Expert Reviews – Tarangire NP

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Tanzania’s most underrated wilderness
Overall rating
3/5

Although it’s only a couple of hours up the road from Arusha, most tourists hurry on towards Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro with barely a second glance at the Tarangire turn-off; and in doing so they are missing the wildest park on Tanzania’s northern circuit. Elephants and baobabs – the giants of the animal and vegetable kingdoms – define the nature of Tarangire. Add 500 square miles of acacia glades, swamps and anthill-dotted plains and you have a classic African big game sanctuary. Tsetse flies can be bothersome but soon forgotten when you find a lion pride or a beautiful Tarangire leopard. Birding is good, too. I saw my first-ever pennant-winged nightjar here. The best advice for anyone wanting to visit Tarangire is to come in the dry season between June and October when the only water for miles around is the Tarangire River, attracting thousands of animals from the Masai steppe.

Seasonal Elephant Migration, Baobabs, Tarangire River Views
Overall rating
3/5

Tarangire can be very quiet during the rainy season. During the dry season, from July into October, the park is a first rate safari destination. It is notable especially for the large number of migratory elephants which congregate around the permanent water of the Tarangire River, as well as for large dry-season herds of zebras and wildebeest. Tarangire's landscapes are also alluring, with many baobabs and generally more vegetation than the Serengeti. During the dry season, I'd recommend planning at least two nights in Tarangire to appreciate all this. However, even for shorter itineraries, it's possible to have a very rewarding visit as the best wildlife watching is in the park's northern section, within easy access of the entrance gate.

Migratory Elephants in Tarangire National Park
Overall rating
3/5

Tarangire National Park is a very seasonal park with the Tarangire River acting as a magnet for migratory elephants and other ungulates in the dry season. Predators tend to follow the migration and the park is literally teeming with wildlife from July to October. The opposite season usually works better for Lake Manyara National Park. Birding is excellent year round, with birds of prey being the specialty. The park is very scenic with baobabs dominating the environment. “Little Serengeti” is the perfect area to head out late afternoon. The majestic baobab trees on the grassy plains make a beautiful silhouette for sunset photos. There are some lovely lodges tucked away in remote corners of the park, but I think the best place to be is in the heart of the park where all the elephant action is going on. I love sitting on the balcony of Tarangire Safari Lodge overlooking the magnificent view over the river, where elephants cross regularly throughout the day. If you’re not staying at this unpretentious tented camp, you should at least stop for a drink or lunch.

Elephant Heaven
Overall rating
3/5

When I was researching for the Footprints guidebook update, I asked my extremely experienced driver/guide which was his favourite park – he chose Tarangire. Many people overlook this smaller, less dramatic park in their haste to get to the Serengeti or Ngorongoro, which is a shame because it’s quite special in its own way and I can certainly see why it was my driver’s favourite. He loves elephants and Tarangire has one of the highest densities of elephant populations in Africa, particularly in the dry season when its river provides sustenance for thousands of elephants along with zebra, buffalo, wildebeest and the elegant eland. In the wet season, when I visited, the game is far sparser but the park still has a quiet charm, plenty of birdlife and a strangely fairy-tale like quality with masses of quirky baobab trees.

A lesser-known gem on Tanzania’s Northern Circuit
Overall rating
4/5

Named after the river that runs through its heart, Tarangire National Park is one of the smaller members of the celebrated Northern Circuit family and probably the quietest, but it’s a lovely park with a lot to offer, including one of the highest densities of elephant of any park in Africa, a large number of beautiful baobabs, and pretty rolling hills and valleys of golden grass, acacias and ebony woodland.

Within five minutes of entering the park on my only visit, we saw a lone lioness stalk, chase and kill an impala without another car in sight. We soon lost track of the number of elephants we saw over the next couple of days, sometimes in herds of up to 50 or more, and plenty of buffalo, plains game and birdlife too. During our whole time in the park, seeing another vehicle came as a sudden and unexpected shock. Most of the time it felt like we were in our own private reserve.

You’d think from the lack of visitors that Tarangire wasn’t the most accessible of places, but this isn’t the case. It’s an easy two hour drive from Arusha on a good tar road. But once your inside the park, it’s certainly still got plenty of good old-fashioned bush charm, if not quite such as impressive game as it’s bigger and more famous relatives.

