Located in northern Tanzania, Tarangire National Park is the quietest and least-known park on Tanzania’s Northern Circuit. On closer inspection, however, Tarangire can often prove one of the most rewarding regions.
Offering a completely different habitat from its more famous neighbours at Ngorongoro and Serengeti, Tarangire’s habitat is much more similar to that of the parks in southern Tanzania, especially Ruaha.
Most famous for its elephant migration, which sees as many as 3,000 elephant at the peak of the dry season, Tarangire is a wonderful park for getting off the beaten track and away from the Northern Circuit crowds.
Tarangire’s most appealing charm is its lack of visitors and its sheer size. Tarangire dwarfs Lake Manyara, and takes fewer visitors! Those that do travel this far tend to visit for a short period of time, and see only the northern sectors of the park before they rush off elsewhere. This leaves the south of the park feeling truly remote and free of tourists.
There are just a couple of good camps in the best locations inside the park. Our favourites are Oliver’s and Swala, but we also like the more adventurous approach of Lemala and Mawe Ninga.
Tarangire is the only national park in Tanzania where it is possible to do night safari as well as walking and fly camping, making it the northern park with the greatest diversity of safari activities. The hidden gem of the Northern Circuit.
Tarangire: Where to stay?
Tarangire has quite a healthy range of properties to choose from. We deliberately avoid the properties located outside the park due to how good the properties are inside the park boundary. Game viewing is significantly better inside than out.
In Tarangire, camps costing between $400 and $550 per person per night (pppn) are in our ‘Adventure’ level, camps from $550pppn to $750pppn are in our ‘Classic’ level and any camps over $750pppn appear in our ‘Premier’ category.
Starting with our Adventure level, Mawe Ninga, Balloon Camp Tarangire and Nasikia Ndovu are our picks in the park for our most economical price bracket. Balloon Camp is a great little camp that has reasonable access to the best game-viewing areas. We would like its food and service to be slightly better, but this camp is always a good choice at this level. Mawe Ninga has a wonderful position on a high kopje in the north of the park. However, this is a large camp in an area that receives a very high volume of tourist traffic due to its proximity to the main entrance. It remains a good option, but for Mawe Ninga to be absolutely perfect we would like it to be located farther south. The pick of the bunch is Nasikia Ndovu – a wonderful tented camp that reminds us of the Serengeti’s mobile camps, which cost significantly more than this gem of a camp! Ndovu is very good value.
Step up a level and you hit the first camps in our Classic option. Oliver’s and Little Oliver’s are among the most famous properties in Tarangire. Run by the Asilia hotel chain, these camps are a great option in this mid-range budget level. Different in style but still priced very similarly to Oliver’s comes Nomad Tanzania’s Kuro Camp. Loved by all of our consultants and singled out by Wies here as his favourite camp in Africa, Kuro is slightly more adventurous in style than the Oliver’s properties, but the camp oozes charm and character.
At the top price bracket – our Premier level – is the only property inside the park that belongs in this category, Swala. This luxury property is loved by anyone who stays there and remains our pick of the bunch as Best Camp in the Park! Outside the park, Tarangire Treetops is a hot contender with its amazing treehouses (some are significantly better than others) – but it has a bizarre location. Why anyone stays here when you can stay inside the park is beyond us! The newcomers in this region are Chem Chem and Little Chem Chem. These are both stunning camps in beautiful locations – however, their positioning outside the park is a slight drawback. Chem Chem itself is certainly the most sumptuous property in the region and the perfect place for travellers who love a little luxury on holiday.
Tarangire Safaris: The Big Five and general game viewing
Unfortunately, due to the lack of rhino in Tarangire, it is not possible to view the Big Five here. Just in case you are wondering, the Big Five are rhino, elephant, buffalo, lion and leopard!
However, Tarangire is one of the most famous places in Africa to see elephant. Approximately 3,000 elephant descend into the Tarangire swamp system in the peak of the dry season – it is a quite phenomenal site. Buffalo are common also, as are lion, but viewing leopard is tricky here. Over a three-day stay we would expect you to be lucky enough to view leopard, but it certainly cannot be guaranteed.
General game in Tarangire
Without doubt, the most impressive feature of Tarangire is the park’s elephant migration, when huge herds push through to Tarangire’s river system and swamps during the dry season. Due to the astonishing abundance of elephant in the park, this truly is a spectacular scene. In fact, Tarangire contains the greatest numbers of elephant in northern Tanzania! But these are not the only animals to be attracted in immense concentrations to the park’s water sources during the dry spell – and Tarangire is home to many species all year round.
There are plenty of lion and leopard in Tarangire, present throughout the year and effectively setting up camp close to the Tarangire River from June to October to be near the gatherings of game. Tree-climbing lions are fairly common too! Cheetah, however, are relatively rare.
Other carnivores that roam the rolling acacia and baobab woodlands, riverine forests and dense grass, include hyena, jackal and wild dog, though wild dog are scarce and favour other areas within the Maasai Steppe.
It is the herbivores that contribute most to the overall wildlife count in Tarangire. In addition to the enormous amounts of elephant, the park is chock-full of wildebeest, zebra, eland, impala, greater and lesser kudu, dik-dik, Coke’s hartebeest, Thomson’s gazelle, giraffe, buffalo, reedbuck, waterbuck, warthog, hippopotamus, mongoose and rock hyrax! There are even a couple of unusual antelope species – the fringe-eared oryx and the gerenuk. Black rhino are very seldom seen here, but it is believed that a few individuals dwell in the more remote regions of the park.
Birds frequent Tarangire in breathtakingly big populations – with over 500 species recorded to date, the park is truly a birdwatcher’s paradise! As the topography of Tarangire is so vast and varied, there is an outstanding range of feathery friends to encounter – ostriches, eagles, lovebirds, weavers, barbets, parrots, pelicans, nightjars, starlings, babblers, and the intriguingly named bare-faced go-away bird! Be sure to pack your binoculars, if birding is your thing.
Tarangire is managed by Tanzania National Parks, which is committed to preserving the park’s flora and fauna, wildlife habitats and wilderness quality. The emphasis is on quality of experience rather than opportunity for mass tourism – certainly this is one of the quietest parks in Tanzania, for all its wealth of wildlife!
When to go for game?
As with the majority of parks in ‘Safari Africa’, Tarangire is a classic dry-season park with the game concentrations getting progressively better later in the year. July through to October is when the big herds concentrate themselves on the Tarangire river system – this is the best time of year to travel. For the remainder of the year the herds move south to the Maasai Steppe, with some animals also heading in the opposite direction and being recorded as far north as Amboseli in Kenya! Out of season is a great time to travel here as visitors will find a park delightfully void of visitors and access it for the amazing low-season prices… but Tarangire will also be missing the majority of its game! Of course, resident game remains and the park is still fascinating in our opinion – but there is a noticeable drop in game densities when the herds leave.
When to go for value?
As with so many places in Africa, the periods just on the edge of peak season and low season itself are when you can get the best value in the park. We have always suggested that travelling around the 1st November is a great time of year to go. The lodges all drop their rates on this date and considering the rains have not yet set in you can get August/September game viewing for low-season prices!
Activities in Tarangire
The main activity inside the park has always been standard game drives, but over the last few years TANAPA (the National Park Authority) has introduced a number of activities that are the envy of other national parks. Walking safaris and night safaris are now possible inside the park boundary – in our opinion, this takes away any reason to stay outside the park! Each lodge offers different activities, but the majority focus on standard game drives.