Tanzania is the biggest country in Eastern Africa. It’s bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north; Rwanda, Burundi, and Congo to the west; Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique to the south and the Indian Ocean to the east. Tanzania has three main landscapes: mountain, including the two highest peaks, Kilimanjaro (5.895 m) and Meru (4.566 m), along the Kenyan border; savannah, covering 64% of the country’s territory; and dense forest, occupying the other 36% of the territory. It is a land of geographical extremes and is home to Africa’s highest point (Mt. Kilimanjaro), lowest point (the Lake Tanganyika bed) and a portion of the its largest lake (Lake Victoria). The Meru, the Kilimanjaro and the Ngorongoro volcanoes are covered by montane forests up to about 3.000 meters. The forest corridors along the river beds and lakes, instead, are filled with tropical trees such as palms and sausage trees.
Geographically, Tanzania is divided in four areas. The eastern shore is hot and humid and includes the Zanzibar Archipelago just offshore. The central area covered by a large plateau, is home to plains of acacia trees, palms and baobabs. The north-western area hosts three of Africa’s greatest lakes: Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika (the longest lake in the world and the second deepest) and Lake Nyasa. And finally, there is the northern part, boasting the highest peaks and the most famous National Parks. All national parks in Tanzania are managed by the Tanzania National Parks Authority) (TANAPA).
There are two different safari circuits in Tanzania. The northern circuit services the Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Lake Manyara and the Tarangire National Park. The southern circuit services the Selous Game Reserve, the Mikumi National Park and the Ruaha National Park.
Serengeti National Park
The Serengeti National Park covers over 14.700 sq km and is the largest national park in the country.
It hosts the largest mammal migration in Africa in which approximately 2 million wildebeests, 1 million zebras and hundreds of thousands of impala and gazelles migrate a distance of over 800 km. These animals migrate throughout the year in search of fresh grazing and higher quality water. The Grummet and Mara Rivers are the most difficult points in the migration for these animals. Each one, driven by the same ancient rhythm, strives to fulfil its instinctive role within the inescapable circle of life. The result is a three week bout of territorial conquests, mating and survival of the fittest as 40 km long herds of animals plunge through crocodile infested waters and pass through predator territories where hiding lions and other predators wait for one wrong move. The precise timing of the Serengeti wildebeest migration is entirely dependent upon the rainfall patterns each year. The best time of the year is between November and July/August, with the highest intensity occurring between January and February, when the female wildebeests stop in The Ndutu Plains to give birth.
The wildebeest migration continues north during the dry season from July/August until October, where the animals complete their annual route. Yet even when migration is quiet, the Serengeti arguably offers the most scintillating game-viewing in Africa.
Southern Serengeti is characterised by vast plains, and below the layers of volcanic rock and ash that form the soil of the Serengeti, there is a thick layer of extremely old metamorphic rock. Late in the Precambrian, a giant bubble of liquid granite forced its way up from the liquid layers below the Earth’s crust and into the Tanganyika Shield. Today, as the softer metamorphic rocks of the Shield wear away, the uneven top of the granite layer is exposed, forming the famous kopjes. Kopjes provide protection from grass-fires, more water in the ground around them, holes, cracks, and caves for animals, and a vantage point for hunters of all kinds including lions and, occasionally, cheetahs. The western corridor of the park is covered in swampy savannah with black clay soils. Moving towards Lake Victoria along the Grummet and the Mbalangeti Rivers, the landscape changes again into forests, the ideal habitat for cheetahs.
Ngorongoro Coservation Authority
The Ngorongoro Conservation is both a conservation area and a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is one of the most famous spots in Tanzania. The area spans vast highland plains, savannahs, savannah woodlands and forests that lie between the Great Rift Valley and the Serengeti plains.
