The primary role of Tanzania’ national parks is conservation. The 14 national parks, many of which form the core of a much larger protected ecosystem, have been set aside to preserve the country’s rich natural heritage, and to provide secure breeding grounds where its fauna and flora can thrive, safe from the conflicting interests of a growing human population.
The existing park system protects a number of internationally recognized bastions of biodiversity and World Heritage sites, thereby redressing the balance for those areas of the country affected by deforestation, agriculture and urbanization.
Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) is also currently acquiring further land to expand certain parks, and to raise the status of traditional migration corridors connecting protected areas.
In spite of population pressures, Tanzania has dedicated more than 42,000 square kilometres to national parks. Including other reserves, conservation areas and marine parks, Tanzania has accorded some form of formal protection to more than one-third of its territory.
Park 137 sq km (53 sq miles)
The closest national park to Arusha town – northern Tanzania’s safari capital – Arusha National Park is a multi-faceted jewel, often overlooked by safarigoers, despite offering the opportunity to explore a beguiling diversity of habitats within a few hours.
The entrance gate leads into shadowy montane forest inhabited by inquisitive blue monkeys and colourful 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 waterbucks 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’s unassuming cousin, Mount Meru - the fifth highest in Africa at 4,566 metres (14,990 feet) – that dominates the park’s horizon. Its peaks and eastern footslopes protected within the national park, Meru offers unparalleled views of its famous neighbour, 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.
What to do: Forest walks, numerous picnic sites; three- or four-day Mt Meru climb - good acclimatisation for Kilimanjaro.
When to go: To climb Mt Meru, June-February although it may rain in November. Best views of Kilimanjaro December-February.
National Park 52 sq km (20 sq miles), Tanzania's smallest park
An excited whoop erupts from deep in the forest, boosted immediately by a dozen other voices, rising in volume and tempo and pitch to a frenzied shrieking crescendo. It is the famous ‘pant-hoot’ call: a bonding ritual that allows the participants to identify each other through their individual vocal stylisations. To the human listener, walking through the ancient forests of Gombe Stream, this spine-chilling outburst is also an indicator of imminent visual contact with man’s closest genetic relative: the chimpanzee.
Gombe is the smallest of Tanzania's national parks: a fragile strip of chimpanzee habitat straddling the steep slopes and river valleys that hem in the sandy northern shore of Lake Tanganyika. Its chimpanzees – habituated to human visitors – were made famous by the pioneering work of Jane Goodall, who in 1960 founded a behavioural research program that now stands as the longest-running study of its kind in the world. The matriarch Fifi, the last surviving member of the original community, only three-years old when Goodall first set foot in Gombe, is still regularly seen by visitors.
Chimpanzees share about 98% of their genes with humans, and no scientific expertise is required to distinguish between the individual repertoires of pants, hoots and screams that define the celebrities, the powerbrokers, and the supporting characters. Perhaps you will see a flicker of understanding when you look into a chimp's eyes, assessing you in return - a look of apparent recognition across the narrowest of species barriers.
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 twinspots 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.
What to do: Chimpanzee trekking; hiking, swimming and snorkelling; visit the site of Henry Stanley's famous “Dr Livingstone I presume” at Ujiji near Kigoma, and watch the renowned dhow builders at work.
When to go: The chimps don't roam as far in the wet season (February-June, November-mid December) so may be easier to find; better picture opportunities in the dry (July-October and late December).
NOTE: Strict rules are in place to safeguard you and the chimps. Allow at least 2 days to see them - this is not a zoo so there are no guarantees where they'll be each day.
National Park 4,471 sq km (1,727 sq miles)
Isolated, untrammelled and seldom visited, Katavi 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 brachystegia woodland, home to substantial but elusive populations of the localised 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 waterbirds, and they also support Tanzania’s densest concentrations of hippo and crocodile.
It is during the dry season, when the floodwaters retreat, that Katavi 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.
What to do: Walking, driving and camping safaris. Near Lake Katavi, visit the tamarind tree inhabited by the spirit of the legendary hunter Katabi (for whom the park is named) - offerings are still left here by locals seeking the spirit’s blessing.
When to go: The dry season (May-October). Roads within the park are often flooded during the rainy season but may be passable from mid-December to February.
