5 Must-see Parks and Reserves while on Tanzania Safari

Considering a custom safari to Tanzania? We can’t recommend the place enough. The rough-and-tumble little brother to Kenya’s classic safari experience, Tanzania’s got everything from volcanos to villages and rhinos to rift valleys, plus an unbelievable cast of critters in every location. With 16 national parks and over a third of the countryside under conservation, it can be hard to know where to start on your safari adventure. Here are five of our favorite parks in Tanzania.

Picture of zebras in the tall grass plains of Tanzania safari

Serengeti National Park

The Serengeti—Tanzania’s most famous national park—is one of those places you’ve probably seen plenty of without even knowing it. What images come to mind when you hear the word “safari?” Giraffes plucking leaves from treetops and zebras sharing stripes in the tall grass? Elephants gathered in groups or lions lazing in the savannah sun? They’re all here. How about a few million migrating wildebeest thundering around the endless, prairied expanse of the park in an annual cycle of life and survival? OK, maybe that didn’t come to mind, but it’s here, too… and it’s pretty awesome.

Picture of giraffe on Tanzania safari

Wildlife in the Serengeti is abundant and diverse—you’ll be able to check the “big five” and scores more off your list, and birders can revel in spotting some 500 species roosting in canopied perches or in flight. And if flight’s your thing, this an excellent locale for an airborne safari—an early-morning game drive by hot-air balloon offers the kind of majestic perspective that we’ve heard described as “life-changing” a few times over.

It can get a little wet from March to May, but the Serengeti is rewarding throughout the year, especially with dramatic phases of the Great Migration happening somewhere in the park at any given time.

Picture of Zebras on Tanzania grasslands

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is in many ways a perfect encapsulation of the wonders on offer in Tanzania at large. Here, swaying grasslands rise through wooded hillsides and into volcanic highlands, lakes and swamps dot open plains, and rivers meander through acacia shrublands and rocky ravines. Tanzanian wildlife is on full display in Ngorongoro; in fact, it’s one of the most reliable places to spot the “big five”—cape buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard, and the rare black rhino. The park is also singular among protected areas for allowing human settlements within its borders (say “enda sopa pooki” to the resident Maasai!), while also serving as the archeological holy grail for humanity’s most ancient beginnings in Olduvai Gorge.

Line of elephants roaming through Tanzania

The UNESCO-recognized Ngorongoro Crater is a site deserving of lengthy exposition, but suffice it to say that the world’s largest intact caldera (with its own extensive ecosystem) is a true wonder of the world—and as the recently active Ol Doinyo Lengai will tell you, it’s not the only volcanic feature worth noting.

If you’re headed to Tanzania during the low seasons, you’ll find plenty to do in Ngorongoro—the resident populations of beasts and birds make gratifying game drives a year-round success, though getting a glimpse of the Great Wildebeest Migration rolling through the park in January and February is always an especially exciting affair.

Herd of Tanzania impalas in Tarangire National Park

Tarangire National Park

Across the river valleys and riparian woodlands of Tarangire National Park, scores of mighty baobabs claim the countryside with their stout trunks—and befitting the same description are the thousands of elephants that the park is equally famous for. The elephants are in good company here: during the dry season, the eponymous Tarangire River is the sole water source for quite some distance, drawing all manner of creatures to its banks to drink their fill.

Among the thirsty attendees? Zebra and wildebeest of course, but also dik diks and giraffes and impalas, cheetahs and caracals and—a rare find anywhere—oryx and long-necked gerenuk. The only park to offer night safaris also affords visitors a chance to peek nocturnal sneaks like slinky civets and genets.

Tarangire’s charms aren’t bound only to the earth. The park is an absolute birder’s delight, with some 550 avian species making their home in, or making their way through, the area—especially during the rainier half of the year, starting in December. Aerially attentive tourists may find larger rewards above the grade as well, as ground-going creatures like lions and pythons often take roost in the branches of trees in these parts.

Penwell Safari guides on a game drive in Tanzania

Selous Game Reserve

Far from the popular Northern Circuit of Tanzanian tourism sits the vast Selous Game Reserve —the largest protected area of its kind in all of Africa. And even though visitors are restricted to the northernmost 10% of the park along the Rufiji river, you’ll never feel limited, since that “little” tenth still comprises an whopping 5,000 square kilometers of beautiful lakes, riverine woodlands, and rising hilltops. Wildlife variety and populations are notably robust here—thousands of lions, tens of thousands of hippos, more hoofed mammals than you can shake a stick at, and the continent’s largest African wild dog population.

The dry season from June to October makes for spectacular game drives, exciting boating safaris, and immersive walking safaris—and even during these popular periods the park’s size can provide for an immersive experience isolated from other travelers. Months of short rains—November through February—make for exquisite bird-watching conditions. Lots of spirited guineafowl ‘round these parts. Just saying.

Birds on Lake Manyara

Lake Manyara National Park

Occupying a narrow stretch of land between a section of the towering Gregory Rift to the west and its namesake alkaline lake to the east, Lake Manyara National Park is a small slice of densely packed natural life in Tanzania’s northern circuit. From sturdy baobabs fringing the rising escarpments to hippo-populated swamps to spartan saline flats, 11 distinct ecosystems rub elbows in this tiny park.

Seasonality is an important consideration for visiting Manyara—while the wet months of April and May can make travel challenging, this is high season for dramatic photography and incredible birding. Flamingos dot the swollen Lake Manyara by the millions during these months, accompanied by thousands of cormorants, storks, pelicans, and others.

Picture of Tanzania Hippo possibly heading to the Hippo Pools

Even at the straightforwardly named Hippo Pools on the lake’s north end, our feathered friends tend to steal the show. As the dry season peaks in July and August, thirsty herds of zebra, gazelle, and wildebeest show up to sip the shrinking lake—with hungry predators just steps behind. Take to the famous Treetop Walkway to get the long view of the scene from five stories up in the canopy.

Which park in Tanzania stirs your safari soul? We look forward to getting you in touch with the Tanzanian wilds. Get in touch with us at Penwell, and let’s write your personal safari story together.

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