The most common area for safari travellers in Tanzania is the north of the country. The ‘northern safari circuit’ as it has become known includes the Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro National Park and Conservation Area, Lake Manyara National Park and Tarangire National Park. Whilst this route is well travelled, it still feels serene and secluded and has everything that the visitor could want, including ample opportunities to see the ‘big 5’. In addition it is easily accessible – international visitors can fly directly into Kilimanjaro airport, situated between the towns of Moshi and Arusha and from there they are in an ideal location to begin their safari holiday.
Arusha National Park
Whilst many travellers make a quick visit to Arusha to pick up last minute supplies before heading out on safari, the Arusha National Park is an interesting day trip if you decide you wish to take some time to recover from your flight before heading out into the wilderness.
Arusha National Park is dominated by Mount Meru, Tanzanias second highest mountain and also includes the Momela Lakes and Ngurdoto Crater. Whilst it is possible to climb Mount Meru, it is something that should only be considered by the physically fit – some say that it is an even more challenging climb than scaling Mount Kilimanjaro. If you want to take things a little easier, the park is a great place to see all manner of wildlife, from the plethora of bird species and butterflies that surround the Momela Lakes, to the elephant, buffalo, antelopes and primates that are found within the parks boundaries.
Tarangire National Park
Lake Manyara National Park
Tarangire National Park is famous for it’s elephants, it has some of the highest density of the species across the whole of Tanzania. Baobab trees are abundant throughout the park and make a beautiful backdrop against which to view the parks resident wildlife.
Birdlife in the park is prolific with more than 500 species recorded; it also contains some important breeding sites for Eurasian migrants. September to May are the best months for birdwatching within the park. If you are lucky you might catch sight of a white bellied go away bird, mouse birds, kori, and lappet faced vulture amongst the throng.
As well as elephants, Tarangire National Park is home to buffalo, giraffe, a number of antelope species, and lions to name but a few. The park also boasts it’s own annual migration which has been estimated to include up to 3,000 elephants, 25,000 wildebeest and 30,000 zebra – a fascinating sight if you time it right!
Tarangire National Park is a great stopover after leaving Arusha and it’s a fantastic place to spend a few days before venturing on to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater.
Situated in the foothills of the Rift Valley, Lake Manyara National Park, one of Tanzania's smallest national parks, is a great destination. The soda lake from which the park gets it’s name is home to an extraordinary number of birds, from pink flamingos to pelicans and storks. The waterfowl that surround the lake are a sight to behold. In addition nearly 400 other species have been reported within the park and part of Lake Manyara’s appeal is that it is often possible to see over 100 different bird species during one day.
All the usual suspects are found at Lake Manyara National Park, including elephant, hippo, antelope, baboon, giraffe and zebra. One of the reasons many people visit the park it to get a glimpse of the famous tree-climbing lions.
As well as game drives within the park, for the more energetic it’s also possible to explore the area either hiking or mountain biking on the escarpment just outside the park.
Ngorongoro Crater and Conservation Area
Probably the most famous location in Tanzania, and often considered to be the 8th Natural Wonder of the World, the Ngorongoro Crater is a spectacular sight and one that should not be missed. The crater itself is the main draw, created when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself around two to three million years ago. The resulting crater is around 2,000 feet deep and covers an area of around 300km². The crater is estimated to contain in the region of 30,000 animals. The ‘big 5’ are all present and it’s often relatively easy to spot animals within the craters grassy plains including cheetah, hyena and jackal.
The journey into the crater is an adventure in it’s own right – you must stop on the crater rim so that you can look down and see the profusion of wildlife below. You then traverse your way down into the crater – only 4WD vehicles are allowed down the steep ascent and descent routes.
It’s also fascinating to see the local Masaai herd their goats and cattle on the pastures that surround the crater and to appreciate how they are living alongside the wildlife as they have done for many centuries.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area encompasses Oldupai or Olduvai Gorge, the site where the famous anthropologist Louis Leakey unearthed the remains of three hominoid species which are thought to date back nearly 2 million years. The small museum at the site gives more insight into one of oldest sites of hominoid habitation in the world.
Serengeti National Park
Both The Serengeti National Park and the Masai Mara in Kenya are synonymous with the annual wildebeest and zebra migration and attract visitors from all over the world hoping to time their visit correctly to see this amazing spectacle. More than a million animals make the annual journey and to catch a glimpse of the stampede is one of the highlights for any wildlife lover. Even if your visit doesn't coincide with the migration, there is still plenty to see and explore in the park.
Covering an area of nearly 15,000km², the Serengeti National Park is the largest park in Tanzania and contains great numbers of wildlife. During the migration it is estimated that numbers double with almost 5 million animals within the park. The ‘big 5’ are evident here along with giraffe, black maned lions, gazelle, primates, more than 500 bird species and a whole range of other African wildlife.
As well as traditional safaris, the Serengeti is also famous for it’s balloon safaris. A not inexpensive experience, but one which allows an uninterrupted view over the stretches of plain that make up the park. The tranquility of a dawn flight over the park makes for an unforgettable adventure.
Mount Kilimanjaro National Park
The highest peak in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro is famous with climbers all around the world. There are six routes up for those that are interested in scaling to the summit on all of which you must be accompanied by a certified guide. The climb normally takes around 5-6 days.
If you are considering attempting the climb you should be in good physical condition and be adequately equipped to cope with the climb itself and the high altitude that you will encounter as you journey upwards. You should carefully consider what is involved in the climb before deciding that you wish to attempt it.
For the less experienced there are a number of day or overnight treks on the Shira plateau as well as nature trails on some of the lower plains that give you the opportunity to explore the area.
© ecoTravel Africa 2011