Arusha National Park

The entrance gate leads into shadowy montane forest inhabited by inquisitive blue monkeys and colourful turacos and trogons – the only place on the northern safari circuit where the acrobatic black-and-white colobus monkey is easily seen.

Arusha National Park covers Mount Meru, a prominent volcano with an elevation of 4566 m, in the Arusha Region of north eastern Tanzania. The park is small but varied with spectacular landscapes in three distinct areas. In the west, the Meru Crater funnels the Jekukumia River; the peak of Mount Meru lies on its rim. In the midst of the forest stands the spectacular Ngurdoto Crater in the south-east, whose steep, rocky cliffs enclose a wide marshy floor dotted with herds of buffalo and warthog.

Further north, rolling grassy hills enclose the tranquil beauty of the Momela Lakes, each one a different hue of green or blue. Their shallows sometimes tinged pink with thousands of flamingos, the lakes support a rich selection of resident and migrant waterfowl, and shaggy waterbucks display their large lyre-shaped horns on the watery fringes. Giraffes glide across the grassy hills, between grazing zebra herds, while pairs of wide-eyed dik-dik dart into scrubby bush like overgrown hares on spindly legs.

Although elephants are uncommon in Arusha National Park, and lions absent altogether, leopards and spotted hyenas may be seen slinking around in the early morning and late afternoon. It is also at dusk and dawn that the veil of cloud on the eastern horizon is most likely to clear, revealing the majestic snow-capped peaks of Kilimanjaro, only 50km (30 miles) distant.

But it is Kilimanjaro’s unassuming cousin, Mount Meru - the fifth highest in Africa at 4,566 metres (14,990 feet) – that dominates the park’s horizon. Its peaks and eastern footslopes protected within the national park, Meru offers unparalleled views of its famous neighbour, while also forming a rewarding hiking destination in its own right.

Passing first through wooded savannah where buffalos and giraffes are frequently encountered, the ascent of Meru leads into forests aflame with red-hot pokers and dripping with Spanish moss, before reaching high open heath spiked with giant lobelias. Everlasting flowers cling to the alpine desert, as delicately-hoofed klipspringers mark the hike’s progress. Astride the craggy summit, Kilimanjaro stands unveiled, blushing in the sunrise.

Mount Meru is the second highest peak in Tanzania after Mount Kilimanjaro, which is just 60 km away and forms a backdrop to views from the park to the east. Arusha National Park lies on a 300-kilometre axis of Africa's most famous national parks, running from Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater in the west to Kilimanjaro National Park in the east.

The park is just a few kilometres north east of Arusha, though the main gate is 25 km east of the city. It is also 58 km from Moshi and 35 km from Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA).

Tarangire National Park

Tarangire National Park is the sixth largest national park in Tanzania after Ruaha, Serengeti, Mikumi, Katavi and Mkomazi. The national park is located in Manyara Region. The name of the park originates from the Tarangire River that crosses through the park, being the only source of water for wild animals during dry seasons which also cause thousands of animals migrate from the Park to Lake Manyara National Park.

Tarangire National Park is most famous for its elephant migration, birding and authentic safari atmosphere. With a game viewing area that is roughly ten times the size of nearby Manyara National Park and a concentration of game that is exceptional from July through to October, this seasonal Tanzania safari park is a little gem on the Northern safari circuit, especially if you love elephants!

Tarangire is the surprise package on the Northern circuit.  Often overshadowed by the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire has huge concentrations of animals in the peak months and a fraction of the visitor numbers of any of the other Northern parks.

During the dry months the concentration of animals around the Tarangire River is almost as diverse and reliable as in the Ngorongoro Crater.  However, the ecosystem here is balanced by a localised migration pattern that is followed by the majority of game that resides in and around the park.  

The main activity in Tarangire is daytime game driving, however, staying outside the park makes walking and night safari a possibility.  There are no boat safaris on the rivers here but depending on client wishes we can arrange an adventurous fly camping trips and very good walking safaris. 

The game viewing from July though to October is exceptional but for the remainder of the year the majority of game migrates out of the park, onto the floor of the Rift Valley and to the grazing grounds of the Masai steppe.  As a result, we would advise visitors not to expect high concentrations of game in the off season months, but would still recommend travelling here to those who want to avoid the crowds.

