Arusha National Park covers 137 sq km, and is located in Northern Tanzania, northeast of Arusha town. It is an easy 40-minute drive from Arusha, approximately 60 km from Kilimanjaro International Airport. The lakes, forest and Ngurdoto Crater can all be visited in the course of a half-day outing at the beginning or end of an extended northern safari. Activities available here include forest walks, numerous picnic sites, three- or four-day Mt Meru climb – good acclimatization for Kilimanjaro.
The best time to climb Mt Meru is June-February although it may rain in November. Best views of Kilimanjaro from here are in December-February.
Gombe is the smallest of Tanzania’s national parks: a fragile strip of chimpanzee habitat straddling the steep slopes and river valleys that hem in the sandy northern shore of Lake Tanganyika. Its chimpanzees – habituated to human visitors – were made famous by the pioneering work of Jane Goodall, who in 1960 founded a behavioural research program that now stands as the longest-running study of its kind in the world.
At 52 sq km (20 sq miles), it is the smallest of Tanzania’s National Parks. It is located 16km north of Kigoma on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania.
Activities available here include Chimpanzee trekking; hiking, swimming and snorkelling; visit the site of Henry Stanley’s famous “Dr Livingstone I presume” at Ujiji near Kigoma, and watch the renowned dhow builders at work.
The chimps don’t roam as far in the wet season (February-June, November-mid December) so may be easier to find, but one has better picture opportunities in the dry season (July-October and late December).
Kilimanjaro is the highest peak on the African continent and also the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, rising in breathtaking isolation from the surrounding coastal scrubland – elevation around 900 metres – to an imperious 5,895 metres (19,336 feet).
The ascent of the slopes is a virtual climatic world tour, from the tropics to the Arctic.
Even before you cross the national park boundary (at the 2,700m contour), the cultivated foot slopes give way to lush montane forest, inhabited by elusive elephant, leopard, buffalo, the endangered Abbot’s duiker, and other small antelope and primates. Higher still lies the moorland zone, where a cover of giant heather is studded with otherworldly giant lobelias.
Above 4,000m, a surreal alpine desert supports little life other than a few hardy mosses and lichen. Then, finally, the last vestigial vegetation gives way to a winter wonderland of ice and snow – and the magnificent beauty of the roof of the continent.
The park covers an area of 755 sq km in Northern Tanzania, close to the town of Moshi. It is located 128 km from Arusha, and is about one hour’s drive from Kilimanjaro Airport.
Activities available include:
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.
Visit the beautiful Chala crater lake on the mountain’s southeastern slopes.
he clearest and warmest conditions are found from December to February, but also the dry (and colder) season from July-September is good for climbing the mountain.
Lake Manyara National Park is located in northern Tanzania. The entrance gate lies 1.5 hours (126km/80 miles) west of Arusha along a newly surfaced road, close to the ethnically diverse market town of Mto wa Mbu.
The compact game-viewing circuit through Manyara offers a virtual microcosm of the Tanzanian safari experience. 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. The park covers 330 sq km, of which up to 200 sq km is lake when water levels are high.
The park is easily accessible by road, charter or scheduled flight from Arusha, en route to Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater
Activities available include game drives, canoeing when the water level is sufficiently high, cultural tours, mountain bike tours, abseiling and forest walks on the escarpment outside the park.
Mikumi National Park abuts the northern border of Africa’s biggest game reserve – the Selous – and is transected by the surfaced road between Dar es Salaam and Iringa. The open horizons and abundant wildlife of the Mkata Floodplain, the popular centerpiece of Mikumi, draw frequent comparisons to the more famous Serengeti Plains.
It covers an area of 3,230 sq km and is the fourth-largest park in Tanzania, and part of a much larger ecosystem centered on the uniquely vast Selous Game Reserve. It is located 283 km west of Dar es Salaam, north of Selous, and en route to Ruaha.
