Serengeti National Park
This is a plain-dwellers' stronghold of 14,763 square kilometres reaching up to the Kenyan border and claimed to be the finest in Africa. Here are 35 species of plain-dwelling animals, including wildebeest and zebra, which feature in the spectacular Serengeti migration, and also an extensive selection of bird life. Probably the best time to see them is from December to May.
This is one of the best places in Africa to see lion and cheetah close up. The vast, open grasslands of the Serengeti are without doubt one of Africa's finest wildlife areas, and being there at the height of the migration is a never-to-be-forgotten experience.
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Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area
Covering a mere 260km², the 600 metre deep crater is home to a permanent population of more than 30 000 animals, and is one of the only places in Tanzania where you stand a very good chance of seeing the 'Big Five' (lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant) in the course of a morning or evening's game drive.
This is the largest intact volcanic calderas in the world, and some scientists maintain that before it erupted, it would have stood higher than Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa. Nights at game lodges on the crater can get icy cold.
Unique to the crater is that the local Maasai graze their cattle on the floor, and it is not unusual to see Maasai cattle and buffalo grazing together, with a lion kill just a few hundred metres away. There are around 100 lions in the crater, and about 20 black rhino. The spectacular Lerai Forest is one of the best places in Africa to spot leopard.
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Lake Manyara National Park
This is one of the most diverse of Tanzania's national parks, a tiny (325km²) combination of Rift Valley Lake, dense woodlands and steep mountainside. Manyara was established specifically to protect the elephant herds that have made the area world-renowned. But heavy poaching in the 1970s and 1980s decimated the herds, although they are now recovering and returning to their former strengths.
Manyara is a birding paradise (more than 400 species), especially for waterfowl and migrants, and the forests are one of the best places to see leopards. Lions hunt on the grassy shores of the lake, and are known for their habit of climbing trees. Best game viewing months are December to February and May to July.
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Arusha National Park
This park lies within the Ngurdoto Crater, a volcano that has probably been extinct for a quarter of a million years. Covering 137km², the terrain ranges from open savannah through acacia scrublands to Afro-montane cloud and rain forest, and Afro-Alpine vegetation similar to Mount Kilimanjaro. There are several alkaline lakes, and the spectacular Ngurdoto Crater is unmissable.
Mammal species include elephant, buffalo, various primates, giraffe and leopard. Hiking is allowed if accompanied by an armed guard, and the climb up Mount Meru is superb, often giving the best views available of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Mikumi National Park
This park, 1300 square kilometres in area, offers a chance to see lion, zebra, hippo, leopard, cheetah, giraffe, impala, wildebeest and warthog. A popular spot for visitors is the Kikaboga Hippo Pool. Although December to March is the ideal time for viewing at Mikumi, there are animals throughout the year.
Ruaha National Park
At 12 950km², Ruaha is only marginally smaller than the Serengeti, and is pristine and untouched Africa, unsullied by minibus tourism and large lodges with electric lights, discotheques and glitzy curio shops. Infested with tsetse fly, Ruaha is bordered in the north by the Kizigio and Rungwa River Game Reserves, and together they form a 26 500km²
By road, it is a five-hour journey from Iringa, but there is also an airstrip at Msembe for fly-in safaris. The best months to visit are from July to November when the animals congregate around the water holes, but the park is stunning all year round.
Ruaha is visually a treat, with rocky outcrops and mountain ranges giving it a topography that ranges from 750m to 1 900m on the Peak of Ikungu Mountain, and the focal point of the reserve is the Great Ruaha River, with its deep gorges, swirling rapids - and excellent fishing. With over 10 000 elephant, 30 000 buffalo, 20 000 zebra and huge populations of lion and leopard (not to mention more than 400 bird species) Ruaha is a naturalist's paradise.
Tarangire National Park
At 2 600km², Tarangire is far from being the biggest of the Tanzanian parks, but its unrivalled landscape of open plains, dotted with thousands of baobabs, is unforgettable. About 120km south of Arusha on the Dodoma road, Tarangire rivals the Serengeti for the size of the game herds that congregate here at peak season (June to November).
