Which are the Best Hotels, Lodges & Permanent Camps in Tanzania – for the Travelling Naturalist?

Ecotourism in Tanzania is hugely important. The country boasts jurisdiction over many of the brightest ‘Crown Jewels’ in all of East Africa. From the vast Serengeti National Park together with its many contiguous protected areas, to the massive snow-capped volcano of Kilimanjaro ‘the summit’ of Africa. There’s the extraordinary wildlife wonders-at-hand in the always delightful Ngorongoro Crater to be compared with the sleepy magic hide-aways of the Swahili coast, these perhaps best exemplified by the island of Zanzibar and, for the naturalist, Pemba Island.

I was fortunate to be a long time resident in or a very regular visitor to Arusha. This little city has become the travel portal to all of Tanzania’s Northern Safari Circuit and more. We were based there from early in 2005 until the Covid curtain came crashing down at the end of March 2020.

So what follows is my personal and provisional list of what seemed me to be the best places in which one should or could stay for a couple of nights or more, “roost sites” if you will, for the travelling naturalist.

To paraphrase those nineties politicos: what’s most important is “location, location, location”. This is crucial to getting the most uplifting experiences out of your safari here. And, certainly in terms of ecotourism, one must always remember that: “It’s the Ecology, stupid”.

Each lodge that I have selected is unique. And each works within a set of operational constraints, some of which are pretty much unique to Tanzania. Therefore if you are truly interested in finding your own fantastic wildlife – on foot, outside of your safari vehicle, in the grounds of your lodge, around your often luxurious tent or delightful bedroom – you will need to know where to sleep! And hopefully you want to be a considerate ecotourist? Someone who is getting a little healthy exercise and coming away from your travels with a fuller appreciation of the whole of nature in such wonderful places as these? If so then I highly recommend that you ‘check these places out’ for yourself, online of course at first. Or failing that, at the very least, persuade or prevail upon your chosen travel company, and in turn upon their Tz ground agents, to do just that and to book some of these places for you.

Tanzanian safari ground agents face significant financial incentives to place their clients at those lodges with whom they have developed a special relationship. You must always bear this in mind when you are trying to select those better places for finding the full spectrum of wildlife. Places in which you can connect with natural wonders outside the truck and off the track.

In the National Parks of Tanzania night driving is very tightly regulated and inevitably one tends to be around the lodge at what is often the best time of day (dawn and dusk) for bumping into the “lesser wildlife”. So you may find yourself, in the long shadows, enjoying the short commuting walk between the lodge’s reception or dining area and your sleeping accommodation. Now this is where you can sometimes find the “good stuff”. The lbjs or little brown jobs that do so delight the experts! And you may bump into some BIG mammals too. If you are in the right place, and have been suitably forewarned, at this, the right time. Please never forget: some big animals are very dangerous indeed if you spook them!

More importantly one should come to recognise and accept that the Tanzanian National Parks (managed by TANAPA), are areas from which the district’s villagers have been, to all intents and purposes, excluded. Thus they are not really natural. Rather they are the modern equivalent of the royal hunting parks of medieval Europe. Preserves for the elite. Who come here to hunt with cameras from Toyotaback.

So as you travel around Tanzania wondering why you are seeing what you are seeing and why it is where it is, and wondering perhaps why you are not seeing this or that, or these and those, some ecological truths might slowly begin to “sink in”.

First and foremost: all habitats require some processes of cyclical natural disturbance in order to remain fully healthy. Such disturbance may come from exceptional weather events, the grazing and browsing activities of the semi-nomadic larger mammals or by other influences including, especially in Africa, those from one special mammal that has evolved here – the human being. It’s a fact of life often entirely missed by “the Rewilders” that in Africa, at least, there are often more species of bird and small mammal, and of course more species of insect, to be found where there are just a few people living.

That’s high biodiversity as long as those people are living in a low impact manner. Living in an ecologically sustainable way. As pastoralists or with some little subsistence agriculture (without the use of agricultural toxins) and, as long as these folk are not keen on hunting or trapping. Such folk are unlikely to be living out their lives to support our monetised market economy. In such a place there are likely to be many “niche-flows” for life. Yes! There are even today places where people are living seemingly simply-to-live!

When we journey on safari in East Africa, albeit nowadays behaving as ‘technologically sophisticated aliens’, we may begin to ponder some of the fundamental ecological realities of these earlier or simpler Homo sapiens societies.

Why is this relevant here? Well over the years I have found that the greatest diversity of wildlife in Tanzania, particularly in terms of species abundance and their visibility, is not in the parks. It’s to be found along or even sometimes just beyond the boundaries of the ‘strictly protected’ national parks (ie the TANAPA) areas. Furthermore within the TANAPA parks there is often more ‘small creature activity’ around the lodges where grazing and browsing pressure by the “game animals” is reduced and where, in the dry times, some piped water may be trickling.

In general though within the vast “conservation sites” there is no significant human disturbance, human ecological activity, apart from those ‘alien ones’ associated with or supporting the motorised safari industry. And of course that is in itself a very significant and often ‘highly disruptive’ activity. We should not even begin to discuss one other even more highly contentious anthropogenic factor – the deliberate use of fire – not at this point, in this blog!

Anyway after a necessary explanatory digression we return to “the all important list of camps and lodges”. Against each accommodation I have placed a singular code: A, B or O. Often there is an M+ as well, that’s for good mammalian measure. It is my hope that the CEOs and on-the-ground managers of these ecotourism institutions not only recognise the opportunity with which they are being entrusted, but go further and strive to incorporate true ecological diligence into all of their business.

