More than almost any other destination, presence of the best national parks in Tanzania make the country the land of safaris. Wildebeest stampede across the plains. Hippos jostle for space in muddy waterways. Elephants wander along seasonal migration routes and chimpanzees swing through the treetops.
Throughout the country there are unparalleled opportunities to experience this natural wealth: take a boat safari down the Rufiji River past snoozing crocodiles in Selous Game Reserve; watch giraffes silhouetted against ancient baobab trees in Ruaha National Park; sit motionless as waterbirds peck in the shallows around Rubondo Island; and hold your breath while lions pad around your vehicle in Ngorongoro Crater.
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Best Time To Visit Tanzania
The best time to visit Tanzania is during the Dry season, from late June to October, when wildlife viewing is generally at its best. The wildebeest migration in the Serengeti is usually during June and July and the time to see the wildebeest calving is late January to February. The southern and western circuit parks are best visited during the Dry season (June to October), unlike the more popular northern circuit parks that can be visited year-round.
Climate In Tanzania
Just south of the equator, Tanzania has (with the exception of certain areas) a tropical savanna climate that is influenced by the Indian Ocean. Nevertheless, there are still differences per region; it is tropical on the coast and can freeze on Mount Kilimanjaro.
The coolest months occur when it’s summer in the northern hemisphere (June – September). However generally all-year round the weather remains pleasant and comfortable. Between June to October, temperatures range from around 10 degrees Celsius (50° Fahrenheit) in the northern highlands to about 23 degrees Celsius (73° Fahrenheit) on the coast.
Dry season –June to October
There is very little rainfall during this period and humidity is very low. It cools off at night; be sure to pack warm clothing because morning game drives in open vehicles will be cold, especially in the northern parks.
June, July, August, September & October – Afternoon temperatures are usually between 20°C/68°F and 30°C/86°F and vary greatly according to altitude and location. Most days have a fine, clear sky and sunny weather.
Wet season –November to May
- During most of the Wet season, afternoon temperatures are consistently hot (a bit above or below 30°C/86°F) but it is colder above 1,300m/4,265ft. Mornings are cold in most northern parks due to the high altitude.
- November & December – ‘Short rains’ – A period of about a month of short rains which occurs sometime between November and December. Its timing is unpredictable and, in Northern Tanzania, it can even happen in October. The rains will rarely interfere with your safari.
- January & February – The northern parks and coastal areas tend to have a break in the rainy season. The other parks don’t really experience a dry spell.
- March, April & May – ‘Long rains’ – These are the wettest months. It tends to rain heavily almost every day, although not often for the whole day. Humidity tends to be high, especially in the hotter southern and western parks.
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11 Best National Parks in Tanzania 2021
1. Serengeti national park
#1 Best National Parks in Tanzania
The Serengeti is one of the world’s most evocative names. Calling to mind sweeping savannah vistas, silhouetted acacia and shimmering red sunsets, the Serengeti deserves its place at the top of the safari circuit.
It is Tanzania’s most popular and most extensive national Park (14,763 square kilometres, or 5,700 square miles), bordering Kenya in the north, Ngorongoro Crater in the east and stopping just shy of Lake Victoria in the west. It was recently declared to be a wonder of the natural world and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The most famous event in the Serengeti is its annual migration, where hundreds of thousands of zebra and Thomson’s gazelle and millions of wildebeest move across the plains to greener pastures. The rest of the year, herds of buffalo, elephant, giraffes, eland, topi, kongoni, impala and Grant’s gazelle can be spotted in the thousands, followed by the pride of lions and solitary leopards, cheetahs and jackals, as well as a range of smaller predators.
2. Ngorongoro crater conservation area
#2 Best National Parks in Tanzania
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is located between the Great Rift Valley and the Serengeti national park, the Conservation Area is known for almost guaranteed sightings of the Big Five (elephant, buffalo, lion, rhino and leopard).
Within the Conservation Area lies the Ngorongoro Crater, known as the eighth natural wonder of the world. Virtually all the Big Five live or travel within the crater rim, while along its edge, Maasai tribesmen graze goats and cattle on the highland plateaus. As a protected area, only Maasai (approximately 42,200) are allowed to live within the Conservation Area and graze their animals around and within the crater. The crater provides a safe environment for the highly endangered black rhino, which number approximately 24 within the crater.
Olduvai Gorge is another main attraction of the Conservation Area. The steep ravine is the location where, in 1959, anthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey discovered a 1.8 million-year-old hominid skeleton. That and many other significant early human fossils found in the gorge make Olduvai one of the world’s most important anthropological sites.
