Saadani National Park is the perfect union of beach and bush. Located just 70 km north of Bagamoyo and immediately accessible by paved road from Dar es Salaam, Saadani has recently become a fully protected national park and is a popular day-trip from beach resorts scattered along Tanzania’s northern coast. The Wami River, which passes through Saadani National Park and empties into the Indian Ocean, hosts a large population of hippos, crocodiles, flamingos, and many large bird species. Elephants are often viewed bathing and playing on Saadani’s beach, especially in the early hours of the morning.
A good choice for visitors based in Dar es Salaam who don’t have time for longer safaris to visit more remote parks around the country, Saadani is easily visited on a day trip or short weekend safari. It’s elephant population frolics in the sands and sometimes ventures into the crashing surf, which alone makes Saadani one of the more special and unique parks to visit in Tanzania.
Tanzania’s second-largest national park after the Serengeti, Ruaha National Park is a remote bastion of spectacular wilderness, undisturbed wildlife, and breathtaking scenery. With herds of more than 10,000 elephants, vast concentrations of buffalo, gazelle, and over 400 bird species, Ruaha’s limitless wilderness, together with the surrounding game reserves of Rungwa and Kisigo — stretches over 40,000 square kilometres. Elephants are found in some of the highest concentration in the country, travelling in matriarch-lead herds through ancient grazing lands and seasonal supplies of water.
The Great Ruaha River is the main feature of the park, and meanders through its borders. On its banks, the game viewing is spectacular, whether done by land or by water. Hippos yawn under the midday sun and crocodiles lie lazily along the banks. Fish eagles dive and swoop along the riverbanks, and at night the sound of frogs croaking happily in the reeds extends across the hills and plains. Boating safaris are starting to gain in popularity, and provide a popular alternative to viewing the area by car.
Most of the national park is located on the top of a 900 metre plateau whose ripples of hills, valleys, and plains makes the game viewing topography beautifully unique. Small mountains run along the southwest borders of the park and their tree-covered slopes are visible in the distance. During the rainy seasons, dry river beds swell with the biannual deluge and within days, a thin coat of green covers all the land in sight.
Because of its rather remote location, Ruaha National Park is largely unexplored. Because of this, a safari to the national park often has the feel of a private adventure and an unique experience. For the intrepid wilderness lover and the avid safari explorer, a trip to Ruaha is uniquely rewarding and a perfect piece of Africa.
The Ngorongoro Crater is often called ‘Africa’s Eden’ and the ‘8th Natural Wonder of the World,’ a visit to the crater is a main drawcard for tourists coming to Tanzania and a definite world-class attraction. Within the crater rim, large herds of zebra and wildebeest graze nearby while sleeping lions laze in the sun. At dawn, the endangered black rhino returns to the thick cover of the crater forests after grazing on dew-laden grass in the morning mist. Just outside the crater’s ridge, tall Masaai herd their cattle and goats over green pastures through the highland slopes, living alongside the wildlife as they have for centuries.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area includes its eponymous famous crater, Olduvai Gorge, and huge expanses of highland plains, scrub bush, and forests that cover approximately 8300 square kilometres. A protected area, only indigenous tribes such as the Masaai are allowed to live within its borders. Lake Ndutu and Masek, both alkaline soda lakes are home to rich game populations, as well as a series of peaks and volcanoes and make the Conservation Area a unique and beautiful landscape. Of course, the crater itself, actually a type of collapsed volcano called a caldera, is the main attraction. Accommodation is located on its ridges and after a beautiful descent down the crater rim, passing lush rain forest and thick vegetation, the flora opens to grassy plains throughout the crater floor. The game viewing is truly incredible, and the topography and views of the surrounding Crater Highlands out of this world.
This truly magical place is home to Olduvai Gorge, where the Leakeys discovered the hominoid remains of a 1.8 million year old skeleton of Australopithecus boisei, one of the distinct links of the human evolutionary chain. In a small canyon just north of the crater, the Leakeys and their team of international archaeologists unearthed the ruins of at least three distinct hominoid species, and also came upon a complete series of hominoid footprints estimated to be over 3.7 million years old. Evacuated fossils show that the area is one of the oldest sites of hominoid habitation in the world.
The Ngorongoro Crater and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area are without a doubt some of the most beautiful parts of Tanzania, steeped in history and teeming with wildlife. Besides vehicle safaris to Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge, and surrounding attractions, hiking treks through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area are becoming increasingly popular options. Either way you choose to visit, the Crater Highlands are an unforgettable part of the Tanzanian experience.
Due to the completion of the paved road connecting the park gate with Dar es Salaam, Mikumi National Park is slated to become a hotspot for tourism in Tanzania. Located between the Uluguru Mountains and the Lumango range, Mikumi is the fourth largest park in Tanzania and only a few hours drive from Tanzania’s largest city, the park has a wide variety of wildlife that are easy to spot and well acclimatised to game viewing. Its proximity to Dar es Salaam and the amount of wildlife that live within its borders makes Mikumi National Park a popular option for weekend visitors from the city, or for business visitors who don’t have long to spend on an extended safari itinerary.
Most visitors come to Mikumi National Park looking to spot the ‘Big Five’ (cheetah, lion, elephant, buffalo, and rhino), and they aren’t disappointed. Hippo pools provide close access to the mud-loving beasts, and bird-watching along the waterways is particularly rewarding. Mikumi National Park borders the Selous Game Reserve and Udzungwa National Park, and the three locations make a varied and pleasant safari circuit.
