The Serengeti is easily Tanzania’s most famous national park, and it’s also the largest, at 14,763 square kilometres of protected area that borders Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Park. Its far-reaching plains of endless grass, tinged with the twisted shadows of acacia trees, have made it the quintessential image of a wild and untarnished Africa. Its large stone kopjes are home to rich ecosystems, and the sheer magnitude and scale of life that the plains support is staggering. Large prides of lions laze easily in the long grasses, plentiful families of elephants feed on acacia bark and trump to each other across the plains, and giraffes, gazelles, monkeys, eland, and the whole range of African wildlife is in awe-inspiring numbers.
The annual wildebeest migration through the Serengeti and the Masai Mara attract visitors from around the world, who flock to the open plains to witness the largest mass movement of land mammals on the planet. More than a million animals make the seasonal journey to fresh pasture to the north, then the south, after the biannual rains. The sound of their thundering hooves, raising massive clouds of thick red dust, has become one of the legends of the Serengeti plains. The entire ecosystem thrives from the annual migration, from the lions and birds of prey that gorge themselves on the weak and the faltering to the gamut of hungry crocodiles that lie in patient wait at each river crossing for their annual feed.
But it’s not just the wildebeest who use the Serengeti as a migratory pathway. The adjacent reserves of Maswa and Ikorongo, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and the Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya all allow the animals and birds of the area a free range of movement to follow their seasonal migrations. Indeed, in the wake of the wildebeest migration, many of the less attention-grabbing features of the Serengeti are often overlooked. The park has varied zones in which each ecosystem is subtly different . Seronera in the centre of the park is the most popular and most easily visited area. The Grumeti River in the Western Corridor is the location for the dramatic river crossing during the wildebeest migration. Maswa Game Reserve to the south offers a remote part of the park rewarding in its game-viewing and privacy, and Lobo near the Kenyan border offers a change to see plentiful game during the dry season.
Aside from traditional vehicle bound safaris, hot-air ballooning over the Serengeti plains has become a safari rite-of-passage for travel enthusiasts. The flights depart at dawn over the plains and take passengers close over the awakening herds of wildebeest and zebra, gazelle and giraffe. The extra altitude allows guests to witness the striking stretches of plains punctuated only by kopjes. Up in the sky, you have Africa all to yourself.
The Ngorongoro Crater is often called ‘Africa’s Eden’ and the ‘8th Natural Wonder of the World,’ a visit to the crater is a main drawcard for tourists coming to Tanzania and a definite world-class attraction. Within the crater rim, large herds of zebra and wildebeest graze nearby while sleeping lions laze in the sun. At dawn, the endangered black rhino returns to the thick cover of the crater forests after grazing on dew-laden grass in the morning mist. Just outside the crater’s ridge, tall Masaai herd their cattle and goats over green pastures through the highland slopes, living alongside the wildlife as they have for centuries.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area includes its eponymous famous crater, Olduvai Gorge, and huge expanses of highland plains, scrub bush, and forests that cover approximately 8300 square kilometres. A protected area, only indigenous tribes such as the Masaai are allowed to live within its borders. Lake Ndutu and Masek, both alkaline soda lakes are home to rich game populations, as well as a series of peaks and volcanoes and make the Conservation Area a unique and beautiful landscape. Of course, the crater itself, actually a type of collapsed volcano called a caldera, is the main attraction. Accommodation is located on its ridges and after a beautiful descent down the crater rim, passing lush rain forest and thick vegetation, the flora opens to grassy plains throughout the crater floor. The game viewing is truly incredible, and the topography and views of the surrounding Crater Highlands out of this world.
This truly magical place is home to Olduvai Gorge, where the Leakeys discovered the hominoid remains of a 1.8 million year old skeleton of Australopithecus boisei, one of the distinct links of the human evolutionary chain. In a small canyon just north of the crater, the Leakeys and their team of international archaeologists unearthed the ruins of at least three distinct hominoid species, and also came upon a complete series of hominoid footprints estimated to be over 3.7 million years old. Evacuated fossils show that the area is one of the oldest sites of hominoid habitation in the world.
The Ngorongoro Crater and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area are without a doubt some of the most beautiful parts of Tanzania, steeped in history and teeming with wildlife. Besides vehicle safaris to the Crater, Olduvai Gorge, and surrounding attractions, hiking treks through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area are becoming increasingly popular options. Either way you choose to visit, the Crater Highlands are an unforgettable part of the Tanzanian experience.
Tarangire National Park has some of the highest population density of elephants anywhere in Tanzania, and its sparse vegetation, strewn with baobab and acacia trees, makes it a beautiful and special location. Located just a few hours drive from the town of Arusha, Tarangire is a popular stop for safaris travelling through the northern circuit on their way to Ngorongoro and the Serengeti. The park extends into two game controlled areas and the wildlife are allowed to move freely throughout.
Before the rains, droves of gazelle, wildebeest, zebra, and giraffes migrate to Tarangire’s scrub plains where the last grazing land still remains. Tarangire offers unparalleled game viewing, and during the dry season elephants abound. Families of the pachyderms play around the ancient trunks of baobab trees and strip acacia bark from the thorn trees for their afternoon meal. Breathtaking views of the Masaai Steppe and the mountains to the south make a stop at Tarangire a memorable experience.
Home to more than 550 species, the park is a haven for bird enthusiasts who can expect so see dozens of species even in the dry season. The swamps are the focus of the largest selection of breeding birds anywhere in the world. Yellow-collared Lovebirds are a common bird sighting in the trees along the Tarangire River.
The park is also famous for the many termite mounds that dot the landscape. Those that have been abandoned are often seen to be home to the dwarf mongoose.
Located beneath the cliffs of the Manyara Escarpment, on the edge of the Rift Valley, Lake Manyara National Park offers varied ecosystems, incredible bird life, and breathtaking views. Located on the way to Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti, The Park is well worth a stop in its own right. Its ground water forests, bush plains, baobob strewn cliffs, and algae-streaked hot springs offer incredible ecological variety in a small area, rich in wildlife and incredible numbers of birds.
The alkaline soda of the Lake is home to an incredible array of bird life that thrives on its brackish waters. Pink flamingo stoop and graze by the thousands, colourful specks against the grey minerals of the lake shore. Yellow-billed storks swoop and corkscrew on thermal winds rising up from the escarpment, and herons flap their wings against the sun-drenched sky. Even reluctant bird-watchers will find something to watch and marvel at within the national park.
Lake Manyara is famous for its tree-climbing lions and are another reason to pay this park a visit. The only kind of their species in the world, they make the ancient mahogany and elegant acacias their home during the rainy season, and are a well-known but rather rare feature of the northern park. In addition to the lions, the national park is also home to the largest concentration of baboons anywhere in the world — a fact that makes for interesting game viewing of large families of the primates.
The Serengeti | Ngorongoro Crater | Tarangire National Park | Lake Manyara National Park