Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Size: 1,500 sq. miles (8,300 sq. km.) Best time to visit: Anytime

The Ngorongoro Conservation area, home to the famous Ngorongoro Crater, is not a national park and members of the Masai tribe do live within its boundaries; however, the wildlife in the area is overwhelming.

Thousands of animals can be found grazing on the open plains of the conservation area and many more live on the slopes that lead up to Ngorongoro Crater. The crater itself is 11 miles (18 km) wide and contains over 25,000 large mammals alone. It is thought that before the eruption that formed the crater, Ngorongoro may have rivalled Kilimanjaro in size. Lake Magadi, situated at the bottom of the crater, provides good wallowing for the huge water buffalo that gather at its edges. As you move through herds of these massive beasts, their stares can seem more challenging than disinterested.

You won’t see many giraffe or zebra here as competition for food is high in the crater; however, it is one of the best places to spot the endangered African black rhino as well as large prides of lions whose males develop striking black manes. From the rim of the crater it is possible to get a bird’s eye view of the animals and, with a good pair of field glasses, you can identify many of them from afar. There is no accommodation in the crater and the ascent must be made by nightfall but from the many campgrounds and lodges on the crater rim you may be lucky enough to hear the night time activities of the animals as they go about their nocturnal business.

Many types of bird make Ngorongoro crater their home and at times the lake is overed with thousands of greater and lesser flamingos. (Lesser flamingos are smaller, but have brighter plumage.) Sand-pipers, storks, the ever-present vultures and other birds will often be found floating overhead.

Archaeological sites

Olduvai Gorge is the famous home of 1.75 million-year-old “nutcracker man” – known to the scientific community as Australopithecus boisei – one of the oldest known ancestors of man. The remains were discovered by Mary Leakey who was carrying out archaeological work there with her husband, Louis Leakey. The Olduvai Gorge site is extremely rich in fossilized remains and has yielded many types of ancient flora and fauna including 50 different hominids. The site consists of five layers, ranging in age from 15,000 to 2.1 million years.

Other archaeological sites in northern Tanzania include the Hominid track way at Laetoli (the track way is now reburied for preservation, a cast of the track way can be viewed at Olduvai) and the spectacular ancient cave paintings north of Kondoa which can be viewed in their original state. For archaeology buffs, a visit to the 27 painting sites is a must.

The Masai

The Masai tribe is the predominant tribe in northern Tanzania and many of them call the Ngorongoro Conservation Area their home. The Masai people have been given permission to live within the Conservation Area boundaries and as you drive through the area you will often espy the traditional red garb of the Masai. The Masai have never been a hunting people – they live from the milk and blood of cattle – and as a result get along splendidly in this large wildlife preservation area. The Masai are generally distrustful of photographs but some traditional villages have been opened up to tourism and a visit can be arranged for a fee.
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Accommodation

Gibbs Farm

Situated between Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater, Gibbs farm (link) offers charming accommodations in rustic cabins in the gorgeous setting of a colonial coffee farm. The grounds are immaculate and nature walks can be arranged to view a majestic waterfall and the serene east African countryside.

Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge

The lodge is built on the rim of the crater, offering a breath taking view. 90 bedrooms, a lounge with panoramic windows and an observation deck make the wildlife lodge a scenic choice of accommodations.

Ngorongoro Serena Lodge

The Ngorongoro Serena Lodge (link) is built into the rim of the ancient crater, its design of rambling stone walls covered with ivy and plants blends beautifully into the crater environment. Most rooms have private terraces with views of the crater floor on which on can sometimes discern groups of animals. An observation deck with telescopes is a favourite place to relax in the shade.

Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge

Like the others, this lodge offers breathtaking views of the crater floor and lake. As all Sopa lodges (link), the Ngorongoro lodge features suites with two queen size beds as its standard accommodation.

Ngorongoro Crater Lodge

This architectural wonder was inspired by the Masai Manyatta. Each suite is served by a personal butler, and are all include private bathrooms and showers with a private deck and lounge with fireplace.
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Lake Manyara National Park

Size: 127 sq. miles (330 sq. km.) Best Times: July-Oct. (mammals); Nov.-June (birds)

Couched between the impressive Rift Valley escarpment and the sparkling waters of the lake, Lake Manyara National Park is a lush little wedge of paradise. Baboons, elephants, zebra, hippos, flamingos, giraffe, monkeys, many types of antelope and the elusive tree lions make for an exciting safari.

The variety of wildlife in this relatively small area makes a deep impression on visitors. The variety of wildlife is due largely to the variety of habitats in the area. Acacia forest, swampland, grassland, the shoreline, and the lake itself offer a livelihood for many different types of mammals, reptiles and birds. You can sit under the rich green forest canopy and watch the antics of the baboons or venture into the open air to observe giraffe, antelope and zebra grazing against the stunning blue backdrop of the lake. The animals can generally be found in close proximity to the roads and are easily observed and photographed at extremely close range.