  1. A is those top sites that are affordable and adequate
  2. B is those top sites that offer the smoothest convenience (all ‘other’ things considered – by me!)
  3. O is those top sites that are undeniably opulent or even ‘overly’ luxurious. Unless otherwise specified as exceptional, you may want to reserve these lodges for those very special occasions!
  4. M+ are those lodges which I think are particularly good for seeing the “lesser mammals”; especially crepuscular species and any of those that one inevitably misses during those days spent trundling around in the truck.

KIA Lodge (B), https://www.moivaro.com/?page_id=92 between Moshi and Arusha, adjacent to the Kilimanjaro international airport, extensive grounds, excellent for first or last night of a safari

Hatari Lodge (B) https://hatari.travel/ the only lodge within Arusha National Park, extensive unfenced natural grounds M+

Kiboko Lodge (A) https://www.kibokolodge.nl/reserveren-contact a new lodge with youthful management and excellent potential for ecological diligence, adjacent to Ngongongare gate and the southern boundary track of Arusha NP.

Gibb’s Farm, Karatu (B) https://www.gibbsfarm.com/ on the edge of the Endoro forest in the highlands below the eastern rim of Ngorongoro Crater, extensive organic vegetable garden, the best traditional farmhouse [European] cuisine in northern Tanzania = M+

Manta Resort, Pemba Island, Indian Ocean (B) https://themantaresort.com/ by air from Dar/Tanga/Zanzibar

Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge (B) https://sopalodges.com/ngorongoro-sopa-lodge/the-lodge accessible via Karatu or Serengeti; superlative view of crater and forest canopy, westerly aspect and private access road into the crater, good forest edge habitats M+

Tarangire Safari Lodge, Tarangire National Park (B) https://www.tarangiresafarilodge.com– only 25 minutes of steady driving inside main gate of TNP, “awesome view”, night drives available M+

Speke Bay Lodge (A) http://www.spekebay.com/spekebay.com/C01/UK/welcome.htm on eponymous inlet along eastern shore of Lake Victoria, only half an hour from western gate of Serengeti NP (also accessible via Mwanza) on occasion budget camping

Fish Eagle Point (A) http://www.fisheaglepoint.com/ an hour north of Tanga on the Indian Ocean coast, secluded and unpretentious, delightful M+ cetaceans, mini-pelagic birding boat trips possible, also budget camping

Mbalageti Tented Camp (B) https://www.africadreamsafaris.com/mbalageti-tented-lodge on a ridge in wide secluded valley adjacent to the Western Corridor of the Serengeti NP (also accessible via Mwanza) M+

Simba Serengeti Safari Lodge (B) (slow website – type “simba portfolio”) near to Robanda and Fort Ikoma in the western peripheral buffer of the Serengeti NP (night drives possible) M+ adjacent to exquisitely situated and privately protected Sasakwa (qv) O++

Miseni (A) http://www.karibusana.com/learn-more.html#conservation Gongo village beside Zaraninge forest, quite near the coast, southern edge of Saadani NP in Bagamoyo region, forest walks and a variety of ecotourism initiatives

The IUCN Lodge (A), [no website, whatsapp mobile phone or contact Martin Joho guide] at Amani village in the East Usambara Mountains, Tanga region M+ the best value, where the forest researchers and volunteers stay (what more need one say?) M+

Muller’s Mountain Lodge (A) http://mullersmountainlodge.co.tz near Lushoto in the West Usambaras, convenient for the endemic-rich hotspot of the Magamba forest

Mambo View Eco-Lodge (A) https://www.mamboviewpoint.org/ West Usambara mountains, convenient for the Shagayu forest, fantastic views and cliff face breeding bird species M+ (herps more so)

Fox’s Kitasunga Lakeshore Camp, Katavi NP (O) https://www.kataviwildlifecamp.com/collections/the-lodge/ in central Tanzania (access easiest by air) superlative location, best for “non-game” onset of rains Nov-Dec M+

Ngorongoro Rhino Lodge, Karatu https://rhino.co.tz/ (B) no view of the adjacent crater but ‘wildlife friendly amenities’ and close to the ‘village’ of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area administrative area (where local people and special wildlife viewing opportunities) M+

Ndutu Safari Lodge (B), https://www.ndutu.com/ Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCAA) adjacent to the eastern short grass plains of the Serengeti NP M+

Lake Masek Tented Camp (O) https://twctanzania.com/accommodation/lake-masek-tented-lodge/ in the NCAA close to Ndutu overlooking the brackish Lake Masek

Maramboi Tented Camp (O) https://twctanzania.com/accommodation/maramboi-tented-lodge/ almost adjacent to Tarangire and on the eastern shoreline of Lake Manyara NP M+

Hondo-Hondo Tented Camp (A), https://www.udzungwaforestcamp.com near Same at the foot of the Udzungwa escarpment in the Kilombero Valley of central Tanzania M+

Hodi Hodi Ruaha (B) https://www.hodihodizanzibar.com/zanzibar-accommodation.html a permanent camp on hillside within private conservation concession area, near the entrance to Ruaha NP M+

“David’s Cattle Ranch” (A) [no website – contact Elia Mulungu guide] a unique privately managed destination above 2000m in the Afromontane highlands of Njombe district, north-east of Lake Nyasa-Malawi.

Emerson-Spice Boutique Hotel (B) https://www.emersonspice.com in Stone Town, Zanzibar the perfect way to unwind for a couple of nights after a terrestrial safari, perhaps whilst en route to “the beach” and the oceanic endemic wonders offered by the isolated Pemba a granitic island 80km offshore.

Please remember this is a provisional list-in-progress and I fully intend to ‘flesh it out’ with photographs and greater detail if you’ll pardon my use of such a hunter-trapper-gatherer expression.

If you are keen to go soon to “Tz”, before the rush, or you need some advice then you can email me at the address given in the “about us” page on this blog, so that we might better establish web or WhatsApp communication.