Tanzania is home to some of Africa's most famous national parks and the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro rising above the Serengeti. Most visitors will find themselves passing through Dar es Salaam and heading out on safaris and various wildlife viewing adventures. For those who want to take a break and spend some time soaking up the sun, the beautiful beaches of Zanzibar beckon. Off Pemba and Mafia islands is a whole other kind of natural wonder, one most appreciated by the scuba divers and snorkelers who come here from around the world to experience the coral gardens, colorful fish, and crystal clear waters.
Arusha National Park, although smaller than most in Tanzania, has a range of habitats that consist of the forest of Mount Meru, Ngurdoto Crater in the southeast section of the park, and Momela Lakes, a series of seven crater lakes. Black and white Colobus monkeys are easily spotted in the forested area while the marshy floor of the crater is dotted with herds of buffalo, zebra and warthog. Momela Lakes is home to a large selection of resident and migrant waterbirds. People come here to see wildlife and also to climb Mount Meru.
Mount Meru is one of the most beautiful volcanoes in Africa and the second highest mountain in Tanzania. The summit is reached by a narrow ridge, which provides stunning views of the volcanic cone lying several thousand feet below in the crater. The ascent is steep but the route passes through parkland, forest, a giant heather zone and moorland.
Lake Manyara National Park is comprised of forest, woodland, grasslands, and swamps. Two-thirds of the park is covered by water and Lake Manyara is host to thousands of flamingoes, at certain times of year, as well as other diverse bird life. The highlight of Lake Manyara Park is the large population of elephants, tree-climbing lions and hippos that can be observed at a much closer range than in other parks. This park is also home to the largest concentration of baboons in the world.
Wildlife drives, canoeing (when water levels are high enough), mountain bike tours and bird watching are the most popular activities in Lake Manyara National Park.
Lake Victoria is the largest freshwater lake in Africa and is bordered by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. This lake is the source of the White Nile and provides an income for millions of residents along its shores. The Tanzanian section of Lake Victoria is one of the least visited regions in the country, however the towns of Bukoba, Musoma and Mwanza have a number of attractions. Near Mwanza and Musoma are many islands, some have become wildlife sanctuaries. Bird watching and fishing trips are popular excursions, and boat trips or hikes can be arranged around Lake Victoria.
Rubondo Island National Park, which includes several other smaller islands, is on the southwest shores of Lake Victoria.
Mafia Island draws divers and snorkelers from around the world to the undersea world protected by the Mafia Island Marine Park. The best months for diving are October to March but the best weather on Mafia Island is May to October, March and April are months of heavy rain. Mafia Island Marine Park has excellent coral gardens, an abundant variety of fish and a relaxed diving atmosphere. Countless birds and over 400 species of fish can be seen in the area. Mafia Island is also a traditional breeding site for the green turtle, which are unfortunately close to extinction.
Mafia is also a desirable location for deep-sea fishing, especially tuna, marlin, sailfish and other big-game fish.
This island paradise first saw settlers in the 8th or 9th C, but Mafia became a more important settlement during the 12th to 14th C when it held a key position in the East African trading routes.
It's one of the most stunning and famious attractions in Tanzania, Mount Kilimanjaro National Park is Africa's highest mountain peak above see level. Unlike other parks in northern Tanzania, this mountain is not visited for wildlife but to stand in awe of this majestic snow-capped mountain and, for many, to climb to the summit. Mount Kilimanjaro can be climbed at any time, although the best period is from late June to October, during the dry season.
Kilimanjaro, a World Heritage Sites, was formed by volcanic movement along the Rift Valley. Three points - Shira, Kibo, and Mawenzi came to be about 750,000 years ago. The highest point is Uhuru Peak on Kibo, which is one of the Seven Summits of the world.
The mountain's vegetation rises from farmland on the lower level to rainforest and alpine meadow and then barren lunar landscape at the peaks. The slopes of the rainforest are home to buffaloes, leopards, monkeys, elephants and eland. The alpine zone is where bird watchers will find an abundance of birds of prey.
Located between the Serengeti and Lake Manyara, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is home to the famous volcanic Ngorongoro Crater and one of Tanzania's most popular wildlife viewing areas. This huge volcanic crater has a permanent supply of water which draws all kinds of animals who stay in this area rather than migrating. Visitors come here primarily for viewing large game and bird watching, but also of interest in the conservation area is the Olduvai Gorge. This important archeological site has revealed ancient skull and bone fragments that have delivered critical information about early mankind.
The Ngorongoro Crater is the largest intact ancient caldera in the world, nearly three million years old. The Ngorongoro volcano was one of the world's tallest mountains before it exploded and collapsed. Thousands of wild game can be seen on the crater floor, including lions, elephants, rhinos, Thomson's gazelles, and buffaloes, but wildebeests and zebras account for over half of the animals that call the Ngorongoro Crater home. Bird watching is superb, especially around Lake Migadi, which attracts flocks of flamingoes to the shallows. Hippos are content to submerge themselves during the day and then graze in the nearby grass in the evening.
The Olduvai Gorge is an archeological site situated on a series of fault lines, where centuries of erosion have revealed fossils and remnants of early mankind. As early as 1911, a German professor found some fossil bones while looking for butterflies in Olduvai Gorge. In a later expedition, the Leakeys collected skull fragments, a skull, and bones determined to be approximately 2 million years old. Tools and hunting weapons from 1 to 1.5 million years ago were also discovered in Olduvai Gorge. Another exciting find were the famous footprints of a man, woman and child at Laetoli, near Olduvai. These and other discoveries provide more evidence to the theory that at least three hominid species were in this region over 2 million years ago.
Selous is the largest game reserve in Africa. Established in 1922, it covers 5% of Tanzania's total area. The southern area is a forbidden zone that is undeveloped, heavily forested, and contains a series of steep cliffs. Travelers are limited to the area north of the Rufiji River. This area of the Selous Game Reserve has large open grassland, woodlands, rivers, hills and plains. The best time to visit is July through October.
The Rufiji River bisects the Selous Game Reserve and has the largest catchment area of any river in East Africa. The river is an important feature of the reserve providing the opportunity to watch the diverse water-based wildlife. A broad range of game can be found including elephants, hippos and rhinos as well as buffalo, antelope, giraffe, warthog, wildebeest, lion, leopard and cheetah. The diversity of bird life in Selous includes over 350 recorded species.
Serengeti National Park is a vast savannah plain park with thousands or even millions of wildllife searching for fresh pastures. As the largest national park in Tanzania, Serengeti attracts thousands of tourists through out the year. The best months for wildlife viewing are between December and June. The wet season is from March to May, with the coldest period from June to October. The annual migration of millions of zebra and wildebeest takes place in May or early June. This migration is one of the most impressive natural events and the primary draw for many tourists.
Large herds of antelope as well as lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena, bat eared fox, hunting dog and jackal are also found in Serengeti National Park. Nearly 500 species of bird have been recorded in Serengeti national park. Many of these are attracted to the swamp area. 'Serengeti' means an 'extended place' in the Maasai language.
Tarangire National Park was established in 1970 and is best visited in the dry season from July to September when the animals gather along the river. During the dry season, Tarangire National Park has one of the highest concentrations of migratory wildlife. Wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, impala, gazelle, hartebeest and eland crowd the lagoons. One of the most noticeable highlights of Tarangire National Park is the baobab trees that dot the grassy landscape.
The park is excellent for birdwatching, with more than 300 species recorded in Tarangire. These species include buzzards, vultures, herons, storks, kites, falcons and eagles.