Mikumi National Park
Due to the completion of the paved road connecting the park gate with Dar es Salaam, Mikumi National Park is slated to become a hotspot for tourism in Tanzania. Located between the Uluguru Mountains and the Lumango range, Mikumi is the fourth largest park in Tanzania and only a few hours drive from Tanzania’s largest city, the park has a wide variety of wildlife that are easy to spot and well acclimatised to game viewing. Its proximity to Dar es Salaam and the amount of wildlife that live within its borders makes Mikumi National Park a popular option for weekend visitors from the city, or for business visitors who don’t have long to spend on an extended safari itinerary.
Most visitors come to Mikumi National Park looking to spot the ‘Big Five’ (cheetah, lion, elephant, buffalo, and rhino), and they aren’t disappointed. Hippo pools provide close access to the mud-loving beasts, and bird-watching along the waterways is particularly rewarding. Mikumi National Park borders the Selous Game Reserve and Udzungwa National Park, and the three locations make a varied and pleasant safari circuit.
Ruaha National Park
Tanzania’s second-largest national park after the Serengeti, Ruaha National Park is a remote bastion of spectacular wilderness, undisturbed wildlife, and breathtaking scenery. With herds of more than 10,000 elephants, vast concentrations of buffalo, gazelle, and over 400 bird species, Ruaha’s limitless wilderness, together with the surrounding game reserves of Rungwa and Kisigo -- stretches over 40,000 square kilometres. Elephants are found in some of the highest concentration in the country, travelling in matriarch-lead herds through ancient grazing lands and seasonal supplies of water.
The Great Ruaha River is the main feature of the park, and meanders through its borders. On its banks, the game viewing is spectacular, whether done by land or by water. Hippos yawn under the midday sun and crocodiles lie lazily along the banks. Fish eagles dive and swoop along the riverbanks, and at night the sound of frogs croaking happily in the reeds extends across the hills and plains. Boating safaris are starting to gain in popularity, and provide a popular alternative to viewing the area by car.
Most of the national park is located on the top of a 900 metre plateau whose ripples of hills, valleys, and plains makes the game viewing topography beautifully unique. Small mountains run along the southwest borders of the park and their tree-covered slopes are visible in the distance. During the rainy seasons, dry river beds swell with the biannual deluge and within days, a thin coat of green covers all the land in sight.
Because of its rather remote location, Ruaha National Park is largely unexplored. Because of this, a safari to the national park often has the feel of a private adventure and an unique experience. For the intrepid wilderness lover and the avid safari explorer, a trip to Ruaha is uniquely rewarding and a perfect piece of Africa.
Selous Game Reserve
Located in south-east Tanzania in a remote and little-visited part of the country, the Selous Game Reserve is Africa’s largest protected wildlife reserve and covers more than 5% of Tanzania’s total area. It’s rivers, hills, and plains are home to roaming elephant populations, the area’s famous wild dogs, and some of the last black rhino left in the region. Due to its remote location, and because it is most easily accessible only by small aircraft, the Selous Game Reserve has remained one of the untouched gems of Tanzania’s national parks and game reserves, and offers visitors a chance to see a wild and expansive Africa far from paved roads and curio shops.
One of the more historic protected areas in Tanzania, the Selous Game Reserve was named after Frederick Courteney Selous, a British explorer and hunter in East Africa who wrote a book about the region and his travels, and was tragically killed in land now named after him during the First World War. In 1905, when few people in East Africa thought of land conservation and the preservation of wildlife for posterity, portions of the area were earmarked for a hunting reserve. In 1922, the land area was increased and named after Frederick Selous. From then until 1975, when the current boundaries were delineated, the Selous Game Reserve increased steadily in allocated land. These days, tourists flock to the north of the reserve, while large portions of the south are still reserved for hunting.
Udzungwa Mountain National Park
Udzungwa is the largest and most biodiversity of a chain of a dozen large forest-swathed mountains that rise majestically in Eastern Tanzania.
Known collectively as the Eastern Arc Mountains, it has also been dubbed the African Galapagos for its treasure-trove of endemic plants and animals, most familiarly the delicate African violet. It is a magnet for hikers, with its excellent network of forest trails.
Ornithologists are attracted by the avian wealth of more than 400 species. Of six primate species recorded, the Iringa red colobus and Sanje Crested Mangabey (discovered in 1979) both occur nowhere else in the world.
South of Mikumi, between Ruaha National Park and Selous Game Reserves
Kitulo Plateau National Park
Locals refer to the Kitulo Plateau as Bustani ya Mungu - The Garden of God – while botanists have dubbed it the Serengeti of Flowers, host to 'one of the great floral spectacles of the world'. And Kitulo is indeed a rare botanical marvel, home to a full 350 species of vascular plants, including 45 varieties of terrestrial orchid, which erupt into a riotous wildflower display of breathtaking scale.
One of the most important watersheds for the Great Ruaha River, Kitulo is well known for its floral significance – not only a multitude of orchids, but also the stunning yellow-orange red-hot poker and a variety of aloes, proteas, geraniums, giant lobelias, lilies and aster daisies, of which more than 30 species are endemic to southern Tanzania. Big game is sparsely represented, though a few hardy mountain reedbuck and eland still roam the open grassland.