TANZANIA NATIONAL PARKS AND DESTINATIONS
With no less than 16 national parks, Tanzania is a dream for lovers of wildlife and nature. But it’s not only the national parks that are worth visiting, there’s several other places worth mentioning like Ngorongoro Conservation Area or Lake Natron. We know, this is not making it any easier to pick, but we’ll try to give you details and ideas for activities below, to try and help you choose the parks that are best for you. Here’s our list of Tanzania national parks and other nature / wildlife destinations worth visiting.
Arusha National Park
Relatively small with its 552 sq km / 212 sq miles and often overlooked, Arusha national park can easily be visited in a few hours or a day. Its location makes it ideal for a day trip, as it’s only 40 min from Arusha and 1,5 hours from Moshi. The park is home to Mount Meru, and anyone climbing the mountain gets the pleasure of a ride through part of the park!
While elephants are rare and lions absent all together, Arusha national park still offers a great diversity of wildlife. You’ll be able to see blue monkeys, black-and-white colobus monkeys, giraffes, zebras, buffaloes… and for lovers of pink… flamingos! These beautiful creatures inhabit the Momela lakes, that are a lovely sight even by themselves. The best time for visiting the park is during the dry months, from July to March, as you’ll spot significantly less animals during rain season.
It’s also one of the parks where you have the option of a walking safari. You’ll head deeper into the park, increasing your chances of seeing the animals up close. Of course you’ll be accompanied by an armed ranger, who will ensure your security.
For those who want to spend a night inside the park, accommodation is possible in lodges or camp sites.
Right below Serengeti national park and slightly southwest of Ngorongoro conservation area lies Lake Eyasi. You better pick the right time to visit it, as the water level varies hugely throughout the year. The vibe is however tropical, especially if you just came from the Serengeti or Ngorongoro crater, with palm trees and umbrella thorn acacias all over the place. The best way to explore here is on foot.
During the dry season the lake can almost completely disappear, making it easier to spot animals as they’re forced to head to the small area where they can find water. During rainy season, when the lake gets deeper, hippos become one of the main attractions. Bird lovers will also be extremely happy, with flamingos, pied avocet and Africa spoonbills living around the lake, to name just a few.
Lake Eyasi is also home to the Hadzabe people, a tribe who moves around the shores of the lake and survives by hunting and a bit of farming.
Lake Manyara National Park
Located around 130km and a 2,5 hour drive from Arusha, Lake Manyara was registered as a national park in 1960. It’s about 335 square kilometers large, 200 of which are being taken up by the actual lake. Day trips from Arusha are possible, but from Moshi it might be a bit far as the one-way drive alone takes 4 to 4,5 hours. No worries though, it’s perfect for a 2-day visit, combined with Ngorongoro conservation area or Tarangire national park, for example.
The amount of animals you’ll be able to see inside the park is phenomenal. Large groups of elephants, zebras and giraffes as well as buffalos, impalas, hippos, to name just a few. But that’s not all! Lake Manyara national park also hosts the largest population of baboons and is famous for its tree climbing lions. Yep, you read that right, lions sitting in a tree. Bird life is also very interesting inside the park, with more than 400 species being present, including sacred ibis, flamingo, lesser flamingo, pelican, Egyptian geese and many more.
Lake Manyara National Park also offers the opportunity to do a walking safari, or how about the treetop walk? This is a walk over bridges that are suspended in between the trees, and that allows you to see the park from a completely different angle!
The best time to visit this park depends hugely on your interests. The dry season (July – October) is the best time to see the larger animals, while the wet season (November to June) is ideal for spotting birds.
As it’s a small park you’re unlikely to spend more than 1 day in it, so you will probably overnight outside of the park, in the nearby town of Mto wa Mbu or Karatu.
Lake Natron is a soda lake in the north of Tanzania, located close to Ngorongoro conservation area. Due to its high alkalinity (pH 12 and more), salt content and high temperature (60°C), not many animals live in and around the lake. But the few species that do are worth the trip! Lake Natron is home to around 2.5 million flamingos, and with a little bit of effort you can get quite close to them if you’re lucky.
Other highlights of the – very remote – area are the Maasai families who inhabit it, and who are more than happy to welcome you during your journey, and Ol Doinyo Lengai, which means ‘mountain of God’ in Maasai language, and is actually an active volcano. You can admire it from far as it’s a lovely sight, or climb it for stunning views over the lake.
