A safari in Tanzania is the stuff of dreams. It’s the quintessential African experience, whether you’re visiting for dramatic landscapes, world-class wildlife encounters or to witness the great migration. I’m not sure anything could surpass the wonder of seeing thousands of wildebeest chasing the rains across the vast plains of the Serengeti, although tracking chimps and discovering that lions can climb trees come a close second.
Serengeti National Park
If you’re coming to Tanzania to gaze in awe at the annual migration of over 2 million wildebeest, then the Serengeti is the place to go. Probably the most famous protected area in all of Africa, it’s the largest national park in the country and has some of the highest ever recorded wildlife concentrations.
The Serengeti is one of the best spots to see the famous Big 5, as well as cheetah racing across the plains, elephants trundling along the periphery and vultures circling overhead. It doesn’t get much more ‘African’ than this, whether you are on a Tanzania honeymoon or a family adventure, visiting the Serengeti is a must.
The short yellow grasses of the endless plains make it easier to spot more elusive game. The Serengeti also boasts one of the densest leopard populations on the continent, as well as a healthy mix of predators and scavengers, following along after the migration in search of easy pickings.
There is a wide range of lodges from simple, tented lodges to camps which move with the migration to ensure you get the best view to high-end lodges with all the bells and whistles, perfect for a luxury Tanzania safari.
This ancient volcanic caldera is easily one of the most impressive geological features in Africa. The Ngorongoro Crater in Northern Tanzania is the largest dry caldera in the world, and home to a wide variety of game, including the Big 5, hippos and wild dogs to name a few. The range of ecosystems here is immense, with everything from rolling hills and woodlands to grassland plains and soda lakes full of pink flamingos.
Despite the rather variable weather, Ngorongoro is one of the most popular areas to visit in Tanzania, and as a consequence it does become rather busy with other safari vehicles. Yet if you stay in one of the crater lodges, you can get ahead of the game by being first in and last out of the caldera.
In the wider Ngorongoro Conservation Area (a UNSECO World Heritage Site) the volcanic landscape continues with smaller craters, Great Rift Valley cliffs, and Lake Natron, a soda lake that shimmers pink and orange in the sun. Olduvai Gorge is found here too, an important archaeological site famous for the hominid fossil discovery of our earliest known ancestors who lived here nearly 2 million years ago. It’s not all about the animals.
Selous Game Reserve
Selous may be the largest game reserve in Africa, but it’s relatively little visited thanks to its remote location. Those who put in a little effort to get here are rewarded with a vast peaceful wilderness almost to themselves. The game-covered plains, butterfly-filled woodlands and numerous hippo pools are a photographers dream, and the colourful array of birdlife is enough to tempt even the most reluctant of bird watchers, with kingfishers, herons and bee-eaters amongst the treats in store.
Lion sightings are excellent, because unlike their counterparts in other reserves they hunt during the day, making the prospect of seeing a kill much higher than elsewhere in East Africa. A good place to see them is along the Rufiji River, which runs along the north of the park. Here you can take boat trips to search for storks, baboons and crocodiles, whilst elephant and buffalo are frequently seen coming down to the water for a drink.
The best time to visit is between July and October when plains game is abundant. Sometimes herds of up to 50 giraffes can be seen gathering at the lakes during the hottest part of the day, as well as bushbuck, eland and kudu. Meanwhile in the riverine forests black and white colobus and samango monkeys can be seen jumping around in the treetops.
Tarangire National Park
Elephants are the main attraction in Tarangire National Park, with up to 3,000 present during the peak months. Large congregations of the gentle giants gather along the riverbanks in search of water, alongside other animals, such as kudu, eland, buffalo and wildebeest. Here you’ll also come across the more unusual local antelope species, like the gerenuk and fringe-eared oryx. This smorgasbord attracts the lions, leopard and hyena, so it’s a great all-round wildlife experience. The birdlife is pretty spectacular too, with everything from kites and falcons to storks and orange-bellied parrots.
Tarangire is a little off the beaten track, and remains an untouched wilderness, as fewer visitors make it as far as this quieter park in Northern Tanzania. It’s a seasonal park with good game concentrations between July and October, but pretty empty for the rest of the year when the animals migrate out of the area.
Lake Manyara National Park
If you’ve ever wondered if lions can climb trees then come to Lake Manyara National Park to find out. Seeing is believing after all. Famous for its unusual tree-climbing lions, this untouched African paradise is made up of forests, grasslands and swamps, with over two thirds of the land being covered by water. Which is perfect for the thousands of pelicans and flamingos that reside here.
The wildlife is concentrated on the strips of land alongside the lake, making it relatively easy to spot all year round. The largest population of baboons in the world is also found here, as well as decent sized groups of elephant, hippo and impala. Canoe safaris are possible when water levels allow, giving a rather unique and thrilling perspective of the park.
Ruaha National Park
Another largely undiscovered park, Ruaha is wild, remote and hence a little harder to reach. It’s the sort of place where you’ll encounter very few other visitors. Located in the heart of Tanzania, the landscape of Ruaha is dry and dramatic, with baobab trees dotted around the hills, and rocky escarpments overlooking the grasslands down below.
Wildlife viewing here is superb and best between July and November when it is dry and the animals gather around waterholes. There are excellent populations of lion, leopard and cheetah, as well as hyena and wild dog, thanks to the prolific game found here.
Mahale Mountains is a peaceful national park in western Tanzania is simply magnificent, with its dramatic and imposing forested mountain slopes reaching down towards the crystal clear waters of Lake Tanganyika. It receives few visitors due to its remote location, yet is one of the best places in Africa to see chimpanzees in the wild. There are around 1000 individuals living here, including one habituated troop, which allows humans to observe them from close quarters as they forage, groom and play in the forest. It’s a very intimate world-class wildlife experience.
If you fancy a bit of a break from the traditional safari, it’s possible to go sailing, kayaking and snorkelling in the lake in search of the stunning array of colourful fish that live in these waters.
Gombe National Park
Located to the north of Lake Tanganyika, Gombe is Tanzania’s smallest park and another popular spot to go in search of chimps. Jane Goodall made the chimpanzees here famous with her ground-breaking behavioural research in the 1960s. Despite this the park is still little visited, again because of its remote location. Today there are around 100 chimpanzees, and taking a guided walk to see them interacting in their communities is a privilege few safari-goers ever get to see.
Chimpanzees aren’t the only primates in Gombe. Visitors also often see vervet monkeys, olive baboons and the red colobus amongst others. The shore of the lake is also a great place to keep an eye out for birds, including the elusive Peters’ Twinspot.