Tusker herd

Is Tarangire National Park Worth Visiting?

Why You Should Include Tarangire On Your Tanzania Safari

We spent 10 glorious days in National Parks in Tanzania on an intensive Safari adventure to 5 of the country’s national parks, including Tarangire National Park.  When we are asked “is Tarangire National Park worth visiting” we are happy to respond with a resounding YES! Be sure to read on to see why we think you should plan a Tarangire Safari.

Highlights of Manyara National Park

Where Is Tarangire National Park Located?

While not the biggest or most famous of the parks in Tanzania for safari explorations, there are a number of special things about Tarangire that make it a must-stop on your trip to Eastern Africa.

At just over 2800 square kilometres (1100 square miles), Tarangire is Tanzania’s 6th largest park.  The park was established in 1970 and is located on the Northern Tanzania Safari Circuit in the northeast part of Tanzania.  The park is about a 2-hour drive from the country’s third largest city, Arusha, which makes it an ideal starting or ending point for a Tanzanian Safari adventure.

Tarangire National Park Map

Tarangire National Park Map

✅ Looking for information on other National Parks in Tanzania? Check out our blog about Lake Manyara National Park.

What Is Special About Tarangire National Park?

Tarangire (meaning river of warthogs) National Park is situated in the Manyara Region, with the large, flat plains of the Masai Steppe to the southeast and the Great Rift Valley Lakes to the north and west.  This is what makes the Tarangire ecosystem such a unique environment that attracts such a wide diversity and high concentration of wildlife.

Vulture

The Park is best known for its very large elephant herds and has one of the highest populations of elephants in all of Africa.  Some herds are known to have as many as 300 elephants.  Old tuskers, big bull elephants with large tusks, are often seen together in large groups and make for an impressive sighting.

Elephant

We were fortunate enough to see a group of Old Tuskers near the end of our first day in Tarangire National Park as we were heading to our lodge.  They were browsing on a grove of acacia trees near one of the parks exits.

Fun Facts About Elephants

  1. They spend 16 hours per day grazing and browsing
  2. They only spend 4 hours per day resting
  3. They only spend 4 hours per day sleeping
  4. The leader of the herd is a female
  5. They have a lifespan from 65-75 years old
  6. The gestation period for a pregnant female is 23 months
  7. They typically live in a herd
  8. They mainly communicate by rumbling
  9. If they sense danger they will trumpet to warn the rest of the herd
  10. They have the ability to sense when hunters are present

There are some other unique features of Tarangire that you won’t find at most other parks. 

Tarangire National Park is one of the few in Tanzania that offer walking tours.  These are done with the accompaniment of a park ranger and an experienced guide.  The tours allow rare and up-close encounters with East Africa’s wild animals in an environmentally safe way. 

Alternatively, Tarangire offers night safaris that provide an exclusive opportunity to see the nocturnal animals and predators that are not active during the day.

What Is The Best Time To Visit Tarangire National Park?

While Tarangire National Park is not as famous for the mass migrations often seen in Serengeti National Park, it still sees substantial animal migrations, especially in the dry season which occurs between June and October

The migration occurs when large herds of wildebeest, elephant, gazelle, zebra, hartebeest, and buffalo start heading to the Tarangire River which crosses through the park.  At this time of year, you will be treated to some magnificent game viewings.  That is not to say that you won’t have great sightings at other times of the year. 

Buffalo

We were here at the beginning of November and there was no shortage of animals for us to enjoy.

And while you can come to Tarangire National Park any time of the year, there aren’t as many animals here in April and May due to the heavy rains.  You will find that most camps and lodges do remain open year-round, so if you do come in the rainy season, you will find a place to stay at a much lower rate than during the high season.

What Animals Can You Expect To See On A Tarangire Safari?

Well, that depends on what part of the park you visit and the time of year.  For the most part, you will see all the major species that frequent other parks in Tanzania, with the best opportunity to see larger elephant herds, along with frequent sightings of lions. 

Tarangire National Park is also home to 4 of the Big 5 African animals – those animals that were considered the most dangerous to hunt.  The big 5 include the elephant, leopard, lion, buffalo, and rhino.

Male lion

The only one of the Big 5 that you won’t see in the park is the rhino.  They are relatively rare in most of Africa because of poaching, and they are non-existent in Tarangire National Park.