3. Tarangire National Park
#3 Best National Parks in Tanzania
Tarangire National Park is quickly making a name for itself as a can’t-miss destination on the northern safari circuit. Just south-east of Lake Manyara, Tarangire has the most wildlife concentration outside the Serengeti. Dry river beds, Rift Valley wild bushland, lagoons and swamps and savannah are all on display here, home to countless animals.
Wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, impala, gazelle and other antelope species gather in astonishing numbers. Elephants have been spotted in Tarangire in herds of up to 300. Tarangire is known as one of the few parks where lions have been spotted climbing trees, along with leopards and large, prehistoric-looking pythons.
Bird lovers will be at home in Tarangire, with over 550 bird species filling it with song. The Kori bustard (the world’s most massive flying bird) and ostrich lumber impressively throughout the Park, while above them countless lovebirds, starlings and migratory birds will keep birders very busy.
4. Lake Manyara National Park
#4 Best National Parks in Tanzania
Lake Manyara National Park is one of the safari circuit’s main attractions and is typically packaged with the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. The lake’s watershed creates a rich, green environment on a stage set by amazing views of the Great Rift Valley’s western escarpment.
The majority of the park’s topography is forest or heavy vegetation, allowing animals to roam more privately and making viewing more intimate. Other habitats include swamp, acacia, plains and the lakeshore. In these varied environments, elephant, buffalo, zebra, giraffe, warthog and a variety of ungulate species can be found. The park’s hippo population is impressive. Predators include leopards and the park’s famous tree-climbing lions.
For birders, more than 400 species can be found in astonishing volume and variety. Lake Manyara is home to thousands of pink flamingos. Hot springs are also found in the southern section of the park.
5. Mikumi national park
#5 Best National Parks in Tanzania
Mikumi National Park is the fourth largest in Tanzania and adjacent to the Selous Game Reserve, Africa’s largest reserve. The Park is southwest of Morogoro and ringed by the Uluguru, Rubeho and Udzungwa Mountains. The topography of the Park includes thick woodland, grass plains and mountainous foothills.
Colourful birds (over 400 species) flit about the Park throughout the year, joined seasonally by migratory birds from Europe. The Park is host to a unique elephant population, along with easily spotted zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, impala and buffalo. The Park’s Mkata River provides shade and grazing for the Park’s herbivore population, and the Mkata floodplain virtually guarantees a spotting of the largest antelope in the world, the eland. Lions can be found as well for the lucky and dedicated viewer.
Along with Lake Manyara, Mikumi is one of the few places in Tanzania where lions have been found climbing trees to escape wet earth during the rainy season.
6. Arusha national park
#6 Best National Parks in Tanzania
Arusha National Park is often overlooked by tourists heading to the more famous Serengeti or Lake Manyara. Those who find the times to visit, however, are rarely disappointed by the diverse population of wildlife just a virtual stone’s throw away from Arusha. The Park is the perfect location for a half-day trip for those who are time-pressed or just dying for a little more after a northern circuit safari.
The National Park is home to a large portion of Mount Meru, the second-highest mountain in Tanzania. The striking monolith towers high above the national Park. Their 212 square miles encompass much of the eastern side of the mountain including the summit’s 3.5 km-wide Meru Crater and the slightly smaller Ngurdoto Crater. The Park also contains the shallow Momela lakes, which attract a variety of wildlife to their alkaline waters.
The National Park’s wildlife includes elephants, giraffes, zebras, hippos, buffaloes, warthogs, antelopes, and primates such as playful colobus and blue monkeys. If you’re fortunate, you may even spot a leopard or hyena! Arusha National Park is also a haven for birders, with almost 600 different species and a variety of plentiful butterflies.
7. Gombe stream national park
#7 Best National Parks in Tanzania
Gombe stream national park is a tiny park with a vast and vital place in Tanzania’s history. In 1960, its population of chimpanzees was the subject of jane Goodall’s pioneering behavioural research program. Now a world-famous example of animal research, the study continues on the site today. At only 52 square kilometres, Tanzania’s smallest Park contains the perfect conditions for the fragile chimpanzee’s habitat.
Just north of Kigoma, the Park covers the slopes and valleys that line the northern shore of Lake Tanganyika. It is one of the best places to view primates in Tanzania. It is home to beachcomber olive baboons (also subjects of behavioural research) and two different types of colobus monkeys. The baboons are friendly and habituated to humans, while the monkeys tend to be more elusive. For birders, over 200 species abound in the Park.
