Saadani National Park

Saadani National Park is one of Tanzania’s most unique conservation areas, because this is where the great plains of Africa collide with the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean. This is the only national park in the country to be found directly overlooking the ocean. Here, you will find that the golden beaches and rugged coastline are perfectly complemented by mangrove forests and grassy savannah that stretches far inland.

At the Saadani National Park, you can spend your morning walking along the soft sands or snorkelling in the coral reefs, before spending your afternoons searching for big game animals and the other wonderful wildlife that call this preserve home. Nowhere else in Tanzania do you have the chance to spot lions splashing in the ocean or giraffes strolling along the beach. This is a diverse ecosystem and one that is likely to leave you in awe of not only the wildlife but of the vast contrasts in scenery found here. To help you to plan your trip to Tanzania’s most encompassing area of conservation, this is everything you need to know about Saadani National Park.

Where Is Saadani National Park?

Saadani National Park is found on the Tanzanian coastline, just 200 miles to the north of the country’s capital, Dar es Salaam. The Indian Ocean laps at the shores of the park, and from the beaches you can look out east across the water and see the island of Zanzibar in the distance. Between Saadani and Zanzibar can be found a complex ecosystem of coral reef that is full of vibrant and colourful marine life.

The closest international airport to Saadani is at Dar es Salaam, where you can connect to many destinations worldwide and domestically. Many travellers will also use a visit to Saadani as an excellent opportunity to explore nearby Zanzibar and the tropical delights that await visitors on the island, or as a chance to travel more extensively within Tanzania to the great many other national parks, such as the Serengeti or Ngorongoro Crater.

Compared to other national parks, Saadani may seem comparatively small. The park covers an area of just 1,100 square kilometres, as opposed to the Serengeti National Park, which covers an area of almost 15,000 square kilometres. Saadani though has a rich ecosystem contained within this small area. The park predominantly follows the course of the Wami River, with the southern border found where the river empties into the Indian Ocean. The northern border is found approximately where the Pwani Region turns into the Tanga Region.

With such diverse scenery, it’s possible to hike, snorkel, take boat trips along the river or the coast, and enjoy more traditional game drives in four by fours at Saadani National Park. There is a great selection of luxurious accommodation available in the area too, providing visitors with an unprecedented level of comfort even within this remote and wild region of Tanzania.

Simple Saadani

Wildlife

Saadani National Park has an incredible level of diversity amongst the wildlife that calls its boundaries home. Unlike other national parks within Tanzania, Saadani is also an excellent place to see marine life.

The unique ecosystem supports a huge array of different species, and on land you can find four of the Big Five African animals in the park. You can find lions, leopards, buffalo and elephants throughout the savannah and even along the beaches. The only Big Five animal you won’t find here, unfortunately, is the rhino. The park has been a protected area since the 1960s, but as recently as 2002 the park’s boundaries were almost doubled and conservation efforts were stepped up massively, ensuring that today there are larger numbers of animals here than ever before.

Although a rare sight still, you may be lucky enough to find a pride of lions sunning on the sands or cooling off in the Indian Ocean, or while snorkelling off the shore you may look back to the beach to see elephants emerging from the palm trees. Those beaches are an important turtle nesting area at certain times of the year, and you may be lucky enough to spot these magnificent marine reptiles either in the corals feeding or perhaps even on the shore digging nests in the sand.

For those interested in snorkelling rather than games drives, there are plenty of opportunities right off the beach, however, the most abundant reef is the Maziwe Reef, which is waiting just a short boat ride away to the north. Here you can find some of the most biodiverse waters along the entire east coast of Africa.

Away from the coast, a great place to spot wildlife is along the banks of the Wami River in the south of the national park. Take a boat ride along the water, enjoying the sublime mangrove scenery and watching out for the predators that stalk through the dense vegetation. Adventurous travellers may even want to take a local canoe along the Wami, for a quiet and authentic experience that will allow you to get exceptionally close to the animals. On the river, it’s likely that you will spot Nile crocodiles in the reeds, hippos on the banks and many other animals cooling off or heading here for refreshment.

As well as the famous African animals that you will undoubtedly see on safari here, Saadani is also home to a great many species of birds, many of which are unique to the region. Along the river, you may be lucky enough to see kingfishers and even flamingos. From the park’s camps, there are also several birdwatching trails, which traverse through the forests, giving you the opportunity to spot many other species in the trees too.

kingfisher

Best Time to Visit Saadani National Park

Saadani can be visited as a year-round travel destination because the tropical weather ensures that temperatures stay almost constant through the seasons. The waters of the Indian Ocean are always an almost constant temperature too, offering pleasant conditions for swimming and snorkelling. The area does, however, experience very distinct wet and dry seasons, and this may affect the time of year you wish to travel, and the animals you are likely to see, too.

