If you have never been on a safari to Tanzania before, the choice of which national park, reserve, or conservancy can sometimes be a little overwhelming. Whether it’s the northern, southern, or western parks, the sights you see and safari activities you experience will be truly unforgettable. For many, a safari is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. It often features at the top of the list when it comes to a travel bucket list, and rightly so. Tanzania offers sightings of the Big Five, the great wildebeest migration in the Serengeti National Park, habituated chimpanzees in Mahale Forest, as well as a variety of unique safari activities like fly camping and bush walking. With all this in mind, we’ve put together a guide of the best national parks in Tanzania.
Serengeti National Park, Northern Tanzania
Located in northern Tanzania, the Serengeti National Park is the destination that everyone has heard of. It has featured hundreds of times on safari and nature documentaries, with the most iconic scenes of the wildebeest river crossings, hot air balloon safaris over the plains, and the big cat populations in the eastern Serengeti in particular.
The game viewing in the Serengeti National Park is phenomenal. While rhinos are rare to see, it does offer the Big Five sighting which includes the cape buffalo, the elephant, the rhino, lion, and leopard. It shares the same ecosystem as the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, but the Serengeti is five times the size. This means that you can fly to different parts of the Serengeti and have a more private experience, with fewer permanent camps and safari vehicles around. In particular, the western Serengeti (the Grumeti region) and the northern Serengeti (Kogatende and Lamai regions) are quieter as they require internal flights.
While there are elephant, antelope, buffalo, cheetah, lion, hyena, and crocodile aplenty (among many others), the main draw to the Serengeti is the Great Migration. This is incredible migration where approximately 1.5 million wildebeest, accompanied by 200,000 zebra and a host of other antelope, migrate across the Serengeti National Park in a clockwise direction in search of fresh pasture and rains. It’s certainly one of the most iconic safari sightings in Africa.
Images: Nomad Lamai Camp
The Ngorongoro Crater, Northern Tanzania
The Ngorongoro Crater is located to the east of the Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania. Only a few hours drive from the Kilimanjaro/ Arusha area, combining the Ngorongoro Crater with other national parks in northern Tanzania (like Lake Manyara, Tarangire and the Serengeti) works well in an itinerary. The crater itself is the largest caldera in the world, boasting a diameter of around 20 kilometers. The depth of the crater is 610 meters and, although the game viewing inside the crater is fantastic, one of the main highlights of the Ngorongoro Crater is the drive down the crater rim. From the top, you’ll see a layer of mist and cloud but as you drive down the steep crater walls, you enter a new world – one with vast, green savannah and a wealth of plains game and an abundance of bird life.
Images: Nomad Entamanu Camp
The Selous Game Reserve. Southern Tanzania
The Selous (pronounced “Seluu”) is in southern Tanzania and, although it is the largest national park in the country, it’s often off the radar when it comes to deciding on your Tanzania safari. The total area of the park is around 30,890 km2 and its main draw is the mighty Rufiji River that runs through the park. The resident animals congregate around the river and nearby lakes for a permanent source of water, which makes the game viewing reliable. Compared to the northern parks (with vast, open spaces), the Selous Game Reserve has a variety of landscapes and topography – such as bushy, dense vegetation and beautiful riverbanks. The park is only a 30-minute flight from Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, so for those who are looking for a short 3-day safari, it works perfectly to fly in and out. During your stay in the Selous, you can do game drives (in open-sided vehicles), boat safaris, walking safaris, catch-and-release fishing, and even fly camping. This is also one of the best places in Tanzania (if not Africa) to see Africa wild dogs.
Images: Roho ya Selous Camp
Ruaha National Park, Southern Tanzania
Located to the west of the Selous Game Reserve in southern Tanzania is Ruaha. This park is characterized by its vast dry landscape, rich red soil, and an abundance of baobab forests. To some extent, this park is also off-the-beaten-track when it comes to choosing your Tanzania safari location. The main access into the park is via a light aircraft plane, which combines nicely with nearby parks like the Selous and Katavi if you wanted to visit multiple destinations. The park is famous for its large elephant and buffalo herds, huge million-year-old baobab trees, and its lion population. This is a great park for those who want to really immerse themselves into the wild, with many of the camps offering canvassed accommodation.
Images: Jabali Ridge
Tarangire National Park, Northern Tanzania
Tarangire is located in the north of Tanzania and, as the closest park to the Kilimanjaro/ Arusha region, it can sometimes get quite busy with safari vehicles that come for day trips on safari. That said, if you head further into the park and stay in somewhere like Oliver or Kuro Camp, you’ll be able to escape the crowds and experience a great part of Tarangire. While you can visit the park year-round, we’d recommend only visiting Tarangire between the months of June to October. This is because it’s often referred to as a migratory park. Outside of these months, the large elephant herds head out of the park.
Images: Elewana Collection (Tarangire Treetops)
Mahale National Park, Western Tanzania
Although this is one of the most remote national parks in Tanzania, it’s one to consider for those looking for something authentic, unique, and wild. With only two camps in this national park and limited flight access, you will notice how exclusive Mahale is. The landscape is simply stunning – with crystal-clear waters in Lake Tanganyika contrasting against the vivid green slopes of the forest. You can even see the mountains of the Democratic Republic of Congo as a backdrop. The main draw to this national park is the habituated chimpanzees. Covering around 1,600 km2, the mountains of Mahale are home to around 1,000 chimpanzees. The Mimikire Clan of chimpanzees have been habituated since 1965, so trekking through the forest to observe their behavior and social interaction is a phenomenal safari experience.
Images: Greystoke Mahale, Nomad
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