The Park is also worth visiting for local culture. Lake Tanganyika is a working lake with a basin population of about 10 million people. The fishing villages in the region are friendly and exciting, where you can watch hundreds of small, traditionally built wooden boats bring in the day’s catch.
8. Ruaha National Park
#8 Best National Parks in Tanzania
Some safari goers want nothing but vast plains, miles of bush and a plethora of animals. For those travellers, the wide vistas, impressive game viewing, and sparse visitors of Ruaha national park are a dream. At over 10,000 square kilometres, Ruaha is the largest National Park in the country, located west of Iringa in the eastern rift valley. The great Ruaha river borders the Park to the east, fertilizing the semi-arid topography during the torrential rainy season.
Ruaha has one of the highest diversities of antelope in Tanzania, including one of the country’s largest populations of the magnificent greater kudu. The greater kudu is one of the largest antelope species and is known for its impressive twisting horns. Along with many other antelope species, the greater kudu is hunted in Ruaha by large pride of lion and solitary cheetahs and leopards. One of Ruaha’s crowning glories is the large packs of African wild dogs, one of the most endangered animals in the region. Hyenas are also spotted in the Park.
As with most Tanzanian parks, a remarkable number of bird species are found in the Park – some 450. The convergence of acacia grassland and semi-arid bushland make Ruaha a meeting place for birds from a variety of habitats.
9. Rubondo island national park
#9 Best National Parks in Tanzania
Rubondo island national Park rises out of the southwestern waters of Lake Victoria, surrounded by tiny islands. These sentinels welcome you to one of Tanzania’s most well-preserved wildlife sanctuaries.
Being an island, rubondo’s waters teem with freshwater fish. Recreational game fishers have caught Nile perch of over100kg. Tilapia are abundant and form the main diet of the island’s resident otter population. Onshore, sandy beaches disappear into a wall of untouched forest, a lush, mysterious wood of sycamore figs, palms and tamarinds scented by wild jasmine and containing over 40 different types of orchid.
This oasis attracts a remarkable bird population, both resident and migrant. Papyrus swamps provide an excellent environment for the sitatunga, the shyest antelope species, as well as hippos and a variety of waterbird species. Mongoose, hippos and several types of monkeys are indigenous to the island, while other species such as chimpanzee, elephant and giraffe have been introduced to the isolated island.
10. Mahale mountains national Park
#10 Best National Parks in Tanzania
On the borders of Lake Tanganyika lies a large park dominated by the mahale mountain chain and one of Tanzania’s most impressive chimpanzee populations. The Park is located on a jutting peninsula of Lake Tanganyika, offering stunning views of the mountains just being the sandy beaches of the country’s most beautiful lake. The mahale mountains are a photographer’s dream, with six prominent peaks forming the skyline. The largest at 8,069 feet is nkungwe.
The Park’s main attraction is its population of about 800 of the region’s last wild chimpanzees. A small group of them (approximately 60) have been habituated to humans since the 1960s. Specific rules for interacting with the chimpanzees are enforced in the Park. Other wildlife to be seen includes red colobus and blue monkeys and an excellent variety of bird life.
The local people inhabiting the region, the tongwe people, have a fascinating historical relationship with the park region. Cultural tours and hearing the stories of the group is a fascinating way to explore the region.
11. Nyerere National Park
#11 Best National Parks in Tanzania
The Nyerere National Park formally Selous Game Reserve is quickly becoming a wildlife-viewing gem in a country full of legendary game reserves. Tucked away into a less populous and less popular Tanzanian southeast, the reserve takes up over 5% of the country’s total area and is the largest wildlife reserve in Africa. It’s also an easy charter flight from Dar es Salaam, making it a popular destination for weekend safaris from the big city.
The Selous Game Reserve offers up close and personal wildlife encounters in a less busy environment than the Serengeti. It’s home to some of the world’s last wild black rhinos and the highly endangered African wild dog, along with elephants, antelopes, giraffes, lions, and a number of marine or river dwelling animals.
The Rufiji River Delta meanders through the Reserve before emptying out into the Indian Ocean just outside park boundaries. The Delta provides a habitat and excellent viewing point for hundreds of hippos, crocodiles, and birdlife. Follow the Rufiji to where it meets the Great Ruaha River and treat yourself to the unsurpassable views of Stiegler’s Gorge.