Armand and Michaela Denis introduced the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti to television viewers back in the 1950s with their black and white wildlife documentaries ‘’On Safari’’. In those days, few people could contemplate being able to go there themselves. These two iconic places in Tanzania began to attract huge numbers as soon as long haul travel became so much easier. They remain the two most popular places for wildlife viewing in Tanzania but there are many more.
They form part of just one of the four safari circuits within the country. All of which have much to recommend them. A closer look at these circuits will help you choose which one you would like to visit, or the order in which to visit them if you want to experience them all.
- Arusha National Park is just a short distance from the town of Arusha, a popular starting point of this circuit for those travellers arriving at Kilimanjaro International Airport. While Kilimanjaro can be seen in the distance, it is Mount Meru which dominates this small park. There are no lions and only a few elephants. However, you may have the chance to see leopard and hyenas, which are fairly common. Buffalo, giraffe, warthog and zebra populate the park with flamingos likely in the Momela Lakes.
- The Ngorongoro Crater within the Conservation Area of the same name is the real jewel of Tanzania. The Crater was formed millions of years ago but the volcano is long since extinct. The Crater covers 264 square kilometres and sits 600 metres below the surrounding land. The wildlife could be described as a ‘’captive audience’’ though there is a little movement in and out of the steep-sided crater. All Africa’s main species can be found within the Crater except for giraffe and impala. It is a diverse place with grassland, forest and lakes and with some many prey species around, predators are plentiful with lions completely unconcerned by safari vehicles.
- The Serengeti Plain and neighbouring Masai Mara in Kenya are the sites for the greatest migration in Africa as wildebeest and zebra constantly seek out new grazing. Estimates suggest that 1.5 million wildebeest and 250,000 zebras take the journey with predators following their prey. While April and May are the months when the greatest movements should take place, the rains can be unpredictable, so the migration is too. However, the Serengeti’s magic means that wildlife enthusiasts will get many amazing experiences from their time in this vast region of almost 15,000 square kilometres. Jeeps are expected to stay on the well-established tracks to avoid causing ecological damage, but the abundance of wildlife ensures that it is cameras at the ready all the time.
- Lake Manyara is known for its tree-climbing lions. They may not be as agile as leopards because they are much heavier but a photograph of a lion up a tree should get pride of place in your album. The shallow lake covers a little under 500 square kilometres with the dry land section of the National Park being a further 200 square kilometres. Flamingos frequent the soda lake while the common prey species that the lions seek out include zebra, wildebeest, dik-dik, warthog, impala and buffalo. Lake Manyara is also renowned for its birdlife with the raptors a major attraction.
- Tarangire National Park completes the circle. Its name comes from the river that passes through the Park. One of its attractions is that it is likely to be far less crowded than other regions on this circuit. ‘’Crowded’’ is relative because of the vastness of the circuit. The River is a great source of water in the dry season between June and November when herds arrive in the Park to drink. Elephants are a highlight in Tarangire which is also known for its baobab trees.
The Northern Circuit is the most popular of the four circuits in Tanzania because of the likelihood of seeing Africa’s ‘’Big Five’’ – lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and the ever increasingly rare rhino (Ngorongoro is the most likely place for that.) – along the way.
Experience the Northern Circuit with our 5 Days Safari Tanzania tour to Lake Manyara National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, and Serengeti National Park.
- Mikumi National Park is the closest to Dar-es-Salaam and to the north of the Selous. It covers over 3,000 square kilometres with one of Tanzania’s main roads cutting through it. There are two distinct habitats with the Mkata River floodplain offering similar terrain as the Serengeti. June to November is high season because it corresponds to the dry season where herds gather to find water; they tend to disperse after that and some lodges even close between March and May. Predator sightings are not as good as other Parks in Tanzania though visitors can expect to see elephant, buffalo, zebra, wildebeest and zebra as well as monkeys and baboons.
