National Parks & Game Reserves Of Tanzania, a brief guide
Tanzania has dedicated 20% of its land area to national parks and is fully committed to conservation. Here is a brief introduction to each and every National Park, Conservation Area and Game Reserve that Tanzania has plus a small selection of VentureCo’s favourite lodges. It’s impossible to see it all in one visit so to help you choose where to go here is a summary of the parks, divided into three regions: Northern Sector, Southern Sector and Western Sector.
1. NORTHERN SECTOR
Is the closest national park to Arusha town, Tanzania’s safari capital. It is often overlooked by safari goers despite offering diverse habitats in a compact area. The park is 542 Km² and just 40 minute from Arusha. It contains several lakes, a big forest and Ngurdoto Crater (a caldera) and they can all be visited during a half day outing at the beginning or the end of a longer safari.
Mount Meru 4,566 m dominates the park’s horizon and is a rewarding trek, particularly as a warm-up for Kili. Other activities include canoeing and walking safaris.
Recommended Accommodation: Hatari Lodge, once owned by John Wayne!
Lake Manyara NP
Tucked beneath the 600 m high Rift Valley escarpment it’s just 50 Km from top to bottom and consists mainly of the lake, described by Ernest Hemingway as “the loveliest lake I have seen in
Africa”. The park consists of dense forest and a grassy floodplain. The alkaline lake is the ideal habitat for flamingos. Star of the show are the tree-climbing lions (lions don’t generally climb trees). Great for birding, with more than 400 species recorded.
The main activities are day and night game drives as well as canoeing on the lake (water levels permitting).
Recommended Accommodation: Lake Manyara Tree Lodge.
The name Mkomazi comes from the Pare tribe and means ‘The source of water’. The park is located between Kilimanjaro and Tanga, which is a town on the Indian Ocean coast. It is 3,243 Km² and has easy access both by road and air. Charter planes can land at a number of protected grass airstrips.
Game viewing is very good and there are more than 450 recorded bird species.
Recommended Accommodation: Tented mobile camps which are available all year around.
Mount Kilimanjaro NP
The park covers over 1,500 Km² and the two main towns that serve as starting / ending points for treks are Arusha and Moshi. The route you select will, to a certain extent, dictate the town used as your centre.
The biggest attraction is the majestic mountain. There are six principal trekking routes plus a number of other technical routes which don’t appear on our website, but we’d be delighted to discuss with you if you have the relevant mountain experience.
The clearest and warmest time to trek is from December to February but July to September is drier (and colder).
Recommended Accommodation on Kilimanjaro: Mobile camping.
In Moshi: Keys hotel has pleasant little rondavels; Marangu hotel isn’t anything to write home about, but stunning location. In Arusha: Moivaro Lodge; Arusha Coffee Lodge. Both rather good.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
Is one huge caldera (extinct volcano) that measures 12 miles across. It’s a jewel and if you only have time to visit one NP this should be the one. The animals that call this home don’t migrate, so animal spotting is reliable and always good. Besides, the view from the top will make your jaw drop!
Ngorongoro has permanent water and lush grassland that supports a resident population of 25,000 (give or take) animals. The Maasai live here too, adding colour and zest and they live in harmony with the wildlife (more or less!). There are some 60,000 Maasai pastoralists living in the Conservation Area with their cattle, donkeys, sheep and goats; which is the source of some controversy.
Recommended Accommodation: Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, elegant colonial design meets wild Africa.
Tanzania’s oldest and most famous NP and renowned for its annual migration where some ten million hooves pound the open plains as more than 200,000 zebra and 300,000 Thomson’s gazelle join the 2 million wildebeest trekking to fresh grazing. Yet even when the migration is quiet, the Serengeti offers the most scintillating game viewing in Africa.
The huge park is 14,763 Km² and lies 335 km west of Arusha, so it’s relatively easy to access along good roads or by a short flight. The park shares its northern border with Kenya (border closed).
Game viewing is always good, but obtain advice on the stage of the migration before selecting your lodge. Hot air balloon safaris are good here and as excellent way to view the vast plains.
Recommended Accommodation: Singita Sasakwa Lodge is the one if you enjoy a good panorama; Sabora Tented Camp celebrates flat open space as far as the eye can see; Migration Camp which is THE place to be in June and July; Grumeti River Camp which is stunning in June, but quiet outside the migration.
