THE SOUTHERN CIRCUIT SAFARI PARKS AND SITES
Most visitors travel to what is known as the Northern Circuit. This includes the dramatic Ngorongoro Crater, home to around 30,000 animals. Another popular destination is the vast Serengeti with its world-renowned Great Wildebeest Migration. Also high on the list are the exceptionally pretty Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Parks.
As wonderful as these popular places are, Tanzania has much more to offer than these well-known hotspots. If you want to escape the crowds, head to the country’s little-visited yet stunning and wildlife-rich Southern Circuit.
RUAHA NATIONAL PARK
Ruaha National Park
Overview of Ruaha National Park
Ruaha National Park which is the largest National Park in Tanzania covering an area of 20,226 sq.km is located in south-central Tanzania. Because of its size, Ruaha is in a unique position, to be able to continue uninterrupted as it has always been an untouched, pristine eco-system, which, in today’s worlds is not only something rare, but also special.
During the dry season, when game viewing is at its best, animals are drawn to the Great Ruaha River and other water sources. the sand rivers (Mwagusi and the Mdonya rivers among others) which are now dry, have underground water reserves that the elephants know about, so often one can see the elephants digging holes to obtain this sweet water, which is also used by other creatures.
In the rainy season, it is green and lush, and very beautiful with full rivers. At the end of rainy season, the park looks magnificent in its view cloaks of grass and levees with amazing flowers of all description, yellow, daisies, pink cleome, and huge swathes of brightly colored ipomoeas and hibiscus. The seasonal variations in the park are grace the landscape superb; it will be wise to visit more than once, so that you can experience the vast changes that occur.
Ruaha National Park enjoys only one rainy season, usually from the end of November to May. The average rainfall in Ruaha varies from 500mm around the Msembe HQ area in the Rift Valley, to 800mm in the western high plateau area of the Park. Rainfall plays a huge role in the ecology of the Park which is reflected in the vegetation and the movement of animals.
The coolest time to visit Ruaha is normally from June to the end of July, when the temperatures range from max of 30c during the day dropping to as low as 8c at night. The temperature slowly increases over the next few months resulting in the hottest time, with daily highs of +/- 40c and a night time low of approximately 25c, which is generally just before the rain begins to fall, in November and December.
MIKUMI NATIONAL PARK
Mikumi National Park is lying just to the north of the famous Selous Game Reserve. Gazetted in 1964 covering an area of 1070 km2, it was later extended in 1975 to cover the current area of 3,230 sq km, the Park is the fifth largest National Park in Tanzania after the Ruaha (20,226km2), Serengeti (14763km2), Katavi (4471 km2) and Mkomazi (3245km2). It is in one ecosystem with Selous making the animals (Elephants, buffalos and Zebras) migrate to and from the northern part of the reserve into the park.
The Park Shares the name ‘Mikumi’ with the village just beyond its Western border of the Dar es Salaam – Iringa highway, which traverse the Park for 50km. The small town in turn takes the name from the (Borassus spp.) palm, which ones grew there in profusion but no stem is visible in the village.The park lies in a horseshoe of towering mountains enclosed foot hills, which almost enclose the flood plain of the Mkata River. To the East rise the 2,743 metres massif of the Uluguru ranges while to the southwest are the craggy peaks of the Vidunda hill. Borassus spp
Mikumi National Park is located 288km (about 173miles) west of Dar es Salaam and 107 km (67miles) from Morogoro town by the highway (which traverses the Park for 50km) from Dar es Salaam to Iringa Southern Tanzania and neighboring Southern countries.
The Park has a bi- modal rain season, characterized by short rain in October to early November, followed by long rain lasting for five/six months, although the rainfall pattern is very unpredictable.
However, there is always a definite dry period between January and February. The wet months are associated with a hot humid weather, where temperatures reach up to 30degrees centigrade. Dry months are always cooler with temperature between 20 and 25degree centigrade. Annual average temperature is 25.5 degree centigrade.
The Park can be accessed by road, air and railways
from the city of Dar es Salaam, Morogoro, Iringa and from other southern countries (Malawi, Msumbiji and Zambia). The highway from Iringa to Dar es Salaam makes easily and comfortably reached by vehicles. Also from Selous Game Reserve via Pwaga and Mahondo Ranger Post to the Main entrance gate.
Air craft with the capacity of 4 to 30 seater through airstrip which is located at Kikoboga near the park headquarters.
From Dar es Salaam to Man’gula and from Man’gula using road to reach the Park
Best time to visit
The best time to visit the Park is during the dry season. However the northern part of the park is accessible through-out the year.
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.
