Mkomazi National Park

Size: 3,245 sq km (1,240 sq miles)
Established: 1951 as a game reserve, 2006 as a national park
Distance from Arusha: 190 km (118 miles)

Highlights:

The Mkomazi National Park is located in the northern part of Tanzania, between Moshi and Tanga. The park finds itself in a beautiful setting with both the Pare and Usambara mountains towering above its boundaries. Depending on the weather, Mount Kilimanjaro can also be seen from the park.

In terms of vegetation, Mkomazi marks the southern tip of the Sahel zone which resembles that of a dry, desert like landscape. Due to the climate, the vegetation primarily consist of acacia-commiphora woodlands and towards the western mountains the vegetation changes to a dry land forest.

The main source of water in Mkomazi comes from the Umba River in the southeast. Apart from that, the park sees very little precipitation all year round making game drives along the river area definitely worthwhile.

The most famous members of the Mkomazi natives are surely the African wild dogs and the endangered black rhinos that live in a private sanctuary. This park is also one of the best places to see large herds of oryx and gerenuks roaming freely in the open bush land. Other small and large mammals that call Mkomazi their home include lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, jackals, elephants, buffaloes, hartebeests, giraffes and warthogs.

A healthy population of 450 bird species are also found in the park and several species can be seen during a game drive. The most commonly seen species include go away birds, ostriches, long crested eagles, hoopoes and bustards. Around the Umba River, sightings of kingfishes, flamingos, cormorants, plovers, ducks and crocodiles basking on the banks are common.

Mount Kilimanjaro National Park

Size: 1,668 sq km (641 sq miles)
Established: 1921 established as a forest reserve, 1973 as a national park and declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1987.
Distance from Arusha: 128 km (80 miles)

More Detailed Info:

Kilimanjaro National Park is home to the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free standing mountain in the world. Mount Kilimanjaro is made up of three volcanoes, Shira in the west (4,269 m) Mawenzi in the east (5,280 m) and the youngest volcano Kibo (5,895m). Shira and Mawenzi are extinct and the last major eruption of Kibo was between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago. Today Kibo is dormant but could awaken any day.

The vegetation on the mountain is also very varied and some 2,500 species of plants are found here including the endemic and beautiful red and yellow impatiens kilimanjari as well as the colorful violet viola. The lower regions of the park are dominated by lush green montane forests with almost 140 species of trees. A bit higher up, distinctive giant lobelias grace the moorland zone. Above 4,000 m one finds the moonlike desert, where not much grows and the land is full of rocks and dust. Closer to the summit, hikers will be rewarded with beautiful sights of glaciers and a deep crater.

Out of the approximately 140 mammal species that live in the park, 87 of them are forest species. Animals that roam here include elephants, leopards, buffaloes, varies antelopes including the rare and endangered abbot duiker as well as primates such as the colobus and the mitis monkey. In addition hereto, 24 species of bats and 179 highland bird species have also been spotted in the Kilimanjaro National Park.

The majority of visitors to the park are hikers. As is to be expected, all have the same goal in mind – to make it to Africa’s highest peak. There are seven official routes to choose from with Marangu being one of the easiest routes for unexperienced hikers and those in search for a bit more comfort (overnights take place in huts). The Rongai route is the quietest route and the best choice if you are climbing in the rainy season as this part of the mountain gets the least precipitation. Camping routes include Lemosho, Shira and Machame and all are a bit more challenging but also much more scenic. The most demanding but also the least used route is Umbwe. Apart from Marangu and Rongai all other routes descend on the Mweka route.

Arusha National Park

Size: 552 sq km (212 sq miles)
Established: 1960
Distance from Arusha: 25 km (15 miles)

Description:

A green jewel and home to the fourth highest mountain in Africa – Mount Meru (4,566 m). Anyone visiting this park will be thrilled by the breathtaking landscapes ranging from the Meru Crater in the west, the Ngurdoto Crater in the south-east to the grasslands and of course the alkaline Momella lakes in the north-east.