Lake Manyara National Park

Lake Manyara National Park offers a wilderness experience in diverse habitats, from its Rift Valley soda lake to dense woodlands and steep mountainsides. Apart from a spectacular setting, the park is famous for its unusual tree-climbing lions and the vast elephant herds it was established to protect. The park consists of 330 km2 (130 sq mi) of arid land, forest, and a soda-lake which covers as much as 200 km2 (77 sq mi) of land during the wet season but is nearly nonexistent during the dry season.

The Park is one of Tanzania’s smallest parks in Tanzania Northern Circuit. The dramatic western escarpment of the Rift Valley forms the park’s western border. To the east is the alkaline Lake Manyara, which covers one-third of the park, but shrinks considerably in the dry season. Lake Manyara National Park is known for the flamingos that inhabit the lake. During the wet season they inhabit the edges of the lake in flocks of thousands but they are not so present during the dry season.

More than 400 species of birds inhabit the park and many remain throughout the year. Because of this Lake Manyara National Park is a good spot for bird watching. Visitors to the park can expect to see upwards of 100 different species of bird on any day.

African leopards, Masai lions, Tanzanian cheetahs, African bush elephants, blue monkeys, dik-dik, Thomson's gazelle, hippo, Masai giraffe, impala, Grant's zebras and more inhabit the park and many can be seen throughout the year. There is a hippo pond at one end of the park where visitors can get out of their cars and observe from a safe distance.

Ngorongoro Crater

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) is a conservation area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site located 180 km (110 mi) west of Arusha in the Crater Highlands area of Tanzania. The area is named after Ngorongoro Crater, a large volcanic caldera within the area. The conservation area is administered by the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority, an arm of the Tanzanian government, and its boundaries follow the boundary of the Ngorongoro Division of the Arusha Region.

Ngorongoro was named by the Maasai as El-Nkoronkoro meaning Gift of Life. This was because they were migrating from Central Africa for a permanent settlement. That is why the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is mostly occupied by the Maasai. Based on fossil evidence found at the Olduvai Gorge, various hominid species have occupied the area for 3 million years.

The main feature of the Ngorongoro Conservation Authority is the Ngorongoro Crater, the world's largest inactive, intact, and unfilled volcanic caldera.The crater, which formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two to three million years ago, is 610 metres (2,000 feet) deep and its floor covers 260 square kilometres (100 square miles). Estimates of the height of the original volcano range from 4,500 to 5,800 metres (14,800 to 19,000 feet) high.The elevation of the crater floor is 1,800 metres (5,900 feet) above sea level.The Crater was voted by Seven Natural Wonders as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa in Arusha, Tanzania in February 2013.

The Munge Stream drains Olmoti Crater to the north, and is the main water source draining into the seasonal salt lake in the center of the crater. This lake is known by two names: Makat as the Maasai called it, meaning salt; and Magadi.The Lerai Stream drains the humid forests to the south of the Crater, and it feeds the Lerai Forest on the crater floor - when there is enough rain, the Lerai drains into Lake Magadi as well. Extraction of water by lodges and NCA headquarters reduces the amount of water entering Lerai by around 25 percent.

Flora and Fauna: Wildlife

The area contains over 25,000 large animals including 26 black rhinoceros. There are 7,000 wildebeests, 4,000 zebras, 3,000 eland and 3,000 Grant's and Thomson's gazelles. The crater also has the densest known population of lions, numbering 62. Higher up, in the rainforests of the crater rim, are leopards, about 30 large elephants, mountain reedbuck and more than 4,000 buffalos, spotted hyenas, jackals, rare wild dogs, cheetahs, and other felines.

The legendary annual wildebeest and zebra migration also passes through Ngorongoro, when the 1.7 million ungulates move south into the area in December then move out heading north in June. The migrants passing through the plains of the reserve include 1.7 million wildebeest, 260,000 zebra, and 470,000 gazelles. The Lake Ndutu area to the west has significant cheetah and lion populations. Over 500 species of bird have been recorded within the NCA. These include ostrich, white pelican, and greater and lesser flamingo on Lake Magadi within the crater, Lake Ndutu, and in the Empakaai Crater Lake, where a vast bird population can be observed.

Flora and Fauna: Vegetation cover

Ngorongoro is home to lush green, rain-watered vegetation, as well as desert plants. The area has uncultivated lowland vegetation, arid and semi-arid plant communities, abundant short grass used for grazing, and highland forests.

