Fast Facts about the Safari Parks of Tanzania

Written by Thomson Safaris
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Did you know Tanzania has more wild animals per square kilometer than any other country in Africa? Nearly 40% of Tanzania’s roughly 365,000 square miles is protected area, such as national parks (of which there are 16) nature reserves and the like.

That’s a lot of ground to cover! So where should you go? We’ve spent about four decades designing safari itineraries to show our guests all the must-see landscapes and wildlife. Here’s what everyone should know about Tanzania’s popular parks and safari circuits.

Tanzania’s Northern Safari Circuit

One thing many new safari travelers don’t consider: there’s a LOT of rugged space between parks. The Serengeti itself is the size of Connecticut, and Tanzania in total is bigger than both New England and Texas combined.

northern tanzania safari circuit

That’s why focusing on one safari region is important – a place with many distinct safari parks close together. Otherwise, you risk spending much of your time in transit, which can be expensive via airplane and time consuming by vehicle, especially because there are very few paved roads.

Tanzania’s Northern Safari Circuit is incredibly popular for this reason. With a remarkable variety of landscapes and some of the richest wildlife areas in the country, using this route is a surefire way to spend most of your time wildlife viewing in spectacular locations.

Serengeti National Park

Tanzania’s Northern Safari Circuit
5,700 square miles

thomson safaris land rover in serengeti with lions and great migration

The Serengeti is easily the most famous safari park on the planet – and for good reason.

  • It’s home to about 3,000 lions, more than any other park or any other country on Earth.
  • It hosts the Great Migration, featuring roughly 2 million hoofed animals.
  • The Big Five (elephants, rhinos, leopards, lions, African buffalo) live in the park in relatively high numbers, although rhinos are a much rarer find.

sunset in serengeti tanzania

The Serengeti’s landscapes are legendary as well. Seeing the rolling plains stretch out to the horizon in every direction is a truly unforgettable experience. Those are just a few reasons why every one of our scheduled safaris visit the Serengeti.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Tanzania’s Northern Safari Circuit
3,200 square miles
Ngorongoro Crater: 102 square miles

wildlife in ngorongoro crater

South of the Serengeti is the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Ngorongoro Crater. The Crater itself has been called “one of the greatest natural wonders of the planet,” and is undoubtedly one of the best safari destinations in the world.

  • Roughly 25,000 large animals live in the crater itself.
  • The crater hosts the densest population of lions on Earth.
  • If you’re lucky, you can spot the Big Five in a single day, including the rare black rhino.

ngorongoro crater view tanzania

And there’s something special about seeing the world’s largest unbroken volcanic caldera. Nearly all of our guests visit Ngorongoro Crater and many camp along its rim.

Tarangire National Park

Tanzania’s Northern Safari Circuit
1,096 square miles

tarangire baobab tree and elephants

Keep heading south from Ngorongoro and you’ll reach Tarangire National Park, bisected by the Tarangire River. It has similar animals and landscapes to the Serengeti and a few other unique qualities.

  • It’s renowned for its massive herds of elephants, which can reach 200 in number.
  • The elephants also exhibit a peculiar behavior – they dig “wells” for water when the river dries up.
  • Tarangire is also known for its baobab trees, which don’t grow in Ngorongoro or the Serengeti.

 

Eastern Serengeti Nature Refuge

Tanzania’s Northern Safari Circuit
18 square miles

walking safari thomson nature reserve tanzania

The Eastern Serengeti Nature Refuge is a private wildlife refuge exclusive to Thomson guests. Because it’s private and sees fewer travelers, you can enjoy a variety of activities that aren’t offered in public parks.

  • Go on nature walks to see giraffes, wildebeests, gazelles, baboons and other herbivores on foot.
  • Drive off-road to explore more area and get the best views of the wildlife.
  • Take off on night drives to find rarely seen nocturnal creatures.

 

Tanzania’s Southern Safari Circuit

The central and southern parts of the country have some of the biggest safari parks and game reserves on the planet. You’ll need to board a plane to reach them from the northern circuit, but the experience is worth the journey.

southern tanzania safari circuit

 

Ruaha National Park

Central Tanzania
7,722 square miles

ruaha national park landscape

It’s one of the largest safari parks in East Africa and one of the most remote. Ruaha National Park boasts fewer travelers, rare animals and a rugged, raw safari experience.

  • Big cats (lions, leopards and cheetahs) are a common sight in Ruaha, and the park is a habitat for one of the rarest safari predators – the endangered African wild dog.
  • The park is also a birder’s paradise, hosting over 500 different species.
  • Ruaha merges biomes from Southern and Eastern Africa, giving it remarkable plant and wildlife diversity.
  • Go on bush walks with guides who have been trained in wildlife tracking – dry season only.

 

Selous Game Reserve

Southern Tanzania
19,000 square miles

selous game reserve in tanzania

The largest game reserve on Earth is over three times bigger than the Serengeti and filled with rare creatures and unique opportunities to explore environments by foot, vehicle and boat.

  • Riverine environments make Selous a popular park for boating safaris.
  • Search for rare species like African wild dogs, black rhinos and antelopes like the greater kudu.
  • Enjoy walking safari options for an intimate and tranquil wildlife experience.

 

Mahale Mountains National Park

Eastern Tanzania
620 square miles

chimp in tanzania

Tucked alongside Lake Tanganyika on the Eastern border of Tanzania, Mahale Mountains National Park isn’t part of the Northern or Southern Safari Circuits. It’s often called the most remote park in the country and is a world-renowned sanctuary for chimps.

  • Track chimpanzees, the rare, complex great apes Jane Goodall is famous for researching.
  • Hike through lush, mountainous territory where few other travelers venture.
  • Enjoy a luxurious, private beachside camp on Lake Tanganyika.

boat to mahale mountains national park in tanzania

Parks Near Kilimanjaro

Many of our guests come to Tanzania to climb the tallest peak in Africa. Mount Kilimanjaro National Park is certainly one of our favorite parks in the country, but it’s not well-known for its variety of animals.

mount kilimanjaro sunset

If you want to see the legendary wildlife before or after a climb, we highly recommend visiting the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater because they’re popular, rife with animals and close by. At the same time, most of our trekking guests spend a little time in two smaller wildlife as part of their climbing schedules.

 

Arusha National Parkcolobus monkeys in arusha national parkHome to Mount Meru, a 15,000-foot peak next to Kilimanjaro, and the Ngurdoto Crater, Arusha National Park is the perfect location for an active day trip. You may see colobus monkeys in its forest canopies as well as African buffalos, giraffes, zebras, antelopes and, if you’re very, very lucky, leopards, elephants and spotted hyenas.

Ndarakwai Ranchwalking safari at ndarakwai ranch
This private, 17-square-mile ranch is a quaint, conservation-minded retreat for travelers. It hosts zebras, wildebeests, giraffes, elands and some 70 other mammal species, including elephants although sightings are uncommon. Ndarakwai is special because it offers nature walks accompanied by a guide and wildlife ranger. It’s the perfect way to stretch your legs and view some wildlife before setting out to Kilimanjaro, which is a short drive away.