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Tarangire National Park Tanzania

Tarangire National Park lies in the Manyara Region of northern Tanzania. While it’s a happy stop for any venturing into the northern grasslands to visit the superstar parks of the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire is under-seen, perhaps unjustly so, by travellers heading that way. Any Tanzania safari itinerary that carves out time to include this medium-sized reserve of 2,850 sq km is rewarded with some exceptional experiences. It is named for its life-sustaining river, the Tarangire, which threads down the centre of the park. Tanzania’s sixth largest national park, Tarangire is split into two by the Great Rift Valley, a little slice of the Grand Canyon that stretches from the Red Sea to Mozambique and is among the most magnificent places on Earth, where the African plate and the Arabian plate are pulling apart. The river acts as a magnet to draw vast herds of elephants in their thousands. Massive herds clutter and churn through the dry riverbed and up into the swallows (swampland) where groups of bruiser bulls try to avoid the antics of the younger elephants.

Tarangire’s splendid backdrop – with the expanse of baobab trees, savannah grasslands and dense acacia woodlands – makes it a feast for the eyes for any adventure tours or safaris in Tanzania. Its diverse ecosystem supports a high concentration of wildlife, particularly one of the highest elephant populations in Tanzania, as well as a bursting population of lions, leopards, cheetahs and wild dogs. With more than 500 bird species recorded, nature lovers and birdwatchers will also find plenty to see.

The Baobao Trees of Tarangire National Park

The otherworldly silhouette of a baobab tree is one of the first things you notice when entering Tarangire National Park. These colossal behemoths are among the oldest and largest trees on the planet. An individual can live for more than a thousand years, grow up to 100 feet (30 metres) tall and reach a trunk diameter of 160 feet (50 metres). Sometimes an observer can wander for hours in those enormous trunks, for baobabs develop gully-like hollows as they age. In Tanzania’s Tarangire, baobabs dominate the skyline. They welcome dozens of animals and birds seeking their year-round food and shade. Others are steeped in history: some still show the imprints of elephant tusks while others are used as places of assembly for the Maasai.

Besides its massive baobabs, Tarangire is known for its variety of habitats, which house its large numbers of wildlife. The savannah grasslands are the primary feeding grounds for the zebras, wildebeest and buffalo, which stay close to the water source and during the dry season offer outstanding wildlife concentrations – a unique feature of this park. The large numbers of hoofstock draw in the predators, like lions, cheetah, wild dogs and hyenas, allowing for an exciting safari for Tanzania tour members.

The dense canopy of the acacia woodlands serves to protect smaller mammals, like dik-diks, bushbucks and vervet monkeys from lions and hyenas, while leopards and wild dogs both take refuge and hunt here. The lush riverine vegetation along the Tarangire River is home to a variety of birdlife as well as to hippos and crocodiles, who sunbathe on the banks.

Situated in the south of the park, Silale swamp is a permanent water source frequented by high numbers of wildlife during the dry season. In fact, the area is renowned as a haven for elephants that during the dry season bed down in the swamp and use the nearby, dry riverbeds for digging for water when the swamp evaporates in the heat, and for mud bathing.


The Elephants of Tarangire National Park

Tarangire National Park boasts the best elephant population in Tanzania. These pachyderms have some of the largest herds in the country, found only in a chosen few areas. With the onset of dry season, many animals (including elephants) migrate from their natural holdouts, and flood the Tarangire River that bisects the park. Tanzania safari goers who visit Tarangire in the dry season are usually blown away by the large herds of elephants that gather together on the river.

The chance to sit with them and watch their strangers-to-friends rituals up close is fascinating, from the playful calves splashing to the mature bulls making it clear who rules the matriarchal elephant societies. Keen elephant-watchers often talk of ‘African sky’ moments, and any large herd of elephants marching across the savannah — against a backdrop of keeled baobabs — peaking against the sky, is part of the classic Tanzania safari experience.

