Arusha National Park
The closest national park to Arusha town – Northern Tanzania’s safari capital – Arusha National Park is a multi-faceted jewel, often overlooked by safari goers, despite offering the opportunity to explore a beguiling diversity of habitats within a few hours. The entrance gate leads into shadowy alpine forest inhabited by inquisitive blue monkeys and colorful turacos and trogons – the only place on the northern safari circuit where the acrobatic black-and-white colobus monkey is easily seen. In the midst of the forest stands the spectacular Ngurdoto Crater, whose steep, rocky cliffs enclose a wide marshy floor dotted with herds of buffalo and warthog.
Further north, rolling grassy hills enclose the tranquil beauty of the Momela Lakes, each one a different hue of green or blue. Their shallows sometimes tinged pink with thousands of flamingos, the lakes support a rich selection of resident and migrant waterfowl, and shaggy water-bucks display their large lyre-shaped horns on the watery fringes. Giraffes glide across the grassy hills, between grazing zebra herds, while pairs of wide-eyed dik-dik dart into scrubby bush like overgrown hares on spindly legs.
Although elephants are uncommon in Arusha National Park and lions absent altogether, leopards and spotted hyenas may be seen slinking around in the early morning and late afternoon. It is also at dusk and dawn that the veil of cloud on the eastern horizon is most likely to clear, revealing the majestic snow-capped peaks of Kilimanjaro, only 50km (30 miles) distant.
But it is Kilimanjaro unassuming cousin, Mount Meru – the fifth highest in Africa at 4,566 meters (14,990 feet) – that dominates the park’s horizon. Its peaks and eastern foot slopes protected within the national park, Meru offers unparalleled views of its famous neighbor, while also forming a rewarding hiking destination in its own right.
Passing first through wooded savannah where buffalos and giraffes are frequently encountered, the ascent of Meru leads into forests aflame with red-hot pokers and dripping with Spanish moss, before reaching high open heath spiked with giant lobelias. Everlasting flowers cling to the alpine desert, as delicately-hoofed klipspringers mark the hike’s progress. Astride the craggy summit, Kilimanjaro stands unveiled, blushing in the sunrise.
Covering an area of almost 70,000 square kilometers, Lake Victoria is one of the African Great Lakes. With half of the lake in Tanzania, it also spreads across Kenya and Uganda. The lake receives most of its water from direct precipitation. Its largest in-fluent is the Kagera River, the mouth of which lies on the lake’s western shore. The only river to leave the lake (flowing north) the White Nile (known as the “Victoria Nile”), leaves at Jinja, Uganda, on the lake’s north shore.
Lake Victoria is relatively shallow. It has a maximum depth of 84 meters (276 ft) and an average depth of 20 meters (66 ft).
The lake was first sighted, IN 1858, when the British explorer John Hanning Speke reached its southern shore while on his journey with Richard Francis Burton to explore central Africa and locate the Great Lakes. Believing he had found the source of the Nile on seeing this “vast expanse of open water” for the first time, Speke named the lake after Queen Victoria. Burton, who had been recovering from illness at the time and resting further south on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, was outraged that Speke claimed to have proved his discovery to have been the true source of the Nile, which Burton regarded as still unsettled. A very public quarrel ensued, which not only sparked a great deal of intense debate within the scientific community of the day, but also much interest by other explorers keen to either confirm or refute Speke’s discovery. In the past, the famous British explorer and missionary David Livingstone failed in his attempt to verify Speke’s discovery, instead pushing too far west and entering the River Congo system instead. Ultimately, the Welsh-American explorer Henry Morton Stanley, on an expedition funded by the New York Herald newspaper, confirmed the truth of Speke’s discovery, circumnavigating the lake and reporting the great outflow at Ripon Falls on the lake’s northern shore.
The introduction of exotic fish species, especially the Nile perch, has altered the freshwater ecosystem of the lake and driven several hundred native species to near or total extinction.
Around the lake shores, you can enjoy a range of activities like canoe trips on the lake, visit to a fishing village, mountain bike riding, bird walks and lake cruises.
Mikumi National Park
Mikumi has never acquired the near-mystical status of more remote counterparts such as Ruaha and Katavi. But the very accessibility of this 3,230 sq km sanctuary – the country’s fourth-largest national park and an extension of the 150,000 sq km Selous-Niassa ecosystem – makes it a thoroughly attractive goal on a more extensive safari through southern Tanzania. Those who do make the effort to visit Mikumi can expect to encounter few other tourists and plenty of wildlife – indeed the park’s open horizons and high wildlife concentrations have drawn frequent comparisons to the more famous Serengeti Plains.
The landscape of Mikumi can be compared to that of the Serengeti, with the north-west area dotted with acacia and baobab trees. With spectacular rock formations at mountains Rubeho and Uluguru, the National Park is off the beaten track from the regular safari routes but one of interest nonetheless. Add a game drive or walking safari in Mikumi to your itinerary to experience this well protected area of Tanzania.
Mahale Mountains National Park
Mahale Mountains National Park lies on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Kigoma Region, Tanzania. Named after the Mahale Mountains range that is within its borders, the park has several unusual characteristics. First, it is one of only two protected areas for chimpanzees in the country. (The other is nearby Gombe Stream National Park made famous by the researcher Jane Goodall.) The chimpanzee population in Mahale Mountains National Park is the largest known and due to its size and remoteness, the chimpanzees flourish. It also the only place, where chimpanzees and lions co-exist. Another unusual feature of the park is that it is one of the very few in Africa that must be experienced by foot. There are no roads or other infrastructure within the park boundaries, and the only way in and out of the park is via boat on the lake.
The Mahale Mountains were traditionally inhabited by the Batongwe and Holoholo people, with populations in 1987 of 22,000 and 12,500 respectively. When the Mahale Mountains Wildlife Research Center was established in 1979 these people were expelled from the mountains to make way for the park, which opened in 1985. The people had been highly attuned to the natural environment, living with virtually no impact on the ecology.
A visit to Mahale Mountains National Park will be filled with a variety of exciting activities including chimpanzee trekking, forest and bird walks and water activities including snorkeling, kayaking and boat safaris. A rare and once in a lifetime experience!
Gombe Stream National Park
Gombe Steam National Park is the smallest national park in Tanzania. But don’t let the size deter you. With such high levels of diversity in flora and fauna, Gombe is a great addition to your safari itinerary. Accessible only by boat, the park is most famous as the location where Jane Goodall pioneered her behavioral research on chimpanzee populations.
Located along the shores of Lake Tanganyika, Gombe Stream National Park activities include game drives, chimpanzee trekking and snorkeling. The most visible of Gombe’s other mammals are also primates. A troop of beachcomber olive baboons, under study since the 1960s, is exceptionally habituated, while red-tailed and red colobus monkeys – the latter regularly hunted by chimps – stick to the forest canopy.
The park’s 200-odd bird species range from the iconic fish eagle to the jewel-like Peter’s twin spots that hop tamely around the visitors’ centre. After dusk, a dazzling night sky is complemented by the lanterns of hundreds of small wooden boats, bobbing on the lake like a sprawling city.