On this page you will find all the information about the Top 5 National Parks included in the various Expedition Kilimanjaro Safaris.
The Top 5 in short?
Arusha National Park
A small but beautiful park, Arusha National Park is closest to both the famous African “safari city” of Arusha (29km/18miles out) and Kilimanjaro International Airport, making it ideal for day trip safaris. Not only is wildlife abundant in Arusha National Park, but it is also one of Tanzania’s most beautiful and topographically diverse game reserve.
Tarangire National Park
The Tarangire River provides the only permanent water in the area and is a “dry season refuge” for the animals of Tanzania’s southern Masailand, and the Tarangire National Park has a reputation for hosting some of the largest elephant herds in Tanzania or even Africa. A safari to Tarangire National Park is included in the 3-day, 5-day and 6-day safari options.
Lake Manyara National Park
Lake Manyara National Park is one of Tanzania’s most dramatic wildlife areas, with the most visible predators around Lake Manyara. The main attraction is the lions, famous for their habit of climbing trees. This park is included in all multi-day safaris.
Ngorongoro Crater – the name has an almost mystical ring to it and Ngorongoro Crater is one of the most densely populated wildlife areas in the world, home to an estimated 30,000 animals. And all this ín the 30-square-kilometre volcanic crater! This park is part of all multi-day safaris.
Serengeti National Park
Serengeti National Park is home to the annual migration of wildebeest across the grassy plains – undoubtedly the greatest wildlife spectacle in the world – this Serengeti National Park is undoubtedly iconic for East Africa and more specifically Tanzania. A visit to the vast Serengeti plains is only available in 4-day, 5-day and 6-day safari options.
About the national parks
The main role of Tanzania’s national parks is conservation. The 14 national parks, many of which form the core of a much larger protected African ecosystem, are set aside to preserve the country’s rich natural heritage and provide safe breeding grounds where wildlife can thrive, safe from the competing interests of a growing human population.
The existing park system protects a number of internationally recognised bastions of biodiversity and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, restoring the balance for those areas of the country affected by deforestation, agriculture and urbanisation. The Tanzania National Parks organisation is also currently acquiring more land to expand some parks, and to raise the status of traditional migration corridors linking protected areas.
By visiting Tanzania, you are supporting a developing country’s extraordinary investment in the future. Despite population pressure, Tanzania has set aside more than 42,000 square kilometres for national parks. With other reserves, conservation areas and marine parks added, Tanzania has given more than a third of its territory some form of formal protection – a much higher proportion than most of the world’s richer countries.
The Top 5 explained in detail
Arusha National Park
Arusha National Park, the closest national park to the city of Arusha – the safari capital of northern Tanzania – is a multi-faceted gem, often overlooked by safari-goers, although it offers the opportunity to explore an enchanting variety of habitats in a day trip.
The gateway leads into shady mountain forest inhabited by curious blue monkeys and colourful turacos and trogons – the only place in the northern safari circuit where the acrobatic black-and-white colobus monkey can be easily spotted. In the middle of the forest lies the spectacular Ngurdoto Crater, whose steep, rocky cliffs enclose a wide swampy plain with herds of buffalo and warthogs.
Further north, rolling grassy hills enclose the tranquil beauty of the Momela Lakes, each a different shade of green or blue. Their shallows are sometimes stained pink with thousands of flamingos, the lakes harbour a rich selection of native and migratory waterbirds, and shaggy waterbucks display their large lyre-shaped horns at the water’s edges. Giraffes glide over the grass-covered hills, among grazing zebra herds, while pairs of wide-eyed dik-diks shoot through the thickets like out-of-control hares on spindly legs.
Although elephants are rare in Arusha National Park, and lions are completely absent, you can see leopards and spotted hyenas prowling around in the early morning and late afternoon. It is also at dusk and dawn that the veil of clouds on the eastern horizon becomes most visible, and the majestic snow-capped peaks of Kilimanjaro just 50 km away.
But it is Kilimanjaro’s humble cousin, Mount Meru – Africa’s fifth highest at 4,566 metres – that dominates the park’s horizon. With its peaks and eastern foothills protected in the national park, Meru offers unrivalled views of its famous neighbour, while also being a rewarding hiking destination in its own right.
The ascent of Meru first leads through forested savannah, where buffalo and giraffe are often found, to forests full of red-hot pokers and dripping with Spanish moss, before reaching the high open heath with giant lobelias. Everlasting flowers cling to the alpine desert, while delicately shaped cliff jumpers mark the walk’s progress. The steep summit reveals Kilimanjaro, blushing in the sunrise.
Size 137 km²
Location North Tanzania, northeast of the city of Arusha.
Accessibility An easy 40-minute drive from Arusha. About 60 km from Kilimanjaro International Airport. The lakes, forest and Ngurdoto crater can all be visited on a day safari.
To do Forest walks, numerous picnic spots
Best time to climb Mt Meru: June-February, although it can rain in November. Best views of Kilimanjaro in December-February.
Accommodation The Arusha National Park is only offered as a day trip from the hotel in Arusha.
