Tanzania is a feast for the senses. It is unparalleled for its natural beauty, unique wildlife viewing, and rich culture. The landscape is shaped by extremes. Where mountains, lakes, grasslands, and rainforests are not uncommon to see within the same area. Also safaris in Tanzania are some of the best in the world, with most of them never going without seeing one of the “Big 5” of game animals: lions, leopards, rhinoceros’, elephants, and buffalo.
Alongside these wild animals, the Maasai graze their livestock. Making themselves one of the few groups in the world to uphold their traditional, nomadic lifestyles in our modern times.
Therefore it comes as no surprise that tourism is on the rise in this beautiful East African country and no visit is complete without a visit to some of the stunning national parks in Tanzania. Each one offers its own unique natural spectacles, adventure activities, and cultural experiences that will awe-inspire even the most seasoned traveler.
Map of National Parks in Tanzania
Although somewhat small in comparison to other national parks in Tanzania, Arusha packs a punch. It has truly varied vegetation made up of grasslands, rainforest, and alpine areas and thanks to these conditions it is home to incredible wildlife diversity.
One of Africa’s largest mountains, Mount Meru occupies the space alongside Africa’s largest concentration of giraffes. Animals that are regularly seen include waterbucks, buffalos, elephants, hippos, flamingos, and monkeys. However, due to the size of the park, no more than a few hours are needed to see the entirety of it and can be explored via a walking, or canoe safari. Most travelers stopover en route to larger parks.
Mahale is always cited for having a couple of unusual characteristics which make this park extra special. The first of which is that this park is a chimpanzee sanctuary and is home to almost 2000 wild chimpanzees.
It is surrounded by the beautiful Mahale Mountain range, which the local people worship as being scared, and is nestled onto the banks of Lake Tanganyika. The lake itself is the longest, second deepest lake, and the least polluted freshwater lake in the world. The beach on the banks of Lake Tanganyika is an incredible spot to watch the sunset dip below the horizon.
Located in Western Tanzania, Katavi is absolutely mesmerizing in the dry season. During this time, the Katuma and Kapapa rivers are the only water source for miles around so thousands of animals congregate here for a sip. Visitors are greeted by hundreds of crocodiles snoozing in the mud, as pods of massive hippos huddle around water sources, and zebras appear by the thousands.
It also remains one of the best places in Tanzania to see interactions between lions and buffalos. Due to its remoteness, there are few visitors, so tourists and locals are treated to a relatively untouched wilderness. This is truly an exceptional place simply waiting to be discovered.
Tarangire is most well-known for its yearly elephant migration of over 3000 elephants but the park offers so much more than that! This quiet park offers year-round opportunities to view four of the big five, and the guides in the region are so knowledgeable about the migration patterns of the animals within the park that you will no doubt get a glimpse at these exotic creatures up-close.
No matter the time of year! More so, the great baobab trees and large termite mounds that dot the landscape are like something out of a fairytale. As if it couldn’t get better, this park emulates the importance of national parks in Tanzania as currently, it is home to the fringe-eared oryx, greater kudu, and Ashy Starling. All of which are greatly endangered and can only be found here in Tanzania in the Tarangire National Park.
Ernest Hemingway remarked that this park had the loveliest lake in Africa, and he may have been right. Manyara Lake is really stunning. It covers one-third of the park size, and despite its high salt content, it is safe for animals to drink so it remains an essential life source for many animals in the area.
It is also the main hangout spot for wild flocks of flamingos, and other bird life. However, truly unique to Lake Manyara National Park is their resident tree-climbing lions. Researchers have still not come to a conclusion as to why these lions habitually laze among the treetops, but nevertheless, it is an extraordinary sight to see.
Ruaha National Park became Tanzania’s largest national park when it expanded its borders in 2008. Today, it holds 10% of the worlds lion population and Tanzania’s largest elephant population. The park’s landscape is made up of giant mountains that lead into vast grasslands, rocky outcrops, and a network of rivers. The largest of which, the Great Ruaha River, the park is named after.
Visitors to the park are captivated by the lands red soil and legendary baobab trees as well as the large population of lions. Often prides of up to 25 lions are seen, sometimes attempting to take down a buffalo. Again, this park is relatively untouched by tourism but because of this, it is one of the best examples of how Africa has been for millenniums.
Gombe Stream National Park was made famous by Jane Goodall who took up residence here during her Chimpanzee research in the 1960’s. It features steep forested mountains that cascade down to Lake Tanganyika, grasslands, and warm tropical rainforests.
This park is one of the best places on earth for up-close encounters with our closest relative but also has incredibly diverse flora, and fauna to observe. The park is only accessible by boat, and visitors can snorkel in this incredible lake for a look at some of the 2000 species of vibrant fish that call it their home.
Also known as the second Serengeti Plains, the open horizons of this park make wildlife viewing a highlight of any visit. The grounds support impressive herds of zebra, wildebeest, buffalo and impala.
While legendary giraffe, elephant, and lion sightings are common. The landscape is scattered with the famous baobab trees, black hardwood trees, and grassy plains. And tucked in between three mountains ranges: The Uluguru, Rubeho, and Lumango Mountains ranges. Likewise, it is home to several primate research studies most notably the yellow baboon field study.
This gorgeous national park boasts incredible flora and fauna. Initially, when the Eastern Arc mountains were created, they were covered with rainforest. However, throughout a colder and drier period about 10 million years ago the area towards the base of the mountains was transformed into a savanna leaving the ranges as rain forested “islands”. This isolation has allowed for incredible biodiversity including 4 epidemic primate species, one of which was only discovered in the 1970s.
There are a number of great treks ranging in length and difficulty, as the best means to experience this park. Some of which pass by stunning waterfalls, and small pools to go for a dip in.
There are few places on earth quite like this park. It houses the “Big 5” animals, deep volcanic craters, and is home to the semi-nomadic Maasai people. The most well-known crater in Africa, the Ngorongoro Crater, is one of the largest of its kind and a true marvel to behold. The landscape consists of a mix of lakes, grasslands, swamps and wooded areas where domesticated Maasai livestock graze beside wild animals.
There has been extensive archaeological research conducted on the property which has led to the discovery of fossilized footprints, and exhaustive evidence of human evolution. Today, it continues to be lead the way globally for its conservation efforts.
Each year thousands of visitors visit the infamous Kilimanjaro Mountain. Its beauty and magnificence are simply unmatched. Whether it be looking out from within the mountain, or from afar toward Mount Kilimanjaro, there is no doubt that it is a stunning natural spectacle.
As the highest mountain in Africa, it is a dream trek for many. En route to the top one must pass by sloping lowlands, farmlands and alpine areas. However, it is not just for the experienced trekkers anymore, first-time enthusiasts can partake in a trip to this legendary national park via more gentle trips to the top or by stopping in for a day trip.
This park is the holy grail for wildlife viewing. The yearly migration of wildebeest and zebra, followed by their predators, is unlike anything else in this world and has inspired people for generations. The parks name was given by the Maasai people, ‘serengit’, which means the land of endless plains. This is an accurate description, only small rocky outcrops, rivers, and few woodlands interrupt the short grasslands.
There is an impressive array of animals taking up residence in the park including the “Big 5” and is one of the largest and only migration patterns of its kind uninterrupted by human contact.