One of the most popular tourist destinations in Africa, Tanzania is well-established as one of the best wildlife-viewing destinations in the world. Safaris follow the trail of giant herds of antelope or wildebeest across the Serengeti, while lions lounge in the shade waiting for their next meal to trot by. On the horizon looms the conical silhouette of Kilimanjaro, beckoning the strong of lung and leg, and just off the coast the beaches and Arabian-infused culture of Zanzibar offer travelers a very different Africa.
TANZANIA NATIONAL PARKS
The well-established ‘Northern Circuit’ safari of northern Tanzania offers some of the world’s most diverse safari experiences, consisting of National Parks, game reserves, conservation areas and private concessions. Among these are the world-famous and iconic Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater, and of course their less well-known neighbors, Tarangire National Park and Lake Manyara National Park.
Serengeti National Park
There is such a variety of species in the Serengeti as to be too great to number here, which is why it is such an integral part of a Tanzania safari. The Serengeti’s main attraction is the Great Migration, consisting of up to 2 million wildebeest, 200,000 zebras and 350,000 thompson, impala and grant’s gazelles.
The predator viewing here is exceptional with approximately 3-4,000 lion and huge numbers of cheetah, leopard and hyena. Other animals commonly found in the park include topi, eland, hartebeest, buffalo, elephant, caracal, serval, bat-eared fox, hyrax, genet, hares, porcupine, aardvark, giraffe, jackal, mongoose, crocodile, monitor lizard, aardwolf, many kinds of primates including baboons, vervet and colobus monkeys, and over 500 species of bird.
Tarangire National Park
During the dry months the concentration of animals around the Tarangire river is almost as diverse and reliable as in the Ngorongoro Crater. However, the ecosystem here is balanced by a localised migration pattern that is followed by the majority of game that resides in and around the park. As a result, Tarangire is superb in the dry season but questionable the rest of the year.
Elephants are the main attraction, with up to 3,000 in the park during the peak months. Peak season also sees good numbers of wildebeest and zebra as well as giraffe, buffalo, Thompson’s gazelle, greater and lesser kudu, eland, leopard and cheetah. The real prizes in the park are dwarf mongoose, oryx and generuk – but viewings are very rare. Tarangire is also one of Tanzania’s finest birding destinations.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Any Northern Tanzania Safari should ideally include a visit to Ngorongoro Crater: it is one of the most beautiful natural wildlife safari sites in the world and an exceptional place to interact with people from the Maasai tribe.
The Ngorongoro Crater is the best place in Tanzania to see ‘The Big Five’. A healthy population of black rhino and some of the largest tusker elephants left in Africa today are the prize spots, but the crater is also home to good populations of lion, leopard and hyena along with healthy herds of wildebeest, buffalo and zebra. Other wildlife here includes serval cat, cheetah, jackal, Grant’s and Thompson’s gazelle, flamingo and bat-eared foxes, as well as approximately 400 species of bird.
Southern Tanzania Safaris to the Selous Game Reserve, the Udzungwa Mountains National Park or Mikumi and Ruaha National Parks provide superb game viewing without the crowds found in the Northern parks. Frequently you will be the only car on the landscape.
The South of Tanzania also presents a superb variety of habitats from the Eastern Arc Forests of the Udzungwa and Uluguru Ranges to the planes of Mikumi and the Selous Game Reserve. Enjoy boat safaris, fly camping and walking tours. Sleep to the sounds of lions roaring.
Selous Game Reserve
The Selous Game Reserve, covering 50,000 square kilometers, is amongst the largest protected areas in Africa and is relatively undisturbed by human impact. The property harbors one of the most significant concentrations of elephant, black rhinoceros, cheetah, giraffe, hippopotamus and crocodile, amongst many other species.
The reserve also has an exceptionally high variety of habitats including Miombo woodlands, open grasslands, riverine forests and swamps, making it a valuable laboratory for on-going ecological and biological processes.
Mikumi National Park
This is Tanzania’s fourth-largest national park, and the most accessible from Dar es Salaam. With almost guaranteed year-round wildlife sightings, Mikumi makes an ideal safari destination for those without much time.
