One of Africa’s leading safari destinations, Tanzania is rich in national parks, game reserves, and other safari attractions. It can be difficult to decide where to go, so conveniently the Tanzania safari routes are split into four – northern, southern, western, and coastal. Although there are four divisions, the northern and southern safari circuits remain the most prominent and popular. Combining the northern and southern circuits is possible and would be an epic safari, but commonly safari-goers choose one or the other.
These circuits split Tanzania into two distinctive regions, with the more well-known northern circuit covering Arusha National Park, Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Mt Kilimanjaro, Mt Meru, Tarangire National Park, and Lake Manyara, with the gateways being the town of Arusha and Kilimanjaro International Airport. The main parks of the less-visited southern circuit are Selous Game Reserve, Ruaha National Park, Mikumi National Park and Udzungwa National Park while the gateway to these regions is the city of Dar-es-Salaam.
Both the northern and southern circuits offer fantastic wildlife viewing and spectacular bush scenery, together with a range of safari activities. As such, it can be difficult to decide which destination to choose! So to help, we’ve compiled some key highlights of each.
Northern Tanzania Safaris
Why Should You Visit Northern Tanzania?
- The Great Wildebeest Migration
The annual great wildebeest migration is one of the most remarkable natural events which takes places in northern Tanzania. Every year around 1.5 million wildebeest accompanied by thousands of zebras, Thomson’s gazelles, hartebeests and numerous other animals, travel in a cyclical journey between northern Tanzania and Kenya in the search for lush pastures and water. The journey from Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park to Kenya’s Masai Mara is fraught with challenges, including crossing the Grumeti followed by the Mara River, surviving the threat of crocodile attacks. Many dedicated safari tours follow this great spectacle, allowing visitors to witness nature at its best.
- Spectacular Big Five
Africa’s renowned Big Five – elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo and leopard – are often the most popular of Tanzania’s plentiful wildlife which visitors want to see and northern Tanzania offers the highest probability of big five sightings. Ngorongoro Crater is the place to head and is one of the last remaining places where black rhino can be seen in their natural habitat. Southern Tanzania cannot boast the same as there is a lack of rhinos in the southern areas.
- The Ultimate Wildlife Viewing Experience
The wildebeest migration and the big five aren’t Tanzania’s only wildlife attractions. The Tanzania northern circuit parks boast a large concentration of diverse wildlife including impressive herds of elephants in Tarangire National Park and stunning pink flamingos on Lake Manyara as well as lesser-known species and wonderful birds.
- Safari Activities
Morning and afternoon game drives are the order of the day in the northern parks, usually in vehicles with a pop-top hatch roof that can be raised when required for optimal photography and game viewing. In Serengeti National Park, hot air balloon safaris are available for incredible bird’s eye views of the plains below while in some places night drives and walking safaris are on offer, but they are less common here than in the southern parks.
- Easy Access to National Parks
Northern Tanzania also offers easy access to the national parks from Kilimanjaro International Airport and Arusha Airport. Unlike South Tanzania, the wildlife parks in northern Tanzania are located much closer to each other, which helps save time and long journeys.
- Cultural Excursions
Although Tanzania is a wildlife paradise, there is also a rich cultural heritage with cultural excursions for visitors to experience. Learn about the ancient tribes such as Sukuma of north-eastern Tanzania and Hadzabe of north-central Tanzania. Even in this continuously modernised world, these prominent tribes have held onto their culture and are fascinating to meet and learn more about.
- Mountain Climbing
Two of Africa’s renowned mountains are located in northern Tanzania. Mount Kilimanjaro, adjacent to the Kilimanjaro National Park, is the highest mountain in Africa. Visitors can take one of the five routes (Machame, Marangu, Lemosho, Rongai and Umbwe) to scale Mount Kilimanjaro. Each route has a difficulty level and there are treks from 5-8 days. The smaller of the two mountains, Mount Meru, is visible from the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Beginners can try their luck on Mount Meru before trying to reach the heights of Kilimanjaro. Both are worth the time and effort for a fantastic experience and breathtaking scenery.
