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22 National Parks in Tanzania You Should Visit

The Serengeti

Millions of us travel to national parks in the UK to be in the wilderness, see the dramatic landscapes and enjoy nature as our ancestors once did. Yet, we tend not to travel so much to the national parks elsewhere in the world

There is almost no country better known for its national parks, and more overlooked, than Tanzania; home of the most famous national parks on earth. Nature reserves are so plentiful in the county that they cover over 15% of the country's land area. That's over 130,000sq km.

The national parks in the north make up the Tanzanian Safari routes in the north, and the south of the country.

As Tanzania is almost like a second home to us here at you-well we wanted to do the county justice and showcase all of the national parks in Tanzania, what is special about them and why you should take the time to visit them.

Our research has been done over 7 years of travelling to Tanzania, speaking to locals and online research. 

 

 

North
North East
East
South
West

First of all - what is a national park?

As the National Park UK website explains - a national park is an area of land which has been designated as a protected area of land due to its special qualities. When an area of land has a particularly high number of special qualities such as stunning landscapes, natural beauty, diverse wildlife, and interesting historical sites, it is considered to be worthy of an official National Park title. This means that the government will help to protect and enhance the area so future generations can enjoy it.

In Tanzania, most of the protected areas were established by the British during the colonial era, and the work was continued by the Tanzanian government. Mostly Tanzania's reserves have been established for the protection of the wildlife, for scientific research or for points significant to humanity's history.

Humanity originated from these rolling hills.

There are 22 national parks in total - however, some have been incorporated into larger game reserves.

The North

The Serengeti 

The Serengeti is the most famous National Park in Tanzania, by a long way. It offers iconic savannah vistas, unrivalled access to wildlife in their natural habitat and the largest land mammal migration on earth.
The National Park was established gradually between the 1930s to 1950s and now spans over 30,000 square km across Northern Tanzania, and Southern Kenya (where it is called the Maasai Mara).
For anybody that goes the Serengeti is an unforgettable place to see with your own eyes.
The Serengeti

Ngorongoro Crater

The Ngorongoro Crater has the highest density of wildlife in Africa. The national park, and conservation area, is a 'wonder of the world' and should be on your bucket list.

The Crater is the largest caldera crater on earth and provides a natural barrier from the landscape outside - meaning the wildlife and plant life has developed independently from the other surrounding national parks.

Other than being a beautiful climate, stunning and peaceful, there is a very good chance that you'll see a few of the big 5.

The crater is 8,288 km² (20km across).

Ngorongoro-Safari

Lake Manyara National Park

Lake Manyara is one of the many great lakes in the Rift Valley area and is somewhat the 'base camp' for many Safari Routes. The National park is well known for its ecological variety, it's rich population of wildlife (including the tree-climbing lions) and algae-streaked hot springs.

The Lake Manyara park is 330 sq km (127 sq miles), of which up to 200 sq km (77 sq miles) is the lake when water levels are high.

The Lake its self is an alkaline soda lake (caused by the volcanic surroundings) and is home to migrating flamingos and hippos.

 

Lake_Manyara

Tarangire National park

Situated a few hours away from Arusha, Tarangire is an extremely popular spot for tourists visiting Tanzania's Safari route.

The national park and nature reserve is one of the more popular game driving locations and home to a huge population of wildlife - it is the greatest population of wildlife outside the Serengeti.

The Tarangire is home to the 'treetop' safari lodge where you are able to look down upon the animals as they pass by. The nature reserve is one of the best places to see tree-climbing lions, jaguars and other elusive members of the big 5.

The whole area spans over 20,000 sq km.

Tarangire National Park

Kilimanjaro National Park

Mount Kilimanjaro can be seen pearcing into the sky as soon as you step foot of the plane at Arusha airport. The behemoth stands 5896m tall and is Africa's tallest peak, and the world's tallest free-standing mountain.

The mountain itself is actually closer to the city of Moshi, and is a popular destination for climbers and tourists alike. The peak and surrounding area is protected to ensure that the natural environment is not disturbed by hordes of visitors.

The national park contains all of the volcanic peaks of Kilimanjaro, along with farmlands and vegetation at the mountain's base.

The whole area covers 1668 sq km 641 sq miles).

Learn something new here.

