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Tanzania Parks
Arusha National Park
Arusha National Park, although one of the Tanzania’s smallest parks, is one of its most beautiful and topographically varied. Its main features to the east include Ngurdoto Crater (often dubbed Little Ngorongoro) and the Momela Lakes. To the west is beautiful Mount Meru. The two areas are joined by a narrow trip, with Momela gate at its centre. The park’s altitude, which varies from 1500m to more than 4500m, has a variety of vegetation zones supporting numerous animal species.
Ngurdoto Crater – is surrounded by forest, while the actual crater floor is a swamp. West of the crater is Serengeti Ndogo (Little Serengeti), an extensive area of open grassland and the only place in the park where herds of Burchell’s Zebra’s can be found.
The Momela Lakes – like many in the Rift Valley, are shallow and alkaline and attract a wide variety of water birds, particularly flamingos. The lakes are fed by underground streams; due to their varying mineral content each lake supports a different type of algal growth, which gives them different type colours. Birdlife also varies quite distinctly from one lake to another, even where they are only separated by a narrow strip of land.
Mt. Meru – is a mixture of lush forest and bare rock with a spectacular crater. Animal life in the park is abundant. You can be fairly certain of sighting zebras, giraffes, waterbucks, reedbuck, klipsringer, hippos, buffaloes, elephants, hyenas, mongooses, dik-diks, warthogs, baboons and vervet and colobus monkeys, although there is dense vegetation in some areas. You may even catch sight of the occasional leopard. There are no lion, however, and no rhinos due to poaching.
Lake Manyara National Park
Described by Hemingway in the “Green Hills of Africa”, this once prime hunting ground is today a National Park of unsurpassed beauty. Although LAKE MANYARA NATIONAL PARK covers an area of only 318 sq Kms, its terrain is son diverse that its mammal and bird lists are most impressive. The Park includes the Northern and most of the Western parts of the lake and its shores with a westward expansion to the top of the Rift Valley wall where the Lake Manyara Hotel is sited. At times the lake is visited by many thousands of Lesser Flamingos, together with a sprinkling of the larger species. Maccoa Ducks and White- backed Ducks are resident, and the beautiful little Pygmy Goose is sometimes observed.
One enters Manyara from the village of Mto Wa Mbu of “mosquito Creek” – the only place in Africa where one can hear the four major language groups. The park is dominated by a rich ground water forest. Numbers of Elephants are resident in the Park, Buffalo and Hippo are common and rds of 300- 400 have been recorded some of which wallow in the nearby Hippo Pool where most of the Park’s 380 species of birdlife is spotted.
Black Rhinoceros are very uncommon. Leopards occur in most places and it is not unusual to come across then in the early morning or late evening; like the lions, they may be seen resting in trees. The tree- climbing Lions of Manyara – like the tree- climbing Lions of Ishasha in the Ruwenzori National Park. In Manyara it is probably due to a combination of the need to avoid dense undergrowth and a search for cool shade.
In addition to a striking setting and peaceful surroundings, Manyara's main attractions are its superb birdlife, it tree-climbing lions (though these aren’t often seen) and its hippos, which you can observe at closer range here than at most other places. There are also elephants, although the population has been declining in recent years. The park, which is situated between 900m to 1800m above sea level, is bordered to the west by the dramatic western escarpment of the Rift Valley.
To the east is the alkaline Lake Manyara, which at certain times of the year hosts thousands of flamingos, as well as a diversity of other birdlife. Depending on the season, about two-thirds of the park’s total 300 sq km area is covered by the lake.
Migunga Forest Camp – this place is set in a grove of fever trees about 2km south of the main road and is signposted. The main attraction is the beautiful bird calls you’ll hear in the area. During the rains, the camp gets quite muddy.
Mto Wa Mbu (River of Mosquitoes) village is just north of Lake Manyara and is a popular base or visiting the park. The river running through town feeds into Lake Manyara. It has a colourful, though touristy, market and there are some walks in the surrounding area. There’s also a Cultural Tourism Program here that offers village walks, short bicycle tours and boating trips on the lake.
Although Manyara is one of Tanzania’s smallest parks, its vegetation is diverse, ranging from savanna to marshes and acacia woodland, enabling it to support a variety of habitats.
