Natural Attractions of Tanzania
Tanzania has some world famous natural attractions. They include Mount Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti National Park , and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Less famous attractions but which are worth a visit are parks in the western and southern parts of the country, such as the Selous Game Reserve. However, access to these parks may be difficult, expensive, or both, and accommodation tends to be limited, if you are not camping.
This guide brings you the following attractions:
- Arusha National Park
- Gombe Stream National Park
- Katavi National Park
- Kilimanjaro National Park
- Lake Manyara National Park
- Mahale Mountains National Park
- Mikumi National Park
- Ngorongoro Conservation Area
- Olduvai Gorge
- Ruaha National Park
- Rubondo Island National Park
- Selous Game Reserve
- Serengeti National Park
- Tarangire National Park
- Ugalla Complex
- Marine Parks
- Offshore Islands
- Historic Ruins
- Culture and Traditions
Arusha National Park
This park has three distinct zones:
Ngurdoto Crater (often called the ‘mini-Ngorongoro’);
the shallow alkaline Momella Lakes fed by underground streams (upon which rest thousands of lesser and greater flamingoes, and many migrant birds can be seen between May and October);
the densely forested slopes of Mount Meru (one of the rewarding mountains to climb in Africa and where, among other animal species, live blue monkeys and beautiful black and white colobus monkeys).
Other attractions in the park include the elephant, giraffe, buffalo, zebra, hippo, various antelopes, leopard and hyena. The park is 21 km from Arusha on the main Arusha – Moshi road. A network of gravel roads and tracks navigable by two wheel-drive vehicle link the park’s main features and viewing points. Nevertheless, a few roads require 4WD vehicles.
Those driving around the park can do without a guide. But due to the danger posed by wild animals (especially buffaloes), those on foot must take an armed guide or ranger. The same is required before climbing Mount Meru. Guides and rangers can be hired from the park headquarters at momela. Driving and walking around the Ngurdoto Crater rim is allowed, but walking down to the crater floor is forbidden.
Visitor facilities include camp sites, mountain huts, a rest house and a tourist lodge.
P.O. Box 999, Arusha
Tel (+57) 6423 or 6426
Fax (+57) 8264
P.O. Box 3134, Arusha.
Tel (+57) 3471
Gombe Stream National Park
Located 16 kilometres north of Kigoma on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, is the smallest but one of the best known of Tanzania’s national parks. It is one of the few places where chimpanzees can still be found in their natural habitat. Since 1960, Dr. Jane Goodall and colleagues have lived here studying the primates. Other attractions include the red colobus, the red-tail and blue monkeys, grey duiker, bushback and bushpig. The birds include the African and the trumpeter hornbills, Ross’s turaco, pied and giant kingfishers, and the crowned eagle.
Access to the park is only by water vessel from either Kigoma or Ujiji.
Park entry fees is US$100 per person for each 24 hours spent in the park.
Accommodation is available at a guest house and “hostel” which consists of several huts. Bring all provisions. The hostel’s library is well-stocked and worth a visit. Camping is with permission along the lakeshore.
Katavi National Park
This remote and difficult park to reach (strictly recommended for those of an adventurous spirit) lies on a high flood plain surrounding Lake Kitavi, to the south of the Mahale Mountains. The main vegetation found here is the Miombo woodland. It has a wide variety of wildlife (crocodile, hippo, leopard, lion, roan and sable antelopes, southern reedbuck, topi, eland, elephant, and one of the largest herds of buffalo, with as many as 1,600 animals) and offers excellent game viewing with a real wilderness atmosphere. The diverse woodland, acacia bush, lakes and swamps have attracted over 400 species of birds, including large flocks of pelicans. Other attractions are Lakes Katavi and Chada, which are joined by the River Katuma.
The best months to visit are July to October.
Accommodation is at designated camp sites within the park. Hotels and lodges are at Mpanda, 40 km north.
Kilimanjaro National Park
When Johann Rebman reported that he had seen at the latitude of the equator a vast mountain capped with snow, the British Geographical Society Laughed! Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and stands at 5,895 meters, three degrees south of the equator. The mountain, a dormant volcano, has two peaks – Kibo and Mawezi, which are surrounded by dense forests full of dazzling variety of flora and fauna. The area around the mountain is protected territory. The 756 sq. km lying above 2,700m comprise Kilimanjaro National Park, while parts of the lower slopes – which support five vegetation zones – are protected as forest reserves.
