Top 4 National Parks of Tanzania & Why You Should Visit

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Tanzania is one of my favorite countries I’ve ever visited. The many national parks of Tanzania are one of the reasons I love the country and try to go back whenever I can. 

There are over 22 national parks in Tanzania, and I’ve been lucky enough to visit five of them so far. If time allows, I highly recommend visiting more than one as each park has a variety of different animals.

Make sure to bring your best camera to get the best photos! You might also want to pack some binoculars to see the animals that don’t come close to your car.

I’ve written my top four choices below as well as top activities you can do in each park. Most of the national parks have safaris as the main activity, but some also have extra activities like horseback riding and primate trekking!

If you’re planning to visit Tanzania, you really need to at least visit one national park. Here are the top choices for you to consider and what you need to know to visit including what to do, where to stay, and where to eat.

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Tanzania National Parks 

A trip to Tanzania isn’t complete without visiting at least one of the national parks. Chances are that a safari is what’s bringing you to this incredible country, and if so, you’re in luck. They are absolutely amazing!

The national parks of Tanzania work a little differently than national parks you might have visited in the United States and Europe, though. Most of the parks have one main activity to experience—game viewing safaris. 

Some parks have a few other activities such as hot air ballooning and horseback riding. But to experience the most from the park, wildlife viewing is the way to go. 

How to Visit Tanzania National Parks

To enter the parks, you have two main options. You can either rent a car and enter the car by yourself or you can book a safari through a tour company. The only park that I know of that requires a guide is the Ngorongoro Crater.  

Rangers require you to have a four-wheel-drive car to enter the park on your own where you’re allowed to. These cars typically run $140 or more a day plus fuel. You also have to pay the daily park entrance fees which can range from $60 to $100.

Unless you’re determined to do it yourself, I recommend booking a safari rather than trying to do it on your own. Driving through the park yourself is fun. However, you’ll definitely see fewer animals. Guide companies know the best places to drive through the park and the animals’ hiding spots.

Food options are also limited in the parks. If you go on your own, you will have to bring all your own snacks and meals. If you visit with a tour company, they take care of this for you. 

You can also book solo trips with a company if you want to visit the parks without a large group. 

zebras in serengeti, tanzania national parks, national parks of tanzania, serengeti lodges, serengeti migration
Photo Credit: Natalie Castle

Choosing Your Safari Company 

If you decide to go with a safari company, you definitely get some perks that make your experience much easier. They do all the planning and hard work for you. 

The price you pay the company also includes all your lodging, meals, and entrance fees into the park. They pick you up from the hotel or campsite in the morning, so all you have to do is wake up and get ready. 

You can also choose from different packages when booking, from budget to luxury. Budget options usually have you stay in a campsite either in the park or right outside the park. Luxury packages will book you into full-service lodges that offer spas and other amenities to use in your free time. 

Your guide company takes care of all your food, and they bring meals into the park for you. These are usually hot meals that are cooked and brought along in the car. In the evening, your hotel or campsite will serve you food and drinks. 

The safari lodging options also have nightly shows, live music, and bars on-site. This is a great way to meet other people doing the same excursions. 

For all the national parks I visited, I booked with a tour company and then spent a few extra days in the town near the park. Serengeti was the exception, though. There is little to do around the park, so my friend and I just booked a few extra nights at a lodge inside the park. 

If you’re interested in a safari, check out this tour option for 6 days and three wildlife reserves.

safari car, serengeti safari tour

Serengeti National Park 

If you only have time to visit one national park while in Tanzania, you have to go to Serengeti. It’s the largest national park in the country, giving you ample opportunities to see all the major animals in the region. 

Top Things to Do In Serengeti National Park 

Safaris and Wildlife Viewing 

Though most people see all of the animals in just one day, I recommend doing a 2-day safari in Serengeti to see more of the park. It’s an incredible place to visit.

Along with the rhinos, You’ll see wildebeest, elephants, zebras, cheetahs, and lions, so make sure to get lots of photos. You can also see Black Rhinos in Serengeti. They’re endangered and absolutely beautiful. 

Or, check out this leopard safari.

lion in serengeti, serengeti national park tanzania, national parks of tanzania
Photo Credit: Natalie Castle

Hot Air Balloon Rides 

After your safari, you can take a hot air balloon ride to get an aerial view of the park. This is usually not included in the price of your booking, so you will need to ask a guide from your company to arrange this for you. 

