Top Destinations in Tanzania
Serengeti National Park
A million wildebeest… each one driven by the same ancient rhythm, fulfilling its instinctive role in the inescapable cycle of life: a frenzied three-week bout of territorial conquests and mating; survival of the fittest as 40km (25 mile) long columns plunge through crocodile-infested waters on the annual exodus north; replenishing the species in a brief population explosion that produces more than 8,000 calves daily before the 1,000 km (600 mile) pilgrimage begins again.
Tanzania’s oldest and most popular national park, also a world heritage site and recently proclaimed a 7th world wide wonder, the Serengeti is famed for its annual migration, when some six million hooves pound the open plains, as more than 200,000 zebra and 300,000 Thomson’s gazelle join the wildebeest’s trek for fresh grazing. Yet even when the migration is quiet, the Serengeti offers arguably the most scintillating game-viewing in Africa: great herds of buffalo, smaller groups of elephant and giraffe, and thousands upon thousands of eland, topi, kongoni, impala and Grant’s gazelle.
What to See and Do
Hot air balloon safaris, walking safari, picnicking, game drives, bush lunch/dinner can be arranged with hotels/tour operators. Maasai rock paintings and musical rocks. Visit neighbouring Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge, Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano and Lake Natron’s flamingos.
The best way to experience Ngorongoro Crater is by leveraging the expertise from one of the local guide or safari services. Most of the crater lodges have professional guides as part of the safari and accommodation experience they provide to you. Your vehicles may vary, but you should be in a safari vehicle that has a removable or raisable roof that allows you to stand inside the vehicle and look out over the wildlife. Ideally, there will just be no more than 3 or 4 in the vehicle or you might be squeezing and wrestling for space when it comes to viewing some of the wildlife you might encounter.
Reputedly having the densest population of lions in Tanzania and if so the world, chances of seeing all of the “Big Five” within a single day are as high as they get – Ngorongoro has some of the country’s last black rhinos and is the only place in the Northern Circuit where the animals haven’t been hunted to extinction. Many other attractions are nearby including Olduvai Gorge (3.6 million year old hominid footprints); Shifting Sands (magnetic black dune moving around 18m per year); Olmoti Crater, Empakaai Crater, Oldoinyo Lengai (active volcano); Nasera Rock and Olkarien Gorge. All of these attractions can be included in a tailor-made itinerary centering around Ngorongoro Crater.
What to See and Do
A population of about 25,000 large animals, including the highest density of mammalian predators in Africa, lives in the crater. These include black rhinoceros, hippopotamus which are usually very uncommon in the area. There are also wildebeest, zebra, eland, Grants and Thomson’s gazelles.The crater has the densest known population of lion. On the crater rim are leopard, elephant, mountain reedbuck and buffalo. Lake Magadi, filled by the Munge river in the centre of the crater is, like many in the rift valley, a soda lake supporting flocks of flamingo and a variety of other water birds;.
More than a 100 species of bird not found in the Serengeti have been found in the crater including; ostriches, kori bustards, secretary birds, and crowned cranes as well as vultures, egrets, herons and geese.The rainy season lasts from November through to May, with the dry season running from June through to October. June and July are the coldest months of the year. The rim of the crater is often shrouded in dense cloud that pours over the crater into the vastness below.
Tarangire National Park
Tarangire lies to the south of the large open grass plains of southern Maasailand and is the best-kept secret on the northern safari circuit. It offers wonderful panoramas of wide savannah grasslands dotted with open acacia woodland studded with large Baobab trees. The density of game is second only to the crowded Ngorongoro Crater.
With 2600 square kilometers, this is a most spectacular park during the dry season when several thousands of animals migrate to the Tarangire River. A special feature of the park is the Greater Kudu but it is also good for rhino, elephant, buffalo, lion and a host of other species. The reserve has nine distinct vegetation areas and generally covers arid acacia/thorn bush country.
This is a year-round park with distinct seasons offering different experiences, from dusty, dry and baking with animals clustered around the rapidly reducing river, to the fecund green season full of new-born animals and chattering birds. The only months to avoid are during the heavy rainfalls of April and May. Tarangire is a dry season refuge for many migratory animals (elephants, wildebeest, zebra, gazelles, eland and buffalo), that spend many months of the year outside the park on traditional grazing corridors linking Tarangire with other protected areas.
What to See and Do
Guided walking safaris. Day trips to Maasai and Barabaig villages, as well as to the hundreds of ancient rock paintings in the vicinity of Kolo on the Dodoma Road. More ardent bird-lovers might keep an eye open for screeching flocks of the dazzlingly colourful yellow-collared lovebird, and the somewhat drabber rufous-tailed weaver and ashy starling – all endemic to the dry savannah of north-central Tanzania. Tarangire’s pythons climb trees, as do its lions and leopards, lounging in the branches where the fruit of the sausage tree disguises the twitch of a tail.
Arusha National Park
The closest national park to Arusha town – northern Tanzania’s safari capital – Arusha National Park is a multi-faceted jewel, often overlooked by safarigoers, despite offering the opportunity to explore a beguiling diversity of habitats within a few hours. The entrance gate leads into shadowy montane forest inhabited by inquisitive blue monkeys and colourful turacos and trogons – the only place on the northern safari circuit where the acrobatic black-and-white colobus monkey is easily seen. In the midst of the forest stands the spectacular Ngurdoto Crater, whose steep, rocky cliffs enclose a wide marshy floor dotted with herds of buffalo and warthog.
