Lions, elephants, buffalos, leopards, and rhinos are considered the icons of African wildlife. Reputed to be man’s most dangerous adversary on a hunt, they are revered as the “Big Five”. Today’s blog tells you where you can see the Big Five in Tanzania.

Lion Big five Tanzania

The entire safari world speaks in awe of the “Big Five”. It is often very difficult for travelers to Africa to escape their spell. It’s one thing to see a lion or an elephant or a rhino. But it takes on another dimension when you see one, two or three animals of the “Big Five”. Anyone who sees all five will return home with an even happier smile. So where are the best place to see the Big Five in Tanzania?


The protected areas in Tanzania

The government of Tanzania rightly praises itself when, according to its own statements, it designates over 33% of the country’s area as protected areas, including 22 official national parks. It virtually guarantees you great wildlife encounters in the country’s safari destinations. And not only with the Big 5, but also with zebras, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, hyenas, wildebeests, Thomson’s gazelles, and countless other animals that live here in the wild.

Elephants Zebras - Silale swamps

33% of land in Tanzania being under protection means over 312,600 km2 area. Just for comparison: Germany has a total area of around 357,000 km2, the United Kingdom roughly 243,000 km2.

However, you won’t find the Big 5 in every of the protected areas of Tanzania. Leopards are basically loners. At least if you don’t see them in pairs when mating or if a mother is raising her offspring. They live very withdrawn and don’t like to show themselves. On the other hand, the rhino stocks have been extremely depleted by poaching throughout Africa. There are currently close to 30,000 white and black rhinos, with over 80% living in southern Africa. They are therefore difficult to find in East Africa. That’s why not all five of the Big Five are always represented in one park. Reason enough to introduce you to a few areas where you have the chance to encounter all of the Big Five at once.

Want to learn more about traveling to Tanzania? We are happy to advise.


Where can I see the Big Five in northern Tanzania?

The so-called “Northern Circuit” is Tanzania’s most traveled safari and trekking route. It is synonymous with fabulous natural landscapes with vegetation zones ranging from grass savannas to rain forests, heather and moorland to a high alpine glacier belt. Here you will find a fascinating animal world of exotic birds, curious insects, extraordinary amphibians, dangerous reptiles, and spectacular land mammals. You meet them on mountains and lakes, in volcanic craters and the savannas. The hottest contenders for your Big Five experiences are the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.


In these areas, you can see four of the Big Five in Tanzania:

Along the way you’ll pass two excellent national parks, just missing the rhino to make the Big Five complete. On the one hand there is the Tarangire National Park. Its savanna, dotted with baobab and acacia trees, offers a beautiful backdrop for the rich wildlife. The Tarangire River, which flows all year round, is the source of life here. Even in the advanced drought, there are still juicy grasses and leaves. The crowd of giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, and other antelopes is big. Predators such as lions, hyenas or leopards are well aware of the rush. Meanwhile, the buffaloes feel comfortable in the swampy foothills. Above all, the park is a favorite of large herds of elephants.

Being home to lions, leopards, and especially buffaloes and elephants makes Tarangire National Park a great place to see at least four of the Big Five in Tanzania.

Elephants Tarangire National Park

A few kilometers further, the trail leads to Lake Manyara National Park. Here it is Lake Manyara that gives the small park a great impact on the animal world. When the lake is well filled with water, there is always something going on: large herds of buffalo, wildebeest, and zebra, plenty of elephants, giraffes, and hippos as well as countless water birds, among which the flamingos in particular stand out. Leopards inhabit the dense forests beyond the shore. Above all, this park is known as the home of tree-climbing lions. They hang out high up on strong branches and enjoy the view over the grassy meadow landscape.

In Lake Manyara National Park, you can – with a bit of luck – see four of the Big Five.

From here it is not far to the two best places to see the Big Five in Tanzania:


Ngorongoro Conservation Area

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and undoubtedly a world-class spot for wildlife viewing in an extinct crater. UNESCO honors the uniqueness of this paradise with the words:

The stunning scenery of Ngorongoro Crater combined with its spectacular concentration of wildlife is one of the planet’s greatest natural wonders.

Ngorongoro Crater view

The way into the volcanic abyss leads over the rim of the crater. From up here, a breathtaking view across a large arena opens up. Below, tall and short grasslands dominate the vast expanse. They provide the best food for zebra, wildebeest, eland, and other antelope. Some lakes and floodplains form decorative spots. Hippos enjoy a comfortable existence in the waters. Buffalo, rhino, and elephant like to stop by for a swim or a drink. Lesser flamingos, pelicans and a number of other colorful birds dance freestyle between them in their foraging routine. It goes without saying that such a party will not lack predators, including lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, jackals, and wild dogs.