Mikumi National Park
Mikumi is Tanzania’s fourth-largest national park and perhaps the most accessible from Dar-es-Salaam and popular of Tanzania’s National Parks. MIKUMI NATIONAL PARK, a faunal reserve of some 1,165sq Km, is situated 294 Km from Dar-es-Salaam astride the macadamized main road to Iringa. Picturesque wooded hills form a border to the Mkata River and Chamgore (“PLACE OF THE PYTHON”) flood plains, one of the main sections of the Park and the haunt of many Elephant and Buffalo. Some distance to the North are the Hippo Pools, dominated by hippo, as well as a variety of Waterbirds.
The area around these pools is open plain where you can see all kinds of game from the Lichtenstein’s hartebeest to the somewhat rare wild dog.  On the Southern end one can spot the Yellow Baboon, Impalas, Reedbucks and other Antelopes. Birdlife is extremely varied, as many colourful and interesting species occur in Mikumi National Park, which are not found in the more Northern Parks. Species of special note include White- backed Night Heron, Dickinson’s Kestrel (in brachystegia woodlands), Bronze- winged Courser, Delalande’s Green Pigeon, Violet- crested Turaco and Brown- necked Parrot.
The pink Jacaranda is one of the most beautiful trees in this part of the Park, which is dotted by small glades of Hyphaene palm, shady figs and occasional baobab. On the Far Eastern side of the plains the black-backed Jackal is a common predator- this is one of the few mammal species that mates for life.
Within it’s 3230 sq km, set between the Uluguru Mountains to the north and the Lumango Mountains to the south-east, Mikumi hosts buffaloes, giraffes, elephants, lions, zebras, leopards and crocodiles and more. It is likely that you will see at least some of these within a short time of entering the park. In the section of the park to the north of the main road there is a hippo pool that provides the opportunity to watch the animals at close range. This is also a good place for bird-watching. To the south, Mikumi is contiguous with Selous Game Reserve. It’s also close enough to Udzungwa National Park to make the two a god combination for visiting.
Mikumi is an important educational and research centre. Among the various projects being carried out is an ongoing field study of yellow baboons, which is one of the just a handful of such long-term primate studies on the continent.
Udzungwa Mountains National Park – was gazetted in 1992 with an area of 1900 sq km, and is one of Tanzania’s newest protected areas. It’s a very good destination for hikers. Its most striking feature, in addition to its mountainous terrain, is its biologically diverse forest, which hosts a variety of epidemic plant and animal species. There are also elephants, buffaloes, leopards, hippos and crocodiles – are primarily in the south-western are of the park and seldom seen along the main hiking routes.
Mt. Kilimanjaro National Park
KILIMANJARO NATIONAL PARK covers an area of 1,864sq Km of Africa’ highest mountain, extending from 1,824m to the summit at 5,894 from the stark flat dry savannah plains, snow- capped Kilimanjaro is a spectacle of pure unadulterated beauty. A sight so stunning, it can only dominate and etch itself into one’s memory forever. At lower altitudes the Park consists of mountain rain forest, giving way to scrub – there is no bamboo zone on Kilimanjaro – then alpine moorland and finally icefields.
The Kilimanjaro massif has an oval base about 40 to 60km across, and rise almost 5000m above the surrounding plains. The two main peak areas are Kibo, the dome at the centre of the massif, which dips inwards to form a crater that can’t be seen from below, and Mawenzi, a group of jagged pinnacles on the eastern side. A third peak, Shira, on the west end of the massif, is lower and less distinct than Kibo and Mawenzi. The highest Peak Kibo is Uhuru Peak, the goal for most trekkers. The highest point on Mawenzi, Hans Meyer Point (5149m), cannot be reached by trekkers, and is only rarely visited by mountaineers.
The most interesting mammal in the mountain forest is Abbot’s Duiker; an extremely local and uncommon Antelope restricted to a few mountain forests in northern Tanzania. In addition Elephant, Buffalo, Black Rhinoceros, Eland, Leopard, Black and white Colobus and Blue Monkey occur in the Park. Of special note among Kilimanjaro birds in the alpine zone are Lammer-geyer, Mountain Chat and Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird.
