South & East Africa
This is a spellbinding and hugely diverse destination offering everything from wine routes to safari excursions, from natural marvels to political sites, and from wild coasts to lush gardens.
Practically speaking, South Africa is in virtually the same time zone as the UK, which means there’s no jet lag. Its safari parks are plentiful, with many affordable spots for wildlife viewing.
South Africa’s biggest lure is its countrywide open spaces teeming with wildlife. The most famous of its safari parks, the Kruger National Park, situated in the east on the border with Mozambique, offers a good chance of seeing all of the Big Five (elephant, buffalo, rhino, lion, and leopard) and also has the benefit of being open to self-drive visitors. Other top spots are private reserves such as Phinda and Madikwe, plus animal rehabilitation centres where rhinos, elephants, and other animals are nursed back to health.
If you arrive for a safari via Johannesburg, we thoroughly recommend a guided tour of the city and its township Soweto. If you have the time, it’s even better to spend a couple of days here to experience everything it has to offer.
On the west coast, Cape Town is a must-visit city as well as a great starting point for trips both into the hinterland and along the coast. Highlights in the city include the unique conservation area and viewpoint of Table Mountain, accessed via a revolving cable car, Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, and the colourful Malay Quarter. We also recommend Cape Point’s Boulder's Beach with its famous penguins, and the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.
Between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, the much-loved Garden Route takes in ancient forests, remote artist communities, mountain hideaways, and beaches along a glorious stretch of coastline, and there’s a good chance of seeing dolphins and killer whales close to the shore.
Also radiating out from Cape Town are wine routes winding up river valleys into the Cape Winelands and the Stellenbosch region – trips made all the more enticing by the atmospheric Cape Dutch farmhouse accommodation and by the tempting vineyards offering delicious cheese and wine pairings.
When to visit
South Africa is a brilliant year-round destination with lots of fabulous festivities and events to immerse you in local life. When you decide to visit will be determined by what you want to do.
If you’re visiting mainly for a safari, then May to October is the best time – especially September. This is the coolest, driest period and the most comfortable, with mild summer days. The sparse, trampled vegetation makes it easier to see animals around waterholes and rivers. On the other hand, summer (November to April) is a good time for seeing predators in action.
As in Cape Town, most people head here in its summertime (December to March), when the warm temperatures, clear skies, and long days mean you can make the most of the many Blue Flag beaches and the sightseeing. However, if you’re coming for the whale watching, the peak season in this region is July–December, when southern right and humpback whales can be seen along the south coast, often with their calves.
- South Africa is a land of superlatives: it’s home to the largest land mammal (elephant), fastest land mammal (cheetah), tallest animal (giraffe), largest reptile (leatherback turtle), largest bird (ostrich), largest fish (whale shark) and largest antelope (eland).
- This country is home to nearly 10% of the world’s known bird, fish, and plant species, and about 6% of its mammal and reptile species – despite only accounting for about 1% of the Earth’s land surface.
- South Africa has nearly 9,000 privately owned game reserves, together with dozens of protected areas, including the iconic Kruger National Park.
- The country has no fewer than 11 official languages: Afrikaans, English, IsiNdebele, IsiXhosa, IsiZulu, Northern Sotho, Sesotho, Setswana, SiSwati, Tshivenda, and Xitsonga.
- There are more than 2,000 shipwrecks around South Africa’s coastline, most of them more than 500 years old. In the Cape Town area, an array of fascinating wreck dive sites includes Smitswinkel Bay (with five wrecks), the Maori, the Astor, the Katzu Maru, and the SAS Pietermaritzburg.
- South Africa is host to one of the most spectacular underwater events in the natural world, the ‘sardine run’ each June, with millions of sardines creating a feeding frenzy among sharks, dolphins, and birds as they swim up the east coast.
What to do
Experience the Panorama Route in South Africa, a 160km route through the province of Mpumalanga that forms one of world’s most scenic drives. Among its breathtaking sighs are Blyde River Canyon, the Three Rondavels, Bourke’s Luck Potholes, and Wonder View. This epic journey is a popular add-on to a Kruger safari.
Discover the mighty St Lucia Estuary within the vast protected area of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park on the coast of KwaZulu-Natal Province. One of Africa’s largest estuaries, it has substantial hippo, crocodile, pelican, and flamingo populations. Birdwatching, boat cruises, guided walks, and game drives are all great ways to appreciate it.
Follow in the great man’s footsteps along the Mandela Route from the Eastern Cape to Cape Town’s Robben Island. It begins in King William’s Town and also takes in the three locations of the Nelson Mandela Museum – Mthatha, Qunu, and Mvezo – and from there several sites in Johannesburg.
Visit the UNESCO-listed home to the world’s largest concentration of human ancestral remains, The Cradle of Humankind, located north-west of Johannesburg. The oldest evidence of a human presence there dates back at least 3 million years. Africa is the only continent with fossil evidence of Homo sapiens and their ancestors through all key stages of their evolution.
In Oudtshoorn in the Klein Karoo area of the Western Cape, join the world’s only tractor tour of an ostrich farm, learning about the natural breeding cycle of ostriches and seeing chicks in season. You can also visit the nearby 20-million-year-old Cango Caves and the Swartberg Nature Reserve.
What to eat
The local seafood, including kingklip, snoek, tuna, oysters, and mussels. Great venues range from Cape Town’s trendy, sustainably minded Galjoen with its harbour-like feel and set tasting menu that limits food waste, and Plettenberg’s Ristorante Enrico with its wooden tables, beach views, and live music.
Modern African food with global influences, including the seasonal menus at Cape Town’s ëlgr, where Swedish chef Jesper Nilsson combines his Nordic heritage with South African experiences.
Tasting menus such as the seven-course offering based on sustainable seafood, local lamb and venison, edible plants, wild herbs, rockpool seaweed, and its own garden produce, at award-winning Wolfgat in Paternoster. Many wine estates also offer great tasting menus, including Chorus on the Waterkloof Wine Estate in Somerset West, and the Creation Wine Estate & Restaurant in Overberg.
‘Burnt meat’ – traditional South African shisa nyama (barbecue) dishes at the likes of Sakhumzi in Soweto. Other places taking their meats very seriously in Johannesburg include Trumps Grillhouse & Butchery, and Marble with its coal-roasted dishes including ribeye or sirloin steak.
Breakfast (and other meals) in the bush at lodges such as Cheetah Plains in the Sabi Sand Nature Reserve. The property’s talented chef teams produce creative, bespoke meals to enjoy out on your swimming pool deck, in your boma area, or in the peace and tranquillity of the bushveld.
Offering an exceptional safari experience, Cheetah Plains Lodge in South Africa’s most celebrated wildlife area, the Sabi Sand Nature Reserve, is perfect for nature lovers of all ages. This can also be an exclusive-use venue.
