North, South or West - Which is the best Tanzania safari?
Where to go in Tanzania
06 Mar 2022
13 Dec 2022
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One of the most common challenges that come from planning a Tanzania safari is the vastness of the country and deciding where to go. Naturally, the north of the country gets the most exposure in travel magazines and on television owing to the Great Migration which works its way through the Serengeti each year, as well as iconic areas such as the Ngorongoro Crater and Mount Kilimanjaro. However, both the south and west of the country have their own significant merits whether you are a first time visitor to Tanzania, or an old hand looking to have new and exciting experiences. A few advantages of each of the specific regions is helpful in establishing where to go and what to see whilst you are there.
Traditionally the most popular part of the country with first-time visitors to Tanzania, the classic “Northern Circuit” can include visits to Arusha, the Tarangire and Lake Manyara National Parks, the Ngorongoro Crater and the iconic Serengeti National Park. Accessible by vehicle and by air, this is a truly dramatic part of the country which has some hidden spots that are appealing to repeat visitors to Tanzania as well.
Classic highlights such as Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti - these big hitters are popular for a reason. Phenomenal game viewing and diverse scenery, if you want a 'classic' Tanzania experience then the North is probably for you.
The Great Migration – The Great Wildebeest Migration which traverses through Tanzania's Serengeti and Kenya’s Masai Mara is one of the most famous wildlife spectacles of the natural world. With the Great Migration making its way through the Serengeti throughout the year there is always somewhere that you can see this natural phenomenon whatever time of year you choose to travel.
Spot the Big Five - elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo and leopard - these can all be found in the northern circuit with many in the Serengeti and rhinos on the Ngorongoro Crater floor.
Easy to get around – the entire Northern Circuit is accessible by vehicle meaning getting to lodges is easy and you can keep costs down.
Plenty of choice – as the most popular part of the country there are a huge number of lodges to choose from, again helping to keep costs down with the competition also helping to keep standards high.
Sheer variety – all of the parks in northern Tanzania are very different from one another meaning an incredibly varied and interesting experience, especially for first-time visitors.
Combine a safari with climbing Kilimanjaro or visiting the gorillas in Rwanda.
Make it different - just because northern Tanzania is the most visited part of the country, it doesn't mean that you can't make the experience your own and create a more 'off-the-beaten track' feel by including some activities such as walking and biking that take you away from other people.
One of the major drawbacks of the northern circuit is that it is a victim of its own success. Due to its popularity, it can, particularly in peak season, become very crowded, accommodation expensive and you need to book a long time in advance.
This incredible Northern Tanzania family safari holiday ticks all those boxes and more, giving you the chance to explore remote parts of the Serengeti where few others have ever visited, as well as the stunning Lake Manyara National Park and the iconic Ngorongoro Crater.
The vast expanses of southern Tanzania are often regarded as a second-time destination or somewhere that appeals to experienced safari-goers owing to their ruggedness, although first-time visitors do find the area very rewarding as well. Accessed from Dar es Salaam, this is a part of the world that you need to fly into owing to the distances involved and the very poor road network. Highlights include the game-rich Ruaha and Nyere National Parks, as well as the less well-known areas such as Mikumi National Park and Mufindi Highlands.
Escape the crowds – far less popular than the north of the country, Southern Tanzania offers the chance to get away from the crowds and enjoy safaris of old deep in the wilderness. Getting off the beaten track can make you feel like you are really exploring and make more a more exciting adventure.
Unique experiences – compared to northern Tanzania, the southern parks have fewer restrictions in place on activities. In Selous and Ruaha, you can experience walking safaris with expert guides, as well as enjoying night game drives which can be extremely exciting and give you a chance to spot nocturnal animals. In Selous, the highlight is a boat safari on the River Rufiji or a hot air balloon safari, and for the adventurous, you can even try a night under canvas in a fly camp.
Plenty of game - Selous Game Reserve is the largest in Africa (twice the size of Belgium) but visitor numbers are much lower than the Serengeti, which ensures that you have a quieter, more exclusive safari experience. With an elephant population of 50,000 and approx. 5000 leopards in the park the Selous offers some of the best game viewing experiences in Tanzania.
Incredible lodges – as the region has become better-known lodge operators have invested heavily in their southern Tanzania operations, building some of the country’s finest lodges in the region.
Superb guides – the wild nature of the south, as well as the varied wildlife means it is a highly desirable place for guides to spend part of their career, meaning some of the continent’s best guides can be found operating in Ruaha and Nyere.
Close to Dar Es Salam which is where flights depart from to go to Zanzibar.
Trip Idea: Selous and Fanjove Island
12 days from £4,445pp.
If you like off-the-beaten-track then this safari takes you to the quieter Selous Game Reserve followed by some beach time on a private island.
A far less well-known part of the country, western Tanzania has long been the refuge of true safari aficionados, beloved for its truly wild parks, endless lakes and forested mountains. Generally, this isn’t a first-time destination (although there is no reason why it shouldn’t be) and attracts visitors for experiences that can be enjoyed in few other parts of Africa. The Katavi and Mahale Mountains National Parks are the best-known parts of the west, but areas such as Gombe and Rubondo Island also have considerable merits.
Private experiences – only a handful of visitors make their way here every year as only two flights a week operate from Arusha via Dar es Salaam. This means you are sharing camps and activities with few other guests, meaning a truly incredible safari experience.
Wide open spaces – the Katavi National Park is home to just three permanent camps, meaning you are able to enjoy game drives with little chance of seeing other vehicles and having to share the experiences with them.
Life-affirming encounters – from seeing lion hunting buffalo on the floodplains of the Katavi River to trekking to chimps in the misty forests of the Mahale Mountains National Park, the experiences on offer in the west are truly unique and ones to treasure forever.
A sense of history – regarded as one of the most important wildlife researchers of our time, the great Jane Goodall was based in Gombe for many years and a visit to the west allows you to learn more about the research that she did into chimpanzees.
All of the north, south and west have great merits which make them fantastic and rewarding safari destinations, there is no 'right' choice as it depends what you are looking for. If you'd like some help planning your Tanzania safari and to decide on which is right for you, call us on 01768 603 715 or get in touch with our quick and easy enquiry form.
Every holiday we make it tailored to your requirements and created from scratch so we can create the perfect safari for you, or for more inspiration, take a look at our 26 best safari holiday ideas.