A Detailed Tanzania Northern Circuit Itinerary (Updated 2024)
A Detailed Tanzania Northern Circuit Itinerary: Northern Tanzania is one of the few areas on the earth that feels completely timeless and unspoiled by human intervention. The boundless plains of the Serengeti will make you feel insignificant, while the massive herds of elephants sauntering through Tarangire National Park will take your breath away. This place is a prehistoric paradise that puts everything into perspective, and exploring it is a true privilege. My major piece of advice to anyone considering a trip to Tanzania is to JUST GO. You will not be sorry.
Tanzania Northern Circuit Safari
What distinguishes Tanzania’s Northern Circuit?
Tanzania’s Northern Circuit is an ideal location for a once-in-a-lifetime safari. If you’re only going to do it once, make it this time. The combination of wildlife, landscapes, and Maasai culture is what makes northern Tanzania so unique. Nowhere else offers such astounding variety – it’s a truly humbling experience.
In just one week, you can see lion prides stalking across the Serengeti savannah, walk with the Maasai across the lunar-like plains of Olduvai Gorge, see elephants by the dozen amidst gnarly baobabs in Tarangire National Park, and explore the wildlife-packed caldera of the Ngorongoro Crater.
Combining Serengeti and Ngorongoro with Tarangire National Park, Olduvai Gorge, and Grumeti Wildlife Management Area is my recommendation for the ‘ultimate’ northern Tanzania safari itinerary. Each of these locations offers something distinctive and different; therefore, combining them creates the safari of a lifetime.
This route offers much more than a breathtaking wildlife encounter, and the voyages between destinations frequently double as game drives. You will witness the hourly transformation of Tanzania’s vast landscape, meet the local Maasai, remain in one-of-a-kind tented camps, and fall in love with the country’s gentle culture.
When to travel to Tanzania
The weather in northern Tanzania allows for safaris to be undertaken throughout the year. There is no poor time of year to travel, and the wildlife watching is usually great. The one time of year to avoid is March and April, when the ‘long rains’ can make some tracks and roads unusable. Most species in the Ngorongoro Crater, for instance, don’t migrate, so you can visit at any time of year and have a fantastic time.
The Northern Serengeti is home to the world-famous ‘Great Wildebeest Migration‘ every summer (June–October), when tens of thousands of animals in thunderous herds attempt to cross the treacherous Mara River as predators wait. You won’t have the Serengeti to yourself because this is the peak tourist season (and thus the most expensive). If you know where to look, you can catch sight of migrating herds outside of their peak season.
From November through March, northern Tanzania has its “green season,” characterized by abundant vegetation and a plethora of interesting migratory species. In spite of the possibility of seeing some spectacular downpours, this is the best time to witness the migrating herds with their newborn calves because there are fewer people in the area. When I visited the Serengeti in December, I noticed many herds of animals grazing together, seemingly content. Magic, pure and simple!
Arriving into Kilimanjaro
Arriving at Kilimanjaro Airport is preferable to Dar Es Salaam if you intend to travel around northern Tanzania. It’s possible to reach Arusha, where many visitors to Tanzania spend their first night, in under an hour from Kilimanjaro.
Beautiful Arumeru River Lodge is conveniently located between Kilimanjaro International Airport and Arusha. After a long flight, Arumeru, a former coffee estate with cozy bungalows strewn around its tropical gardens, is the perfect location to relax. While the resident dik-diks graze in the grass, monkeys swing in the tree canopy, and birds sing from the branches, you may have a refreshing swim in the beautiful pool. The snowy summit of Mount Kilimanjaro can be seen far off in the distance.
Staying at Arumeru for an extended period of time will allow you to partake in all that the lodge has to offer. From the doorstep, you and your guide can set off on a trek through the jungle, visit a nearby Maasai town, or climb Mount Meru.
Tarangire National Park
Tarangire National Park receives significantly less media attention than Ngorongoro and the Serengeti, making it something of a concealed gem. It was an absolute pinnacle of my trip, so please don’t miss it!
Tarangire feels to me like a ‘Land Before Time’. It is a tangled, thorny wilderness dotted with ancient baobab trees and intersected by shallow rivers. Everything about it feels completely archaic. During our safari, we did not encounter a single other vehicle, which added to the enchantment of the experience.
Tarangire is second only to the Serengeti in terms of prevalence of wildlife, so you are assured of a jaw-dropping safari. Tarangire, which is renowned for its population of tree-climbing lions and its vast elephant herds, feels genuinely unspoiled. The sight of a herd of nearly one hundred elephants ambling past us brought tears to my eyes.
