Guide to The Ultimate Adventure: Tanzania’s Northern Safari Circuit
By Margaret Bain

Why travel to Tanzania? This amazing country’s “Northern Circuit” contains some of the best National Parks in Tanzania, the plains of the  Serengeti, home to most people’s safari dreams, and Ngorongoro Crater, a World Heritage Site.  You will also find Lake Manyara, a park with eco-systems ranging from a montage of forests to hot springs, as well as Tarangire, a place where the river never runs dry.

To get there, fly into Mt. Kilimanjaro International Airport located near the town of Arusha.  Any reputable safari company will meet you at the airport, and guide you through your entire safari, dropping you back at the airport in time for your departure.

The cost for four people (parents and two kids) runs about $1200 per day. That’s broken down into $400 per day per adult, and $200 per day per child ages 4-12. Teens are charged as adults though some lodges cite 25 percent off the adult rate for ages 13-17.  This includes everything except air, alcohol, and tips. However, lodging in a 3 star hotel,food, snacks and drinks, guide and park fees are included.  Prices go up for truly upscale accommodations.

Here’s what is special about each park on the Northern Circuit. 


Lake Manyara Park lies in the shadow of the Great Rift Valley.  Waterfalls spill over the cliff and hot springs bubble to the surface in the south.

The lake attracts considerable birdlife. Fish-eating birds inhabiting the lake include pelicans, storks, cormorants, red billed quelea and Egyptian geese. Huge numbers of flamingos come to feed at the lake during their migration.  You may also spot: Peter's Twinspot, Pygmy Kingfisher, Abysinnian White-eye, Pangani Longclaw, Crowned Hornbill and Fischer's Lovebird.        
The terrain contains a rich variety of different habitats that support a large number of species such as monkey, antelope, zebra, hippo, crocodile, buffalo, giraffe and a high density of elephants. The park is known for its tree-climbing lions, who may be seen sleeping off the heat of the day on a branch.


The Ngorongoro Conservation Area lies north of Lake Manyara and merges into the Serengeti Game Reserve. The Ngorongoro Crater is regarded as the 8th natural wonder of the world and has been declared a World Heritage Site. It is the largest intact crater in the world: 185 feet deep, 10 miles across and covering an area of about 335 square miles. Virtually all big game species are found here including zebra, wildebeest, rare black rhino, antelope, elephant, giraffe, cape buffalo, lion, cheetah, leopard and monkey. It is a birding paradise, with thousands of flamingos wading in Lake Magadi and hundreds of other species of birdlife throughout the park.  Good opportunities exist to see the “big five” here: lion, leopard, cape buffalo, rhinoceros and elephant. 
The Serengeti is Tanzania's oldest and most popular park, covering an area of over 9,170 square miles. It has the highest concentration of game in Africa.

Virtually every game species in Africa can be found here, but it is most famous for its vast herds of wildebeest, zebra, gazelle and antelope, as well as "the Serengeti Lions."  Close encounters with cheetah can be had, and the elusive and shy leopard might be spotted in a tree. This is an excellent park to experience a big cat kill, if that is on your agenda.  But, don’t count on seeing a kill if you book with a company which caters to large groups.  (Large companies using vans will have a hard time going to the places where the cheetah live and where cats hunt).

Some consider the best months to visit to be November through April, when the “small” and “large” rains take place.  The Serengeti can turn quite green then, and game is spread all over the park.  The advantage of the dry season, May through September, is that game concentrate around watering holes.  (Great big-cat kill photo opportunities!)

One of the Serengeti’s most spectacular events is the annual migration  (a.k.a: The Great Wildebeest Migration).  Picture over one million wildebeests traveling in a line so long that they stretch from one horizon to the next.  Along with them, come hundreds of thousands of zebras and Thompson’s Gazelles.  Behind them come the predators, looking for an easy meal! There is no fixed timetable, the animals migrate according to rainfall patterns.  However, the rains tend to follow a general pattern, making October the least likely time to view this migration in the Serengeti. (They tend to be in Kenya, in the Maasai Mara).

One of my favorite times of year is May through July.  It’s baby season!  Most babies are born around March and April and are really getting out and about in the May-July timeframe.  Excellent photographic opportunities are available for those who just love the baby animals.

The bottom line, is that there isn’t a bad time of year to visit the Serengeti (or the Northern Circuit, for that matter)!


Covering an area of approximately 1,650 square miles, during the dry season this park has a particularly high concentration of wildlife, mainly congregating along the Tarangire River.  Among the species you can expect to see: high concentrations of elephant, as well as kudu, cape buffalo, cheetah, oryx, leopard, lion, giraffe, spotted hyena, zebra, wildebeest, warthog, eland, baboon, bat-eared fox, impala, waterbuck, bushbuck and hartebeest.

The park is a birder’s paradise with more than 300 species of birds, including: Yellow Collared Lovebird, Goliath Heron, Hamerkop, Bateleur, Helmeted Guineafowl, Long-toed Lapwing, Brown parrot, White-bellied Go-away-bird, Madagascar Bee-eater, African Hoopoe and a variety of Kingfishers, Weavers, Owls, Plovers and Sand Pipers (just to mention a few).  


A Tanzanian Northern Circuit safari is a great vacation for adventurous families with a love of animals, birds and foreign cultures.  Children of all ages can enjoy a safari.  The only restriction is that children under the age of two cannot take all the required inoculations.  And, one caution…the 24+ hour plane ride from the Bay Area (with stop-overs) might be a bit much for some kids, so take this into account.

Most Northern Circuit safaris run 10 – 14 days, though some people go for a week, others almost a month.  Plan two days for travel from the U.S. to Tanzania, and one day to get back (time zone changes account for the difference).  So, if you are planning a two week vacation, an 11 day Tanzanian Northern Circuit Safari might be just right!



Margaret is the founder and co-owner of Winston Safaris and Trekking, a Tanzanian safari company specializing in private, customized trips to Tanzania’s game parks. Her office is in Evanstan, Ill., and she can be reached at 847/864-2044.  This is her first article for BAFT.

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