Tanzania is home to some of the most unique and beautiful places on Earth. Over 30% of the country consists of National Parks or conservation areas, many of which have been named World Heritage Sites. From towering mountains and volcanic calderas to vast grasslands and large populations of diverse wildlife, the list of things to see and do can seem as endless as the plains of the Serengeti. Fortunately, we’ve put together a list of Tanzania’s Top 5 National Parks and what makes each one of them so special.
Serengeti National Park
The Serengeti, which means “the place where the land runs on forever”, was named by the local Maasai people who originally called the grasslands their home. With nearly 5,700 sq mi of savanna stretching from horizon to horizon, it can feel as vast and endless as an ocean. The Serengeti is Tanzania’s oldest national park and definitely the most famous, home to a vast array of wildlife. People from all over the world travel here to witness the Great Migration, a yearly event in which millions of wildebeest, zebra, and gazelles travel across the plains in search of freshwater and food. They are closely pursued on their journey by hungry predators like the cheetah, the hyena, and the crocodile. The Great Migration is an event unlike any other on Earth and has been named one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa.
Masai Mara National Park
As you travel north through the Serengeti the land begins to change. The endless plains give way to a land that is dotted with umbrella-shaped acacia trees. This speckled landscape was named Mara, meaning spotted in the local Maasai language. While technically part of Kenya, it is connected to the Serengeti and is an important part of the yearly Great Migration. You can find the famed “big five” here—elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, lion and the black rhino. The Maasai, a once-nomadic people who traveled throughout Kenya and Tanzania, now live in and around the Seregenti and the Masai Mara parks. They have held onto their traditional way of life and often welcome visitors to come and learn about their unique culture.
Arusha National Park
Often overlooked by tourists, Arusha National Park is one of the smallest national parks included in Tanzania’s Northern Safari Circuit. While it’s not as large as the Serengeti, it has a unique ecology all of its own. Within its 85 square miles of land, it is home to Mount Meru, an active volcano second in height only to the great Kilimanjaro. Nearby, you’ll find the Ngurdoto Crater, also known as the “Little Serengeti”. While it’s a little less than 2 miles wide, this grassland is filled with buffalo, bush-bucks, warthog, giraffe, and zebra. But what truly sets Arusha apart from the other national parks is its large concentration of rare black-and-white colobus monkeys that live in the forest surrounding the crater. Leaping up to 50 feet from branch to branch, using their thick black and white mantle of fur like a parachute, these beautiful creatures make this park one of the must-see places in Tanzania!
Tarangire National Park
Known for having the highest concentrations of elephant herds in the world and for the beautiful baobab trees that dot its dry landscape, Tarangire National Park is a popular stop on the safari circuit. Its name comes from the Tarangire River, which has carved beautiful valley landscapes and is a vital water source for animals during the dry season. Herds of up to 300 elephants are often gathered near the river to drink and to eat the bark off of the thick trunks of the baobab trees. Legend has it that these oddly-shaped, yet iconic, trees displeased an ancient deity, who then ripped them from the ground and replanted them upside down with their roots pointed to the sky.
Ngorongoro National Park
The Ngorongoro crater, a UNESCO world heritage site within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, is the collapsed caldera of an ancient volcano and the largest unbroken caldera in the world. Inside the crater rim, surrounded by lush green vegetation, lies golden grasslands filled with over 25,000 animals. This includes the densest known population of lions in all of Africa and the critically endangered black rhinoceros. With less than 6,000 black rhinos left in the world, the Ngorongoro Crater is one of the best places to view these majestic animals in their natural habitat.
Tanzania’s diverse landscape and wildlife population makes it one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Words can’t do justice to the experience of actually seeing it in person. Gondwana Ecotours offers two different tours and both include visits to all five parks! One is a camping safari that is surprisingly affordable and includes staff that set up your tents and cook meals for the group. The other safari is more upscale and includes full service stays at luxury lodges. Check out our tour pages for more information on these two unique safaris to Tanzania’s top 5 national parks!