Mahale Mountains National Park is located in one of the most remote locations in Tanzania, on the western border with the Congo, against the dramatic shores of Lake Tanganyika. Accessible only by small aircraft, the park is the home of a large chimpanzee population that is well acclimatized to human contact. Although the nearby Gombe Stream National Park is more famous, the primate population in Mahale Mountains is more numerous and sightings more regular and prolonged.
Observing the chimpanzees in their natural habitat, one cannot help but be touched by their natural grace and anthropomorphic features. Although remote, a chimpanzee safari to Mahale Mountains National Park is well worth the effort. Hikes to their habitation areas are accessible and not strenuous, although being in good physical condition will ease the strain of walking through the jungle! Up close, observing the endangered primates is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Located beneath the cliffs of the Manyara Escarpment, on the edge of the Rift Valley, Lake Manyara National Park offers varied ecosystems, incredible bird life, and breathtaking views. Located on the way to Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti, Lake Manyara National Park is well worth a stop in its own right. Its ground water forests, bush plains, baobob strewn cliffs, and algae-streaked hot springs offer incredible ecological variety in a small area, rich in wildlife and incredible numbers of birds.
The alkaline soda of Lake Manyara is home to an incredible array of bird life that thrives on its brackish waters. Pink flamingo stoop and graze by the thousands, colourful specks against the grey minerals of the lake shore. 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.
Lake Manyara’s famous tree-climbing lions are another reason to pay this park a visit. The only kind of their species in the world, they make the ancient mahogany and elegant acacias their home during the rainy season, and are a well-known but rather rare feature of the northern park. In addition to the lions, the national park is also home to the largest concentration of baboons anywhere in the world — a fact that makes for interesting game viewing of large families of the primates.
The wilderness of Katavi National Park, located in the western area of Tanzania, is one of the most untouched areas of the entire country. It offers unspoilt wildlife viewing in the country’s third-largest national park, in a remote location far off the beaten track. The park is Africa at its most wild — unadulterated bush settings, spectacular views, and rich wildlife.
Katavi’s dramatic scenery is as varied as it is pristine. Flood plains of thick reeds and dense waterways are home to a huge population of hippo and varied birdlife. In the woodlands to the west, forest canopies shroud herds of buffalo and elephant. Seasonal lakes fill with dirt coloured water after the rains and animals from all corners of the park descend on them to drink. The park is also home to the rare roan and sable antelope species, and is a must-see for the visitor intent on exploring the wilds of the continent.
Gombe Stream National Park, located on the western border of Tanzania and the Congo, is most famous for Jane Goodall, the resident primatologist who spent many years in its forests studying the behaviour of the endangered chimpanzees. Situated on the wild shores of Lake Tanganyika, Gombe Stream is an untamed place of lush forests and clear lake views. Hiking and swimming are also popular activities here, once the day’s expedition to see the chimpanzees is over.
Gombe Stream’s main attraction is obviously the chimpanzee families that live protected in the park’s boundaries. Guided walks are available that take visitors deep into the forest to observe and sit with the extraordinary primates for an entire morning — an incredible experience and one that is the highlight of many a visitors trip to Africa. Aside from chimpanzee viewing, many other species of primates live in Gombe Stream’s tropical forests. Vervet and colobus monkeys, baboons, forest pigs and small antelope inhabit the dense forest, in addition to a wide variety of tropical birdlife.
A popular day trip for visitors about to embark from the town of Arusha on longer northern circuit safaris, Arusha National Park is a gem of varied ecosystems and spectacular views of Mt. Meru, the crater that gives the region its name. The small national park includes the slopes, summit, and ash cone of Mt. Meru, the Momela Lakes, Ngurdoto Crater, and the lush highland forests that blanket its lower slopes. Game viewing around the Momela Lakes is at a laid-back and quiet pace, and while passing through the forest many visitors stop to search for troupes of rare colubus monkeys playing in the canopy.
Climbing Mt. Meru or enjoying the smaller trails that criss-cross its lower slopes is a popular activity for visitors to Arusha National Park. The three-day trek to reach the crater’s summit is a quieter, and some say more challenging alternative than the famous peak of nearby Mount Kilimanjaro. Along the lower slopes, paths to rivers and waterfalls make a relaxing day hike for visitors who don’t want to attempt the rather arduous climb. Ancient fig tree forests, crystal clear waters cascading from mountain streams, and a chance to spot colobus monkeys are the attractions and pleasures of Arusha National Park.
Climbing Mount Meru is usually skipped in favour of its bigger neighbour Mt. Kilimanjaro to the west, but the sheer beauty and challenge of this three-day climb makes it a must-do for obliging itineraries. The early parts of the trail pass through lush rainforests of fig trees and colubus monkeys high in the canopy.
As you climb higher, the cloud forest clears in the late afternoon to reveal striking vistas of Kilimanjaro and the volcano chain on the edge of the Rift Valley. The last distance before the summit passes over the crater ridge – an exhilarating experience, and not one for the faint-hearted.
So while Kilimanjaro offers the chance to scale to the ‘roof of Africa,’ its slightly smaller neighbour is certainly not lacking in adventure.