Five of the Most Underrated National Parks in Tanzania
These underrated national parks in Tanzania are with many attractions but are often overlooked by travellers, and you will almost not find a single safari vehicle out this way either. For this reason alone it’s worth spending a bit of time exploring them, just to get the feel of Tanzania without the tourists. The southern side is, for the most part, beautiful rolling hills, often covered with the bright green bushes of vast tea plantations. Further west you have Lake Tanganyika and the regional capital of Kigoma on its shore. From here there are plenty of possibilities -just a short distance from Kigoma town lies the Katavi national park and Gombe stream with its lush vegetation and abundant chimpanzee wildlife.
Further south still, close to the regional town of Iringa and Morogoro, are the national parks of Selous Game Reserve and Udzungwa mountains (well worth exploring). The hidden gems of Arusha national park and Mount Meru, Tanzania makes the best safari destination in the Northen circuit. Tanzania all together has the best to offer for a safari adventure and wildlife experience. Below are the five of the most underrated national parks in Tanzania:
#1. Arusha National Park
Although it is one of Tanzania’s smallest parks, Arusha National Park is one of the most beautiful and spectacular. It is also one of the few that you are allowed to walk in (accompanied by a ranger). Yet few travellers appear to visit it, possibly because of their haste to press on to the more famous parks of Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti and Mt. Kilimanjaro. This is a profound mistake since it has all the features of those three parks, including a superb range of flora and fauna.
The park’s main features are Ngurdoto Crater (often dubbed little Ngorongoro), the Momela Lakes and rugged Mt Meru (4556 metres), which overlooks the town of Arusha to the North. Because of the differing attitudes within the park (from 1500 metres to over 4500 metres) and the geological structure, there are several vegetation zones, which support appropriate animal species.
#2. Katavi National Park
Compare to other national parks (Ngorongoro crater and Serengeti plains) in Tanzania, Katavi national park created in 1974 is among the terrific and untouched park in Africa which offer the finest wildlife viewing and extraordinary birds watching while glimpsing at the astonishing scenery and ridiculous landscapes.
This little unknown and less visited national park in Tanzania is the paradise of Hippos and Crocodile and worth a visit while planning a safari to the country. You will be blown away by the amazing wildlife vibe that you will find in Katavi National park since the park receives only around 500 visitors in a year and hence it can be your own private and silent paradise because you will hardly encounter other vehicles during your game drive and you will get a reward of a great game viewing both the nature and wildlife in this one of the outstanding national parks in Africa.
The park can easily be accessed by the local small flights or a long drive from Arusha or Mbeya but still, it worth a visit since you can always witness the diversity of the animals and birds as well as fantastic scenic views. Since this park is remote and yet the best place to visit then below I have narrated what you can experience while in Katavi National park.
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#3. Selous Game Reserve
The little-visited, 54,600 sq km Selous is the world’s largest game reserve. It is the quintessential East African wilderness. Wild and largely untouched by many people and with exceptional game drive avoiding the tourist’s traffic in the park. It is said to contain the World’s largest concentration of elephants, buffaloes, crocodiles, hippos and hunting dogs, as well as plenty of lions, antelope and thousands of dazzling bird species.
Established in 1922, for many years it rained largely the preserve of the trophy collectors and big-game hunters, even though only the Northern tip of the reserve has never been adequately explored. Most of it is trackless wilderness and is almost impossible to traverse during the rainy season when floods and swollen rivers block access. The best time to visit is from July to March. In any case, the lodges and campsite are closed from April to June.
One of the main features of the reserve is the huge Rufiji River, which has the largest water catchment area in East Africa. Massive amounts of silt are dumped annually during the wet season into the Indian Ocean opposite Mafia Island. For the rest of the year, when the floods subside and the water level in the river drops, extensive banks of shimmering white and golden sand are exposed.
In the northern end of the reserve where the Great Ruaha River flows into the Rufiji is Stiegler’s Gorge, probably the best-known feature of the park. On average it is 100 metres deep and 100 metres wide. A cable ca spans the gorge, for those who are game enough to go across. It is in the area where most of the safari camps and the lodges are. The gorge is named after the German explorer of the same name who was killed here by an elephant in 1907.
#4. Mt. Meru National Park
It is estimated that Mt. Meru was formed 20 million years ago during earth movements associated with the formation of the Rift Valley. Sometime later, a subsidiary vent opened to the east of the volcano and Ngurdoto was born. As lava continued to spew out thousands of years until a violent explosion blew it apart as a result of superheated gases being trapped beneath the earth’s crust. A repeated activity of this nature gradually increased the size of the crate until the molten rock withdrew to deeper levels, leaving the cone without support. It then collapsed to form the caldera which you see today.
Although Ngurdoto is now extinct, Mt Meru is merely dormant, having last erupted only 100 years ago. The lava flow which occurred at this time can still be seen on the north-western side of the cone. The spectacular Meru Crater has formed 250,000 years ago as the result of a series explosion which blew away the entire eastern wall of the cone and showered the eastern side of the mountain with a mass of mud, rocks, lava and water. The Momela Lakes were formed out of depressions in the drying mud.
#5. Udzungwa Mountains National Park
Udzungwa national park is found in the south of Tanzania, Morogoro region in a district called Kilombero which is about 65km from Mikumi National park. Udzungwa forest encompasses diverse animals, insects and plants that are rare and uncommon to find elsewhere around the world.
Within 1990km2 and 350km drive from the south of Dar es Salaam, you will find two mountain peaks inside the Udzungwa mountain. First one is called Mwinihana with about 2500m and another one is called Luhomero with 2576m which are the most famous attraction in Udzungwa National park and one of the best-hiking expedition in the South of Tanzania.
About 70% of the water used in the country is coming from Udzungwa mountains which make it the most important place in the country and as well as to its people. This park is regarded as a hiking paradise with scenic views rich in tropical vegetation and below I have narrated 6 best that are must to do once visiting Udzungwa mountains national park.
Most organised safaris last from seven to 6 days, though there are others which last 9 days, and they all seem to follow much the same route. Starting from Arusha, they head up the Arusha national park to Lake Manyara, over to Maralal and then up the main route to Katavi on Lake Tanganyika. On the southern safari will start from Dar es Salaam, again via Morogoro region, they take in Selous National Game Reserve and Ruaha national park. Only a few tour operators take in Kitulo and Rungwe national park in Mbeya region.
The cost of these safaris varies depending on the number of days and the standard of accommodation. The price includes transport, all meals, park and camping fees, and camping equipment as well as a driver guide cost. Since the terrain is rough in some of Tanzania national parks, open-sided 4WD safari jeep is used for these safaris and it can be a dusty journey during the dry season.