When you think of East Africa the standard images of incredible wildlife, vast savannas and colorful tribes normally come to mind but there is so much more to this part of the world than what you would typically see on a travel brochure. East Africa is not just home to popular destinations like Kenya and Tanzania, it’s also home to beautiful countries such as Rwanda and Uganda – two places which are becoming East Africa’s next hotspots.
If you are serious about traveling to this part of the world in 2022, we suggest adding these two counties to your itinerary and combining them with your experiences in Kenya and Tanzania. This will make for an unforgettable journey as you will be mixing classic tourist activities with hidden gems and unique experiences that will add lots of flavor to your trip.
With that in mind, we have put together the ultimate travel guide to East Africa. We will be revealing the 10 best things to do in East Africa for 2022 – as well as providing tips around the best time of year to visit, accommodation options along the way, insights into the local food and cuisine, and a few other helpful tips to help you plan this once in a lifetime trip. So, without further ado, let’s get started with these recommendations.
10 Best Things To Do in East Africa
1. Go Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes National Park
Gorilla trekking is our number one recommendation and there is no better place on the continent to do it than Rwanda! Volcanoes National Park in northwestern Rwanda is home to roughly 340 of these impressive animals, which is just less than half of all the world’s mountain gorillas remaining in the wild. About half of the 340 are accessible to tourists, as the other half remain protected for conservation and research purposes.
The best way to see these gentle giants is on a tour. The tours all vary in length depending on what type of experience you want to have. Some tours are one or two days while others give you three or four days to track the gorillas. For example, the 4-Day Gorilla Trekking Safari with Rwanda Eco Company will take you into the heart of Volcanoes National Park where you will not only see gorillas but also golden monkeys and birds.
2. Relax at the Beach and Go Diving in Zanzibar
From the jungles of Rwanda to the beaches of Tanzania – by now you can already appreciate the sheer diversity of experiences on offer in East Africa! Zanzibar is a beautiful island blessed with some of the best beaches and diving spots in Africa, as well as a rich history that can be discovered through its colonial heritage and history as a trading outpost.
Stone Town is a cool, edgy city where you can learn about the tumultuous history of the island of Zanzibar. From the impact of colonization and the abhorrent practice of slavery, to the transformation of Stone Town from a fishing village to a trading center – this place has seen a lot! Wandering around and admiring the architecture is a fun way to spend the day here.
If it’s pristine beaches you are after then head to the north of Zanzibar to a village called Nungwi. Here you will find powdery white sand and glistening blue waters perfect for days spent sunbathing and swimming. You can also head out for a snorkeling or diving adventure at one of the atolls such as Mnemba. This atoll is situated off the northeastern coast of Zanzibar, not too far from Nungwi. The fish are colorful and the water is divine!
3. Experience Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Coming in at number three on our list is Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Uganda) – another place where you can go gorilla trekking! But this is not the primary reason why Bwindi has made the list. It’s rather the mist-covered hills and biologically diverse rainforests that have elevated it to number three status. The rainforests of Bwindi date back over 25,000 years.
Just trekking through the rainforests and admiring the plant species is a highlight in itself. Once you take into consideration other aspects like the waterfalls, colorful birds, pristine lakes and (of course) the mountain gorillas – then you have yourself one of the most enchanting national parks in the world. Bwindi is the number one attraction of Uganda and for good reason – it’s truly unlike any other place on earth!
4. Climb to the Summit of Mount Kilimanjaro
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is a dream experience that you will want to tick off your bucket list when coming to East Africa. This is the tallest mountain on the continent and a fantastic one to practice on if you are planning on climbing higher mountains around the world. The summit is called Uhuru Point and it stands at just under 5,900 meters. The journey to the summit takes at least five days, with some routes taking eight days.
The three most common routes that climbers take are the Machame, Marangu and Rongai routes. The Machame Route is now the most popular Kilimanjaro route and it’s certainly one of the most beautiful routes you can take. It can be completed in roughly six or seven days. If you would like the easiest route to the summit then check out the Rongai Route. This route approaches Kili from the north and it takes about five or six days.
5. Meet the Noble People of the Maasai Tribe
Spanning northern Tanzania and southern Kenya are the fascinating Maasai people. This nomadic, pastoral indigenous tribe can be found in popular national parks and reserves such as Maasai Mara National Park, Amboseli National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area. You can book tours to visit them in their villages or meet them out in the savanna.
While tourism is part of their lives now, they have still managed to maintain their culture and traditions – and for the most part these two things (tourism and their culture) go hand in hand harmoniously. The first thing that you will notice about the Maasai is their distinctive dress, especially the “shuka” garment. It’s a red-colored cotton blanket that is wrapped around the body. You will also notice how physically fit the people are.
They are in peak physical condition and need to be to continue living this nomadic lifestyle. One special experience you can have with the Maasai people is witnessing a ceremony called “adamu”. This is where Maasai men gather in a circle and chant together while each taking a turn to jump straight up in the air several times as high as they can go! This performance is a show of strength and is used to attract wives for the warrior men.