Cheetah Plains offers a fully personalised experience based in gorgeous villas, delivered by a full hospitality team: a host, a butler, a culinary team, a spa therapist, an expert field guide, and a tracker team, all dedicated to your party for the whole of your stay.
The field guides and trackers are highly relatable and love sharing their bush lore with young, inquisitive minds as well as older visitors. You’ll find this the ultimate once-in-a-lifetime holiday for celebrating a special event together.
This private game reserve is set in the north-east corner of the Sabi Sand Reserve – a location that stands out for its prime game sightings, including the Big Five: lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino. There is also cheetah (of course!), zebra, giraffe, hyena, and an array of antelope species. A number of endangered species have also made the reserve their home, as well as honey badgers, ground hornbills, and African wild dogs.
With a fenceless border to the east with the iconic Kruger National Park, a border with the MalaMala Game Reserve, and two rivers running through it, Sabi Sand owes its prolific wildlife sightings to the natural movement of animals over this vast territory – which is fiercely protected by conservation regulations.
Cheetah Plains also has a unique approach to renewable energy in hospitality in the wild – another thing that truly makes it stand out from the crowd. As part of a reserve dedicated to wildlife conservation, the lodge is fully committed to sustainability and has partnered with leaders in renewable energy to provide clean solutions for both its villa and safari experiences. The accommodation operates fully off grid, harnessing only solar power, while the twice a day game drives take place in the lodge’s innovative Land Cruiser electric safari vehicles.
When to visit
The Sabi Sand Reserve is a year-round destination for the quality and reliability of the game viewing here, but there are two distinct seasons that may influence your choice, depending on your expectations and interests.
Winter (May to October) is the coolest, driest period (especially May–July), making it the most comfortable time of the year for a safari. Days are mild and sunny, but early-morning temperatures can drop below freezing in the middle of winter. Late winter (September and October) can be very warm with a bit of rainfall. Winter is generally regarded as the best time of year for game viewing because of the thin, flattened vegetation, making animals easier to see around waterholes and rivers.
Heavier rain beginning in November kicks off the summer season, peaking in January then falling off in March. This is a hotter time of year, too, with an average of 30°C but there is a possibility of 40°C and higher during mid-summer. The lush, flowering landscape with its densely flowing rivers provides a totally different wildlife experience, with lots of birds and newborn animals.
Cheetah Plains’ peak season pricing applies to the school holiday months of June, July, and August, and Christmas and New Year.
- Officially the Sabi Sand Wildtuin, named for the Sabie River on its southern boundary and the Sand River that flows through it, Sabi Sand is a group of private game reserves and shares a 50km boundary with the Kruger National Park.
- The reserve has all the same animal species as the Kruger National Park – 500 bird, 145 animal, 110 reptile, and 45 fish species, together with thousands of different plant varieties.
- As well as the Big Five, the Sabi Sand Nature Reserve is roamed by cheetah, hippo, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, hyena, and Cape wild dog. The largest wild canines in Africa, the latter were revered by the San people, prehistoric Egyptians, and other hunter-gatherer societies.
- The reserve’s Sabi Sand Community-based Natural Resource Management Programme created 375 local jobs in its the first three years and cleared 13,000 hectares of community land.
- The reserve provides support to 12 rural surrounding villages, all of which have a very youthful demographic. To date, the Sabi Sand Pfunanani Trust has trained and mentored more than 100 young locals.
- Sabi Sand is home to the southern ground hornbill, one of South Africa’s most iconic and culturally significant bird species, but also one of its most endangered. The reserve’s conservation work includes monitoring sightings, group size, nesting behaviour, and breeding success.
What to do
Enjoy Cheetah Plain’s twice-daily game drives, which take place at the best time of day to explore the bush – in the early morning and in the late afternoon. Led by expert safari guide and tracker teams, they’re taken in electric safari vehicles in an advance toward zero-emission game viewing.
For the most immersive safari experience, take part in the guided walks exploring certain parts of the Sabi Sand Nature Reserve, accompanied by the lodge’s certified and experienced guides. Outings are customised to guest numbers, fitness levels, ages, and the weather.
Maximise your safari time by flying to the Arathusa Airstrip in the bushveld, situated within the reserve and only a 20-minute drive from the lodge, whose guides welcome you straight off your flight. You can also drive from Johannesburg, either by rental car or with a private driver-guide, but this takes at least seven hours.
Go bird watching with a guide; Sabi Sands has 250 resident species. The best season is summer, when the rains also bring hundreds of migratory species, including brightly coloured rollers and bee-eaters, storks, and eagles. Rainstorms also often trigger termite swarms that attract vast numbers of raptors.
Indulge in some pampering in your suite, with therapies and beauty treatments, using Africology products to harness the healing, restorative properties of hand-packed African botanicals to calm, restore or invigorate, according to your mood. There’s also a state-of-the-art gym.
What to eat
The lodge’s accomplished chef teams produce innovative, soulful meals that are an integral part of the safari, to enjoy out on your swimming pool deck, in your boma area, or in your dining room as the mood takes you. You could even eat in the wide-open peace and tranquillity of the bushveld (one of one of the most popular experiences at Cheetah Plains).
Meals are all accompanied by vintages from your custom-designed private temperature-controlled wine gallery. It features a purely South African selection that was curated to reflect Cheetah Plains owner Japie van Niekerk’s favourite estates and varietals. It also stocks top-shelf whiskeys and spirits.
You can enjoy private wine, whiskey, or gin tastings and pairings in the comfort of your villa wine cellar, out in the indigenous gardens, at the formal dining room bar counter, or again, in the bushveld – all hosted by the lodge’s knowledgeable sommelier.
This fascinating port city is a must for anyone planning a visit to South Africa. Among its most popular attractions are riding the rotating cable car up Table Mountain, touring the living museum of Robben Island, and discovering Boulders Beach with its African penguins.
But there’s more to Cape Town than this, including many walking and hiking paths and trails to explore, some of them on the adventurous side. Our top recommendation is the hike up Platteklip Gorge to the ‘table top’ of Table Mountain, then have lunch while admiring the impressive scenery before taking the cableway down.
A fun way of getting around Cape Town is by bike. We love the promenade leading from the V&A Waterfront through to Camps Bay. Kayaking trips out into the bay are also very exciting, run by an array of companies along the Atlantic Seaboard, close to the V&A; you might spot dolphins and whales as you paddle.
Cape Town is perfect for day trips. One of our favourites is the small town of Elgin, about 70km (an hour’s drive) away; the road there through the Hottentots Holland Mountain is spectacular. Better still is getting there by steam train from the Foreshore in Cape Town, which gives you a few hours shopping and snacking at Elgin’s vintage steampunk railway market.
