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Travel tips

Safari tips: Your guide to Tanzania’s national parks

Nov 17, 2017 by Jamie Gallerani

When it comes to raw beauty, Tanzania has it in spades. This awe-inspiring country in southern Africa boasts some of the world’s most mesmerizing natural areas, where diverse vegetation and a vast array of wildlife thrive—and checking one of the Big Five game animals off your must-see list simply requires scanning the horizon. Here are the four national parks you’ll visit while traveling on our Tanzania Wildlife Safari, and some of the staggering wonders you’re sure to spot in each.

Tarangire National Park

Tarangire is the first stop on this whirlwind journey through northeastern Tanzania, and this often-overlooked natural gem sets the bar high. It’s the place for adventurous animal-lovers to go to spy over 500 species of birds, see male impalas watching over their harems, and spot giraffes (Tanzania’s national animal!) snacking on treetops. Visit Tarangire to:

Get face to face with elephants Of the many animals that call Tarangire home, it’s the elephants that will really take your breath away. Tanzania’s densest concentration of elephants gathers here, and it never gets old to watch everything from babies to bulls strolling by your safari car. You can see the park’s herds of elephants any time of year, but they’re particularly impressive during the dry season, when large groups gather around water sources.

Admire baobab trees While the wildlife may be the real star of Tarangire, the baobab trees that dot the landscape certainly shine. Tanzania is home to the largest species of baobab in the world, and the plants (which are actually succulents) owe their impressive size to the fact that they can live for thousands of years. You should be sure to snap a photo while zipping by because Tarangire is the only park where you’ll have the chance to see them on tour.

What you won’t see:

Black or white rhinos don’t call this park home. And while you may get lucky, it’s also rare to see cheetahs here.

Lake Manyara National Park

Lake Manyara may be one of Tanzania’s smallest national parks, but don’t count this area out. Its diverse ecosystems make it the perfect home for everything from hippos and pelicans to large troops of baboons, and even the drive there is fascinating—it requires passing through remote villages, where you’ll get a unique look at the daily lives of tribes that have very little contact with westerners. Visit Lake Manyara to:

Scan the branches for tree-climbing lions

If the thought of seeing the king of the jungle lounging on a tree branch strikes you as odd, you’re not off the mark. Unlike leopards, which often bring their kill into a tree to eat, lions most often have four paws firmly planted on the ground. However, there are two places in all of Africa where the lions have taken to tree climbing, and Lake Manyara National Park is one of them. While there is no definite explanation for this interesting animal behavior, it doesn’t make it any less amazing to see these big cats sleeping in Acacia or Mahogany trees.

Look to the lake for flamingoes

The majority of this narrow park is covered by—you guessed it—Lake Manyara, and the alkaline body of water draws a staggering variety of birdlife. Of the many winged things you can see, the thousands of flamingoes that line the shores are some of the most alluring. Seeing a cluster of zebras or Cape buffalo is always amazing, but admiring them against a backdrop of pink feathers is even more striking.

What you won’t see:

Black or white rhinos.

Serengeti National Park

While all parks in Tanzania shine, it could be said that the Serengeti is in a league of its own. It’s name, which means “endless plain,” hints at its vast size; the area spans over 12,000 square miles. If it looks familiar to little ones, it’s because it inspired the setting for the Disney film “The Lion King.” Visit the Serengeti to:

Get your fix of big cats

Lions, leopards, cheetahs—if big cats are what you seek, the Serengeti will certainly not disappoint. While it can be difficult to see cats in Tarangire and Lake Manyara, it’s more difficult not to see them in the Serengeti. From watching lions hunt, sleep, and mate to spotting cubs nursing and playing, it’s possible to witness almost every one of the cats’ natural behaviors during your three days exploring the Serengeti Plain.

Witness the wildebeest migration

The Serengeti plays host to Earth’s greatest mammal migration, which sits distinguished as one of the wonders of the natural world. This annual journey takes millions of wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles in a year-long circuit from the Ndutu region in the southern Serengeti to the Maasai Mara in southern Kenya and back again, and seeing a portion of the event is a fortunate and captivating thing. Yearly rainfall dictates the exact timing of the migration, and what you see depends on when you visit: calving usually takes place from January to March, May and June are the times of the mating rut in the central Serengeti, and spectacular river crossings occur between July and October.

What you won’t see:

White rhinos.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

If there’s any place on par with the Serengeti, it’s the UNESCO-listed Ngoronogo Conservation Area. It was created about 3 million years ago when a volcano collapsed, and it’s here that some of the earliest hominid footprints have been found. The caldera also offers a noticeably different safari experience; your guide might rightfully joke that while you may have one safari vehicle for every 20 lions in the Serengeti, you’ll have 20 safari vehicles gathered around one lion in the Ngorongoro Crater. But, jostling for space is part of the adventure. Visit the Ngorongoro Crater to:

Try to spot black rhinos

One of the Ngorongoro Crater’s most notable claims to fame? It’s one of the only areas left on Earth where a handful of elusive black rhinos thrive. Poaching has done a number on this now critically endangered species, and less than 20 are believed to live in the crater today. While these shy, aggressive animals tend to graze in the middle of quiet plains, visiting during the wet season from November to May increases your chances of getting a glimpse—and a good safari packing tip is to bring a pair of binoculars to up your odds of getting a good look. You should certainly keep your eyes peeled, but don’t get so caught up on spotting a rhino that you forget to enjoy all of the other breathtaking animals you’ll see.

Watch hippos lolling in the water

No, those gray mounds in the crater’s pools aren’t rocks—they’re hippos, which make themselves comfortable in the wetlands throughout the caldera. There will be no shortage of opportunities to watch these large animals wallowing and rolling in the water, and you might even have the opportunity to stand lakeside during a lunch stop to get a closer look. Don’t worry, the hippos in the water won’t charge onto the land toward you; they’re only dangerous if you get too near to the shore. (If they’re already on land and you step outside your vehicle, that’s another story!)

What you won’t see:

Giraffes, impalas, or large herds of elephants

What have you always dreamed of seeing in Africa? Tell us on Facebook!

About the author | Jamie Gallerani
It was Jamie’s homestay in Germany that made her fall in love with travel (and her studies in Florence that really sealed the deal). When she’s not writing and sharing the magic of seeing the world with others, she’s usually on the lookout for her new favorite memoir, testing out recipes at home, or visiting her family on Cape Cod.
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