Mount Kilimanjaro

Arusha National park

This is the closest national park to the city of Arusha and is home to Tanzania's second-largest peak, Mt Meru, the Momela Lakes, Ngurdoto Crater and miles of highland forests which are home to a fascinating selection of wildlife (including rare Columbus monkies).
A huge portion of the area surrounding Mount Meru is covered in plantations and coffee farms. If you're in the business of a great cup of coffee, then you'll love Arusha and the surrounding national park area.
While many tourists overlook the Arusha National park, it is a great option if you're staying in Arusha on business or a layover.  The national park is popular with locals and with those who wish to spend time relaxing before summiting Mt Meru. The park is a great way of spending a day outside of the city and seeing animals, without travelling for hours to the other northern parks.
Mount Meru

Mkomazi National Park

Although largely unknown, the Mkomazi National Park was established in 1951 and is a vital bridge between the northern safari circuit and the coastal attractions. The park is situated between Mount Kilimanjaro and the town of Tanga (close to Mombasa on the Kenyan side of the border).

The national park is overlooked by the snowcapped peak of Mt Kilimanjaro and offers spectacular hilly views across a semi-arid savannah. It is likely that Mkomazi will be significantly quieter than its neighbouring parks, and offers a more peaceful relaxed viewing opportunity. Ideal for bird watchers.

The route to the national park follows one of Tanzania's highways. If you're travelling to Arusha by bus, it is very likely that you will pass this nature reserve without knowing it - that is unless a stray giraffe finds itself on the road. Which happens more often than you may imagine.

Check out the website here. 

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North East

Saanane Island National Park

Situated near the city of Mwanza, the Saanane Island National Park is an island located in Lake Victoria and can be reached by boat.

The island can be accessed from Mwanza, a city renowned for its own beauty.

Interestingly, the island was accidentally bombed by Gadaffi who ordered a bomber to attack the city of Mwanza to intimidate the nearby Tanzanian government during tension with Uganda (1978-9).

The bomber missed spectacularly (or on purpose) and instead rocketed the island, hurting a local worker and killing several antelope.

The island is home to a small population of animals and beautiful sandy beaches. This national park may be a good relaxing day out if you wish to escape the city for the day.

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Rubondo Island National Park

The Rubondo Island National Park is the second island national park situated in lake Victoria. The island is largely unknown to tourists but it does attract a handful of people every year. Many of whom travel to the national park to fish or bird-watch.

The national park was established in 1977 to protect the wildlife on the island but is inhabited by a small community of fisher-people called the Zinza Tribe.

In 1966 several animals were introduced by German scientists and the island is still home to a research facility specialising in chimpanzees.

rubondo_island_-_landscapes

Burigi-Chato National Park

The Burigi-Chato National Park can be found very close to the border of Rwanda on the shores of Lake Victoria.

The landscape is a combination of flat savannah plains and lush bushland that surround the Kagera River and Lake Burigi.

The area is known for its population of Eland antelopes and other large migrating mammals.

The national park is rarely visited by tourists and the attractions are few and far between. If you do plan to travel here then you'll be enjoying an extremely rural Tanzanian experience.

 

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East

Gombe National Park

While being the smallest of all national parks (52 sq km/ 20 sq miles) in Tanzania, the Gombe park is made famous by Jane Goodall (Primatologist) who spent many years here studying the primate population (in Tanzania and the Congo).

The National park is situated on the shores of Lake Tanganyika and is mostly covered in untamed lush forests and crystal clear lakes. It is a popular location for tourists to hike, swim, cycle and adventure through the wilderness - and to meet the chimpanzees in their natural habitat.

The Gombe national park is small, yet mighty.

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Mahale Mountain and National Park

The mountainous region we consider to be the Mahale national park was established originally to protect thousands of chimpanzees who live within the forested slopes.

The Mahale Mountains are one of the very few parks in Africa which have not been explored on foot but are most accessible by boat from Lake Tanganyika.

The area is home to the Mahale Mountains Wildlife Research Center which was established in 1979 to study the primate population and other wildlife found in the area. The national park was subsequently opened to the public in 1985. For this to happen the local tribespeople were expelled from the area despite them being highly attuned to the natural environment and leaving virtually zero impact on the ecology. 

There are plenty of opportunities for visitors to hike, fish and enjoy the waters of Lake Tanganykia.