The main attractions are the volcanic centres; Shira, Mawezi and Kibo, and the change in forest from savannah grassland to raw forests, moorland, tundra, semi-desert, and snow.
Mount Kilimanjaro has attracted many tourists and researchers from all over the world. No visit to Tanzania’s northern circuit would be complete without at least a glimpse of Mount Kilimanjaro. It is the only peak of its size that can be climbed with relative ease by non-mountaineers, and many take the opportunity to do so. The mountain can be climbed any time of the year, although it is often wet in the rain forest zone from mid-March to May. The summit can be conquered in three days. The youngest person to have climbed it was an 11-year old and the oldest, 74 years old.
Lake Manyara National Park
Sheltering under the massive escarpment of the Great Rift Valley, and covering an area of 325 sq. km, this park is a flash of green amid an otherwise parched landscape. (In The Green Hills of Africa, Hemmingway describes the park’s magnificent hunting country.) A line of springs support the lush vegetation of a groundwater forest, where blue monkeys, baboons and the curious-looking silvery-cheeked hornbill live, among the more than 350 bird species, the most profuse being the flamingo. It is also home to large herds of buffalo, elephant, giraffe, leopard, civet, black rhino, hippo, zebra, impala, antelope, aardvark, the shy pangolin, bushbuck, waterbuck, and many others. It is also known for its hot springs and the famous tree-climbing lions that laze in the branches of the acacia trees. The park is ideal for a day trip. The best time to visit is during the dry season – January to February, and June to September. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended during the rains.
Budget accommodation is available at Mto-wa-Mbu Village. There are designated campsites in and outside the park. Other facilities include a hotel, a hostel and self-catering bandas.
Maji Moto Luxury Tented Camp
P.O. Box 2174, Arusha.
Tel (+57) 6079/7931/7880
Fax (57) 6475
P. O. Box 40097, Nairobi, Kenya.
Tel (+2) 331825 or 223131/2
Fax (+2) 212656
P.O. Box 877, Arusha
Tel (+57) 2711/2 or 2502
Fax (+57) 8502 Telex 42065 Radio Call 8-180-0.
Mahale Mountains National Park
Located at Ujiji on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, where Stanley is reputed to have met Livingstone and given the famous greeting “Dr. Livingstone I presume”. The Mahale Mountains, like Gombe, are one of the last natural home to chimpanzees and are rich in birdlife. The the park is a unique ecological zone with lowland forest, miombo and open woodlands, moist and dry savannah grasslands. Wildlife in the park includes primates, kudu, eland, roan and sable antelopes, giraffe, buffalo, elephant, lion and leopard. Access is by boat or plane, both of which are available for charter. There are no roads and all game viewing is done on foot. It is virtually the only Tanzanian park where you can walk around.
The best months to visit are May to October.
Consult park headquarters at Kigoma for advice on weather and other conditions before setting off.
Camping is allowed in specific areas. Camping equipment is available for hire. The guesthouse at Kasiha Village offers limited accommodation, but you have to bring all provisions.
Nare Sero Luxury Tented Camp
P.O. Box 425, Arusha
Tel (+57) 7171 or 2276
Fax (+57) 8642
Mikumi National Park
Located astride the main Dar to Mbeya highway, to the north of Selous Game Reserve and only 283 km from Dar-es-Salaam, the park is an important educational centre for students of ecology and conservation, having been established to protect the environment and resident animals. The Mikumi flood plain is the main feature of the park along with the bordering mountain ranges. It has a landing strip and is home to, among others, the buffalo, zebra, giraffe, lion, wild dogs, python, monitor lizard, hartebeest, wildebeest, elephant (these elephants are grazers and do not damage trees), hippo, impala, warthog, eland and antelope. Birds include the hammerkop, saddle-bill stork, and the malachite kingfisher. The vegetation is made up of woodland, grassland and swamp. There are two water holes, Mkata and Chamgore.
