Sourthern Tanzania: Safari Destination

Mikumi national parks

Sharing a common border and ecosystem with selous game reserve to the south, mikumi national park is only three to four hours drive from dar es salaam, lying astride the main highway to zambia, and en route to the national parks of udzungwa mountains, ruaha and kitulo. The main feature of the park is the mikumi flood plain, along with the mountain ranges that border the park on two sides. Open grasslands dominate in the flood plain, eventually merging with the miombo woodland covering the lower hills.

Ruaha national park

Ruaha national park takes its name from the ruaha river, which flows along its southeastern border. The river provides permanent water in the park, and during the dry season animal concentration along its banks is spectacular. Ruaha national park is about two to three hours drive from iringa, a famous town on the dar es salaam to zambia highway. Covering an area of 20,226 square kilometers, ruaha is the largest national park in tanzania. Its borders were extended in 2008 to include usangu game reserve to protect the ihefu wetlands and the great ruaha river catchment areas and biodiversity. This unspoilt wilderness is rich in flora and fauna, and contains a wide variety of animals that includes greater and lesser kudu, roan and sable antelopes, which are rarely seen in most other game parks especially in northern tanzania. Ruaha national park is famous for its herds of elephant and buffaloes. The ruaha river, which plays an important role in the ecosystem of the park, provides sanctuary to a large number of hippos and crocodiles. During the dry season the river attracts great quantities of game including lions, leopard, hunting or wild dog, impala, waterbuck, warthog, giraffe, and elands. In the plains ostriches, cheetahs and grants gazelles can be seen. The park is rich in bird life throughout the year, with over 450 bird species recorded. The best time for game viewing is during the dry season, from may to december. During the wet months from january to april some tracks become impassable.

Udzungwa mountain national park

Udzungwa mountain national park Harbouring one of east africa’s great forests, udzungwa mountain national park has an area of 1990 sq km, bordered by the great ruaha river to the north, with mikumi national park and selous game reserve located further to the north and east. Protected as a national forest reserve until 1992 when it was commissioned as national park, udzungwa mountains is undoubtedly one of the few true virgin and unique forested lands remaining in the world. The major attractions include its biologically diverse forest, harbouring some plant species found nowhere else in the world, from a tiny african violet to 30-metre high trees. Apart from the forest, which acts as a water catchment area and having a large number of endemic species of both animals and plants, the park has spectacular mountains scenery, grasslands, rocks, rivers and waterfalls. One of the most interesting sights is the presence of two indigenous species of primates, the iringa red colobus monkey and the sanje crested mangabey, not known until 1979. Apart from providing habitat to about six species of primates, its plateau contains populations of elephants, buffalos, lions, leopards, african hunting dogs and several forest bird species. Walking safaris to the sanje river waterfalls (170 metres) is one of the popular activities in this park. Udzungwa mountains can conveniently be combined with game drives in nearby mikumi national park, an hour•s drive to the north, or be included in the ruaha national park (4-5 hours drive) and selous game reserve itineraries. The park can be visited throughout the year although it is a bit slippery during the wet rainy season. The dry season extends from june to october.

Kitulo national park

Perched at around 2600 meters above sea level between the rugged peaks of the kipengere, poroto and livingstone mountains, the well-watered volcanic soils of kitulo support the largest and most important montane grassland community in tanzania. Referred by locals as the garden of god, kitulo national park is “one of the great floral spectacles of the world”, a rare botanical marvel and home to 350 species of vascular plants, including 45 varieties of terrestrial orchid, which erupt into a riotous wildflower display of breathtaking scale and diversity during the main rainy season of late november to april. One of the most important watersheds for the great ruaha river, kitulo is also the first national park in tropical africa to be gazetted largely for its floral significance-not only a multitude of orchids, but also the stunning yellow-orange red-hot poker and a variety of aloes, proteas, geraniums, giant lobelias, lilies and aster daisies, of which more than 30 species are endemic to southern tanzania. But kitulo is also attractive for bird watching, home to rare bird species. Big game is sparsely represented, though a few hardy mountain reedbuck and eland still roam the open grassland. Located about 100 kilometres from mbeya town in southern tanzania, kitulo national park (413 sq km) is a botanist and hiker’s paradise. Wild flowers displays peak during the rainy season between december and april excellent time for botanists, while the sunnier months of september to november are more comfortable for hiking but less rewarding to botanists. Conditions are cold and foggy from june to august. Accommodation is available in mbeya town.

Katavi national park

Covering an area of 4471 sq km, katavi national park is located about 40km from mpanda town in southwest tanzania, to the east of lake tanganyika, lying within a truncated arm of the great rift valley that terminates in the shallow expanse of lake rukwa. A true wilderness and seldom visited, katavi is famous for its undisturbed natural face compared to other parks in the country. The main vegetation of the park is miombo woodland with scattered acacia trees near lake chada. 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 water birds, and they also support tanzania’s densest concentrations of hippo and crocodile. During the dry season, when the flood waters retreat, katuma river 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. Also to be seen are elands and the rare sable and roan antelopes.

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