The most popular safaris in Tanzania (and the least expensive) usually include several parks in the North of the country. Since you can fly into Kilimanjaro International Airport (situated between the towns of Arusha and Moshi) you can also avoid spending too much time in urban areas and get into the bush as quickly as possible.
Many safari goers these days are as interested in visiting local tribes as they are spotting the "Big Five". Most safaris will include a visit to a Maasai village, school or an organized hunt with the local Hadzabe.
Best time to go on Safari in Northern Tanzania
The annual migration of millions of wildebeest and zebra is a truly remarkable wildlife show and worth planning for. The best time to witness the migration is probably February - March when the wildebeest and zebra have their young. Not only can you enjoy seeing baby animals, but the predators are at the highest number too. Because the herds also concentrate in the south of the Serengeti, it's easy to plan your wildlife viewing in that area and find a safari company that offers lodging there (see below). For more on the migration click here
Tanzania is still worth visiting during the shoulder season; you'll be able to witness some wonderful wildlife, undisturbed by other tourists. The low-season is May - June when the heavy rains make many roads simply impassable. Rain also means that water is plentiful and the animals are able to scatter over a wider area -- making it more difficult for you to spot them. More on Tanzania's climate and more about -- Best time to visit Tanzania.
The Northern parks include the Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara, and Tarangire. You can see more wildlife you thought possible and enjoy several different parks with unique features. The Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is where you can witness the incredible migration of millions of wildebeest and zebra -- followed enthusiastically by their predators. You should budget at least 5 days for a decent safari.
Northern Tanzania is home to several tribes most notably the Maasai and the Hadzabe.
Click here to read a typical itinerary.
Some of the parks in the Northern Circuit include:
The Serengeti National Park in Tanzania offers the absolute classic African safari setting. The grasslands make the Serengeti fantastic for spotting lion kills because you can see the whole spectacle clearly. The migration of millions of wildebeest and zebra starts here, and because it's much larger than the Masai Mara in Kenya, the park is less densely populated with minibuses full of tourists.
There are 5 basic sections of the Serengeti Park, each with its unique environment and corresponding wildlife patterns. Find out more from this detailed ATS guide so you can plan the best place to lodge or camp when you go, to maximize your wildlife viewing opportunities.
There are all kinds of accommodation options within the Serengeti National Park, from basic camping to luxury mobile-tented safaris. (See my general African safari planner for more information on these different accommodation styles)
Ngorongoro Conservation Area
The Ngorongoro Conservation area borders the Serengeti in northern Tanzania and includes the world's largest crater which acts as a natural enclosure for almost every species of wildlife found in East Africa. This includes the very rare black rhino. The Ngorongoro Crater is where you'll witness some of the densest population of wildlife in the world and it's a truly amazing place for photographers. The Maasai still live within the conservation area, and it's also home to Olduvai where some of man's earliest remains have been found.
This vast protected area stretches from Lake Natron in the northeast, to Lake Enyasi in the south, and Lake Manyara to the east. Eight million years ago, the Ngorongoro Crater was an active volcano but its cone collapsed, forming the crater that is 610 meters deep, 20 kilometers in diameter, and covers an area of 311 sq. km. The crater is home to many species of wild game and birds. With the exception of impala and topi and the giraffe, almost every species of African plains mammal lives in the crater, including the endangered black rhino, and the densest population of predators in Africa. On the crater floor, grassland blends into swamps, lakes, rivers, woodland and mountains. You can descend to the floor of the crater in a four-wheel drive vehicle. Only 4WD vehicles are allowed into the crater and game drivers are compulsory for all.
This relatively small park is divided into five distinct vegetation zones: ground-water forest, marshland and reed beds, open grasslands and acacia woodland. In a single day, a visitor may see elephant, buffalo, zebra, hippo and the curious lions which have a habit of resting in trees. Sheltering under the massive escarpment of the Great Rift Valley, and covering an area of 325 sq. km, this park is a flash of green amid an otherwise parched landscape. A line of springs support the lush vegetation of a groundwater forest, where blue monkeys, baboons and the curious-looking silvery-cheeked hornbill live, among the more than 350 bird species, the most profuse being the flamingo. Lake Manyara boasts plenty of elephants, tree-climbing lions (getting rarer), leopards, giraffes and more than 400 species of birds including flocks of pink flamingos. Most tour itineraries stop at Lake Manyara for a night en route to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro or on the way back to Moshi.
Tarangire National Park
Tarangire, like Lake Manyara, is often combined with a visit to the larger, better known Serengeti and Ngorongoro parks. But during the dry season, (June to October) the river beds just teem with animals and it is well worth a trip. Tarangire is a good place to enjoy a walking safaris and an excellent place to view elephants. Be prepared to swat tsetse flies here, at certain times of the year they can get annoying. The park's permanent water supply ensures a huge and varied animal population, especially during the dry season when it rivals that of the Serengeti. The animals include large herds of elephants, rhino, buffalo, zebra, lesser and greater kudu, eland, wildebeest, hartebeest, Gerenuk, impala and fringe-eared oryx. This attractive park, with its statuesque baobab trees, is the main refuge for wildlife from the surrounding part of the Great Rift Valley during the dry season. It is also an excellent place for birdwatching. The best birdwatching months are October to May.