Mikumi National Park
Mikumi is Tanzania’s fourth-largest national park. It’s also the most accessible from Dar es Salaam. With almost guaranteed wildlife sightings, it makes an ideal safari destination for those without much time.
Since the completion of the paved road connecting the park gate with Dar es Salaam, Mikumi National Park has been slated to become a hotspot for tourism in Tanzania. Located between the Uluguru Mountains and the Lumango range, Mikumi is the fourth largest national park in Tanzania and only a few hours drive from Tanzania’s largest city. The park has a wide variety of wildlife that can be easy spotted and also well acclimatized to game viewing. Its proximity to Dar es Salaam and the amount of wildlife that live within its borders makes Mikumi National Park a popular option for weekend visitors from the city, or for business visitors who don’t have to spend a long time on an extended safari itinerary.
Most visitors come to Mikumi National Park aiming to spot the ‘Big Five’ (cheetah, lion, elephant, buffalo, and rhino), and they are always not disappointed. Hippo pools provide close access to the mud-loving beasts, and bird-watching along the waterways is particularly rewarding. Mikumi National Park borders the Selous Game Reserve and Udzungwa National Park, and the three locations make a varied and pleasant safari circuit.
Swirls of opaque mist hide the advancing dawn. The first shafts of sun decorate the fluffy grass heads rippling across the plain in a russet halo. A herd of zebras, confident in their camouflage at this predatory hour, pose like ballerinas, heads aligned and stripes merging in flowing motion.
Mikumi National Park abuts the northern border of Africa’s biggest game reserve – the Selous – and is transected by the surfaced road between Dar es Salaam and Iringa. It is thus the most accessible part of a 75,000 square kilometre (47,000 square mile) tract of wilderness that stretches east almost as far as the Indian Ocean.
The open horizons and abundant wildlife of the Mkata Floodplain, the popular centre piece of Mikumi, draws frequent comparisons to the more famous Serengeti Plains.
Lions survey their grassy kingdom – and the zebra, wildebeest, impala and buffalo herds that migrate across it – from the flattened tops of termite mounds, or sometimes during the rains, from perches high in the trees. Giraffes forage in the isolated acacia stands that fringe the Mkata River, islets of shade favoured also by Mikumi’s elephants.
Criss-crossed by a good circuit of game-viewing roads, the Mkata Floodplain is perhaps the most reliable place in Tanzania for sightings of the powerful eland, the world’s largest antelope. The equally impressive greater kudu and sable antelope haunt the miombo-covered foothills of the mountains that rise from the park’s borders.
More than 400 bird species have been recorded, with such colourful common residents as the lilac-breasted roller, yellow-throated long claw and bateleur eagle joined by a host of European migrants during the rainy season. Hippos are the star attraction of the pair of pools situated 5km north of the main entrance gate, supported by an ever-changing cast of water-birds.
About Mikumi National Park
Size: 3,230 sq km (1,250 sq miles), the fourth-largest national park in Tanzania, and part of a much larger ecosystem centred on the uniquely vast Selous Game Reserve.
Location: 283 km (175 miles) west of Dar es Salaam, north of Selous, and en route to Ruaha, Udzungwa and (for the intrepid) Katavi. .
How to get there
A good surfaced road connects Mikumi to Dar es Salaam via Morogoro, a roughly 4 hour drive.
Also road connections to Udzungwa, Ruaha and (dry season only) Selous.
Charter flight from Dar es Salaam, Arusha or Selous. Local buses run from Dar to park HQ where game drives can be arranged.
What to do
Game drives and guided walks. Visit nearby Udzungwa or travel on to Selous or Ruaha.
Two lodges, three luxury tented camps, three campsites.
Guest houses in Mikumi town on the park border. One lodge is proposed at Mahondo and one permanent tented camp at Lumaaga
Selous Game Reserve
Selous Game Reserve is Africa’s largest game reserve and one of favourite game viewing areas in Africa. Covering 50,000 square kilometres, is amongst the largest protected areas in Africa and is relatively undisturbed by human impact
Africa’s largest and oldest game reserve is one of its most scenic wildlife destinations; the Selous is utterly beautiful. The beauty of the park is matched by the quality of a safari here; boating, walking and fly camping compliment standard game driving in thriving wildlife areas. This is an outrageously good safari park and an essential component of any southern circuit itinerary.
