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Places of Interest in Tanzania

Southern Sky Adventures: Places of Interest in Tanzania

Capitol is Dar es Salaam


Grumeti Game Reserve

Similar in size to Kenya’s entire Masai Mara, the Grumeti Game Reserve on the Serengeti Plains is a privately held concession. The American investor and philanthropist Paul Tudor Jones II, who was one of the cofounders of the Robin Hood Foundation, bought the property a few years ago, after losing his ranch in Zimbabwe when Mugabe’s government abolished private land holdings. He’s doing more than just preserving this 350,000-acre parcel on the northwestern rim of the Serengeti National Park; all proceeds benefit the Grumeti Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to wildlife conservation, and community development, providing education, employment and health care to local people, as well as water and sustainable agriculture.


Katavi National Park

Isolated and seldom visited, Katavi National Park (KNP) is a true wilderness, providing the few intrepid souls who make it there with a thrilling taste of Africa as it must have been a century ago. Tanzania’s third largest national park, it lies in the remote southwest of the country, within a truncated arm of the Rift Valley that terminates in the shallow, brooding expanse of Lake Rukwa.

The bulk of Katavi supports a hypnotically featureless cover of tangled woodland, home to substantial but elusive populations of the localized eland, sable and roan antelopes. But the main focus for game viewing within the park is the Katuma River and associated floodplains such as the seasonal Lakes Katavi and Chada. During the rainy season, these lush, marshy lakes are a haven for myriad water birds, and they also support Tanzania’s densest concentrations of hippo and crocodile.

It is during the dry season, when the floodwaters retreat, that KNP truly comes into its own. The Katuma, reduced to a shallow, muddy trickle, forms the only source of drinking water for miles around, and the flanking floodplains support game concentrations that defy belief. An estimated 4,000 elephants might converge on the area, together with several herds of 1,000-plus buffalo, while an abundance of giraffe, zebra, impala and reedbuck provide easy pickings for the numerous lion prides and spotted hyena clans whose territories converge on the floodplains.

Katavi’s most singular wildlife spectacle is provided by its hippos. Towards the end of the dry season, up to 200 individuals might flop together in any riverine pool of sufficient depth. And as more hippos gather in one place, so does male rivalry heat up – bloody territorial fights are an everyday occurrence, with the vanquished male forced to lurk hapless on the open plains until it gathers sufficient confidence to mount another challenge.

Found in the southwest corner of the country and east of Lake Tanganyika, KNP is 1,727 square miles.

Kigosi Game Reserve

Kigosi Game Reserve is an overflow plain situated between the towns of Kigoma, Tabora and Shinyanga. Its vegetation is covered with grassy swamps to the south and Miombo woodlands to the north. It is has a variety of wildlife and insects and is also a significant breeding area for unique water birds like the wattled crane and shoebill stork. Wildlife found here includes the scarce witatunga, Waterbuck, hartebeest, buffalo, topi and lions. Crocodiles and hippos are spotted in the Gombe River to the south of the reserve.


Kilimanjaro National Park

Kilimanjaro — the name itself is a mystery wreathed in clouds. Kilimanjaro is a metaphor for the compelling beauty of East Africa. When you see it, you understand why. Not only is this the highest peak on the African continent; it is also the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, rising in breathtaking isolation from the surrounding coastal scrubland – elevation around 2,800 feet – to an imperious 19,336 feet.

Kilimanjaro is one of the world’s most accessible high summits, a beacon for visitors from around the world. Most climbers reach the crater rim with little more than a walking stick, proper clothing and determination. And those who reach Uhuru Point, the actual summit, or Gillman’s Point on the lip of the crater, will have earned their climbing certificates and their memories.

But there is so much more to Kili than her summit. The ascent of the slopes is a virtual climatic world tour, from the tropics to the Arctic. Even before you cross the national park boundary at the 7,000 foot point, the cultivated foot slopes give way to lush montane forest, inhabited by elusive elephant, leopard, buffalo, the endangered Abbot’s duiker, and other small antelope and primates. Higher still lays the moorland zone, where a cover of giant heather is studded with other worldly giant lobelias.

