Best Parks in Kenya and Tanzania

Skree Skiing from the Summit of Kilimanjaro Jérémie Souteyrat
There's a reason safari means "journey" in Swahili: No other word better sums up the experience of moving from park to park in southeastern Africa. In Kenya, roaring lions, snorting wildebeest and trumpeting elephants puncture the silence between the vast African sky and sun-baked plains, while Tanzania's unspoiled national parks rival any in the world.

Photo Caption: Skree Skiing from the Summit of Kilimanjaro
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A gerenuk in the grasses of Meru National Park. Frederic Salein
Experiencing a massive renaissance after poachers decimated animal numbers and waged all-out war on park wardens, Meru is not only a beautiful reserve where you can spot the Big Five among increasingly good numbers of plains game and slightly rarer animals, but because it was virtually off-limits for so many years, it's seen relatively little development and consequently draws few visitors. Such alluring potential solitude is unlikely to last, though, so make this a priority if you'd like to get a pre-development glimpse of African wilderness.

Photo Caption: A gerenuk in the grasses of Meru National Park. Photo by Frederic Salein/Flickr.com
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Crab on the beach at low tide, Mafia Island, Tanzania. Nils Rinaldi
Lapping the largely uninhabited archipelago that lies 200km (124 miles) south of Zanzibar, Mafia Marine Park's waters hold some of the richest reefs in the world, with more than 400 species of fish flitting along its shallow reefs and plummeting walls, including the whale shark, found in the shallow waters on the northwestern side of the island, facing Kilondoni. With a grand total of six accommodation options in the entire archipelago, diving these clear waters is also a pretty exclusive experience.

Photo Caption: Crab on the beach at low tide, Mafia Island, Tanzania. Photo by Nils Rinaldi/Flickr.com
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A giraffe in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Frommers.com Community
The Serengeti is the greatest game park on the continent. It's not just the wildlife (the sight of more than two million animals moving across the plains is quite a sight), nor is it the actual size (almost that of a small country), but rather the expansive views you find at every turn. It was the Maasai who called it Siringitu -- "the place where the land moves on forever" -- and it is precisely this sense of vastness that will blow you away: the sheer expanse of the short-grass plains like a yellow sea, broken only by occasional rocky outcrops and elegant acacia trees. And above it all, always the high arc of the African sky.

Photo Caption: A giraffe in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Photo by Cyberjus/Frommers.com Community
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A mother and baby elephant in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania. Frommers.com Community
While the focus for most travelers to Tanzania is nearby Serengeti, many come away claiming lesser-known Tarangire as the real highlight of their trip. It can't compete in terms of size, but it is a beautiful park, typified by century-old baobabs that stand sentinel above the open grass plains and riverbeds, and home to a vast array of animal and bird species, attracted by the permanently flowing waters of the Tarangire River. In fact, given its dense concentrations of animals -- second only to Ngorongoro -- there is every chance you will enjoy a higher incidence of sightings here than in Serengeti; elephants, in particular, are common.

Photo Caption: A mother and baby elephant in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania. Photo by Celandine/Frommers.com Community
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Waterfall on the hills of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania Isabelle Moreau
Kilimanjaro is unique in the pantheon of great mountains, in that it can be scaled by virtually anyone with the drive to do so -- no mountaineering skills or special preparations are needed, and most people entering this park are intent on conquering the summit -- and 60% actually make it. Even if you're not interested in ascending Africa's highest mountain, the sight of Kili's snowcapped dome -- when she deigns to appear from behind the clouds that swaddle her for much of the day -- is a source of amazement; a result, perhaps, of the viewer being physically immersed in equatorial heat, while towering 5,895m above the plains is the other-worldly glow of snow and ice.

Photo Caption: Waterfall on the hills of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
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