Cape Town is also a great starting point for trips into the hinterland or along the coast, including the much-loved Garden Route with its ancient forests, remote artist communities, mountain hideaways, beaches, and dolphin and killer whale sightings. Also radiating out from Cape Town are wine routes winding up river valleys into the Cape Winelands and the Stellenbosch region.
When to visit
The classic time to visit Cape Town is during its summertime, which is December to March, when you’ll enjoy warm temperatures, clear skies, and long days – perfect for a dose of winter sun. Temperatures of 22–33°C mean you can enjoy both the beaches and the sightseeing.
On the other hand, if you’re coming for the whale watching, the peak season in Cape Town is from July to December. This is the time when southern right and humpback whales can be seen along the south coast from Cape Town to Mossel Bay – frequently with their calves, as they use South African waters for rearing their young. Visit between August and November, and you’re almost guaranteed to see southern right whales here.
Otherwise, Cape town is a lively city with festivals and other events right across the year that will truly immerse you in local life. One of the biggest music festivals in South Africa is Rocking the Daisies each November, featuring local and global artists from different musical genres, as well as art installations and food and drink stalls.
- Cape Town is South Africa's oldest city, having grown from a settlement that developed slowly during the Dutch period after the United East India Company’s arrival here in 1652.
- On the other hand, it’s one of the world’s youngest cities in terms of its inhabitants, with an average age of just 29 years (compared to 36 in London) and 60% of its population are under the age of 25.
- This was the first city outside Europe to have some of its beaches awarded Blue Flag status for their water quality and cleanliness. Cape Town currently has eight Blue Flag beaches to choose from.
- In Dutch, ’Robben’ means ‘seal’, and as well as its association with Nelson Mandela, Robben Island is an important site for wildlife – both for seals and African penguins.
- Table Mountain was known by the indigenous Khoisan people as ’Hoerikwaggo’, which means ‘mountain in the sea’. Prior to the Ice Age, it was a small island cut off from the mainland by higher sea levels.
- Table Mountain is home to more than 2,200 plant species, many of them found nowhere else in the world because they evolved when it was still an island.
What to do
Time your visit to see the 3,000-strong African penguin colony at Boulders Beach for early mornings and early evenings, when they are at their most active. Remember to take your swimming gear, as you can have a dip in the sea before investigating the rock pools and climbing the impressive boulders.
Spend the day on Blue Flag awarded Muizenberg Beach, which is very family friendly. Its brightly painted Victorian bathing boxes, warm weather, and small regular waves make it ideal for those learning to surf. There are also lots of tempting beachfront cafés and pubs for watching the world go by.
Explore the vast, ten-district V&A Waterfront with its fantastic shopping, including The Watershed makers’ market, a vast array of restaurants, artisan food emporium Markers Landing, aquarium, fascinating Zeitz MOCAA (Museum of Contemporary Art Africa) and departure points for yacht cruises and boat trips.
Hop aboard a ferry to Robben Island and join a tour including a walk through the old prison (where you’ll get to see Mandela’s tiny cell) and a bus ride around the whole island, with commentary on sights such as a church dating from the island’s time as a leper colony.
Between June and November, go whale watching in False Bay with its southern right, humpback, and Bryde's whales, as well as frequent sightings of common, bottlenose, dusky, and humpback dolphins, and, occasionally, killer whales.
What to eat
The seasonal menus with uncomplicated flavours on offer at ëlgr, a Kloof Street venue presided over by Swedish chef Jesper Nilsson. He combines inspiration from his Nordic heritage with his culinary experiences in South Africa in dishes such as raw beef with sour cream and nasturtium.
The innovative modern global dining scene in Cape Town includes the likes of grilled ostrich with wholegrain mustard and sweet potato mash in Kloof Street House. This beautiful Victorian house with its original features and fairy-lit garden is especially popular for its Sunday lunches accompanied by live jazz.
The sustainably fished seafood in Galjoen, a fashionable new restaurant in a semi-industrial space makes you feel like you’re sitting in a harbour. The team is very committed to limiting food waste and the set tasting menu is one way of achieving this.
The silky, freshly made, authentic Japanese noodles at Ramenhead are not to be missed. As well as ramen bars, Cape Town has a fantastic choice of izakayas, sushi bars, and kaiseki venues.
Try the meals of ten or more regional Indian dishes served at Thali. Served over three courses, they begin with milder flavours and work towards hotter curries. Curries and authentic Indian cuisine are a popular part of Cape Town's eclectic culinary scene.
Known by locals as ‘Jozi’, this thriving city – the gateway to South Africa’s top safari destinations, including the Kruger National Park – is often overlooked by visitors as a destination in its own right.
The most famous, and unmissable, is the evocative Apartheid Museum, where you can delve into the story of the laws that divided South Africa’s population for most of the 20th century.
Another must-see historic site is Nelson Mandela’s house in Soweto – the place where he lived with his family from 1946 until his imprisonment on Robben Island in Cape Town. After your tour, make time to soak in the sights and sounds of the township’s lively Vilakazi Street. There’s also Mahatma Gandhi’s one-time home, Satyagraha House, in the leafy suburb of Orchard – now both a museum and guest house.
Art lovers will appreciate the Keyes Art Mile in Rosebank, with many of Johannesburg’s best galleries. Everard Read and CIRCA are both great places to discover work by local artists, and it’s also worth checking out the Goodman Gallery, which showcases local and global contemporary artworks conceived to inspire social change.
Johannesburg is also on hand for something very unique – the Gold Reef City Casino & Theme Park is a 20-minute drive from the city and is centred around the city’s Gold Rush mining history and includes an authentic underground mine tour along with thrill and family rides.
Also within easy reach of the city are the Lion & Safari Park, a 1000-hectare wilderness reserve that’s a good opportunity to see African animals if you’re not doing a game drive, and the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO-listed paleoanthropological site with the world’s biggest concentration of human ancestral remains. Its visitor centre showcasing fossils and stone tools offers tours of the Sterkfontein Caves, where ‘Mrs Ples’, a 2.3-million-year-old fossil of a human skeleton, was discovered.
When to visit
March–May and September–November are fantastic times to visit Johannesburg – it’s winter, but the weather is relatively dry and warm in the daytime, and there are fewer people and lower prices. Mornings and evenings are cold, though so pick May or September if that’s an issue. If you’re here mainly for a safari then May to October is the best time to visit.
Johannesburg also has a packed programme of festivals and events throughout the year that will get you under the skin of this city and its art, culture, food, entertainment, and sports. They include FNB Art Joburg each September, where you can unearth some of the major talents in contemporary African art, and the Jozi Kota Festival, also in September, celebrating the region’s iconic street food.