You will also have an opportunity to see wild dogs, hyenas, and cheetahs.  And of course, there are the vast numbers of wildebeest, zebras, antelopes, and giraffes.

What Is It Like To Experience A Tarangire National Park Safari?

Again, that depends on the time of year, which part of the park you visit and the type of tour you take, but we can tell you what our experience was like.

Safari vehicles in Tarangire

We did a 2-day safari in Tarangire National Park and were fortunate enough to spot 35 different animal and bird species.  The first day was basically an afternoon safari, which started when we entered the park just after noon.  The second day was a full day safari drive that started at 7:30am and lasted until around 5:00pm.

Day One

Our tour started out from Arusha where we had stayed at the Grand Melia Hotel the night before.  We left for the park at 9:00am and after a couple of brief stops, we came to the main entrance of Tarangire just around noon.

Tarangire park gate

Here we were greeted by a school group that happened to be at the park. They waved to us and sand songs as we came through the gate.

Entering The Park

The main entrance has a large parking area and several buildings including the security building where the gates to the park are located, a coffee and souvenir shop and washrooms.

This is also where your tour guide will provide you with a briefing about the park, the rules to follow for safety, what to do for park sustainability as well as what you can expect to see.

What is particularly interesting is that some of the natural features that exist at the main entrance are some of the things that you will see throughout the Tarangire National Park.  There is an iconic Baobab tree which is a feature of Tarangire.  And there are a few massive termite hills similar to what you will also see throughout the park.

Baobab tree at Tarangire

We also saw our first animals at the main entrance including a Superb Starling and several mongooses that were flitting around one of the termite hills.

mongoose

Shortly after our briefing, we loaded back into our Toyota Landcruiser Safari truck and headed through the gates into the park. 

In our safari truck

What About The Terrain?

A bit of a cautionary note here.  Our drive from Arusha to Tarangire National Park followed the main highway which was a paved road just before the park’s main entrance. 

Once you enter the park, you are on hard-packed dirt tracks which wind and crisscross throughout the park.   These are filled with potholes from seasonal rains and the ride is quite bumpy and feels like you are driving on a washboard.  Locals mockingly refer to this as an “African Massage”.

Rough roads with obstacles

We began our Tarangire Safari just after noon and spent about 5 hours zigzagging the many trails that wound around the northeastern part of the park.

The landscape is quite a flat savanna with open grassland, acacia trees, baobab trees and brush. Occasional hills appear on the horizon as you drive through the park.  This landscape is the perfect backdrop for wildlife photography and one of the reasons that this park is so special.

Landscape of Tarangire

Fun Fact About Baobab Trees

Baobab trees can hold up to 100,000 litres of water in their bloated trunks which makes them indispensable and allows them to survive the long dry season in the park.

We did make a stop during this day to a large baobab tree where you could climb inside the hollow part of the tree. These trees were used as hiding places for poachers. It was massive and very interesting to see.

A massive baobab tree in Tarangire National Park

It did not take long before we spotted our first “real” safari animals once inside the park – a small herd of Impala grazing under an acacia tree.

Impala

Not long after, we came across a vervet monkey playing.  They reminded us of the Blue Sykes that we had seen in Zanzibar.

Vervet monkey

That was shortly followed by a herd of zebra standing about 30 metres to the side of the trail we were on.

Zebra

We were feeling pretty elated that we had already seen several different kinds of animals not more than 20 minutes into our safari.  But the best was yet to come.

We continued driving for a few more minutes and near the junction of two of the trails, a lone dead acacia tree was dotted with large Marabou storks.  They looked like huge ornaments placed strategically on the branches.

Marabou storks

We realized that the storks weren’t just in that tree. They were sitting atop a few other trees as well as dozens more walking on the ground circling a small watering hole.  There were at least a hundred scattered in the vicinity. 

Marabou storks

We drove slowly along and a short distance from the watering hole we saw an odd arrangement of wildlife – a Nile Monitor Lizard, several Superb Starling and a bird we hadn’t seen before, all staring in the direction.  The new bird turned out to be a Crowned Plover. 

Nile Monitor Lizard

As we continued our drive, we spotted a convocation of Brown Snake Eagles perched atop a tall Baobab tree.  As you can probably guess by their name, they prey on snakes, both venomous and non-venomous.  They also tend to prey on much larger snakes than other forms of eagles, typically decapitating them before carrying the rest of the body up to their nests.  Gruesome!