The park is popular as a weekend outing for Dar residents.
Both budget and luxury accommodation is available and include a tented camp, a luxury lodge and designated camp sites.
P. O. Box 1144, Morogoro
Tel (+56) 3270/2 or 4001
Fax (+56) 1001
Mikumi Wildlife Lodge
P. O. Box 62, Mikumi
Tel. 27 Mikumi.
Radio call 6037
Ngorongoro Conservation Area
This vast protected area stretches from Lake Natron (the breeding ground for East Africa’s flamingos) in the northeast, to Lake Enyasi in the south, and Lake Manyara to the east. The area includes the still active Ol-Ndoinyo Lengai (meaning “Mountain of God” in Maa, the language of the Masaai) volcano (which last erupted in 1983), Olduvai Gorge and the Ngorongoro Crater, the largest unbroken caldera in the world. It has been described as one of the great natural wonders of the world. Eight million years ago, the Ngorongoro Crater was an active volcano but its cone collapsed, forming the crater that is 610 meters deep, 20 kilometres in diameter, and covers an area of 311 sq. km. Spectacular as it is, the crater accounts for just a tenth of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The crater is home to many species of wild game and birds. With the exception of impala and topi (due to fierce competition with the wildebeest) and the giraffe (because there is not much to eat at tree level), almost every species of African plains mammal lives in the crater, including the endangered black rhino, and the densest population of predators in Africa. A strange thing is that the crater elephants are mainly bulls. The birdlife, which includes the flamingo, is mainly seasonal, and is also affected by the ratio of soda to fresh water in Lake Magadi on the crater floor.
In the northern, remote area of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area are the Olmoti and Empaakai craters, Lake Natron and Oldoinyo Lengai.
The mysterious Engakura Ruins, the remains of a terraced city and a complex irrigation system, lie on the Eastern side of Empakaai Crater. Their origins are a mystery as there is no tradition of stone building in this part of Africa.
Views from the rim of the crater are sensational. On the crater floor, grassland blends into swamps, lakes, rivers, woodland and mountains. You can descend to the floor of the crater in a four-wheel drive vehicle. Only 4WD vehicles are allowed into the crater and game rangers are compulsory for all.
The Maasai are permitted to water their cattle at the permanent lake and can be seen leading their animals in and out of the crater.
Accommodation is at luxury lodges and campsites.
Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge
P. O. Box 877, Arusha.
Tel (+57) 2711/2
Fax (+57) 8502
Tel Radio call 8-180-0 Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge
P. O. Box 1823, Arusha.
Tel (+57) 6886 or 6896
Fax (+57) 8245
Ndutu Safari Lodge
P. O. Box 6084, Arusha
Tel (+57) 6702 or 8930
Fax (+57) 8310
Ngorongoro Crater Lodge
P. O. Box 751,
Central Reservations: –
P.O. Box 751,
Tel (+57) 3530 or 3303
Fax (+57) 8268
Olduvai, more accurately called Oldupai after the wild sisal in the area, is the site of some of the most important finds of early hominid fossils of all time (made famous by the work of the Leakey family) – The “Nutcracker Man” or Australophithecus boisei who lived 1.8 million years ago. There is a small informative museum located at the visitor centre. The gorge is a treasure trove of archeological sites filled with fossils, settlement remains and stone artefacts. Lecture tours are offered.
Accommodation is at a camp site.
Ruaha National Park
At 13,000 sq. km, it is the second largest Tanzanian park and one of the wildest. It is also the world’s largest elephant sanctuary. “There is not a blade of grass here in the dry season”, says Kenyan Wildlife sculptor Rob Glen about Ruaha National Park, his home for the past two years. This is difficult to believe once the rains have started and the Great Ruaha River is swollen to a mighty torrent strong enough to drag an adult hippo downstream. Glen, like watercolour artist Sue Stolberger, has special permission from Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) to live in the country’s second largest National Park. Both camp alongside the northern bank of the river, and are actively involved in the conservation of the spectacular and abundant wildlife upon which they base their work.