For music lovers, there’s the SA Open Air Rock Fest in September and the Johannesburg outing of the Rocking the Daisies festival that it co-hosts with Cape Town. Johannesburg Pride also takes place in October, at the Wanderers Stadium. Each March also sees local and global acts at the Johannesburg International Comedy Festival.
- This is South Africa's largest city but also one of the world’s youngest major cities, founded in 1886. It was also rebuilt four times in a century, beginning as a tented camp and becoming a town of tin shanties, then of four-storey Edwardian brick buildings, before finally turning into a modern high-rise cityscape.
- The city has more than 10 million trees, which has led to some people describing it as the world’s biggest man-made forest. These considerably reduce carbon emissions and improve the quality of life for its residents.
- The city’s nickname ‘Egoli’ or 'place of gold’ comes from the fact that 40% of the world's gold has been found in the Witwatersrand, the reef that Johannesburg was built on.
- The Johannesburg region is home to almost half the world's human ancestor fossils. The 47,000-hectare Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa, with their complex system of limestone caves, include the Rising Star system where 12 fossil skeletons of an extinct species of hominin were found.
- Because Johannesburg sits 2000 metres above sea level and has thinner air than at the coast, it takes an extra minute to boil eggs here than in lower altitude cities.
What to do
Take a guided tour of the Soweto township with its tumultuous history, with stop-offs including the Hector Pieterson Museum commemorating the fatal march of high-school students, the Day of the Uprising artwork, Nelson Mandela’s house, and the Kliptown Museum paying tribute to the South Africans who formed part of the Congress of the People in 1955.
Catch a show at Johannesburg’s Market Theatre, which was pivotal in the development of ‘struggle theatre’ against the apartheid regime and which still has the mission to deliver an authentic South African cultural experience through its groundbreaking productions on themes such as racial and social politics.
Visit ‘Soccer City’, the FNB Stadium, Africa’s largest football stadium and the fourth largest in the entire world. Tours of this state-of-the art construction take in areas otherwise not accessible to the general public, including the players’ tunnel, changing rooms, warm-up areas, and VIP zones.
If you only have limited time for a safari, head about an hour north of Johannesburg to the Dinokeng Game Reserve, the closest game reserve and home to the Big Five. It’s a rare place where you can watch conservation management interventions in action, including collaring and the capturing of big cats to exchange with other parks to avoid inbreeding.
Alternatively, head out on a full-day safari from Johannesburg to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve, with more than 7000 free-roaming animals – the Big Five included. This gorgeous reserve is situated in an ancient volcanic crater, which gives it a wide array of different terrains.
What to eat
Traditional South African shisa nyama fare – ‘burnt meat’ in Zulu – at the family-run barbecue specialist Sakhumzi on Vilakazi Street in Soweto. Platters and baskets feature the likes of flame-grilled chicken strips, spicy beef samosas, deep-fried jalapenos, stuffed cheese rissoles, and cocktail cheese grillers.
Authentic Ethiopian cuisine at Little Addis Café in the vibrant Maboneng Precinct, including their famed meat and veggie combo injera (fermented flatbread) platters. The chef’s delicious, authentic dishes were taught to him by his mother when he was growing up in Ethiopia.
Meats including South African wagyu beef, served with signature butters and sauces at the institution that is Trumps Grillhouse & Butchery on Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton.
Coal-roasted dishes including salmon and ribeye or sirloin steak, followed by outstanding desserts such as ice-cream sandwiches or bellini trifle, at Marble in Rosebank. The restaurant’s beautifully crafted interiors were created in collaboration with ceramicists and other local artists and artisans.
This lively and welcoming seaside town in the Western Cape province is a great place to hang out and relax, especially if you want to enjoy the ocean – Central Beach and Lookout Beach both have surf breaks and are great for swimmers.
It’s also part of the Garden Route, one of the world’s most iconic road trip routes, taking you to fabulous beaches, sparkling lagoons, and lush indigenous forest. Hugging the coast, the highway takes you for 200 spectacular kilometres through the Western Cape between Mossel Bay and Storms River. The entire route can be done in four days, but two weeks is the best way if you want to appreciate all the region’s charms and its hidden nooks and crannies.
About two thirds into the route as you travel east, Plettenberg Bay offers more than breathtaking beaches and sandy coves backed by sheer cliffs. There’s fabulous whale and dolphin watching, while in the south, the gorgeous rocky peninsula of the Robberg Nature Reserve, a World Heritage Site, has Cape fur seal colonies and lots of lovely picnic spots.
This is an excellent place for hiking, with several circuits to choose from, some gentle and some challenging – we particularly rate the 9km Point Circuit Trail that allows you to see fantastic rock pools and abundant marine and bird life. There are several seal viewing points, a lighthouse, and the Stone Age archaeological site of Nelson Bay Cave.
Another wonderful spot and World Heritage Site is the much smaller Keurbooms River Nature Reserve, named after the Western keurboom tree, but which is also home to Cape Beech, giant stinkwoods, and Outeniqua yellowwoods. It can be explored by walking, boat trips, or canoe, and there’s great birdlife to spot, as well as vervet monkeys, blue duikers, grysbok, mongoose, and sometimes leopards.
Other must-sees are the world’s largest free-flight aviary, Birds of Eden, providing sanctuary to more than 3,000 exotic birds rescued from captivity, and Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary, which helps rehabilitate wild monkeys from zoos or private homes, with a walking safari through a dense forest and along a rope bridge.
When to visit
November to May is warm (getting up to the mid-30s from December to February) but it does have some rainfall. The winter months of June to August are milder (around 18-23°C) and drier. Spring (September–November) is also lovely, but some rainfall is likely.
You can do most activities here at any time of year, including whale watching – but precisely which marine life you can see is partly seasonal. June-November is the time to spot southern right whales migrating from the Antarctic to the south coast of South Africa. In early November, migrating humpback whales arrive with their calves and remain here until February (sometimes you can spot them in May and June).
Year-round, it’s common to see pods of bottlenose dolphins playing in the bay, alongside Cape fur seals, Bryde’s whales, orca, and humpback dolphin.
In terms of events in Plettenberg Bay, the Plett Ocean Festival from late June to early July is focused on a marine science symposium but also features ten days of outdoor activities and excursions on the shoreline and in the ocean. There’s also an arts festival from late September to early October.
- The symbol of Plettenberg Bay is the delicate flower-shaped pansy shell, which is native to this region. Hunting for these shells on the region’s beaches is a popular pastime among both locals and visitors.
- Plettenberg Bay was known as Bahia Formosa (‘beautiful bay’) by early Portuguese explorers who charted it in the 15th and 16th centuries. Its first inhabitants from Europe were 100 Portuguese sailors who were marooned here after their ship sank in 1630.
