Tanzania is one of the most diverse and captivating African travel safari destinations. Boasting a vast and unique array of national parks and game reserves, ranging from the world-renowned Serengeti National Park to the wild and secluded hidden wilderness gem of Katavi National Park, Tanzania has a safari and wildlife destination to suite every type of traveler and wilderness enthusiast.
Offering an endless variety of places to explore, wildlife and birdlife to see, and safari adventures to experience, here are the top 10 tourist attractions in Tanzania, all of which should be on your African travel and safari bucket-list.
#1 The Serengeti National Park
Tanzania’s flagship conservation area, the Serengeti National Park is one of the finest national parks and top tourist attractions in Tanzania. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Serengeti is regarded as one of the most celebrated wilderness areas in the world.
Stretching along a vast plateau between the eastern arm of the rugged Rift Valley and the huge expanse of Lake Victoria, the Serengeti National Park covers an immense 14 800 km² (5 700 square miles) on Tanzania’s northern border with Kenya. Making up 50% of the wider Serengeti–Mara ecosystem, the Serengeti is the most famous protected wilderness area in all of Africa. As Tanzania’s oldest game reserve, the Serengeti National Park boasts one of the oldest and most diverse ecosystems on earth with a thriving vegetation that has remained largely untouched for millions of years.
Beyond its diverse landscapes, vast grasslands, golden savannah, thriving ecosystems, and wild and unspoiled natural beauty, it boasts one of the world’s greatest concentrations of wildlife, and certainly one of the most diverse. In fact, one of the best things about the Serengeti is its superb year-round game viewing.
Just about every large animal in East Africa can be regularly seen in the Serengeti National Park or its wider ecosystem. Known for its remarkable African Big 5 and predator sightings (especially lions, leopards, hyenas, and cheetahs), as well as plenty of elephants favoring the western woodlands of Grumeti, the Serengeti dazzles even the most hardened safari critics. The Serengeti ecosystem is also a renowned bird-watching destination, with over 500 species recorded to date.
The world-renowned Serengeti National Park Great Migration is a wildlife phenomenon and spectacle that will exceed all expectations. The Serengeti Great Migration sees millions of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle traversing the open plains of the park in search of fresh grass from seasonal rains, moving northwards into the neighboring Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, and then returning south to the Serengeti again. It is estimated that 1.5 million wildebeest, 300,000 zebra and 400,000 gazelles take part on the annual Serengeti Great Migration.
The dramatic scenes of huge herds on the move, crossing rivers and vast plains, pursued by predators looking for their next kill, are the stuff nature documentaries are made of. Experiencing the annual Serengeti National Park Great Migration is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime event that most safari travelers and wildlife enthusiasts have at the top of their bucket list.
#2 Ngorongoro Crater
The iconic Ngorongoro Crater is regarded by many as Africa’s lost world filled with dramatic and jaw-dropping scenery and blessed with tons of prolific and extremely well-habituated wildlife. The iconic Ngorongoro Crater located in Northern Tanzania, which was once a gigantic volcano, is the largest intact caldera in the world, surrounded by towering volcanic walls on every side. Some would go as far as to say that before it erupted, it would have been higher than the famous Mt Kilimanjaro – the highest peak in Africa. This undoubtedly makes the Ngorongoro Crater one of the most sought-after destinations to visit and top tourist attraction in Tanzania, if not Africa.
Today, long since having collapsed and eroded, it is an extensive highland area with the famous 600m deep Ngorongoro Crater as its focal point. However, despite being nearly three million years old, the ancient caldera shelters are still regarded as one of the most beautiful wildlife havens on earth.
The steep sides of the crater have become a natural enclosure for a wide variety of wildlife. In fact, it is presently one of the most likely areas in Africa to see the endangered Black Rhino.
Adjoining the southeast of the renowned Serengeti National Park, you’ll find the extensive Ngorongoro Conservation Area. While most visitors just visit the area to see the crater in all its gory, the more curious and adventurous leave the safari hordes behind to explore the wider conservation area that is a mixed-use area for wildlife and Maasai pastoralists. Within this protected area, the vast Oldupai Gorge (originally misnamed Olduvai) is an archaeological site made famous by the Leakey family for being home to some of the continent’s most important hominid fossils.
Provided you visit outside of the peak safari season months (June–September), you will fall in love with Ngorongoro Crater packed full of a wild, vast, and diverse array of wildlife and mesmerizing scenery.
#3 Selous Game Reserve
Intersected by the crocodile-infested Rufiji River and home to the world-renowned Stiegler’s Gorge, the 50,000km2/19,305mi2 Selous Game Reserve is an iconic East African safari destination and one of the top tourist attractions in Tanzania. Thanks to the efforts and stringent regulations implemented by the Wildlife Division of the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, the Selous Game Reserve boasts the greatest concentration of savanna animals than any other African game reserve.