The park represents a transition zone where eastern and southern African species of fauna and flora overlap. It is the northernmost example of miombo woodland, common in central Africa, and the most southerly protected area in which Grant’s gazelle, lesser kudu and striped hyena are found. To be able to see both greater and lesser kudu and roan and sable antelope in the same park is one of the special attractions of Ruaha. In the dry season, the river is an excellent place for observing large numbers of game including lions, leopards, hunting dogs, giraffe, waterbuck, eland and warthogs. Thousands of birds flock to Ruaha on their annual migration from Europe to Asia, and 465 bird species have been sighted in the park. The park’s residents include kingfishrs, plovers, hornbills, green wood hoopoes, bee-eaters, sunbirds and egrets.
Britain’s bilateral aid programme to Tanzania is funding a project to prepare a management plan for the Ruaha ecosystem, and to ‘direct benefits from wildlife’ to the communities living in the game-controlled area, or ‘buffer zone’, adjacent to the park. Hunting by tourists and local residents goes on inside the area, explains project leader Dawn Hartley, as well as some poaching by the latter, “so its conservation presented a complex problem for the wildlife authorities”. Work carried out so far includes assisting four villages to establish wildlife committees, select their own game scouts and organise meat utilisation schemes.
Access is by road. The best months for game viewing are July and November when the animals are concentrated around shrinking water holes. During the rest of the year the tracks are almost impassable.
Camping is permitted at various sites including around the park headquarters at Masembe. There are bandas equipped with beds at the headquarters. Essentials except food and drink are provided. There is also a lodge and a tented camp.
Ruaha River Camp
P. O. Box 3052, Dar-es-Salaam,
Tel. (+51) 3747/80 or 30934
Fax. (+51) 46045
Telex 41150 CSI-TZ.
P. O. Box 369,
Iringa – Tanzania.
Rubondo Island National Park
It is surrounded by islets and unlike other parks cars are prohibited on the island.
Selous Game Reserve
The pristine reserve, a World Heritage Site since 1982, comprises an area of 55,000 sq. km, covering about six per cent of Tanzania’s land surface. Larger than Switzerland, it is the world’s largest game reserve and second only to the Serengeti in its concentration of wildlife. It is also the sanctuary of the biggest elephant herd in the world, about 32,000 elephants live in the reserve – 70 per cent of those in Tanzania. The reserve is difficult to describe without the use of superlatives. Named after British hunter and writer Frederick Courteney Selous who was killed during the First World War in the Beho Beho region (of the reserve), the reserve is part of the 75,000 square kilometre Selous ecosystem, which includes Mikumi National Park, the Kilombero Game Controlled Areas and sparsely populated areas towards Kilwa and Dar es Salaam. It encompasses a wide variety of habitats, including open grasslands, acacia and miombo woodlands and extensive riverine forests. The reserve contains some of Africa’s largest and most important populations of buffalo and hunting dogs. There are also populations of black rhino in isolated areas. The swamps form an important habitat for wetland plants, reptiles and resident and migratory birds. The tourist sector of the Selous Game Reserve, which is located north of the Rufiji rivers, contains all the forms of vegetation found in the ecosystem, including savanna with its mbugas, patches of sticky black cotton soil that form a perilous trap to motorists during the rainy season. Tall borassus palms grow alongside the river, dying off when the water level drops, leaving eery looking collections of what look like giant cigars. The river supports an abundance of wildlife including elephants, hippos, crocodiles and plains game, not to mention a spectacular variety, and number, of bird species.
The rapid increase in poaching for ivory and rhino horn in the 1980s led to a catastrophic decline in Tanzania’s elephant and rhino populations, and the Government approached the international community for assistance to conserve its wildlife. The Selous Conservation Programme (SCP) began in 1988, as part of Tanzania’s and Germany’s bilateral cooperation agreement. Its objectives are to safeguard the existence and ecological integrity of the reserve as a conservation area, and to significantly reduce conflicts between the reserve and the local population by encouraging a programme of sustainable wildlife utilisation by local villages. Wild animals can kill people and livestock, and damage crops in the villages near the reserve, explains Dr. Ludwig Siege, coordinator of the SCP, and despite legal restrictions on hunting, a scarcity of meat leads people to hunt wild animals illegally for food, “and this leads to conflict with wildlife authorities”.