KITULO NATIONAL PARK
Kitulo National Park. The history of the park goes back to 1870, when Fredrick Elton, an Explorer visited the area. In 1960’s a large area was taken by United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization for Wheat and Sheep Schemes. Since neither wheat nor sheep thrived in the area, in 1972 the area was turned to a diary farm, which remains active to date.
As a result of concerns from conservation bodies and various stakeholders, part of the farm, Livingstone and Nhumbe Forest Reserves were declared as Kitulo National Park on 16th of September 2005.
The climate is influenced by altitude, Lake Nyasa and is largely temperate. The maximum daily temperature varies from 14.5°c to 18°c and minimum ambient temperature ranges from 7°c to 8°c between December and April, and can go as low as 0.5˚c during June to August ,during this period frost occurs. The average annual rainfall is 1600mm ranging from 1500 – 1700mm. The rain season begins from October to May.
The exceptional Resource values are the biological features of the national park that are assessed as being especially important to maintaining the unique ecological character and functions of the park. These include Unique Montane grasslands; dense bamboo; rare, endemic and threatened flora and fauna; important bird area; scenic landscape; water catchment area and carbon sink and Natural and cultural attractions outside the park.
How to get there
The park can be accessed from Mbeya town, which is about 110 Km away via Chimala road and 70 Km via Isyonje road. It is about 90 Km from Songwe Airport. The park can only be reached by road.
By Air: Through Songwe Airport; 90 kms via Isyonje and 125 via Chimala small town to Kitulo.
By Road: Mbeya city-Isyonje- Kitulo is 70 kms: Mbeya city-Chimala-Kitulo is 103 kms: Njombe town-Ikonda-makete-Kitulo 165 kms.
By Railway: Through railway transport Tanzania-Zambia (TAZARA), Iyunga and Makambako stations
Songwe airport is an airport in the southern highlands region of Tanzania serving the city of Mbeya and the nearby regions. It is able to accommodate commercial jet traffic. The services of domestic flights are provided by Air Tanzania, Precision air, Fast jet and Tropical air.
Best Time to Visit
The dry season (May-October) is the best time to visit the park. Roads within the park are often flooded during the rainy season but may be passable from mid-December to February.
November – April, for flowers and Bird watchers.
January- December, for nature love
UDZUNGWA NATIONAL PARK
Udzungwa Mountains National Park was established in 1992. It was officially opened by the former President and founder of WWF (World Wildlife Fund for Nature) Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands. As it sounds, the word “Udzungwa” has its origin from the word “Wadsungwa”
Location and size
The park is positioned near Mang’ula village, about 60km south of Mikumi along Mikumi – Ifakara road off the Dar Es Salaam – Mbeya highway. It is 380km from Dar Es Salaam (where the nearest international Airport is located).
The park covers an area of 1990km2 where 20% of the area lies in Morogoro region while the remaining 80% being in Iringa region.
The park can be accessed by road network from Dar Es Salaam (380km) as well as Arusha, Kilimanjaro and Mbeya. From Mbeya the country is connected to the neighboring countries of Malawi, Zambia and DRC whereas in Arusha the park can be connected to Kenya and Uganda. It can also be accessed by train from Dar Es Salaam and Mbeya/Zambia – Kapirimposhi up to a small/local town of Mang’ula which is close to the main national park’s gate.
There are two airstrips Msolwa and Kilombero which can be used by tourist through air transport before they connect using hired vehicles to the park’s main gate.
NOTE: Transport arrangements must be made with the bus companies, tour operators and air travelling agents for those who use charter/air transport through provided timetables for dates and times of both departure and arrival for park visit.
Hiking to the waterfalls and forest – in which there is a possibility of watching most primates, waterfalls, birds, reptiles, amphibians. Hiking is done throughout the year and more specific during dry season.
Mountain climbing – can offer chance to go summit to the highest peaks of Luhomero and Mwanihana and enjoy the scenic view of the lower slopes together with the farming patterns on the Kilombero valley.
Natural trails for hiking
A variety of bird species (about 250 species) including endemic birds Rufous winged sunbird and Udzungwa forest partridge The rest include other native birds and both Afro tropical and Pale arctic migrants.
A magnificent view of a natural Tropical Rainforest with 2500 different plant communities/species of
cultural, ecological, economical, historical, educational and medicinal values.
A number of waterfalls with the famous Sanje waterfalls being most conspicuous and the highest waterfalls (170m) in the national parks system in Tanzania. Others include; Prince Bernhard, Njokamoni, Mwaya, Sonjo and Msolwa.
Several primates with the endemic Sanje Crested Mangabey and Iringa Red Colobus Monkeys distinctly appreciated.