- Serengeti National Park
- Tarangire National Park
- Lake Manyara National Park
- Mount Kilimanjaro National Park
- Ngorongoro Conservation Area
- Arusha National Park
- Mkomazi National Park
- Olduvai Gorge
Best Places To Stay
- Singita Sasakwa
- &Beyond Crater Lodge
- Tarangire Treetops
- &Beyond Lake Manyara Tree Lodge
- Kaliwa Lodge
For more information about these lodges, head over to the Top 15 Tanzania Safari Lodges and Camps
North Tanzania Safaris
- 7-Day Serengeti Plains & Ngorongoro Crater Safari
- 4 Days Tanzania Budget Camping Safari
- 5-Day Manyara, Ngorongoro, Serengeti & Tarangire Safari
- 6-Day Manyara, Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Tarangire Safari
- 10-Day Luxury Fly-in Safari Tanzania
- 3-Day Tarangire, Lake Manyara & Ngorongoro Safari
- 8-Day Kilimanjaro Climb Lemosho Route
- 5 Days Marangu Route Mount Kilimanjaro Trek
Southern Tanzania Safaris
Why Should You Visit Southern Tanzania?
- Less-Crowded than the Northern Circuit
With the popularity of attractions such as the great wildebeest migration and big five safaris, as well as its easy accessibility, the northern circuit has always been more visited than the southern circuit. In contrast, the extra effort to get to the more remote southern circuit national parks means they offer a less crowded safari and more wild experience.
- Wildlife Viewing
There’s diverse and abundant wildlife in the southern parks including big cats (almost 10% of the world’s lion population live in Ruaha) and herds of buffalo and elephant. Selous Game Reserve is one of the few wildlife reserves in Africa which is home to puku and sable antelope as well as wild dogs. There are also numerous bird species to spot in this region.
- Cost of Visiting
A safari to the northern parks is likely to be cheaper as it’s easier to access with more flights and less distances. However, despite the more remote location of the southern circuit parks, which makes it a more costly destination, camps and lodges here often offer good deals to make up for this.
- Safari Activities
Compared to northern Tanzania, the southern parks have fewer restrictions and offer a wider range of activities. In Selous and Ruaha, you can explore on walking safaris with expert guides while night game drives open up the possibility of spotting nocturnal animals. In Selous, the highlight is a boat safari on the River Rufiji, a hot air balloon safari or for the more adventurous, a night under canvas in a fly camp.
- Closer to Zanzibar Islands and Dar es Salam
The short distance between the southern Tanzania parks and Dar Es Salam, the departure point for flights and ferries to the Zanzibar Islands, means a bush and beach combo from the southern parks is a fantastic option.
- Ruaha National Park
- Udzungwa National Park
- Selous Game Reserve
- Mikumi National Park
- Kitulo National Park
- Lake Nyasa//Matema Beach Town
- Lake Ngosi
- Mbozi Meteorite
- Nyumba Nitu Natural Forest
- Kaporogwe Falls
- Kalambo Falls
- Mpanga Kipengere Game Reserve
Best Places To Stay
- Nomad Sand Rivers Selous
- Selous Kinga Lodge
- Ruaha River Lodge
- Jabali Ridge
- Beho Beho
South Tanzania Safaris
- 6-Day Mikumi to Ruaha National Park
- 7-Day Southern Tanzania Safari in Ruaha, Mikumi & Selous
- 8-Day Southern Circuit Off the Beaten Track Safari
- 3-Day Mikumi National Park Safari
- Classic Southern Tanzania Safari
- 11-Day Game Reserve & Zanzibar Package
- 4-Day Ruaha National Park Wildlife Safari
- 8-Day Magic of Tanzania Safari
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