So you’ve finally decided to go on the ultimate safari in Tanzania – it’s where the Swahili word “safari” (meaning journey) originates from, after all. Now the question is, do you visit southern or northern Tanzania?
A Tanzania safari is quite simply of the epic kind; a variety and abundance of wildlife, beautiful scenery and a legion of luxury and rustic camps and lodges. Tanzania is also almost one million square kilometers in size so navigating its breadth and depth will not fit into most people’s timeline for an African holiday. So will it be north or south for your luxury Tanzania vacation?
While the northern circuit offers more classic safari options, southern Tanzania is famed for more off-the-beaten-track experiences in a truly wild setting.
There are two general Tanzania safari routes – the first is around the northern parks which include the iconic Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Tarangire, and the second is around the southern parks which include the Ruaha and Selous National Parks as well as the Mahale Mountains and Katavi.
The northern circuit offers the most classic Tanzania safaris. Here you will find the Great Migration as literally millions of animals travel thousands of kilometers for water as well as the indigenous Maasai warriors tending their cattle on the plains of the wind-swept Serengeti National Park. It is also home to verdant mountains surrounding the Ngorongoro Crater.
The south of Tanzania, however, offers something completely different. For the intrepid traveler craving a more off-the-beaten-track experiences, the Selous and Ruaha offer untold treasures in the form of game, isolated lodges and luxury safari camps in a truly wild setting.
Where to go for your Tanzania safari
Northern parks and classic highlights
Arusha – This is the hub for Northern Tanzania Safaris. Don’t’ miss out on walking and canoe safaris in the Arusha National Park.
Manyara – The Lake Manyara area is famous for lions and pink flamingos.
Ngorongoro – Go to the Ngorongoro Crater here for beautiful scenery and the African big five – lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, buffalo.
Serengeti – World famous for the annual migration of the wildebeests. Don’t miss out on a must-do Serengeti balloon safari! Read more about the Great Migration.
West Kilimanjaro – Meet the nomadic Maasai and watch out for elephants using the area as a corridor to walk to Mount Kilimanjaro and Arusha National Park.
Tarangire – The Tarangire is also famous for large herds of elephants and Baobab trees.
Things to do in the North
In Arusha you can go horse riding at Kaskazi and visit the Shanga Project which employs people with disabilities to create handmade jewelry, glassware and homeware using recycled materials. In West Kili, enjoy a nature walk with Maasai guides. In the Manyara/Ngorongoro regions, safari game drives are the name of the game as well as guided walks, village visits and Crater rim walks. Go canoeing at Lake Babati and enjoy game drives and guided walks in Tarangire.
Southern parks of Tanzania
About 20,226 km² in size, Ruaha National Park is the largest national park in Tanzania. Ruaha’s relative inaccessibility means it gets far fewer tourists than the Selous and less than any comparable park in the Northern circuit. It is rich wildlife and perfect for travelers who want a more off-the-map experience and don’t fancy crowds.
The Selous Game Reserve covers a total area of 50,000 km². It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982 due to its wildlife diversity and undisturbed nature. Epic game drives, game walks, boating and fly camping are the recommended activities here.
Travel tips for Tanzania safaris
Wildlife in Tanzania
As mentioned, the northern circuit is most famous for the Great Migration in the Serengeti but you will also see an abundance of other animals and the plains make for stunning National Geographic- type photographs during sunsets or sunrises on your Tanzania safari.
Many herds of elephants can be found in the Tarangire National Park and clouds of pink flamingos will astonish you in Manyara. On the other hand, Ruaha National Park in the south is home to almost 10% of the world’s lion population, and leopards are also ubiquitous but quite shy so do look carefully. Huge herds of elephant and buffalo are also common in both Ruaha and Selous, but you won’t see rhinos down there.
How much time do you need for a safari in Tanzania?
We suggest eight to ten days. This gives you time enough to explore either the southern or the northern circuit. As mentioned before, the country is huge so combining the north and south will involve a lot of traveling and flying time which you may rather want to spend on safari game drives. We recommend spending one night in the city closest to your international airport and from there two nights per lodge.
Best time to visit Tanzania
The best time to visit Tanzania is in the dry season, which runs from June to October. Animals are much easier to find during this period since they have to concentrate around water and there is less vegetation for them to hide in. There are fewer mosquitoes at this time of the year, because there is almost no rain which also means skies are open and sunny. It is the high season though, so expect crowds. The famous wildebeest mass migration (also known as the Great Migration) usually peaks during June and July in the Serengeti, the most popular time for visitors to converge on the area en masse. We suggest traveling to the Serengeti between May and June to avoid the crowds but still enjoy spectacular wildlife sightings, including the big five – elephant, rhino, leopard, buffalo, and lion.
