There are 16 national parks in Tanzania and over a hundred game reserves, conservation areas, wildlife management areas and nature reserves. Some of these protected areas are very well-known and must-see places for anyone going on safari in Tanzania. These include the World Heritage Sites of Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park where there are a large number and variety of animals to view. These two parks offer the best chance to view a black rhino and the other Big Five animals.
Other protected areas that are not as well-known, except perhaps by naturalists and animal lovers who follow the work of conservationists like Jane Goodall who dedicated her life to chimpanzee research at Gombe Stream National Park. Kilimanjaro is one of the famous Seven Summits. But did you know this mountain sits inside a national park of the same name?
With so many protected areas in Tanzania, how do you know which ones to visit on a safari trip? To help you choose, we made a list our favorite national parks and game reserves for safari-goers. Take a look at what each one has to offer; learn which animals you can see while on safari and the best time to travel.
Arusha National Park
The focal point of Arusha National Park is Mount Meru, a dormant volcano 43 miles west of Kilimanjaro, just north of the city of Arusha. The peak is 4,562 meters (14,967 feet) and adventure travelers will enjoy it as a stand-alone trek or a prequel to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
Arusha National Park is small but has a varied landscape of dense forest, swamp and grasslands, lakes and alpine highland. It’s one of several places in Tanzania where you can do a walking safari – a unique way to view animals.
Some of the animals you can see while on safari in Arusha are giraffe, Cape buffalo, elephant, zebra, dik-dik and several species of larger antelope, hippopotamus, waterbuck, warthog, leopard and hyena. Among the primates in the park are baboon, blue monkey and the very cool looking black-and-white colobus. There are also 400 species of birds including thousands of pink and white flamingos and the sacred ibis.
Lake Manyara National Park
Lake Manyara is surrounded by forest and grassland where you can see elephants up close. Other animals in Lake Manyara National Park are Cape buffalo, lion, hippopotamus, impala, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, bushbuck, leopard and baboon. There are fantastic bird watching opportunities in the park. Some of the birds you can view are pink flamingo, white pelican, yellow-billed stork and hawk-eagle. You can also see reptiles like the Nile monitor and cobra.
Like many areas in Tanzania, you could be a welcomed guest at a traditional Maasai village while on safari in Lake Manyara. This is a unique experience and a chance to get to know a little about one of the indigenous cultures in Africa.
A few reasons why this national park is popular include the fact that it is home to tree-climbing lions, a rarity in Africa. The park also has the greatest biomass density in the world. Night safaris and hiking are available in Lake Manyara NP. The best time to visit is July to October.
Tarangire National Park
Tarangire has the second largest concentration of wildlife next to the Serengeti, but it is less traveled. The swamps surrounding the Tarangire River are a good source of water for animals who flock to the area during May to October (dry season). Night safaris and walking safaris are available in Tarangire and the best time to visit is July to October.
Tarangire’s grassland and savanna make the perfect habitat for its 550 bird varieties. These include lion kori bustard, ostrich, yellow-collared lovebird, rufous-tailed weaver and red-and-yellow barbet. There are large herds of elephant in the park. Other mammals include oryx, gerenuk, baobab, kudu, African wild dog and dwarf mongoose.
Selous Game Reserve
This designated World Heritage Site was established in 1922. It’s the largest game reserve in Africa and the largest uninhabited area on the continent. There are some 350 bird species in Selous Game Reserve.
Selous is one of the two destinations used by elephants for their annual migration. It is also one of the few destinations on the continent to see the African wild dog. Among some of the other creatures in the reserve are cheetah, giraffe, hippopotamus, buffalo, crocodile, and white rhinoceros. The best time to view the animals in Selous is June to November.
Ruaha National Park
Established in 1910, Ruaha was one of the first national parks in Africa. The landscape is miombo woodland and savanna which is perfect for viewing elephants. You will also see African wild dog as well as greater kudu, sable and a high diversity of other antelope species. This means there are also predators, such as cheetah. There are more than 400 species of bird in Ruaha including hornbill, kingfisher, sunbird and white stork.
As a more remote location, Ruaha offers some unique, authentic encounters and dramatic scenery with a picturesque river and ancient baobab trees. Fly-in camping trips are available to Ruaha. The best time to visit is June to October.
Serengeti National Park
Serengeti National Park is another World Heritage Site and the most visited park in Tanzania. It is famous for a massive migration of ungulates and other animals. Known as The Great Migration, as many as 2 million animals make their way from north to south and back again through the park each year.
The Serengeti is the park with the most wildlife including the Big Five. It is one of the best destinations to spot African big cat predators like the lion, leopard and cheetah. While on safari, travelers will have the opportunity to view wildebeest, zebra, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, cheetah, gazelle, giraffe, spotted hyena, jackal, aardwolf, serval and agama lizard. There are also more than 500 bird species; secretary bird, ostrich and black eagle to name a few.
The Serengeti is a great place to go up in a hot air balloon – a once in a lifetime opportunity and a unique way to go on safari. The best times to visit the park are June to July and January to February.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area
This World Heritage Site is made up of grassland, lakes, swamp, woodland, heath and dense mountain forest. The main feature of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera called Ngorongoro Crater.
The best time to go on safari in Ngorongoro is June to September. However, about 30,000 animals live inside the crater and do not migrate, so they can be spotted all year-round. Some animals you will see on safari include wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, black rhinoceros, lion, hartebeest, spotted hyena, hippopotamus, buffalo, elephant, mountain reedbuck and leopard.
There are also many archeological and paleontological sites in Ngorongoro including Laetoli and Lake Ndutu. Of these sites, travelers are most interested to view Olduvai Gorge where evidence of the first human species lived some 1.9 million years ago.
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