Highlights:

This park is often overlooked by visitors, worried they will not see that much wildlife. However Arusha National Park has such a lot to offer and dazzles with a perfect mix of flora and fauna and diversified landscapes. Passing the “small Serengeti” during a game drive, you are likely to spot peaceful herds of buffaloes, shy bushbucks on the edge of the forest as well as warthogs and zebras. Heading towards the Ngurdoto Crater you will soon find yourself in a lush rainforest – a great place to spot the athletic black and white colobus monkey as well as the elegant mitis monkey. The Ngurdoto Crater is basically a smaller version of the Ngorongoro Crater and has a diameter of about 3 km. With a bit of luck you might even spot buffaloes in the swamps on the crater floor.

Due to the low numbers of predators in the park, walking safaris are permitted. This is a must for anyone wanting to get a closer look at the moss covered trees and the occasional red hot pokers as well as for those wanting to get up close to wildlife. Most common sightings whilst on a walking safari include buffaloes, warthogs, giraffes and a variety of birds such as the silvery cheeked hornbill, little bee-eater and the occasional long crested eagle. The walk takes visitors to the refreshing Tululusia waterfalls and back to the Momella gate.

On the way towards the Momella Lakes, visitors are in for a treat as common waterbucks and reedbucks love to hang around the lake shore. An array of water birds like cormorants, kingfishers and beautiful flamingos are also often spotted. There are seven alkaline lakes to be seen and each lake has a different salt concentration. Visitors also have the option of going on a canoe trip on the small Momella Lake.

Arusha National Park is also home to about a handful of African elephants but due to their constant movement they are hardly ever spotted. The same goes for leopards which roam the vast foggy forests of Mt Meru.

Lake Manyara National Park

Size: 330 sq km (130 sq miles) of which 200 sq km (77 sq miles) are
lake when water levels are high
Established: 1960
Distance from Arusha: 126 km (78 miles)

Description:

Lake Manyara National Park is one of the smaller national parks in Tanzania but still offers beautiful landscapes and is home to an interesting collection of wildlife. The lake itself is a soda lake / alkaline lake and reaches a maximum depth of 3.7 m. The vegetation changes from ground water forests to flood plains and finally to acacia wood plains.

Highlights:

For bird enthusiasts this park is truly rewarding as it is home to over 400 species of birds. Other inhabitants of the park include elephants, buffaloes, hippos, baboons, waterbucks, impalas, giraffes, zebras and wildebeests. The park has an abundant population of leopards but sightings are rare due to the thick vegetation. With a bit of luck visitors can catch a glimpse of the renowned “tree climbing” lions.

Detailed Information about the park:

Upon entering the Lake Manyara National Park visitors are greeted by ground water forest which boasts with ancient mahogany trees, giant fig trees as well as kapok trees. It is a common site to see the crystal clear water seeping directly out of the ground. This area is always lush green and is also home to the olive baboons who proudly call Manyara their home. Troops of up to 150 individuals joyfully playing and foraging around in the forest can be seen.

Elegant bushbucks can be seen grazing almost soundlessly. From time to time the peace of the forest is disrupted by the trumpeting calls of the silvery cheeked hornbills who enjoy perching on top of the giant trees.

As you continue, the ground water forest transforms into a flash of greens and yellows signalling the arrival of the acacia forest. Vervet monkeys as well as the noisy red billed hornbills are common residents here. A must stop is the new hippo viewing deck from which visitors can gaze upon these large mammals going about their business. Water birds like blacksmith plovers, little egrets and herons are just a few of the many birds to be seen here. Large herds of wildebeests, zebras and buffaloes like to gather on the open flood plains from where they graze and can keep a look out for approaching predators.

The acacia woodlands deeper in the park are famous for the renowned “tree climbing lions”. These large cats have evolved over generations to add tree climbing to their daily activity.

The lake itself receives its water primarily from the Simba River in the north and the Makuyuni River in the east. However the rift valley also provides a lot of water mainly in the rainy season. The ground water forest also feeds the swamps that eventually flow into the lake.

Tarangire National Park

Size: 2,850 sq km (1100 sq miles)
Established: 1970
Distance from Arusha: 118 km (73 miles)

Description:

Tarangire National Park has a healthy population of creatures both big and small. The park has plenty of resident animals although some tend to migrate depending on the time of year. The most commonly seen animals are elephants, giraffes, impalas, warthogs, zebras, wildebeests, dwarf mongoose and ostriches. Lions can however also be seen, as well as leopards and on some rare occasions even wild dogs have been spotted. Furthermore the park is home to 550 species of birds and the greater and lesser Kudus as well as oryx also roam the park.