Despite its ongoing poaching and the fact that illegal hunting ravaged the enormous elephant herds of years gone by, the Selous Game Reserve continues to support approximately 16,000 magnificent elephants by means of several incredible wildlife, conservation, and anti-poaching initiatives. Selous is also home to a thriving population of endangered African wild dogs – A rare and remarkable sighting when visiting any African game reserve or national park.
The infamous Rufiji River is an important feature of the reserve as it supports and gives life to a broad range of both water-based and non-water-based wildlife. A vast diversity of wildlife can be spotted in and around the Rufiji River, including hippos, rhino, buffalo, antelope, giraffe, elephant, lion, leopard, cheetah, wildebeest, warthog and so much more. Selous Game Reserve also boasts a glorious array of birdlife with over 350 recorded species, making it any avid birder’s paradise.
#4 Mount Kilimanjaro
Dubbed the highest peak on the African continent at 5895 metres (19,340 feet) above sea level, visiting and climbing the tallest freestanding mountain on earth, Mount Kilimanjaro, is undoubtedly one of the top things to do in Tanzania. An inactive volcano, this majestic mountain can be found inside the Kilimanjaro National Park in north-eastern Tanzania, positioned virtually on the equator. Unlike other national parks in northern Tanzania, wildlife is not the main attraction for those visiting Mount Kilimanjaro National Park, but rather to witness and stand in awe of this tall-standing natural wonder and, for many, to climb to the summit.
Famous for its snow-capped peak looming over the stunning plains of the savannah, Mount Kilimanjaro has established itself as one of Africa’s top tourist attractions among keen travelers, nature enthusiasts, avid mountaineers, and trekkers from around the world – and with good reason too!
Standing vigil over Tanzania’s untamed landscapes, Mount Kilimanjaro, which is also a World Heritage Site, boasts an array of beautiful and diverse habitats and ecosystems. On the lowland slopes, much of the mountain has been converted to farmland. Once inside the park, thick, lush lowland forest and rainforests covers the lower slopes giving way to alpine meadows once the air begins to thin. Near the peak, the landscape becomes harsh and barren with lunar landscapes, rocks, and sparkling vistas of ice and snow which are the predominant features as you approach the snowy summit of Africa atop Uhuru Peak on Kibo – The highest point of Mount Kilimanjaro (as well as the highest point on the African continent), which is also regarded as one of the Seven Summits of the world.
The slopes of rainforest are home to several buffaloes, leopards, monkeys, elephants, and eland. The alpine meadow region on the other hand is where avid bird watchers will find an incredible array of birds of prey.
If that isn’t enough, few mountains can claim the grandeur and the scintillating views over the Great Rift Valley and Amboseli National Park in neighbouring Kenya that belongs to Mount Kilimanjaro.
For many eager travellers, thrill seekers, and mountaineers, hiking to the ‘roof of Africa’ – the highest point on the African continent – is the adventure of a lifetime and the highlight of their Tanzanian experience, especially because the routes to the summit are not as technical as many may think and are thus accessible to almost any reasonably fit and healthy. Everyone from seasoned trekkers to first-time hiking enthusiasts can successfully tackle and scale the snowy summit provided they climb slowly, acclimatize properly, are adequately equipped for the wind and biting cold, and have a certain level of fitness, as the main challenge is posed by the altitude.
#5 Lake Manyara National Park
Lake Manyara National Park is located in the Arusha Region and Manyara Region of Tanzania. Offering a thrilling wilderness experience and diverse habitats, from its Rift Valley soda lake, forests, and vast grasslands to swamps, dense woodlands and steep mountainsides, Lake Manyara National Park is both a sought-after safari destination and top tourist attraction in Tanzania.
Apart from its spectacular and diverse setting and surroundings, Lake Manyara National Park is famous for its unusual tree-climbing lions, huge elephant herds, and large population of hippos, all of which can be admired at a much closer range than in other parks.
As two-thirds of the park is covered by water, it is renowned for attracting a vibrant and abundant bird life, as well as a copious number of flamingos. During Tanzania’s wet season, Lake Manyara is home to more than 400 species of birds, many of them waterfowl or migrants, as well as thousands of flamingos – Providing visitors and birding enthusiasts with truly sensational sightings.
During the dry season, alkaline mud-flats take the place of the glorious lake waters. The dry season is the best time to see large mammals such as huge herds of buffalo, hippos, cheetah, Masai giraffe, wildebeest, and impala, to mention merely a few, roam the lake shores and the forested valley slopes – Resulting in remarkable wildlife sightings!
