Tanzania is perhaps one of the most iconic safari destinations in Africa. Home to the Great Migration, a spectacular volcanic crater and one of the largest game reserves in the world, it’s easy to see why Tanzania sits at the top of every traveller’s bucket list. From watching huge herds of wildebeest and zebra move in unison across rivers to relaxing on beautiful palm-fringed beaches, or from spotting the world’s last primates in the jungle to seeing rare creatures that can’t be found anywhere else in Africa, Tanzania is a breath-taking journey of wild discovery. It’s every traveller’s dream and it’s also home to some of the most incredible national parks on our planet. Here’s a guide to all the national parks and major reserves with tips on when to go and where to stay.
This huge national park, stretching 14,750 km², is perhaps the country’s most famous park. Known best for its unique Serengeti ecosystem and the annual migration of more than 1.5 million white bearded wildebeest and over 250,000 zebras plus numerous other species, the Serengeti proves to be one of the most coveted safari and game viewing destinations in the world. Founded back in 1913 by American hunter Stewart Edward, the Serengeti is today one of the most abundant wildlife sanctuaries in Africa and with varied landscapes ranging from flat-topped acacias and flat plains to wild hills and rocky mountains, it’s one of the most ecologically diverse places to spot wildlife. Animals include The Big Five (lions, leopards, buffalo, elephants and rhinos), giraffes, elands, impalas, Grant’s gazelle and cheetahs.
Without a doubt, Serengeti National Park is famed for the annual migration. The movements can be seen throughout the year across the entire park with the best months for sightings being June and July as large herds form on the southern banks of the Grumeti River or in August during the crossing of the Mara River.
We feature a number of top camps including the Serengeti Under Canvas camp which includes en-suite facilities and the Serena Safari Lodge which has a luxurious choice of two-storey stone-built, traditionally-thatched Rondavel huts with a camp swimming pool.
The Ngorongoro Crater boasts a beautifully diverse landscape and it’s just as impressive for birding as it is for game viewing. So there’s something for everybody in the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation area. But aside from the thriving wildlife, just being here in this unique part of Africa is pretty spectacular; the Ngorongoro is a wonder in itself. Set deep in a volcanic crater, the largest unflooded and unbroken caldera on earth, Ngorongoro stretches around 20 kilometres from side to the other, runs 600 metres deep and measures 300 square kilometres in total! Here you have a good chance of spotting the Big Five and in total, there are 50 different species of large mammals including hippos, giraffes, eland, impala, baboons, warthogs and hyenas. There are also more than 200 bird species.
Flamingos are abundant in the crater and there’s also a healthy population of black rhino. And for those who take interest in the Maasai Mara, there are two Maasai cultural bomas where you can meet the people and learn more about their unique culture.
For safari holidays in the Ngorongoro Reserve, we recommend staying at Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge which has its own spa or Gibbs Farm where you can stay in one of the 17 cottages which have been designed to accommodate families.
This small park measures a modest 330 km² and is best known for its large, healthy elephant population. It may be petite in comparison to other popular safari destinations in Tanzania but Lake Manyara has many pros, including the chance to get up close to the park’s relaxed elephant groups, incredible scenery with amazing views visible from camps, great birding opportunities including flamingos, and an array of rare species which are actually very hard to spot in the bigger parks. In addition to this, Lake Manyara is much quieter than other reserves and is extremely quiet in the mornings making morning safaris simply top notch! Located close to Ngorongoro and Serengeti.
Big cats aren’t easily spotted here. However, the park is well known for lions which can often be seen climbing the trees! The elephant population is also extremely relaxed and docile, and they can usually be seen very close to the park’s campsites.
Stay at the Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, the perfect spot to look out for tree-climbing lions, herds of elephants and thousands of flamingos. Or stay in the Lake Menyara Safari Lodge if you’re looking for a little bit of luxury and want excellent views from the infinity pool.
Covering a distance of 2,850 km², Tarangire is the sixth largest national park in Tanzania and it is crossed with the Tarangire River and is bordered by swamps to the south. Located in the Manyara Region, it’s in the ideal location in the North for safari goers who want to move onto other parks in the area including Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. Tarangire is best experienced during the dry season when the area boasts bright blue, cloudless skies; visibility is at its best and the climate is most pleasing to everyone.
This park is best known for its huge herds of elephants and during the dry months (June to October), they can be spotted digging at the damp earth where riverbeds have dried up in search of underground springs.
For a safari holiday in Tarangire National Park, stop at one of the en-suite tents with spacious outdoor showers at Olivers Camp or sleep in one of the luxurious canvas pavilions at Sanctuary Swala Lodge, which have all been pitched close to watering holes for perfect game spotting.
