Wildlife, beaches, friendly people, Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Mt Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar Archipelago – Tanzania has all these and more wrapped up in one adventurous, welcoming package.
More than almost any other destination, Tanzania is 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.
Tanzania’s Indian Ocean coastline is magical, with tranquil islands and sleepy coastal villages steeped in centuries of Swahili culture – this East African coast was the seat of sultans and a linchpin in a far-flung trading network extending to Persia, India and beyond. Relax on powdery beaches backed by palm trees and massive baobabs; take in magnificent, pastel-hued sunrises; immerse yourself in languid coastal rhythms; and sit beneath the billowing sails of a wooden dhow, listening to the creaking of its rigging and the gentle slap of the sea against its prow.
Sending its shadow across Tanzania's northern plains, Mt Kilimanjaro beckons visitors with its graceful, forested flanks and stately snow-capped summit. It is Africa's highest peak and the world's highest free-standing volcano. It is also home to the Chagga people, and to a wealth of birds and wildlife. Climbers by the thousands venture here to challenge themselves on its muddy slopes, rocky trails and slippery scree. The rewards: the thrill of standing at the top of Africa; magnificent views of Kilimanjaro's ice fields; and witnessing sunrise illuminating the plains far below.
Wherever you go in Tanzania, opportunities abound for getting to know the country's people and cultures. Meet red-cloaked Maasai warriors. Spend time with the semi-nomadic Barabaig people near Mt Hanang. Experience the hospitality of a local meal and the rhythms of traditional dance. Chat and barter at local markets. More than anything else, it is the Tanzanian people that make visiting the country so memorable. Chances are you'll want to come back soon, to which most Tanzanians will say "karibu tena" (welcome again).
Serengeti's Great Migration: the world's ultimate wildlife spectacle
14 min read — Published Nov 1, 2021
Behold the ultimate wildlife spectacle: The Great Migration of wildebeest and zebra through the Serengeti.
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Katavi National Park, 35km southwest of Mpanda, is Tanzania’s third-largest national park (together with two contiguous game reserves the conservation area encompasses 12,500 sq km) and one of its most unspoiled wilderness areas. Though it’s an isolated alternative to more popular destinations elsewhere in Tanzania, the lodges are just as luxurious as anywhere else, and for backpackers it’s one of the cheapest and easiest parks to visit, if you’re willing to take the time and effort to get there. Katavi’s dominant feature is the 425-sq-km Katisunga Plain, a vast grassy expanse at the heart of the park. This and other flood plains yield to vast tracts of brush and woodland (more southern African than eastern), which are the best areas for sighting roan and sable antelopes (together with Ruaha National Park, Katavi is one of the few places you have a decent chance of spotting both). Small rivers and large swamps that last all year support huge populations of hippos and crocodiles and Katavi has more than 400 bird species. The park really comes to life in the dry season, when the flood plains dry up and elephants, lions, zebras, giraffes, elands, topis and many more gather at the remaining waters. The park really stands out for its hippos – up to a thousand at a time gather in a single, muddy pool at the end of the dry season (late September to early October is the best time) – and its buffaloes. Katavi is home to some of the largest remaining buffalo herds in Africa and it's not unusual to see over a thousand of these steroid-fuelled bovines at any one time. The park no longer hires vehicles but Riverside Camp in Sitalike charges US$200 per day for a 4WD. All park fees must be made at park headquarters located 1km south of Sitalike or the Ikuu Ranger Post near the main airstrip. You must pay by credit card, as cash is not accepted. If you fly in, rangers will be waiting at the airstrip for park admission fees. Anyone staying in the park has to pay the camping fee, but this will be included in the overall package if staying at one of the top-end camps.