The Selous is a superb safari destination for both family safaris and African honeymoons, all the better for the ease of getting there and the lack of crowds. The park has the widest diversity of safari activities in the country, offering the boating safaris as well as standard game drives, walking safaris and legendary fly camping trips.
The Northern section of Selous is home to a network of channels and lagoons that run off the Rufiji River. This lush landscape provides a water supply for the region’s game and towards the end of the dry season the concentration of animals around these water sources is phenomenal. It is here, around the river and lakes, that the majority of the camps are based; successfully relying on the animal’s need for water to provide game viewing areas. Selous is in its peak season from July through to the middle of November – this when the dry season is raging and all the game homes in on the few permanent water sources.
The sheer volume of game in the Selous is outstanding with statistics putting most parks in Africa to shame. Elephant, buffalo and lion are ‘arguably’ found in no greater numbers year round anywhere on the planet. But it is the Selous’ reputation as the last true stronghold for African wild dog that draws the enthusiasts.
Ruaha National Park
Ruaha national park is one of the few Tanzania’s famous wilderness area where one can have a rare experience of game viewing spiced up by the fascinating landscape. The park is rich of plants and animals such as Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) which can not be found in any other national park. The park boasts of her almost untouched and unexplored ecosystem, making visitors’ safari experience very unique.
The Great Ruaha River as other rivers like Mwagusi, Jongomero and Mzombe save as the life line of the park. During dry season, these rivers become mostly the main source of water for wildlife. There are few natural springs saving the same purpose.
In the pick of dry season, elephants obtain water from dry sand rivers using their front feet and trunks. The remaining water falls along the Great Ruaha River are also important habitat for hippopotamus, fish and crocodiles.
Ruaha National Park has a bimodal pattern of rain forest; the short rainfall season begins November to February, while the long season is between March and April. The annual mean rainfall ranges between 500mm-800mm with the average annual temperature of about 280c. The park experiences its dry season between June and October when the temperature at Msembe headquarter reaches 350c.
The park history dates back to 1910 when it was gazetted Saba Game Reserve by the Germany then the name was changed by British to Rungwa Game reseve in 1946. In 1964 the southern portion of the Game was gazetted as Ruaha national park and in 1974 a small section of South Eastern part of the Great Ruaha River was incorporated into the park. The name “Ruaha” originates from the Hehe word “Ruvaha”, which means “river”. Ruaha National Park is part of Rungwa-Kizigo –Muhesi ecosystem which covers more than 45000km2. In 2008 Usangu game Reserve and other important wetlands in Usangu basin have been annexed into the park, making it the largest park in Tanzania and East Africa with an area of about 20226km2.
Ruaha National Park has a high diversity of plants and animals including elephants, buffalos, antelopes and some of rare and endangered species like wild dogs. The park serves as water shade both for wildlife and human being. This makes it to be economically significant as it supports agricultural activities down stream and contributes to hydro- electric power (HEP) for the country at Mtera and Kidatu dams.
The park is one of the Tanzania birds’ paradise with more than 571species and some of them are known to be migrants from within and outside Africa. Migrating species from Europe, Asia, Australian rim and Madagascar have been recorded in the park. Species of interest in the park include Ruaha red-billed hornbill (Tokus ruahae) which is dominant in the area. The recently annexed wetland, the Usangu basin is one of the country’s important bird area (IBA) as recognized by Birdlife International. Though birds can be seen all the year around, the best time for bird watching is during the wet season.
Ruaha is believed to have high concentration of elephants than any national park in East Africa. It is also a place where, magnificent mammals like Kudu (both Greater and Lesser), Sable and Roan antelopes can easily be spotted in Miombo woodland. The male Kudu have beautiful spiraled horns while male Sable antelope have impressive curved horns. The park is also a habitat for endangered wild dogs. Other animals in the park include lions, leopards, cheetah, giraffes, zebras, elands, impala, bat eared foxes and Jackals.
Reptiles and Amphibians
Apart from large animals, the park also harbors a number of reptiles and amphibians such as crocodiles, poisonous and non-poisonous snakes, monitor lizards, agama lizards and frogs. The Great Ruaha and Mzombe rivers are presumably the most preferred habitat for crocodiles.
The park is characterized by semi-arid type of vegetation, baobab trees, Acacia and other species. There are over 1650 plant species that have been identified. The park is the transitional point of two vegetation zones, the Zambezian (characterized by Miombo vegetation) and Sudanian (characterized by Acacia vegetation).
