Tanzania National Parks
Tanzania has the world famous Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater, with the Olduvai Gorge, sandwiched between them. It also has Mt Kilimanjaro. Less famous but no less of a drawcard are Arusha, Tarangire and Lake Manyara national parks. All of these are within striking distance of Arusha, Parks and wildlife are not all Tanzania have to offer. In the north in the Moshi town near Kenyan border is snowcapped Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. Scaling with 5895-metre peak is the goal of many visitors and among the best hiking adventure in the world and Kilimanjaro is generally more easily approached from Moshi.
Serengeti has a huge animal population, and they are easy to see in flat grassland of the park, especially in the dry season. At Ngorongoro, the park is in the crater of a huge extinct volcano, which is said to be the world’s largest caldera.
Tanzania has many other national parks, but getting to those in the more remote western can be a good choice since now they are easy to be reached with a bit of hassle and also with different accommodation options, this means that they are worth the effort – they certainly are, especially the Katavi national park, Mahale national park as well as Selous game reserve, which is Tanzania’s first game park to be set up in Tanzania, yet it remains a vast wilderness with facilities available only on the north-eastern fringes.
Offshore in the Indian Ocean are several islands, including exotic Zanzibar, with its labyrinthine old Stone Town, ruined palaces and Persian baths, fort and other reminders of the Oman period, not to mention its beaches and coral reefs.
Best National park and Game Reserve to Visit 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. Tarangire National Park
Tarangire National park covers quite a large area south-east of Lake Manyara, mainly along the course of the Tarangire River and the swamplands and flood plains which feed it from the east. During the dry season, the only water here flows along the Tarangire River. The park fills with herds of zebra, wildebeest and kongoni, which stay until October when short rains allow them to move to new pastures. Throughout the year, however, you can see eland, lesser kudu, various species of gazelle, buffalo, giraffe, waterbuck, impala, elephant and the occasional leopard and rhino. For ornithologists, the best season is from October to May.
Tsetse flies can be a pest in this park at certain times of year (eg February and March), so keep the windows of your vehicle closed when not taking photographs.
#3. 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.
#4. Serengeti National Park
Serengeti which covers 14, 763 sq km, is Tanzania’s most famous game park and is continuous with the Masai Mara Game Reserve in neighbouring Kenya. Here you can get a glimpse of what a lot of East Africa must have looked like.
On the seemingly endless and almost treeless plains of Serengeti are literally millions of hooded animals. They are constantly on the move in search of pasture and are watched and pursued by the predators which feed off them. It is one of the most incredible sights you will ever see and the numbers are simply mind-boggling.
Nowhere else will you see wildebeest, gazelle, zebra and antelope in such concentrations. The wildebeest, of which there are up to two million, is the chief herbivore of the Serengeti and also the main prey of the large carnivores such as lions and hyenas. The wildebeest are well known for the annual migration which they undertake- a trek with many hazards, not least of which is the crossing of large rivers, which can leave hundreds drowned, maimed or taken by a crocodile.
During the rainy season, the herds are widely scattered over the eastern section of the Serengeti and Masai Mara in the north. These areas have few large rivers and streams and quickly dry out when the rain ceases. When that happens the wildebeest concentrate on the few remaining green areas and Gradually from huge herds which move off west in search of better pasture. At about the time the migration starts, the annual rut also begins. For a few days at a time while the herds’ pause, bulls establish territories, which they defend against rivals, and try to assemble as many females as they can with which they mate. As soon as the migration resumes, the female herds merge again.
#5. Mikumi National Park
Mikumi National park covers 3237 sq km and sits astride the main Dar es Salaam to Mbeya highway, about 300 km from Dar es Salaam. Not many budget travellers seem to visit this park, probably because of the lack of enough information about the park compared to other parks like Serengeti and Ngorongoro, but there is a lot of wildlife to be seen. Elephants, lions, leopards, buffaloes, zebra, impala, wildebeest and warthogs can be viewed at any time of year.
One of the principal features of Mikumi is the Mkata River flood plain, an area of lush vegetation which particularly attracts elephants and buffaloes. Hippos can also be seen at Hippo Pools, about five km from the park entrance gate.
Mikumi is often visited as a weekend outing from Dar es Salaam (with an overnight stay on Saturday night) – Shizi safari can arrange a trip for you from Dar es Salaam or Zanzibar where you can use a local domestic flight as well.
#6. 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.
#7. Kilimanjaro Mountain National Park
An almost perfectly shaped volcano which rises sheer from the plains, Mt. Kilimanjaro is one of the African continent’s most magnificent sights. Snowcapped and not yet extinct, at 5895 metres it is the highest peak in Africa.
From cultivated farmlands on the lower levels, it rises through lush rainforest onto the alpine meadow and finally across a barren lunar landscape to the summit. The rainforest is home to animals like monkey also contain an incredible vegetations
Geologically, Kilimanjaro is a relative newcomer to the Rift Valley and did not even exist between one and two million years ago. At that time, where Kilimanjaro now stands there was just an undulating plain with a few old eroded mountains. But that all changed with movements of the earth’s crust associated with the rift. Lava poured out from the fractures that were created and eventually gave rise to an enormous ridge, which is now represented by the nearby peaks of Ol Molog, Kibongoto and Kilema.
Kilimanjaro began to grow about 750,000 years ago as a result of lava spewing out of three main centres – Shira, Kibo and Mawenzi, It kept growing until their cones reached a height of about 5000 metres about half a million years ago. About this time, Shira collapsed into a Caldera and became inactive, but Kibo and Mawenzi continued to erupt until their peaks reached about 5500 metres. Mawenzi was the next to die, but Kibo continued to be active until about 360,000 years ago, during which time there were some particularly violent eruptions, including one which filled the old eroded caldera of Shira with black lava.
