Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area are without doubt the most famous safari destinations in Tanzania. But if you travel a little further south, you’ll step off the beaten track and into the spectacular surrounds of Tarangire National Park. This lesser-known game reserve is often left off tourist itineraries in favour of its more famous neighbors; yet during the dry season, it has a greater concentration of wildlife per square kilometer than any other park in Tanzania. It takes its name from the Tarangire River, which is the area’s only source of permanent fresh water during the driest months.
Tarangire’s wildlife is as diverse as its habitats, which include grassland, riverine forest and perennially green wetlands. It is home to four of the Big Five (rhinos being the notable exception) and has one of the biggest elephant populations in northern Tanzania. A wealth of different antelope species are attracted by the park’s excellent seasonal grazing, including dik dik, impala, eland, Grant’s gazelle and waterbuck. The park is also known for three regional specials: the vulnerable fringe-eared oryx, the graceful gerenuk and the dwarf mongoose, which inhabits many of its abandoned termite hills.
During the June to November dry season, the Tarangire plains host thousands of wildebeest, zebra and Cape buffalo, all of whom gather here on their annual migration north to Kenya’s Maasai Mara. This abundance of prey attracts a plethora of predators (many of which are resident all year round but are easiest to spot during the migration). Keep an eye out for prides of lion, cheetah on the hunt and leopards waiting for nightfall in the park’s twisted acacia trees. Spotted hyena and the endangered African wild dog are also much sought-after, while the smaller felines of Tarangire include caracal and serval.
A Birding Hotspot
The national park is also one of the best birding destinations in Tanzania. Over 550 avian species have been recorded here, many of them attracted by the Silale Swamps which remain green all year round. The swamps support more breeding bird species than any other single habitat on Earth. Many birders come in search of Tanzanian endemics including the rufous-tailed weaver, ashy starling and yellow-collared lovebird. Other specials include the vulturine guineafowl and the northern pied babbler, both of which are at the extremity of their range in Tarangire; and the locally rare bushveld pipit.
Raptors are commonly spotted and include iconic species such as the bateleur eagle and the lappet-faced vulture. A particular highlight for many first-time visitors to East Africa is the pygmy falcon—a tiny species that inhabits weaver bird colonies and is the smallest bird of prey on the continent. During the rainy season, the park’s rich insect life attracts countless migratory birds from Europe and Asia.
Top Tarangire Activities
There are many different ways to look for game in Tarangire. You can self-drive or sign up for a guided jeep safari through your tour operator or lodge. Many camps also offer walking safaris, allowing you to venture into the bush with a trained field guide who will use his or her tracking skills to introduce you to the park’s wildlife at close quarters. Tarangire is one of the few Tanzanian national parks to allow night drives within its boundaries. These nocturnal adventures are not to be missed, giving you the opportunity to spot an entirely different cast of creatures to those encountered during the day.
Once-in-a-lifetime experiences for those with cash to spare include sunrise hot air balloon safaris and fly camping excursions. The latter are offered by several of the park’s luxury lodges and involve sleeping under the stars in a private temporary camp deep within the African bush. If you have time, consider combining your visit to Tarangire with a trip to adjacent Lake Manyara National Park. Located just 43 miles (70 kilometers) away, it’s famous for its tree-climbing lions and for the vast flocks of flamingos that adorn its eponymous soda lake.
Where to Stay
There are several accommodation options in Tarangire National Park. Those looking for a luxury experience should choose Oliver’s Camp by Asilia or Sanctuary Swala. Located in the remote southern area of the park, Oliver’s has 10 decadent safari tents, all overlooking the Minyonyo Pools and equipped with ensuite bathrooms and solar power. Sanctuary Swala’s 12 canvas pavilions each have a private deck overlooking the camp’s waterhole. If you have a tighter budget but still want to stay inside the park, consider Kichuguu, an affordable option with single, double and family rooms in addition to a communal dining area.
If you’re planning a self-drive camping trip, there’s a public campsite located near the main park gate with toilets, showers and a cooking area. You’ll need to bring your own drinking water, firewood and all your ingredients and utensils but at $30 per adult per night, this is definitely the cheapest (and arguably the most authentic) option in Tarangire. Just outside the park, Tarangire Treetops is a special option with 20 rooms built on stilts amidst a thicket of baobab and marula trees. The central lodge is built around a 1,000-year-old baobab and features a gourmet boma restaurant.
Weather & When to Go
Tarangire National Park has a temperate climate with temperatures that change according to elevation rather than the time of year. Generally, they average around 80 F/27 C during the day and around 59 F/15 C at night. Instead of a conventional winter and summer, Tarangire has a dry and rainy season. The former runs from June to October and the latter is divided into the short rains (from November to December) and the long rains (from March to May). Generally, the dry season is considered the best time to travel as it coincides with the arrival of the Great Migration and affords the best game viewing.
By the time the rains begin, many of the animals have moved on and your days are likely to be interrupted by afternoon downpours. However, this is the best time to visit for keen birders as summer migrants will have arrived and resident birds are sporting their colorful breeding plumage. There is a higher risk of malaria at this time of year, although prophylactics are recommended for visitors to Tarangire all year round.
How to Get There
If you plan on driving to Tarangire National Park, there are paved roads from Arusha (87 miles/140 kilometers to the northeast) and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (100 miles/160 kilometers to the northwest). The nearest airports are Arusha Airport, Kilimanjaro International Airport or the Kuro airstrip, located in the southern section of the park itself.
Self-drive enthusiasts can drive their own car into and around the park. Entry for independent travelers costs $45 per day for non-resident adults, $15 for non-resident children and nothing at all for kids under 5. You’ll also need to pay a minimal fee for your vehicle ($40 if it’s registered in another country, 20,000 Tanzanian shillings if it's registered nationally). Alternatively, many tour companies offer itineraries that include a visit to Tarangire. These usually take care of all the planning and include your park fees and accommodation.
Most nationalities require a visa to enter Tanzania. You can apply for one in advance at your nearest consulate, or you can buy one upon arrival at Dar es Salaam International Airport, Zanzibar International Airport, Kilimanjaro International Airport or Namanga Entry Point on the Kenya-Tanzania border.