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The vast area of Northern Tanzania offers some of the world’s most diverse safari opportunities known as the ‘Northern Circuit’, which consists of National Parks, reserves, conservation areas and private concessions. Among these is the world famous Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater and Highlands, and of course their less popular neighbours, Tarangire National Park and Lake Manyara National.
These parks exist for one general purpose and that is to protect the amazing variety and abundance of wildlife, both resident and seasonal. But most of all, the world’s largest annual migration of wildebeest and zebra. Although this part of the world has become increasingly busy, you can easily escape the crowds but you need to know where to go in order to make the most of this immense region.
Northern Tanzania safari is an essential destination on everyone's travel list. The Serengeti's Great Migration is one of the most amazing wildlife spectacles, whilst being on safari on the Crater floor of the extinct volcano at Ngorongoro is a game viewing environment that has no equal. Towering above it all is Kilimanjaro, the worlds highest freestanding mountain and arguably Africa's toughest challenge. Away from the tourist hotspots, quieter parks such as Tarangire are superb for game viewing yet often overlooked to their more famous neighbours. The Rift Valley Lakes of Eyasi and Natron are the home of Hadzabe tribes and the breeding grounds for the largest flocks of flamingo on earth. To many people a Northern Tanzanian safari is the very best of it all.
Planning your Northern Circuit SafariTanzania’s Northern safari circuit is the most celebrated safari area in Africa. Home to the world famous Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, and the lesser known parks of Lake Manyara and Tarangire, the sheer concentration of Africa’s big game in this area is phenomenal.
Most itineraries to this region are designed around the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro with the Serengeti’s wildebeest Great Migration and immense predator concentrations as the main attraction and of course the Ngorongoro’s Big 5 experience. The area is also home to a huge number of different cultures including the Maasai and the Hadzabe, as well as being one of the most scenically striking and diverse parts of the continent.
North vs South
Should you safari in the North or the South of Tanzania, and how long should you spend on safari? This is the most important decision you need to make. Fortunately, the northern safari parks are very different to those in the South and there are advantages and disadvantages to each:
The parks in southern Tanzania allows short or extended walking safaris, safaris by boat, as well as safaris by open-sided vehicle. The camps tend to be more intimate, parks more remote, better value for money, and far easier to get to with less stop over and shorter flights. The south favours the shorter safari and beach combination and therefore offers a quick, cheap and very rewarding experience with hardly any other visitors.
The majority of the experiences northern parks require closed sided vehicles, do not allow walking (except in select camps), no boating safaris and in most cases the areas are very crowded and not so ‘wild’. The camp and lodge options mainly offer large characterless hotel-like lodges, but if your budget permits and you know what you are doing, you can find the small tented camps which are tucked away from the busy areas. However, the rewards are the great migration, the scenery and the chance of seeing the big 5, but do watch out for higher prices and less value for money at the lower to mid range options.
A Northern Safari - logistics
Like all travel there are a wide variety of options that no doubt boil own to what your budget is. Annoyingly, it is fact that the more expensive camps and lodges tend to offer the better safaris in better areas than.
For the more higher end traveller there is the &Beyond flying circuit which involves absolutely no driving between camps. A typical safari would in include two nights at the Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, two nights at the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge and anything from two nights at Serengeti Under Canvas and, or Kleins Camp. This is a very high end trip. Icing on the cake would be to use one of Singita’s camps in Grumeti Reserves, either Faru Faru, Sasakwa or Sabora and in some cases, a combination of two or even all three.
A mid-end northern circuit which is by far the most popular would involve driving between Arusha, Lake Manyara, Tarangire and the Ngorongoro Crater and Highlands. The you would aim to end with the highlight, being the Serengeti, of which you would fly to in order to access the more remote areas and smaller tented camps where are far fewer people. These are the most popular safaris for reasons that it saves you money on the high end trips without necessarily affecting your game experience, it adds value and due to flying into the Serengeti you can always access the migration, wherever it is, whatever the season.
The lower end safaris are the typical driving circuit. The joy of driving the northern circuit, in the old-fashioned way, is that it is a cost-effective method of seeing many of these regions with your own driver-guide, especially if there are more of you to share the cost. We only book private safaris, and plan the park combinations according to season. The benefit of having your own vehicle is that you can stay in the less-expensive hotels that do not have their own vehicles, and your private driver-guide will be ready to show you the best of the region the next day. However, it does have its downsides which generally involve you staying in the large lodges in the busy areas of the parks. This is a bit of a letdown for the Serengeti since you cannot always guarantee seeing the migration.
A Northern Safari: the activities
The northern parks are renowned for being very limited on activities and in most cases you are confined to day time game drives, but ultimately it is all down to where you stay. The private concessions allow for a more flexible approach to safari with walking and night drives and the National Parks vary depending on which park.
