Tanzania is world famous for its wildlife and deservedly so. The rolling hills of Tarangire National Park provide a landscape where striking baobab trees are the backdrop to herds of elephant and prowling cheetah. The endless plains of the Serengeti are home to vast populations of zebra and wildebeest as well as the predators that follow in hot pursuit. And the Ngorongoro Crater is unlike anywhere else on earth, its dense forest and open savannah teeming with hippo, giraffe, elephant, lion and much, MUCH more.
But can you spend all day, every day on safari? Can you travel successfully to Tanzania with kids and older family members too? Will the children enjoy it? See our blog on African Family Safari Holidays for a more detailed discussion on how to make a safari work for all the family, but in a nutshell, in our view the children will not enjoy day after day of back-to-back game drives.
You need to add in other activities too to keep everyone’s interest piqued. A morning game drive… great, but then spend the afternoon doing something different. So, with this in mind, I revisited Tanzania with my mum to check out family-friendly activities as well as enjoying some of the most thrilling game viewing in East Africa.
Here are our top ten (non-safari) activities to do in Tanzania with kids. Don’t miss out on the game drives as these will be the highlight of any trip in Tanzania, but intersperse them with these fun activities. This will ensure a balanced itinerary that the whole family will enjoy.
1 – A walking safari in Arusha National Park
Many people arrive into Arusha and head pretty much straight off to the more famous national parks to the west. However, in our view this is a mistake; flights to Tanzania are quite long, and having arrived in Africa, the children will be keen to see some wildlife sooner rather than later, without having to spend hours in a car. Cue Arusha National Park, a little gem of a place just half an hour from downtown Arusha. Although there are no big predators there are significant populations of giraffe, buffalo, warthog and zebra. You can spend your first morning in Africa on a walking safari across the plains in the shadow of Mount Meru, giraffe ambling past just a few metres away.
2 – Canoeing in Arusha National Park
Having spent the morning on a walking safari in Arusha National Park, head just a little deeper into the park to the Momella Lakes. Here you can go canoeing in two person open canoes, gliding across the smooth waters of the lake in search of hippo and abundant bird life. Antelope rest in the shade on the banks of the lake and warthog scuttle around.
Combine activities 1 and 2 and you have your perfect first day in Tanzania with the kids.
3 – Visit the local market in Arusha and Mto Wa Mbu
There must be more wooden animal carvings in Tanzania than there are wildebeest, and if you want to buy souvenirs there are myriad places to buy them. However, if you want local colour then head to the markets in Arusha and Mto Wa Mbu. Great mounds of fresh fruit and vegetables tower in precarious piles; rattan baskets brim with dried beans and fragrant spices; chicken, dried fish, tamarind, ginger, mangos and huge avocados three times the size of those you get at home. Stock up on the children’s favourite fruit or perhaps stop for a snack of freshly barbequed corn on the cob with a squeeze of lime and chilli salt.
4 – Swim with a view
Sometimes it’s all about the accommodation. One of the best places to stay in Tanzania with kids is a wonderful tented camp near Tarangire National Park, which features probably the best pool we have ever seen. Situated on a raised deck above the plains of the Lake Burunge Conservation Area, there are herds of wildebeest and zebra passing just a few metres away. Perch on the edge of the pool and watch ostrich amble past, or warthog snuffle in the dirt. Sundowner drinks are served on the deck by the pool at dusk so the kids can swim, you can have a drink as you enjoy the sunset, and the wildlife just keeps on coming.
5 – Hang out with the bushmen
There are still a number of bushmen groups living in the remote area around Lake Eyasi, near the Ngorongoro Crater. Once you have located a group (not always entirely straightforward, as they are nomadic) you have the unique opportunity to experience traditional bushman life, a real highlight of any trip to Tanzania with kids.
Learn how to make fire by rubbing a stick vigorously into a hardwood block until wisps of smoke appear which are then used to light dried grass. Practice firing a bow and arrow at a grass target, causing much hilarity with the local boys who will then demonstrate their (vastly superior) shooting skills! You may even be invited to join the bushmen on a hunt in the bush in the search for small wild animals – usually rabbits, squirrels or birds.
6 – Cycling through the banana plantations in Mto Wa Mbu
Spend a wonderful morning cycling along quiet tracks through the banana plantations that surround Mto Wa Mbu. Situated on the edge of the Rift Valley Escarpment, the countryside here is very picturesque, the banana palms lush and green against the backdrop of the rocky escarpment.
There is an endless network of tracks that you can follow depending on how far you want to cycle, and you can stop off along the way to visit a school or possibly a hospital if anyone is medically minded. You can also stop to have a go at traditional Masai painting (see below) or learn to cook a typical Tanzanian meal. The ride ends with a traditional lunch with a local family.
7 – Paint a Masai Masterpiece
Creative children will enjoy visiting a painting co-operative where the resident artists will show you different styles of Tanzanian art and then give you a canvas on which you can unleash your artistic side. Try your hand at recreating the stylised pictures of tall thin Masai warriors with a palette knife and oodles of paint.
8 – Climb Mount Makarot
Whilst the Ngorongoro Crater is an absolute highlight of any visit to Tanzania with kids, there is more to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area than just the crater itself. A real adventure for those with older children is an ascent of Mount Marakot, a 3,132m peak that offers the most astonishing views over the Olduvai Plain and Lake Eyasi.
The climb is wonderfully varied, passing initially through Masai pasture that is dotted with traditional Masai homesteads and herds of sheep and goats. From here you climb upwards, sometimes through high grasses and at other times through really other-wordly forest, the trees branches dripping in silver coloured moss. The hike takes around 5 hours in total and you are accompanied by a park ranger as there is plenty of wildlife around.
There is no minimum age but we recommend this for children aged 10 and above. For younger children there are shorter hikes around the crater rim, also offering superb views.
9 – Visit the old Slave Market in Zanzibar
It’s perhaps fair to say that the idea of visiting the old slave market in Stone Town is not going to excite the children in the same way that some of the activities mentioned above will, but this really is a hugely rewarding experience.
There is a superb museum, which tells the story of the slave trade in such a way as to make it very accessible to all but the youngest children. There are evocative pictures and numerous interesting anecdotes about individual slaves and slave traders. The information is clearly presented in a thought-provoking manner that inquisitive children will find fascinating, making this an excellent addition at the end of a trip to Tanzania with kids.
10 – Snorkelling in Zanzibar
The beaches in Zanzibar need little in the way of introduction, with endless sweeps of powder white sand and turquoise water. If you can bear to tear yourselves away, take an excursion to Mnemba Island just a short hop from Zanzibar’s north east coast, and home to some of the best snorkelling in East Africa. The visibility is superb and the coral provides a home to darting moray eels, brightly coloured star fish, stingrays and turtles.
Tanzania with kids
For advice on how to incorporate any (or all) of these activities into a holiday in Tanzania with kids, contact us and we will be very happy to help. Visit our Tanzania family holidays section for a comprehensive country overview or go straight to an example itinerary, Tanzania Safari and Beach Tour. You can also check out our when to go page to see which school holiday works best. For inspiration from other families who have travelled to Tanzania with their kids see our customer feedback pages.
Liddy Pleasants, MD Stubborn Mule Travel firstname.lastname@example.org.