Northern Tanzania – one of the classic African safari destinations
Northern Tanzania is arguably the classic safari destination, home to Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti and Lake Manyara to name the ‘biggies’. Countless wildlife films and coffee table books have documented the wildlife and scenery in this extraordinarily diverse region and it’s quite deserving of its reputation.
The downside of this notoriety is the large number of tourists and their accompanying vehicles which in some areas can seem impossible to avoid. That’s not to say you can’t visit and get the same feeling found in the more remote parks – it just takes a bit of specialist know-how to find the right places.
It’s impossible not to be wowed by the Ngorongoro Crater – one of the most spectacular sights in Africa. From the viewing point on the rim, look down 600 metres to the vast crater floor (10 miles across) which, way down below is littered with the tiny dots of wildlife milling between open plains, soda lakes, marshes and woodland. Through binoculars you can identify the bigger dots as buffalo, elephants and if lucky, rhino. All this splendour attracts plenty of visitors so where you stay is key to the enjoyment of this magnificent patch of wilderness.
Places to try include Entamanu Ngorongoro which, perched high on the north western edge of the crater rim is an incredible highland retreat. Venture into the crater itself and you’ll share the space with other visitors, but turn towards the crater highlands and you’ll enjoy amazing wildlife and cultural experiences in the largely ignored Empakal, Olmoti, Ol Donyo Lengai areas.
Anyone after glitz and glamour should look at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. Described as where ‘Versailles meets Masai’, it’s an extraordinary juxtaposition of elegant interiors and breath taking natural beauty; guests can be forgiven for losing track of which era or, even continent, they are experiencing! Again, you’ll share the crater with others, but there’s plenty else on offer here to keep you away from the crowds.
The magnificent Serengeti, part of East Africa’s most prolific wildlife country, is popular with visitors – but it’s also vast so actually quite easy to escape the crowds. Head to a private reserve like Singita Grumeti and you’ll find 350,000 acres, an integral part of the Serengeti-Mara eco-system, home to a handful of exquisite lodges, among which are a mobile camp, a glorious private house, superb lodge, and classic tented camp.
At the other end of the scale are Wayo Africa’s mobile safaris. What you lose in luxury accommodation (they’re still comfortable and provide all you need) you gain in the chance to explore off the beaten track and follow animal movements to reach the greatest wildlife concentrations year-round.
Then there’s Sayari Camp, tucked away in the northern part of the park, with fabulous year-round wildlife. It’s a great spot for the wildebeest migration between July and October, but also hosts good resident wildlife when the mobile camps have headed south between November and March.
If you really want a migration fix then Serengeti Safari Camp is the place to choose. Moving every couple of months this little camp follows the wildebeest on their journey around the Serengeti. It’ll be in the best available position – even if that’s not where the migration is ‘supposed’ to be!
The last of the big three is Lake Manyara, northern Tanzania’s smallest national park. Lesser known than the other two, it has many charms and its proximity to the Ngorongoro Crater makes it a wonderful place to spend some time on safari – you could even base yourself here to explore the crater area. Stretching 50km along the bed of the Rift Valley across floodplains, mahogany woodlands and alkaline lakes and up the rift valley escarpment, it’s home to tree-climbing lions, flamingo, huge herds of elephant, plenty of plains game and dazzling birdlife.
Lake Manyara Tree Lodge is the only permanent lodge in the park and its ten stilted tree houses are built into the boughs of ancient mahogany trees. It’s a lovely base for leisurely drives to see the famous tree-climbing lions and unimpeded viewing of the flocks of pelicans and flamingos in the lake.
Just outside the park is Chem Chem Lodge, which sits in a private concession in a wildlife corridor between the Tarangire and Lake Manyara Parks. It’s a great spot for walking safaris and visiting the flamingos on the lake’s eastern shore.
Away from the big three you’ll find little gems like Tarangire and Lake Victoria. Tarangire might not be one of Tanzania’s more visited parks but this beautiful, compact reserve is something of a hidden treasure. It protects Tanzania’s greatest concentrations of wildlife outside the Serengeti and its year-round water puts it firmly on the wildlife’s social calendar. Elephant and buffalo gather in large herds, there are plenty of big cats, the birdlife is prolific and walking safaris are particularly good here.
Lake Victoria is so massive it is shared by three countries, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, and while much of the shoreline is densely populated, other areas seem quite deserted. Rubondo Island is Africa’s largest island national park and over three quarters of its 25,000 hectares is untouched equatorial forest. Human life is restricted to a handful of park wardens and wildlife researchers with the rest a refuge for chimpanzees, elephant and shy sitatunga antelope. It’s a unique corner of Africa and enjoyed by only a handful of intrepid visitors.
Stay at Rubondo Island Camp and you can take part in the chimpanzee habituation programme, enjoy wonderful fishing, superb bird watching and boating safaris – something truly different to the rest of northern Tanzania.
We would be delighted to help you plan a northern Tanzania safari, or answer any questions if you’re at an earlier stage. Our team of experts have travelled widely throughout Africa. They can offer expert advice on every type of safari from family and beach holidays to riding and primate safaris. If you would like to talk to someone who has been there and done it, please just send us an email or give us a call.