The park is incredible to visit. There’s something amazing about seeing Serengeti from above. It’s an experience you’ll never forget. This hot air balloon tour looks amazing!

hot air balloons in serengeti

Maasai Village Tours 

Maasai people live inside Serengeti National Park, so you can ask the guides for permission to take tours of their villages and homes. You can also book a special tour at the same time you book your safari. 

On the tour, they’ll take you through a typical day in Maasai life in their village. You can try traditional food, and they’ll be happy to teach you a few dance steps. Here’s a Maasai tour that has great ratings.

maasai man
Photo Credit: Natalie Castle

Where to Stay In Serengeti National Park 

Serengeti is one of the only parks where you can actually camp right inside the middle of the park. Most other national parks have campsites on the outskirts of the park closer to the entrance. 

In Serengeti, you even hear animals roaming and grazing around while you’re in your tent. There are also fancier campsites with amenities available like real bathrooms if you prefer the comforts of home. 

Once you’re done with your safaris and camping, stick around the park for a bit. There are some other fantastic lodging options to check out in Serengeti if you are sticking around for a few extra days. 

Keep in mind all lodging options in the park will be on the more expensive end. This is true even if the accommodation is tents. 

Budget: Mbalageti Safari Camp is tucked away in a corner of Serengeti, so you will definitely have more privacy here than some of the other lodging choices. The accommodation is luxury tents, including big beds, hot showers, and bathtubs. There’s a pool and restaurant on-site. 

Mid-range: Kirawira Tented Camp is a great mid-budget place to stay if you are only paying for the room. They also have higher-priced options that include meals and transportation choices. My friend and I stayed here a few nights after our safaris. They have a spa, pool, and free laundry services. 

Luxury: Serengeti Safari Lodge is a warm and cozy lodge. I loved the colorful African decorations in every room. Make sure to book a room with a balcony, so you get views of the park and wildlife. The price is all-inclusive with breakfast and dinner. They also have a huge pool and a bar on-site. 

Where to Eat In Serengeti National Park 

There aren’t many dining options inside the park or near the park since Serengeti is in a pretty secluded area. Most of the hotels and campsites include all your meals in the price of your nightly stay, so it’s best to eat at the hotel. 

If you have a car or a guide to take you to the Four Seasons Hotel, though, you need to try Boma. At Boma, all the food is authentic Tanzanian, and they have nightly firepits and bonfires. 

They have a huge wine list and beverage menu. They also have evening entertainment, including dancing and singing from local Maasai people. I loved this place and had my friend drive us there twice! 

When to Visit Serengeti National Park 

Serengeti is home to the famous migration, so you want to make sure to plan your trip around this. Your tour company will have a good idea of when the animals will be moving and the best time of year to schedule your trip. 

Most people visit Serengeti in January, February, and June through September. 

giraffee eating from a tree in serengeti
Photo Credit: Natalie Castle

Kilimanjaro National Park 

Kilimanjaro National Park is home to Mount Kilimanjaro. While it’s a national park, the main activity here is climbing the mountain rather than game viewing. The park is in the large region of Moshi, which is also a huge expatriate region drawing people from around the world. 

Top Things to Do in Kilimanjaro National Park 

Climb Mount Kilimanjaro 

If you’re ready for a tough mountain climb, prepare to trek the highest mountain in Africa! Most people train for this climb and reserve their spot well in advance. 

The duration of your climb depends on your route and fitness level. Most people spend five to nine days on the mountain. If Mt. Kilimanjaro is on your bucket list, you can read my Mount Kilimanjaro climbing guide to help you get ready. 

Primate Trekking 

Many people visit Kilimanjaro National Park to go primate trekking. This activity requires a guide and a permit, so make sure you book well in advance. The tour company will need time to gather all the right papers for you. 

monkey sitting on top of tree, tanzania national parks, national park tanzania
Photo Credit: Natalie Castle

Walking Game Tours 

Game viewing is not a huge activity in Kilimanjaro, although there are giraffes and elephants throughout the park. Your tour company can arrange for you to take a walking tour through certain parts of the park to see some of the animals. Since you’re on foot, you won’t be able to see as many animals as you would in other national parks. 

Where to Stay In Moshi 

Once you’re done with your Kilimanjaro National Park activities, make sure to spend a few days exploring Moshi, the region that encompasses Mt. Kilimanjaro. For some fun things to do near Moshi, check out the Chemka Hot Springs or visit the Materuni Waterfall and go on a coffee tour.