Above 12,000 feet, a surreal alpine desert supports little life other than a few hardy mosses and lichen. Then, finally, the last vestigial vegetation gives way to a winter wonderland of ice and snow – and the magnificent beauty of the roof of the continent.


Lake Manyara National Park

Stretching for 30 miles along the base of the rusty-gold 1,800 foot high Rift Valley escarpment, Lake Manyara is a scenic gem, with a setting extolled by Ernest Hemingway as “the loveliest I had seen in Africa”.

The compact game-viewing circuit through Manyara offers a virtual microcosm of the Tanzanian safari experience.

From the entrance gate, the road winds through an expanse of lush jungle-like groundwater forest where hundred-strong baboon troops lounge nonchalantly along the roadside, blue monkeys scamper nimbly between the ancient mahogany trees, dainty bushbuck tread warily through the shadows, and outsized forest hornbills honk cacophonously in the high canopy.

Contrasting with the intimacy of the forest is the grassy floodplain and its expansive views eastward, across the alkaline lake, to the jagged blue volcanic peaks that rise from the endless Maasai Steppes. Large buffalo, wildebeest and zebra herds congregate on these grassy plains, as do giraffes – some so dark in coloration that they appear to be black from a distance.

Inland of the floodplain, a narrow belt of acacia woodland is the favored haunt of Manyara’s legendary tree-climbing lions and impressively tusked elephants. Squadrons of banded mongoose dart between the acacias, while the diminutive Kirk’s dik-dik forages in their shade. Pairs of klipspringer are often seen silhouetted on the rocks above a field of searing hot springs that steams and bubbles adjacent to the lakeshore in the far south of the park.

Lake Manyara National Park covers 127 square miles and the lake itself covers 77 square miles.


Lake Tanganyika

Lake Tanganyika’s waters lap Tanzania, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia. It is the longest fresh water lake in the world and the second deepest after lake Baikal in Russia. The immense depth is because it lies in the Great Rift Valley, which also has created its steep shoreline. It reaches a depth of 4,700 feet or almost a mile.

Lake Tanganyika, the largest of the Great African Rift valley lakes, forms the extreme western border of Tanzania. For monetary value, some parts of this lake rival pretty much any of the best beaches on the east African coast; unbelievably clear warm water and white sandy beaches and what’s more this is a place where you can also see some very unusual wildlife, from the chimpanzees on the shores to the cichlid fish beneath the surface.


Lake Victoria

Lake Victoria is the source of the Nile and the largest body of fresh water in Africa (and second largest in the world after Lake Superior). The southern half of the lake is found within the borders of Tanzania. Trade is plied and people are ferried up and down the lake, often in rather unseaworthy looking boats and traditional dhows. The Kenyan section of the lake in the far north-eastern corner contains a few islands with simple fishing villages along the shores of the larger ones, and the odd exotic lodge mainly for guests flying in on light aircraft from the Masai Mara.

Whether fishing, bird watching, boating or resting, these islands induce extreme relaxation and the light breeze keeps most mosquitoes away.

Lake Victoria’s birdlife is staggering. Tiny islets contain huge nesting colonies of egrets, cormorants and gannets and territorial fish eagles patrol every 100 yards. Some of the fish eagles have become habituated to being thrown fish from the boat and swoop down to claim an easy prey, just feet away from you and your camera lens. There are of course hippos and crocodiles in Lake Victoria and the locals will tell you if they frequent the area where you are staying.

Fishing is good too with giant Nile perch weighing over 100 pounds with a record catch at an unbelievable 520 pounds! Evenings are the best time to cast for tilapia from the shoreline.


Mahale Mountains National Park

Set deep in the heart of the African interior, inaccessible by road and only 60 miles south of where Stanley uttered that immortal greeting “Doctor Livingstone, I presume”, is a scene reminiscent of an Indian Ocean island beach setting.

Silky white coves hem in the azure waters of Lake Tanganyika, overshadowed by a chain of wild, jungle-draped peaks towering almost 1 mile above the shore: the remote and mysterious Mahale Mountains.