An elephant’s tale
Overall rating
4/5

Despite being renowned as having the greatest concentration of wildlife outside of the Serengeti, Tarangire National Park is the most overlooked of Tanzania’s northern game parks. But that’s a bonus in my books as the tourist crowds here are much thinner on the ground. The dry season (July-October) is the best time to visit with hundreds of elephants vying for position around the park’s only permanent source of water, the Tarangire River, while migratory wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, impala, gazelle, hartebeest and eland graze close by. You’ll find plenty of predators also on the prowl during this time. As much as I enjoy wildlife watching, I’m equally drawn by the park’s dramatically beautiful landscape with its open plains scattered with thousands of spindly baobabs and acacias. And while I’m not much of a birder, even I was impressed by the flutterings of the park’s 550 odd bird species, especially the screeching flocks of the colourful yellow-collared lovebird.

Time it right and you can’t go wrong
Overall rating
4/5

As waters wane across the vast Maasai Steppe during the dry season, great herds of buffaloes, zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, hartebeest, oryx and more congregate around the permanent rivers and swamps in this park. From August to October the density of wildlife here is second only to Serengeti National Park – and for elephants, the real stars of Tarangire, it’s the highest in the world. Because of this incredible abundance, I give Tarangire a wildlife rating of 5 even though it has no rhino. But come November, when the short rainy season begins, most of the animals spread out over a vast area outside the park. During this stretch of the year, if your safari is short, your time will probably be better spent elsewhere. Lions, leopards and other territorial predators stay in the park, but they are harder to find in Tarangire than at others. The birdwatching, however, is good year-round and some consider it the best birding spot in the country.

One thing I particularly like about the park is the bounty of baobab trees. You can find this landscape elsewhere in Tanzania, but not at any other Northern Circuit park. Another highlight of Tarangire is that a couple of the tented camps inside the park lead walking safaris and night drives, as do most of those located outside park boundaries.

Baobabs and elephants
Overall rating
4/5

If any one image encapsulates the Tarangire experience, it is the sight of two great grey giants in close proximity: a herd of the park's ubiquitous elephants walking along slopes studded with ancient specimens of the bulbous ‘upside-down’ baobab tree. True, Tarangire – named after the perennial river that runs through the heart of the park – is the least celebrated of the quartet of reserves that comprise Tanzania’s northern safari circuit, but it is still a fine safari destination in its own right, particularly for elephant enthusiasts. Over several visits, I’ve had limited luck with big cats, though I have come across both lions and leopards lounging in the trees, signalling their presence with a telltale tail twitch. In the dry season, large numbers of wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, impala and hartebeest concentrate along the river, and it is the best place in Tanzania to seek out two dry country antelope: the stately fringe-eared oryx and rubber-necked gerenuk are seen with regularity. It is a great ornithological destination, with more than 550 bird species recorded – my favourites being the red-and-yellow barbets that often platform their outrageous clockwork duet on the red termite mounds where they nest.

Famous for its large herds of elephant and impressive baobab trees, and wilder and less crowded than
Overall rating
4/5

Often overlooked in favour of Tanzania’s other Northern Circuit parks, and although you may not see as many animals, I think Tarangire is a wonderful park. I found the most noticeable feature was the baobab trees; instantly recognizable by their massive silvery trunks and gourd-like fruits. Well-known for its high concentration of game during the dry season (less so in the wet season), we saw plenty of wildebeest, zebra, Thompson’s gazelle, buffalo and eland along the Tarangire River, and elephant feeding in the adjacent woodland. The birdlife was good too; herons, storks, vultures, kites and falcons, and at the viewpoint on the cliff near the Tarangire Safari Lodge I watched some particularly tame white-headed buffalo weavers. There are a number of circuits to follow through the variety of vegetation zones and habitats, and the park is large enough not to feel crowded even when there are quite a few visitors.

Tarangire: Elephants & Baobabs
Overall rating
4/5

Smaller and more manageable than many East African parks, Tarangire is a firm favourite on Tanzania’s northern safari circuit. Numbers tell part of the story in this park that ranks close behind the Serengeti when it comes to wildlife densities: around 450 bird species recorded within the park’s boundaries, not to mention some 700 resident lions and more elephants and baobab trees than I could count. The swamps in the park’s south add intrigue and mystery to your wildlife-watching experience, but it’s along the Tarangire River that most of the action takes place – it was high on a Tarangire riverbank that I watched the unfolding action of a lioness with cubs playing, then going off to hunt zebra and then returning with her kill. As a general rule, the further south you go in the park, the quieter the safari trails, while there are some fine, private conservancies just beyond the park’s eastern boundaries.

Elephants on the March
Overall rating
4/5

Tarangire National Park is the oft-overlooked park on Tanzania’s renowned northern ‘safari circuit’. Perhaps when you have the Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater fighting in the same corner for tourism attention that’s not a surprise, but it’s certainly a shame.

