Northern Safari Circuit
The parks and game reserves that make up Tanzania’s Northern Circuit Safari are easily the most popular and accessible attractions in the country. Most Northern Circuit Safaris depart from, and return to, Arusha. Northern Circuit Safaris include the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater. Longer safaris often additionally incorporate the Tarangire National Park and Lake Manyara National Park.
Covering an area of 14,763 sq kms, the Serengeti is the largest and most famous National Park in Tanzania. Situated 320 km to the northwest of Arusha, the Serengeti is contiguous with the Ngorongoro Conservation area, the Maswa Game Reserve and Kenya’s Masaai Mara. It lies between the shores of Lake Victoria to the west, Lake Eyasi in the south and the Great Rift Valley to the east. As such it offers the most diverse and least disturbed eco-system on earth. “Serengeti” is Masaaii for “endless plains”, and its infinite blue skies and massive vistas of swaying grasslands, dotted with acacia trees make it the quintessential image of Africa.
The Serengeti is a must-go destination in a Northern Circuit Safari. More than 3 million large mammals are found here. Large prides of lions laze easily in the long grasses; huge herds of elephants feed on acacia bark and trump to each other across the plains; and giraffes, gazelles, zebras, monkeys, buffalos, wildebeest and a whole range of other African wildlife roam in teeming numbers. There are more than 400 species of bird in the Serengeti.
The Serengeti is also the setting for one of nature’s most breathtaking events - the annual wildebeest migration, when more than 1.25 million wildebeest trek in vast columns of up to 40km long in search of water and greener pastures. The air is thick with red dust and the sound of thundering hooves as the wildebeest, together with more than 200,000 zebras and gazelles, relentlessly tracked by predators, make their journey of over 1,800 miles each year.
Serengeti safaris are in traditional 4x4 game drive vehicles. Hot-air ballooning safaris over the Serengeti plains are also extremely popular.
The best time to visit the Serengeti to see the migration is May – July and January – March.
Unique and diverse, the Ngorongoro Crater is often called “Africa’s Eden”, and is a definite world-class destination. Within the crater rim large herds of plains game graze while lions laze in the sun on nearby koppjies. The crater has a surprisingly large number of habitats, supporting nearly all of East Africa’s wildlife species, although sightings of leopard and cheetah are rare. Early morning game drives often reveal black rhinos grazing on dew-laden grasses.
The Ngorongoro Crater is however surprisingly small, and as a result can seem very busy, particularly when compared with the Serengeti. It is not uncommon to see many other game vehicles, especially in peak seasons.
There is no accommodation within the Ngorongoro Crater, although hotels and lodges built on the crater rim provide sensation views both into the crater, and across the Ngorongoro Highlands.
Masaai villages are found throughout the Ngorongoro Highlands and Conservation Area, which provides superb hiking and walking opportunities.
The magnificently beautiful Ngorongoro Conservation Area also includes the Olduvai Gorge, where the Leakeys discovered the hominoid remains of a 1.8million year old skeleton. Fossils show that the area is one of the oldest sites of hominoid habitation in the world.
The Ngorongoro Crater and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area are without a doubt some of the most beautiful parts of Tanzania, steeped in history and teeming with wildlife. Besides vehicle safaris to Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge, and surrounding attractions, hiking treks through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area are becoming increasingly popular options. Either way you choose to visit, the Crater Highlands are an unforgettable part of the Tanzanian experience.
Drive time from Serengeti to Ngorongoro Crater is about 6 hours.
Tarangire National Park
Tarangire National Park is located just 3 hours drive from Arusha, and is a popular stop for safaris on the Northern Circuit. Tarangire has an exceptionally high population density of elephants, as well as gazelle, wildebeest, zebra and giraffes. Birdlife is particularly prolific in Tarangire. The Tarangire River dissects the park, providing breathtaking views through the river valley. The park’s sparse vegetation is strewn with baobab and acacia trees, and this beautiful park is quite unlike any other on the Northern Circuit.
Lake Manyara National Park
Located on the edge of the Rift Valley, Lake Manyara National Park is en route to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. The park is small but offers breathtaking views, prolific birdlife, large baboon and elephant populations, and tree-climbing lion! The park is about a 3 hour drive from Arusha.