Historical and cultural sites
There are several historical and cultural sites in the park which offer a visitor a chance to explore the Southern Tanzanian tribes. The early trade routes used by the Arab caravan crossed here. In 1830 these coastal traders expanded their routes northward, and in year 1857 to 1858 other European explorers such as Burton and Speke used these routes too. Chief Mkwawa used the same routes to visit his chiefdoms in Sangu and Gogo.
The park area often hailed as the land of the brave Chief Mkwawa, the Chief of the hehe people who resisted against the German attack in the late 19th century. The fierce and successful battle tactics against the German invasion made the Hehe tribe famous in the Southern highland of the then Tanganyika (Tanzania). The Hehe tribe under the leadership of chief Mkwawa was dominant around the Ruaha area. Some of the outcrops in the area are known as hiding places of chief Mkwawa who went into hiding after the fall of his empire (kalenga) to the German in 1894.
In brief, it is believed that, this ancient land (Ruaha National Park) holds many secrets of chief Mkwawa.
Some of the cultural sites that were used for rituals are “Ganga la Mafunyo”, Nyanywa and Chahe, Painting rock at Nyanywa, the “Gogo” chief “Mapenza” grave at Mpululu and “Mkwawa” spring area believed to be used by Chief Mkwawa. Other historical sites near the park include Isimila pillars near Iringa town, Kalenga, Mlambalasi, Lugalo and God’s bridge just to mention a few.
Ruaha National Park has a wide range of physical features from the Great Rift Valley, river systems, natural springs, wetlands, hot water springs, and kopjes to the beautiful rolling hills and mountains.
The river systems and watershed are of economical, social and ecological significance for the park itself and country at large. Main rivers include the Great Ruaha, Mzombe, Mdonya, Mwagusi and Jongomero.
The Great Rift Valley crosses the park. The escarpment wall along the western valley side is about 50-100m high in the north-eastern parts, increasing in height to the southwest. It is considered that, the valley of the Great Ruaha River is an extension of the Great Rift Valley. The Great Ruaha River flows for 160km long along the entire eastern boundary through rugged gorges and open plains.
They occur throughout the park and they are associated with the base of the Western Rift Valley escarpment, most notably Mkwawa, Mwayembe, Makinde and Majimoto springs. These are dry season refugees for wildlife and when most of the rivers get dry.
The park has undulating land and hills including kilimamatonge, Nyamasombe, Nyanywa, Chariwindwi, Igawira, Mwayiui, Kibiriti, Magangwe, Ndetamburwa and Isukanvyiola. These act as kopjes creating good habitat for animals such as klipspringer which normally can be seen in some of these hills.
Tourism activities in the park include Game viewing, long and short wilderness walking safari, bird watching, picnic, bush meals (break-fast, lunch, dinner) in the untouched bushes.
The wet season (January –April) is best for bird watching, lush scenery and wildflowers. The male Greater kudu is most visible in June which is their breeding season.
Udzungwa National Park
Udzungwa is the largest and with most biodiversity and a chain of a dozen large forest-swathed mountains that rise majestically from the flat coastal scrub of eastern Tanzania. Known collectively as the Eastern Arc Mountains, this archipelago of isolated massifs has also been dubbed as the African Galapagos for its treasure-trove of endemic plants and animals, most familiarly being the delicate African violet.
Brooding and primeval, the forests of Udzungwa seem positively enchanted: a verdant refuge of sunshine-dappled glades enclosed by 30-metre (100 foot) high trees, their buttresses layered with fungi, lichens, mosses and ferns.
Udzungwa alone among the ancient ranges of the Eastern Arc has been accorded the national park status. It is also unique within Tanzania in that its closed-canopy forest spans altitudes of 250 metres (820 feet) to above 2,000 metres (6,560 ft) without interruption.
Although not a conventional game viewing destination, Udzungwa is a magnet for hikers. An excellent network of forest trails includes the popular half-day ramble to Sanje Waterfall, which plunges 170 metres (550 feet) through a misty spray into the forested valley below.
The more challenging two-night Mwanihana Trail leads to the high plateau, with its panoramic views over the surrounding sugar plantations, before ascending to Mwanihana peak, the second-highest point in the range.
Ornithologists are attracted to Udzungwa for an avian wealth embracing more than 400 species, from the lovely and readily-located green-headed oriole to more than a dozen secretive Eastern Arc endemics.