#8. Gombe Stream National Park
Primarily a chimpanzee sanctuary, this tiny park covers 52 sq km on the shores of Lake Tanganyika between Kigoma and the Burundi border, stretching between the lake shore and the escarpment a little further inland. The park is the site of Jane Goodall’s research station, which was set up in 1960.
It is a beautiful place and the chimps are great fun. A group of them usually come down to the research station every day. But if they don’t the rangers generally know where to find them. You will have a guide from Shizi Safaris too which are mellow, interesting people who will teach and explain to you the chimps lifestyle in Gombe Stream, history and all interesting facts about the park.
#9. Lake Manyara National Park
Lake Manyara National park is generally visited as the first stop on a safari which takes in this park and Ngorongoro and Serengeti. You will certainly see the wildebeest, giraffes and baboons with high concentration than any other place in the world. as well as the famous tree-climbing lions.
This park is famous for bird watching as yellow-billed storks swoop and corkscrew on thermal winds rising up from the escarpment, and herons flap their wings against the sun-drenched sky. Even reluctant bird-watchers will find something to watch and marvel at within the national park.
The waterbirds which come to nest here (greater and lesser flamingos in particular) can usually be seen from the shore of the lake where you can walk on the shore and get closer for a great view.
Apart from different Wildlife animals that you can always spot in the park, also this park has amazing scenic views of the rift valley escarpment. As you entered the park you will experience the lush jungle-like groundwater forest with so many baboons around trying to protect their family and territory.
#10. Mahale National Park
This national park, like Gombe Stream, is mainly a chimpanzee sanctuary but you won’t find it marked on most maps since it was only created in mid-1985. It is on the knuckle-shaped area of land which protrudes into Lake Tanganyika about halfway down the lake, opposite the Zairian port of Kalemie. The highest peak in the park, Nkungwe (2460 metres), ensures that moist air blowing in from the lake condenses there and falls as rain. This rain supports extensive montane forests, grasslands and alpine bamboo. Numerous valleys intersect the mountains, and some of these have permanents streams which flow into the lake. The eastern side of the mountains is considered drier and support what is known as miombo woodlands. It is a very isolated area.
The animals which live in this park show closer affinities with western than with eastern Africa. They include chimpanzee, brush-tailed porcupine, various species of colobus monkey (including the Angolan black-and-white colobus), guinea fowl and mongoose. Unlike other national parks in Tanzania, Mahale National park is one in many which you can walk around-there are no roads in any case. Very few tourists come here because of the remoteness of the area, but it is well worth it if you have the time and initiative and the best time to visit is from May to October.
You can get to Mahale national park by scheduled domestic flights from Kilimanjaro international airport (JRO) and Dar es Salaam airport (JKA) to Kigoma town where you can stay in standard hotel at Lake Tanganyika Hotel where they can arrange a boat for you to reach to the national park and for those who prefer backpacking you can use train or bus which might take 24 hrs to 48 hrs to reach in Kigoma and then you can organize boat to Mahale which can be arranged by the Kigoma tourist information centre.
#11. Ngorongoro Conservation Area
There can be few people who have not heard, read or seen film or TV footage of this incredible 20-km-wide volcanic crater with its 600-metre walls packed with just about every species of wildlife to be found in East Africa.
The views from the crater rim are incredible, and though the wildlife might not look too impressive from up there, when you get to the bottom you will very quickly change your mind. It’s been compared to Noah’s Ark and the Garden of Eden and it does not come up to Noah’ Ark expectations these days, but you definitely see lions, elephants, rhinos, buffaloes and many of the plains herbivores such as wildebeest, Thomson’s gazelle, zebras and reedbuck, as well as thousands of flamingos wading in the shallows of Lake Magadi- the soda lake on the floor of the crater.
Despite the steep wall of the crater, there’s considerable movement of animals in and out – mostly to Serengeti, since the land between the crater and Lake Manyara is intensively farmed. Yet it remains a favoured spot for the wildlife because there are permanent water and pasture on the crater floor. You can visit Ngorongoro at any time of the year and Shizi Safaris will be delighted to prepare a trip for you.
#12. Ruaha National Park
Ruaha National Park was created in 1964 from half of the Rungwa Game reserve. It covers 13,000 sq km. Like the Selous, it is a wild, undeveloped area and access is a bit challenging, but worth visiting since there is a lot of wildlife here as a result. Elephants, hippos and crocodiles and kudu, roan and sable antelope are particularly numerous. The Great Ruaha River, which forms the eastern boundary of the park, has spectacular gorges, though a lot if the rest of the park is undulating plateau averaging 1000 metres in height with occasional rocky outcrops.
Visiting the park is only feasible in the dry season, from June to December. During the rest of the year, the tracks are virtually impassable. The grass is long between February and June, restricting game-viewing.
#13. 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.
#14. 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.
Tanzania’s national park and game reserves rate among the best in Africa. Obviously the tremendous variety of birds and mammals, as well as beautiful scenic, is the main attraction, and the more popular parks such as Serengeti and Ngorongoro see a huge number of visitors from budget campers to luxury hotel. Other smaller parks such as Gombe stream and Lake Manyara national park would be lucky to see a handful of visitors a day at any time of the year. In addition to the protection of wildlife, some parks have been created to preserve the landscape itself, and this too can be exciting and rewarding places to visit, places such as Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru.