Almost the size of France, nearly a quarter of the entire country has been set aside for wildlife conservation. Few countries can say the same. Tanzania is where mobile tent camping is a tradition and one of the best places in Africa to explore on foot. Its beautiful beaches and islands can easily rival those anywhere in the world. It has 12 national parks, 16 game reserves, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, two marine parks as well as several marine reserves.
Here are some of our favorite places to go and why:
Lake Manyara National Park:Nestled under the wall of the Great Rift Valley, this park used to be one of the most popular hunting areas in Tanzania. We are happy to say that its past is just that - the past. Manyara's wildlife is thriving and it is known for its tree-climbing lions. Just why the lions climb trees is up for debate. While we haven't seen one in a tree for ourselves, we do believe it happens - we've seen the photos! Manyara is also known for its superb birdlife with some 450 species having been identified as well as 40 types of birds of prey. We agree with residents of Tanzania who say that Manyara is underrated as a park, usually visited by tourists for one day while taking part in a northern circuit safari. In our opinion, Manyara deserves more than just a one-day visit.
Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area: the largest intact caldera in the world, Ngorongoro is one of Tanzania's most popular destinations. Its year-round water supply is able to support a permanent resident population of animals. The steep, 30 minute descent into the crater makes 4WD vehicles mandatory. Getting in and out of the crater is an adventure unto itself! We would remind you that wildlife is not limited to the crater floor. Buffalo, zebra and elephants are regularly seen around lodge properties, which are all located on the crater rim. The crater highlands offer a plethora of hiking options.
Selous Game Reserve: Simply put, we love this place. If you want to feel like you have 21,000 square miles to yourself, then Selous is for you. The reserve is huge, covering nearly 5% of Tanzania's total land area; although only the section of the reserve north of the Rufiji River is open for tourism. Where else can you take a boat ride amidst hippos and crocodiles? Talk about an adrenaline rush! A guided walk with an armed ranger is a highlight of Selous. Our last trip, we tracked lion spoors from Lake Tagalala into the bush. We never saw the lion or the kill it had, but walking along the shore of Lake Tagalala with hundreds of sets of crocodile eyes watching as we did so was an adventure we will never forget. We were so enthralled with following the lion tracks that we forgot to take pictures! Except for a handful of tourist facilities, no human habitation is allowed in Selous. We haven't tried it, but fly camping on Sand River during the dry season is reported to be fantastic. How would you like to wake up in the morning and find that an elephant has dug for water only 20 or so yards from your tent? In our opinion, Selous offers a truly unique safari experience.
Serengeti National Park: This park manages to take our breath away every time we visit. It is large (about 5,700 square miles) and offers some of the most spectacular wildlife and landscape anywhere in the world. It is a World Heritage Site and its Masai name means "endless plain." Known for its lion population, this national park is one of the best places in the world to see them. Almost 350 species of bird have been documented here. The vast majority of the park is comprised of wide-open plains, but there are "kopjes," or rocky outcrops, as well as acacia, river forests and some small lakes. This, along with Masai Mara National Park in Kenya, is the place that documentary films are made of. In fact, it is bordered by Kenya's most famous park. During the calving season, around February, more than 8,000 wildebeest calves are born each day, yes, day. That is the equivalent of a smorgasbord for predators such as lion and hyena. The Serengeti is the epitome of where one can see the rhythm of life and nature at its most untamed. It takes a lot for us to emphasize one park over another, but a trip to Tanzania would not be complete without a stay in Serengeti National Park.
Tarangire National Park: We love this park; it's as simple as that. With its relative proximity to Arusha, its giant baobab trees, huge termite mounds and a healthy elephant population, we are perplexed why this park isn't over-run by tourists. Having said that, we are happy Tarangire is not crowded with safari vehicles and busloads of tourists. Game viewing in this park is good year round, but especially so during the dry season when animals migrate to the pools of the Tarangire River. During our last stay here, we had elephant pass by our tent at night and impala grazing so close we could almost reach out our tent and touch them. For those feeling a bit romantic, Tarangire offers some of the most spectacular sunsets we have ever seen.
Other areas that you should consider visiting include: Arusha National Park, Lake Eyasi (for a cultural experience with the Hadzabe Bushmen, including a guided hunt, and the Datoga tribe), Mt. Kilimanjaro National Park (for unsurpassed trekking almost year-round) or Mt. Meru, Ruaha National Park, Mikumi National Park, Mahale Mountains National Park, Katavi National Park, the island of Zanzibar as well as Mnemba, Pemba and Mafia islands.