This 2,850 km² NP is a relatively unknown gem of a park that lies only 118 km southwest of Arusha. Herds of up to 300 elephants scratch the dry river bed to reach underground streams, while migratory wildebeest, zebra, buffalo and other herbivores crowd the lagoons. The park offers the greatest concentration of wildlife outside Serengeti but with a fraction of the human foot-fall.
There are regular flights from Arusha. Apart from the wonderful game drives, one can do walking safaris within the NP boundaries. There are also visits to Maasai villages that lie close by.
Recommended Accommodation: Oliver’s Camp (closed April and May) is perhaps the most authentic camp in Tanzania; great guides and great location – we’ve never had negative feedback. Kikoti Camp which is open all year around is just outside the NP boundary, but still a great location, sitting as it does on the elephant’s main “highway”.
Saadani is where the bush meets the beach: it’s the only wildlife sanctuary in East Africa to boast an
Indian Ocean beachfront. It’s 1,062 Km² and only 100 km north of Dar-es-Salaam. There are daily scheduled flights to the park from Dar-es-Salaam and Zanzibar, as well as good road access; approx 3 hours from Dar and then 1 hour on a ferry.
The park offers lots of diverse activities such as game drives, guided walks, boat trips, swimming as
well as visits to local fishing villages. This is the ideal opportunity to construct a Dar-Zanzibar-Saadani triangle: beach-bush-city in one compact itinerary.
Recommended Accommodation: Saadani Safari Lodge which is right on the beach and its sister lodge Saadani River Lodge.
Rubondo Island, Lake Victoria
This NP is in fact a dozen small islands together totalling up 237 Km². It’s tucked away in the SW corner of Lake Victoria and surprisingly the highest point is 1,486 m asl which means some of the islands are steep. The NP’s main claim to fame is that in the 1960’s a troupe of chimps, rescued from zoos and illegal pet-traders, was released here, which is now an established population; an idea that N’gamba Island in Uganda emulated more recently.
The gateway to Rubondo is the town of Mwansa, and then a 3 hr boat trip out to the islands.
Accommodation: Rubondo Island Camp is a good middle market option; several self-catering alternatives and a couple of campsites. It’s remote and little-visited!
2. SOUTHERN SECTOR
Is bisected by the main Dar to Iringa road, but don’t let that put you off! Its 3,230 Km² allows plenty of space for a road! It shares a border with the massive Selous and is en route to Ruaha, Udzungwa and Katavi NP’s which make it a convenient location to combine with other destinations. Roughly 4 hours from Dar on a good road, and there are private charter flights from Arusha or Dar-es-Salaam.
Both game drives and walking safaris are excellent in this park.
Recommended Accommodation: Fox’s Safari Camp which stands on Stanley’s Kopje overlooking the Mkata floodplain; just 8 tented rooms and superb hospitality. Vuma Hills is a classic tented camp with real charm and elegance.
The game viewing starts the moment the plane or car reaches the park. A giraffe races beside you, all legs and neck, yet oddly elegant in its awkwardness. A line of zebra parades across the road in the
giraffe’s wake. In the distance, beneath the baobab tree, a few representatives of Ruaha’s 10,000 elephants, the largest population of any East African National Park, form a protective huddle around their young.
Tanzania’s second biggest park, measures 10,300 Km² is in central Tanzania. It’s 10 hours from Dar, so flying is well worth considering; or a stop-over at Mikumi en route. Game drives are excellent but the walking safaris through untouched bush are even better. The stars of Ruaha are the elephants and viewing from ground-level adds zest.
Recommended Accommodation: Jongomero and Mwagusi Camps (closed April and May).
Selous Game Reserve
Only 200 km West of Dar-es-Salaam lies the mighty Selous Game Reserve, one of Africa’s least
known yet wildest conservation areas. At an unbelievable 55,000 Km² it’s almost twice the size of Belgium and four times larger than the famous Serengeti forming 5% of Tanzania’s land area! The Selous’ ecosystem as a whole is made up of several conservation areas, including Mikumi in the North and the Kilombero game controlled area in the West, which combine to make over 90,000 Km² of pristine wilderness, devoid of human influence.
Recommended accommodation: Sand Rivers, overlooking the mile-wide Rufiji river in the north of the park: perfect hospitality in perfect wilderness. Selous Safari Camp is a straight forward safari camp offering no nonsense safaris by vehicle, motorboat and on foot; probably the best value-for-money camp in Selous. The Retreat, simply stunning and the most luxurious option in Selous; Malala Luxury Camp is comparable to The Retreat, but doesn’t quite have the same je ne sais quoi (all closed in April and May).