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Katavi National Park

The Katavi National park is usually marketed as part of the 'Southern Circuit' of Tanzanian Safaris - yet it is situated to the east of the country. The park was established in 1974 and still is a very remote region of the country.

It is the third-largest national park in Tanzania being 4471sq km which includes the famous Katuma river, Lake Katavi and Lake Chada.

While there are facilities and accommodation for visitors, there are very few who visit the area every year. Those who do go say that the views of the Katuma river a particularly beautiful, and the game drives are much quieter than those of the north.

 

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South

Kitulo National Park

Hidden in the southern highlands of Tanzania, the Kitulo national park is 412.9sq km of protected montane grassland and forests. It is also the home of the Kipengere and Poroto mountains which both reach 2600m plus into the sky.

The national park is close to the region of Mbeya which, itself, is a spectacularly mountainous region extremely well known for its world-class Tanzanian coffee production.

The area is regarded as the 'Serengeti of flowers' and is highly regarded within the botanist community.

You can learn more about the Kitulo National Park here.

Kitulo-Plateau-4

Mikumi National Park

In 1964, the Mikumi National park was established. The park resides near the Morogoro region of Tanzania and is about 5 or 6 hours drive from Dar es Salaam.

The park borders the Udzungwa and Uluguru Mountains and the Selous Game reserve to the south. Each connects to the same ecosystem.

Thanks to its close proximity to Morogoro, and its proximity to Tanzania's main westerly road, the Mikumi national park is one of the most visited parks in the south. Although, the number of tourists here is far less than in the north.

The upside is that the park is much better protected, environmentally speaking.

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Ruaha National Park (includes the Rungwa & Usungu National Parks)

Named after the Ruaha River, the national park we know today is a hotspot for tourists visiting Tanzania's southern safari circuit. It has become one of the largest nature reserves in the country spanning over 20,00sq Km.

The park was established as the Saba Game Reserve in 1910 by German explorers, before being renamed by the British to Rungwa Reserve in 1946 and was extended south and renamed in 1964.

The addition of the Usungu game reserve and wetlands in 2008 increased the Ruaha reserve further.

The huge ecosystem is home to the big 5 and is home to several endangered, well-protected animals, like the black rhino. The national park is home to a Lion sanctuary and a dramatic mountainous forest where chimps and other primates live.

The Ruaha area is an overlooked destination for tourists as it is part of the lesser-known southern circuit and can be quite difficult to travel to. But you can be sure to see the animals without queues of safari cars.

ruaha

Nyerere National park/ Selous Game Reserve

The Nyerere National Park (named after the first president of Tanganykiya), which is more commonly referred to as the Selous Game Reserve, is an area of 50000sq km which has been allocated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1982.

While the Selous game reserve is popular with tourists, the main importance of this national park come from its rich history with European explorers, and research.

In recent years, the Selous has been recognised as an area of extreme ecological value and is one of the most ecological areas in the world. Selous is sadly relentlessly poached and the announcement of a hydropower dam over the Rufiji River could change the area forever.

The counterargument is that the dam will remove Tanzania's need to rely on foreign aid and power millions of Tanzanians - hopefully out of poverty.

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Udzungwa Mountains National Park

The mountainous Udzungwa Mountains National Park is a national park is an area covering 1990sq km with tropical forests, miombo woodlands and grasslands.

Surrounding the peak of Lohomero (2576m) you're likely to encounter 6 primate species including the Irigna red Columbus monkey and Sanje crested mangabey which are unique to the Udzungwa Mountains National Park and only discovered in 1979.

Thousands of international and local tourists travel to the area every year to hike, adventure and see the wildlife.

It is likely that you will come away from the area thinking that you have seen the most beautiful place on earth. You may just be right.

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West

Saadani National Park

What makes the Saadani most interesting, is the fact that this is the only national park that makes contact with the coast. So, it is the only place you can game view while bathing at the beach.

The national park covers only 1062sq km - which was gazetted in 2005 despite being a game reserve since 1969. The national park is situated southeast of Tanga, and northeast of the Pwani region - both very well known for their spectacular beaches and coastline.

Here, you're likely to encounter herds of elephants, giraffes and most other significant animals you'd expect to see on a Tanzanian game drive.

Saadani

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