Kitulo National Park: Tanzania’s Beautiful “Garden of The Gods”

When you plan a trip to Kitulo National Park, you can look forward to an incredible wildlife experience within the the southern highlands of southern Tanzania.

Some call it the “Serengeti of Flowers”, but locals know it as “Bustani ya Nungo” — or, “The Garden of God.”

And with good reason.

Bursting with the most magnifiscent flowers, birds, and other wildlife, it’s perfect for hiking or planning an multi-faceted nature tour through Matamba, Tanzania. Kitulo National Park is one of 14 parks you can explore in Southern Tanzania, but the first public park in tropical Africa recognized for its plants and flowers. It’s a great destination for hiking and birding, too.

Find out more about this underrated African gem, below. In addition to the practical considerations you’ll need for planning a trip to Kitulo National Park, you’ll discover 9 must-see attractions and activities to make your visit extraordinary!

CONTENTS — In this article, you will learn about Kitulo National Park including what you need to know to plan a visit, such as:

Why Tour Kitulo National Park in Tanzania?

Kitulo National Park, situated in the Kitulo plateua, is more than 8,500 feet (2600 meters) above sea level. Situated between the rough pinnacles of the Kipengere, Poroto, and Livingstone mountains, this stunning public park is awash with green fields and multicolor flowers.

The 256.4 square miles (412.9 km2) of land managed by the Tanzania Public Parks Authority straddles the regions of Mbeya and Njombe, Tanzania.

Kitulo National Park became a public park in 2005 under President Benjamin Mkapa. The Natural Life Preservation Society (WCS) helped preserve the natural habitat in a way that makes it unique from other public parks in East Africa.

It’s a rare example of a protected land that truly strives to respect and preserve the flowers and plants that grow in this region.

And it shows.

Each step you take within Kitulo National Park reveals another types of plant or flower in bloom to admire.

What to Expect When You Visit Kitulo Park

Lesser Kestral flying
Lesser Kestral soaring high overhead.
purple asters
Asters in bloom.
zebras at Kitulo National Park
Zebras at Kitulo National Park

One of the most magnificent experiences in Kitulo National Park is seeing orchids growing wild. As many as 45 varieties of ground orchids grow here!

These beauties were a fundamental reason it was important to protect the park – to shield the orchids from the global exchange orchid tubers.

Since Kitulo is a relatively small park, you won’t likely see big game animals here. But seeing the various orchids in bloom is a major draw! Orchids aren’t the only showstopper though.

Kitulo National Park is home to more than 350 different plant species. Among those you’ll appreciate seeing on display are:

  • Afro-alpine plants
  • Aloes
  • Aster Daisies
  • Geranium
  • Geophytes
  • Giant lobelias
  • Ground orchids
  • Irises
  • Knifophia (Red Hot Pokers)
  • Lilies
  • Proteas

It’s an incredible mix of plants and flowers to behold – especially the large swaths of color at bloom times!

In addition to the plant life you’ll see, Kitulo National Park is a safe haven to several jeopardized bird species, hoofed creatures, and smaller primates too. 25 endangered primate species, including Kipunji monkeys, also call this protected space home.

When you visit, there’s a good chance you will see:

  • Chameleons
  • Chimpanzees
  • Elands (largest antelopes in the world)
  • Hawks
  • Reed bucks (medium-sized antelopes)
  • Zebras

To preserve these creatures and flowers, Kitulo National Park was carved out from parts of Livinston and Nhumba Woods on September 16, 2005.

And the rest is history.

Now, you have a chance to see this incredible national park in Tanzania for yourself. So, let’s take a look at a few things you need to know in order to plan your trip to Kitulo National Park.

Weather and Best Time to Visit Kitulo Park

The weather at Kitulo National Park is affected by it’s elevation and Lake Nyasa. For the most part, it’s a serene natural setting. Ideally, you’ll want to consider the temperatures, rain, and peak bloom times when you’re planning your visit.

If you’re accustomed to the northern hemisphere’s seasons, remember in Africa, the seasons are flip-flopped. So, the average highs in December reach 58°-65° F (14.5°-18° C) and the lows reach 44°-46° F (7°-8° °) in April. The coldest time of year to visit is from June to August, which can be icy with lows of 32° F (0.5˚C).