National Park 755 sq km (292 sq miles)
Kilimanjaro. The name itself is a mystery wreathed in clouds. It might mean Mountain of Light, Mountain of Greatness or Mountain of Caravans. Or it might not. The local people, the Wachagga, don't even have a name for the whole massif, only Kipoo (now known as Kibo) for the familiar snowy peak that stands imperious, overseer of the continent, the summit of Africa.
Kilimanjaro, by any name, 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 900 metres – to an imperious 5,895 metres (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 2,700m contour), the cultivated footslopes 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 lies the moorland zone, where a cover of giant heather is studded with otherworldly giant lobelias.
Above 4,000m, 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.
What to do: Six usual trekking routes to the summit and other more-demanding mountaineering routes. Day or overnight hikes on the Shira plateau. Nature trails on the lower reaches. Trout fishing. Visit the beautiful Chala crater lake on the mountain’s southeastern slopes.
When to go: Clearest and warmest conditions from December to February, but also dry (and colder) from July-September.
Note: Climb slowly to increase your acclimatisation time and maximise your chances of reaching the summit. To avoid altitude sickness, allow a minimum of five nights, preferably even more for the climb. Take your time and enjoy the beauty of the mountain.
National Park 1,613 sq km (623 sq miles)
Set deep in the heart of the African interior, inaccessible by road and only 100km (60 miles) south of where Stanley uttered that immortal greeting “Doctor Livingstone, I presume”, is a scene reminiscent of an Indian Ocean island beach idyll.
Silky white coves hem in the azure waters of Lake Tanganyika, overshadowed by a chain of wild, jungle-draped peaks towering almost 2km above the shore: the remote and mysterious Mahale Mountains.
Mahale Mountains, like its northerly neighbour Gombe Stream, is home to some of Africa’s last remaining wild chimpanzees: a population of roughly 800, 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. 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 2,460 metres (8,069 ft) 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 colourful forest birds.
You can trace the Tongwe people's ancient pilgrimage to the mountain spirits, hiking through the montane rainforest belt – home to an endemic race of Angola colobus monkey - to high grassy ridges chequered with alpine bamboo. Then bathe in the impossibly clear waters of the world’s longest, second-deepest and least-polluted freshwater lake – harbouring an estimated 1,000 fish species - before returning as you came, by boat.
What to do: Chimp tracking (allow two days); hiking; camping safaris; snorkelling; fish for your dinner.
When to go: Dry season (May-October) best for forest walks although no problem in the light rains of October/November.
Note: The same rules for chimpanzee viewing at Gombe Stream apply at Mahale.
National Park 330 sq km (127 sq miles), of which up to 200 sq km (77 sq miles) is lake when water levels are high
Stretching for 50km along the base of the rusty-gold 600-metre 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 favoured 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.
Manyara provides the perfect introduction to Tanzania’s birdlife. More than 400 species have been recorded, and even a first-time visitor to Africa might reasonably expect to observe 100 of these in one day. Highlights include thousands of pink-hued flamingos on their perpetual migration, as well as other large waterbirds such as pelicans, cormorants and storks.
What to do: Game drives, canoeing when the water levels is sufficiently high. Cultural tours, mountain bike tours, abseiling and forest walks on the escarpment outside the park.
When to go: Dry season (July-October) for large mammals; wet season (November-June) for bird watching, the waterfalls and canoeing.
National Park 3,230 sq km (1,250 sq miles), the fourth-largest park in Tanzania, and part of a much larger ecosystem centered on the uniquely vast Selous Game Reserve
Swirls of opaque mist hide the advancing dawn. The first shafts of sun colour the fluffy grass heads rippling across the plain in a russet halo. A herd of zebras, confident in their camouflage at this predatory hour, pose like ballerinas, heads aligned and stripes merging in flowing motion.
Mikumi National Park 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. It is thus the most accessible part of a 75,000 square kilometre (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 centrepiece of Mikumi, 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 favoured also by Mikumi's elephants.
Criss-crossed 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.
More than 400 bird species have been recorded, with such colourful common residents as the lilac-breasted roller, yellow-throated longclaw and bateleur eagle joined by a host of European migrants during the rainy season. Hippos are the star attraction of the pair of pools situated 5km north of the main entrance gate, supported by an ever-changing cast of waterbirds.
What to do: Game drives and guided walks. Visit nearby Udzungwa or travel on to Selous or Ruaha.