Mahale Mountains National Park (MMNP) is home to some of Africa’s last remaining wild chimpanzees: a population of roughly 800 (only 60 individuals forming what is known as “M group”), habituated to human visitors by a Japanese research project founded in the 1960s. Tracking the chimps of Mahale is a magical experience. The guide’s eyes pick out last night’s nests – shadowy clumps high in a gallery of trees crowding the sky and scraps of half-eaten fruit and fresh dung become valuable clues, leading deeper into the forest. Butterflies flit in the dappled sunlight.

Then suddenly you are in their midst: preening each other’s glossy coats in concentrated huddles, squabbling noisily, or bounding into the trees to swing effortlessly between the vines.

The area is also known as Nkungwe, after the park’s largest mountain, held sacred by the local Tongwe people, and at 8,069 feet the highest of the six prominent points that make up the Mahale Range.

And while chimpanzees are the star attraction, the slopes support a diverse forest fauna, including readily observed troops of red colobus, red-tailed and blue monkeys, and a kaleidoscopic array of colorful forest birds.

All this can be found on the banks of Lake Tanganyika in the impossibly clear waters of the world’s longest, second-deepest and least-polluted freshwater lake – harboring an estimated 1,000 fish species – before returning as you came, by boat.


Mikumi National Park

Mikumi National Park (MNP) abuts the northern border of Africa’s biggest game reserve – the Selous – and is transected by the surfaced road between Dar es Salaam and Iringa. At 1,250 square miles, MNP is thus the most accessible part of a 47,000 square mile tract of wilderness that stretches east almost as far as the Indian Ocean.

The open horizons and abundant wildlife of the Mkata Floodplain, the popular centerpiece of MNP, draw frequent comparisons to the more famous Serengeti Plains.

Lions survey their grassy kingdom – and the zebra, wildebeest, impala and buffalo herds that migrate across it – from the flattened tops of termite mounds, or sometimes, during the rains, from perches high in the trees. Giraffes forage in the isolated acacia stands that fringe the Mkata River, islets of shade favored also by MNP’s elephants.

Crisscrossed by a good circuit of game-viewing roads, the Mkata Floodplain is perhaps the most reliable place in Tanzania for sightings of the powerful eland, the world’s largest antelope. The equally impressive greater kudu and sable antelope haunt the miombo-covered foothills of the mountains that rise from the park’s borders. Hippos are the star attraction of the pair of pools situated 3 miles north of the main entrance gate.


Selous Game Reserve

The Selous National Park (SGR) is the largest national park in Africa. Four times the size of Serengeti and covering more than 5% of Tanzania’s total area, the reserve possesses a diverse landscape from hot volcanic springs, sporadic lakes, channels from the Great Rhaha and Rufiji rivers. One of the more historic protected areas in Tanzania, the SGR was named after Frederick Courteney Selous, a British explorer and hunter in East Africa who was killed in World War 1 in the Beho region of the reserve. The area has remained one of the untouched gems of Tanzania’s national parks and game reserves.

There are large populations of elephant in the park. Approximately 70 % (60,000) of Tanzania’s elephants are found in SNR. Other well known animals include the hippo (40,000 inhabit the river systems), depleted numbers of the black rhino, large herds of buffalo (over 160,000), the area’s famous wild dogs and 5,000 lion patrol the reserve.

Also found here are Nyasaland gnu, brindled gnu, hartebeest, Greater Kudu, sable antelope, eland, reedbuck, bushbuck, waterbuck, warthog, zebras, giraffe, wildebeest and leopard. Cheetah are rare.


Ruaha National Park

The game viewing starts the moment the plane touches down. A giraffe races beside the airstrip, all legs and neck, yet oddly elegant in its awkwardness. A line of zebras parades across the runway in the giraffe’s wake.

In the distance, beneath a bulbous baobab tree, a few representatives of Ruaha National Park’s (RNP) 10,000 elephants – the largest population of any East African national park, form a protective huddle around their young.

Second only to Katavi National Park in its aura of untrammeled wilderness, but far more accessible, RNP protects a vast tract of the rugged, semi-arid bush country that characterizes central Tanzania. Its lifeblood is the Great Ruaha River, which courses along the eastern boundary in a flooded torrent during the height of the rains, but dwindling thereafter to a scattering of precious pools surrounded by a blinding sweep of sand and rock.

