Like many people, a Tanzanian safari had been on my bucket list for as long as I could remember.
I have visited Tanzania a handful of times. I am now lucky enough to live here, right on the doorstep of some of its major national parks. As a result, I have a few safaris under my belt now. YAY for the perks of working for a safari company!
Every day I get asked about what makes an ideal Tanzania safari itinerary. The great thing about northern Tanzania is all of its parks are unique and have something different to offer.
But choosing the right length of time all depends on what your goals are.
Personally, for me, 4 to 5 days is enough time to see plenty of wildlife in the main areas. Especially if you are camping; by the fifth day you may be desperate for a long, warm shower. Plus your bum might be starting to feel a little sore from all the bumpy African roads!
If seeing the wildebeest migration is your dream, then you may wish to add more days in the Serengeti. (Note – it’s important to plan your safari at the right time of year during the migration. But more on that below!).
However, if you are interested in just seeing the highlights, the following safari itinerary is a good place to start.
My Perfect 5 Day Tanzania Safari Itinerary
Pick your accommodation package: First things first. When planning a safari, there are usually two main accommodation options. You can either choose a basic package and sleep in portable tents at public campsites located within or outside the park. Or if you prefer a little more comfort, you can pick from a wide variety of lodges/luxury tented camps. Below I have included a few of my own recommendations for budget-friendly lodges.
Where should you stay before and after your safari? The ideal place to start your safari is either in Moshi or Arusha, two towns located in northern Tanzania. Arusha is closer so will save more on driving time. However, Moshi is also an ideal base for anyone interested in other cultural/nature activities or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. So it’s worth factoring this in when you decide which town you would like to start from.
Day 1: Moshi/Arusha to Tarangire National Park
In the morning, you will get picked up from your hotel and driven to the first stop on the safari, Tarangire National Park. Often considered Tanzania’s most underrated park, the Tarangire is one of Africa’s gems, known for its huge Baobab trees and large herds of elephants.
The park owes its name to Tarangire River which flows across the area and attracts high numbers of animals during the dry months. Its sparse vegetation scattered with Acacia trees and mixed woodland makes it a beautiful location.
Here, up to 300 elephants can be found, looking for underground streams in the riverbeds. During the drier months, migratory wildebeest, zebra, and buffalo can also be seen crowding the shrinking lagoons.
Best time to visit: Tarangire is excellent year-round for game viewing. However, during the dry season (August to October) the wildlife is at its most concentrated and wildlife viewing is best. You may find some safari operators will advise skipping this park during the wetter months (April to June). This is because overgrown vegetation will make it more difficult to see some animals.
Most common animals: elephants, giraffes, hippos, buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, lion
Day 2 – Tarangire to Serengeti National Park
On the second day, you will drive to one of the most famous game parks in Africa, the Serengeti! Known to host one of the most incredible wildlife spectacles on earth – the great migration of wildebeest and zebra – the Serengeti’s vast plains and grasslands are also home to a haven of other wildlife, including lions, cheetahs, leopards, and many other predators.
Stretching across 14,763 sq km, it is impossible to see it all in just one day. But this itinerary includes two game drives, which is a good amount of time to see the best of the Serengeti.
As for the scenery? It is truly mind-blowing and is definitely the place to be if you want to feel like you are in the heart of the African bush. When the weather is hot and dry, the savannah is a dusty sunburnt red. Then after the rains have visited, the plains transform to lush, green grassland dotted with pretty wildflowers and blooming Fig and Acacia trees.
Best time to visit: A Serengeti safari offers top wildlife viewing all year-round. However, if your goal is to witness the wildebeest migration, you need to time it right. The wildebeest migration takes one full year to complete before the cycle starts again. This means there is a good chance you can witness it throughout the year. But certain highlights only occur in certain months. For instance, dramatic river crossings occur between July and August in the far west. And calving season starts from December to March. Between April and June, you’ll find huge herds migrating to the Grumeti region before making their way back to Kenya. Click here to see an interactive map illustrating the wildebeest migration’s typical movements.
Most common animals: elephants, giraffes, hippos, buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, lion, cheetah, hyena, ostrich.
Day 3: Serengeti to Ngorongoro Highlands
After spending a night in the heart of the African bush, you will rise early and hopefully catch a glimpse of lions and other predators on their morning hunt during your first game drive.
After brunch, you’ll then leave the park and go for the final game drive in the Serengeti while on your way to Ngorongoro Crater. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is often labeled one of the most beautiful and unique places in Africa.
The Ngorongoro Crater was once a huge supervolcano that stood higher than Mount Kilimanjaro. However, over three million years ago the volcano erupted. This caused it to implode, covering the Serengeti in ash while the crater floor sank into the mountain. It is now the world’s largest complete volcanic caldera, with a rim of just over 600 meters.
Today you won’t be venturing into the crater itself. You will head straight to your lodge or campsite where you can enjoy epic views from the crater rim.
Day 4: Ngorongoro Crater
Today you’ll rise early in the morning to descend to the floor of the crater and get up close with one of Africa’s seven natural wonders! When you enter the crater floor, you will really feel like you have never seen anything quite like it. There is so much life in one single space. For the Maasai, who arrived there two thousand years ago, they call it “el-Nkoronkoro”, which means “gift of life”
Amidst the haven of African wildlife, you might also be lucky enough to witness the endangered black rhino. It is not unusual to see the Big Five in one day at Ngorongoro – and all this in the most amazing setting with a backdrop of the 600m high crater wall.
You will also get the chance to enjoy a picnic lunch down by the hippo pool before leaving the crater and making your way to the outskirts of Lake Manyara.
Best time to visit: You can spot wildlife down on the crater floor at any time of year. But the viewing is better during the dry season (June to October) when the undergrowth has receded and animals tend to gather around waterholes and riverbeds. However, if you do travel in the wetter months, there are fewer tourists and you might be able to find some good rates on accommodation.
Most common animals: elephants, black rhino, hippos, buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, lion, cheetah, hyena, lesser flamingo
Day 5: Ngorongoro Crater to Lake Manyara to Moshi/Arusha
In the morning, you will drive to Lake Manyara National Park, which is located within the Great Rift Valley.
Lake Manyara boasts a spectacular scenery – its lush groundwater forest, makes it a nice change of scenery from the more savannah-dominated parks. Lake Manyara is also famous for its alkaline lake, which covers a large area of the park. Time the season right and you’ll be rewarded by sights of thousands of flamingos and over 500 other bird species.
Like the Tarangire, the park has a large elephant population. However, the park is most well-known for its tree-climbing lions, although spotting them can be difficult.
In the afternoon, you will then drive back to Moshi or Arusha where your safari ends.
Best time to visit: Seeing wildlife in Lake Manyara National Park is good all year, but at its best during the dry season, from late June to October. However, personally, I think this park really springs to life during the wetter months (April to early June) when the vegetation is lush and waterfalls cascade down the escarpment.
Most common animals: monkeys, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, buffaloes, elephants, lesser flamingoes, lions
Have you ever been on a safari adventure in Tanzania? What were your favourite national parks? Let us know your suggestions below!
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