Brown Snake Eagles

The rest of the afternoon was spent following a few different trails through the park where we stopped every once in a while, to watch different species of birds and animals that are common in the park.

Ostrich

We passed by several herds of wildebeest and zebra who tend to migrate together.  The wildebeest have an exceptional sense of smell and can detect water from miles away.  The zebra, on the other hand, have tremendous eyesight, so the two species complement one another.

We would often see a group of four or five zebras, standing tightly together in a circle with their heads all pointing in different directions.  They do this for protection so that they can spot predators no matter which way they are coming from.

Zebras

Towards the middle of the afternoon, just before we started heading to our overnight lodging, we had our best animal sighting of the day – a couple of female lions making their way through the dense underbrush and acacia trees! 

Our initial sighting of the large cats was from quite a distance, so our guide turned our Safari vehicle around and drove to a crossing trail that was a few hundred metres away and up over a ridge.  This gave us a much better vantage and turned out to be the direction that the lions were travelling in.  As a result, we had a perfect view of these beautiful lions.

This was certainly the highlight of our day so far and we spent 20 minutes or so just watching the graceful females as they made their way through the brush.

Female lion

Since we had quite a long drive to our lodging, which was just outside the park near Lake Burunge, our guide suggested that we would head back towards the western exit. 

Just before we exited the park, we had another spectacular sighting – a herd of large bull elephants that were gathered around a grove of acacia trees.  Our driver parked our vehicle quite close to the group which didn’t seem to mind our presence as they continued to browse on the leaves from the trees. 

Tusker herd of elephants

We lingered here for 20 minutes or so, then headed out the exit and on our way to the our lodging. 

We had spent about 5 hours in Tarangire National Park on our first day.  We covered about 50 kilometres in the most northerly part of the park on that afternoon.  Given that the most active time to see wildlife is in the morning and evening, we felt we had a very successful game drive – but our second day would prove to be even better!

Day Two

We left our tented lodge at 7:30am and entered the western gate of Tarangire National Park around 8:15am.  We were heading a little further south and much further east through the park on our second day than we did on our first.

It didn’t take long before we got a glimpse of our first wildlife of the day.  Besides the myriad birds that were nesting in trees and pecking on the ground, we got our first view of a herd of elephants passing through the area. 

Elephant herd

Unlike the herd of Old Tuskers that we had seen the day before, this herd contained males and females as well as several young adults and babies.  Behind the elephants was a large group of wildebeest

As we continued to drive past the same area we had been in the day before, we saw quite a few more zebra and wildebeest than on the previous afternoon.

We spotted our first Dik Diks, the smallest of the African antelope species as well as countless warthogs and mongoose.  It was easy to spot the mongoose because they typically hang out on or near the giant termite hills that we were seeing more frequently as we headed east.

Dik Dik

Different Terrain

We also noticed a significant change in the terrain as we went further south and east through Tarangire National Park.  On our first day, the terrain was very brushy with some rolling hills and lots of trees. 

On our second day, the terrain was much flatter with lots of grassy plains, and, while there were still quite a few trees, they were much more scattered.  We were also able to see some isolated hills on the horizon throughout most of the second day.

Grassy plains

As we continued driving east, we spotted a wake of hooded vultures feasting on a zebra carcass just a few metres off the side of the road. 

Vultures eating a zebra

Further on we noticed a long line of wildebeest that seemed to be going on forever. 

Wildebeest

Around midday, we crossed the Tarangire River and saw a herd of waterbuck along the river’s edge along with a Goliath Heron and other waterfowl.

Tarangire river

Silale Swamp

As we continued east we could see the famous Silale Swamp on the horizon with its lone hill in the background.  The Silale Swamp is one of the most beautiful areas in Tarangire National Park and forms part of its important ecosystem.

The Silale Swamp sits at the easternmost part of the park and covers an area of nearly 70 square kilometres.  It acts like a giant sponge which absorbs water during the rainy season and then releases it to the Tarangire River in the dry season.  This is the major playground for the large number of animals and birds that gather in Tarangire National Park.

Silale swamp

There is a famous picnic site called Silale Swamp Picnic area that sits atop a slight slope and overlooks the terrain below.  It sits in a grove of acacia trees, and this is where we stopped to eat the boxed lunch that was provided to us by our lodge.  This is one of the most scenic places in the world to enjoy an al fresco lunch!

