Tanzania is the ultimate safari destination, with dozens upon dozens of open spaces teeming with magnificent wildlife, birds and hiking opportunities. Here’s everything you need to know about Tanzania’s national parks to help you plan your next adventure. For more information, see our Tanzania Safari Guide.
Best for game viewing
Serengeti National Park
A million-strong herd of wildebeest migrate across the Serengeti plains each year © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
The linchpin of the popular northern safari circuit, this world-renowned park harbours large numbers of predators, as well as being the site of a legendary migration comprising million-strong herds of wildebeest and zebra. Sceptics might fear that such a heavily hyped destination is unlikely to match expectations, but our experience over more than a dozen Serengeti safaris over the last 30 years is that this iconic park seldom disappoints: the variety and volume of its wildlife truly is second to none, as is the liberating sense of space attached to exploring its immense plains. The Great Migration that takes place every year in the park has claimed a spot on our best African safaris list.
Ruaha National Park
Ruaha is a great place to see elephants © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
Neither as popular as Serengeti/Ngorongoro, nor as widely publicised as Nyerere, Ruaha National Park is nevertheless one of East Africa’s finest safari destinations. Set in the vast semi-arid central interior, its eastern boundary formed by the Great Ruaha River, this vast park is often – and justifiably – cited by the cognoscenti as Tanzania’s best-kept game-viewing secret. Indeed, the sheer volume and variety of wildlife on show in Ruaha can be truly spectacular, particularly towards the end of the dry season, when elephants seem to lurk around every corner.
Mahale Mountains National Park
Mahale Mountains is arguably the top chimp-tracking destination in Africa © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
Mahale Mountains is quite simply one of the most beautiful national parks anywhere in Africa, and it also ranks as arguably the top chimpanzee-tracking destination anywhere on the continent. Some 30 times larger than Gombe, the park occupies a mountainous knuckle that juts into Lake Tanganyika some 150km south of Kigoma.
Tarangire National Park
Tarangire is known for its year-round proliferation of elephants © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
Less celebrated than the Serengeti – and, as a consequence, less heavily touristed – Tarangire preserves a classic chunk of dry savannah studded with plentiful baobabs and home to prodigious elephant herds, along with plenty of other wildlife.
Gombe National Park
Gombe is best known for its chimpanzees © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
Gombe National Park is one of a handful of African national parks that could reasonably claim to be a household name in the west. It is best known for its chimpanzees, or more accurately perhaps for the research into their behaviour undertaken by the groundbreaking primatologist Jane Goodall. Yet, surprisingly, it remains a rather remote and low-key reserve. It is difficult to think of anywhere else in Africa that offers an in-your-face encounter with wild chimpanzees as regularly as Gombe – one of the most extraordinary and memorable wildlife experiences our planet has to offer!
Best for birds
Lake Manyara National Park
Pelicans are a common sight at Lake Manyara © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
All of the northern safari circuit offers good birding, but for first-time visitors to Africa Lake Manyara is the jewel in the region’s avian crown, offering a good opportunity to tick off 100 species – from flamingos and storks to eagles and barbets – in a day.
Mikumi National Park
The bateleur eagle is a common sight on the floodplains of Mikumi © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
The 3,230km² Mikumi National Park protects a combination of flat open grassland and wooded hills flanked by the Uluguru Mountains to the north and the Udzungwa to the south. Mikumi is arguably the most accessible of all Tanzania’s major safari destinations. Despite this, it has never featured prominently on tourist itineraries. Nevertheless, Mikumi is emphatically worth a night or two on any road safari through southern Tanzania, especially towards the end of the dry season, when wildlife concentrations compare favourably with Nyerere or Ruaha.
Mkomazi National Park
The secretary bird is often seen in Mkomazi © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
One of Tanzania’s most underrated national parks, Mkomazi is an emergent safari destination whose main attractions are its untrammelled atmosphere and the exciting opportunity to see the Endangered black rhino in a special drive-in sanctuary that opened in 2021.
Rubondo Island National Park
Rubondo Island is a good place to spot African fish eagle © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
Situated in the far southwest corner of Lake Victoria, this forested island supports several species with a limited distribution elsewhere in Tanzania, with African grey parrots and other forest dwellers vying for attention with fish eagles, herons and other water-associated species. More importantly, chimpanzee tracking is also now offered at Rubondo, with a success rate of almost 100% in 2022
Best for hiking
Mount Kilimanjaro National Park
Mount Kilimanjaro is the ultimate challenge for many hikers © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
Encompassing the peaks and forested slopes of the continent’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro is climbed by thousands of tourists every year, not only to stand on the snow-capped pinnacle of Africa, but also to experience the other-worldly Afro-montane moorland habitat of the upper reaches.
Udzungwa Mountains National Park
Monkey lovers will find much to enjoy at Udzungwa © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
Protecting the largest of the Eastern Arc ranges, this pedestrian-oriented park offers the opportunity to hike to several lovely waterfalls, through lush forest inhabited by several rare monkey species and a variety of smaller endemics.
Arusha National Park
The cute dik dik at Arusha National Park © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
The most accessible wildlife destination in northern Tanzania, just 45 minutes’ drive from the eponymous town, Arusha National Park is an easy target for a half- or full-day trip at the start of a safari. Climbers will be attracted by the dominant Mount Meru, while for non-hikers a cluster of attractive lakes can be explored by road or on organised canoe trips.
Best off-the-beaten-track parks
Katavi National Park
Katavi is home to the continent’s densest population of hippo © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
Katavi retains a truly remote wilderness character, and while tourist numbers have increased gradually over recent years, it is one of the few safari destinations where you’re likely to see more lions that you are other people. Indeed, if any national park deserves the wellworn accolade of ‘Africa’s best-kept game-viewing secret’, it is surely Katavi, with its plentiful lions and elephants, large herds of buffalo, and what is possibly the continent’s densest concentrations of hippos. In short, the perfect goal for anybody seeking a true bush experience!
Kitulo National Park
Kitulo is a treasure trove of floral delights © Jojona, Wikimedia Commons
Gazetted in 2005, this rather obscure national park is the first such entity in tropical Africa to be gazetted primarily for its floristic significance. Known locally as ‘Bustani ya Mungu’ (God’s Garden) and elsewhere as the ‘Serengeti of Flowers’, the plateau hosts one of the world’s great floral spectacles between November and April, when 350 species of vascular plant come in to bloom.
Saadani National Park
Vervet monkeys are a common sight at Saadani © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
Saadani is the only wildlife sanctuary in East Africa graced with an Indian Ocean beachfront. The park retains a low profile by comparison with the likes of the Serengeti and Ruaha, and certainly it doesn’t bear comparison to Tanzania’s finest when it comes to conventional wildlife viewing. That said, the prolific birdlife, boat trips up the atmospheric Wami River, guided bush walks and the relative scarcity of other tourists make it a worthwhile stop.
For more information, see our Tanzania Safari Guide: