Udzungwa Mountains National Park

Size: 1,990 sq km (770 sq miles)
Established: 1992
Distance from Dar es Salaam: 350 km (215 miles)

Description:

The biodiversity of this park is by far one of Tanzania’s most special features. Habitats include mountain forests, tropical rainforests, Miombo woodlands, grasslands and steppe. The Udzungwa Mountains are part of the Eastern Arc Mountains which are found in Kenya and Tanzania and were formed some 200 million years ago. Today they hold a unique collection of flora and fauna and cover only 2% of Tanzania’s area but hold between 30-40% of the countries plant and mammal species.

The vertical height of the Udzungwa forests ranges from 250 m to 2,576 m and with numerous forest trails, offering different kinds of activities, the park is a true hikers paradise. A half day tour to Sanje waterfall at a towering 170 m is definitely worth doing.

The park is also home to 6 species of primates, 2 of which (Iringa red colobus and the Sanje crested Mangabey) occur nowhere else in the world.
Mammals found in the park include elephants, leopards, bush bucks, duikers, palm civets, Miombo genets, elephant shrews and hyenas.
Bird watchers are also in for a treat as the park boasts with over 400 species of birds. Some of them are endemic to the Eastern Arc Mountains and four of them are found only in Udzungwa. Other common birds include ruppells vultures, marabous, crowned eagles, malachite kingfishers, woodland kingfishers, silvery cheeked hornbills and trumpeter hornbills.
Over 2500 species of plants have been discovered in the park of which 25% are endemic to the area.

Research is still ongoing and as this park is so secretive it isn’t yet known what else can be found here. Recently a new species of snakes was found in the park and it is claimed to be endemic.

Ruaha National Park

Size: 13,000 sq km (5,000 sq miles)
Established: 1964
Distance from Dar es Salaam: 625 km (388 miles)

Overview:

The vegetation in Ruaha National Park differs drastically between flat treeless savannahs, Miombo woodlands, dry bush lands, swamps and riverine forests. Almost 1650 different plant species can be found in the park, creating a one of a kind botanical paradise.

The park is named after the great Ruaha River of which 160 km flow through the park. It is the most distinctive feature of the park and for its residents the most important. Apart from the river the park is well known for its varied scenery – from large open plains to rolling hills, river systems to wetlands and kopjes to mountains. The Ruaha National Park marks the transition zone where eastern and southern species of flora and fauna overlap. The Great Rift Valley also runs through the park with escarpment walls rising between 50 and 100 m in height. Natural springs associated with the rift valley are scattered throughout the park.

During the dry season, the majestic Ruaha River becomes nothing more than a few precious waterholes that predators take complete advantage of. Laying silently in wait, knowing that thirst will drive herds of impalas, gazelles and other antelopes to come drink. The riverine vegetation on the shores around the river helps provide enough cover for lions, leopards, cheetahs, wild dogs and hyenas making it the best hunting ground in the park.

The Ruaha National Park is famous for having one of the highest concentration of African elephants in East Africa. Huge numbers of up to 200 are often spotted below giant baobab trees. Furthermore the park is home to both species of kudu (greater and lesser) as well as the majestic sable and roan antelopes both of which are frequently seen.

But ornithologists are also in for a treat as up to 529 species have been sighted in the park. Some of the famous birds include the endemic Ruaha red billed hornbill, kingfishers, sunbirds, black collared lovebirds, ashy starlings, ground hornbills, bateleurs, fish eagles and many more.

Mikumi National Park

Size: 3,230 sq km (1,250 sq miles)
Established: 1964
Distance from Dar es Salaam: 283 km (175 miles)

Description:

The landscapes in Mikumi National Park can easily be compared to those of the Serengeti National Park as acacias, baobabs and tamarinds dot the savannah. The Ruhebo and Uluguru mountains as well as some interesting rock formations can be seen close to the northern boundary of the park and the Mkata plains are by far the best place for game viewing. The park is famous for its healthy populations of elephants and buffaloes which can easily be spotted out on the plains. The tamarind trees are a favourite spot for elephants and giraffes who spend hours eating the fruits.

Another highlight in terms of wildlife is the greater kudus and sable antelopes. These shy antelopes like to hang around the Miombo woodlands in the southern part of the park near the Vuma hills area.

The Mkata plains are also a great place for birding. Mikumi boasts with a respectful 400 species of birds with the most common ones being the black bellied bustards, guinea fowls, marabou storks, bateleur eagles, ox peckers, colorful lilac breasted rollers and yellow throated long claws. These are just a few of the many species you are likely to spot whilst there. The park also witnesses a passing of migrating birds from Europe during the rainy season.

Mikumi National Park is also home to lions as well as leopards. Even the African wild dog is present and spotting this rare creature can be a real treat for visitors.

There are two artificial pools approximately 5 km north of the main gate and both of them are famous for Mikumi’s few hippos. Furthermore the pools attract an array of water birds such as blacksmith plovers, cattle egrets, various herons, fish eagles and many more.

As Mikumi National Park is part of the Selous ecosystem it always has a good number of wildlife moving in and out of the park. This constant movement is however being disrupted due to the A7 tarmac road that runs through the park.

Selous Game Reserve

Size: 54,600 sq km (21,100 sq miles)
Established: 1922 – became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1982
Distance from Dar es Salaam: 200 km (124 miles)

Highlights:

Selous is by far the largest game reserve in Africa and it is also bigger than Switzerland! It was named after the famous English hunter/explorer Sir Frederick Courtney Selous who died in 1917 during WW1 in Beho Beho.

Selous has many diverse habitats and the land is made up of a mixture of Miombo woodlands, rolling hills, savannahs, rocky outcrops, swamps, lakes and rivers. The majestic Rufiji River, the largest river in Tanzania, is the lifeblood of the reserve and along with a network of many tributaries, lakes, lagoons and channels, plays a vital role to the ecosystem.

The Selous Game Reseve is divided into two parts. The northern Selous covers only about 5% of the reserves total area and it is purely dedicated to photographic safaris.

The southern Selous is the area south of the Rufiji River and it is split up in to several hunting concessions which are leased out to professional trophy hunting companies.

When visiting Selous for a safari, visitors will travel to the northern part, which thrives with wildlife. Large concentrations of buffaloes, hippos, wildebeests, impalas, zebras, gazelles, hartebeests, giraffes, waterbucks, kudus, roan antelopes, sable antelopes and crocodiles are all found here.

Selous is also home to almost 3000-4000 lions, and is considered to have half of Tanzania’s elephant population within its boundaries! In addition thereto it is also home to the endangered African wild dog and black rhino. Leopards are also very much at home here and they prefer to live in the Miombo woodlands area.

With its more than 440 species, Selous is also a perfect spot for ornithologists. The most commonly seen species are African spoonbills, white fronted bee-eaters, white headed vultures, African fish eagles, spur-winged lapwings, francolins and many more.

The reserve offers a variety of activities for guest to choose from. In addition to regular game drives, visitors can go on a boat safari or walk in the footsteps of people like Hemingway during a walking safari accompanied by an armed ranger.