Tanzania is blessed with an abundance of beauty. Nowhere is this clearer than in its many, varied safari parks that span the length and breadth of the country. From the legendary Serengeti National Park in the north to the vast plains of the Selous Game Reserve in the south, the natural splendor is unsurpassed.

Beyond the thrill of animal-spotting, travelers to this region of East Africa have much to gain from interacting with people from the rich local cultures. All in all, a trip to Tanzania’s safari parks is a veritable feast for the senses. And we’ve listed five of our favorite parks to whet your appetite.

Serengeti National Park

The Serengeti National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most popular park in the world. It’s also what many people conjure up when they think “Africa.” Yes, there are Acacia trees and magnificent sunsets. But there’s so much more.

Viewing the Great Migration in the Serengeti is on many a list. Millions of herbivores make their way en masse towards water and the green pastures of the Maasai Mara. Hungry carnivores are hot on their trail. In the process, they create one of the natural world’s greatest spectacles.

The East African language, Swahili, is the one used in "The Lion King" so these are, arguably, Simba’s pridelands. Teeming with wildlife, the Serengeti is a bastion of unspoiled nature stretching as far as the eye can see.

In addition to the zebras and wildebeests, areas like the Namiri Plains are full of cheetahs and other big cats. High-stakes drama unfolds at Grumeti River when the ungulates attempt to cross croc-infested waters. It’s a crowd-puller, but the Serengeti grasslands are so immense that it never seems like there are others around.

Road Scholar Recommends: Tanzania and the Great East African Migration →

Tarangire National Park

A few hours away from the town of Arusha, underrated Tarangire is a worthy stop-over. Time-pressed tourists tend not to visit, which means a quieter environment and a more relaxed safari day. The park is relatively small compared to the colossal swaths of savannah elsewhere in the country, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in wildlife.

You can look forward to seeing elephants in droves. Elephant herds have sophisticated family dynamics and Tarangire is home to many large herds numbering up to 300 elephants each. On top of that, bird-watching enthusiasts will delight in spotting some of the 500-plus species of birds that take flight at Tarangire.

Big cats are present in all their feline grace and glory, so if you consider a park to be incomplete without a potential glimpse of a lion or leopard, you won’t have that problem here.

Expect to see loads of iconic baobabs in the mix. These enduring and sometimes enormous trees look upside-down when bare, as though their roots are reaching for the sun. They’re an integral part of the ecosystem and bear fruit rich in Vitamin C. Vegans might be familiar with bao mayo — a popular dairy-free condiment made from the baobab.

Road Scholar Recommends: Tanzania’s Wild Side: Walking Discoveries & Game Drives →

Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area

The Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area makes for an epic foray into the prehistoric. The eponymous crater, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an inactive volcanic caldera formed two to three million years ago. It’s the largest unfilled crater on planet earth and it’s a wonder. With awe-inspiring views and a stunning cliff-strewn topography, this is the scenic stuff of lifelong memories.

There’s an array of different habitats from wetlands to woodlands in a compact space that covers approximately 100 square miles. This is ideal for the impatient game-viewer, because it makes spotting animals so easy. You could see all the members of the Big 5 in a morning, which is something of a rarity in the wild.

The crater is like a big bowl protecting the animals that live within its walls. Black rhinos, so endangered elsewhere, can be found here, as can one of the most dense and most inbred populations of lions. Don’t be surprised if you spot a Maasai tribesman grazing his cattle in distinctive red robes that contrast starkly with the surrounds. The fiery red is meant to scare off predators.

But this highland region also has plenty of archaeological clout, too. Fossil evidence places some of the earliest known hominid species in this section of the Great Rift Valley.

Road Scholar Recommends: An African Odyssey: A Journey Across Africa →

Lake Manyara National Park

Another comparatively small park on the northern circuit, Lake Manyara has many different ecosystems running the gamut from marsh to forest. The alkaline soda lake contracts during the dry summer months. This creates the perfect conditions for game-viewing as animals are drawn to the lake’s banks.

The park happens to be awash in pink for large parts of the year. It’s home to millions of flamingos, an impressive sight to avian aficionados and regular folks alike. Birds of prey abound. There are also large numbers of baboons for anyone keen on observing primate behavior.

Boat cruises on the shallow lake help visitors get up close and personal with hippos and crocodiles. These aquatic animals are equal parts dangerous and fascinating.

Lake Manyara provides an unusual treat. The resident lions are tree-climbers, a trait that’s rare for the King of the Jungle.

Road Scholar Recommends: Tanzania and the Great East African Migration →

Selous Game Reserve

The biggest wildlife game reserve in the world, Selous covers almost 20,000 square miles and is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Human habitation is not allowed within the confines of the park. Divided in half by the Rufiji river, Selous is only open to visitors north of this body of water.

Go boating or hiking in this lush part of the park with its many lagoons. Borassus palms dot the landscape and lend it a tropical feel. There’s also Stiegler’s Gorge, which averages 300 feet in depth. It’s the site of an upcoming and rather controversial hydroelectric plant.

With an almost unrivaled biodiversity, this game reserve is a photographer’s dream. Almost half of the endangered African wild dog population lives here. They set this park apart from its more famous northern counterparts.

See Road Scholar’s complete collection of educational safaris around the world. →

About the Author
JoAnn Bell, Senior Vice President of Program Development, develops and manages more than 5,500 learning adventures in 150 countries and 50 states. JoAnn's extensive experience informs her expert insight on everything from where to find the world's most charming streets to must-see hidden gems across the globe.


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