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Top 10 Best National Parks in Tanzania – Overview

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Stalk the stalker, watch it pounce upon its prey, see millions of animals crossing a river, track gorillas, live in the wild and discover unusual species while you’re at it. A wildlife safari is one of the biggest charms of any African adventure and Tanzania is perhaps the best country for a journey into the wild. Tanzania’s national parks are designed to suit all kinds of interests, preferences and comfort levels, and you can be rest assured that there is a safari which is perfect for you.

But before you embark on your safari adventure, you need to make one of the biggest decisions – which park to visit and which park to leave out. Serengeti or Ngorongoro feel like the most obvious places to be, but it is equally possible that you have a much better time in one of the lesser-known parks.

Bookmundi recommends you to ask yourself the following questions as they should help you zero in on the best national park in Tanzania.

  • When do you plan to visit Tanzania?
  • Which animals attract you the most?
  • Do you prefer crowds or wish to explore the park without having to come across other tour groups?
  • Game drives, hot air balloons, fly camping, walking expeditions into the wild – which of these attract you the most?
  • Would you like to watch a few predators or thousands of game animals?
  • What kind of accommodation are you looking for?
  • Are you a budget traveler or are you searching for luxury?

Below we are listing highlights, lowlights, and facts about some of the top national parks in Tanzania:

#1 Serengeti National Park

Home to the Great Migration, Serengeti National Park easily makes its way into most bucket lists. This fascinating park presents all kinds of ecosystems which allows it to host a variety of plants, birds and animals. The sheer diversity makes it one of the most unique national parks in Africa. Over the years, Serengeti National Park has attracted people from all walks of life, including movie stars, celebrities, writers and poets, and it easily ranks as one of the most coveted safari destinations in Africa.

Wildebeest Migration in the Serengeti plains
A view of the Great Migration taking place in Serengeti National Park

Highlights

  • Home to the Great Migration
  • Authentic game viewing opportunities
  • Hot air balloon safaris
  • One of the best destinations to spot African predators
  • Excellent accommodation options

Lowlights

  • The park is very crowded during peak season
Serengeti National Park Facts
Number of annual visitors: 90,000
Size: 13,250 sq. km.
Altitude: 3,737 feet to 7,133 feet
Common Animal Sightings: Wildebeest, giraffe, gazelle, big cats, elephant, zebra, eland, topi, kongoni.
Best Season to Visit: June to July and January to February
Nearby Attractions: Ngorongoro Conservation Center, Lake Natron, Tarangire National Park

#2 Ngorongoro Conservation Crater

Formed millions of years ago, the Ngorongoro Crater closed off its borders to man with the help of walls that rose to heights of 400 to 600 meters. As a result, nature was allowed to run free here and create some of the most exotic species of plants and animals that the world has ever seen. This is one of the few places where you can see the Big 5 in a single day and it also hosts the endangered black rhino.

Black rhinos in Ngorongoro Crater
Black Rhinos (Diceros bicornis) standing in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania

Highlights

  • Year-round wildlife viewing
  • Watch the endangered black rhino
  • Excellent accommodation
  • Explore the Maasai culture by visiting a traditional village
  • See the Big 5 in a single day

Lowlights

  • Expensive
  • Very crowded during peak season
Ngorongoro Crater Facts
Number of annual visitors: 400,000
Size: 8,228 sq. kms.
Altitude: 3,310 feet to 1,959 feet
Common Animal Sightings: Black rhino, wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, elephant, topi, buffalo, cheetah, lion, spotted hyena, leopard, golden jackal, bat-eared fox.
Best Season to Visit: June to September
Nearby attractions: Serengeti National Park, Empakaai Center, Mount Kilimanjaro

#3 Lake Manyara

Think of Lake Manyara as a mini Serengeti. The place is very small in size, and a majority of the area is covered by the lake itself, but it still hosts as many as 11 ecosystems and a vast and varied wildlife. The groundwater forest surroundings at Lake Manyara offer a much-needed break from African savannahs. Tree-climbing lions are the superstars here, but predator sightings are difficult. A close encounter with hundreds of elephants is the next best thing.