Dry season from late June to October and from late December to early February or early March. From April to early June, late October to early December and January short and wet season.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area
The Ngorongoro Crater is just one part of a larger area of interrelated ecosystems consisting of the Crater Highlands (to which the Ngorongoro Crater belongs) together with vast stretches of plains, bush and woodland. The entire Ngorongoro Conservation Area  (NCA) covers about 8300 sq km. Near its centre is Olduvai Gorge, where many famous fossils have been unearthed. To the west are the alkaline Ndutu and Masek Lakes, although Ndutu is actually just over the border in the Serengeti. Both lakes are particularly good areas for wildlife viewing between about December and April. In the east of the conservation area are a string of volcanoes and craters (collapsed volcanoes, often referred to as caldera); most, but not all, are inactive. Further east, just outside the NCA’s boundaries, is the archaeologically important Engaruka. Along the NCA’s southern border is the Lake Eyasi, while to the north east of the NCA on the Kenyan border is the alkaline Lake Natron.
Moreover, the beautiful landscapes are the home of a fantastic wealth of wildlife.
Such a combination is rare, but just to make it unique; the area also contains some of the world’s richest archaeological sites. Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli give us fascinating glimpses of our own evolution through the past four million years. Entry into the crater is by the way of the Lerai Descent, an extremely steep and winding road down the slopes of the crater wall. The caldera bottom is mainly open grassy plain with alternating fresh and brackish- water lakes, swamps and two patches of dense acacia woodlands called the Lerai and Laindi Forests.
Lerai Forest is a special refuge and home for all sorts of creatures. Lerai is a Maasai word refering to the tall yellow- barked acacias that dominate the forest, a lovely sight, especially in the golden light of late evening. Roads encircle the forest. The main one follows the inner wall, cutting across several streams. Each stream provides a small habitat with its occupants, some of which can be quite “tame” in the sense that they do not rush off when you approach!
The Gol Mountains nudge the far crater rim. It has since time immemorial provided shelter for animals and humans against the savage winds of the plains. Archaeological digs in the lee of the rock have revealed plentiful evidence of human living sites from Stone Age times until the present.
Olduvai Gorge is a canyon carved by water through the southern part of the Serengeti Plain. Its chief claim to fame is the rich treasure-trove of human and animal fossils that has yielded. Olduvai Gorge is about 50 Km long and in some places 90m deep. It drains the slopes of the nearby mountains plus the southern Serengeti Plain, beginning somewhat west of Lake Ndutu.
Olduvai Gorge – where some of the most important fossil humanoid remains have been unearthed. The gorge has been a surprisingly productive site for archeological excavations due to a number of important factors. In 1911, a German entomologist named Professor Kattwinkel entered the Gorge in pursuit of butterflies and noticed an abundance of fossil bones. He collected some of the fossils and took them back to Berlin, where they were identified as an extinct three-toed horse. This inspired Professor Hans Reck to lead an expedition to Olduvai in 1913 backed personally by the Kaiser, to collect more fossils. Louis Leakey (a Kenya born archaeologist) saw the Olduvai fossils in the Berlin Museum and was convinced that Olduvai might shed light on human origins.
Louis and Mary Leakey visited the gorge whenever their meagre funds permitted. They found and described great quantities of stone tools and fossil animals, but found no hominid (“human-like”) fossils until 1959, when Mary Leakey discovered the first skull of “Zinjanthropus”. Now renamed Australopithecus boisei (meaning southern ape of Boise – a supporter of their work). The discovery enabled the Leakeys, for the first time in 28 years, to obtain proper financial support for their work (from the National Geographic Society), and the discoveries continued. It is well worth visiting the site where “Zinj” was found, just five minutes” drive from the visitor centre.
Ngorongoro Crater is one of Africa’s best known wildlife-viewing areas. At about 20km wide its is also one of the largest calderas in the world. Within its walls is a variety of animals and vegetation, including grasslands, swamps, forests, salt pans, a freshwater lake and rich birdlife. You are likely to see lions, elephants, buffaloes and many of the plain’s herbivores such as wildebeests, Thomson’s gazelles, zebras and reedbucks, as well as hundreds of flamingos wading in the shallows of Lake Magadi, the soda lake at the crater’s base. Chances are good that you’ll also see a black rhino or two; for many people this is one of the crater’s main draws.