Did you know?

The word “manyara” is Masai for a type of plant. The Masai tribe uses this plant to create living corrals for livestock. Once the manyara matures, it forms a thorny wall that keeps livestock in, and the lions out!
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Accommodation

Kirurumu Luxury Tented Lodge

The permanent tents at Kirurumu feature modern plumbing and electricity while retaining a charmingly rustic atmosphere. The verandah at the bar sits atop the escarpment of the Great Rift Valley and the view over Lake Manyara National Park below is spectacular.

Lake Manyara Hotel

Built on the edge of the great Rift Valley escarpment the lodge also offers magnificent views of the national park below. Each of the 100 rooms offers a unique view of the beautiful surroundings.

Lake Manyara Serena Lodge

This 5-star lodge, also overlooking the soda lake, will delight birdwatchers with an opportunity to observe many colourful birds. All 62 bedrooms and the swimming pool offer wonderful views of the countryside and park. (link)

Gibbs Farm

Situated between Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater, Gibbs farm (link) offers charming accommodations in rustic cabins in the gorgeous setting of a colonial coffee farm. The grounds are immaculately kept and there are plenty of shady places to relax and soak up the African sights and sounds; nature walks can be arranged to view a majestic waterfall and the serene East African countryside.
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Tarangire National Park

Size: 2600 sq. km. Best times: July-Sept.

The permanent Taragire River makes Tarangire National Park a precious refuge for African wildlife. Particularly during the dry season, when even the best grazing areas dry up, Tarangire is home to gigantic herds of wildebeest, zebra, and elephants. In fact, during the dry season, Tarangire is second only to Ngorongoro crater for high wildlife concentration. Most of the park is savannah, ornamented by the spectacularly massive baobab trees, but there are also swamplands and wooded areas.

Tarangire is one of the few areas where the oryx can be observed. Visitors may also be lucky enough to spot a giant tree-climbing python in the acacia woodlands. Leopards are common in Tarangire but must be watched for diligently as they tend to sleep in the trees throughout the day and African hunting dogs may also be seen, although not in abundance. The elephant herds are particularly spectacular and can reach over 300 in number.

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Accommodation

Tarangire Safari Camp

Thatched roofs provide extra shade for the permanent tents at this camp and each one sports a private verandah overlooking the park and Tarangire river where animals can often be seen drinking.

Tarangire Sopa Lodge

Overlooking the Tarangire Hill, this is a five-star lodge with all the amenities. (link)

Tamarind Camp

The Tamarind Camp occupies 200 acres on the edge of Tarangire National Park. The Camp has 8 classic luxury tents surrounded by grassland and near a riverbed with spectacular baobab trees.

Olivers Camp

Each tent at this camp has wooden beds, coffee tables, wardrobes, wash basins and toilets/showers. The camp features a library where you can watch wildlife documentaries in the evening.

Tarangire Treetops

Fifteen luxury tents with bathroom facilities overlook the Tarangire Sand River. Each tent has a platform built right into one of the indigenous trees and the camp features a swimming pool and dining area near an elephant watering hole.

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Ruaha National Park

Size: 12,950 sq. km. Best time to visit: Anytime

Located in central Tanzania, Ruaha is less accessible than many other parks and largely untouched by human interference; It has only recently been developed for tourism and its unbroken peace is one of its main attractions. It is home to over 350 species of birds that are not found in northern Tanzania and attracts photographers with its spectacular gorges and massive baobab trees.

Ruaha is home to over 8,000 head of elephant as well as Lion, African Hunting Dog, Hippo, Crocodile, Ostrich, Cheetah, Gazelle and a large Leopard population. The Mwagusi and Mdonya Sand Rivers are dry rivers of sand for most of the year, but in the rainy season they turn into tributaries of the Ruaha River. The area is home to hundreds of different animal types and makes for a wonderful safari.

The Tragedy of Poaching

The animals of Ruaha have been particularly damaged by illegal poaching. In 1973 the elephant census reached 25,000 but today only 8,000 remain. The rhinoceros has disappeared from the area completely. Other parks in Africa have similar problems that are often due to an impoverished local population who seek not only the valuable horns, hides, and tusks, but who in some areas hunt for food in protected areas. The tragedy of poaching endangers the livelihood of the African people both by eradicating species that are used to sustain local human populations and by diminishing the potential for income through the tourist trade.
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Accommodation

Ruaha River Lodge

Overlooking the mighty Ruaha River, the lodge is designed to complement the environment, allowing guests to feel right at home in the midst of the African wilds. Inspired by the African ‘bandas’, the individual cabins, built from local stone and thatch offer a great place to relax and observe the animals.

Mwagusi Camp

Located inside the Ruaha Park boundaries on the banks of the mighty sand river, the Mwagusi Camp (link) offers 16 beds with ensuite bathrooms and hot showers. The architecture is inspired by traditional African ‘bandas.’

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