Four bird species are peculiar to Udzungwa, including the forest partridge, first discovered in 1991 and more closely related to an Asian genus than to any other African fowl.
Of six primate species recorded, the Iringa red colobus and Sanje Crested Mangabey both occur nowhere else in the world – the latter, remarkably, remained undetected by biologists prior to 1979.
Undoubtedly, this great forest has yet to reveal all its treasures: ongoing scientific exploration will surely add to its diverse catalogue of endemics.
Location: Five hours (350 km/215 miles) from Dar es Salaam; 65 kms (40 miles) southwest of Mikumi.
The verdant Uluguru Mountains – home to the matrilineal Luguru people – rise up majestically from the plains just south of Morogoro, dominating vistas from town. Part of the Eastern Arc chain, the mountains are home to a wealth of birds, plants and insects. These include many unique species, such as the Uluguru bush shrike. The only comparable mountain-forest area in East Africa, as far as age and endemism are concerned, is the Usambara Mountains. Sadly, due to the Uluguru’s high population density, most of the original forest cover has been depleted, although small protected patches remain on the upper slopes.
The Uluguru Mountains are found within Morogoro District (majority), Mvomero District and Morogoro Municipality – all within Morogoro Region. The main Uluguru Mountains is a ridge running approximately north-south and rising to 2,630 m altitude at their highest point. The greater Ulugurus area also includes a number of isolated massifs surrounding the main block – Kitulangh’alo, Dindili, Mkumgwe, Mindu and Nguru ya Ndege. On the main Uluguru range, 50 villages touch the forest boundary and over 151,000 people are found within the mountain area, often at increasing densities at higher altitudes up to the forest boundary.
The Uluguru range contains one Nature Reserve (formed of Uluguru North, Uluguru South and Bunduki Forest Reserves with a corridor across the Bunduki Gap) that is found in both Morogoro and Mvomero districts and Morogoro Municipality. In addition there are five Forest Reserves supporting Eastern Arc forest habitats within Morogoro District (Kasanga, Mkangala, Mlaliwila, Ngambaula, Tongeni River). Within the same district, Eastern Arc forest is also found in five outlier mountain block reserves (Mkungwe, Nguru ya Ndege, Dindili, Kitulang’halo, Mindu). In total these reserves cover 35,700 ha. Within Mvomero District there is an additional two Forest Reserves are found on the main Uluguru ridge (Shikurufumi), which covers around 280 ha.
The vegetation of the Uluguru main ridge and the outlying blocks is extremely variable. It ranges from drier lowland coastal forest habitats, to transitional rainforests, to sub-montane, montane and upper montane forest types. It also includes an area of afromontane grasslands on the Lukwangule plateau. All these habitats are rich in endemic species and are all of high conservation priority.
Morogoro lies in the agricultural heartland of Tanzania, and is a centre of farming in the southern highlands. Tobacco is grown in the region and consolidated here before going to the market. In addition to its agricultural importance, Morogoro is also the centre for missionary work that goes on in the country, and various missions and their schools and hospitals are a central feature of the town.
The town of Morogoro lies at the base of the Uluguru Mountains, part of the Eastern Arc chain. Its close location to the peaks makes Morogoro an important stop for hiking trips to the Ulugurus. The mountains are notable for their ancient forests, which botanists estimate to be around 25 million year old — some of the oldest forests on the continent. The ancient woodlands support an incredible array of bird and insect life, as well as diverse plant species. The indigenous Luguru tribe offers cultural tourism programmes around the Ulugurus and even outside Morogoro.
Located in the southern highlands of Tanzania, near the country’s legislative capital of Dodoma and the agricultural centre of Morogoro, Iringa is a pleasant small town and a focus of regional agriculture and production. Its streets are quiet and peaceful, and the market offers a colourful scene of traditional African culture. Iringa overlooks the Little Ruaha River and it is a popular stopping point for visitors to Ruaha National Park.
Historically, Iringa was a centre of colonial administration. During German occupation, the German military constructed the town as a fortified defense against marauding Hehe tribal warriors intent on driving them out of the region. Gangilonga Rock, a site just outside of the town, is a legendary spot where the Hehe chief at that time, Chief Mkwawa, met his people and decided on how to fight the Germans. Iringa was also the site of several battles during the First and Second World Wars and the Commonwealth War Graves are located just outside of town.