On safari in northern Tanzania, you will witness the shocking and
fascinating dance of life and death on daily play; by a combination of wild animals.
Tanzania's natural endowment as a wildlife safari destination is
Wild animals roam in vast areas as God intended on that sixth day of
the creation. These areas are designated as National Parks and Game Reserves and have a
high reputation for being uncrowded and unspoilt.
Tanzania's Northern Circuit
The magnificent collection of game sanctuaries to the north of the
country, near the border with Kenya, is referred to as The Northern Circuit.
This is the most popular and accessible wildlife safari route in
Tanzania and I can positively say that this is one of the finest game viewing areas
anywhere in the world.
The game aside, the spectacularly diverse cluster of Eco-systems and
habitats is a dazzling experience for many a visitor. The stars of the Northern Circuit
are the Serengeti and Ngorongoro, very dear to the hearts of nature lovers. But no less
sparkling and indeed complementing the two are the other members of the circuit: Arusha,
Tarangire and Lake Manyara.
In terms of wildlife, the abundance and diversity of the wildlife here
is difficult to imagine.
On top of the heap are the highly regarded 'big five': elephant,
buffalo, rhino, leopard and lion. And then a wild array of plain animals: wildebeest,
zebra, eland, hartebeest, oryx, reedbuck, giraffe, Thompson gazelle, and many more of the
same genre. But do not forget the merciless predators: cheetah, wild dog, jackal, hyena
The Northern Circuit is an ornithologist's paradise too, with over 500
species of birds are on record.
On safari, you will be a witness of the shocking and fascinating dance
of life and death on daily play by this combination of animals.
The starting point for northern safaris is usually Arusha town.
The town sits near the base of Mount Meru and is in sight of mighty
Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain.
From Arusha, the nearest protected area to see wildlife is Arusha National Park, just 32km away.
In this park of 137sq km area, you will see baboon, colobus and vervet monkeys, duikers,
elephant, buffalo, giraffe, hippo, leopard, hyena, zebra and a wide range of antelopes.
More than 400 species of birds have been recorded, including Eurasian
migrants, who visit between October and April.
One of the unique attractions of the park is that walking safaris are
allowed and you can get off your vehicle for a nature walk. Due to its proximity to
Arusha, the park is very popular for day trips.
Wildlife aside, Arusha National Park is a treasure with a rich
tapestry of habitats including grassland, montane forest, heath and alpine desert and soda
and fresh water lakes. Three spectacular features stand out: the Momela Lakes, Mount Meru,
and Ngurdoto Crater.
Mount Meru stands at 4,575m and is Africa's fourth highest mountain.
It is however overshadowed by nearby Kilimanjaro, which rises above it by over 1,300m. It
is regrettable that the snobbish instinct of many climbers makes them overlook Mt Meru.
The mountain can be scaled in three to four days with overnight accommodation in alpine
Conservation Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere
Reserve, is located in the Great Rift Valley; that monumental fracture of the earth's
The area is filled with volcanoes, mountains, plains, lakes and
forests. Covering 8,288sq km, its main features are the Ngorongoro Crater, the Empakai
crater, the Oldonyo Lengai Mountain and the archaeological site of Olduvai Gorge.
Olduvai Gorge is the prehistoric site where Dr. Louis Leakey
discovered the remains of Homo habilis (Handy man) regarded by scientists as mankind's
first step on the path of human evolution. Be sure to have a look at the remains of our
worthy predecessor, whose valiant industry spurred by necessity, got him making simple
Unlike in the national parks, the colourful Maasai people, their
livestock and wildlife co-exist within the conservation area.
The Ngorongoro Crater is the largest caldera in the world that has
its walls intact.
The crater floor is a drop of 600m and covers an area of 260sq km with
a diameter of 19km. This magnificent natural amphitheatre is a stunning attraction in its
own right and is one of the wonders of the natural world.
The crater supports a year round resident population of a variety of
wildlife. You will have no trouble spotting lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and many
species of plain animals: wildebeest, zebra, reedbuck, Thompson gazelle and many more.
The crater floor is dotted with watering holes and holds almost 30,000
wild animals. Ngorongoro is four hours by road from Arusha or one hour by air. And from
either Lake Manyara or Tarangire you will be on the road for two hours.
National Park spreads between the cliff of the Great Rift Valley and Lake Manyara, a
shallow soda lake. The park covers 330sq. km, 70% of which is occupied by the lake. The
varied ecosystem consists of ground water forests, acacia woodland and open grassland
along the lakeshore and sustains a wealth of wildlife, including the Big Five: lion,
elephant, leopard, rhino and buffalo. Other animals to be seen in the park include
baboons, impala, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, ostrich and hippo.