A good surfaced road connects Mikumi to Dar es Salaam via Morogoro, a roughly 4 hour drive. Charter flight from Dar es Salaam, Arusha or Selous.
Game drives and guided walks are the main activities.
The Ngorongoro Crater has been called the 8th Wonder of the World, and with good reason. It is an unspoilt Eden, where one can easily see most of the Big 5 – rhino, buffalo, elephant, lion and giraffe within minutes of descending into the Crater. It is the largest unbroken caldera in the world, which is un-flooded. The crater is about 3188 m above sea level. It has been called the 8th Wonder of the World, and with good reason. It is an unspoilt Eden, where one can easily see most of the Big 5 – rhino, buffalo, elephant, lion and giraffe within minutes of descending into the Crater.
There are numerous habitats within the crater ranging from the Yellow-barked acacia forests of Lerai to the swamps around Ngoitokitok Springs to the pink flamingo mantle of the soda Lake Magadi, each supporting a distinct ecosystem. The Ngorongoro Crater is part of a larger eco-system called the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
The wildlife includes elephant, black rhino, hippo, buffalo, eland, zebra, wildebeest, hartebeest, waterbuck, warthog, Grant’s gazelle and Thomson’s gazelle, lion, cheetah, hyena and jackal. Leopards, servals, bat eared foxes and ratels are also resident within the Crater but are much more elusive. Giraffe, impala and topi are strangely absent from the Crater floor, though they are common in the nearby Serengeti.
Ruaha protects a vast tract of the rugged, semi-arid bush country that characterises central Tanzania. Its lifeblood is the Great Ruaha River. It is 10,300 sq km in area. Activities available in this park are day walks or hiking safaris through untouched bush.
Attractions at Ruaha include Stone Age ruins at Isimila, near Iringa, 120 km (75 miles) away, one of Africa’s most important historical sites.
Serengeti National Park
Tanzania’s oldest and most popular national park, the 14,763 sq km 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.
The spectacle of predator versus prey dominates Tanzania’s greatest park. Golden-maned lion prides feast on the abundance of plain grazers. Solitary leopards haunt the acacia trees lining the Seronera River, while a high density of cheetahs prowls the southeastern plains.
As enduring as the game-viewing is the liberating sense of space that characterises the Serengeti Plains, stretching across sunburnt savannah to a shimmering golden horizon at the end of the earth. Yet, after the rains, this golden expanse of grass is transformed into an endless green carpet flecked with wildflowers.
It is 335km from Arusha, stretching north to Kenya and bordering Lake Victoria to the west. Scheduled and charter flights are available from Arusha, Lake Manyara and Mwanza. It is also possible to drive from Arusha, Lake Manyara, Tarangire or Ngorongoro Crater.
Activities include Hot air balloon safaris, Maasai rock paintings and musical rocks, Visit neighbouring Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge, Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano and Lake Natron’s flamingos.
When to go
To follow the wildebeest migration, December-July. To see predators, June-October.
Tarangire National Park covers 2,600 sq km and is located 118 kms Southwest of Arusha.
Tarangire is the greatest concentration of wildlife outside the Serengeti ecosystem – a smorgasbord for predators – and the one place in Tanzania where dry-country antelope such as the stately fringe-eared oryx and peculiar long-necked gerenuk are regularly observed.
Tarangire’s mobs of elephant are easily encountered in both the wet and dry seasons.
The swamps, tinged green year round, are the focus for 550 bird varieties, the most breeding species in one habitat anywhere in the world.
Tarangire’s pythons climb trees, as do its lions and leopards.
Getting there is an easy drive from Arusha or Lake Manyara following a surfaced road to within 7km of the main entrance gate. One can also continue on to Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. Charter flights from Arusha and the Serengeti are also available to connect to Tarangire
Activities available include 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.
It is a park well worth visiting all year round but is especially spectacular in the dry season (June – September) for sheer numbers of animals.