Although elephants are uncommon in Arusha National Park, and lions absent altogether, leopards and spotted hyenas may be seen slinking around in the early morning and late afternoon. It is also at dusk and dawn that the veil of cloud on the eastern horizon is most likely to clear, revealing the majestic snow-capped peaks of Kilimanjaro, only 50km (30 miles) distant. But it is Kilimanjaro’s unassuming cousin, Mount Meru – the fifth highest in Africa at 4,566 metres (14,990 feet) – that dominates the park’s horizon. Its peaks and eastern footslopes protected within the national park, Meru offers unparalleled views of its famous neighbour, while also forming a rewarding hiking destination in its own right.
What to See and Do
Forest walks, numerous picnic sites; three- or four-day Mt Meru climb – good acclimatisation for Kilimanjaro.
Katavi National Park
Tanzania’s third largest national park, it lies in the remote southwest of the country, within a truncated arm of the Rift Valley that terminates in the shallow, brooding expanse of Lake Rukwa.
Isolated, untrammelled and seldom visited, Katavi is a true wilderness, providing the few intrepid souls who make it there with a thrilling taste of Africa as it must have been a century ago.
Katavi’s most singular wildlife spectacle is provided by its hippos. Towards the end of the dry season, up to 200 individuals might flop together in any riverine pool of sufficient depth. And as more hippos gather in one place, so does male rivalry heat up – bloody territorial fights are an everyday occurrence, with the vanquished male forced to lurk hapless on the open plains until it gathers sufficient confidence to mount another challenge.
What to See and Do
Walking, driving and camping safaris. Near Lake Katavi, visit the tamarind tree inhabited by the spirit of the legendary hunter Katabi (for whom the park is named) – offerings are still left here by locals seeking the spirit’s blessing.
Lake Manyara National Park
Stretching for 50km along the base of the rusty-gold 600-metre high Rift Valley escarpment, Lake Manyara is a scenic gem, with a setting extolled by Ernest Hemingway as “the loveliest I had seen in Africa”. The compact game-viewing circuit through Manyara offers a virtual microcosm of the Tanzanian safari experience. From the entrance gate, the road winds through an expanse of lush jungle-like groundwater forest where hundred-strong baboon troops lounge nonchalantly along the roadside, blue monkeys scamper nimbly between the ancient mahogany trees, dainty bushbuck tread warily through the shadows, and outsized forest hornbills honk cacophonously in the high canopy.
Contrasting with the intimacy of the forest is the grassy floodplain and its expansive views eastward, across the alkaline lake, to the jagged blue volcanic peaks that rise from the endless Maasai Steppes. Large buffalo, wildebeest and zebra herds congregate on these grassy plains, as do giraffes – some so dark in coloration that they appear to be black from a distance. Inland of the floodplain, a narrow belt of acacia woodland is the favoured haunt of Manyara’s legendary tree-climbing lions and impressively tusked elephants. Squadrons of banded mongoose dart between the acacias, while the diminutive Kirk’s dik-dik forages in their shade. Pairs of klipspringer are often seen silhouetted on the rocks above a field of searing hot springs that steams and bubbles adjacent to the lakeshore in the far south of the park.
Manyara provides the perfect introduction to Tanzania’s birdlife. More than 400 species have been recorded, and even a first-time visitor to Africa might reasonably expect to observe 100 of these in one day. Highlights include thousands of pink-hued flamingos on their perpetual migration, as well as other large waterbirds such as pelicans, cormorants and storks.
What to See and Do
Game drives, night game drives, canoeing when the water levels is sufficiently high. Cultural tours, picnicking, bush lunch/dinner, mountain bike tours, abseiling and forest walks on the escarpment outside the park.
Mkomazi National Park
Set below the verdant slopes of the spectacular Usambara and Pare Eastern Arc Mountain ranges and overseen by iconic snow – capped peak of Kilimanjaro, Mkomazi a virgin breathtaking beauty exhibiting unique natural treasures and immense sense of space – adds to the fulfillment of high visitor enjoyment expectations – a much needed bridge between northern circuit and coastal attractions.
Mkomazi is vital refuge for two highly endangered species, the charismatic black rhino and sociable African wild dog, both of which were successfully reintroduced in the 1990s. Nomadic by nature, wild dog might be seen almost anywhere in the park, but black rhino are restricted to a fenced sanctuary, ensuring their safe keeping for future generations enjoyment and prosperity.
What to See and Do
Game drives, camping, site seeing, bird watching, walking safari, and hiking (uphill). Learn more about conservation and rhinoceros at Mkomazi rhino sanctuary.
Mount Kilimanjaro National Park
Kilimanjaro. The name itself is a mystery wreathed in clouds. It might mean Mountain of Light, Mountain of Greatness or Mountain of Caravans. Or it might not. The local people, the Wachagga, don’t even have a name for the whole massif, only Kipoo (now known as Kibo) for the familiar snowy peak that stands imperious, overseer of the continent, the summit of Africa.
Kilimanjaro, by any name, is a metaphor for the compelling beauty of East Africa. When you see it, you understand why. Not only is this the highest peak on the African continent; it is also the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, rising in breathtaking isolation from the surrounding coastal scrubland â€“ elevation around 900 metres â€“ to an imperious 5,895 metres (19,336 feet).
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. And those who reach Uhuru Point, the actual summit, or Gillman’s Point on the lip of the crater, will have earned their climbing certificates.
What to See and Do
Six usual trekking routes to the summit and other more-demanding mountaineering routes. Day or overnight hikes on the Shira plateau. Nature trails on the lower reaches. Trout fishing:- Visit the beautiful Chala crater lake on the mountain’s southeastern slopes.