Saadani National Park: Where The Beach Meets The Bush

Imagine you are on honeymoon in Zanzibar, and you want to see some wildlife out of the blue. You have to arrange the process of transport to the other end of the country, which will be costly and time-consuming. It makes you wish there were a safari destination close to Zanzibar. It seems that you must have never heard of Saadani National Park, the only wildlife sanctuary in Tanzania that borders the ocean.

Simply Saadani aerial
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Overview

Pangani in East Africa has become a proclaimed area back in the 1960s. It initially included the area encompassing the Wami River and the Zaraninge Forest.

The park administration faced some major struggles in the following decades. One of the problems was the land conflict because of the villages like Uvinje and Porokanya. The borders of the park frequently changed upon protests and disagreements between the villagers, and Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA). Furthermore, the hunting and poaching activities were uncontrollable until the 1990s. The challenges continued until the official gazettement of the park in 2005.

Today, Saadani takes up an area of 1100 square kilometers in northeast Tanzania. The park is 200 km from Dar es Salaam.

The Indian Ocean has brought a distinct climate that gave rise to unique vegetation compared to the inland parks. The park boasts features of a beach and a safari destination. The coastal stretch comprises palm trees and coral reefs, while the black cotton plains and grass savannah take up most of the inner parts. Mangrove trees are common around the riverbed.

Wildlife

Factors like hunting, poaching, and settlements made life very difficult for wildlife until the 90s. Thankfully, the wildlife population has mostly recovered through conservation efforts. Although the animal population is not as dense as the major safari parks, it is still decent.

Giraffes tend to hang together in loose groups. These ones have spotted us.
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Four of the big five are present in Saadani National Park, with rhino being the only absent species. Elephants and buffalo are the most common animals, so you can see herds of as big as 30. Herbivores are also common, with large herds of giraffe, zebra, waterbuck, wildebeest, hartebeest, and reedbucks. Predators like lion, hyena, and leopard are rarer compared to the famous national parks, but it is still possible to see them around the waterholes.

Ele’s Babs’ Camp Saadani
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The Wami River is home to a massive population of hippo and crocodiles.

The park boasts some endangered species. For instance, the only Roosevelt’s sable population in East Africa besides Kenya’s Shimba Hills is in Saadani. Red Duiker is the other endangered species that you can see near the coast.

Due to the coexistence of the river and the ocean, it is possible to see different types of coastal and riverine birds. Mangrove kingfisher and flamingo are the most prominent bird sights, as well as raptors like crowned eagle and bateleur. The park also receives migratory birds between November and April.

Activities

Being the meeting point of the bush and the ocean, Saadani offers various activities that involve both. The park’s proximity to cultural sites such as villages and former slave ports creates opportunities for informative cultural tours.

The three main activities in Saadani are game drives, walking safaris, and boat safaris. The game drives take place on open vehicles. The rangers drive not only on the main road but also through the black cotton soil for close animal encounters. You need to organize the booking at the lodge where you will be staying.

Walking safari is ideal for those wanting to get closer to animals. All safari walks will have a guide and an armed ranger. Before visiting the park, you need to keep in mind that walking safari is only available in the dry season.

The boat safari is a perfect option to explore the wildlife in and around the Wami River. Joining a tour, you can see many hippos, crocs, as well as fish, and bird species. It would also give you the chance to spot elephants and wildebeest while they are drinking water.

Cultural tour options are just as plentiful as wildlife tours. One such historical tour brings the tourists to a nearby fishing town that used to have a trade port for slaves and ivory. Another type of cultural tour involves visits to the villages of ethnic tribes like Waswahili, Wazigua, and Wadoe.

Last but not least, the beach is calm, clean, and ideal for swimming. You can even arrange a boat to go fishing. Besides, the Mazife reef is a popular snorkeling spot.

Climate & Best Time To Visit

Saadani National Park is in the East African Tropical zone. Due to being close to the equator, the area always experiences mild temperatures between 21 and 33 degrees.

The dry season is between June and September, during which the rainfall is at a minimum. There are two distinct wet seasons in the area. From October to February, there are only short afternoon rains. However, the actual rains come in March, and it rains almost every day. The humidity and temperatures are very high these months.

The second half of the wet season is not the ideal time to visit because of the heavy rain and thunderstorms. Many activities are not available during those months. January-February and June-August, which are the drier periods, are much better for wildlife viewing because animals tend to come close to the water sources.

Getting There

Saadani is near major cities like Dar Es Salaam or Zanzibar, so it is possible to reach the park from these destinations. Depending on the lodge you will stay, you can organize a boat, road, or air transfers from your location. If you want to visit the park immediately after landing, you can book a tour package that includes pick-up at the airport. Also, you can take a chartered flight from Arusha, which is also close to many other safari parks.

Self-driving is only possible if you have a 4×4, but even that is extremely challenging if you are visiting during the wet season.

Tips & Things You Might Need To Know

  • Tanzania has a high risk of malaria in general, so it is advisable to take precautionary medicine and use insect repellent containing DEET.
  • Accommodation in the park includes traditional houses called banda near the beach. The campsites include Kiwandi near the Zaraninge forest, Kiyonga near the Wami River, and Tengwe near the grassland. Keep in mind that lodges and campsites are all self-catered, so you need to bring your food.
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