Although it's not as well known as its neighbors, the Serengeti or the Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire National Park (pronounced Tarrangeeri, with those distinctive clipped vowels and the hint a rolled r's of a Tanzanian or South African accent) is larger than the entire island of Zanzibar. But as large as it is, it's still only the sixth largest national park in Tanzania, thanks to some remarkably forward-looking conservation and environmental policies enacted by the Tanzanian government since independence in the 1960s--something near 30 percent of the country has been set aside as either national park or conservation area. And only 3-4 hours outside of Arusha, Tarangire is easy to get to and is a prime stop of Tanzania's northern safari circuit.
If elephants are your thing (or baobab trees, although that's a little more niche), Tarangire is brimming with them. The park is reputed to have the highest concentration of elephants in the world, something on the order of 3,000 or so. Within a few hours of driving along the park's rugged, dusty roads, you're likely to come across many hundreds.
But Tarangire is not just about elephants and baobab trees. In the dry season, when animals gravitate to one of the two main water sources in park--the long, flat swamps or the namesake Tarangire River that winds through the park--it ranks only behind Serengeti for the concentration of native wildlife. There are, of course, not fences around the parks so as to encourage the natural migrations, so in the wet season, when the animals are less constricted in where they find water, they disperse across the Maasai Steppe.
Depending on the time of year you're there, you won't go long without seeing zebras, wildebeest, waterbucks, warthogs, cranes, giraffes, dick dicks, ostriches, baboons, and velvet monkeys. And there are big cats--lions and leopards--although the large spaces and the many hiding places created by the rolling savanna mean that they're not as easy to spot here as in Serengeti or Ngorongoro Crater. And if you prefer your critters with wings, you'll find hundreds of varieties of birds; the swamp has an especially dense collection of nesting birds in season.
There's quite a mix of landscapes at Tarangire. Much of it is open, rolling savanna, but there are some areas of grassland plain (such as the area known as the Small Serengeti) and some extensive, flat swamps in the southeastern part of the park.
Photos of Tarangire National Park
What to Know Before You Go
- It's possible to do Tarangire as a day trip from Arusha, but even if you leave at 7am you won't get into the park before 10:30 or 11. You'll then have a few hours in the park before having to leave. Doing that, you'll surely see quite a few animals. But most animals are least active in the heat of the middle of the day. And you'll be limited in how far you can venture into the park. If you plan for at least a full day, or even 2 or 3 days, you'll not only have the chance to explore in the beautiful light of early morning and late afternoon, but you'll also be able to venture further afield, including to the swamp the other side of the park, which shows a completely different type of landscape.
- While there isn't a huge range of lodging options available, there are budget campsites inside and outside the park as well as lodges and luxury camping inside the park.
- Unless you're staying at one of the lodging options inside the park, you can't enter before 6am or leave after 7pm. Because it's so close to the equator, sunrise and sunset are consistently about 6:30am/pm year round.
- Every park has different wildlife patterns. At Tarangire, it's often easier to see a greater concentration and variety of animals in the dry season because the animals congregate around the water sources.
- There are tsetse flies at Tarangire. A small percentage of them have been found to carry human African Trypanosomiasis, commonly known as sleeping sickness.
- Be prepared for sun and dust, especially in the dry season. Make sure to take in with you enough water for the day. And cover up against bugs.
Travel Advice for Tanzania
You can find the latest U.S. Department of State travel advisories and information for Tanzania (such as entry visa requirements and vaccination requirements) here.
Health & Vaccinations
The CDC makes country-specific recommendations for vaccinations and health for travelers. You can find their latest information for Tanzania here.