- Inhabited by Middle Stone Age people for more than 100,000 years, then by ancestors of the Khoisan, Nelson Bay Cave on Robberg and the Matjies River Cave at Keurboomstrand, these are still being excavated, and you can view the tools, ornaments, and food debris found here.
- The Knysna or Cape seahorse is South Africa's only endemic seahorse, living only in the estuaries of the Keurbooms, Knysna, and Swartvlei rivers. It is only about 12cm long and one of only two endangered seahorse species in the world.
- Beachyhead Drive carries the nickname ‘Millionaire’s Drive’ for its luxury homes, but along it you’ll find lots of little footpaths that take you down to deserted sections of beach.
- Plettenberg Bay is often used as a base to start the Otter Trail along the Garden Route coast, named after the Cape clawless otter. Widely regarded as one of the world’s best hiking trails, it takes five days to complete.
What to do
Visit the boutique Bramon Wine Estate. Established in 2000, it produces award-winning non-traditional and traditional Méthode Cap Classique bubblies and still wines. Its tasting room includes cheeseboards with its wine samplings, and it also offers family picnics on its grounds.
Although whales, seals, and dolphins can also be seen from the shoreline (some whales are up to 14 metres long), you’ll get better views from a boat. The best whale safari and tour companies hold specialist permits that allow them to carefully approach whales to a distance of 50 metres.
Go birdwatching on the Robberg Nature Reserve, with a guide or independently. A total of 124 bird species have been recorded here, including northern giant petrel and Cape and white-breasted cormorants.
Spend a day on one of Plettenberg’s beaches with their soft white sands, framed by the mountains. They’re great for swimming, for whale and dolphin watching, and for leisurely meals at beachside restaurants and cafés.
Visit the Lawnwood Snake Sanctuary in the indigenous forest surrounding Plettenberg Bay, populated by snakes and mammals that have been rescued from the wild or captivity. It’s a great place to learn about common snake species and the myths surrounding them.
What to eat
Local seafood and other Italian fare can be found within metres of the waves at Ristorante Enrico, including butterflied prawns, kingklip, calamari, fresh linefish mussels, and east coast sole. Expect long wooden tables for larger groups, lots of shade from beneath which to enjoy the beach views, and live music.
Enjoy the Sunrise Breakfasts and other morning dishes at The Lookout, perched on the rocks. Its spacious decking has prime views over the sands of Lookout Beach and the bay. Also, the oysters, mussel pots, pints o’ prawns, family snack platters, and signature cocktails are delicious.
Try the local produce at the Wednesday Market at Old Nick Village, where traders sell naturally grown fruit and vegetables, ethically farmed meat and dairy products, homemade foods, and handmade eco-friendly products. Old Nick is a rambling 19th-century Cape farm complex in indigenous gardens, with artisan shops, musical afternoons, and exhibitions.
Don’t miss the locavore food based on ingredients from regional producers, some of it with an authentic Lebanese twist, at Off the Hook. The place started off as a little seafood café and is still popular for its fish dishes as well as its Mediterranean-style tapas.
For modern African and Asian food, visit Emily’s Restaurant at the Emily Moon River Lodge, with its antique tables and collectors’ items, poolside lunches, and candlelight dining. Popular dishes include the likes of Karoo lamb rack and butter chicken samosas, based on produce from Emily’s own garden or from local organic farmers.
This is the ultimate safari destination, with the world’s biggest variety and concentration of large mammals as well as around 1,500 bird species and thousands of insects and reptiles. But the wildlife is only part of the story. East Africa’s landscapes are just as magnificent, ranging from snow-capped volcanic peaks looming over vast plains to superb Indian Ocean beaches. And the history and culture are amazing too.
Our favourite parts of East Africa include Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda, each with its own identity and very different offerings. The first two provide the world’s best safaris, in the Maasai Mara and the Serengeti National Park respectively, and that is what the vast majority of visitors come for. Each offers sightings of Africa’s Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, and rhino) as well as being home to the awe-inspiring natural spectacle of the Great Migration of wildebeest.
But there’s plenty more besides. In Kenya, for instance, you can discover the culture of the capital as well as its not-for-profit Giraffe Centre, saving Rothschild giraffes, while Nairobi National Park has wild-roaming black rhino, giraffe, lion, and leopard, and Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage.
Among Kenya’s 26 national parks and game reserves, others worth considering are Hell's Gate National Park and Meru National Park (where 'Born Free' lioness cub Elsa was raised). Meanwhile, the country’s vast coastline includes the fantastic beach resorts of Mombasa, Malindi, and Watamu Bay.
Tanzania, meanwhile, has the Ngorongoro Crater, a natural amphitheatre for watching wildlife including black rhinos, bull elephants, and big cats. In Tarangire National Park you can expect both spectacular game viewing (zebra, buffalo, eland, kudu, lion, leopards, hyena, and more) and bush walks with Masai guides, Masai village visits, and community enterprise tours
There’s also Lake Manyara National Park with its pink flamingos and hiking trails through the jungle of the Kilimanjaro National Park. And when you’ve happily exhausted yourselves exploring some of these, you can retreat to the pristine white sands of the archipelago of Zanzibar for a post-safari beach break.
And last but not least, Rwanda is a unique destination for its trekking to see wild gorillas in Volcanoes National Park – a transformative, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
When to visit
Most people come to East Africa in the long dry season (June to October), for the best game viewing and easiest travel. But these are also year-round destinations.
For instance, you might come to Kenya in the short dry season (January and February) for some winter sun: wildlife viewing, and travel are still good. Or you might visit during the long rainy season (March to May) to see the first interactions between mothers and new babies and, if you’re lucky, some new-born animals’ first steps.
Similarly, if you visit the Serengeti in Tanzania between the short dry season and the wet season long rains, you might catch the calving season of the migrating herds, while March and April are great for birdwatchers.
Rwanda’s mountain gorillas can also be visited year-round, but hiking conditions are at their best during the long dry season (June to September) and the short dry season (mid-December to early-February). September is a particularly special time because of the annual Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony which features music and dancing, conservation talks, and guided tours.
- Hundreds of languages are spoken in East Africa, including English everywhere but in the most remote areas. The common language of Tanzania and Kenya is Swahili, a Bantu language that spread inland from the coast along 19th-century caravan routes. Rwanda’s national language is Kinyarwanda.
- Kenya’s national animal is the lion, which was chosen in 1965 to symbolise strength and courage. Today there remains about 2,500 lions in Kenya, including 850–900 in the Maasai Mara National Reserve and surrounding conservancies.