Tarangire National Park
The bright sun sucks the moisture out of the landscape, baking the earth dusty red, the withered grass as brittle as straw. The Tarangire River has shrivelled to a shadow of its wet season. But it is teeming with wildlife. Thirsty nomads have travelled hundreds of parched kilometres knowing that there is always water here.
Herds of up to 300 elephants scour the dry riverbed for underground streams, while migrating wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, impala, gazelle, hartebeest and eland populate the shrinking lagoons. It is the largest concentration of wildlife outside the Serengeti ecosystem – a smorgasbord for predators – and the only place in Tanzania where dryland antelopes, such as the stately fringe-eared oryx and the peculiar long-necked gerenuk, are regularly observed. During the rainy season, seasonal visitors spread over a 20,000-square-kilometre area until they exhaust the green plains and the river calls again. But Tarangire’s elephant groups are easy to find, wet or dry. The swamps, tinged green all year round, are home to 550 bird species, the most breeding species in a single habitat in the world.
On drier ground, you will find the Kori buzzard, the heaviest bird species in the world, the garter snake, the largest bird in the world, and small flocks of ground hornbills that bellow like turkeys. More ardent bird lovers can keep their eyes peeled for screeching flocks of the dazzlingly colourful yellow-collared turtle dove, and the more drab rufous-tailed weaver and ashy starling – all endemic to the dry savannah of north-central Tanzania. Disused termite mounds are often visited by colonies of the endearing pygmy mongoose, and pairs of red-and-yellow barbets, which draw attention to themselves with their loud, bell-like duets. Tarangire’s pythons climb trees, as do lions and leopards, lazing in the branches where the fruits of the sausage tree conceal tail-pulling.
Size 2,600 km².
Location 118 km southwest of Arusha.
Accessibility Easy drive from Arusha or Lake Manyara on a paved road up to 7 km from the main entrance; you can continue to Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. Charter flights from Arusha and the Serengeti.
Best time Year-round, but dry season (June-September) for the large numbers of animals.
Accommodation When visiting Tarangire National Park, you will be accommodated at the Flamingo Lodge (photo) or the Nsya Lodge.
Lake Manyara National Park
Stretching for 50 km along the foot of the 600-metre-high rust-gold Rift Valley escarpment, Lake Manyara is a picturesque gem, with an environment that Ernest Hemingway hailed as “the most beautiful I had seen in Africa”.
The compact game viewing route through Manyara offers a virtual microcosm of the Tanzanian safari experience. From the entrance gate, the road winds through a vast, lush jungle-like groundwater forest, where hundred-headed troops of baboons stand nonchalantly by the roadside, blue monkeys scurry deftly among the ancient mahogany trees, dainty bushbucks walk cautiously through the shadows and outsized forest hornbills cacophonically honk in the high canopy.
Contrasting with the intimacy of the forest is the grassy plain and sweeping views to the east, across the alkaline lake, to the jagged blue volcanic peaks rising from the endless Maasai steppes. Large herds of buffalo, wildebeest and zebra gather on these grassy plains, as do giraffes – some so dark in colour they appear black from a distance.
Inland from the floodplains, a narrow belt of acacia forests is the favourite haunt of Manyara’s legendary tree-climbing lions and impressively tawny elephants. Squadrons of banded mongooses shoot between the acacias, while little Kirk’s thick-thighed forage in their shade. Pairs of cliff jumpers can often be seen silhouetted on the rocks above a fi jn of hot springs steaming and bubbling beside the lake shore in the far south of the park.
Manyara is the perfect introduction to Tanzania’s birdlife. More than 400 species have been recorded, and even a first-time visitor to Africa can reasonably observe 100 in a single day. Highlights include the thousands of pink flamingos on their perpetual migration, and other large waterfowl such as pelicans, cormorants and storks.
Surface area 330 km², including up to 200 km² more at high water levels.
Location In northern Tanzania. The gateway is 1.5 hours (126 km) west of Arusha along a newly tarred road, close to the ethnically diverse market town of Mtowa Mbu.
Accessibility By road, charter or scheduled flight from Arusha, en route to Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater.
To do Game drives, canoeing if water levels are high enough. Cultural tours, mountain bike rides, abseiling and hillside forest walks outside the park.
Best time Dry season (July-October) for large mammals; wet season (November-June) for birdwatching, the waterfalls and canoeing.
Accommodation If you visit Lake Manyara National Park, you will be accommodated at the Lake Burunge Tented Lodge, a particularly fine tented camp with 20 luxury tents and 30 rooms.
The lodge consists of a central dining pavilion and several beautifully decorated huts. Walking between these on your own is not allowed after dark. You have to ask one of the guards to walk with you, otherwise you will meet a stray lion who has chosen your veranda as a place to sleep. That’s no joke.