Here are my top picks for places to stay: 

Budget: African Jungle Campsites and Lodges is a small place that is decorated more like a house than a hotel. The environment is warm and inviting, and the service was amazing. The rooms aren’t fancy, but they are large and comfortable. The on-site restaurant serves African and American food. 

Mid-range: Kilimanjaro White House Hotel was recommended to me by a friend. They have mountain view rooms that are a little extra cost, but worth it! All the rooms have Wi-Fi and air conditioning, which is great in the summer months.

Luxury: Kilimanjaro Wonders Hotel is modern and elegant on the inside. The restaurant and bar have some of the best views of Mount Kilimanjaro. They also have great amenities, including a spa, a pool, and a fitness center. 

aeriel view of moshi town

Where to Eat In Moshi 

Moshi has a lot of great restaurants with good variety as it’s an expat area. Here are some of the best options:

  • Maembe Garden Restaurant is a simple outdoor restaurant and lounge. They have great cocktails and even better pizza. If you go for breakfast, they also have pancakes and some other American bites. For Tanzania food, I recommend the beef stew with rice or chapati. 
  • Milan’s Restaurant has some of the best Indian curries I’ve ever had. It’s also super vegetarian and vegan-friendly. The breakfast is also good, with some American options to choose from. I went here several times while I was in Moshi and always got one of the specialty teas as they were my favorite!
  • Kuonana Africa Restaurant is the place to go if you want to try a wide variety of East African Food. They also have a fun fusion menu where they combine common Swahili foods with famous European dishes. Make sure to go during happy hour for the best appetizer and drink specials. 

When to Visit Kilimanjaro National Park

The best time to visit Kilimanjaro National Park depends on whether you are climbing the mountain. For the best weather, go in January through February or August through September. For primate trekking, the schedule can change yearly. Make sure to ask the guides the best times to go. 

Tarangire National Park 

Although it’s smaller than Serengeti, my favorite national park in Tanzania was Tarangire. It’s much less crowded than Kilimanjaro and Serengeti, so you have more opportunities to see game and get clear photos without other cars and people in the way. 

Pro Tip: Tarangire, Ngorongoro Crater, and Lake Manyara National Park are all pretty close together. You can book a 3-day safari to save money. 

If you don’t have time to visit all 3 parks, here’s a great option that I did. I spent one day in Tarangire and camped in Lake Manyara. Then I woke up the next day and spent a day in Ngorongoro Crater. This is a great way to see the stunning views of the lake and still see two of the other parks! 

tarangire national park sign, tarangire national park, national parks in tanzania
Photo Credit: Natalie Castle

Top Things To Do In Tarangire National Park

Safari and Wildlife Viewing

Going on a safari is the only thing to do in Tarangire. Most companies offer walking safaris and driving safaris. You can also do a combination of both if you feel like being active some days and sitting other days.   

Tarangire has the largest elephant population of any of the national parks. If you only have time to do one safari and you want to see elephants, make sure to go here. I saw elephants throughout the entire park, including newborn baby elephants. 

Sometimes they even walk in front of the car, and you get stuck waiting for them to move. This is a great time to take photos, though! I also saw hyenas, baboons, and wallabies in Tarangire. 

Here’s a great safari tour in nearby Arusha National Park. Or, if you have time for a 2-day Tarangire and Ngorongoro Crater safari tour, check out this option. Prefer a private version, you can get an exclusive and private tour of Tarangire and Nogorongoro Crater safari tour.

Another option is to combine this tour with two days in the Serengeti for an even more comprehensive experience!

elephants in tarangire national park
Photo Credit: Natalie Castle

Where to Stay In Tarangire National Park 

If you feel like staying a few extra days in the park, check out these hotels. You can also ask your safari company if they include any of these hotels in their bookings. Keep in mind prices are more expensive inside the park because these hotels are all-inclusive. 

Budget: Lilac Campsite and Tented Camps: This is where I stayed in nearby Lake Manyara National Park. You can choose to stay in small huts or tents. All the tents have electricity and comfortable beds. There is a stunning view of the lake, especially at sunrise. They have a small indoor area for eating. Make sure to watch for the monkeys as they like to rob guests! 