When to go: Accessible year round.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area Park 3,200 sq km (8,292 sq miles), the Ngorongoro Highlands Forest Reserve is situated within the NCA, on the eastern side, and covers about 20% thereof
The Ngorongoro Crater is often called ‘Africa’s Eden’ and the ‘8th Natural Wonder of the World,’ a visit to the crater is a main drawcard for tourists coming to Tanzania and a definite world-class attraction. Within the crater rim, large herds of zebra and wildebeest graze nearby while sleeping lions laze in the sun. At dawn, the endangered black rhino returns to the thick cover of the crater forests after grazing on dew-laden grass in the morning mist. Just outside the crater’s ridge, tall Masaai herd their cattle and goats over green pastures through the highland slopes, living alongside the wildlife as they have for centuries.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area includes its eponymous famous crater, Olduvai Gorge, and huge expanses of highland plains, scrub bush, and forests that cover approximately 8300 square kilometres. A protected area, only indigenous tribes such as the Masaai are allowed to live within its borders. Lake Ndutu and Masek, both alkaline soda lakes are home to rich game populations, as well as a series of peaks and volcanoes and make the Conservation Area a unique and beautiful landscape. Of course, the crater itself, actually a type of collapsed volcano called a caldera, is the main attraction. Accommodation is located on its ridges and after a beautiful descent down the crater rim, passing lush rain forest and thick vegetation, the flora opens to grassy plains throughout the crater floor. The game viewing is truly incredible, and the topography and views of the surrounding Crater Highlands out of this world.
This truly magical place is home to Olduvai Gorge, where the Leakeys discovered the hominoid remains of a 1.8 million year old skeleton of Australopithecus boisei, one of the distinct links of the human evolutionary chain. In a small canyon just north of the crater, the Leakeys and their team of international archaeologists unearthed the ruins of at least three distinct hominoid species, and also came upon a complete series of hominoid footprints estimated to be over 3.7 million years old. Evacuated fossils show that the area is one of the oldest sites of hominoid habitation in the world.
The Ngorongoro Crater and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area are without a doubt some of the most beautiful parts of Tanzania, steeped in history and teeming with wildlife. Besides vehicle safaris to Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge, and surrounding attractions, hiking treks through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area are becoming increasingly popular options. Either way you choose to visit, the Crater Highlands are an unforgettable part of the Tanzanian experience.
Rising up from the floors of the Rift Valley, the Crater Highlands form a lush chain of mountains and volcanoes that includes the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the surrounding Masaai tribal lands.
What to do: Visit neighbouring Serengeti National Park, Olduvai Gorge, Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano and Lake Natron's flamingos.
When to go: One will see game any time of the year. If you are visiting the Short Grass Plains or Ndutu, then Jan-Mar is the best time to see the migration; however, Ndutu is rewarding in the dry season as well. If you plan to visit Empakaai Crater, the dry season is better, since the roads become treacherous during the rains.
Note: The route and timing of the wildebeest migration is unpredictable. Allow at least three days to be assured of seeing them on your visit - longer if you want to see the main predators as well.
National Park 10,300 sq km (3,980 sq miles), Tanzania's 2nd biggest 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's 10,000 elephants - the largest population of any East African national park, form a protective huddle around their young.
Second only to Katavi in its aura of untrammelled wilderness, but far more accessible, Ruaha protects a vast tract of the rugged, semi-arid bush country that characterises 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.
Ruaha'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 AfricaÆs largest populations of greater kudu, the park emblem, distinguished by the male's magnificent corkscrew horns.
A similar duality is noted in the checklist of 450 birds: the likes of crested barbet, an attractive yellow-and-black bird whose persistent trilling is a characteristic sound of the southern bush, occur in Ruaha alongside central Tanzanian endemics such as the yellow-collared lovebird and ashy starling.
What to do: Day walks or hiking safaris through untouched bush. Stone age ruins at Isimila, near Iringa, 120 km (75 miles) away, one of Africa's most important historical sites.
When to go: For predators and large mammals, dry season (mid-May-December); bird-watching, lush scenery and wildflowers, wet season (January-April). The male greater kudu is most visible in June, the breeding season.
National Park 14,763 sq km (5,700 sq miles), Tanzania's largest park
A million wildebeest... each one driven by the same ancient rhythm, fulfilling its instinctive role in the inescapable cycle of life: a frenzied three-week bout of territorial conquests and mating; survival of the fittest as 40km (25 mile) long columns plunge through crocodile-infested waters on the annual exodus north; replenishing the species in a brief population explosion that produces more than 8,000 calves daily before the 1,000 km (600 mile) pilgrimage begins again.