Despite its steep walls, there’s a considerable movement of animals in and out; they favour the permanent water and grassland on the crater floor. Wildlife shares the crater with local Maasai tribes, who gave grazing rights, and you may come across them tending their cattle. During the German colonial era there were two settlers’ farms in the crater, you can still see one of the huts.
Ruaha National Park
Gazetted in 1964, is a vast, still comparatively unexplored game and bird sanctuary covering 12,950sq Km. Second largest of Tanzanian National Parks, it takes its name from the Great Ruaha River that follows along its Eastern border. It is only a little smaller than the better known Serengeti National Park. Mainly on account of its geographical position this most outstanding Park is at present little visited although it is readily accessible by air, being less than four hours’ flying time from Nairobi.
The Ruaha National Park lies between two large rivers, the Njombe and the Ruaha: the latter flows for 160km along the entire Eastern border, first through rugged gorges and rocky broken country then through lush plains where it is flanked by palm thickets and tall acacia woodland. During the dry season, from June to November, there is a concentration of game along the river, herds of Elephant, Giraffe, Buffalo and Impala and numerous Greater Kudu. Crocodiles may be seen basking on the many sandbanks.
The sharp ornithologist can easily spot the violet-crested Turaco, Dickenson’s kestrel, pale- billed hornbill, racquet- tailored roller and occasionally, the elusive Eleonora’s falcon. The Park’s main wildlife spectacle however centres around the Great Ruaha River. Here Crocodiles bask, hippos wallow and clawless otters zip to and fro.
Perhaps Ruaha’s greatest charm is the fact that it is a completely unspoiled African wilderness. Its future potential is very great and of all the East African faunal preserves it is the Park of the future. Ruaha is notable for its striking topography. Much of it is undulating plateau averaging about 900m in height with occasional rocky outcrops; and mountains in the south and west, reaching to about 1600m and 1900m, respectively. Running through the park are several “sand rivers”, most of which dry up during the dry season, when they are often used by wildlife as corridors to reach areas where water remains.
Although the area around the camps on the eastern side of the park gets full during the high season, Ruaha receives relatively few visitors by comparison with the northern parks. Large sections are unexplored, and during much of the year you will have the place to yourself.
There is an impressive array of game animals in the Ruaha National Park. It is the largest Elephant Sanctuary in Tanzania, and it is the only East African Park where one may be certain of seeing and photographing Greater Kudu. Among the Carnivora Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Hunting Dog, Spotted Hyena and Bat-eared Fox are all possible.
Birdlife is abundant and the park is one of the few places in Africa where the rare raptorial Eleonora’s Falcon may be encountered: migrating flocks have been recorded in December and January. Along the heavily wooded sections of the Ruaha River is found the Giant Pel’s Fishing Owl.
The dry season, from June to November
Selous Game Reserve
The SELOUS GAME RESERVE is a Southern extension of the Mikumi National Park, covering some 54,490sq Km, and is predominantly an Elephant Reserve. The area is mainly brachystegia woodland with grassy flood- plains and some dense forest patches: much of it is inaccessible. In addition to Elephant there are Hippopotamus, Buffalo, Wildebeest, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, Sable, Antelope, Greater Kudu, Eland, Lion and Leopard. Birdlife is similar to that found in the Mikumi National Park. The Reserve is home to over 30 species of birdlife.
Rufiji River – perhaps the most striking feature of Selous is the wide Rufiji River, which has one of the largest water-catchment areas in East Africa. From its source in the highlands, it winds its way more than 250m though Selous and on to the sea. The Rufiji’s delta, which lies outside the reserve, stretches along the coast opposite Mafia. Here, the reddish-brown fresh water of the river mixes with the blue salt water of the sea, forming striking patterns. And providing habitats for many dozens of bird species, passing dolphins and more.
Stiegler’s Gorge is one of the Park’s most striking features. This gaping chasm channels the frothing confluence of the Great Ruaha and Rufiji Rivers. After this bottleneck, the Rufiji swells through the Park down to the Indian Ocean forming a series of small lakes that serve as an important source of water for multitude of the plains game. The hinterland around Lake Tagalala and Beho Beho is some of the most picturesque in the area.