Mid-range: Tarangire Safari Lodge is a cozy lodge with free Wi-Fi and free parking in case you rent a car. The food is one of the best things about this lodge because you can choose from the buffet or regular table service. They serve American-style food and traditional Swahili favorites. 

Luxury: Tarangire Treetops has rooms nestled into the baobab trees. The rooms all have fantastic aerial views of the park, and elephants like to hang out near this hotel. The service is incredible, and they have a large variety of food choices to pick from. There’s also an outdoor pool and Wi-Fi. 

zebras bumping, national parks of tanzania
Photo Credit: Natalie Castle

Where to Eat In Tarangire National Park 

Similar to Serengeti, Tarangire National Park only has restaurants inside the hotels. If you’re booking extra days inside the park without a safari, the price of your room is all-inclusive and includes food and drinks. 

The nearest town is Arusha, which is about two hours away from Tarangire. If you want some more freedom choosing where to eat and cheaper hotel prices, I recommend heading to Arusha after your last Safari day in Tarangire. 

When to Visit Tarangire National Park

Tarangire National Park has a specific dry season that is the best time to spot animals. You will see animals no matter what time of year you visit, but going in late June through October will ensure you see a large number of elephants and many other animals. 

ngorongoro crater
Photo Credit: Natalie Castle

Arusha National Park 

Arusha National Park is smaller than other national parks, but it’s really convenient to visit. The entrance fees are lower than other parks, and it’s right in the middle of the large expat town of Arusha. 

If you’re only visiting this area while in Tanzania, you can easily book a full day or half-day safari. 

Top Things to Do in Arusha National Park 

Safari and Wildlife Viewing 

Since Arusha National Park is smaller than other parks, they usually only offer half-day and one-day safaris. This is more than enough time to see all the animals. I loved Arusha National Park because it wasn’t crowded, and it was a much more intimate setting with the animals. 

You can book your Arusha safari with other safaris through your tour company to save money instead of booking this one separately. I recommend you do Arusha National Park at the end of your trip so you can spend a few days exploring the town of Arusha afterward.  

zebras in arusha national park
Photo Credit: Natalie Castle

Horseback Riding 

I loved the horseback riding on my safari. I did a half-day in the car and the other half of the day on a horse. You don’t need any experience with horseback riding, and the workers will help you guide the horses. Horse riding through the park is a great way to get close to the animals!

Where to Stay in Arusha

Budget: Ujamaa Hostel is a great place to stay if you want to save money. They have private room options and rooms with bunk beds. The nightly price includes breakfast, lunch, laundry, and free Wi-Fi. The bar behind the hostel is also a great place to meet fellow travelers. 

Mid-range: Mount Meru Hotel is one of my favorite places to stay because almost every room has incredible views of Mount Meru. They have a Tanzanian restaurant on-site, a full bar, and a cafe with some of the best coffee I’ve ever had. Make sure to spend a few days at the pool!

Luxury: Gran Melia Hotel is breathtaking from floor to ceiling. The rooms are elegantly decorated, and the bathrooms have huge bathtubs perfect for relaxing. The hotel also has two different restaurants and a rooftop bar. 

Where to Eat Near Arusha

The Hub is one of my favorite places in Arusha. It’s a combined bar and restaurant offering plenty of choices for drinks and food. 

They have traditional Tanzanian food and more Western-style food, depending on what you’re in the mood for. I love the ribs as the meat falls off the bone and melts in your mouth! 

  • Saba Saba is inside Gran Melia and is a must to eat at even if you’re not staying at the hotel. It’s Asian Fusion combined with traditional Swahili food. They also have Indian curries and excellent desserts. 
  • George’s Tavern is the place to go if you’re craving Greek or Italian food while in the area. I always ordered the salmon with vegetables and mashed potatoes. They also have tasty salad and unique soups of the day. All the meats are specially flavored and seasoned, and my favorite is the lamb meatballs. 
cocktail at the hub
Photo Credit: Natalie Castle

When to Visit Arusha National Park

Arusha National Park has two dry seasons that are a bit colder and perfect for seeing all the animals. Make sure to go in June through September or December to March. 

Tanzania’s National Parks are Waiting For You!

Ready to plan your Tanzania national park vacation? Any of the national parks included in this article will give you ample opportunities to see animals and experience Tanzania culture. The towns around most of the national parks also offer great activities, restaurants, and bars. 

Have you ever visited any national parks in Tanzania? What was your favorite? Share your experiences and travel tips in the comments below! 

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