Tanzania is serious about conserving its natural beauty. This is evident in the 14 national parks that dot the landscape. Each of these parks' main focus is conservation. The goal is to protect the fragile natural beauty from a growing human population.
Many of these parks are designated as World Heritage sites, ensuring the future of these diverse ecosystems. Tanzania's National Parks (TANPA) is even now busy acquiring even more land to further their conservation goals.
Arusha National Park
Covering the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro's neighbour, Mount Meru, the Arusha National park covers 137 km². While not large, this small area contains a variety of wildlife in three distinct geographical regions.
From the grassy plains of the Ngurodoto crater to the colourful algae-filled waters of the Momella Lakes, the park offers a combination of beautiful scenery and diverse wildlife.
Diverse species of wading birds and common African wildlife wander throughout the park with giraffe, buffalo, zebra and warthog being easy to see. This is one of the few places where the colobus monkey and blue monkeys are also easy to spot.
Lying in the shadow of Mount Meru, this small park is gem that is easy to miss, but hard to forget.
Gombe Stream National Park
One of the smallest parks in Tanzania, Gombe Stream National Park is one of the most endearing. At only 52 km², this stretch of forest on the northern edge of Lake Tanganyika, is home to a great number of primates and is famous as the location where Dr Jane Goodall did her ground-breaking research on chimpanzees.
The park is a mixture of steep valleys, lush grassland, alpine bamboo and evergreen rainforest. Throughout this lush area, chimpanzees and other primates roam freely without the interference of human hands. Amongst the primates that have been seen are chimpanzees, beachcomber olive baboons, red-tailed monkeys, colobus monkeys, vervet monkeys and anubis baboons.
The monkeys share their home with a number of bird species and other animals as well, making this park an experience of a lifetime.
Mahale Mountains National Park
This park is one of the most remote places in the country. Only reachable by boat, this 1 613 km² area is the only other protected area for chimpanzees in Tanzania.
The park is situated in the Mahale Mountains on the shores of lake Tanganyika. It is the only park in the country that does not have any infrastructure within the park itself and needs to be traversed on foot. This offers a unique safari experience for visitors as they explore the virgin woodlands.
After an exploratory journey through the mountainside forest, visitors can take a dip in the dark waters of the deepest lake in Africa. This lake is also home to over 1 000 fish species. Then they leave the same way they came – by boat – leaving nothing but their footprints as a sign of their passage.
Lake Manyara National Park
Lake Manyara that dominates the 330 km² of this park's expanse. The roads inside the park circle the lake, allowing visitors to see most of the park and its attractions in a single circuit.
The lake is a large, shallow freshwater lake that is home to massive flocks of flamingoes in the shallow waters, and large troops of baboons that live in the groundwater forests surrounding the lake. The baboons and flamingos share the park with hippos, impala, elephants, wildebeests, buffalo, warthogs and giraffe. Though rarely seen, leopards are also seen from time to time.
Mikumi National Park
Situated next to the massive Selous National Park, the Mikumi National Park seems to be tiny in comparison. Yet this 3 230 km² park is compared favourably to the Serengeti.
The park is divided into two distinct areas. To the north west, lies an alluvial plain characterised with savannah vegetation where most of the animals that roam the park can be found. The other side is more rocky and arid and, while the animals are a little scarcer, sighting of leopards are not uncommon.
Along with the 400 bird species that have been spotted in the park, it also boasts a healthy population of elephants, zebra, gnu, impala, eland, kudu, baboons, wildebeests and buffalo. By far the park's main attraction are the hippo pools just 5 kilometres from the park entrance.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Like a lost valley in the heart of Africa, the high rocky walls hide a lush grassy plain where herds of zebra, wildebeest and buffalo graze seemingly unaware of the presence of humanity. The Ngorongoro Crater is the heart of the conservation area and is a wondrous sight to behold.
The entire area encompasses 8 288 km² and hosts large populations of a diversity of animals. It is also one of the few conservation areas in the world where people live inside a conservation area.
The crater itself is the largest dry volcanic caldera in the world. It is 610 metres deep and covers over 260 km². On the rim, elephants and leopards make their home while rhinoceros, cheetahs, lions, eland and many other animals call the caldera home.
Ruaha National Park
While not as famous as the Serengeti, the Ruaha National Park is the largest national park in Tanzania with an area of 20 200 km². Located in central Tanzania, it is primarily a semi-arid country of brush and golden savannah.
The main attraction is the large number of elephants that live here. The park boasts the largest population of elephants in eastern Africa with over 10 000 animals. Other animals share the park with them and there is also a large diversity of antelope that migrate across the park in search of food.
Predators are many and mighty prides of lions and solitary leopards are often seen. Ruaha also has a large population of African wild dogs.
During the dry season, visitors have a good chance of seeing the animals that make this park their home. In the wet season, the area turns into a lush, flower-covered Eden that is perfect for seeing the more than 436 bird species that migrate here from the north.
Serengeti National Park
The most well-known park in Tanzania, if not the world, is the Serengeti. Established in 1951, the Serengeti encompasses 14 763 km² near the northern border of the country.
Golden in the dry season and verdant in the rainy season, the Serengeti is famous for the migration of millions of wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebras annually. Over 90 000 tourists visit the area every year to catch a glimpse of this spectacle.
The park is home to a healthy stock of diverse African wildlife including the elusive Big 5 – lion, leopard, buffalo, rhinoceros and elephant. Other 'iconic' African animals also roam freely including giraffe, warthog, various species of antelope, hyena and many, many more. Conservation efforts are taken very seriously and no human habitation is allowed within the park's boundaries aside from the lodges and safari camps.
Tarangire National Park
Home to herds of elephants and an annual destination for animals seeking water in the dry season, the Tarangire National Park is named for the river that flows through this 2 600 km² stretch of savannah.
During the wet season, the park seems almost deserted as animals spread out to take advantage of the lush greenery that covers the landscape. But, when the rains stop and the river shrinks, they congregate around the single lifeline. This is when visitors can see the great diversity of animals that call this area home.
Udzungwa National Park
The Eastern Arc Mountains rise up from the coast of Tanzania into forest covered slopes wreathed in mist. Udzungwa National Park is the only one of the ranges delineated as a national park. It is one of the largest of the forested mountains, rich with diverse fauna and flora. While not a typical game viewer's destination, it is a favourite destination of hikers.
The park covers 1 990 km²and hosts a number of animals and plants that are endemic to the area. The Iringa red colobus and Sanje Crested Mangabey are two primate species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Bird watchers can look out for 400 species of birds that make the forest their home.
The seamless canopy, with trees reaching heights of 30 metres span altitudes of 250 to 2 000 metres without interruption. Below, the buttressed trees are homes to fungi, lichens, ferns, mosses and the beautiful African violet.
With its rich diversity of animals and plants, it is no wonder than some people call Udzungwa National Park the Galapagos of Africa.