Scrub heath, grasslands, high open moorland, and the remains of dense evergreen forests cover the steep slopes of the crater, while highland trees including Peacock Flower, Yellow-Wood, Kousso (Hagenia abyssinica), and Sweet Olive can also be found. There are also extensive stretches of pure bamboo on Oldeani Mountain, and Pencil Cedar on Makarut Mountain to the west. Dove- weeds dominate the lower slopes, while the upland woodlands contain Red Thorn Acacia and Gum Acacia that are critical for protecting the watershed.

The crater basin is covered by open short grass plains with fresh and brackish water lakes, marshes, swamps, and two patches of Acacia woodland. The Lerai Forest is home to the Yellow Fever tree and Acacia, while Laiyanai Forest has Pillar Wood and Acacia Lahai. The undulating plains to the west are grass-covered with occasional Umbrella Acacia and Commiphora Africana trees. Blackthorn Acacia and Zebrawood dominate in the drier conditions beside Lake Eyasi. These extensive grasslands and bush are rich, relatively untouched by cultivation, and support very large animal populations.

Where human life began

Oldupai Gorge & Laetoli

Over the last thirty years or so, it has become increasingly apparent that Africa is probably the "Cradle of Mankind". From Africa they spread out to populate the rest of Earth. Remains of the earliest humans were found in Oldupai Gorge.

Oldupai Gorge (originally misnamed Olduvai) is the most famous archaeological location in East Africa, and has become an essential visit for travelers to Ngorongoro or Serengeti.

At Laetoli, west of Ngorongoro Crater, hominid footprints are preserved in volcanic rock 3.6 millions years old and represent some of the earliest signs of mankind in the world. Three separate tracks of a small-brained upright walking early hominid. Australopithecus afarensis, a creature about 1.2 to 1.4 meters high, were found. Imprints of these are displayed in the Oldupai museum.

More advanced descendants of Laetoli's hominids were found further north, buried in the layers of the 100 meters deep Oldupai Gorge. Excavations, mainly by the archaeologist Louis and Mary Leakey, yielded four different kinds of hominid, showing a gradual increases in brain size and in the complexity of their stone tools. The first skull of Zinjanthropus, commonly known as 'Nutcracker Man' who lived about 1.75 millions years ago, was found here. The most important find include Home habilis, Zinjathropus and the Laetoli footprints.

The excavation sites have been preserved for public viewing and work continues during the dry seasons, coordinated by the Department of Antiquities. One may visit Oldupai at all times of the year. It is necessary to have official guide to visit the excavations. At the top of the Gorge there is small museum, a sheltered area used for lectures and talks, toilets and a cultural boma. Local Maasai souvenirs are also available. Thus, Oldupai and Laetoli makes the Ngorongoro Conservation Area an important place in the world for the study of human origins and human evolution.

Serengeti National Park

The Serengeti National Park is a Tanzanian national park in the Serengeti ecosystem in the Mara and Simiyu regions. It is famous for its annual migration of over 1.5 million white bearded (or brindled) wildebeest and 250,000 zebra and for its numerous Nile crocodile. The park covers 14,750 square kilometres (5,700 sq mi) of grassland plains, savanna, riverine forest, and woodlands. The park lies in northwestern Tanzania, bordered to the north by the Kenyan border, where it is continuous with the Maasai Mara National Reserve. To the southeast of the park is the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, to the southwest lies Maswa Game Reserve, to the west are the Ikorongo and Grumeti Game Reserves, and to the northeast and east lies the Loliondo Game Control Area. Together, these areas form the larger Serengeti ecosystem.

The park is usually described as divided into three regions

Serengeti plains: the almost treeless grassland of the south is the most emblematic scenery of the park. This is where the wildebeest breed, as they remain in the plains from December to May. Other hoofed animals - zebra, gazelle, impala, hartebeest, topi, buffalo, waterbuck - also occur in huge numbers during the wet season. "Kopjes" are granite florations that are very common in the region, and they are great observation posts for predators, as well as a refuge for hyrax and pythons.

Western corridor: the black clay soil covers the swampy savannah of this region. The Grumeti River is home to Nile crocodiles, colobus monkeys, hippo, and martial eagles. The migration passes through from May to July.