Average annual rainfall is about 60” (1600mm), ranging from 59-67″ (1500 – 1700mm). The rainy season in Tanzania goes from October through May.

Even so, the best time to visit Kitulo National Park is between November to April. That’s when the wild flowers carpet the landscape with vibrant color. It’s a glorious sight you won’t want to miss! You’ll be truly amazed at the sheer magnitude of beauty.

The abundance of plants in the wet season is thought to be among the best greenery wonders of the world!

How to Get to Kitulo National Park

You can reach Kitulo National Park easily from the city of Mbeya, Tanzania.

Travel routes to the park are approximately:

  • Mbeya to Chimala to Kitulo: 68 miles (110 km)
  • Mbeya to Isyonje to Kitulo: 43 miles (70 km)
  • Njombe to Ikonda to Makete to Kitulo: 102 mi (165 kms)

You’ll be traversing dirt roads, so you’ll probably want a 4×4.

If you’re arriving from the Songwe Air Terminal (in Mbeya), the park is approximately 65 miles (90 Km) away. Air Tanzania and Precision Air are among the airlines that offer regional service to this airport.

You can also reach the region by train. Travel on Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority (TAZARA) to the Mbeya rail station.

Whether you arrive by train or airplane, you’ll need to navigate from Mbeya to Kitulo National Park from there.

Admission Fee for Kitulo National Park

Once you arrive at Kitulo National Park, you’ll need to pay a small entrance fee at the ranger post. The $20 US per person, per day. You can also buy your admission ticket at the park Headquarters just south of Matamba Village. Just check the hours. (At the time of this writing, it’s 8am-4pm).

Of course, you can visit Kitulo National Park in a day – but to fully experience all that this beautiful sanctuary offers, you may want to plan for more time here.

Look to these 9 things to do and see at Kitulo National Park when you’re planning your itinerary.

9 Stunning Attractions Inside Kitulo National Park

When you get inside Kitulo National Park, you’ll discover several points of interest to explore. From large swaths of grasslands and slopes, to waterfalls, birdwatching and wildlife sightings, and gorgeous flowers in bloom, it’s good to start out with a plan in mind.

Here are 9 attractions you’ll want to consider.

Mbeya Lake, Tanzania.
Mbeya Lake, Tanzania.

1. Explore the Kitulo Plateau

The Kitulo Plateau, comprised of the grasslands nestled between the Kipengere Range, is where you’ll find the most diverse plant and floral life.

Take the time to notice how the flora varies based on their growing conditions. For instance,

  • All around the depleted prairie formed atop volcanic soils, you’ll find species like Aster, Giant Kniphofia, and other colorful flowers
  • In the marshes, look for vibrant species like Lobelia and Gladiolus.
  • On the steep and rocky talus inclines, species like Moraea callista (a lovely Geophyte) and Romulea companuloides bloom in flaring starry flowers.

This is an expansive area to explore – miles, in fact. But you can spend time here strolling, hiking, and even cruising along in a 4×4 on designated paths.

2. Admire the Orchid Blossoms

Colorful carpet of flowers.
Colorful carpet of flowers at Kitulo National Park.
ground orchids tanzania | Enjoy Travel Life
Kitulo National Park is home to more than 40 orchid species!

One of the most extraordinary experiences at Kitulo National Park is seeing incredible ground orchids blooming in their natural habitat. In a way, the park is one of the best orchid nurseries of the world, with more than 40 types of ground orchids alone!

If you time your visit right, you’ll see thousands of orchids in bloom carpeting the plateau. It’s truly breathtaking, and perhaps among the best ‘superblooms’ on earth.

If this sounds like something you want to experience, the best time to see this incredible multi-colored orchid display is from late November to April.

3. Witness Rare Plant Species

Kitulo National Park is endowed with no less than 350 types of vascular plants dispersed generously throughout the plateau.

It is a spacious terrain with a bountiful collection of rare species indigenous to Eastern and Southern Africa.

And yet, they are not protected elsewhere Tanzania.

When you visit Kitulo National Park, you’ll have an opportunity to witness these rare plants in the wild for yourself. Furthermore, you can take comfort knowing they are protected and can thrive within this sanctuary.