It was in Silale Swamp that we got our most significant animal sightings in all Tarangire National Park. 

Aside from the much larger and more frequent herds of elephants, we spotted two male lions lazing under the shade of an acacia tree.   They were younger males, but magnificent nonetheless, with their flowing manes crowning their regal faces.

Male lions

About 20 minutes later, and just up the trail from where we spotted the lions, we got our first good sighting of the elusive leopard.  It too was lounging at the base of an acacia tree with its fresh kill hanging above it in the branches. 

Leopard

This sighting was especially exciting for us because, while we had seen a leopard on a previous African trip to South Africa in 2018, this one was much, much closer.  We lingered here for quite a while and admired this amazing specimen.

Shortly after our leopard sighting, and still driving within the confines of Salile Swamp, our keen-eyed driver pulled to the side of the trail and looked out at an opening in front of a group of trees. 

We weren’t sure what he was looking at because all we could see was a tangle of brush and a long log in the grass.  And then we realized that we weren’t looking at a log at all, but rather a 20-foot-long African Rock Python

Tree climbing python

While we had seen pythons in zoos before, this was the first one we had seen in its natural habitat and by far much larger than any we had seen in captivity.  We continued watching this gargantuan snake for several more minutes as it slithered slowly past the acacia tree that we were hoping it would climb. 

After leaving the snake behind, we continued on the dirt track and had to pull over for a few minutes as our path was blocked by an Ostrich sitting in the middle of the road.  We waited while it was joined by its mate when the pair reluctantly trudged up the track before moving across to the grassland.

Ostrich in the road

On our way back to the western part of Tarangire National Park and as we left the Salile Swamp area, one of our group spotted movement near one of the acacia trees at the side of the trail. 

As we got closer, we realized that the movement was caused by a towering Masai Giraffe that was nibbling on the leaves near the top of the acacia.  It was a beautiful and elegant animal, and it was so close!  We soon realized that there were several others in the vicinity, hidden by a grove of acacias.

Masai giraffe

Heading back to the western gate of Tarangire, we passed more herds of elephants, wildebeest, zebra, and two more leopards (although not quite as close this time)!  We passed through the park gates just after 5:30pm arriving at the lodge just after 6:00pm.

Leopard

Our second day in Tarangire saw us cover more than 120 kilometres in just under 11 hours.  We had driven from the western part of Tarangire all the way across to Salile Swamp on the eastern border and back again.  We had managed to see all the Big 4 that reside in the park in one day.  And we had managed a rare sighting of an African Rock Python.  What a great day!

What Animals Did We See In Tarangire National Park?

While we have highlighted some of our major sightings of wildlife while we were in Tarangire National Park, here is the complete list that we were able to spot over our two days.

ImpalaElephantOstrich
Crested francolinLeopardTawny eagle
Goliath heronElandSecretary bird
Red-headed agamaAfrican rock pythonWhite hooded buffalo weaver
Dik DikWildebeestLions
Superb StarlingMarabou storkBateleur eagle
Vervet monkeyHooded vultureWhite-throated bee eater
WarthogsBlack ploverDwarf mongoose
Brown snake eagleHammerkopSouthern ground hornbill
Banded mongooseNile monitor lizardMartial eagle
Ring-necked swallowWhite bucket vultureYellow necked spurfowl
Masai giraffeAfrican buffalo

How Many Days Do You Need In Tarangire National Park

Based on our experience in Tarangire National Park, we think that two days should be enough to cover the major highlights of the park. 

While we didn’t get to the southern half of the park, we covered a good portion of the northern section from the west to the east.  We did encounter 35 different species of animals and birds including all 4 of the Big 5 game that reside in the park. 

If you have limited time in the park, make sure that your tour covers at least one morning, since that is when the animals are most active.  We had most of our unique sightings before 1:00pm on the second day.

The Final Word…Is Tarangire National Park Worth Visiting?

While there are several excellent National Parks in Tanzania, and they offer wonderful Safari experiences, there are some special things about Tarangire National Park that make it worth visiting.

The large elephant herds, beautiful scenery, interactions with loads of lions and many animals that come for the water supply all make this a great safari option.

Is it worth going to Tarangire National Park? In our opinion, this park is definitely a place that belongs on your bucket list when visiting Tanzania!

our selfie in Tarangire National Park