- Wildebeest are also called gnus and can weigh up to 270kg. Members of the antelope family, they are related to oryxes and gazelles and can run at a top speed of about 64km/h.
- East Africa is also the bird capital of the world, with nearly 1,450 species recorded in the region as a whole. Kenya alone has an incredible 1,158 bird species, while Tanzania trails just behind with 1,126.
- Tanzania is the only country with access to all three of Africa’s great lakes –Victoria, Tanganyika, and Malawi – as well as being home to the highest peak in Africa, Kilimanjaro.
- Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda are all linked by the Great Rift Valley, which actually begins in Lebanon in the Middle East and runs as far as Mozambique in the south – a distance of around 6400km.
What to do
Learn about Kenyan tribal life with a visit to a traditional Maasai village, where you can witness customs and practices that still form part of this nomadic tribe’s everyday life. You’ll meet Morans – men aged 14–30 who train as warriors to protect their communities.
As well as Kenyan game drives, consider camel safaris, guided bush walks, horse riding, or e-biking, and don’t miss the chance to talk to rangers – the Loisaba private conservancy in Laikipia is highly recommended.
Aside exploring the Serengeti, in Tanzania you can go horse riding or mountain biking along the winding trails of the Ngorongoro Highlands. You can also take a tour of a working coffee farm to learn about the production of the nation's biggest export and to taste different brews.
Take an Indian Ocean beach break in either Kenya or Tanzania – the latter’s Zanzibar archipelago offers snorkelling, diving, paddleboarding, and kayaking – as well as cultural tours of the capital Stone Town.
In Rwanda, spend about two to three days in Volcanoes National Park. Aside from an epic gorilla trek, there are other things to do, including seeing monkeys and birds, canoeing, and mountain biking.
What to eat
Classic Kenyan street food including the national dish, uyama choma (‘grilled meat’), slow cooked over hot coals, and the popular Kikuyu snack mutura, a kind of sausage also grilled over hot coals, can be found at street stalls all over the country.
Modern African dining featuring high-end produce including South African wagyu, which is renowned for its high levels of marbling, tenderness, and umami flavour – found at top venues such as Talisman in Nairobi, one of Kenya’s best restaurants.
On safari in Tanzania, try top-notch global cuisine, often with Indian or Arabic influences and served on huge, shared platters. Lodges here have excellent chefs who work to make the best of local produce such as rice, beans, plantains, coconuts, and maize, and also Zanzibar spices.
’Zanzibar pizza’ at the Forodhani Night Market in Zanzibar’s Stone Town is a great place for street food stalls. Resembling murtabak, these ‘pizzas’ are covered or filled with spiced meat, cheese, and vegetables.
In Rwanda, feast on local fish including tilapia from lakes including Nyarakigugu in the Volcanoes National Park, as well as local dishes such as umufa soup and agatogo
Most people head to Kenya to go on safari – especially in the iconic Maasai Mara, which has one of the highest wildlife densities in the world and some of the planet’s fastest and fiercest animals. As well as game drives, you can experience a hot air balloon safari that culminates in an indulgent champagne bush breakfast.
The Maasai Mara is a vast plain that stretches through the Great Rift Valley towards Tanzania and is located 225km south of Nairobi. It offers the chance to spot Africa's Big Five: lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, and rhino. Additionally, it is home to Kenya's top tourist attraction - the Great Migration. During this event, hundreds of thousands of wildebeest surge through the muddy River Talek.
But there are a total of 26 national parks and game reserves here to choose from, so you might also consider Hell's Gate National Park north-west of Nairobi (great for birdlife including buzzards, vultures, and rare Lammergeyer eagles) and the lesser-visited Meru National Park, which was home to the 'Born Free' lioness cub Elsa.
There’s even the Nairobi National Park, located just 10km south of the city centre but teeming with wild-roaming black rhinos, giraffes, lions, and leopards against the incongruous backdrop of the city. Don’t miss a visit to its Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, which hand-rears orphans to release back into the wild.
You can also see animals close up at Nairobi’s not-for-profit Giraffe Centre, set up to save Rothschild giraffes from near extinction. You can even see herds of giraffes as you come into land in Nairobi, along with enjoying views (on a clear day) of Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro (in Tanzania).
Nairobi itself is worth a couple of days of your time for its lively arts scene, café culture, and nightlife. After the early rises of a week on safari, you may also like to finish your holiday with some time on Kenya’s glorious coast with it excellent snorkelling and diving – we recommend the beach resorts of Mombasa, Malindi, and Watamu Bay.
When to visit
The Great Migration, when nearly two million wildebeest, zebra, and Thomson's gazelle head from the bare Serengeti to the lush green Maasai Mara, takes place from late July to October, making this the most popular time for safaris in Kenya - especially as the beginning of it also corresponds with the main summer school holidays in Europe.
This is also one of the dry seasons: the rainy seasons are March-May (long rains) and November and December (short rains). The coast tends to have the same weather as the inland regions.
Alternatively, you might choose to come to Kenya in the short, humid, dry season of January and February, for some winter sun. The wildlife viewing and ground travel are both easy because of the sparse vegetation, but there are lower visitor levels and prices so it can be a bit cheaper.
That said, visiting during the long rainy season also has its own magic (as well as lower prices), as this is the calving season of antelopes and other mammals, so you might even witness births, the first mother and baby interactions, and a newborn animal’s very first steps.
- Kenya has two official languages, Swahili and English, but a total of 62 languages are spoken across the country, including the Bantu and Nilotic languages.
- The Great Rift Valley, a 6,400km tear in the Earth's crust due to geological tension, was formed more than 25 million years ago. Its most famous spot in Kenya is Lake Turkana – the world's largest permanent desert lake and largest alkaline lake.
- In 2004, Kenya’s Wangari Muta Maathai became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, for her work in sustainable development, democracy, and peace. Her Green Belt Movement has resulted in the planting of more than 51 million trees in the country.
- Kenya is also famous for its long-distance runners, including Eliud Kipchoge, who won the 2016 and 2020 Olympic marathon and has run five of the nine fastest marathons in history.
- A colony of the United Kingdom from 1920 until 1963, Kenya is now a republic with a president, a national assembly (the Bunge), and a judiciary. When parliament is in session, visitors can get a free permit for the public gallery at Parliament House to see it in action.
What to do
Explore Kenya's wild north on a camel safari of the Laikipia Plateau at the foot of Mount Kenya, taking you into backcountry that even Land Rovers can’t access. You’ll go through landscapes ranging from high-montane forest to luggas (broad sand rivers), camping as you move or staying in private bush houses.
Also, in Laikipia, visit the Loisaba private conservancy with its Mount Kenya views and sightings of rare species. You’ll get the chance to step away from a safari vehicle to discover the bush on guided walks, on horseback, or on a mountain or e-bike, and to talk to rangers at the conservancy headquarters.
