Saadani National Park is the perfect blend of a beach and a bush. Located just 70 km north of Bagamoyo and immediately accessible by paved road from Dar es Salaam, Saadani is a fully protected national park and it is popular for day-trip visits from beach resorts scattered along Tanzania’s northern coast. The Wami River, which passes through Saadani National Park and empties into the Indian Ocean, hosts a large population of hippos, crocodiles, flamingos, and many large bird species. Elephants are often viewed bathing and playing on Saadani’s beach, especially in the early hours of the morning.
A good choice for visitors based in Dar es Salaam who don’t have enough time for longer safaris to visit more remote parks around the country, Saadani is easily visited on a day trip or short weekend safari. Its elephant population frolics in the sands and sometimes ventures into the crashing surf, which alone makes Saadani one of the distinct and unique parks to visit in Tanzania.
Palm trees sway in a cooling oceanic breeze. The white sand and blue water sparkles alluringly beneath the tropical sun. Traditional dhows sail slowly past, propelled by billowing white sails, whereas Swahili fishermen cast their nets below a brilliant red sunrise.
Saadani is where the beach meets the bush. The only wildlife sanctuary in East Africa to boast for an Indian Ocean beachfront, it as well possesses all the attributes that make Tanzania’s tropical coastline and islands very popular with European sun-worshippers. Yet it is also the one place where those idle hours of sunbathing might be interrupted by an elephant strolling past, or a lion coming to drink at the nearby waterhole!
Protected as a game reserve since the 1960s, in 2002 it was expanded to cover twice its former area. The reserve suffered greatly from poaching prior to the late 1990s, but in recent years a marked turnaround has been seen, due to a concerted clampdown on poachers, based on integrating adjacent villages into the conservation drive.
Today, a surprisingly wide range of grazers and primates are seen on game drives and walks, among them include giraffes, buffaloes, warthogs, common waterbucks, reedbucks, hartebeests, wildebeests, red duikers, greater kudus, elands, sable antelopes, yellow baboons and velvet monkeys.
Herds of up to 30 elephants are encountered with increasing frequency, and several lion prides are inhabitants, together with leopards, spotted hyenas and black-backed jackals. Boat trips on the mangrove-lined Wami River come along with a high chance of sighting hippos, crocodiles and a selection of marine and riverine birds, including the mangrove kingfisher and lesser flamingo. The beaches form one of the last major green turtle breeding sites on mainland Tanzania.
About the Saadani National Park
Size: 1,100 sq km (430 sq miles)
Location: On the north coast, roughly 100km (60 miles) northwest of Dar es Salaam, and a similar distance southwest of the port of Tanga.
How to get there
Charter flight from Zanzibar or Dar es Salaam with a possibility of scheduled flights in the future. Thrice-weekly road shuttle from Dar es Salaam, taking four hours in either direction.
No road access from Dar es Salaam along the coast – Follow the surfaced Moshi road for 160km (100 miles), then 60km (36 miles) on dirt.
Road access from Tanga and Pangani except after heavy rains. 4×4 required.
What to do
Game drives and guided walks.
Boat trips. Swimming.
Visit Saadani fishing village, which lies within the reserve, where a collection of ruins pays testament to its 19th century heyday as a major trading port.
When to go
Generally accessible all-year round, although the access roads are sometimes impassable during April and May.
The best game-viewing is in January and February and from June to August.
One luxury tented camp.
Campsites planned. One tented camp close to the park boundary. Several campsites inside the park.