This is when many of the animals crowd around the only source of permanent water in the park, the Tarangire River. This is also the best place in Tanzania to see really big herds of elephant - up to 300 at a time. Tarangire is another park known for its tree-climbing lions, and for its very big herds of buffalo. This is one of Africa's little-known gems and should be on the itinerary of all lovers of wilderness and solitude.
The game numbers are staggering: 30 000 zebra, 25 000 wildebeest, 5 000 buffalo, 3 000 elephant, 2 500 Maasai giraffe and over 1 000 fringe-eared Oryx (gemsbok). Predators include lion, cheetah and leopard, and birders will want to look out for the endemic ashy starling, rufous-tailed weaver and black-collared lovebird.
Gombe National Park
This park is on the shores of Lake Tanganyika and chimpanzees are more easily seen here in their natural habitat than anywhere else in the world. Gombe was created to protect the chimpanzees and is set in the beautiful Mahale Mountains.
It is renowned for fantastic sunsets over Lake Tanganyika and Eastern Zaire, which makes it an essential stop for the keen photographer. The habitats include rain forests, grasslands, alpine bamboo and woodland. The best time to visit is between May and October.
Selous Game Reserve
This is the ultimate African wilderness experience, a vast region of largely unexplored bush, teeming with wildlife, and with almost no roads into the hidden interior. Selous is a bird watchers paradise with over 350 species of bird, walking is permitted (with an armed ranger) and with 2,000 species of plants to see makes this a most diverse sanctuary to explore.
Bisected by the mysterious Rufiji River, the Selous is one of the most remote and least visited parks in Africa and, at 55 000km², is the second biggest conservation area in Africa, and the largest game reserve on the continent, and a proclaimed world heritage site. To give scale to these figures, the reserve covers an area more than twice that of Denmark, is bigger than Switzerland and is nearly four times the size of the Serengeti.
The Selous is a grand African experience. Once home to the biggest concentration of elephant on the continent (over 110 000) the 'Ivory Wars' of the late 70s and early 80s had a devastating effect on the herds, reducing numbers to an estimated 30 000 to 50 000 today.
The black rhino population was similarly laid waste, and today there are perhaps 150 to 200 left out of a population of 3 000 in the early 70s. It would be easy to reduce the Selous to just a set of numbers - 120 000 buffalo, 150 000 wildebeest, 50 000 zebra, an estimated half the African population of wild dog, some 4 000, 350 bird species, 50 000 impala, and a mere 2 000 visitors a year - but that would be doing it an injustice.
The defining feature of the Selous is the great Rufiji River, which naturally splits the ecosystem into two distinct parts. Stiegler's Gorge, 100m deep and 100m wide, is a magnificent natural feature with a rickety and gut-wrenching cable car that ferries safari vehicles across the river - not for the faint of heart. While the bulk of the reserve is miombo (brachystegia) woodland, there are sections of magnificent grass plains, wetlands and swamps and areas of dense canopy forest.
Perhaps the most sublime way of exploring the reserve is by boat, meandering through channels and swamps, and exploring hidden lagoons where elephant often come to bathe. Angling in the river for tiger fish and the giant catfish (vundu), which can reach up to 50kg, can be an exciting way to pass an evening, keeping a wary eye open for crocodiles, hippo and lion.
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Other national parks include Katavi, Kilimanjaro, Mahale Mountains, Rubondo and Udzungura Mountains.
Zanzibar is an island partner state in the United Republic of Tanzania. It is an archipelago nestling in the Indian Ocean made up of the larger islands of Pemba and Unguja (Zanzibar) and about 50 smaller islands including Tumbatu, Kibandiko, Chapwani, Bawe, Chumbe, Mnemba, Latham and Uzi. Zanzibar is also known as 'The Spice Island' due to the large number of spices such as Vanilla that are grown on the island.
The island of Zanzibar (Unguja) is located approximately 35 km's off the coast of mainland Tanzania. Zanzibar Island is the most popular of the islands and serves as the main access point to reach the other islands. The scuba diving off the coast of any of the tourist islands is spectacular to say the least, and is more often than not the reason for so many people visiting the region.