The diversity and density of wildlife make the Ngorongoro Crater one of the best places in Tanzania to see the Big Five.

Rhino Ngorongoro crater


Serengeti National Park

The Serengeti National Park is considered the star of the safari scene worldwide. It is a top-class safari destination. The endless plains of the Serengeti are famous as the backdrop for the world’s largest unaffected migration of animals. Every year, more than a million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of other antelope and zebra set out on a 1,000 km circular trail. On their journey, they travel through treeless expanses and flat, spectacular grasslands, past decorative rocky islands (kopjes), along isolated forests and across rivers to Kenya and back again.

Many of them don’t survive. They succumb to hardship, disease and raging waters. Or they end up right in the mouths of crocodiles, lions, leopards, hyenas, and wild dogs. Wherever The Great Migration pops up along the way, there’s a festive feasting mood among the predators. The elephants, rhinos and buffaloes, giraffes, ostriches, and other national park residents prefer to watch from a distance. The main thing is not to be next. This is pure wilderness. Still, the Serengeti has the largest number of animals of any national park.

Besides the Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti is the best protected area in Tanzania to not only see lions, leopards, buffaloes and elephants, but rhinos as well.

Leopard in the tree Serengeti


Where can I see the Big Five in southern Tanzania?

If you start your trip in Dar es Salaam and not in Arusha, the safari capital of the north, you will want to visit the national parks in the south.

Looking at the “Big 5” there is only the Nyerere National Park that is home to all of them. But there are a number of protected areas where you can see at least the “Big 4”.

Ruaha National Park

In the Ruaha National Park, an approximately 200 to 300 m high ridge divides the park into a northern plateau with mountains up to 1,800 m high and a southern valley. During the rainy season, streams shoot down to the plains creating a dramatic and fascinating landscape. This park features magnificent baobab trees, dense green forests, a scenic river, large expanses of red soil and a majestic panorama. You can have incredibly exciting game viewing experiences here as well.

Buffalo herd Big five Tanzania

While there are no rhinos, this predominantly rugged, semi-arid bushland is home to a range of other wildlife including large herds of lion and elephant, as well as wild dog, cheetah, leopard, spotted hyena, giraffe, buffalo, and a number of interesting antelope such as Topi, roan and sable antelope or reedbuck. Ostriches invigorate the scenery. Crocodiles and hippos have conquered the river.


Nyerere National Park

Nyerere National Park is Tanzania’s largest national park, with an area approximately 38 times larger than New York City’s land area, 74 times larger than Vienna and 336 times larger than the city area of Zurich. You can feel lonely there. In 2019, the government at the time carved the park out of the hip of the renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site “Selous Game Reserve”. Selous thus shrank from an incredible 50,000 km2 to around 20,000 km2. The driving power of the Nyerere is its river Rufiji. It winds its way through the park on its way to the Indian Ocean and feeds numerous lakes with its water. They are necessary for the survival of the animal and plant world. At the same time, it creates sceneries like the one around Lake Tagalala, which is one of the most beautiful in the entire park.

In addition to the classic jeep safaris, you can also enjoy first-class animal observations on boat tours or hikes. A constant in the protected area are The Big Five: black rhinos, elephants, buffalo, lions, leopards. But the national park is also home to Tanzania’s largest population of wild dogs and hippos. You can also expect crocodiles, giraffes, and sable antelopes as well as the Nyasa wildebeest, which is restricted to East Africa. An exciting park.

Lion tree Nyerere National Park


Where can you see the Big Five in Tanzania? Prospects of more

In the near future, there may be two additional national parks with a full Big 5 team: Burigi Chato National Park in the far northwest and Mikumi National Park west of Dar es Salaam. The plans of the Tanzanian National Park Authority to introduce rhinos here are already at a very advanced stage. When the time comes, we’ll be happy to get back to you.

But it actually doesn’t matter whether it’s the “Big 5” or “Big 4” or “Big 3”: The African animal world is simply too fascinating and too unique to be reduced to five cult figures. Enjoy your time, enjoy what you see. Then you will find your “Big Five” in every national park in Africa.

We are happy to answer any questions and support you in planning your trip to Tanzania. Tanzania-Experience is a reliable partner by your side. So get in touch with us!