A staggering seven of Tanzania's national parks are home to most of the major Africa wildlife species. Few countries can compete if you're looking for the ultimate big game experience. Here are our top choices of where to go:
1. Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater
Probably one of the most famous wildlife areas in the world, the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater and Conservation Area make up one massive ecosystem. Wildlife freely moves between the two, and we’d encourage you to do the same. Visit the Crater as much for it’s spectacular geography as the exceptional wildlife (you’ll see everything from lion, leopard, cheetah to elephant, buffalo and Rhino here). In the Serengeti the highlight is the migration, but as much as the headline acts are worth catching (wildebeest crossing the Mara River, half a million calves being born in the space of a week) it’s still very possible to have outstanding game viewing – and the park - more or less to yourself. Take in some of these quiet areas when the circus leaves town and you wont be disappointed - consider Lamai Serengeti between December and March or a light tented camp to escape the crowds
Still surprisingly little visited, Ruaha in Southern Tanzania is hard to beat for numbers of wild animals, but also variety. It's also one of the best places for a walking safari. The park centres on the Great Ruaha River and seasonal tributaries that flow in to it (the Jongomero, the Mwayange, the Mdonya and the Mwagusi). These sand rivers are the focal point for prodigious numbers of animals coming to drink. From elephant digging in the soft sand to find fresh water, to herds of buffalo in the thousands. Sable and roan antelope are both found here, as are Greater and Lesser Kudu and numerous other plains game. Ruaha’s carnivores are also a major feature – very large prides of lion patrol the river lines throughout the dry season, while Ruaha’s topography makes it ideal country for leopard. Give Ruaha time – don’t expect to land and see everything immediatley, but 3-5 days will reward visitors with an excellent experience of this park and its wildlife.
Katavi is a world of wide grassy flood-plains surrounded by acacia and brachystegia woodland. In the rains the flood plains are under water, but as the dry season progresses the water recedes. By mid August, water is a scarce resource and this makes life hard for many species; buffalo gather in large herds to drinking twice daily, making them easy targets for predators. Hippo gather in super-pods numbering in their bad-tempered hundreds. But life for predators (and visitors) gets increasingly rewarding. Because of the open terrain on the plains there is often excellent game viewing from camp if you’re staying at Chada Katavi. And game drives, while they don’t need to cover vast distances can be super-productive. With the exception of Rhino, all the major species are here in good numbers. Add to this the interesting mix of southern African and eastern African bird species and Katavi is a park well worth devoting some time to.
Only an hour and a half by road from Arusha (or 20 minutes by air) it’s easy to underestimate Tarangire. Known for its stands of Henry Moore-esque baobabs, buffalo and elephant, The Tarangire River is a magnet for game between June and Late October. Long lines of animals file down to the river to drink in the heat of the day – elephant feed along the river banks and predators stake out the waterholes. The northern part of the park is beautiful, but most visited, while quieter areas to the south with its swamps and springs are still outstanding for wildlife viewing. For the adventurous we can even offer the chance to spend the night in a special tree-nest on the Maasai Steppe. From your tree platform watch elephant drink at a waterhole below you by the light of the moon.
The great attraction of the Selous Game Reserve is the variety of terrain here and the sense of unspoilt wilderness the place engenders; much of this reserve is genuinely inaccessible unless you are a buffalo or hippo. The immense Rufiji River defines northern Selous, spilling into a series of tributaries and oxbow lakes to create an immense inland delta. Boat safaris are a wonderful contrast to days spent in a landrover. Drift gently on the eddying current, taking in pods of hippos, countless crocodiles and spectacular birdlife (7 species of beeeater and 9 of kingfisher alone). Monkeys play in lush riparian woodland and jewel-like lakes attact game of all kinds, from lion and leopard to elephant, buffalo and very large groups of giraffe. Above all approach the Selous with patience. Unlike the Serengeti you will have to work for your game. But as most of us know the reward is that mush sweeter if you’ve had to strive for it. To see it at its best, spend a night flycamping in Selous