Located in the western Kigoma region, Gombe Stream National Park is truly unique and makes a thrilling change for seasoned safari goers who have already had the chance to see the Big Five. This small forested park measures 52km², and is indeed one of Tanzania’s smallest but what it lacks in surface area, it certainly makes up for in scenery and wildlife. Consisting of an ancient forest straddling river valleys and the sandy shorelines of Lake Tanganyika, Gombe National Park is the ideal place to spot chimpanzees. Gombe is also home to the famous Jane Goodall Institute, a research centre founded by the renowned primatologist back in 1960 and today the institute’s research programs stands as the longest running program of its kind.
Gombe National Park is abundant in chimpanzees and although you might come across other visitors tracking chimpanzees, the park rarely gets crowded even in the peak seasons. This region is a primate paradise so you may also see baboons, red colobus monkeys and red tailed monkeys.
The best time to visit is during the dry season as chimpanzees are easiest to track between the months of July and October when they stay on the lower slopes of the park. These months also promise the least amount of rainfall and plenty of sunshine.
Ruaha National Park is the country’s largest national park. Measuring a whopping 20,226 square kilometres after acquiring the Usangu Game Reserve in 2008, Ruaha is now one of the most iconic and significant safari destinations in Tanzania. Up there with Serengeti and Ngorongoro, Ruaha is one of the most desirable safaris for newcomers or seasoned explorers alike and offers some of the best game viewing including 4 of the Big Five (no rhinos) with a particularly high concentration of elephants plus sightings of cheetahs, wild dogs, impala, hippos and crocodiles. Much of the park is untouched, giving visitors a truly unique and unforgettable safari experience – a great choice for an off the beaten path adventure!
As well as being able to spot 4 of the Big Five and various other game, the park is also home to the Greater Kudu which can’t be spotted in any other national park. Other rare sightings may include the sable antelope and roan antelope, plus the Great Ruaha River offers sightings of different species of fish.
Our featured Jongomero camp is highly recommended for those looking to explore Ruaha National Park. Guided walks and game drives are available daily.
Set along the stunning shores of Lake Tanganyika in the Kigoma Region, the Mahale Mountains is a vast national park which covers 1,650 km² and boasts some incredibly unique natural characteristics. The terrain is mostly rugged and hilly and the area is abundant in primate activity. Other than wildlife, the park is popular for fishing and snorkelling, kayaking and water sports, mountain climbing or for relaxing on the lake’s pristine beaches.
Mahale Mountains National Park is best known for its wild chimpanzee population; it’s in fact one of the last places in Africa to contain such a population so if you’re looking for a primate tracking safari, the Mahale Mountains makes an excellent place to come.
The best time to visit Mahale Mountains National Park is between the months of July to October when the weather is at its best and the tourist crowds are still pretty low; during these months, the chimpanzees are also easily tracked as when the weather is dry and there is little rainfall, they can often be spotted spending time on the low mountain slopes. Dry season also means that mosquitoes are few and the low humidity makes travel easy for all ages.
The Katavi National Park / Lake Victoria area offers something completely different for the seasoned traveller. If you’re looking for an off the beaten path safari experience and you’ve conquered Tanzania’s greats – the popular Serengeti for the Great Migration or the Ngorongoro Crater for black rhino sightings – Katavi National Park could be the perfect destination to give you an unforgettable trip. As the largest lake in Africa, Lake Victoria is a huge habitat for such a diverse wildlife including hippos and crocodiles which can be spotted in the water as well as elephants, giraffes, zebra, buffalo, lions, leopards and hyenas. Whilst the variety of game isn’t big enough to compete with other major parks, the sightings tend to be pretty spectacular, especially with buffalo herds that arrive in their thousands.
The lake is a huge attraction at the Katavi National Park and is a fantastic place for fishing, particularly with the Giant Nile Perch which averages over 100 pounds in weight. The record weight ever caught topped 500 pounds! Special sightings here include lions, hippos and huge herds of buffalo.
The Selous Game Reserve is three times the size of the famous Serengeti and although not officially a national park, it is one of the largest faunal reserves in the entire world. At a vast 44,800 km², Selous is bigger than the country of Denmark or Switzerland and covers more than 5% of Tanzania’s entire landmass. There’s no denying that this huge game reserve is utterly spellbinding in every way and it’s been said by many who have come here before that it’s perhaps one of the last few places in the continent where visitors can experience that charming ‘old world Africa’, with many areas still being uninhabited and completely untouched. For travellers who want an authentic and immersive experience with just as much culture as there is wildlife, Selous Reserve on the Southern Safari Circuit makes an ideal choice. During the dry season, this reserve offers some of the best game viewing around and both guided walks and boat safaris are available throughout the year. Animal sightings include elephants, giraffes, hippos, buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, lions, wild dogs and hyena.
Selous Reserve is one of the best places in East Africa to encounter wild dogs and lions can often be spotted drinking or cooling off along the lake shores, with the dry season being the prime time for sightings. The northern sector of the Selous is also a special place for photographic safaris so photographers will find ideal shooting locations here.