Tanzania's oldest and most popular national park, the Serengeti 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 Serengeti 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.
But there is more to Serengeti than large mammals. Gaudy agama lizards and rock hyraxes scuffle around the surfaces of the park’s isolated granite koppies. A full 100 varieties of dung beetle have been recorded, as have 500-plus bird species, ranging from the outsized ostrich and bizarre secretary bird of the open grassland, to the black eagles that soar effortlessly above the Lobo Hills.
As enduring as the game-viewing is the liberating sense of space that characterises the Serengeti Plains, stretching across sunburnt savannah to a shimmering golden horizon at the end of the earth. Yet, after the rains, this golden expanse of grass is transformed into an endless green carpet flecked with wildflowers. And there are also wooded hills and towering termite mounds, rivers lined with fig trees and acacia woodland stained orange by dust.
Popular the Serengeti might be, but it remains so vast that you may be the only human audience when a pride of lions masterminds a siege, focussed unswervingly on its next meal.
What to do: Hot air balloon safaris, Maasai rock paintings and musical rocks. Visit neighbouring Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge, Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano and Lake Natron's flamingos.
When to go: To follow the wildebeest migration, December-July. To see predators, June-October.
Note: The route and timing of the wildebeest migration is unpredictable. Allow at least three days to be assured of seeing them on your visit - longer if you want to see the main predators as well.
National Park 2,600 sq km (1,005 sq miles)
Day after day of cloudless skies.
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 shrivelled to a shadow of its wet season self. But it is choked with wildlife. Thirsty nomads have wandered hundreds of parched kilometres 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 20,000 sq km (12,500 sq 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.
On drier ground you find the Kori bustard, the heaviest flying bird; the stocking-thighed ostrich, the world's largest bird; and small parties of ground hornbills blustering like turkeys.
More ardent bird-lovers might keep an eye open for screeching flocks of the dazzlingly colourful yellow-collared lovebird, and the somewhat drabber rufous-tailed weaver and ashy starling – all endemic to the dry savannah of north-central Tanzania.
Disused termite mounds are often frequented by colonies of the endearing dwarf mongoose, and pairs of red-and-yellow barbet, which draw attention to themselves by their loud, clockwork-like duetting.
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.
What to do: Guided walking safaris. Day trips to Maasai and Barabaig villages, as well as to the hundreds of ancient rock paintings in the vicinity of Kolo on the Dodoma Road.
When to go: Year round but dry season (June - September) for sheer numbers of animals.
National Park 1,990 sq km (770 sq miles)
Brooding and primeval, the forests of Udzungwa seem positively enchanted: a verdant refuge of sunshine-dappled glades enclosed by 30-metre (100 foot) high trees, their buttresses layered with fungi, lichens, mosses and ferns.
Udzungwa 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. Known collectively as the Eastern Arc Mountains, this archipelago of isolated massifs has also been dubbed the African Galapagos for its treasure-trove of endemic plants and animals, most familiarly the delicate African violet.
Udzungwa alone among the ancient ranges of the Eastern Arc has been accorded national park status. It is also unique within Tanzania in that its closed-canopy forest spans altitudes of 250 metres (820 feet) to above 2,000 metres (6,560 ft) without interruption.
Not a conventional game viewing destination, Udzungwa is a magnet for hikers. An excellent network of forest trails includes the popular half-day ramble to Sanje Waterfall, which plunges 170 metres (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.
Ornithologists are attracted to Udzungwa for an avian wealth embracing more than 400 species, from the lovely and readily-located green-headed oriole to more than a dozen secretive Eastern Arc endemics.
Four bird species are peculiar to Udzungwa, including a forest partridge first discovered in 1991 and more closely related to an Asian genus than to any other African fowl.
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.
Undoubtedly, this great forest has yet to reveal all its treasures: ongoing scientific exploration will surely add to its diverse catalogue of endemics.
What to do: From a two-hour hike to the waterfall to camping safaris. Combine with nearby Mikumi or en route to Ruaha.
When to go: Possible year round although slippery in the rains. The dry season is June-October before the short rains but be prepared for rain anytime.
Information provided coutesy of The Official Tourism Website of Tanzania National Parks
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