What is the best safari in Tanzania?
When deciding where to go for your safari, there is quite a choice in Tanzania!
That said, there are two main options. The first is the northern parks of the Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Parks. The second option is the southern parks of the Selous Game Reserve and Ruaha National Park. Both options offer exceptional game viewing experiences with a range of activities on offer but they are each slightly different in their experience, logistics and cost.
The northern parks are definitely more famous. The Serengeti National Park is the iconic picture when one thinks of ‘Africa’. The Serengeti shares the same ecosystem as the Masai Mara in Kenya, but is five times the size so it is much quieter (although it can still get pretty busy in certain areas and times of the year). Another thing to note about the Serengeti is that it is famous for, and to a degree, centered around the wildebeest migration herds.
Along with the Okavango Delta in Botswana and the Masai Mara in Kenya, the grassland plains of the Serengeti is one of the most famous places in Africa to go for a safari. The main key to coming here is in understanding the migration movement. The herds of wildebeest move annually on a fairly predictable pattern and the reason for their movement is down to the rain fall patterns and feeding grounds that are available.
Located just to the east of the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater is always included in an itinerary to the north of Tanzania. The Ngorongoro Crater was once a volcano at around 6,000m, but today, the crater of today is a mere 2,400, having blasted the rest out across the southern plains of the Serengeti. This is one of the reasons that the wildebeest herds like this area so much, due to the rich mineral content of the grass).
From a logistics point of view, you can either combine both the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti National Park in a driving itinerary (with your own private vehicle and guide), or fly up to the northern plains of the Serengeti and do half driving/flying to combine an itinerary. This usually makes up a 5 or 6 day safari.
If you wanted to make it longer, you could add on Tarangire National Park. This park is best visited between the dry season (July-October) and is famed for its elephant herds, both lesser and great Kudu to be seen, plentiful lion, leopard and cheetah, as well as a variety of interesting habitats and accommodations.
In summary, the northern parks will give you the big game numbers and if you are in the right place at the right time, it will give you the migration herds which is definitely a sight to see. Most people immediately plan to go to the northern parks to ‘tick off’ the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater as they are parks that make a Tanzania safari famous. The downside is that this ‘fame’ of the parks means that they are much busier. There is a large number of camps, lodges and larger hotel chains that have set up in these areas which naturally brings in more people and vehicle numbers.
I usually say to clients that the main reason to visit the Ngorongoro Crater is for the landscapes and experience of travelling down into the crater, and also the possibility of seeing rhino, but it is important that you clients know that it is extremely busy down there nowadays and sometimes you will see more vehicle than game numbers!
In comparison, the southern parks are much quieter and as they are off the ‘beaten track’. The benefits of heading to the south is that, where the very north of the Serengeti gives the numbers of game, along with some seclusion, the southern parks are still very much “frontier” parks and so are noticeably less busy (they also feature the same spread of species as the north, but more like a thousand, rather than 2 million). The second important point is that, where the average lodge cost in the north is around $900 per person per night, the lodges in the south, where they offer a similar experience, are around $2-300 less. The third, and for me, most important reason to consider the southern parks is that, where the northern safaris are vehicle based throughout, the southern parks will allow you to walk, boat and drive, giving you a much fuller experience.
From a logistics point of view from the southern parks, you will fly in and out of each park and your safaris will be on a shared basis. In the Selous, you can do boat safaris, game drives and walking safaris which gives you a varied experience.
To summarise, both parks will give you a great safari experience but consider what type of safari you want when you start the process. If you want to stay away from crowds and want to stay in smaller tented camps with an authentic experience feel to them, then the southern parks is the best option. If you want to see large game numbers and tick off the migration herds, then the northern parks are your go to! Both parks are accessible throughout the year although the rainy season is April and May so I would avoid these months.
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