Few people forget their first encounter with the Serengeti. Perhaps it's the view from the summit of Naabi Hill at the park's entrance, from where the Serengeti's grasslands stretch out like a vision of eternity. Or maybe it's a coalition of male lions stalking across open plains. Or it could be the epic migration of animals in their millions, following the ancient rhythm of Africa's seasons. Whatever it is, welcome to one of the greatest wildlife-watching destinations on earth. On the vast plains of the Serengeti, nature’s mystery, power and beauty surround you as they do in few other places. It’s here that one of earth’s most impressive natural cycles has played itself out for aeons as hundreds of thousands of hoofed animals, driven by primeval rhythms of survival, move constantly in search of fresh grasslands. The most famous, and numerous, are the wildebeest (of which there are some 1.5 million) and their annual migration is one of the Serengeti’s biggest draws. Besides the migrating wildebeest, there are also resident populations in the park and you’ll see these smaller but still impressive herds year-round. In February more than 8000 wildebeest calves are born per day, although about 40% of these die before reaching four months old. A few black rhinos in the Moru Kopjes area give you a chance to glimpse all of the Big Five (lion, elephant, rhino, leopard and buffalo), although the rhinos are very rarely seen. The 14,763-sq-km national park is also renowned for its predators, especially its lions. Hunting alongside them are cheetahs, leopards, hyenas, jackals and more. These feast on zebras, giraffes, buffaloes, Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles, topis, elands, hartebeests, impalas, klipspringers, duikers and so many more. Serengeti is an incredible birdwatching destination also, with over 500 species. Entry fees are valid for 24 hours, with a single entry only.
Welcome to one of Africa's most underrated parks. Thanks to its proximity to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro, Tarangire is usually assigned only a day visit as part of a larger northern-circuit itinerary. But it deserves a whole lot more, at least in the dry season. This is a place where elephants dot the plains like cattle, and where lion roars and zebra barks fill the night, all set against a backdrop of constantly changing scenery. Tarangire has the second-highest concentration of wildlife of any Tanzanian national park (after the Serengeti) and reportedly the largest concentration of elephants in the world. The Tarangire ecosystem, with the park as its heart, also has more than 700 resident lions, and sightings are common. Less visible, but nonetheless present, are leopards and cheetahs. Sustaining them are large herds of zebras, wildebeest, hartebeests, elands, oryx, waterbucks, lesser kudus, giraffes and buffaloes. With more than 450 species, including many rare ones, Tarangire is among the best birdwatching destinations in Tanzania. But this is one place where the wildlife tells only half the story. Dominating the park's 2850 sq km are some of Northern Tanzania's most varied landscapes. The great stands of epic baobabs should be reason enough to come, but there are also sun-blistered termite mounds in abundance, as well as grassy savannah plains and vast swamps. Cleaving the park in two is the Tarangire River, its meandering course and (in some places) steep riverbanks providing a dry-season lure for animals and thus many stirring wildlife encounters for visitors. Come the short rainy season, the park changes completely, as its wild inhabitants disperse across the Maasai Steppe over an area 10 times larger than the park. This, too, is a Tarangire speciality: one of the park's greatest rewards is the chance to discern and tune into the seasonal rhythms of wild Africa. Entry fees are valid for 24 hours, with a single entry only.
Since its official opening in 1977, Mt Kilimanjaro National Park has become one of Tanzania’s most visited parks. Unlike the other northern parks, this isn’t a place to come for the wildlife, although it’s there. Rather, you come here to gaze in awe at a snowcapped mountain on the equator, and to climb to the top of Africa. At the heart of the park is the 5896m Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and one of the continent’s most magnificent sights. Kilimanjaro is also one of the world's highest volcanoes, and it's the highest free-standing mountain on earth, rising from cultivated farmland on the lower levels, through lush rainforest to alpine meadows, and finally across a lunar landscape to the twin summits of Kibo and Mawenzi. Kilimanjaro’s third volcanic cone, Shira, is on the mountain’s western side. The lower rainforest is home to many animals, including buffaloes, elephants, leopards and monkeys, and elands are occasionally seen in the saddle area between Kibo and Mawenzi. A hike up Kili lures around 25,000 trekkers each year, in part because it’s possible to walk to the summit without ropes or technical climbing experience. Non-technical, however, does not mean easy. The climb is a serious (and expensive) undertaking, and only worth doing with the right preparation. There are also many opportunities to explore the mountain’s lower slopes and to learn about the Maasai and the Chagga, two of the main tribes in the area. There are entry gates at Machame, Marangu (which is also the site of the park headquarters), Londorosi and several other points. Trekkers using the Rongai route should pay their fees at Marangu gate.