6. Hike the Congo Nile Trail in Rwanda
The Congo Nile Trail is one of those hidden gems we were talking about earlier. You can hike alongside the river on a 9-day experience with Rwanda Eco Company which covers over 220km. This tour takes you through rolling hills, to stunning lakes, stopping off at hidden villages along the way and more! If you enjoy long-distance hikes and would like to experience remote corners of East Africa then this trip is for you.
7. Witness the Wildebeest Migration in the Serengeti
The wildebeest migration that happens every year (the Great Migration) is one of the most extraordinary wildlife events on the planet. Over 1.5 million wildebeest and zebras migrate 800 kilometers through Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. The reason for the migration is that it coincides with the greening of grass plains during the wet season. Wildebeest seek to head to greener pastures for the food and to raise their baby wildebeest.
8. See the Tree Climbing Lions of Uganda
Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda is famous for its wildlife. There is a lot to see on safari but the biggest attraction is the tree climbing lion. These lions are found around the Ishasha area in the Rukungiri District. If you get close enough you will spot the lions lounging around on the top of fig trees. Prides of up to 10 lions can be found hanging on the branches and when you see a big pride like that it really does take your breath away.
9. Take Photos of Pink Flamingos at Lake Nakuru
Lake Nakuru has seen a resurgence in visitors recently because the water levels have dropped back down to normal after several years where they were rising at an unprecedented rate. These high waters scared away the pink flamingos which used to frequent Nakuru’s shores. Now the flamingos are back and there has never been a better time to capture these birds.
10. Discover Chimpanzees at Nyungwe National Park
The Land of a Thousand Hills is a place where you can see many primate species and some more to see (as well as gorillas) are chimpanzees. A safari at Nyungwe National Park is the best way to discover these awesome animals. On a tour of Nyungwe you will cross over canopy walkways and trek through the beautiful natural forest in search of chimps.
Best Time to Visit East Africa
As a general rule the best time to visit East Africa is in the winter – June to October – when the national parks are dry and the wildlife is abundant. However, there are a few other things to consider especially if you intend on hiking up Mount Kilimanjaro or want to see the Great Migration in the Serengeti. Firstly, Kili is ideal during August and September but also January and February as the start of the year tends to be dry there as well.
For the wildebeest migration, the time to come will be up to you. Much of this experience depends on luck anyway because the herd movements vary greatly year to year and it’s difficult to predict. For the Serengeti Mara area it’s best to come from July to October, for the Western Corridor you want to be booking for May to July, and for northern Serengeti and the Lobo area the recommended months are from October to November.
Accommodation for East Africa
After you have decided on a time to visit East Africa and have booked your flights (with all visas granted), the next step should be planning your accommodation. Where you stay will depend on your itinerary and how many all-inclusive safaris you book. We suggest you book all the tours you want and then you can sort out where to stay in between these experiences. Here are a few stand-out places to consider in East Africa:
- Lewa Wilderness (Kenya)
- Giraffe Manor (Kenya)
- Elsa’s Kopje Lodge (Kenya)
- Gibb’s Farm (Tanzania)
- Zuri Zanzibar Hotel (Tanzania)
- Singita Sabora Tented Camp (Tanzania)
- One&Only Gorilla’s Nest (Rwanda)
- One&Only Nyungwe House (Rwanda)
- Ruzizi Tented Lodge (Rwanda)
What is the Food Like in East Africa?
Tanzania: A cuisine heavily influenced by Indian migration and proximity to the sea – so expect to find some delicious fish curries, samosas and chapati! This is especially true in coastal cities and in Zanzibar. Coconut milk is often used to conjure up some spicy curries. Once you head further inland, the cuisine changes and it becomes much more meat based. Barbequed meat is a popular dish and so is “ugali” – a dough topped with spicy meats or fish.
Kenya: Variety is massive in Kenyan food and it’s almost impossible to sum up the cuisine. Each region has its own unique dishes. Like Tanzania, fish is prevalent on the coast and curries are a hit in the cities but if you head to remote parts of the country you will see tons of grain-based and starchy foods. Beans and corn are common throughout the country.
Uganda: Uganda is a wonderful place for vegetarians and vegans. Vegetables are relied upon for most dishes. Nuts also play a big role. Peanuts can be found in stews often served with “ugali” (mentioned above). Bananas are a staple – you will eat many of them while traveling through this country. So Uganda is an ideal place to have a meat fast.
Rwanda: Much like its neighbor Uganda you can go for days and weeks without eating meat, especially if you stay out of the cities. The majority of the dishes include things like beans, plantains, cassava and potatoes. Near the lakes of Rwanda you will see fresh fish introduced to dishes or just eaten whole on skewers. Again, it’s a great place to be vegetarian/vegan.
Final Tips for Visiting East Africa
- Be well prepared but add room for spontaneity along the way. You can do this by booking a couple of bucket-list safaris with Rwanda Eco Company and Enclose Africa Safaris and then going with the flow for the rest of your trip. You want to have a plan but not be over-scheduled.
- Don’t expect to have WiFi/data everywhere you go. Obviously when you are gorilla trekking in Rwanda or hiking to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro the last thing you will be thinking about is Internet service, however just keep this in mind as Africa has notoriously bad reception.
- Talk to the locals and always keep an open mind and heart. The people of Africa are friendly and curious and they will love to talk about your home country and your life story. So approach every moment with a warm and generous heart and for sure you will make friends for life!