Our Tanzania exploration boasts incredible days spent in the wilds of four Eastern Africa national parks: Selous, Ruaha, Katavi, and Mahale, several of Tanzania’s lesser-visited, yet equally impressive parks in the southern part of Africa. So, just what will we see and what makes each park a distinctive entity? Elephants, chimpanzees, an incredible array of birdlife, yes—yet, also exceptionally high varieties of habitat and historical and cultural sites. The differences and abundance of wildlife in these Tanzanian treasures speak volumes about what is sure to be a heady experience for any traveler.
Selous Game Reserve
You’ll venture to Selous Game Reserve, among Africa’s largest protected areas and largely undisturbed by humans, where dense thickets and open wooded grasslands are home to vast numbers of elephants, cheetahs, giraffes, hippos, black rhinos, and crocodiles. With its varied habitats, the region has become a living laboratory for ecological and biological processes; scientists can easily track the flora and fauna of Miombo woodlands, open grasslands, riverine forests, and swamps.
Birders are fascinated with Ruaha National Park, where more than 571 species can be found, including migrants from within and outside the continent—birds from Europe, Asia, the Australian rim, and Madagascar have been recorded within the confines of the park. Be on the lookout, especially, for the Ruaha red-billed hornbill.
When you’re not seeking rare bird species, turn your binoculars on the local elephants—it’s believed that the park has the highest concentration of these gentle giants than any East Africa national park. And, be sure to look out for the Greater Kudu, a woodland antelope seen only in this national park.
Seeking something new? There are also several historical and cultural sites and landmarks within the park that give travelers insight into the life of Southern Tanzanian tribes.
For the ultimate safari experience—isolated and seldom visited, untouched by humanity—Katavia is the clear winner. This is Africa as it may have been experienced a century ago. The name Katavi came from the spirit Katabi, from the Wabende tribe, who is said to live in a twin pair of trees near Lake Katavi.
By far, the biggest spectacle of Katavi is the hippos—you might see more than 200 at a time towards the end of the dry season, when they gather in any riverine pool they can find. You might even glimpse a testosterone-driven territorial fight, seen often when more and more hippos gather in one spot.
Mahale National Park
Famous for its resident chimpanzees—in fact, it’s one of just two protected areas for chimps in the country—Mahale National Park lies on the picturesque shores of Lake Tanganyika. The chimps flourish here, and even coexist peacefully with lions! You’ll see these incredible creatures, as well as the giant forest squirrel, Angolan black-and-white colobus monkey, banded mongoose, Grant’s zebra, warthogs, giraffes, sable antelopes, and more.
Get your best walking attired ready, though—this is one of very few African parks that must be explored by foot. There are no roads within the park itself and the only way in and out is by boat across the lake.