By far the most thrilling aspect of Tarangire, are the elephants. And not merely because of their great numbers, but also because of their apparent diversity in social behaviour. The elephants of Tarangire are distinguished by their fondness for arboreal living. Elephants, shaggy trunked and unmistakable, are not in general known for their tree-climbing proclivities. It is a characteristic observed in only a few other populations across Africa. And while elephants do frequent high ground in the dry seasons, especially so that the nourishing salt licks of the escarpments can be reached, the elephants of Tarangire climb trees because, it seems, the upper branches of the baobabs offer more nourishing fruit and leaves than can be found elsewhere. Seeing an elephant poised on tree trunk and supported only by its hind limbs, its trunk straining out and up to pluck a large, ripe fruit, is a quirky and unexpected experience that will stay with you.

Birdwatching in Tarangire National Park

And with so many birds – more than 500 species seen here – if birds are your passion, as they are mine, Tarangire is a glass bell jar at the bottom of which you shake an African pick n mix. In the shade of the mottled giant oreophytes and chiming clatterbushes, originally found only in the Great Rift Valley, of which this riverine forest landscape is a part, racket-tailed rollers chuckle and gabar goshawks circle like buzzards, waiting to dive on vervet monkeys who run across the road, snatching the unwary.

Another is the iconic small yellow-collared lovebird: a bright yellow glossy parrot that is native to Tanzania and found throughout the park, bouncing from acacia shrub to shrub, or perching in large flocks on the branches of baobab trees. Among many other species, the park is home to the world’s largest bird, the ostrich, and the sonorously loud red-and-yellow barbet, which one often hears before seeing it.

Birds migrating from Europe and Asia in the wet season also line the park: including the pallid harrier, the Eurasian hobby and the white stork. The swamps and the riverine areas draw countless water birds. The African spoonbill, the goliath heron, the saddle-billed stork.

A dedicated Tarangire birding safari can be one of the best experiences for keen birdwatchers and may help to add up to 100 new species to a visiting ornithologist’s birding list, guided by an expert in the field. Birding is best in the early morning or late afternoon, when walking and photographing can be done to great effect.

With its abundance of birds and varied habitats, Tarangire National Park is the phenomenal starting point for any Tanzania birding safari.

Tarangire Game Drives and Wildlife Safaris

They navigate through the different areas of the park — ranging from open savannah grasslands to riverine woodlands — as the most efficient way to experience the park’s astounding wildlife. Game drives are, thus, the main way to explore Tarangire National Park and understand its wildlife beauty.

July to October, in the dry season, is the best time for game drives in Tarangire, as the surrounding plains dry up and animals congregate around the river and the Silale Swamp to quench their thirst. Game viewing is particularly good during this time, with large herds of elephant and reams of giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and antelope.

The park’s predators are also more easily visible during the dry season, when prey at lower levels are even more abundant; lions, cheetah, and leopard can often be observed hunting or resting in the shadows of acacias. Wild dog – a scarce but unforgettable predator – can be seen in the park, and few Tanzania safari-goers forget their joy when they first see this critically endangered creature.

There might be plenty of big mammals to see at Tarangire, but look closer and there are smaller, often overlooked, creatures that are no less intriguing. Small antelope called dik-diks race across the undergrowth, while elephant-like animals called rock hyraxes sunbathe on promontories.

The night game drives, banned within the national park itself, take place in the adjacent conservancies and can be arranged by some guides. You’ve a good chance of seeing genets, civets, nightjars and maybe even a hunting lion or hyena.

tarangire national park tanzania

Tarangire Walking Safaris

Although game-driving is probably the most popular way to explore Tarangire National Park, a walking safari, with an armed ranger, is a wonderful way to encounter this part of the Serengeti ecosystem at ground level, to learn about the ecology of the land, and to see how it tugs at your heartstrings for the views to be savoured and the memories to endure for decades.

Walking safaris force participants to observe the details of the environment — to look at the intricacy of animal tracks, the delicacy of wildflowers, and hear the strange noises from the forest. Several rangers talk about the plants and animals that inhabit the park. They identify the cures healed with wild plants. They explain how ants clean the teeth of green bugs, the complex relations between animals, and the uses made from resources by the local people.