Udzungwa Mountains NP
Udzungwa is the largest and most bio diverse of a chain of a dozen large forest-swathed mountains that rise from the flat coastal scrub of eastern Tanzania. Known collectively as the Eastern
Arc Mountains, this “archipelago” of isolated massifs (max height 2,576 m) has been nicknamed the African Galapagos for its treasure trove of endemic plants and animals, including the delicate African violet and no fewer than five endemic primate species. The park is 1,990 Km² and is reachable by road from Dar-es-Salaam in 5 hours.
Most clients do hikes within the park to the various waterfalls and it is a great combination with Mikumi NP en route to Ruaha.
Recommended accommodation: mobile camping within the park.
Is in the far south of Tanzania not far from the shores of Lake Malawi. It’s unusual because the park was primarily establish (in 2005) to protect flora, rather than fauna. But then scientists discovered the Highland Mangabey, a new species of primate. More recently its name has been changed to the Kipunji.
The park is just 413 Km² and consists of the Kitulo plateau and the surrounding forests. It is particularly noted for the orchids which grow here (45 varieties) which bloom between November and April. There are also endemic species of butterfly, chameleon, lizard and frog; this is a safari destination for travellers with specific interests, as distinct to those who wish to see large animal species migrating.
Accommodation: mmmm! Challenging! Kitulo Farm offers the best B&B (think Dartmoor farmhouse) and three campsites are planned, but at the moment, this is a park for the intrepid.
3. WESTERN SECTOR
Gombe Stream NP
Gombe Stream is the smallest of Tanzania’s NP’s at just 52 Km². It’s a fragile strip of chimpanzee habitat straddling the steep slopes and river valleys that hem the sandy northern shore of Lake Tanganyika. The resident chimps are habituated to human visitors and were made famous by the pioneering work of Dr Jane Goodall. In 1960 she founded a behavioural research program that now stands as the longest running study of its kind in the world. The park is 16 km north of Kigoma which is connected by daily scheduled flights from Dar-es-Salaam and Arusha. From Kigoma, it’s 45 mins in a motorboat to reach the park. Chimpanzee trekking is the biggest highlight at Gombe Stream; however, one can also do other activities including snorkelling (fresh water), swimming, hiking to waterfalls and city tours at Ujiji which is the spot where Stanley made the famous quote to Dr Livingstone … you know the one!
Recommended accommodation: Gombe Forest Lodge which is a mission to get to, but if time isn’t of the essence, Gombe is a great option.
Isolated, untrammelled and seldom visited, Katavi is a true wilderness providing the few intrepid souls who make it there with a thrilling taste of Africa as it must have been a century ago. Tanzania’s third largest NP, it lies in the remote southwest of the country, within a truncated arm of the Rift
Valley that terminates in the shallow, brooding expanse of Lake Rukwa.
Katavi National Park is 4,471 KM² and to reach it one must charter a flight from either Dar-es-Salaam or Arusha. There are many activities within the park such as walking safaris, game drives and fly camping. The best time to visit is during dry season (May – October) since during the rainy season the roads within the park are often flooded and impassable.
Recommended accommodation: Chada Katavi (closed March to May) the phrase “pristine wilderness” is over-used in safari camp descriptions, but this really is pristine wilderness! Katuma Bush Lodge (close March and April) less pricey than Chada, but comparable.
Mahale Mountains NP
Set deep in the heart of the African interior, inaccessible by road and only 100 km south of where Stanley uttered that immortal greeting “Doctor Livingstone, I presume”, is a scene reminiscent of an Indian island beach idyll. On the waters of Lake Tanganyika, this remote and mysterious park is home to a population of roughly 800 chimps, habituated to humans.
The park is 1,613 Km² and to get there the options are either by light aircraft from Arusha, Dar-es-Salaam or Kigoma; or from Kigoma by a motorboat (3 to 4 hours). Snorkelling, fly-camping safaris and fishing on the lake are the additional activities.
The park is open all year round, however, the accommodation is seasonal and closed during April and May.
Recommended accommodation: Greystoke Mahale (also known as Zoe’s camp) is as good as it gets; right on the lakeshore and full of charm and character. If money was no object this is THE lodge. Simple as that! Kungwe Beach Lodge is less famous, less pricey and comparable. Location is similar and facilities are similar – lacks the touch of magic that Zoe’s has.