Tree climbing lions in Lake Manyara
A closer look at tree climbing lions in Lake Manyara National Park

Highlights

  • Night safaris, hiking and trekking available
  • Tree-climbing lions
  • Splendid bird-watching opportunities
  • See elephants from up close
  • Breathtaking natural beauty
  • Wildlife is usually concentrated in certain pockets

Lowlights

  • Very crowded during peak season
Lake Manyara Facts
Size: 330 sq. kms.
Altitude: 3,127 feet to 4,741 feet
Common Animal Sightings: Baboon, flamingo, elephant, wildebeest, giraffe, blue monkey, buffalo, water-buck, impala, warthog, zebra, klipspringer, Kirk’s dik-dik, lion, leopard.
Best Season to Visit: July to October
Nearby Attractions: Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Center

#4 Tarangire National Park

Tarangire National Park isn’t located on the main safari route, and is less crowded than most other national parks in Tanzania. The park is 10 times larger than Manyara and its game tends to be incredibly concentrated during peak season. The park is also known for its breathtaking baobab trees and stunning natural beauty.

The Tarangire giant Baobab tree
Zebras and Impalas near a Baobab tree in Tarangire National Park

Highlights

  • Night safaris and walking safaris available
  • Excellent accommodation options
  • Concentrated wildlife viewing opportunities during dry season
  • Breathtaking scenery

Lowlights

  • Animal sightings are difficult during wet season
  • The park tends to get crowded during peak season
Tarangire National Park Facts
Number of Annual Visitors: 160,000
Size: 2,850 sq. kms.
Altitude: 3,222 feet to 5,400 feet
Common Animal Sightings: Elephant, lion, leopard, cheetah, eland, impala, gazelle, hartebeest, buffalo, wildebeest and giraffe.
Best Season to Visit: July to October
Nearby Attractions: Arusha, Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Center, Lake Manyara National Park

#5 Selous Game Reserve

Selous Game Reserve represents the largest uninhabited area in the continent, and this alone makes it worth visiting. The large untouched expanses of land showcase nature at its beautiful best. The reserve also presents the best bush vibe in Tanzania. Selous Game Reserve is one of the two destinations used by elephants for their annual migration, and if watching millions of wildebeests isn’t possible, you can go for the next best thing, watching thousands of elephants at Selous.

Elephants of Selous Game Reserve
Group of elephants walking in the bushland of Selous Game Reserve

Highlights

  • One of the few destinations in Africa to see wild dogs
  • Elephant migration Boat safaris available
  • Excellent wildlife viewing opportunities during dry season
  • Lion sightings are common
  • One of the best destinations to see wild dogs
  • Excellent accommodation

Lowlights

  • Hunting allowedMalarial area
  • Animals are scattered during wet season
  • Compact wildlife viewing circuit
  • Animal sightings are difficult during wet season
  • The park tends to get crowded during peak season
Selous Game Reserve Facts
Size: 47,665 sq. kms.
Altitude: 118 feet to 4,793 feet
Common Animal Sightings: Elephant, wild dog, crocodile, black colobus monkey, hippo, antelope, bushbuck, sickle-horned sable, reedbuck, waterbuck and curly-horned greater kudu.
Best Season to Visit: June to November
Nearby Attractions: Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar

#6 Ruaha National Park

The largest national park in Africa might not come with a world-famous reputation, but it certainly presents the wildest encounters for those who know what to look for. Ruaha National Park is most famous for its fascinating beauty, ancient baobab trees, picturesque river and dramatic scenes and it offers incredibly exciting game viewing experiences to its visitors.

Ruaha National Park
A male Cheetah hunting in Ruaha National Park

Highlights

  • Fly camping trips
  • One of the best destinations to see wild dogs
  • Guided treks
  • Unusual antelope species
  • Doesn’t get crowded

Lowlights

  • Remote location
  • Lack of proper low-budget accommodation
  • Animals sightings are difficult during wet season
Ruaha National Park Facts
Number of Visitors: 20,000
Size: 10,300 sq. kms.
Altitude: 2,362 feet to 6,188 feet
Common Animal Sightings: Giraffe, greater kudu, sable antelope, lesser kudu, zebra, impala, bushbuck, buffalo, hartebeest, gazelle, waterbuck, elephant, lions, black-backed jackals, cheetahs, leopards, spotted hyenas and African wild dogs.
Best Season to Visit: June to October
Nearby Attractions: Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar

#7 Gombe Stream National Park

Gombe Stream National Park may be small in size, but its attractions pack a punch. The park is famous all over the world because of its connection to Jane Goodall and her pioneering research on chimpanzees. Chimpanzee tracking expeditions are an obvious highlight, but one can also expect to see several species of primates here. Gombe presents a trail system which lets visitors penetrate deep into the forest and enjoy some of the best views of the African bush.

