The closest national park to Arusha town – northern Tanzania’s safari capital – Arusha National Park is a multi-faceted jewel, often overlooked by safari goers, despite offering the opportunity to explore a beguiling diversity of habitats within a few hours. The entrance gate leads into shadowy montane forest inhabited by inquisitive blue monkeys and colorful turacos and trogons the only place on the northern safari circuit where the acrobatic black-and-white colobus monkey is easily seen. In the midst of the forest stands the spectacular Ngurdoto Crater, who’s steep, roky cliffs enclose a wide marshy floor dotted with herds of buffalo and warthog
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.
Tarangire National Park fierce sun sucks the moisture from the landscape, baking the earth a dusty red, the withered grass as brittle as straw. The Tarangire River has shriveled to a shadow of its wet season self. But it is choked with wildlife. Thirsty nomads have wandered hundreds of parched kilometers knowing that here, always, there is water. The Park is famous for its large number of elephants, African baobab-trees, and tree-climbing pythons. Herds of up to 300 elephants scratch the dry river bed for underground streams, while migratory wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, impala and gazelle crowd the shrinking lagoons.
Tarangire is a great bird watching center with more than 500 species recorded. The swamps, tinged green year round, have the most breeding species in one habitat anywhere in the world. On drier ground you find the Kori bustard, the heaviest flying bird; the stocking-thighed ostrich, the world’s largest bird; and small parties of ground horn bills blustering like turkeys. During the rainy season, the seasonal visitors scatter over a 20,000 sq km (12,500 sq miles) range until they exhaust the green plains and the river calls once more. But Tarangire’s mobs of elephant are easily encountered, wet or dry.
The swamps, tinged green year round, are the focus for 550 bird varieties, the most breeding species in one habitat anywhere in the world.
Lake Manyara National Park is Stretching for 50km along the base of the rusty-gold 600-metre high Rift Valley escarpment, Lake Manyara is a scenic gem, with a setting extolled by Ernest Hemingway as “the loveliest I had seen in Africa”. The compact game-viewing circuit through Manyara offers a virtual microcosm of the Tanzanian safari experience. From the entrance gate, the road winds through an expanse of lush jungle-like underground water forest where hundred-strong baboon troops lounge nonchalantly along the roadside, blue monkeys scamper nimbly between the ancient mahogany trees, dainty bushbuck tread warily through the shadows, and outsized forest hornbills honk cacophonously in the high canopy.
Contrasting with the intimacy of the forest is the grassy floodplain and its expansive views eastward, across the alkaline lake, to the jagged blue volcanic peaks that rise from the endless Maasai Steppes. Large buffalo, wildebeest and zebra herds congregate on these grassy plains, as do giraffes – some so dark in coloration that they appear to be black from a distance.
Tanzania’s oldest and most popular national park, also a world heritage site and recently proclaimed a 7th worldwide 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. 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, focused unswervingly on its next meal.
The best times to visit The Serengeti Wildebeest Migration
- July to October: This is when the wildebeest are in the northern Serengeti plains, and you have a chance of seeing up to thousands crossing the great Mara River. As the sight of the wildebeest crossing the so dramatic, it is considered by many the most desirable time to see the migration.
- December to March: Currently the wildebeest are in the southern area of the Serengeti, more specifically in Ndutu which is actually in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and it is calving season. Along with the river crossings, this is a real highlight of the wildebeest’s journey and a fabulous time to see the herds congregate on the dramatic sweeping plains of the south. February is the only time of year when you are almost guaranteed to see the big herds all together as they always come south for calving season.
- The rest of the year: In November, April, May and June the migration is in between locations and as such these months are slightly transitional times to see the herds. November is the short rains, April and May are the long rains and as such the grass is green in these months across the Serengeti, so the wildebeest are more dispersed than in the prime time of July to October and December to March. Thus, you don’t get as many of those condensed big herds which people get excited about.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area, is Conservation area in the arusha region of northern Tanzania southeast of Serengeti National Park Occupying some 3,200 square miles (8,300 square km), it extends over part of the East Africa Rift Valley and contains a variety of habitats and landscapes, including grassland plains, savanna woodlands, forests, mountains, volcanic craters, lakes, rivers, and swampland.
Ngorongoro Crater, one of the world’s largest unbroken calderas, is the most prominent feature of the park. Also located there are the major archaeological sites of Olduvai Gorge and Laetilil within which were found hominin remains dating from 2.1 million and 3.6 million years ago, respectively. Ngorongoro Conservation Area is host to the largest ungulate herds in the world, including wildebeests, plains zebras, and Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles. Predatory animals include lions, spotted hyenas, leopards, and cheetahs. The endangered Black Rhinoceros and African Hunting dogs can also be found there. Notable among more than 400 species of birds in the area are flamingos, silvery-cheeked hornbills, superb starlings, and bronze.