It’s a privilege few travelers can claim.

4. Appreciate Mount Livingstone Forest

large Baobab tree
Majestic Baobab tree.

Part of the Kitulo National Park is comprised of a verdant woodland. A short list of the interesting tree species you’ll find in the timberland include:

  • Hagenia abyssinica (African Redwood or Kousso)
  • Ocotea usambarensis (East African camphorwood or Mkulo)
  • Juniperus procera (African Juniper)
  • Khaya anthoceca (East African Mahogany)
  • Sinarundinaria alpina (Mountain Bamboo)

The Kitulo woodland habitat is richly diverse. Moreover, two orchid species are known only to be found in Kitulo and connecting woodland thrive on the shady forest floor.

It’s a magical place, indeed.

5. Take In the Beauty of the Nhumbe Valley

Kitulo National Park, Tanzania - Africa
Kitulo National Park, Tanzania | Africa

Many believe the Nhumby Valley to be the real gem of the Kitulo National Park.

Here, you’ll likely encounter little springs bubbling from the lush slopes that flow in gentle cascades to joining the main cascade of the Nhumbe waterway. This water source is one of the primary feeds to the Great Ruaha River.

This valley is abutted by the Juniper woodland, one of the largest in East Africa. These trees soar to 165 feet (50 m) high and are quite possibly the tallest junipers on the planet!

6. See the Nhumbe Waterfall

When you visit Kitulo National Park, you must see the Nhumbe Waterfall.

It’s nearly 330 feet (100 m) tall!

You’ll find the cascade roughly 12.5 miles (20 km) from the park’s Mwakipembo main gate.

Set aside about an hour’s time to hike up to the cascade and reach the viewpoint. Then, you can cool down, have a picnic, and take some splendid photographs for social media.

This is a must see, and so mesmerizing!

7. Discover the Mwakipembo Waterfall

About 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Mwakipembo main gate on your way to the Nhumbe Valley, you’ll discover the Mwakipembo Waterfall.

Just over 25 feet (8 meters), it is a lovely stop in the Kitulo National Park. Plus, it’s along the route to the valley, so enjoy the picturesque scene.

Here, you’ll likey see flower varieties, such as:

  • More beautiful orchids
  • Heaths and Heathers (Erica plants)
  • Clematopsis uhehensis, a perennial native to Tanzania
  • Helichrysum meyeri-johannis, an East African mountain helichrysym also known as “everlasting flowers”

8. Check Out the Caves at Kitulo National Park

Sunset safari in Tanzania.
Sunset safari in Tanzania.

You can check out two caves at Kitulo National Park.

The first, Mlivili Cave, is situated along Matamba Ridge, after the Mwakipembo WaterFall.

The second, Usalama Cave, is about 5 miles (8 kms) from Common Works Junction (the way to Mbeya via Isyonje).

During intertribal conflicts, these caves served as hiding spots for indigenous people, including those from Nyakyusa, Mwakaleli, Wakinga, and Wawanji.

Today, they are sometimes used as hideouts for poachers.

9. Matamba Ridge Tour (Walking Safari)

A great way to experience Matamba Ridge is to take a guided walking safari. That way, you’ll avoid getting lost and you’ll learn about the wildlife and plants as you go.

One great option is to plan a safari beginning at Mwakipembo Campground. You’ll climb to Matamba Ridge and then descent to Mlivili Cave, so you’ll be fully immersed in the environment.

Set aside about six hours to complete this route on foot.

Strolling this Matamba Ridge will reveal beautiful landscape views of the picturesque plateau and park. and majestic mountain skylines.

Final Thoughts

While you may hear more about more popular National Parks in Tanzania, like the Serengeti and Mount Kilimanjaro, don’t overlook Kitulo National Park.

It may be away from the wild game safaris, but it’s a refreshingly new take on Tanzania. Explore this incredibly diverse natural habitat to discover rare plants, birds, wildlife, waterfalls, and scenic beauty. Some species here are seen no where else on earth.

Whether you call it “The Serengeti of Flowers” or “God’s Garden,” it’s a great addition to your Tanzania itinerary!

Next Steps

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