Tarangire National park with its baobab crested landscape is scenically one of the most beautiful parks. Baobab trees tower above the savannah and these age old trees play a vital role in the eco system as they act as homes for bees, birds and bats. In addition hereto they provide nourishing fruit and supply animals such elephants with indirect water especially during the drier months.

During the months of June to September the park witnesses a small migration during which thousands of wildebeests and zebras head to the park for better grazing grounds. Elephants and other animals follow suit to gather along the Tarangire River, the only permanent water source in the park. It has been claimed, that up to 2000 elephants reside in the park during these months with some coming as far as from Ambsoseli National Park in Kenya.

Cats are also very much present in the park and lions can be found soaking up the sun on the river banks, whereas leopards are sometimes spotted resting in the baobab trees. Cheetahs are around but usually like to stay hidden from unsuspecting prey.

African wild dogs have been seen towards the southern part of the park and seeing that the numbers of these efficient hunters are dropping, spotting them can be a real treat.

But it is not only mammals you need to look out for while in Tarangire National Park as the park also boast with 550 different bird species.

The most commonly seen birds include yellow collared lovebirds, red billed hornbills, southern ground hornbills, lilac breasted rollers, ostriches, many kinds of raptors as well as several kinds of water birds just to name a few.

The Tarangire River flows all year round and it is an important life line for many of its residents, especially in the dry months. The river flows into Lake Burunge which is situated in the northwest.

The south of the park is dominated by marsh land, which is impassable in the wet season but tends to dry out completely in the dry season. The vegetation within the park is extremely diversified and includes open grasslands, savannah, Baobab trees and thick acacia bush as well as palm trees and swamps full of tall elephant grass in the south. Walking safaris are also offered in the southern part of the park.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Size: 8,292 sq km (3201 sq miles)
Established: 1959
Distance from Arusha: 180 km (110 miles)

Description:

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area was officially declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979. The area consists of various landscapes and includes dense mountain forests, woodlands, grasslands, lakes and swamps. Some of the most important archeological sites in the world, such as Oldupai Gorge and Laetoli can be found in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Archeologists found evidence showing that the area was occupied by hominids over 3 million years ago and thus claiming that it could be the birthplace of mankind.

And then of course there is the Ngorongoro Crater, the largest unbroken, inactive and unfilled caldera in the world. With a diameter of approximately 19 km (12 miles) and its majestic walls that rise just over 610 m (2000 feet), the crater floor covers an area of 260 sq km (100 sq miles). Over 30,000 animals including the rare black rhino call this unique place their home. Today over 40,000 Masais reside in the area making the Ngorongoro Conservation Area one of the only places in Tanzania where human habitation is allowed within a wildlife protected area. The conservation shares a boundary with the Serengeti National Park and one must drive through the conservation in order to get to the Serengeti.

Highlights:

The crater floor is covered by various landscapes that range from dense mountain forests and woodlands to grasslands, lakes and swamps. Water sources include the two main rivers, Munge River in the west and Lerai River in the east as well as the Ngotokitok spring that spills into a swamp.

Huge herds of ungulates dominate the crater floor with zebras, wildebeests, elands, Grant’s and Thompson’s gazelles being the species most commonly seen. But the crater is also home to the “big five” and elephants, lions and buffaloes are often spotted. Leopards are rarely seen as the prefer staying in the forests on the crater rim. The almost extinct black rhino can also be found in the crate and sightings aren’t rare either. Serval cats, spotted hyenas and jackals are also often seen while cheetahs are more difficult to spot.

But it is not only mammals that reside in the conservtion and great numbers of lesser flamingos can be seen at Lake Magadi, a primarily alkaline lake. Other common birds include ostriches, kori bustards, crowned cranes, white backed vultures, black kites, cattle egrets, tawny eagles, augur buzzards and many more.

A walk along the Ngorongoro Crater rim accompanied by an armed ranger takes visitors on a path created by livestock, pass moss covered trees and Masai bomas, offering breath-taking views of the crater below.