The Northern Tanzania 'circuit' is easily one of the most famous and popular - thanks to the migration of wildebeest and zebra that pound the earth over iconic plains. Almost always this forms the core of our safaris to the region, and then combined with stays in the Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire and Lake Manyara - which al compliment and add variety to one of our favourite offerings!
The Serengeti's endless, open plains, scattered with rocky kopjes, are home to astonishing quantities of wildlife, it is one of Africa's most awe-inspiring safari areas. The sheer volume of animals here has made it famous. Research suggest that over one million wildebeest, hundreds of thousands of zebra and Thomson's gazelle, and tens of thousands of impala, Grant's gazelle, topi, hartebeest, eland and other antelopes live here – all pursued by the predators for which these plains are famous.
Some of these animals reside permanently in territories, which means that safari viewing is good all year round. Most of the wildebeest, zebra and plenty of other species are permanently on the move in the 'Great Migration' – circling around the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. While it is a massively popular event, followed by many vehicles and people, with good planning and the right guides, you can enjoy the park and wildlife without hundreds of other vehicles – that can be a off-putting!
The viewing point over the Ngorongoro Crater is one of my favourite, must-stop places when heading for the crater. With a pair of binoculars and the elevated view, you get a sense of its uniqueness and beauty – quite breathtaking.
The Ngorongoro Crater’s reputation as one Africa's greatest natural wonders earned it a UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1978. Short-grass plains thrive on the mineral-rich soil of the crater’s floor, providing nutritious grazing for numerous herbivores. These large, mixed herds in turn attract an impressive density of predators.
The variety of flora and fauna is so impressive here that rewarding sightings abound: from the flamingo-fringed waters of Magadi soda lake to the leopard-favourite yellow fever trees in the Lerai Forest. Springs feed streams that flow and fill up small pools where hippo’s thrive, before flowing into lake Magadi. Giraffe and impala have not found a home in the crater, but that is made up for with the rare opportunity to see black rhino, large elephant herds and improving numbers of cheetahs.
There is no accommodation down in the Ngorongoro Crater, all lodges are up high on the rim where it is cool and well forested, often with stunning views. There are only two access roads into and out of the crater and with bumpy roads it is important to consider the logistics of your trip when choosing a lodge. The lodges and camps scattered further afield all make comfortable bases, and many are uniquely designed and full of character.
There are some spectacular hikes and walks on offer in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and around nearby Olduvai Gorge. These include the Empakaai and Olmoti craters, both of which have fabulous panoramic views. Olduvai Gorge is one of the world’s most important prehistoric sites, offering fascinating insights into the early species of human-like hominim who once lived there. Maasai villages dot the hills along with herdsmen and their cattle, so you can also engage with one of Africa’s most famous tribes.
Tarangire is famous for its baobabs and massive elephant herds, although is much busier in the northern reaches which is most camps and day visitors spend their time. It covers an undulating area of 2,600km2, between the plains of the Maasai Steppe to the south-east, and the lakes of the Great Rift Valley to the north and west. The northern part of Tarangire is dominated by the perennial Tarangire River, which flows through increasingly incised ravines until it leaves the north-western corner of the park to flow into Lake Burungi. In the south are a series of vast swamps which dry into verdant plains during the dry season.
Although Tarangire is one of only four parks on Tanzania's sometimes busy 'northern circuit', it is often very rewarding and worth a longer stay, especially if you visit the quieter southern regions or the private concessions to the north and west.
If you decide to come to Tarangire, then we recommend taking some extra time there and exploring the more remote areas to find real wilderness.
A relatively small but habitat-rich park, Lake Manyara is spectacularly beautiful and also often overlooked or only taken in on a day visit en-route to the Serengeti or Ngorongoro area. The park covers a relatively small 330 square kilometres, and much of that is the lake itself. But don’t forget that many of the parks are open to surrounding mixed use areas and migratory animals – so they are actually much bigger zones. The park has a wide diversity of habitats, mammals and birdlife, which can make a longer visit very worthwhile. The troops of baboons are particularly impressive in scale!
From the bird-fringed waters of the soda lake, which are normally tinged pink by the reflection of innumerable flamingos standing in its shallows, to the grassy floodplains, the park teems with wildlife. Lions climb in trees; leopards hunt the wooded slopes of the escarpment; and baboons shake the forest canopy or forage through the bush in unending parades.
You can find a good range of activities, from night drives and bush walks to bike riding and a treetop walkway. If you head south towards the park’s southern boundary, you're likely to have the park to yourself where day visitor’s seldom venture.
While the accommodation in the park is expensive, you can find more economical options outside the park thatare close enough to the main entrance gate to allow quick access for a day of rewarding exploration.