The Dry Season

The dry season is the most popular time of year to visit Saadani National Park and, as with the two rainy seasons, there are two distinct periods of the year that can be termed ‘dry’. This can be a bit of a misnomer though, as for one the monsoons can be unpredictable and secondly, it’s possible to experience rain any time of the year, so always be prepared for this.

Between January and February, you can see the wildlife in the park moving out into the by-now green and waterlogged savannahs and open plains to feed on the new dense growths of vegetation. This is a great time to enjoy the beach too, as this is when Saadani experiences its highest temperatures. This short patch of dry weather though is soon punctuated by the Long Rains, and the second dry season begins again around June and generally lasts until the end of October.

For those interested in the marine life of the Indian Ocean, the best time to visit is at the end of the dry season, when the water is at its clearest after several months without rain. During the rains, the water can become murkier due to sediment and mud being deposited into the ocean from the overflowing rivers that empty into it.

Most travellers choose to visit Saadani during this second dry season, not only because of the pleasant weather and ease of travel but because this is a time of year when the wildlife is moving to the watering holes and it can be easier to find them while on safari. In reality, though, whatever time of year you choose to travel, you are likely to spot all the animals you are looking for.

The Wet Season

Being on the east coast of Tanzania, Saadani is subject to two monsoons that hit yearly. The short monsoon is generally expected to arrive from the southeast between November and December. Known as the ‘Short Rains’, you can expect things to carry on almost as normal within the national park and along the coast. Be prepared for short downpours, but also be aware that the rain can at times be unpredictable and may cause disruption to road or boat travel.

The more intense monsoon arrives between March and May, and is likely to be more intense than the Short Rains. During this period, the northeast monsoon arrives across the national park and can cause road closures and flooding. Conversely though, despite the extra difficulties that may be associated with this monsoon, this is when the wildlife is always at its most active. It’s a great time for birdwatching and you will find the animals moving around the plains and the forests freely. Fewer people visit during the Long Rains due to the more difficult nature of logistics involved, but give this time of a year a chance and you may be rewarded with a view of the park that few others get to witness.

Birdwatching Season

Saadani National Park is a prime region for birdwatching. Many visitors will travel specifically for the opportunity to see certain species of bird or to enjoy the migrations. While you will be able to see many types of birds throughout the year, the migratory birds arrive from as far afield as Europe between November and May. This coincides with the warmest temperatures – as they escape the cold of the north – and also with the rainy seasons in Saadani National Park. For optimum weather conditions, visit during the short dry period between January and February.

Popular Camps

Simply Saadani Camp

– Simply Saadani Camp is found just a few miles away to the north of the national park’s boundary, allowing quick and easy access to Saadani.

– Located on the beach, the camp offers superb views over the Indian Ocean, and unending, empty sands to explore right on its doorstep. Get up early for spectacular sunrises out to sea.

– Guests stay in luxurious, treehouse tents with sea views and they can enjoy the excellent bar and onsite restaurant.

– The camp can organise game drives, canoeing trips and cultural excursions to the nearby villages.

Babs Camp Villa

– Babs Camp is found deep within the limits of Saadani National Park and offers guests the chance to stay in an exclusive viewing tower.

– The luxury villa provides unbeatable views of the surrounding landscapes and the opportunity to spot wildlife from the comfort of your own room.

– With an onsite chef and all other amenities you might need, this is a piece of luxury that is quite literally immersed in nature.

– Guests can also take part in game drives, river cruises and other guided tours around Saadani National Park, making this an unbeatable place to stay for wildlife lovers.

Simple Saadani Camp

Interesting Facts

– Saadani National Park is the newest national park in Tanzania. Although the area was first protected as a game reserve in the 1960s, it was not until 2002 that the land was actually declared an official national park, at the same time as the reserve was massively expanded.

– This is Tanzania’s only coastal national park. This is quite literally the only reservation where you can enjoy both the traditional landscapes of Africa and the beautiful East African coastline.

– Since its protection, poaching in the park has decreased dramatically and animal numbers are increasing. A lot of this is down to the local villages and communities who wanted their unique ecosystem to be preserved for future generations. 

If you’re interested in visiting the unique and diverse Saadani National Park where the African plains meet the Indian Ocean, then please get in touch with our Tanzania experts today. Give us a call on 01943 604030 or send an email to info@footloose.co.uk. We look forward to helping you plan the adventure of a lifetime through this magnificent part of the world.