The Chimpanzee of Gombe National Park
Angry Chimpanzee shouting at the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania

Highlights

  • Home to Jane Goodall’s research
  • Chimpanzee sightings are common
  • Hikes available
  • Exclusive and uncrowded

Lowlights

  • Accommodation is limited
Gombe National Park Facts
Size: 52 sq. kms.
Altitude: 2,516 feet to 5,269 feet
Common Animal Sightings: Chimpanzee, vervet monkey, olive baboon, blue monkey, red colobus monkey, white-tailed monkey, bushbuck, bushpig and leopard.
Best Season to Visit: July to October
Nearby Attractions: Ujiji, Mahale Mountains National Park

#8 Katavi National Park

Katavi is remote, very remote, and reaching the park requires a lot of effort. This alone dissuades most travelers from visiting Katavi. However, take the first step and the park does its bit to ensure that you never have to go home disappointed. Katavi presents untouched wilderness and it is common to run across more predators than humans while you’re here.

Hippopotamus in the Katavi National Park
Hippopotamus walking in Katuma river in Katavi National Park

Highlights

  • Game safaris and walking expeditions available
  • Spectacular hippo viewing opportunities
  • Exclusive and uncrowded
  • Unusual species of antelopes

Lowlights

  • Limited accommodation
  • Very difficult and expensive to get to the park
  • Animals are scattered during wet season
Katavi National Park Facts
Size: 4,471 sq. kms
Altitude: 2,677 feet to 5,361 feet
Common Animal Sightings: Eland, sable, roan antelope, hippo, buffalo, reedbuck, giraffe, impala, zebra, duikers, elephant, lion, leopards and wild dog.
Best Season to Visit: June to October
Nearby Attractions: Ruaha National Park

#9 Mahale Mountains National Park

Mahale Mountains National Park may be ignored by most tourists visiting Tanzania, but those wanting to get closer to their closest genetic relative, the chimpanzee, simply have to visit the Mahale Mountains. The park presents the best chimp tracking experience in Tanzania and visitors also fall in love with its stunning beauty. Better yet, Mahale Mountains is home to some of the glittery sand beaches that Africa is so famous for.

Chimpanzees in the Mahale Mountains National Park
A chimpanzees family in Mahale Mountains National Park

Highlights

  • Excellent place to see chimpanzees
  • Hiking expeditions available
  • Exclusive and uncrowded
  • Fishing and kayaking available
  • Walking tours available
  • Spectacular beaches

Lowlights

  • Very difficult to get to
  • Limited accommodation
  • Expensive
Mahale Mountains National Park Facts
Number of Visitors: 1,000
Size: 1,613 sq. kms.
Altitude: 2,484 feet to 8,117 feet
Common Animal Sightings: Chimpanzee, red colobus monkey, antelope, red-tailed monkey, blue monkey, warthog, bushbuck, hippo, crocodile and leopard.
Best Season to Visit: May to October
Nearby Attractions: Nkungwe, Kigoma

#10 Mikumi National Park

Mkata Floodplain, the star attraction at Mikumi National Park, has often been compared to the great Serengeti because of its amazing diversity and concentrated wildlife. This alone makes Mikumi worth visiting. The park is also popular for presenting stunning photo ops and large herds of game animals.

Various animals grazing in the grassland of Mikumi National Park
A pair of Giraffes and Zebras grazing in the grassland of Mikumi National Park

Highlights

  • Good animal sightings during dry season
  • Perfect for weekend getaways
  • Excellent accommodation
  • Guided walks available

Lowlights

  • Animals are scattered during wet season
  • Single road circuit
  • Lack of wilderness appeal
Mikumi National Park Facts
Size: 3,220 sq. kms.
Altitude: 653 feet to 4,131 feet
Common Animal Sightings: Hippo, zebra, giraffe, elephant, impala, wildebeest, spotted hyena, buffalo and lion.
Best Season to Visit: June to October
Nearby Attractions: Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, Selous Game Reserve

We also have prepped the Wildlife Safaris in Tanzania – A Bookmundi Guide, a guide that focuses on Tanzania and helps you understand what to expect and how to move forward.

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