If you’re eager to go on a Lake Manyara safari, you can look forward to a unique and fascinating experience as the park also features a ground-water forest, acacia tortilis woodland and hot springs called Maji Moto.
As Lake Manyara National Park is said to host the largest concentration of baboons in the world, you can expect to see troops of several hundred olive baboons alongside Sykes monkey and short-eared galago. Cape clawless otters, Egyptian mongoose, hippos, and the iconic African klipspringer are other prominent park residents you’ll have the opportunity to spot on your Lake Manyara safari adventure.
#6 Katavi National Park
Wild and remote Katavi National Park is an unspoiled and untouched wildlife and wilderness paradise situated in the western area of Tanzania. The 4,471km2/1,726mi2 national park boasts a rich diversity of wildlife along with a wonderful array of habitats, ranging from flood plains of thick reeds and dense waterways that teem with hippo and crocodile to woodlands, open grasslands, forests, and pristine seasonal lakes. This makes exploring the untamed and majestic Katavi National Park a bucket-list worthy and thrilling wilderness experience.
Katavi’s enormous flood plain, split by the Katuma River and several seasonal lakes, is one of its most prevalent features. The park’s array of seasonal lakes is home to a glorious abundance of crocodiles, hippos, and over 400 bird species. One of Katavi National Park’s greatest wildlife spectacles is witnessing over 200 hippos squeeze into a single pool of water at the end of the region’s dry season. Wildlife enthusiasts visiting Katavi during this time will have the amazing opportunity to see a whole lot of action as the rivalry between the male hippos heats up, causing intense territorial fights.
Katavi National Park’s dry season brings the whole park to life as its renowned for its remarkable and abundant wildlife sightings and encounters. Visitors can look forward to seeing large herds of impala, reedbuck, lions, zebras, giraffes, and so much more at the remaining pools and streams. As Katavi is said to be home to the largest herds of buffalo on the planet as well as a huge population of elephants, thousands of buffaloes and elephants can be spotted converging when the flood waters in the park retreat.
Due to Katavi National Park’s remote location, it is regarded as one of Tanzania’s most magnificent hidden wilderness gems. It is also more difficult to access compared to some of Tanzania’s other popular game reserves and national parks. Where the famous Serengeti National Park might see approximately 125,000 (or likely more) visitors in a year, the wild and secluded Katavi sees no more than a few hundred brave adventurers, avid wildlife and birdlife enthusiasts, and thrill-seeking wilderness travelers by comparison.
Katavi National Park truly is the epitome of wild Africa at its finest – and if you have the opportunity to visit and explore this pristine Tanzanian National Park, it will undoubtedly exceed all your expectations.
#7 Ruaha National Park
Located in the heart of Tanzania, Ruaha National Park is one of the largest national parks in East Africa and one of Tanzania’s most notorious wilderness areas. The Great Ruaha River is one of the main features of Ruaha National Park. Attracting an abundance of wildlife, it provides visitors with ample magnificent up-close wildlife viewing opportunities on the riverbanks. In addition to the Great Ruaha River, the park boasts vast wild landscapes filled with rocky escarpments, baobab studded hills, and spectacular gorges.
Boasting a vast diversity of remarkable wildlife, it isn’t hard to understand why Ruaha National Park is at the top of almost every wildlife enthusiast’s list when visiting Tanzania. Besides hosting one of the largest concentrations of elephants in Tanzania, Ruaha National Park is home to large herds of buffalo, gazelle, wild dogs, lions, leopards, cheetah, giraffes, zebras, impala, bat eared foxes, and jackals, to mention merely a few. Ruaha is also where you will find an estimated 10% of the surviving wild lion population in Africa (which is undoubtedly one of Ruaha National Park’s top wildlife highlights), it also one of the only places you will see greater kudu in Tanzania.
Avid birdwatchers can look forward to sensational bird sightings as Ruaha National Park is home to over 400 species of bird that are not found in northern Tanzania.
Due to the park’s relatively remote location, visitors can look forward to incredible and exciting wildlife and birdlife sightings without the large crowds of people and tons of cars and game vehicles around.
#8 Mahale Mountains National Park
Nestled on the Lake Tanganyikan shoreline (in western Tanzania) and set among the spectacular, forested slopes of the Mahale Mountains, the Mahale Mountains National Park is one of the most sought-after national parks and tourist attractions in Tanzania. It is also regarded as one of Tanzania’s most beautiful national parks, boasting lush green forested mountains cascading down to the lakeshore, crystal-clear waters lapping against white sand coves, and the magnificent mist-covered peak of Mount Nkungwe which can be seen in the background.
The iconic Mahale Mountains National Park was originally created to protect the thousands of chimpanzees that inhabit the region. This has made it one of the best national parks and places in the world to witness and enjoy up-close sightings and encounters with chimpanzees.
