a thrill. Backflips are optional.
Fun Rating: [usr=5.0]
Overall Recommendation: [usr=5.0]
If you like to have a good time, you’ve got to take Zanzibar’s sunset cruise. I would possibly recommend it against non-drinkers, but we had someone in our group who didn’t drink and she still seemed to have a great time.
Other Things To Do in Zanzibar
- Diving & Snorkeling in Zanzibar (Nungwi): There are some great reefs in the waters around Zanzibar, so definitely consider taking a diving or snorkeling tour. The Mnemba Atoll is the most famed and recommend diving/snorkeling site, and a trip out there runs about $55 for snorkelers or $110 for two dives. There are other reefs closer to Zanzibar that can be slightly less expensive to visit. A perennially recommended dive shop in Nungwi is Spanish Dancer Divers.
- Chill Out on the Beach (Nungwi): The beaches of Zanzibar are a beautiful place to take a walk or just plop down in the sand and relax. This is probably the #1 activity on the island, even for the cows.
- Prison Island (Stone Town): This is a neat half-day excursion that brings you to an island that’s a 15-minute boat ride off the coast of Stone Town. There’s no prison here and rather a bunch of tortoises. Tours run about $30 per person for the trip and some stop at the secluded island paradise of Nakupenda Beach where you can also snorkel. But head down to the jetties and you should able to negotiate a lower rate with local boatsman.
- Sundowners at Africa House (Stone Town): This is almost a right-of-passage in Stone Town. Go have some sunset beers.
- Stone Town Tour: A few members of our Oasis Overland group took this $25 tour, which did not seem to be worth the value. A guide walks you around to Stone Town’s sights providing some commentary along the way. But the local lunch joint he takes you to and the museums all come at an additional cost and the guide doesn’t join you inside. So we recommend saving your $25 and exploring Stone Town without a guide. You can easily tour Stone Town’s sights on your own with a basic map or GPS. Check out places like the Old Fort, the Persian Baths, and the slavery monument. And we can personally highly recommend the delicious local Zanzibar cuisine at the Lukmaan (see their location and reviews on Tripadvisor here).
Mikumi National Park
Mikumi National Park happens to be on the way out of Tanzania towards Malawi. So you’ll get the opportunity to drive through the National Park in your overland truck. While the wildlife here may pale in comparison to some of Tanzania’s other national parks, you’ll get to experience Mikumi for free! This is a huge bonus considering the hefty price tags of safaris through Tanzania’s northern national parks. In Mikumi we spotted antelopes, giraffes, and elephants all within close range to the highway.
Tukuyu Tea Plantation Tour
Cost: $12,000 Tanzanian Shillings
Description: The hills in Southern Tanzania make for nice farming conditions to grow some green tea. You’ll notice the hills are covered with the crop. The Bongo Campsite we stayed at offered a quick and inexpensive tour of the surrounding tea farms while locals farmed them. Not much information or commentary was provided during the “tour.”
Value Rating: [usr=3.0]
Sure, the tour is only 12,000 shillings ($5), but you don’t really get much out of it so we wouldn’t say it offered great value.
Physical Rating: [usr=2.5]
You hike for a few kilometers that includes a few short steep sections.
Adrenaline Rating: [usr=1.5]
No big thrills here. Just a short hike.
Fun Rating: [usr=2.0]
It was interesting to see locals farming the tea crop, but I wouldn’t really call it “fun.”
Overall Recommendation: [usr=3.0]
If you want to spend $5 to stretch your legs and look at some tea fields, consider this. If you take a pass on this tour, you’re not missing much. On the otherhand, it’s only $5 bucks, so you don’t have much to loose. We say go for it, but just don’t expect much.
Roaming Around Tanzania with Oasis Overland
Overall we had a great time traveling across Tanzania with Oasis Overland. We definitely recommend Oasis as a great way to tour Tanzania on a budget. Their overland safaris that include Tanzania are great value and very cost-effective. For more information about what it’s like to travel with Oasis Overland, check out our 56-day Coast-to-Coast Trip Review From Nairobi to Cape Town or go directly to the Oasis Overland website.