It’s difficult to imagine a more idyllic combination: clear, blue waters and white-sand beaches backed by lushly forested mountains soaring straight out of Lake Tanganyika, and some of the continent’s most intriguing wildlife watching. Mahale Mountains park (1613 sq km) is most notable as a chimpanzee sanctuary – there are about 700 of our primate relatives split into 14 groups residing in and around the park – with leopards, blue duikers, red-tailed monkeys and red colobus monkeys keeping them company. The downside to this idyllic preserve is how challenging it is to get there. Unless you fly, plan on spending at least a day trying to arrive and another when you leave. Entry to Mahale Mountains National Park is at Bilenge in the park’s northwestern corner, about 10 minutes by boat south of the airstrip and 20 minutes north of Kasiha, site of the park’s bandas (thatched-roof huts) and guides’ residences. Another park office, next to the airstrip and where fly-in guests can pay their entry fees, is open to coincide with flight arrivals. There are no roads in Mahale; walking and boating along the shoreline are the only ways to get around. Chimpanzee trekking is limited to those 12 years of age and older.
At approximately 22,000 sq km, Ruaha National Park is Tanzania’s largest. It forms the core of a wild and extended ecosystem covering about 40,000 sq km and providing a home to Tanzania’s largest elephant population. In addition to the elephants, which are estimated to number about 12,000, the park hosts large herds of buffaloes, as well as greater and lesser kudus, Grant’s gazelles, wild dogs, ostriches, cheetahs, roan and sable antelope, and more than 400 different types of birds. Ruaha is notable for its wild and striking topography, especially around the Great Ruaha River, which forms its heart. Much of this topography is undulating plateau averaging about 900m in height with occasional rocky outcrops and stands of baobabs. Mountains in the south and west reach to about 1600m and 1900m, respectively. Running through the park are several ‘sand’ rivers, most of which dry up during the dry season, when they are used by wildlife as corridors to reach areas where water remains.
With an area of only 56 sq km, this is Tanzania’s smallest national park, but its famous primate inhabitants and its connection to Jane Goodall have given it worldwide renown. Many of Gombe’s 100-plus chimps are well habituated, and though it can be difficult, sweaty work traversing steep hills and valleys, if you head out early in the morning, sightings are nearly guaranteed. Chimp tracking is only permitted for those aged 15 and older, and you must be with a guide at all times except at the lakeshore. As well as chimp tracking you can go and see Jane’s old chimp-feeding station, the viewpoint on Jane’s Peak and Kakombe Waterfall. It's also possible to hike along the lakeshore, but you still need to pay the same fees.
The Selous is Africa's largest wildlife reserve, and Tanzania’s most extensive protected area. It’s home to large herds of elephants, plus buffaloes, crocodiles, hippos, wild dogs, many bird species and some of Tanzania’s last remaining black rhinos. The Rufiji River is a major feature, and offers the chance for boat safaris, which are a Selous highlight. Visit soon, however, before the Rufiji is dammed as part of the massive Stiegler's Gorge hydroelectric project. Entry fees are valid for 24 hours, single entry only, and must be paid in advance, either through your lodge or tented camp or at any NBC bank branch (bring the receipt with you to the reserve gate).
This astounding conservation area and Unesco World Heritage Site encompasses the Ngorongoro Crater, Oldupai Gorge and much of the Crater Highlands. It can be experienced in many ways – from a vehicle safari to the floor of the wildlife-packed Ngorongoro Crater to a rugged trek in the Crater Highlands to a foray into the past at Oldupai Gorge. However you choose to visit, it's an essential part of any Northern Tanzania journey.
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