The Ngorongoro Crater is purely a day time game driving park, and it you are staying at one of the lodges on the crater rim itself, you can sometimes do a short bush walk around the property. Otherwise, stay in Highlands which open you up to hiking and mountain biking.
The Serengeti National Park offers day game drives only, unless you are staying in the far northern Kogatende region where some camps such as Alex Walkers Serian and Serengeti Lamai offer walking safaris in limited areas. Kleins Camp and the Singita properties on the Grumeti reserve offer night drives and walking since they are private.
Lake Manyara National Park is so small and very accessible that it allows day game drives and even night game drives depending on where you are staying.
Tarangire National Park is the most diverse for activities. inside the park, Olivers Camp and Swala offer walking safaris and night drives, as well bush nights where you camp out under the stars. The camps outside the park also offer this, but the location is less inviting.
The surrounding areas like Empakai, Lake Eyasi, Mt Meru and Kilimanjaro offer the obvious walking and trekking, with Eyasi and the Southern reaches giving the opportunity to hunt with the Hadazbe.
A Northern Safari – Idea of prices
The northern camps vary enormously in price, and as a general rule, the higher the price, the better your camp and game experience. At the lower end of the spectrum are the large permanent lodges like the Serena’s and Sopa’s which have anything from 70 rooms and cost about $500 pppn including game activities, and this is pretty standard for all the parks. There are smaller tented camps such as Kati Kati in the Serengeti which break into this price bracket but are in equally as busy areas.
The mid range choices are some excellent mobile tented camps such as Olakira, Dunia and Ubuntu, about $650 pppn. The enormous advantage of these camps is that most of them move every four months with the migration thus avoiding the crowds, creating a personal camp atmosphere and delivering a great game experience. Alex Walkers Serian is $850 pppn and quite simply the best mobile operation in the Serengeti, but with their frequent offers it puts this product into the mid range category with regards to price. These camps work very well with Plantation Lodge or Gibbs Farm in the Ngorongoro Highlands, both about $650 pppn which allow access to the Crater and Manyara whist avoiding the large hotels.
The higher end of the scale are companies such as &Beyond and Singita which start from $1,000 pppn upwards to $1,600 pppn. Then there is Serengeti Lamai and Sayari which are about $900 pppn and Lemala. The higher end product deliver a world class safari so if budget is not too much of an issue every penny penny is justified.
A Northern Safari - off beaten track
With a few exceptions, no walking is allowed in the northern parks and game viewing is by closed-sided vehicle, however, it is now possible to take good - albeit short - safari walks in the Serengeti with Serian and Nomads from their mobile camps and from Sayari and Serengeti Lamai in the Lamai Wedge.
If you would like to walk or hike properly, it is well worthwhile getting off the beaten track, out of the National Parks and into less rigorously ruled concession areas. The best of these for walking are around Nduara Camp in the Loliondo region, or with the Hadzabe hunter gatherers near Eyasi. Guided walks, often led by Maasai, are also rewarding along the top of the Great Rift Valley escarpment, overlooking Manyara.
The main feeding town of the Northern parks is Arusha, which was once a traditional Maasai village. International flights arrive either through Dar, a two hour flight from Arusha, or Kilimanjaro which is only a half an hour drive away. Your northern safari can either start by a short flight from Arusha to any of the parks, or even a drive.
While we try and make our website as comprehensive as possible, if you would like some more background information on the North of Tanzania, or Tanzania in general, have a read through the Cadogan Guide to Tanzania and Zanzibar, written by our director Annabel. The most recent addition was published in 2005 so some of it might be slightly dated but generally it’s as comprehensive as they come. Click here for the relevant section.
Recommended Lodges in this area:
Sayari is one of the best camps in the north of the Serengeti. It is a beautifully stylish and well furnished camp that combines luxury with a fantastic point for game viewing. The food is impressive and the all round service is of a very high standard. The north of the Serengeti offers a very private experience.
Without doubt one of the top ten hotels in the world. Perched on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater and with views to die for; people come to Tanzania just to stay here. This is &Beyond’s flag ship property; quirky and something different from other properties on a northern itinerary. &Beyond call it ‘ Masaai meets Versaille’, we find it verging on over the top - but if you can afford it - you must stay here!
Nduara Loliondo is run by Nomad Tanzania who have camps and lodges all over Tanzania. This is one of their less commercial products; located outside the Serengeti Border in the Loliondo area, where you get game and also a cultural aspect - this is the land of the Masaai. We love the style of ‘yurt’ tents and opportunity to take long walking safaris in the wilderness.