The main feature of the Ngorongoro Conservation Authority is the Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera. It is a 600 m deep crater with a 19 km diameter and covers an area of 300 sq km. Visitors can take a nice walk to the upper edge of the crater through dense forests in order to arrive at “Crater View Point” (2.216 m). At the top, there is a spectacular view, and, if the weather is clear, it is possible to enjoy a stunning view of the vast caldera. The walk continues around the rim of the volcano and eventually comes to the trail head that descends into the crater. The inside of the crater is an amazing portrait of colours; deep greens and yellows contrast with the silver blue reflection of the sky in Lake Magadi, a soda lake at the bottom of the crater that is host to thousands of flamingos, not to mention all kinds of other wildlife (wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, antelopes, hippos, elephants and a small number of black rhinos) and their predators such as lions, leopards and cheetahs. Lions can be somewhat easy to spot in the dry season; the leopards and cheetahs, on the other hand, are a bit more tricky to spot in any season. There are several other interesting sites in the various parts of the park. There are the smaller craters, Empakai and Olmoti, on the north eastern side of the reserve. The vast plains extending from Lake Ndutu to Lake Eyasi on the western side are quite impressive to the eye, and in the southern part of the park, it is possible to witness the Great Wildebeest Migration from December to February. There is the Olduvai Gorge, one of the most important paleo-anthropological sites in the world as the earliest evidence of the existence of our human ancestors was discovered here by Louis Leakey.
Lake Manyara is a lovely scenic park on the road from Arusha to the Ngorongoro Crater. The lake itself takes up much of the park, leaving a strip of land where various game concentrate. It is home to a diverse set of landscapes and wildlife. For example, there is the grassy floodplain, contrasting with the intimacy of the forest, where visitors can enjoy the expansive views eastward of the jagged blue volcanic peaks across the silvery reflection of the soda lake. Further out on the floodplain, a narrow belt of acacia woodland is the favoured haunt of Manyara’s legendary tree-climbing lions and impressively tusked elephants. These lions love to climb the trees and relax on the branches, an unusual behaviour for these animals that they carry out for hours here! Other wildlife in the area includes leopards, buffalos, hippos, antelopes, giraffes and more. Don’t forget! Lake Maynara is also a birdwatcher’s paradise as it is possible to see flamingos, pelicans and more than 380 other bird species.
Tarangire National Park
The Tarangire National Park covers an area of 2.600 square kilometres and is crossed by the Tarangire River. The only source of water for wild animals during dry season, the Tarangire River creates a most unique landscape: hillsides dotted with a vast numbers of Baobab trees, dense bushes and high grasses.
During the dry season thousands of animals such as elephants, kudu, lions, cheetahs and leopards migrate to the National Park to find water, making the dry season the best moment to visit the park.
Mount Kilimanjaro National Park
At the heart of the park is Mount Kilimanjaro (5896 mt), Africa’s highest mountain and a magnificent sight. It’s also one of the highest volcanoes and the highest freestanding mountain in the world. The top of the volcano is flat and covered in snow, and has three volcanic cones: Kibo (the central one covered in snow, 5896 mt), Mawenzi (the eastern one, 5149 mt) and Shira (the western one, 3962 mt).
There are 6 routes to get to the top (Uhuru Peak and Gillman’s Point):
• Marangu Route: Nicknamed the coca-cola route, it is the easiest and most used trek. Along the trail, there are dormitories and places to stop for food and drink. It takes 5 days on average to get to the top and back.
• Machame Route: Affectionately called the Whiskey route, it’s longer but highly recommended for its scenic views. It takes 6 days sleeping in tents along the way.
• Rongai Route: This is the only northern approach to Kilimanjaro. The landscapes along this walk are wild and suggestive. The distances between the various camps are relatively short and you sleep in tents along the way.
• Lemosho/Shira Route: This approaches Kilimanjaro from the west. It is similar to the Mechame Route in that it is longer, facilitating altitude acclimatisation.
• Mweka Route: This route is mostly used by people going back down from the Machame Route as it is quicker.
• Umbwe Route: This is yet another return route that is more direct and therefore quicker.
Selous Game Reserve
The Selous Game Reserve, covering over 45.000 square kilometers, is amongst the largest protected areas in Africa and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. The reserve has an exceptionally high variety of habitats including the Miombo woodlands, open grasslands and riparian forests and swamps. At the heart of the Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania’s largest river, the Rufiji, forms a complex network of channels, lakes and swamps that create one of the most outstanding ecosystems in East Africa. The river splits the reserve into two different parts: the northern Selous and the Southern Selous. A large numbers of elephants, black rhinos, cheetahs, Maasai giraffes, hippos and crocodiles live in this immense sanctuary. Some areas of the reserve are still greatly untouched, especially in the southern part where hunting is unfortunately still allowed. The northern side of the park is more visited than the southern. Besides the classic 4×4 safaris, visitors here can enjoy boat safaris, offering a different perspective on wildlife in the area, or they may also take part in a walking safari with an expert guide.