I lodged at Maweninga Camp, a remote location within Tarangire National Park. Built atop a massive granite boulder with expansive views of Lake Manyara and Burunge, it is an authentic wilderness retreat. The canvas safari tents are situated on elevated platforms with unobstructed vistas and every creature comfort imaginable. After dinner, you can enjoy a glass of wine while watching the rock dassies cavort around the campfire.
Tarangire to Karatu
Tarangire requires only one night (though if you can stay longer, do so!). This is because the meandering route back to the road from Maweninga Camp is practically a safari. You can spend the morning in Tarangire National Park gazing for animals before leaving the park and traveling to Karatu, a superb base for seeing the Ngorongoro Crater. The arid scrubland of Tarangire will gradually give way to the lush tropical landscape of the Ngorongoro Highlands along the journey. It’s a fantastic transformation!
I slept at Bashay Rift Lodge, which has the atmosphere of an organic farm. The wonderful swimming pool is ideal for a relaxing bath after a long day on the road, and the stunning rooms all have views of the Rift Valley or Lake Eyasi.
I stayed for one night, but if you have the time, I recommend staying for two nights. This will allow you to tour the Ngorongoro Crater and the surrounding surroundings. You can visit the lodge’s organic garden, rent bikes and cycle to adjacent Maasai settlements, or take an excursion to Lake Manyara.
The Ngorongoro Crater is a sight that must be experienced to be believed. The crater base is approximately 100 square miles in size and is home to 25,000 huge animals, making it the world’s largest unbroken caldera. While the majority of the crater is grassy plains, there are many shallow soda ash lakes that attract large flocks of pink flamingos.
The trip into the Crater is also epic, with densely forested hills giving way to a huge savannah teeming with species. It’s incredible, and no wildlife documentary can do it credit.
Even though there are many other safari vehicles in the Ngorongoro Crater, the wildlife roams freely and in large numbers. It’s evident that the animal kingdom is in charge here. We observed lions lounging in the shade, as well as hyenas, warthogs, jackals, and more zebra than we could count.
After a spectacular morning, we ascended out of the Crater and began our trek to the Serengeti, passing through Maasai land. It’s a breathtaking journey. Most visitors travel directly from Ngorongoro to Serengeti National Park, but I recommend stopping around midway at Olduvai Gorge. Olduvai, Tanzania’s ‘Cradle of Mankind,’ is a site that has evidence of our oldest human predecessors, making it one of the most important historical sites on the planet.
Northern Serengeti National Park
You may get to the Serengeti from Olduvai. In many ways, the Serengeti National Park requires no introduction; it is, after all, the world’s most famous wildlife destination. When it comes to the Serengeti, though, you CAN trust the hype.
This enormous natural beauty is comprised of broad grassland plains, rocky outcrops, marshy lakes, rolling green hills, and acacia trees. There’s incredible wildlife wherever you look, from lions, elephants, and giraffes to cheetahs, leopards, hippos, and crocodiles.
We halted for lunch at Ronjo lodge, a modest bush lodge deep in the Serengeti. If you’re seeking for a truly distant ‘Out of Africa’ experience, I highly recommend spending the night here. Elephants frequently pass between the safari tents here, which are tucked away in a little acacia woodland, and after dinner, you may gather around a campfire under the stars of the Serengeti.
We proceeded on to the Grumeti Wildlife Management Area in the afternoon, a less-visited territory on the outskirts of the Serengeti. I slept in Grumeti Hills, a camp built on the area’s highest peak with a lovely swimming pool carved into the rocks and overlooking the lowlands. There is no trace of human development in any direction from the canvas tents. It’s unadulterated wilderness.
Grumeti Hills gives a one-of-a-kind opportunity to go on a night safari with a professional ranger from the local Wildlife Department. The safari vehicles are outfitted with unique lights that do not disturb the wildlife, allowing you to witness the incredible midnight action. You can also go on an exciting walking safari in the morning, learning about medicinal plants and insect life as you go through the bush. It’s an excellent site to round off a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
It’s a short drive from Grumeti to the secluded Ikoma Airstrip, from whence you can fly back to Kilimanjaro or straight to Zanzibar. Leaving the jungle in a small plane is an unforgettable experience – we had to wait for the zebras to clear the runway!
Best of Tanzania Northern Circuit Itinerary
Tanzania simply cannot be described in words. I’ve never been so taken with a destination, and I’d go back in a hurry. I felt like I’d gone on a true journey, full of variety, natural beauty, and wildlife, in just one week.
The magical atmosphere of the lodging gave another dimension of magic to the visit, and the peace-loving Maasai people made me feel truly welcomed. I’m still pinching myself in retrospect. Grab the opportunity to go on safari in Tanzania with both hands. You will not be sorry.
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