The 7 Best National Parks in Tanzania

Big cats, chimpanzees, enormous hippos, rare wild dogs and much more to discover in Tanzania's best national parks
Written by
Jody van Merode

Published on: February 12th, 2024

Last modified: February 13th, 2024

Tanzania boasts some of the best wildlife areas and national parks in all of Africa, ranging from wide-open plains to densely forested mountains. Here you can see the Big Five in the Serengeti, spot elephants in Tarangire, look for lions around Lake Manyara, witness wild dogs in Ruaha, watch hippos in Katavi and meet chimpanzees in the Mahale Mountains.

Tanzania is also home to Nyerere National Park (formerly known as Selous Game Reserve), one of the largest game reserves in Africa at over three million hectares. With so many enticing options, it can be difficult to decide where to go – which is why we’ve compiled a list of the best national parks in Tanzania for sensational safaris and outdoor adventures of all kinds.

1. Serengeti National Park

There’s a reason why the Serengeti is the most famous national park in Tanzania. This is one of the best places to see the Great Migration: an annual event in which thousands upon thousands of wildebeest and other animals traverse its seemingly endless savannahs. It’s also packed with impressive wildlife year round, from lions and leopards to Nile crocodiles. Stay at the mobile Wilderness Usawa Camp to follow the animals’ seasonal migration throughout the Serengeti.

Wildebeest in the Serengeti

Need to know: If you want to see the dramatic river crossings of the Great Migration, the best time to go to Serengeti National Park in Tanzania is July through September. Visit from December to March to witness the wildebeest’s calving season.

2. Lake Manyara National Park

Compared to some of the enormous parks that Tanzania is known for, Lake Manyara is quite small. But within its 33,000 hectares there’s no shortage of stunning scenery and distinctive wildlife. Keep an eye out for the famous tree-climbing lions, who are known to spend hours lounging among the branches, and all kinds of vibrant birdlife. We love Chem Chem Lodge and its sister camps, which are set on private land between Lake Manyara and Tarangire.

Elephants at Chem Chem in Lake Manyara National Park

Need to know: Visit Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania’s wet season from November to March – undoubtedly the best time to visit Tanzania for bird watching – to see large flocks of brilliant pink flamingos.

Flock of pink flamingos from Lake Manyara, Tanzania

3. Tarangire National Park

If you’re visiting Tanzania in the dry season from June to October, Tarangire deserves a spot on your itinerary. This national park tends to be less crowded in terms of tourism, but it’s absolutely brimming with big cats, elephants, birds and other wildlife. The landscape is dotted with ancient baobab trees, which bloom with white flowers just once a year. We suggest booking a luxury treehouse at Tarangire Treetops, whose main lodge encircles one of these iconic ‘trees of life.’ 

African Baobab tree, Tarangire National Park Tanzania

Need to know: Tarangire is an especially great destination for families; stay at the exclusive-use Forest Chem Chem for a completely bespoke and child-friendly safari.

Lion cubs in Tarangire National Park

4. Selous Game Reserve

The Selous Game Reserve is both immense and incredibly well protected, with no permanent residences allowed inside it. Most of the reserve was renamed Nyerere National Park in 2019, and just a small area retained the original name. It’s a fantastic place to get off the beaten track and really dive into the natural world; stay at the exclusive-use Kiba Point for thrilling fly camping and total seclusion, with just four cottages to accommodate private groups.

 

Aerial view of Nyerere national Park in Tanzania

Need to know: Take a boat trip on the Rufiji River for the chance to spot hippos, crocodiles and birdlife, as well as elephants, antelope and rare wild dogs on the shore.

Hippos wallowing in water

5. Ruaha National Park

Located right in the heart of Tanzania, Ruaha is among the country’s most remote wildlife havens. It’s also one of the largest national parks in East Africa – around the same size as the Kruger in South Africa, but much less popular among safari-goers. Here you’ll find big game like buffalo and elephants congregating along the Ruaha River, as well as wild dogs, antelope, giraffes, leopards and an infinite array of other majestic creatures thriving in unspoilt habitats.

African Buffalo Ruaha national park

Need to know: For a tranquil escape among the quiet beauty of Ruaha, it’s hard to beat Jabali Ridge: a small and sophisticated lodge set amidst the rocky landscape.

6. Mahale Mountains National Park

The magnificent Mahale Mountains stand in striking contrast to some of the country’s other national parks. Here the foliage is thick, with lush hillsides surrounding Lake Tanganyika: one of the top natural attractions in Tanzania. Jane Goodall conducted her pioneering research on chimpanzees nearby, and you can get up close to these fascinating animals on guided hikes through the forest. Greystoke Mahale is the perfect home base right on the lake’s shores.

Chimpanzee Tanzania

Need to know: Meeting wild chimpanzees may be a convincing enough reason to visit Tanzania’s Mahale Mountains, but it’s not the only one; you can also go kayaking and swimming in Lake Tanganyika, learn about local culture in a nearby village and much more.

Greystoke, Mahale, Nomad, Tanzania

7. Katavi National Park

For a truly exhilarating adventure in Tanzania, Katavi National Park is the place to be. Situated near Lake Tanganyika, it’s a delightfully wild and authentic environment that welcomes far fewer visitors than more well-known parks. Perhaps the main attraction is the huge number of hippos that gather here during the dry season. With just six bush tents, Chada Katavi is among the best places to stay in Tanzania if you want to be entirely immersed in this remote paradise.

Katavi National Park hippopotamus

Need to know: Due to its proximity to Lake Tanganyika, Katavi can be combined with Mahale Mountains National Park for an exciting and well-rounded safari in western Tanzania.

Chada Plain Katavi National Park

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