- The Ruaha National Park is just over 20,000 square kilometres and gets its name from the River in the southeast. This area is the best for game viewing The Park has the largest concentration of elephants in East Africa as well as Roan, Sable and Kudu. Lions and cheetahs have an abundance of prey and that has helped the Park maintain a decent population of the endangered wild dog. In addition, you can expect to see crocodiles, snakes and lizards as you travel. The Park has resident birdlife as well as migratory species; almost 600 different species have been recorded.
- Selous Game Reserve is 55,000 square kilometres with June to November also high season for viewing. The Rufiji River is a magnet for wildlife at that time. Selous is an excellent place to see wild dogs while the rare puku is also found here. Other species to look out for are sable, and black rhino which are becoming increasingly endangered. Selous; birdlife is excellent although the best time for migratory birds falls during the wet season.
- Udzungwa Mountains National Park is just 2,000 square kilometres but its appeal is the tropical rainforest which contains primate species. That said, there is a lowland section where the lion, elephants, buffalo, hippo and sable are among the species you will see.
The Southern Circuit covers a vast area with the obvious advantage of attracting fewer visitors and hence less human disturbance. The ideal starting point for this Circuit is Tanzania’s capital, Dar-es-Salaam. It may be advisable to think about a short flight out of Dar-es-Salaam to start the tour because there is plenty of overland travel ahead if you wish to see these four gems. The Selous is the furthest south with Ruaha to its west with both around a 90-minute flight from Dar-es-Salaam’s coastal location.
- Gombe Stream National Park is famous for its chimpanzees. When you head west in Tanzania you will see the terrain start to change to something more similar to West Africa, and within the forests of this 35 square kilometre Park on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, the highlight is definitely the chimpanzee. Gombe has been made famous by the naturalist Jane Goodall who has devoted over half a century of her life to chimpanzees. Other attractions include olive baboons and the best time to visit is during the dry months between June and October.
- Mahale Mountains National Park can only be explored on foot and there are a number of guided walking trails to follow. It is also on the shores of Lake Tanganyika and has the largest chimpanzee population in the world numbering around 800.
- Katavi National Park, remote and covering 4,500 square kilometres, offers visitors on the Western Circuit the chance to see many of the species commonly associated with East Africa; crocs and hippos in the river, buffalo, giraffe, elephant, wildebeest and zebra and the predators who seek them out for food including lion, wild dog, cheetah and hyena. Visitor numbers are low so there has been minimal human interaction with the wildlife, other than poachers.
The Western Circuit is remote and whether you start at Arusha or Dar-es-Salaam, it takes plenty of effort to enjoy these three places. It will involve both plane and boat. Often visitors combine a short time here with a longer safari in the North and South; that certainly offers variety.
- Pemba Island is 50 kilometres off the Tanzania Mainland and has an area of just under 1,000 square kilometres. There are lovely coral reefs with amazing marine life to explore. Crowds remain limited relative to Zanzibar and game fishermen can enjoy the deep Pemba Channel waters that hold impressive species such as marlin, shark, sailfish, tuna and barracuda.
- Mafia Island is 435 square kilometres and lies off the Southern Tanzanian Coast at the mouth of the Rufiji River. It is quiet with little tourist infrastructure which may appeal to some tourists wishing to experience the real natural environment. It is a poor island so you should not expect to find the comforts many tourists expect.
- Unguja is the main island of the Zanzibar Archipelago with its capital, Stone Town, well worth exploring. It covers 1,500 square kilometres and its closest point to the Mainland is just 36 kilometres. It is a place where tourists can book activities both for exploring the island but also the wonderful warm waters of the Indian Ocean and the marine life it contains.
This Circuit does not involve the mammals for which East Africa is so famous, but it introduces visitors to a lovely natural marine environment. Many tourists relax on the coast, north or south of Dar-es-Salaam after an inland safari. Others can enjoy travelling this lovely Indian Ocean coastline and visiting the offshore islands.