Lake Manyara is famous for the elusive tree-climbing lions, which can
occasionally be seen along the branches of the acacia trees. It is also an ornithologist's
paradise and is host to over 400 species of birds. The water birds hovering around the
lake include pelicans, spoonbills, Egyptian geese and hammerkops. In addition, migratory
flamingos arrive in hundreds of thousands creating a spectacular sight over the soda lake.
You will arrive at Lake Manyara after driving from Arusha for two
hours, or flying for just half an hour.
National Park is a one and half hour drive from Arusha making it very popular for day
trips.Tarangire is a park of giant baobab trees, rolling savannah and acacia parkland. It
is famous for its dense wildlife population, which is most spectacular in the dry season
between June and September. It is during this period that thousands of animals:
wildebeest, zebra, eland, hartebeest, waterbuck, giraffe, impala, gerenuk, buffalo and
oryx migrate from the dry Maasai steppe to the Tarangire River, in search of water.
The predators: lion, leopard and others (as is the custom in the
savannah) follow closely by. If lucky, you will spot the peculiar tree-climbing python,
kudu and roan antelope; a rare experience in the northern safari circuit. Birds are also
abundant here and over 550 species have been recorded.
Serengeti National Park is
Africa's most famous wildlife sanctuary and Tanzania's largest national park; located 6
hours by road from Arusha, or one hour by air.
It lies in a high plateau between the Ngorongoro highlands and the
Kenya/Tanzania border and almost touches Lake Victoria, in the west.
Appropriately named 'endless plains', by the Maasai people, the
National Park features short and long grass plains, acacia savannah and woodland in parts
of the north and east.
Within its 15,000sq km area, Serengeti hosts 3 million large mammals.
More than 35 species of plain animals: zebra, wildebeest, eland, giraffe, and others are
found here. And so for the big five: elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard and rhino.
The park is the staging-zone for one the most spectacular events in
the natural world: the annual migration of wildebeest. This commences around June; when
over 1 million wildebeest, zebra and gazelle head for the Maasai Mara in Kenya, in search
of pasture. Following on their heels are the predators of the savannah: lion, cheetah,
wild dog, jackal, hyena and vultures.
If you can spare the money, viewing the migration afloat a balloon is
an unforgettable experience.
The best time to view game is from December to May, when the grass is
short. Avoid late June-October, when most of the animals will have evacuated with the
migration and are best seen in the adjacent Maasai Mara in Kenya. The keen ornithologist
will also have a good time, trying to sight the 500 species of birds on record.
Camping sites can be found in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and all
the national parks of the northern circuit. Facilities are pretty basic and this is where
budget travellers prefer to spend their safari nights.
If you can afford it, overnight at the luxury safari lodges and tented
camps. In this class of accommodation expect to find all the creature comforts associated
with rated accommodation.
It is generally recommended to take an escorted Tanzania
safari package that includes transport, guide, park fees and accommodation.
Tour guides have valuable local knowledge about the animals, where to
find them and how to get where you are going. But if you know the country well and have
good knowledge of animals, then self-drive car
rental in Tanzania is also an option.
The relatively high elevation in northern Tanzania means that it never
gets too hot. Indeed the nights and early mornings can be quite chilly. You are well
advised to take along a heavy sweater and a windbreaker or jacket.
Expect temperatures to average from 15�C in May to August and 22�C
over December to March.
The weather is best between June and September, but do not bet on
seeing any animals in the Serengeti. For a safari covering all the parks of northern
Tanzania, September to March is a good time. But remember that some of the other parks in
the region offer nearly year round game viewing opportunities.
April and May can be a challenging period for doing a safari; for it
is when the weather is at its rainiest.
On safari, bright coloured clothing may get you in trouble with wild
animals. If you are wise you will pack brown, beige and khaki clothing. Short sleeve
shirts, shorts and trouser for men are adequate. For ladies, short sleeve blouses, slacks
and skirts are ideal.
Though the northern region is well outside the predominantly Muslim
coast areas and ladies do not have to dress too conservatively, modest attire is still a
Remember to bring along a pair of sunglasses, to shield you from the
sometimes harsh tropical glare. Binoculars will come in very handy for spotting animals
and a telephoto lens on your camera will give better shots.
By Andrew Muigai.
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