Tanzania's less crowded parks offer a game alternative

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ARUSHA, Tanzania -- Standing in the shadow of Kenya, its better-known brother to the north, Tanzania is a country rich in history, animal diversity and expansive national parks.

Giraffes are oblivious that they are in holding up traffic.It boasts the highest mountain in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro at 19,340 feet; the famous Serengeti Plains, home to the world's largest yearly migration of zebras, wildebeests and gazelles, and Olduvai Gorge, the site where archaeological excavations have uncovered rich artifacts and fossils dating back nearly 2 million years.

Despite these well-known attractions, Tanzania has managed to escape the crowds of tourists that are found in some of its neighboring countries.

An ostrich on the Serengeti Plains.Below, a highlight of Tanzania's offerings:

  • Lake Manyara National Park is home to buffalo, hippos, giraffes, impala, zebras and the world famous tree-climbing lions. This park is also known for its kaleidoscope of birdlife, including large flocks of flamingos. Average stay is one day.
  • Ngorongoro Crater is known as the Eighth Wonder of the World, and this game reserve is often compared to Noah's Ark and the Garden of Eden. It is the largest self-contained "zoo" packed with almost every species of wildlife found in East Africa: including lions, elephants, rhinos, buffalo and zebras. Once a volcano that rivaled the size of Mount Kilimanjaro, the cone collapsed about 2.5 million years ago, creating the world's largest caldera, measuring 12 miles wide and 1,500 feet deep. Two days are suggested here.
  • Olduvai Gorge made headlines around the world in 1959 when the Leakys discovered fossil fragments of the skull of one of the ancestors of homo sapiens. The remains were dated back to 1.8 million years. Then in 1979 Mary Leaky discovered footprints of upright man dating back 3.5 million years. Today, a small museum stands at the site and travelers can venture down into the gorge to see the excavation digs. An afternoon is ample to explore the area.
  • Serengeti National Park is one of the world's last great wildlife refuges. Nowhere else in the world will one see such a concentration of zebras, wildebeests, gazelles and antelope. Equal in size to Northern Ireland, the park contains an estimated 3 million large animals, most of which take part in the world's largest seasonal migration. The annual wildebeest migration is triggered by the rains in November. A balloon ride, complete with a champagne breakfast, is an add-on offered by many tour operators. At least two days are suggested for the Serengeti.
  • For a list of tour operators and to request brochures to Tanzania, go to www.wwb.com on the Web.

    Tanzania at a glance

    Capital: Dar es Salaam

    Currency: Tanzanian shillings. U.S. dollars widely accepted.

    Language: Swahili and English

    Visa: Required

    Health: Yellow Fever vaccination required upon entry. Anti-malaria pills recommended.

    People: 26 million with over 120 African tribes

    Best time to go: June to September is the cooler season. The long rains are from March to June and the short rains are between October and December. The hottest months are between October and February.

    Best time to climb Mount Kilimanjaro: August to November

    Web sites: Africa Online, www.africaonline.co.tz; Lonely Planet Tanzania, www.lonelyplanet.com.au/dest/afr/tan.htm; Maps, www.lib.utexas.edu/Libs/PCL/Map_collection/africa.html

    --J.K.

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