If you’re the sort of self-drive safari-goer that loves the solitude of being in the bush, with all the right wildlife but without too many tourists around, then we have just the spot for you – and it’s perfectly placed if you want to link Tanzania’s northern circuit with Zanzibar
Often overlooked in favor of Tanzania’s more prestigious reserves, the little-known Mkomazi National Park boasts a startling array of wildlife – including the Big 5, more than 20 species of ungulates, and some 450 species of birds. It is also a vital refuge for the endangered black rhino (which is protected in a secure private sanctuary) and the African wild dog. And with park fees at $ 30 last for 24 hours per person, it is a much cheaper alternative to other parks on Tanzania’s northern circuit.
Why you should visit? The 3245 sq km Mkomazi is one of Tanzania’s most recently established national parks – having been gazetted in 2008 – but is still seldom visited, “making it an absolute gem for those seeking true wilderness experiences. Mkomazi is located – 341 km east of Arusha – means it is well situated as a bridging point between the northern and southern safari circuits. Visits here are also easily combined with hiking in the Usambara or Pare mountains and a few days relaxing on the beach in Pangani or Zanzibar.
While it feels remote, Mkomazi is easily accessible by road. And with only a few hundred visitors each year, you can truly feel like you have the place to yourself. If you need a quiet place free from engines overpowering, Mkomazi might be the place for you. This is a different kind of adventure, away from the traditional circuit. Unlike in some other parks, animals here are infrequently exposed to humans, so their shy behavior might be considered more natural than you might find in places like Ngorongoro and Serengeti. Mkomazi is wild and vast – a great place to get away from it all, while you can still find yourself in the center of dramatic animal encounters at the same time. While you may not see as many animals on a game drive as you would in Tanzania’s more-renowned parks, you will be well rewarded out on your self-drive safari. It’s a fantastic walking safari destination – possibly one of the best in Tanzania, especially given the lack of cars in the park.
The Usambara and Pare mountain ranges that flank the park’s southern border form an imposing barrier to interlopers, while more than half of its northern frontier is a step away from Kenya’s Tsavo West National Park, allowing Mkomazi a share in the rich wildlife pickings of its neighbor, including some 12,000 elephants, as well as migratory herds of oryx and zebra. Together with Tsavo, Mkomazi forms one of the largest and most important protected ecosystems on Earth. Mkomazi sits at the southern tip of the Sahel zone (the semi-arid region between the Sahara to the north and the humid savannahs to the south). Its southernmost part is littered with acacia trees. As you approach the mountains the vegetation changes to dry upland forest, while on the plains you will find bushy grasslands.
Mkomazi’s wildlife is typical of that found in a semi-arid climate. In all 78 species of mammals have been recorded, including elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, cheetah, black-backed jackal, hyena, warthog, aardwolf, giraffe, oryx, gerenuk, hartebeest, lesser kudu, eland, impala, and Grant’s gazelle. Bird life includes hornbills, weavers, and vulturine guinea-fowl – which are all found in large numbers – martial eagles and violet wood hoopoes. The park is also home to a private rhino sanctuary and a wild dog conservation project. The Tanzania National Parks Authority is hoping to open its rhino feeding station to visitors, but at the time of writing the date for this had yet to be confirmed
The park has a semi-arid climate, with the long rains occurring from March to May, while the shorter version falls from November through December. Temperatures range from 16°C (at night) to 30°C, with July and August being the coolest months. The best game viewing is during the dry season, from June to October – the vegetation is thinner and the animals tend to gather around the waterholes. For lovers of scenery, however, views of the mountains are best during the wet season – November to May – and the landscape is a lush green. While bird watching is good all year round, November to April tends to be best as migratory birds from northern Africa and Europe can be seen.
The best way to access the park is by road. The main entrance – Zange gate – lies 6 km from the town of Same, which is on the main Arusha–Dar es Salaam highway. Alternatively, if you are coming from the Usambara, Kivingo gate is a 2-hour drive from Mambo View Point
The permanent accommodation inside the park. Also, there are several public campsites available. In the Same, 6 km from the park’s main entrance, you will find a number of campsites, lodges, and guesthouses. The nearest to the main gate –a 15-minutes drive away.