Tarangire covers a diverse array of habitats which range from open savannah grasslands, thorny, dense woodland, open plains spotted with grand old baobab trees (about the only place in northern Tanzania where these wonderful trees, which are virtual living eco-systems in their own right, can be seen) and squelchy green swamps and ponds. And it’s this last habitat that makes Tarangire so special.

Tarangire, and a great swathe of the countryside around it, is a place of seasonal extremes. In the wet season it’s very wet indeed and the greater Maasai steppe that surrounds the park has water aplenty where wildlife (and cattle) can quench their thirst and where the grass is short, nutritious and green. But in the dry season, when the land gasps for water, the wildlife is drawn magnetically toward the year round water of the giant swamps of Tarangire and at such a time the quantity of wildlife in Tarangire is second only to the Serengeti itself.

Lions are common (and have developed a habit, most likely for water evading purposes) of climbing trees, buffalo congregate into some of the biggest remaining herds in East Africa and wildebeest and zebra stream into the park, but it’s the elephants who rule Tarangire. What can seem like hundreds of them lumber and splash about the swamps and re-shape the forests. As an experience there is, in my opinion, simply no better park in East Africa in which to enjoy the company of elephants.

But although Tarangire in the dry season is arguably one of the best possible safari destinations in Tanzania – and often considerably quieter than other parks particularly if you can base yourself in the harder to reach southern sector – in the wet season it’s a different story altogether. In 2016 I actually spent almost a full month based in Tarangire doing some work during the rainy season. And although the bird life was fantastic (this is regarded as one of the best parks in northern Tanzania for birds), the landscape deliciously green and elephants still relatively easy to see, I would have to say that in all honesty I wouldn’t rush their again at that time of year. Aside from some of the elephants almost all the other large mammals appeared to have waved good-bye to the park and dispersed across the Maasai steppe which meant that any safaris I went on tended to be fairly vegetarian affairs. But worse were the tsetse flies. Maybe I’d visited during an exceptionally bad year for them but there were literally clouds of the ravenous beasts and the moment my vehicle stopped for us to look at something they descended in a painful biting mass. In the end I had to go out in long sleeves, coat, hat and socks to keep them off me. And when it’s 30+ degrees that’s not much fun. So, my advice? Avoid visiting in the wet season but when the land is dry and the sun is shining then Tarangire is one of the most rewarding parks you can hope to visit.

A dry season must
Overall rating
4/5

I love Tarangire, but remember that this is a seasonal park – if you’re after mammals you’ll need to visit during the dry season (June-November) to get the best out of it. It’s nice and accessible – only two hours from Arusha – and relatively easy on the budget too. In the dry season the park has a beautiful yellowy colour from the dry grasses that coat the landscape, punctuated by stubby baobab trees. Game drives in the evening are just stunning, as the setting sun turns everything golden.

Since the only source of water is the river, animals come here in their hundreds – on my last visit I spent hours watching a 300-strong elephant herd, plus tiny calves, digging and wallowing in the oozing black mud of an underground spring.

If you’re a birder, rainy season is the time to visit Tarangire, with the most breeding species of one habitat anywhere in the world. The park also looks gorgeous at this time, with the golden grasses turned emerald green, flowers everywhere and the muddy river turned to crystal clear waters.

Land of the giant tuskers
Overall rating
5/5

Named after the Tarangire River, which is a magnet for wildlife at the height of the dry season, this national park is well worth a visit. Tarangire is rightfully famous for its elephants – especially the giant tuskers (which have thus far thankfully escaped the poaching onslaught) – and impressive baobabs.

While elephant lovers should not miss an opportunity to visit Tarangire, it is in truth home to a wide diversity and large numbers of wildlife. Lion, leopard, cheetah and wild dog are all present in the park. On the herbivore side, large herds of zebra, wildebeest and buffalo are a common and enthralling sight, especially during the second half of the year when the lack of water draws them to the perennial river inside the park. Rhino is the only notable species missing from this attractive park, which also boasts over 550 bird species – more than enough to keep even the most discerning birders occupied from dawn to dusk.

Like Lake Manyara and Arusha national parks, Tarangire’s close proximity to Arusha is a double-edged sword. Easy road access makes the park accessible and means tourists can avoid the expensive charter flights or long drives required to reach most of the country’s other national parks, but on the downside the place can also become very busy – especially during the peak tourism months of July to September.

Average User Rating

  • 3.8/5
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