Yet in order to be successful, he adds, conservation has to be practised “with” and “through” the people, and not against them. An example of such cooperation is a research project underway to develop non-lethal means of deterring elephants from damaging crops, which includes the use of flares and rockets.
Only low volume/high price tourism is encouraged in Selous Game Reserve, states the SCP project brief, in order to avoid high volume ‘package’ tourism. The Tanzanian Government recognises that its wildlife sanctuaries need to be protected, and this means restricting visitor numbers and development. Management and conservation plans have been drawn up by experts from the ODA, WWF and the Frankfurt Zoological Institute, to name but a few, for all parks and reserves. The maintenance of relatively high entrance fees – visitors must pay US$20 on entering national parks is “a valuable mechanism to controlling visitor inflows”, says Tanzania Tourist Board chairman Hatim Karimjee, “and must continue to be reviewed upwards as demand increases”. It is not inconceivable, he adds, that within the next five years some smaller parks may have to limit visitor numbers.
The reseve can be reached from Dar-es-Salaam by road, air-charter and rail. The best time to go is in the cool season, between the end of June and the end of October. The parks’ lodges and campsites are closed from April to June.
Exploring the park on foot (in the company of an armed guide) is allowed, and walking safaris are conducted from all the camps in the reserve. Boat trips up the Rufigi River are also available.
Available accommodation in lodges and luxury tented camps based in the park’s extreme northern end. There are no budget facilities or camp sites. Visitor facilities include five tented camps: –
Selous Safari Camp
P. O. Box 1192, Dar es Salaam
Tel (+51) 28485 or 35638
Fax (+51) 46988
Telex 81016 Stiegler’s Gorge Camp
P. O. Box 9320, Dar es Salaam
Tel (+51) 48724
Telex (+51) 48724
Telex. (+51) 41135
Mbuyu Safari Camp
P. O. Box (+51)31957/32671
Fax (+51) 38758
Rufigi River Camp
P. O. Box 20058,
Dar es Salaam.
Tanzania. Sand Rivers Selous Nomad Safari
P. O. Box 70192,
Dar es Salaam.
Tel (+51) 46862
Fax (+51) 46863
Telex (+51) 41135
Serengeti National Park
Covering an area of 14,763 square kilometres, equal in size to Northern Ireland, the world famous Serengeti National Park is Tanzania’s oldest park, and one of the world’s last great wildlife refuges. It is contiguous with Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve and stretches as far as Lake Victoria to the West. Its name comes from the Maasai word Siringet, meaning ‘endless plains’. The park’s vegetation ranges from the short and long grass plains in the south, to the acacia savannah in the centre and wooded grasslands concentrated around the tributaries of the Grumenti and the Mara rivers in the park. The western corridor is a region of wooded highland and extensive plains reaching the edge of Lake Victoria. In the early morning and evening light, the Serengeti landscape is stunningly beautiful.
The Serengeti ecosystem supports the greatest remaining concentration of plains game in Africa, including more than three million large mammals. It is the sanctuary of an estimated four million different animals and birds. The animals roam the park freely and in the spectacular migrations, huge herds of wild animals move to other areas of the park in search of greener grazing grounds (requiring over 4,000 tons of grass each day) and water. The annual migration into Kenya (in a continuous search of water and pasture) of more than 1.5 million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebra and gazelle is triggered by the rains and usually starts in May, at the end of the wet season. Called the Great Migration, this constitutes the most breathtaking event in the animal kingdom ever known to humans. As the dry season intensifies, the herds drift out towards the west, one group to the north (to Lake Victoria, where there is permanent water), the other northeast heading for the permanent waters of the northern rivers and the Mara. The immigration instinct is so strong that animals die in the rivers as they dive from the banks into the raging waters to be dispatched by crocodiles. The survivors concentrate in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve until the grazing there is exhausted, when they turn south along the eastern and final stage of the migration route.
Before the main exodus, the herds are a spectacular sight, massed in huge numbers with the week and crippled at the tail end of the procession, followed by the patient vigilant predators, including lions (the adult males of Serengeti have characteristic black manes), cheetahs, hunting dogs and spotted hyena.
The migration coincides with the breeding season, which causes fights among the males.