Within its 3230 sq km – set between the Uluguru Mountains to the northeast, the Rubeho Mountains to the northwest and the Lumango Mountains to the southeast – Mikumi hosts buffaloes, wildebeests, giraffes, elephants, lions, zebras, leopards, crocodiles and more, and chances are high that you’ll see a respectable sampling of these within a short time of entering the park.
Lake Manyara National Park
The concentrations of game at Lake Manyara are not nearly as high as in surrounding parks, but there are a number of unique species that give reason enough to safari here. The park’s main attraction are Lake Manyara’s famous tree climbing lions – why these lions habitually climb trees is still up for debate, but viewing a pride relaxing in an acacia tree is a remarkable sight!
The park is also famous for its elephant and huge number of baboons, and its varied landscape supports an impressive range of other game including wildebeest, buffalo, hippo, flamingo, zebra, warthog, waterbuck, dik-dik and impala. The birding here is also very good, especially raptors.
Arusha National Park
Within the park there are three broad areas to be found: Ngurdoto Crater (surrounded by forest), the Momela Lakes (alkaline) and Mount Meru (lush forest and bare rock). These are all at varying altitudes and as a result have very different vegetation – it is all this that helps to make this such a diverse park to visit.
Despite the small size of the park, common animals include giraffe, buffalo, zebra, warthog, the black-and-white colobus monkey, the blue monkey, flamingos, african elephants, lions and more. Leopards are present, but rarely seen. Birdlife in the forest is prolific, with many forest species more easily seen here than elsewhere on the tourist route – Narina trogon and bar-tailed trogon are both possible highlights for visiting birders.
Kilimanjaro National Park
Kilimanjaro is one of the world’s most accessible high summits, a beacon for visitors from around the world. Most climbers reach the crater rim with little more than a walking stick, proper clothing and determination.
But there is so much more to Kilimanjaro than her summit. The ascent of the slopes is a virtual climatic world tour, from the tropics to the Arctic. Even before you cross the national park boundary (at the 2,700m contour), the cultivated footslopes give way to lush montane forest, inhabited by elusive elephant, leopard, buffalo, the endangered Abbot’s duiker, and other small antelope and primates. Higher still lies the moorland zone, where a cover of giant heather is studded with otherworldly giant lobelias.
Ruaha Game Reserve
Ruaha has all the predators on show, with very good lion, leopard and cheetah as well as wild dog and hyena. Buffalo and elephant herds are found throughout the park but it is the park’s crazy combinations of species from east and southern Africa that excites wildlife and birdwatching enthusiasts.
It is not uncommon to see Grant’s gazelle, greater and lesser kudu in the same area as east Africa’s common species such as zebra, defassa waterbuck, impala and giraffe. Put in the hours and travel across the park to find sable, roan, hartebeest and over 500 species of bird
Gombe Stream National Park
Gombe is the smallest of Tanzania’s national parks: a fragile strip of chimpanzee habitat straddling the steep slopes and river valleys that hem in the sandy northern shore of Lake Tanganyika. Gombe Stream’s high levels of diversity make it an increasingly popular tourist destination. Besides chimpanzees, primates inhabiting Gombe Stream include beachcomber olive baboons, red colobus, red-tailed monkeys, blue monkeys, and vervet monkeys. Red-tailed monkeys and blue monkeys have also been known to hybridize in the area.
The park is also home to over 200 bird species and bush pigs. There are also 11 species of snakes, and occasional hippopotamus and leopards. Visitors to the park can trek into the forest to view the chimpanzees, as well as swim and snorkel in Lake Tanganyika with almost 100 kinds of colorful cichlid fish.
Saadani National Park
Located in the centre of the historic triangle of Bagamoyo, Pangani and Zanzibar, Saadani National Park covers 1100 km2. It is the only wildlife sanctuary in Tanzania bordering the sea. The climate is coastal, hot and humid. It offers a unique combination of both marine and mainland flora and fauna in a culturally fascinating setting.
About 30 species of larger mammals like elephants, lions, leopards and jackals, among others are present as well as numerous reptiles and birds. Besides many species of fish, Green turtles, Humpback whales and dolphins also occur in the ocean nearby.