Katavi National Park
Great For: Escaping the crowds and really authentic safari.
Highlights: Luxury experiences, lots of hippos and buffalo herds.
If you’re searching for a really wild luxury safari then Katavi should be high on your list. Fly here on a local flight then spend three days driving off the trails to intense wildlife encounters; huge buffalo herds fighting with lions are just one highlight. Best of all, you can go three days here and not see any other visitors.
Best Time to Visit Katavi National Park: Anytime outside March to May when rain makes the park’s roads inaccessible.
Also Consider: Parks in southern Tanzania.
Combine With: Ngorongoro and the Serengeti.
Lake Manyara National Park
Great For: A safari introduction and plenty of surprise.
Highlights: The beautiful landscape; baboons; elephants in the trees.
Lake Manyara is the first stop on Tanzania’s northern circuit, a beautiful landscape of rock-cut valleys and elephant-dappled woodlands. Hippos fill the lake itself and you can’t miss the sheer numbers of giraffe and raucous baboons.
Forget the big five. Safari is all about the beauty and bounty of the landscape, as demonstrated by Lake Manyara. You only need a day to enjoy it all, although it’s well recommended to stay at a camp within or directly outside the park, allowing for extended wildlife encounters.
Another specialism here are the tree-climbing lions, a very rare sight even if you’ve been on many safaris.
Best Time to Visit Lake Manyara National Park: The dry season of June to September and January to March.
Also Consider: Parks in Southern Tanzania.
Combine With: Tarangire, Ngorongoro and Serengeti.
Ngorongoro Crater and Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Great For: The ultimate and most surreal animal Eden.
Highlights: Everything…except for peak season afternoon crowds.
Two rhinos walk past. Giant elephant bulls give you the stare. Lions are devouring a zebra carcass. Hippos yawn in the lake and it’s impossible to know which way to look. 30,000 animals coexist in the world’s largest volcanic caldera, forming a natural Eden that’s as sublime as it is surreal.
Ngorongoro is one of Africa’s ultimate destinations and the only way to explore is on a six-hour guided game drive. Sunrise is the best time as the afternoons can get very busy with vehicles, which somewhat dampens the experience.
But with so many animals in such a beautiful space, you won’t find a better one-day safari anywhere else.
Best Time to Visit Ngorongoro Crater: Any day of the year; off season months are probably the best as there are less visitors.
Also Consider: Nowhere compares to Ngorongoro.
Combine With: Ngorongoro is on route between Tarangire and the Serengeti.
Ruaha National Park
Great For: Going off the beaten track and finding your wild side.
Highlights: The lack of other visitors and the pure wilderness feel.
Enormous and enchanting, Ruaha is where you get to escape the world and embrace the wonders of the wilderness. You can go days without seeing other people or vehicles, but you will find some of Africa’s largest lion prides and wild dog packs.
Elephants, hippos, leopards, zebra, wildebeest, buffalo…it’s all here in its natural habitat, discovered when you go on full-day game drives or walks. Three days give you a glimpse and you could spend a week and not get close to discovering it all.
If you want to see Africa as it always has been, Ruaha should be high on your list.
Best Time to Visit Ruaha National Park: Anytime outside April and May, when heavy rains make the paths inaccessible. There’s no peak time as this is a hugely under-visited park.
Also Consider: Samburu National Reserve in Kenya.
Combine With: Selous or fly onwards to the Serengeti.
Selous Game Reserve
Great For: Wild and authentic safari, with a good mix of safari activities.
Highlights: Elephants, wild dogs, walking safaris.
Selous is the largest of all Africa’s reserves, a great swathe of bush and savannah in the south of Tanzania. Most of the safari revolves around the Rufiji River, with walks and boat safaris mixing with game drives.
On a three-day safari you can enjoy a wide range of activities, taking in the landscape from many complementary angles. Like most Tanzanian parks you can see a fabulous profusion of wildlife, not just the famous cats but a full assortment of ungulates and predators.
Selous is hard to get to if you’re not flying, which is part of the appeal and the main reason you don’t encounter many other visitors.
Best Time to Visit Selous: June to September or January to early March.
Also Consider: Tanzania’s northern safari circuit.
Combine With: Ruaha National Park.
Serengeti National Park
Great For: Really connecting with your wild side.
Highlights: The great wildebeest migration; big cats on the prowl.
The famous Serengeti grasslands defy the imagination, home to more wild mammals than anywhere else on the planet. Lions prowl, leopards hide, hyenas scavenge and you’ll regularly see these predators on a hunt.
The landscape stretches on for eternity and you can’t keep track of the wildlife when there are 2 million mammals around. This is where the great wildebeest migration starts and ends, and is the famous setting for documentaries and Disney movies.
Most exploration is on long daytime game drives and it’s great to camp in different parts of the park. You need time and could happily spend a week here, with three days the recommended minimum.
Best Time to Visit the Serengeti: January to March for the start of the migration, but there is no bad time to go as most of the animals are year-round residents.
Also Consider: For something more exclusive or for different activities, try Grumeti, a private concession in the west of the Serengeti. The Maasai Mara is contiguous with the Serengeti.
Combine With: Ngorongoro Crater.
Tarangire National Park
Great For: A day of exploring and losing count of the elephants.
Highlights: Elephants and baobab trees; accommodation on the edge of the park.
Elephants herds wander past your safari vehicle, juxtaposed with bulbous baobab trees. The pachyderms hoot through the night, walk past your camp, and keep you entertained every moment of the day.
However, there’s more than elephants in this woodland park, notably lion prides, cheetahs and a supreme collection of other East African favourites. Many discount Tarangire in favour of Ngorongoro but we’d recommend visiting both as they are completely different.
Tarangire is also great for accommodation, with some excellent value lodges looking out onto the landscape and wildlife.
Best Time to Visit Tarangire: Game viewing is best in the dry season, so avoid April and May. February and early March are incredible.
Also Consider: Kenya’s Amboseli National Park.
Combine With: Ngorongoro and the Serengeti.