The best months for visiting are December to February, and May to July.
Accommodation is available in luxury lodges and tented camps. Budget accommodation is at designated camp sites.
Seronera Wildlife Lodge
P. O. Box 3100, Arusha.
Tel (+57) 2711/2
Fax (+57) 8502
Tel Radio call 8-180-0 Grumeti River Camp
P. O. Box 2174, Arusha.
Tel (+57) 6079/7931/7880
Fax (+57) 6475
P. O. Box 40097, Nairobi, Kenya.
Tel (+2) 331825 or 223131/2
Fax (+2) 212656
Serengeti Sopa Lodge
P. O. Box 1823, Arusha.
Tel (+57) 6886 or 6896.
Fax (+57) 8245
Lobo Wildlife Lodge
P. O. Box 3100, Arusha.
Tel (+57) 2711/2
Fax (+57) 8502
Tel Radio call 8-180-0 Kijireshi Tented Camp
P. O. Box 190, Mwanza.
P.O. Box 409, Dar-es-Salaam.
Tel (+51) 36134/44491
Fax (+51) 46400/44332
Serena Lodges and Hotels
P. O. Box 2551, Arusha
Tel (+57) 8175
Fax (+57) 8282
Lodges in the Serengeti and Lake Manyara national parks opened at the end of 1995. The lodge at the Ngorongoro Crater and the tented camp at the Grumeti River opened in spring 1996.
Tarangire National Park
The park’s permanent water supply ensures a huge and varied animal population, especially during the dry season when it rivals that of the Serengeti. The animals include large herds of elephants, rhino, buffalo, zebra, lesser and greater kudu, eland, wildebeest, hartebeest, gerenuk, impala and fringe-eared oryx. This attractive park, with its statuesque baobab trees, is the main refuge for wildlife from the surrounding part of the Great Rift Valley during the dry season. Prime game viewing months are between September and December.
It is also an excellent place for birdwatching. The best birdwatching months being October to May.
Accommodation is available in a luxury tented lodge and at camp sites. Tarangire Safari Lodge
P.O. Box 1182, Arusha.
Tel (+57) 7182
This includes Ugalla and Uwanda reserves, and Mlele, Msima Inyunga, Ugunda and Rungwa River game controlled area complex. These game reserves and game controlled areas are located in Tabora and Ruka regions, with a common boundary. Their combined area is 50 sq. km, nearly equal to Selous Game Reserve, which is located about 200km south of Tabora town.
Tanzania has an 804-kilometre long coastline boasting of the finest unpolluted beaches in Africa. The entire coastline is covered by coconut palms, offering a serene atmosphere for repose. The coastline offers unlimited opportunities for bathing and water sports.
Kilwa Reserve: One of the few places where the Dugong (Dugong Dugong) can be seen.
Other marine parks include Tanga Coral Gardens, Rufigi Delta and Latham Island Reserve
The largest are the clove rich islands of Zanzibar and Pemba. Zanzibar is dotted with tourist attractions ranging from its historic buildings with unique architecture, narrow and winding streets and, rich culture and traditions.
Slightly off the coast south of Dar es Salaam lies Mafia Island, a diver’s paradise. The Island is one of the most popular deep sea fishing locations in the world, offering opportunities for scuba diving, snorkelling, and big game fishing.
Tanzania is full of historical relics. These include the ruins of Zanzibar, Bagamoyo, Kilwa, and the Stone Age remains of Ismani, and the Olduvai Gorge (pupolarly known as the “cradle of mankind”) which lies between the Serengeti and Ngorongoro. The Amboni caves and rock paintings of Kondoa Irangi in Central Tanzania are other destinations for the curious and adventurous tourist. It was here in 1959, where the famous Dr. Louis Leakey unearthed fossils of the early man.
Culture and Traditions
Tanzania has about 126 major different ethnic communities with their vernaculars, cultures, traditions and customs. National cohension has been attained partly through the use of the national language – Kiswahili – and the interaction of the country’s people. The cultures, traditions and customs manifest themselves in unique tourist attractions in the form of rich traditional dances, handicraft such as weaving and pottery and art in the form of paintings and wood carvings of the Makonde ethnic community of south Tanzania.