Northern Serengeti: the landscape is dominated by open woodlands (predominantly Commiphora) and hills, ranging from Seronera in the south to the Mara River on the Kenyan border. Apart from the migratory wildebeest and zebra (which occur from July to August, and in November), the bushy savannah is the best place to find elephant, giraffe, and dik dik.

Tanzania's oldest and most popular national park, also a world heritage site and recently proclaimed a 7th world wide wonder, the Serengeti is famed for its annual migration, when some six million hooves pound the open plains, as more than 200,000 zebra and 300,000 Thomson's gazelle join the wildebeest’s trek for fresh grazing. Yet even when the migration is quiet, the Serengeti offers arguably the most scintillating game-viewing in Africa: great herds of buffalo, smaller groups of elephant and giraffe, and thousands upon thousands of eland, topi, kongoni, impala and Grant’s gazelle.

The spectacle of predator versus prey dominates Tanzania’s greatest park. Golden-maned lion prides feast on the abundance of plain grazers. Solitary leopards haunt the acacia trees lining the Seronera River, while a high density of cheetahs prowls the southeastern plains. Almost uniquely, all three African jackal species occur here, alongside the spotted hyena and a host of more elusive small predators, ranging from the insectivorous aardwolf to the beautiful serval cat.

But there is more to Serengeti than large mammals. Gaudy agama lizards and rock hyraxes scuffle around the surfaces of the park’s isolated granite koppies. A full 100 varieties of dung beetle have been recorded, as have 500-plus bird species, ranging from the outsized ostrich and bizarre secretary bird of the open grassland, to the black eagles that soar effortlessly above the Lobo Hills.

As enduring as the game-viewing is the liberating sense of space that characterises the Serengeti Plains, stretching across sunburnt savannah to a shimmering golden horizon at the end of the earth. Yet, after the rains, this golden expanse of grass is transformed into an endless green carpet flecked with wildflowers. And there are also wooded hills and towering termite mounds, rivers lined with fig trees and acacia woodland stained orange by dust.

Popular the Serengeti might be, but it remains so vast that you may be the only human audience when a pride of lions masterminds a siege, focussed unswervingly on its next meal.

Month by month: the Serengeti wildebeest migration

The short rains begin around early November. A little after this, in late November and December, the herds of the wildebeest migration arrive on the short-grass plains of the Serengeti. These are south and east of Seronera, around Ndutu and include the north of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Dispersed across these plains, wildebeest and zebra are everywhere – feeding on the fresh, nutritious grasses. They stay here through January, February and March, with most wildebeest calves born in a short window around February. Gradually they spread west across these plains, then around April they start their great migration north.

By May the Serengeti's wildebeest all seem to be moving north, migrating to seek fresh grazing and water. The area around Moru Kopjes and west of Seronera is then hectic with a series of moving columns, often containing hundreds of thousands of animals – joined by many zebra, and a scattering of Thompson's and Grant's gazelles.

Some of the migration then head due north of Seronera, but most are usually further west. Around June the wildebeest migration is often halted on the south side of the Grumeti River, which has some channels which block or slow their migration north. The wildebeest then congregate there, in the Western Corridor, often building up to a high density before crossing the river. The river here is normally a series of pools and channels, but it's not continuous – and so whilst they always represent an annual feast for the Grumeti River's large crocodiles, these aren't usually quite as spectacular as the crossings of the Mara River, further north.

The wildebeest migration continues moving northwards during July and August, often spreading out across a broad front: some heading through Grumeti Reserve and Ikorongo, others north through the heart of the Serengeti National Park.

September sees the herds spread out across the northern Serengeti, where the Mara River provides the migration with its most serious obstacle. This river gushes through the northern Serengeti from Kenya's adjacent Maasai Mara Game Reserve. Watching the frantic herds of the wildebeest migration crossing the Mara River can be very spectacular; there are often scenes of great panic and confusion. It's common to see herds cross the Mara River north on one day, and then back south a few days later.

By October the wildebeest herds are migrating again with more accord: all are heading south, through western Loliondo and the Serengeti National Park's Lobo area, returning to the green shoots which follow the rains on the short-grass plains of the southern Serengeti in November.

Then the whole Serengeti Wildebeest migration starts again …

Tanzania Popular Destinations