Some distance from Lake Tagalala, whose shape and size is in a constant state of flux, hidden in a ravine surrounded by lush vegetation, are the Maji Moto not springs. In this fascinating area; Waterbuck, southern reedbuck and Bushbuck are common. Lined with Barassus palms, the muddy Rufiji the Selous Game Reserve’s main artery. During the dry season between June and October the river banks explode in a spectacular flood of the plains animals quenching their thirst all under the opportunistic eye of crocodile.
Dry season between June and October & March to May wet season.
Serengeti National Park
Serengeti, which covers 14,763 sq km and is contiguous with the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya, is Tanzania’s largest and most famous national park. On its vast, treeless plains are tens and thousands of hoofed animals, constantly on the move in search of fresh grassland. The wildebeest, of which there are more than one million, is the chief herbivore and also the main prey of large carnivores such as lions and hyenas.
One of Serengeti’s main attractions is the annual migration of wildebeest herds in search of better grazing. During the rainy season between December and May the herds are widely scattered over the southern section of the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. As these areas have few large rivers and streams, they dry quickly when the rains cease. When this happens, the wildebeests concentrate on the few remaining green areas, and form large herds that migrate north and west in search of food.
Wildebeests spend the dry season from July to October, outside the Serengeti and in the Maasai Mara, before they again start moving south in anticipation of the rains. Around February, the calving season, more than 8000 wildebeest calves are born per day, although about 40% of these will die before they are four months old.
The Serengeti is also famous for its lions, many of which have collars fitted with transmitters so their movements can be studied and their locations tracked. It’s also known for its cheetahs, zebras (of which there are about 200,000) and large herds of giraffes. You’re also likely to see Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles, elands, impalas, klipspringers and warthogs as well as rich birdlife.
The Serengeti offers unparalleled opportunities for wildlife viewing and for seeing Africa at its most untamed, and the beauty and synchrony of nature can be appreciated here as in few other places.
Balloon safaris - an expensive but highly enjoyable way to experience the Serengeti is by balloon. Which would be for an hour floating over the plains at dawn followed y champagne breakfast in the bush under the acacia trees, complete with linen table cloths.
Walking safaris – in the park have been preliminarily approved but not yet implemented. Several of the lodges and camps outside the park boundaries can also organise walks.
Wildlife concentrations in the park are greatest between about December and June, and comparatively low during the dry season between about July and October. However, the Serengeti can be visited rewardingly at any time of year. If you are primarily interested in wildebeests, the best base from December to April is at one of the camps near Seronera or in the south-eastern part of the park. The famous crossing of the Grumeti River, which runs through the park’s Western Corridor usually takes place somewhere between May and July, although the actual viewing window can be quite short. In particularly dry years, the herds tend to move northwards sooner, avoiding or only skirting the Western Corridor.
The northern Serengeti, around Lobo and Klien’s Gate, is a good base during the dry season, particularly between about August and October. As well as migrating wildebeests there are also small resident populations of wildebeests in the park, which you’ll see at any time of the year.
Almost all of the shorter safaris, and those done as part of a quick northern circuit loop, use Seronera as a base, although other sections of the park are just as rewarding, if not more so. In the low season, you will see few other vehicles outside of Seronera, although even in the high season the park is large enough that it doesn’t feel overrun. With the move of the park headquarters to Ikoma, as well as various other fort to decrease vehicle and tourist congestion in the Seronera area, and to promote use of the, until now, under-utilised northern and western circuit.
Wet season December and June, dry season between about July and October, and short rains between December to April, May and July
Tarangire National Park
Tarangire is a beautiful area stretching south-east of Lake Manyara around the Tarangire River. Like nearby Lake Manyara National Park, it’s often assigned no more than a day visit as part of a larger northern circuit safari, although it is well worth longer exploration.
Tarangire is part of an extended ecosystem where animals roam freely. It includes the large Mkungunero Game Controlled Area to the south, and the Lolkisale Game Controlled Area to the north-east.
During the dry season, particularly between August and October, Tarangire has one of the highest concentrations of wildlife of any of the country’s parks. Large herds of zebras, wildebeests, hartebeests and in particular elephants can be found here until October when the short wet season allows them to move on to new grasslands. Elands, lesser kudus, gazelles, giraffes, waterbucks, impalas and the occasional leopard or rhino can be seen at Tarangire year-round. The park is also good for bird-watching especially between October and May, with more than 300 different species recorded.
Between August and October dry season and between October and May short wet season and between June and July wet season.
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