Read more about the best time to visit Tanzania.
There are three international airports in Tanzania:
- Dar es Salaam. Most international airlines fly here and it is the best airport to explore the southern circuit from.
- Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA) is close to Arusha and is the gateway for safaris to the Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Tarangire and Lake Manyara parks.
- Zanzibar. Some international airlines fly directly to the island which is part of Tanzania.
Malaria and yellow fever
Anti-malaria medication is recommended so you are safe during your safari in Tanzania. Proof of yellow fever vaccination upon arrival is required as well if you are traveling from yellow fever endemic countries/regions. You can find that list here or visit your nearest travel clinic.
What to pack for Tanzania safaris
The number one rule for packing for a Tanzania safari is compact! Size does matter since, in all probability, you’ll be flying in small planes to get from lodge to lodge so use small, soft and durable luggage as far as possible. In addition to taking a good camera, pack cotton clothing in neutral colors, a waterproof jacket, walking shoes and sandals, swimwear, sunscreen, mosquito repellent and hand sanitizer. Although most lodges are equipped to deal with medical emergencies, its a good idea to carry basic first aid medication with you. Binoculars and a torch are always handy as well as an international travel adapter plug for your devices.
Where to stay in the north
Manyara and Ngorongoro
Next to the forested slopes of the Ngorongoro Crater, Gibb’s Farm offers a rustic yet luxurious environment with gorgeous views . Nearby, built in an eclectic yet uber sophisticated baroque chateau style, Ngorongoro Crater Lodge epitomizes “Versailles meets Maasai” and offers breathtaking views of the Crater.
Serengeti Kati Kati is a mobile camp, designed to be as eco-friendly and one with nature as possible, yet not scrimping on convenience and luxury. Dunia Camp on the other hand, is a tranquil semi-permanent camp with expansive views of the pristine wilderness and game-filled plains from your private veranda. Namiri Plains Camp offers fantastic game viewing – especially of cheetah – but the plus here is that there are relatively few visitors, very unusual for the Serengeti which is one of the most visited safari destinations in all of Africa.
In the southern Serengeti, Ndutu Under Canvas camp moves with the Migration, with three different locations during the year. Shadowing the wildebeests’ every move, Ubuntu Camp uncovers fascinating and unexplored corners of this great wilderness. Similarly, Olakira Migration Camp ensures spectacular wildlife viewing opportunities as it moves with the game.
In the middle of the wilderness of the Maasai steppe you will find Africa Amini Maasai Lodge, boasting hand-crafted furniture and fantastic views of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa‘s highest mountain. Also with views of “Mount Kili”, Kambi ya Tembo is a spectacular, eco-friendly and intimate camp situated on the north face of Kilimanjaro.
The African Tulip is an elegant and charming boutique hotel, located along Serengeti Road right in the heart of Arusha, recommended for an overnight stay to or from your Tanzania safari. Situated on a working coffee plantation with spectacular views of Mount Meru offering candlelit dinners, private garden cottages, and spa indulgences, Legendary Lodge is a more luxurious lodge between safari experiences in Tanzania.
Set in the remote southern reaches of Tarangire National Park, Oliver’s Camp has safari tents close to the game-dense Silale Swamps and overlooks a floodplain of the Minyonyo Pools. Maramboi Tented Camp is a permanent camp with endless vistas of rolling golden grasslands and palm-lined desert between Tarangire and Manyara Lake.
Where to stay in the south
The Mdonya Old River Camp is without doubt one of Ruaha National Park’s best-kept secrets! It is located one of the most remote, wildest regions in Africa and with its great location, you can rely on quality game viewing. A tad more sumptuous but no less wild and isolated, Jongomero Camp is set under magnificent trees, on the banks of a seasonal river in the remote southern sector of the Ruaha National Park.
Sheltered in a grove of palms on the shores of Lake Nzerakera, Siwandu Camp is perfectly situated to fully experience the breathtaking landscape and abundant wildlife of Selous Game Reserve. Roho ya Selous Camp strikes the perfect balance between comfort and adventure and is located in the very heart of the Selous Game Reserve.
In conclusion, it is very difficult to recommend either the south or north for a Tanzania safari since both regions offer so much. If you are new to Africa, we suggest doing the northern circuit just to see for yourself what everyone is on about. However, if you want true peace, isolation and African game surrounds, then opt for the southern circuit. Either way, you can’t lose!
Our destination experts are always happy to customize your tour according to your interests and preferences and suggest the best routes for your Tanzania safari.