Expert Reviews – Mikumi NP

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An underrated gem
Overall rating

Little-known Mikumi, an extension of the vast Selous ecosystem, is the country’s fourth-largest national park, and a popular goal for weekend breaks out of the port city Dar es Salaam, or as an initial pit stop on a more extensive safari through southern Tanzania. However, because it is bisected by the surfaced main road connecting Dar es Salaam to Zambia, it has less of a wilderness feel than some other reserves in Tanzania, and it is often seen as a slightly second rate option. This, in my view, is grossly unfair: away from that single ribbon of asphalt, Mikumi supports some impressive volumes of wildlife, particularly on the Mkata floodplain, which recalls the Serengeti in scenic feel, and often hosts large herds of giraffe, elephant, buffalo, zebra, eland and other antelope. Predators sightings are less frequent than in some parks, but lions are often seen lazing below shady acacias (on our most recent visit we actually found two different pairs mating less than 1km apart) and spotted hyenas are vociferous by night. Endangered African wild dogs occasionally range across to Mikumi from the Selous, but less regularly than they did a few years back. All in all, it is a great little reserve, offering some good wildlife viewing and – away from the road – an untrammelled feel bolstered by the very low tourist traffic.

Mikumi – the ideal stop-over on the Tanzam Highway
Overall rating

Mikumi is my favourite stop-over when driving to Ruaha National Park. The park isn’t very scenic and the highway running through it kills the wilderness appeal, which is the main attraction of the other parks in Southern Tanzania. Having said that, the game viewing is good in Mikumi. Arguably better than in Ruaha. It is easy to find lions and there is always a good number of general game around. The man-made waterhole is a magnet for animals coming to drink including huge herds of buffalo. Reedbuck is very common and unusual antelopes like eland and greater kudu are often spotted as well. The game drive circuit is quite small, so one or two game drives is all you really need here. The park is often visited by rowdy crowds from Dar-es-Salaam which can spoil the experience at crucial points like the waterhole and picnic sites. Therefore, weekends are not the best time to visit.

Wildlife Watching Just off the Highway
Overall rating

Mikumi's highlights are its ease of access (it's an easy four-hour drive from Dar es Salaam along the main highway), its reasonably-priced lodges and the chance it offers to see a good array of wildlife within a short amount of time. Every time I've visited the park, I've been lucky enough to see elephants, zebras, giraffe, buffalo and plenty of baboons, plus some more elusive nocturnals, including the honey badger. The down sides are the lack of a wilderness feel (due to the location bisected by the highway), and the relative 'ordinariness' of the safari experience in comparison with Tanzania's other protected areas. I don't recommend Mikumi as a destination in itself, especially for first-time safari goers. However, it makes an enjoyable destination as a stopover if you are travelling along the Tanzam highway, or as an easy weekend getaway from Dar es Salaam.

A stretch of typical savannah with unexpected game-viewing on Tanzania’s Great North Road
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Straddling the Morogoro-Iringa highway, Mikumi has typical woodland and grassy plains, and the lush vegetation of the Mkata River floodplain attracts a fair variety of animals and birds throughout the year. I’ve passed through en route between Tanzania and Malawi, and game-viewing is as simple as slowing down to the prescribed speed limit. It’s quite an odd experience to drive through a village, then a pristine wildlife area, then immediately back to farmland and villages on the other side. But just on the 50-kilometre drive through, I’ve seen plains game, elephant, and lion and they seem quite accustomed to the vehicles that rumble past. While I wouldn’t make a special effort to get just here as it’s a fairly long drive from Dar es Salaam, there is a good choice of accommodation and it can be combined with other parks in southern Tanzania.

A road runs through it
Overall rating

Mikumi’s relative proximity to Dar es Salaam makes the park the perfect weekend getaway, so you'll generally find a few more tourists here than in the Southern Circuit’s more remote Ruaha National Park. With the Tanzam Highway running straight through the centre of the park, it doesn’t have the same wilderness feel as Ruaha. It’s certainly a little disconcerting hearing trucks race along a highway when you’re tucked away in your campsite or when you’re quietly trying to watch the animals. On the positive side, you don't even need to enter it to start your game viewing. After spending two days driving around the park hoping to spy a lion, we finally found one casually crossing the main highway just as we'd given up and left. While only a small section of the park has been developed for tourism, a typical game drive will reveal elephant, hippo, giraffe, zebra, buffalo, warthog, wildebeest and impala all in impressive numbers. We certainly saw an abundance of wildlife during our short stay – watching hippos lurch and snap at each other as the sunset over the dam was a highlight – which overall made it a worthy stop on way to Ruaha.

Average Expert Rating

  • 2.8/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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