Tanzania: Home of the Migration

The annual migration of almost two million wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle has become known as one of the greatest spectacles on earth. Documented by wildlife filmmakers all over the world, this natural phenomenon occurring on the plains of the Serengeti is what gave Tanzania its place on the map as a world class safari spot. Recently, this country was voted as Africa’s best safari destination, and although the breath-taking Serengeti has a lot to do with that, if is by no means the country’s only magnificent wildlife area. The Ngorongoro Crater is said to have the greatest density of wildlife in the world and after the rains it is a giant emerald basin teeming with life; Tarangire National Park is home to hundreds of elephants, giant baobab trees, and the long-necked gerenuk; the great lakes of the Rift Valley are visions of pink when the flamingos arrive in flocks. Arusha is the safari capital of Tanzania, buzzing at the base of Mount Meru and acting as the gateway to the surrounding national parks and reserves.

Serengeti National Park

The Serengeti National Park has given Tanzania its name in the global safari circuit. The wide, open savannah to the west of the Great Rift Valley is the icon of a northern Tanzanian game viewing experience and it receives somewhere around 120 000 visitors a year! This is vastly to do with the presence of the annual wildebeest migration, which circulates the Serengeti and crosses into Kenya’s Masai Mara on its northern boundary, drawing tourists, filmmakers, and avid documentarians from all over the world. This is a place not to be missed, and the record shows that the Serengeti, and Tanzania as a whole, has been rated as the top safari destination in the world.

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Ngorongoro Crater

The world’s largest intact caldera, or collapsed volcanic crater, is today one of Africa’s greatest game viewing destinations. Located in northern Tanzania just east of the Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Crater is one of the country’s most popular safari spots, and as a result, it is very busy during peak season. The vast crater is part of the greater Ngorongoro Conservation Area, adjoining the Serengeti and part of the great annual migration of wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle. The crater itself is a huge dip in the earth’s surface, covered in short grass plains which sustains huge numbers of wildebeest, buffalo, zebra, and Grant’s and Thompson’s gazelle, most of which stay in the caldera all year round, as it is somewhat of a self-sustaining ecosystem.

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Selous Game Reserve

Selous is the star of a southern Tanzania safari circuit, and easily combined with a trip to Ruaha National Park and a slice of island heaven on Zanzibar island. Its stellar status as Africa’s largest game reserve (double the size of the Serengeti!) is only part of the attraction of this less travelled Tanzanian safari destination. Selous is a stronghold for African wild dog, lion, and elephant, among hundreds of other species, plenty of mammals, and about 450 species of birds. Its location in the south of the country means it doesn’t see the hundreds of thousands of touring visitors that the northern parks receives, so if you are excited by the idea of feeling alone in a great African wilderness, surrounded by amazing biodiversity, Selous is for you.

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Mahale Mountains National Park

The best place in the world to see wild chimpanzees is in the Mahale Mountains, which makes up 1600 square kilometres of this national park in the western territory of Tanzania. There is nowhere else like this in the country, or indeed anywhere in Africa. Located near Katavi National Park, and frequently combined with Katavi in a safari itinerary, the Mahale Mountains rise up from the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Soft, powdery, white sand rims the water’s edge before it quickly rises into dense, mountainous forest, which is the home to the largest population of primates in Tanzania.

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Katavi National Park

Far off the beaten tourist track in Tanzania’s western countryside, Katavi National Park is to some, the most magnificent safari destination in the country. Receiving a fraction of the visitors other parks and reserves get, Katavi is blissfully private and rugged. It is perhaps best known for its huge buffalo herds and dry season populations of zebra, impala, topi, giraffe, and defassa waterbuck, which gather thirstily at the banks of the Katuma and Kapapa Rivers, which during July, August, and September hold the only real supply of water around. Pods of hippo jostle in the rivers, and plenty of crocodiles lurk and bask silently, camouflaged in the shallows. The lack of crowds only work to enhance the wildlife experience in this “hidden secret” of Tanzania.

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Ruaha National Park

Located in central Tanzania, and usually included in a southern country safari circuit, Ruaha National Park is not to be missed. It is part of a whopping 150 000 sq. km wilderness expanse, and it is the largest national park in Tanzania. The beauty of Ruaha is that it is not often full of tourists. The peak dry season is when its already excellent game viewing gets even better as predators are seen in high numbers, stalking the herbivorous species gathered at the remaining waterholes. The landscape is scattered with ancient baobabs, and it hosts a thrilling combination of miombo woodland areas, as well as the dry acacia vegetation, which each have their suited species.

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Lake Manyara National Park

When we talk about Lake Manyara, perhaps the first thing that comes to mind its iconic presence of tree-climbing lions, and this part of northern Tanzania is certainly one of the best places in Africa to see this behaviour in lions. Some say they climb trees in order to see further and eye out prey, and others say it’s because it is cooler where the breeze can flow past them. Whatever the reason is, the sight of a pride of lions lazing about in the branches of an acacia tree is very special. Lake Manyara National Park is named after the large lake at its centre, and this is where the park’s next special feature is found: flamingos. Thousands of these bright, pink birds gather to feed in the shallows, while spoonbills, herons, pelicans, storks, and stilts gather to join in.

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Tarangire National Park

Tarangire National Park is overlooked in comparison to the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and Lake Manyara on the northern Tanzania safari circuit, but what this should tell you is that it is sublimely quiet, less travelled, and full of undiscovered secrets. Tarangire is not the same as the Serengeti, and its wildlife and landscapes are unique, so it should be visited in addition to the more well known parts of the northern country. The dry season between July and October is when this place really shines, and it sees an incredible migration of thousands of elephants in particular. Cheetahs thrive here, and baobabs build striking horizons, while the Tarangire River meanders its way through the park.

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Arusha

Arusha is the safari capital of Tanzania; the gateway to the Serengeti, Mount Kilimanjaro, Tarangire, Lake Manyara, and the Ngorongoro Crater. The bustling city is where your northern Tanzanian safari begins and ends, and it is scenically located on the volcanic landscape of the Great Rift Valley with Mount Meru towering at its back. Arusha has the characteristic chaos of an African city, and there are always tourists wandering the city streets enjoying the local cuisine and culture and exploring the arts and crafts for sale. In between safari destinations, it is well worth spending a day or two absorbing the energy of this dusty town, and drinking a locally brewed cup of coffee.

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