The United Republic of Tanzania (the largest country in East Africa, including the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba) came into existence in 1964, three years after gaining independence from Britain. Although it shares many characteristics with Kenya (particularly with the Swahili culture and language), it does not have the same ethnic mix and following independence developed along more socialist lines than Kenya. Possibly for that reason Tanzania did not experience the growth in industry that Kenya enjoyed, although in recent years it has made up much ground on its northern neighbour. Tanzania's game parks however are - if anything - even better known than Kenya’s. The Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area are truly world renowned, as is Africa's highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro. All of these highlights are within easy reach of Nairobi, attracting many tourists and earning Tanzania much needed foreign exchange.
The Northern Route
The most famous parks are situated in the north of Tanzania. These parks offer the best chance of witnessing wild animals in their natural habitat. All of these parks have their own unique characteristics and attractions. The main attractions are listed below:
Serengeti National Park
This phenomenal National Park, created to preserve the path of the world’s largest migration circuit, covers nearly 15,000 square kilometres. The name Serengeti comes from the Masai name meaning ‘endless plains’, and these rolling distances of short grass plains provide an exceptional landscape for wildlife viewing; it is ultimate safari country.
This land is justifiably famous for its huge concentrations of wildlife, especially the big cats, as well as being the stomping ground of the Great Migration, a massive accumulation of 1.5 million wildebeest, 200,000 zebras and 350,000 gazelles stretching their legs over 1,200 miles in an annual race to find enough water and green grass for their survival.
The Ngorongoro Crater is often called ‘Africa’s Eden’ and the ‘8th Natural Wonder of the World,’ and a definite world-class attraction. Within the crater rim, large herds of zebra and wildebeest graze nearby while sleeping lions laze in the sun. At dawn, the endangered black rhino return to the thick cover of the crater forests after grazing on dew-laden grass in the morning mist. Just outside the crater’s ridge, tall Masai herd their cattle and goats over green pastures through the highland slopes, living alongside the wildlife as they have for centuries.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area includes its eponymous famous crater, Olduvai Gorge, and huge expanses of highland plains, scrub bush, and forests that cover approximately 8300 square kilometres. A protected area, only indigenous tribes such as the Masai are allowed to live within its borders.
This site, which is also known as the “cradle of mankind”, is named after the Masai word for the wild sisal plant, commonly called Oldupaai. The site was actually first discovered by a German entomologist Professor Kattwinkel who was more interested in the butterflies found in the area and fortuitously found fossil remains. This lead to the later excavation work there that was pioneered by Louis and Mary Leakey in the 1950s, and the later discovery of Australopithecus boisei, also known as “nutcracker man”. He is believed to be 1.7 million years old.
Tarangire National Park
Tarangire national park boasts one of the largest concentrations per unit area of elephants and this is often evident when you follow the game drive circuits along the river. One will often encounter herds of elephant either going or coming from the river. This offers great viewing of the herds as they socialize and interact with each other.
Lake Manyara National Park
Lake Manyara is one of those national parks that offer rich and diverse game viewing within a reasonably small area. From its thick ground water forest at the park entrance to its more arid acacia woodland in the south. It’s one of the best areas for elephant viewing and close encounters are very common, the bird life here is also exceptional. Because of its thick bush and forested areas viewing of cats is not so common.
Arusha National Park
Arusha national park offers great scenic beauty with thick forests, undulating hills, lakes and craters. This park allows for great chances of viewing colobus monkeys, which are some of the most interesting primates with long white tails and vestigial thumbs. The name Colobus is derived from the Latin language meaning mutilated one, as they do not possess a thumb.
At 5895m, Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa's highest peak, rising above the East African plains. It is also the highest free-standing mountain in the world and one of the highest peaks you can scale without technical expertise. As a high altitude mountain close to the equator, Kilimanjaro kicks up plenty of surprises. Few other treks in the world offer rainforests with primates and game, alpine pastures, high moolands of giant eerie plantlife and snow fields at the summit.