The Ngorongoro Crater
The Ngorongoro Crater is often called“the Eden of Africa” and the “8th natural wonder of the world”. A visit to the crater is one of the main draws for tourists coming to Tanzania and a world-class attraction. Within the crater rim, large herds of zebra and wildebeest graze, while sleeping lions lounge in the sun. At dawn, the endangered black rhino returns to the dense vegetation of the crater forests after grazing on dew-laden grass in the morning mist. Just outside the crater crest, tall Masaai herd their cattle and goats across green pastures on the highland slopes, living alongside wildlife as they have done for centuries.
The protected Ngorongoro Nature Reserve includes the famous crater of the same name, the Olduvai Gorge and vast expanses of high plains, scrub and forests covering about 8,300 square kilometres. As a protected area, only indigenous tribes such as the Masaai are allowed to live within its boundaries. Lake Ndutu and Masek, both alkaline soda lakes, are home to rich wildlife populations, as well as a series of peaks and volcanoes, making this Conservation Area a unique and beautiful landscape. Of course, the crater itself, actually a kind of collapsed volcano called a caldera, is the main attraction.
Accommodation is on top and a hundred metres from the crater rim. Past lush rainforest and dense vegetation, the flora opens up to grassy plains on the crater floor. The wildlife viewing is truly incredible, and the topography and views of the surrounding crater highlands are unparalleled.
This truly magical place is home to Olduvai Gorge, that gorge where the Leakeys discovered the hominoid remains of a 1.8-million-year-old skeleton of Australopithecus boisei, one of the clear links of the human evolutionary chain. In a small canyon just north of the crater, the Leakeys and their team of international archaeologists excavated the ruins of at least three different hominoid species, and also stumbled upon a complete series of hominoid footprints estimated to be more than 3.7 million years old. Evacuated fossils show that the area is one of the oldest hominoid habitats in the world.
The Ngorongoro Crater and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area are undoubtedly some of the most beautiful parts of Tanzania, steeped in history and full of wildlife. Besides vehicle safaris to the Ngorongoro Crater, the Olduvai Gorge and surrounding attractions, trekking through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is becoming increasingly popular. However you visit the Crater Highlands, they are an unforgettable part of the Tanzanian experience.
Size 26 square km
Location In northern Tanzania. The gateway is 1.5 hours (140 km) west of Arusha along a newly tarred road.
To do Descend into the crater from the 600-metre-high crater rim and drive through the different climates in the crater area.
Accommodation At the edge of the crater is the Ngorongoro Rhino Lodge. You will be accommodated here during the 4-day, 5-day and 6-day safari options.
Serengeti National Park
A million wildebeest… each driven by the same primal rhythm, fulfilling its instinctive role in the inescapable cycle of life: a frenzied three-week period of territory conquest and mating; surviving the fi ttest as 40-km-long columns plunge through crocodile-infested waters on the annual exodus north; replenishing the species in a brief population explosion that produces more than 8,000 calves daily before the 1,000-km pilgrimage begins again.
The Serengeti, Tanzania’s oldest and most popular national park, is famous for its annual migration, when some six million hooves pound the open plains as more than 200,000 zebras and 300,000 Thomson’s gazelles join the wildebeest’s migration for fresh grass. But even when the migration is quiet, the Serengeti offers perhaps the most scintillating views of game in Africa: large 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 against prey dominates Tanzania’s largest park. Lion families with golden manes feast on the plethora of grazers on the plains. Lone leopards haunt the acacia trees along the Seronera River, while a high density of cheetahs skim the south-eastern plains. Almost uniquely, all three African jackal species are found here, alongside the spotted hyena and a host of more elusive small predators, ranging from the insectivorous aardwolf to the magnificent serval cat.
But there is more to Serengeti than large mammals. Striking agama lizards and rock hyraxes scurry across the surfaces of the park’s isolated granite koppies. More than 100 species of dung beetles have been recorded, as have more than 500 bird species, ranging from the outsize ostrich and the bizarre secretary bird of the open grasslands, to the black eagles that soar effortlessly above the Lobo Hills.
As enduring as wildlife viewing is the liberating sense of space that characterises the Serengeti plains, stretching across sun-burnt savannah to a shimmering golden horizon at the end of the earth. But after the rains, this golden grassy plain turns into an endless green carpet full of wildflowers. And there are also forested hills and towering termite mounds, rivers lined with fig trees and acacia forest coloured orange by dust. The Serengeti may be popular, but it remains so vast that you may be the only human audience when a pride of lions prepares a siege, unwaveringly focused on its next meal.
Size 14,763 km².
Located 335 km from Arusha, north of Kenya and bordering Lake Victoria to the west.
Accessibility Line and charter flights from Arusha, Lake Manyara and Mwanza. Driving from Arusha, Lake Manyara, Tarangire or the Ngorongoro Crater.
To do Air balloon safaris, Maasai rock paintings and musical rocks. Visit neighbouring Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge, Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano and the flamingos of Lake Natron.
Best time To follow the wildebeest migration, December-July. To see predators, June-October.
Accommodation The Serengeti National Park is included in the 4-day, 5-day and 6-day safari options and you will be accommodated at the adventurous Kati Kati Tented Camp (photo) or the Heritage Tented Camp.
Step 2: add your Safari of choice to your Expedition Kilimanjaro with your reservation here.