Tarangire Cultural Experience

Cultural visits to the neighbouring Maasai villages can also be arranged for those interested. The Maasai are a semi-nomadic pastoralist tribe who have worked alongside the wildlife of Tarangire for centuries. A Maasai boma – a collection of mud and thatched huts in which the whole tribe lives – provides a welcome opportunity to see this fascinating way of life up close, from bristling beadwork and rhythmic song and dance displays to insights into Maasai customs and religion.

Many Tanzania safari lodges and camps offer cultural activities that often involve engagement with local Maasai – guided walks led by senior tribal members can showcase traditional tracking methods and survival skills; other helpers elucidate the tribe’s relationship with their surroundings in the context of traditional Maasai culture and how tourism now supports their lifestyle. These localized experiences can enrich a Tarangire safari, providing a cultural complement to the core wildlife experience.

Tarangire Accommodation & Where To Stay

Tarangire National Park accommodation varies from luxurious lodges to authentic tented camps and river-side bush cottages, catering for every pocket and whim, so that each Tanzania safari experience is as comfortable as it is spectacular.

Luxury Lodges: For the moneyed traveller coming for a luxury Tanzania safari, Tarangire has a variety of luxury lodges providing fine accommodation amid spectacular views and elite wildlife viewing areas. Tarangire Treetops has raised bedrooms built around old baobabs trees, giving guests a luxurious perspective on Tarangire views. Other luxurious options include the Tarangire Sopa Lodge and the Tarangire Safari Lodge, which all provide high-end rooms, dining and frills.

Tented camps: If you are looking for the most quintessential and ‘wild’ safari experience without compromising on your comfort, consider tented camps. In 2017, Oliver’s Camp was relocated to the remote north-west corner of the park and today is to my mind still the most beautiful tented camp in the park, offering outstanding guiding and service. At Tarangire Ndovu Camp and Tarangire Simba Lodge, you can expect comfortable accommodation but with honesty boxes for your ‘birdbath’ ferry crossing and the prospect of elephants wandering through camp. These are some of the incredible views and experiences that await you in Tarangire.

Budget Lodging: For thriftier travellers, options abound in the form of basic tented camps and lodges just outside the park boundary as well as TANAPA — the Tanzania National Parks Authority — public campsites. These are not in the luxurious vein, and those seeking greater creature comforts will need to shell out a little extra, but they will still serve as adequate bases for delving into the wonders of the park and the Tanzania safari experience.


When to Visit Tarangire National Park in Tanzania

Tarangire can be visited throughout the year. Each season has pros and cons for visitors to a Tanzania safari and wildlife-watcher.

Dry Season (June to October): The dry season is Tarangire’s peak season. As water supplies in adjacent areas dwindle, animals congregate around the Tarangire River and Silale Swamp, meaning that herds of elephant are plentiful, as are all the other game. The density of the vegetation also reduces at this time, which makes game-viewing easier. But sightings come with a price: dust is prevalent and it can be cool, especially early in the morning or evening.

Wet Season (November to May): Wet season is the best time of the year to see Tarangire in its greenest state, especially with the absence of the crowds that congregate in the north during high season. However, thanks to the abundance of water and vegetation, wildlife can be more mobile, and the seemingly endless competitors for forage become more dispersed. That said, the scenery is also at its most spectacular, with fiery wildflowers, swelling rivers and storm-darkened skies. It coincides with calving season for many of the park’s herbivores, so you can watch the newborns’ first tentative steps and better your chances of catching carnivores feasting on the migrating wildebeest. This is the best time for birdwatching, when migrating species arrive and the park’s permanent residents are conspicuous in breeding plumage.

Shoulder Months (November and May): The shoulder months are a compromise between dry and wet season, with lower prices and fewer crowds than rainy season, and, so long as rain is not excessive, good wildlife viewing and pleasant conditions. The scenery is also changing with the fast reduction of dust and the first greening of the savannah in November, and slower reversal of the scorching conditions to end the park’s cycle in May.