The Southern and Western Route
Tourism is less well-developed in the southern and western regions of Tanzania than it is in the north. If it is solitude, tranquillity and peace of mind you are looking for, you may prefer to visit these regions. This part of Tanzania truly is paradise for anyone who wants to experience what it must have been like to be an explorer. We feel that it is only right to warn you that the game in these areas is less used to interactions with humans and can be slightly more shy. Furthermore, due to the vastness of the area, in contrast with the north, taking a domestic flight may sometimes be necessary.
National parks in the south and west of Tanzania include:
Selous Game Reserve
Selous game reserve one of the largest in the world covering 50.000 square kilometres, has always had a mystique and history that adds to its attractions. Named after Fredrick Courtney Selous of the Royal Fusiliers who was killed along the Rufiji River close to behobeho. The attractions of this Reserve are very diverse. From the varying vegetation zones, ranging from dense thickets to open wooded grasslands, to walking safaris and boat safaris along the Rufiji river with its many lakes that are abound with hippopotamus and one of the greatest concentrations of crocodile. One of the main attractions is the possible sighting of hunting dogs (lycaon pictus), which have become rare in the northern circuit.
Mahale national park offers a safari experience which is unique and full of mystery, hidden treasures and magnificent beaches backed by spellbinding mountain ranges. This destination is more for the intrepid traveler as there are no tracks and therefore no cars; exploration is all done on foot. The daily activities are usually based around excursions into the forest in search of Chimpanzees, followed by relaxing afternoons as it can get quite hot. This is usually a great time to go snorkeling or take boat trips on Lake Tanganyika. Lake Tanganyika is the second deepest Lake in the world and has spectacular marine life, accompanied by exceedingly clear water.
Ruaha National Park
Ruaha National Park, situated in the south western part of Tanzania, is one of the larger national parks. Common features of this park are its herds of elephants, part of a stable population of over 10.000 often observed perched beneath the succulent baobab trees seeking shade. Another attraction is the diversity of Antelope species such as Grants gazelle generically from east Africa and greater Kudu more common in southern Africa. The terrain characteristically is rugged, semi arid woodland meandering along the Ruaha river, which is the life support of the park. One of the attractions is the convergence/transition of two environments, from the typical acacia woodland of East Africa to the miombo woodlands of southern Africa. This shift in vegetation is one of the factors attributing to the diversity of herbivores. This park also offers opportunities to see the highly endangered African hunting dog of which several packs call Ruaha their home. Several other predators are also a common sight in the park including Lion, Leopard and Cheetah.
Mikumi National Park
Mikumi National Park forms the northern boundary of Selous game reserve, one of the largest nature reserves in the world. This area that has been allocated for nature conservation allows for herds of animals to roam great distances uninhibited by fences or boundaries. The park is regarded as one of the less frequented national parks by the average tourist, and therefore allows for more intimate game viewing. As a result the road infrastructure and services is steadily being improved as visiting tourists increase. However this really does not limit your game viewing as game is plenty.
When to travel:
Tanzania can be visited year round and the climate varies considerably considering depending on where you are. When asking when the best time to travel is, this will greatly depend on what you want to experience. Generally the main rainy season (long rains) last during March, April & May. This consists of an afternoon tropical downpour – they get heavier the closer you are to the coast and on the islands. The humidity during these months is high and temperatures are in the low 30s. The second rainy season is in November and December and this is considered the ‘short’ rainy season, as the rain is much lighter and less frequent.
The dry season is from June – October.
The migration is linked to the amount the rainfall and is fairly predictable as the Wildebeest are looking for fresh water and grazing opportunities. The migration happens year around - it will depend on where you look! They say the best time to be in the Serengeti for the migration is between November and August but you need to be in the right place at the right time to really get into the action of it all.
Getting there and away
Dar es Salaam, situated on the coast and a stone’s throw from the island of Zanzibar is the nation’s main gateway. Emirates offer daily flights to Dar es Salaam from their Dubai hub were it is possible to connect onto the Emirates Global Network. Kilimanjaro International Airport is the one for travelling in or out of Arusha.