Lake Natron is located about 7 hours from Moshi and 5 hours from Arusha. We either offer it as a separate trip, or in combination with a safari in the same area. Camping is possible in the area, but there’s also rooms and simple lodges you can stay in.
Mkomazi National Park
Located just outside Same, about 120 km from Moshi and right next to the West Usambara Mountains, Mkomazi is by far the least visited national park in northern Tanzania. It offers 3245 square km of unspoiled nature and a very diverse wildlife. Mkomazi actually comes from the words Mko and Mazi, which in the Pare language mean ’tiny traditional wooden spoon’ and ‘water’, implying there’s not even enough water in the park to fill the tiny spoon. Vegetation is accordingly and consists of ancient baobab trees and umbrella acacias.
A wide variety of animals can be spotted, like giraffe, eland, impala, elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, cheetah and the endangered black rhino and wild dog. There’s also more than 400 bird spieces, including some that you’ll have a hard time finding elsewhere, such as the violet wood-hoopoe and the Somalia long billed crombec.
Just like Arusha national park, Mkomazi offers the option of discovering the park on foot. Entry fees are much lower than most other Tanzanian national parks, making this an interesting alternative for anyone on a budget. Accommodation options include a tented camp and a few public camp sites.
Mount Kilimanjaro National Park
Only opened to the public in 1977 and voted by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 1987, Kilimanjaro national park probably doesn’t need an introduction. The park covers an area of 1668 square km and activities include different short hikes, different routes to the summit, cycling (yes, you can ride a bike on Kilimanjaro, even all the way to the top!) and – for the adventurous souls – paragliding or wing suiting.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area & Crater
Ngorongoro crater is another gem in northern Tanzania, and for many visitors one of their favorite parks. It’s the largest volcanic caldera (collapsed volcano) in the world with a surface of about 260 m². It’s also one of the areas with the highest wildlife density, with around 25.000 animals living in the crater permanently. It hosts almost all African species. Only a few are absent, the most remarkable probably being the giraffe, as they simply can’t get down the very steep edges of the crater due to their long neck.
The crater is located inside Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which covers over 8000 m². It’s about 4 hours driving from Moshi. Driving through it (which you usually do to get to the Serengeti) is a wonderful experience in itself, and there’s some amazing views from above the crater.
There’s no accommodation options inside the crater, but plenty in the conservation area, from camping to luxury lodges, some of them overlooking the crater and offering magnificent views.
Serengeti National Park
Most famous for its annual migration of about 2 million gnus (wildebeest) and zebras, the Serengeti is almost indescribable. But we’ll try anyway!
Serengeti means ‘endless plains’ in Maasai language, and that’s exactly what it is. Grassland and savannah as far as you can see, and an animal show like nowhere else. Lions are the first that come to mind, but there’s also incredible amounts of zebras, wildebeest, Thomson gazelles, buffalos, hippos and much more. Game drives are the most common activity inside the park, but it’s also the perfect place if you want that little extra. How about a hot air balloon ride, or a fancy private lunch inside the park?
The most common access road to Serengeti National Park is through Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and it’s a long ride that we only recommend in combination with a stop in some of the other parks on the way, like Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara or Tarangire.
The park offers lots of accommodation options, from very basic camping to the most beautiful lodges. Whatever your taste and budget, the Serengeti is very unlikely to disappoint you!
Tarangire National Park
Elephant heaven aka Tarangire National Park is named after the Tarangire river that crosses the area. During the dry season this river attracts lots of thirsty animals. You’ll find more elephants here than anywhere else, but also other animals like gnus, zebras, giraffes, buffalos, antilopes, lions and some leopards. The park covers an area of almost 3000 m² and is also famous for its many baobab trees.
The park is located close to Lake Manyara National Park, and in our opinion also a little bit too far fom a day trip from Moshi (but possible from Arusha). Therefor we also recommend combining it with one or more other parks, in order to not spend 75% of your time just driving. Most people spend only 1 day here and head to Karatu or Mto wa Mbu to sleep, but if you have the time it’s definitely worth spending a bit more time here. In this case we recommend sleeping inside the park, as Mto wa Mbu and Karatu are located almost an hour away.
SOUTHERN, WESTERN AND EASTERN ZONE
We specialize mainly in the parks in Northern Tanzania, and while we can give you a lot of information about those, for information about the other zones we recommend you visit the official Tanzania national parks website.
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