Mikumi National Park
The Mikumi National Park is the fourth biggest in the country and is borded to the south by the Selous Game Reserve. The two other natural areas bordering the National Park are the Udzungwa Mountains and Uluguru Mountains.
Its landscapes are quite varied. In the central part of the park, there are the Mkata floodplains where the vegetation consists of savannahs dotted with acacia and baobab. To the north, the peaks are impervious and calcareous, separated by narrow strips of permeable clay terrain. The south eastern part of the park is arid, less rich in wildlife and not very accessible. Criss-crossed by a good circuit of game viewing roads, the floodplain is the most reliable place in Tanzania if you wish to see eland, the world’s largest antelope, as well as impala, buffalos, giraffes, zebras, wildebeest and elephants while predators hide in the bushes. Between October and April you can witness the migration of many bird species from Eurasia.
Ruaha National Park
Large areas of Ruaha are unexplored and undeveloped. In fact, one of the park management’s goals is to preserve as much of the territory as possible in a pristine and undisturbed state. The landscape is quite various, transforming from bands of green that cling to the banks of the Great Ruaha River as it winds its way through rocky outcrops and mountains into arid scrublands and grassland that themselves seasonally transform into lush green leaves and grasses once the rains begin. This varied and rich territory boasts more than 1400 plant species, making it the perfect place for animals such as the black antelope, both the lesser and greater kudu, eland (the largest antelope in the world), lions, cheetahs, leopards, crocodiles and African hunting dogs. The best period to watch the bird migration is from November to March, and at this time of the year it is even possible to see the Sooty Falcon, which breeds in the Sahara and Middle East, and Eleanora’s Falcon, which breeds north of the Mediterranean.
Katavi National Park
Katavi is the third largest park covering over 4.470square kilometres. It lies in the remote southwest of the country. It is very hard to reach by road, but there are great flight connections from Arusha. Two enormous plains of knee-high golden grass (Chada and Katasunga) dominate the park. These grasslands are surrounded by varied woodlands and usually an abundant amount of game. This is an incredibly wild and rare, untouched area of Africa that offers amazing panoramas. Swamps create the perfect habitat for hippos, elephant, buffalos, zebras and different species of antelope that come to this wet area to drink during the dry season. During the wet season it is also a birdwatcher’s paradise as it hosts more than 400 species of bird.
Mahale Mountain National Park
This is the least visited park and the hardest to access. A few flights are available from Arusha but not daily. The park is named after the Mahele Mountain range that is within its borders, and it covers just over 1.600 square kilometres of forest, mountain and savannahs. Chimpanzees are the main attraction of the park, but the sightings are not guaranteed as it is not easy to locate them. It’s also possible to see buffalo, elephants, giraffes, lions and the red and Angola pigeons. The park lies on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. A forest lies between the lake and the river creating an incredible landscape. You can find a few lodges on the mountains and on the beautiful beaches of the lake. Many different activities are available such as safari treks dedicated to looking for chimpanzees, boat and kayak safaris and fishing trips.
Gombe National Park
Gombe is the smallest of Tanzania’s national parks: a fragile strip of chimpanzee habitat straddling the steep slopes and river valleys that border the sandy northern shore of Lake Tanganyika. The park is accessible only by light aircraft or boat. It was established in 1968 thanks to a Jane Goodall project designed to protect thousands of chimpanzees; unfortunately, only a hundred of them live in the park today. There are many other types of baboons and monkeys that can be spotted in the park. During your stay in the Gombe National Park, it is possible to relax on the waterfront, do some trekking or go on boat safaris.ASK US FOR MORE DETAILS
When is the best time to go?
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The government of Tanzania requires proof of yellow fever vaccination only if you are arriving from a country with risk of yellow fever.
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