A fine network of game-viewing roads follows the Great Ruaha and its seasonal tributaries, where , during the dry season, impala, waterbuck and other antelopes risk their life for a sip of life-sustaining water. And the risk is considerable: not only from the prides of 20-plus lion that lord over the savannah, but also from the cheetahs that stalk the open grassland and the leopards that lurk in tangled riverine thickets. This impressive array of large predators is boosted by both striped and spotted hyena, as well as several conspicuous packs of the highly endangered African wild dog.

RNP’s unusually high diversity of antelope is a function of its location, which is transitional to the acacia savannah of East Africa and the miombo woodland belt of Southern Africa. Grant’s gazelle and lesser kudu occur here at the very south of their range, alongside the miombo-associated sable and roan antelope, and one of East Africa’s largest populations of greater kudu, the park emblem, distinguished by the male’s magnificent corkscrew horns.

Covering 3,980 square miles, RNP is Tanzania’s second largest wildlife park.


Serengeti National Park

Tanzania’s oldest and most popular national park, also a world heritage site and recently proclaimed a 7th world-wide wonder, the Serengeti National Park (SNP) is famed for its annual migration, when some six million hooves pound the open plains, as more than 200,000 zebra and 300,000 Thomson’s gazelle join the wildebeest’s trek for fresh grazing. Yet even when the migration is quiet, the SNP offers arguably the most scintillating game-viewing in Africa: great herds of buffalo, smaller groups of elephant and giraffe, and thousands upon thousands of eland, topi, kongoni, impala and Grant’s gazelle.

The spectacle of predator versus prey dominates Tanzania’s greatest park. Golden-maned lion prides feast on the abundance of plain grazers. Solitary leopards haunt the acacia trees lining the Seronera River, while a high density of cheetahs prowls the southeastern plains. Almost uniquely, all three African jackal species occur here, alongside the spotted hyena and a host of more elusive small predators, ranging from the insectivorous aardwolf to the beautiful serval cat.

Stretching some 5,700 square miles north to Kenya and bordering Lake Victoria to the west, SNP offers enduring game-viewing in the liberating sense of space that characterizes the Serengeti Plains, stretching across sunburned savannah to a shimmering golden horizon at the end of the earth.


Tarangire National Park

The fierce sun sucks the moisture from the landscape, baking the earth a dusty red, the withered grass as brittle as straw. The Tarangire River has shriveled to a shadow of its wet season self. But it is choked with wildlife. Thirsty nomads have wandered hundreds of parched miles knowing that here, always, there is water.

Herds of up to 300 elephants scratch the dry river bed for underground streams, while migratory wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, impala, gazelle, hartebeest and eland crowd the shrinking lagoons. It’s the greatest concentration of wildlife outside the Serengeti ecosystem – a smorgasbord for predators – and the one place in Tanzania where dry-country antelope such as the stately fringe-eared oryx and peculiar long-necked gerenuk are regularly observed.

During the rainy season, the seasonal visitors scatter over a 12,500 square miles range until they exhaust the green plains and the river calls once more. But Tarangire’s mobs of elephant are easily encountered, wet or dry. The swamps, tinged green year round, are the focus for 550 bird varieties, the most breeding species in one habitat anywhere in the world.

Tarangire’s pythons climb trees, as do its lions and leopards, lounging in the branches where the fruit of the sausage tree disguises the twitch of a tail.


Udzungwa National Park

Udzungwa National Park (UNP) is the largest and most biodiverse of a chain of a dozen large forest-swathed mountains that rise majestically from the flat coastal scrub of eastern Tanzania. The park is also unique within Tanzania in that its closed-canopy forest spans altitudes of 800 feet to above 6,500 feet without interruption.

Not a conventional game viewing destination, UNP is a magnet for hikers. An excellent network of forest trails includes the popular half-day ramble to Sanje Waterfall, which plunges (550 feet through a misty spray into the forested valley below. The more challenging two-night Mwanihana Trail leads to the high plateau, with its panoramic views over surrounding sugar plantations, before ascending to Mwanihana peak, the second-highest point in the range.

Of six primate species recorded, the Iringa red colobus and Sanje Crested Mangabey both occur nowhere else in the world – the latter, remarkably, remained undetected by biologists prior to 1979.

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