Visit a traditional Maasai village to learn all about Kenyan tribal life. This nomadic warrior tribe that once occupied huge swathes of pre-colonial Kenya have been largely untouched by modern civilisation and retains many of its customs and practices, which you might see in action.
Head to the coast and to Malindi’s marine nature reserve with its fantastic snorkelling and scuba diving, including diving in the challenging Vuma Caves with their Napoleon wrasse, rock cod, soldier fish, yellow striped snapper, and potato bass.
From Lamu Island, take a relaxing trip out to the Indian Ocean aboard a traditional dhow. Vessels follow the great trade routes that brought goods from distant places, and you’ll stop off at Lamu Archipelago islands to check out the deserted beaches, isolated villages, and historic ruins.
What to eat
Modern African cuisine fused with European and Pan-Asian influences, for instance, at Nairobi’s Talisman - widely considered one of Kenya’s best restaurants and including a menu of South African wagyu.
Kenya’s unofficial national dish uyama choma (‘grilled meat’ in Swahili), slow cooked over hot coals and often served with rice, chapati, and kachumbari relish – available in restaurants and from countless street food vendors in the likes of Nairobi’s Green Spot Gardens.
The popular snack mutura that originated from the Kikuyu tribe, resembling black pudding or Spanish morcilla, rolled into a sausage shape, grilled over hot coals, and best enjoyed with a cold beer.
Kenyan’s take on a chicken curry, kuku paka, which is especially popular along the east coast where the influence from India is strongest – you’ll find it on many menus in the coastal towns of Lamu and Mombasa (one of the best places to eat in the latter is Minazi Café).
Mushkaki – Kenya goat kebabs made from marinated meat cooked over coal, best accompanied by garlic chips made from Kenyan potatoes as they are at the charming family-run Nargis in Nariboos (also known for its lamb chops and its tikkas ranging from fish to paneer).
Seeing gorillas can be a life-changing experience. Spread across much of the equatorial African rainforest, these largest living primates divide roughly into lowland gorillas and mountain gorillas - and the volcanic Virunga Massif mountain range stretching across Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo harbours endangered mountain gorillas that can be tracked safely and in a fairly accessible way.
Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park has 12 fully habituated gorilla families (Susa, Igisha, Karisimbi, Sabyinyo, Amahoro, Agashya, Kwitonda, Umubano, Hirwa, Bwenge, Ugyenda, and Muhoza), each consisting of at least one silverback with several females and youngsters. Tending to stick to one chosen area, they are constantly monitored and protected by park rangers.
Led by expert trackers and guides, small groups of tourists are taken up bamboo-covered slopes to spend one hour watching the gorillas go about their daily lives. Encounters are as intimate and unobtrusive as possible, with just eight tracking permits issued per troop per day.
The day starts at the National Park headquarters in Kinigi early in the morning, where you’ll be allocated a family group and briefed on protocols and rules. Which family you visit will be decided by your fitness levels: hikes take anything from 30 minutes to six hours, with altitude varying between 2,500m and 4,000m (there are porters to help with backpacks and camera equipment). You can also choose to pay homage at the tomb of Dian Fossey which is a 30-minute drive from the park headquarters followed by a two- or three-hour hike through the forest, at 3,000m.
As well as the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, conservation organisations currently working in Rwanda include The Gorilla Organisation, International Gorilla Conservation Organisation, Gorilla Doctors, and Wildlife Conservation Society. A full 10% of the revenue generated by gorilla permits goes towards local communities, for schools, health centres, and roads, and a compensation fund also covers local farmers for any damage to their crops by gorillas. Gorilla tracking is a fantastic source of employment for many Rwandans, including rangers, trackers, porters, drivers, and lodge staff.
When to go
It’s possible to trek to see the mountain gorillas all year round, but the best times are during the long dry season from June to September or the short dry season from mid-December to early-February when hiking conditions are best.
You can expect daytime temperatures of about 20°C at this altitude, humidity, and possibly mist or rain. Trekkers are advised to wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers and gardening gloves so they can grab plants and branches for support. It’s very important to book well in advance, as there are only 96 permits available each day for the entire country.
Each September, the Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony is a particularly lovely time to come and see the gorillas. The ceremony itself features music and dancing, as well as talks about the great progress Rwanda has made in gorilla conservation, and also the challenges that remain. There are guided tours prior to the ceremony when you can meet National Park staff and conservationists and take part in cultural events.
- Rwanda is one of the smallest countries in Africa, and its mountainous terrain has led to it being nicknamed ‘the land of a thousand hills’. Its highest peak is Karisimbi, at 4507 metres.
- Of the approximately 1,000 mountain gorillas living in the wild, around 600 are in the Virunga Massif. And this number is gradually growing due to the combined efforts of governments, local communities, and NGOs.
- Covering 160km² of rainforest, the Volcanoes National Park includes five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains: Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga, and Sabyinyo.
- Volcanoes National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, as well as mountain gorillas, it provides a sanctuary for other endangered species including chimpanzees, black and white Colobus monkeys, and L’Hoest's monkeys.
- Crossed by major African rivers - the Nile and the Congo, Rwanda is one of Africa’s most ecologically diverse places, boasting tropical rainforests, mountain ranges, and volcanoes.
- Other National Parks in Rwanda are Nyungwe, Gishwati Mukura, and Akagera –the latter is home to black rhinos, hippos, elephants, giraffes, and the gold-crested crane, which is Rwanda’s national bird.
What to do
Bear in mind that the gorillas have been monitored by experts and ‘habituated’ to human activity over a period of up to two years before tourists are taken to see them, so they are not frightened by the sudden presence of strangers arriving on their patch. But you must behave submissively, lowering your head and remaining very quiet.
Count on hiking for an average of two to three hours. Don’t worry about your age or fitness level – gorilla trekking is accessible with a moderate level of fitness, and the guides make sure that regular breaks are taken.
Think about spending two to three days in Volcanoes National Park, to see other wildlife including monkeys and birds, to hike in other areas of it, away from the gorillas, and to enjoy other outdoor activities including canoeing and mountain biking.
After your trek, have a relaxing break just an hour from Volcanoes National Park at Lake Kivu. Here you can expect mist-shrouded mountains, kayaking, and the former colonial beach resort of Rubavu, with its sandy beach and lovely old mansions, some now turned into bars serving sundowners.
From Rubavu you might like to follow part of the Congo Nile Trail leading south to Rusizi, on foot or by bike, passing farming terraces, small villages and banana plantations, and seeing some of the country’s everyday life.
What to eat
Packed lunches while trekking, which will be provided by guides, along with water, and carried by porters. Depending on how long it takes you to track your gorilla group, you may end up having lunch when you come back down.