Beyond its stunning landscapes, surrounding scenery, and vast chimpanzee population, Mahale Mountains National Park boasts a breathtaking array of habitats, which include rainforest, grasslands, alpine bamboo, and woodlands. These diverse Mahale Mountain habitats are where some 50 species of animals and other primates have been recorded, predominant among these being representatives from various monkey and ape families, including yellow baboons and the Red Colobus Monkey.
Besides its incredible array of monkey and ape families, over 90 unique species of fish can be found swimming in the clear waters of the lake.
With minimal road access and a somewhat secluded location, Mahale Mountains National Park is not only regarded as one of Tanzania’s most remote and unspoiled national parks, but one of its most enthralling and exhilarating wilderness areas and safari destinations. This makes Mahale a not-to-be-missed bucket-list wilderness destination for all avid explorers, adventurous wildlife and birdlife enthusiasts, and daring off-the-beaten-path travelers visiting Tanzania.
By far one of the top things to do in Tanzania, and certainly the most thrilling too, is exploring the wild and wonderful Mahale Mountains National Park on foot with an experienced guide. Beyond all the remarkable up-close chimpanzee sightings, and other wildlife, ape, and monkey species you will encounter, be prepared for some sweaty, steep climbs through dense vegetation – One thing is for sure though, it promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure and the final reward is well worth the trials and tribulations of getting there!
#9 Tarangire National Park
Located in Northern Tanzania, Tarangire National Park is renowned for its baobab trees spread across its vast grassy landscapes, thrilling African wilderness safaris, exceptional game viewing, remarkable bird watching, and infamous elephant migration, boasting one of the largest populations of elephants in the country.
The best time to visit Tarangire is during its dry season from July to September when it’s incredible and diverse wildlife can be spotted gathering along the river – This allows for excellent game viewing opportunities and up-close wildlife sightings and encounters.
During Tarangire National Park’s dry season, visitors and wildlife lovers can expect to see large herds of wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, leopards, cheetahs, waterbucks, giraffes, impala, elephants, gazelle, hartebeest, badgers, monkeys, mongoose, baboons, African wild dogs, and eland in and around the park’s lagoons and grassy landscapes. In addition to its amazing variety of wildlife, Tarangire’s famous tree-climbing lions are undoubtedly one of its top wildlife highlights and sought-after sightings.
Tarangire National Park is also known as a true bird lover’s paradise, as more than 550 different species of birds frequent the park.
#10 Arusha National Park
Another top tourist attraction in Tanzania is Arusha National Park. While it may be considerably smaller than many of Tanzania’s other popular national parks and game reserves, Arusha National Park boasts a unique diversity of landscapes and habitats. Some of its distinctive habitats include lush grasslands and vast greenery, the extraordinary forests of Mount Meru, the infamous Ngurdoto Crater and its verdant hillsides (situated in the southeast section of the park), and the notorious Momella Lakes, which essentially consists of seven crater lakes. The vast and varied habitats and environments found within Arusha gives rise to its remarkable and rich biodiversity between its borders.
Each of Arusha National Park’s exclusive habitats have something different to offer visitors and wildlife enthusiasts. The forested area of Mount Meru is famous for its black and white Colobus monkeys, which can easily be spotted jumping around and hanging about. The marshy floor of the Ngurdoto Crater on the other hand is dotted with herds of buffalo, zebra, rhino, warthogs, elephants, bushbucks, lions, leopards, and giraffes, allowing for some truly spectacular wildlife sightings.
The notorious Arusha Momella Lakes is home to a large selection of resident, exotic, and migrant birds, some of which include crowned eagles, woodpeckers, hornbills, egrets, guinea fowl, pelicans, geese, storks, and glorious flocks of flamingos.
While most of Tanzania’s national parks are exclusively centred around wildlife encounters and safaris, Arusha National Park offers visitors the very best of both worlds. Arusha is not only known for its incredible wildlife and birdlife sightings, but its exciting variety of outdoor recreation activities and thrilling wilderness adventures too. From exhilarating hiking and climbing expeditions, to invigorating canoe trips and action-packed walking safaris – Arusha National Park has a riveting and extraordinary experience and adventure for everyone to enjoy.
**Bonus: Another one of the top things to do in Tanzania is climb the legendary Mount Meru.
Mount Meru is the second highest mountain in Tanzania as well as one of the most iconic and beautiful volcanoes in Africa. The summit of Mount Meru is reached via a narrow ridge, which features magnificent views of the volcanic cone located several thousand feet below in the crater. While the ascent to reach the Mount Meru summit is steep and rather challenging, the route to the top passes through beautiful forests, parklands, as well as a giant heather zone and moorland.