Global and sometimes local dishes using regional produce are served at lodges and hotels in the Volcanoes National Park. Most places will serve three-course meals at lunch and dinner, along with wine, cocktails, and spirits.
Fish dishes, especially tilapia, from lakes including Nyarakigugu in the Volcanoes National Park, are usually served whole - pan-fried or grilled. Other common ingredients in Rwandan dishes are bananas, plantains, sweet potatoes, and beans.
Umufa, a traditional soup of vegetables and beans, served at Singita Kwitonda, a luxury lodge with its own plant nursery and vegetable garden supplying daily produce and also helping to rehabilitate species that are endemic to Rwanda.
Local dishes such as agatogo stew and bean-based ibishyimbo are elevated at One&Only Gorilla’s Nest, where local chef Djafari likes to be inventive with produce including plantain, dodo (amaranth), baby aubergine, sweet potato, epinari (spinach), taro root, and cassava.
The true African bush, Tanzania’s vast wilderness areas (linked by thrilling aircraft flights) include the world-renowned plains of the Serengeti National Park, where you’ll find Africa’s greatest concentration of wildlife and some of the best wildlife viewing in the world.
These include the ‘Big Five’ (elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, and rhino) alongside wildebeest, zebra, and other big cats. We also love the Serengeti for its out-of-the-world safari camps, with luxury tents where you can indulge in sundowners around the fire after taking day and night game drives in 4x4s and guided bush walks.
Another highlight is the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, home to the Ngorongoro Crater – once a giant volcano and now the world’s largest intact caldera. It forms a natural amphitheatre for watching wildlife, including black rhinos, bull elephants, and big cats.
Less well-known and less-visited, Tarangire National Park is a true treasure, with spectacular game viewing (the likes of zebra, buffalo, eland, kudu, lions, leopards, and hyenas) and brilliant activities, including bush walks with Maasai guides, Maasai village visits, and community enterprise tours.
Other spots worth considering include the breathtakingly tranquil coastal Saadani Game Reserve, where you can see waterbuck, zebra, giraffe, oryx, and perhaps the rare Roosevelt sable antelope. Boat trips give you glimpses of hippo, crocodile, and an array of birdlife, and you can also visit local villages. Head inland to the foot of the Uluguru Mountains where Mikumi National Park is popular for its elephants, buffalo, large herds of antelope, and Colobus monkeys.
Famous for is tree-climbing lions seen up on its acacia trees, Lake Manyara National Park also has large flocks of pink flamingos filling the alkaline lake itself. Lastly, the UNESCO-listed Kilimanjaro National Park, home to the continent's highest mountain, has hiking trails through rainforest inhabited by Colobus monkeys and past the volcanic caldera of Lake Chala.
Tanzania is also home to the archipelago of Zanzibar. With its iridescent white sands, it makes the perfect place for a post-safari beach break. But this ‘spice island’ also has a fascinating traditional Swahili culture, which you can experience through farm tours, cooking classes, and tours of the UNESCO-listed capital Stone Town on the main island Unguja.
When to visit
The best time to visit Tanzania is during the long dry season, which runs from June to October. This coincides with the Great Migration when more than 1.5 million wildebeest move in an enormous loop in the hunt for greener pastures.
The long dry season is followed by the 'short rains' of November and December, then by the short dry season (January–March), which can be too hot and humid for some. The 'long rains' fall in April and May.
That said, Tanzania can be a year-round destination. For instance, in the Serengeti you might catch the magnificent calving season of the migrating herds between the short dry season and the wet season long rains, and March and April are great for birdwatchers, with lots of different species in the park.
On the coast, sea breezes temper the heat. In the mountains, it can be quite a bit cooler, especially in the evenings.
Six degrees south of the equator, Zanzibar has a tropical climate – hot and humid, with average temperatures in the low 30°Cs during the daytime.
- This country is home to both Africa's highest and lowest points: the peak of the snow-capped volcano of Mount Kilimanjaro (5,895m) and the floor of Lake Tanganyika (1470m). The latter is the world’s second oldest freshwater lake and second largest by volume.
- Tanzania has more than 100 languages – more than any other African country – and about 130 ethnic groups. Its official national languages are English and Swahili.
- Tanzania is also bordered by no fewer than eight countries – Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique – as well as having an Indian Ocean coastline.
- The country’s biggest city is Dar es Salaam, and it’s still home to many government offices despite the national and political capital now being Dodoma in the centre of the country.
- Zanzibar’s cultivation of nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper – its biggest industry alongside tourism – dates back to the 16th century, when Portuguese settlers based in Zanzibar controlled the spice trade.
What to do
Go horse riding in the Ngorongoro Highlands, with experienced guides to help you explore its winding paths. Mountain biking is also popular here, with plenty of ups and downs at an altitude of about 2000 metres.
Take a tour of a working coffee farm – Arabica and Robusta coffee, which thrives in Tanzania’s rich volcanic soil, are the country’s biggest export. Plantation tours demonstrate the growing and production process and let you taste different brews.
Learn about the Putting Something Back programme for health and conservation, including anti-poaching and elephant protection, by A Tent with A View.
In Zanzibar, join a sea safari to the Mnemba Island marine conservation area for possible sightings of dolphins, endangered green sea turtles, humpback whales, and whale sharks.
Tour Stone Town (Freddie Mercury's birthplace) with its Swahili and Islamic influences seen in the minarets, carved doorways, and 19th-century landmarks such as the House of Wonders.
What to eat
A gourmet picnic on the crater floor of Ngorongoro. There are picnic spots near the marsh area, where you can make a pause in your game drive and enjoy spectacular sightings of ambling zebra, hippos bobbing about in their pool, and swooping black kites.
Authentic Indian cuisine in Indian-owned restaurants in Dar es Salaam and other parts of Tanzania, as well as in high-end spots such as Yellow Chilli Restaurant in the Gran Meliá Arusha – Arusha being the gateway to safari destinations and to Mount Kilimanjaro.
The Tanzanian national dish ugali, a polenta-like cornmeal porridge served with beans, vegetables, soup, and other types of fish. Find it in every local restaurant as it’s eaten almost daily by Tanzanians themselves.
’Zanzibar pizza’ which is covered or filled with spiced meat along with other ingredients that might include cheese, mayonnaise, and vegetables such as carrots or green peppers. One of the best places to try it is the Forodhani Night Market in Stone Town with its array of street food stalls.
On safari, indulge in high-end global cuisine, often with Indian or Arabic influences. This is often based on locally grown produce, including rice, beans, plantains, coconuts, maize, and vegetables, and sometimes including Zanzibar spices. Some lodges serve dishes on huge, shared platters.