Bush to Beach Circuit 17- 20 days proposed loop

Arusha > Tarangire > Lake Manyara > Ngorongoro > Lake Eyasi > Moshi > Western Usumbaras > Pangani > Northern Usumbaras > Lake Chala > Arusha National Park

Where in the world can you combine world class wildlife viewing, visiting ancient tribal villages, hiking to snow-capped mountain peaks, and a swim in the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, into one epic Roadtrip? In Tanzania, with Roadtrip Tanzania. This proposed loop will show you all of that, and much more…. You just need to Rent a car and drive your own adventure.

Start of your road trip: Arusha - Tarangire National Park

Tarangire National Park is located 100 km southwest of Arusha, about 7 km off the main Arusha – Dodoma road, and the turn off at Kwa Kuchinja is clearly signposted. The road is tarred and in perfect condition and the journey takes less than 2 hours. After lunch at your camp, it’s time to bite the dust for your first self-drive safari in Tarangire National Park!

Tarangire lies within the Central Rift Valley, a semi-arid region inhabited by various traditional pastoralists, most famously the Maasai, who live in the immediate vicinity of the national park, but also the Barabaig and other sub groups of the Datoga further southwest. Tarangire National Park is best known for its density of baobab trees and large herds of elephants.

4x4 rental Tanzania toyota Rav4
Roadtrippers seeking some shade under the baobab tree.

Our recommended places to stay: Whistling Thorn (budget - $172 dbl / HB), a tented nature camp just outside the park boundary. Tarangire Safari Lodge (luxury - $360 dbl / FB), boasting a prime location inside the park on a cliff overlooking the river. Wayo Africa operates a Green Camp (luxury - $ 250 pp / FB) inside the park from June to November. Set up at the river bank, you're sure to see plenty of elephants from your tent in search of water during the dry season. Maramboi is a high-end lodge but with $315 dbl / FB excellent value for money. It is set outside the park boundaries between Tarangire and Manyara National Park, in a conservation area rattling with wildlife. Pitching your tent is possible at Wild Palm Campsite (075 8439799), run down and no facilities, but it sure has charm. Bring your own food. Or Zion Campsite (0765870079) near the gate, with slightly better facilities. You can order basic meals at their canteen. 

Tarangire - Mto wa Mbu - Lake Manyara

 Park permits are valid for 24 hours but only allow you to enter once.

Things-to-do Mto wa Mbu

  • Visit the local crafts market
  • Village walk organised by the community
  • Walk through the ground water forest in Kirurumu George (Wayo Africa)
  • Mountain biking down the Rift Valley (Wayo Africa)

Spend another day in Tarangire or, after early morning safari and breakfast, hit the road to Lake Manyara National Park. From Arusha, it’s a  120 km on a smooth tarred road in perfect condition. Coming from Tarangire, it’s even closer by and the road is also in perfect condition.

The main entrance gate to the park is at the outskirts of the unpronounceable village Mto wa Mbu (try it...) meaning "river of mosquito’’. Despite its unappealing name, it is an inviting, tropical town with a laid back Rastafari vibe well worth spending an extra day. This village sees a large volume of tourist traffic, so it’s well stocked with various tourist paraphernalia. It is said to be the only place in Tanzania where representatives of 120 Tanzanian tribes are resident! An exciting aspect of the Lake Manyara area is the opportunity to stretch your legs. 

There are many good accommodation options to suit all budgets. Our favourites in the budget range: Panorama Safari Camp, set on a prime location on the escarpment overlooking Lake Manyara. You can pitch your own tent, sleep in theirs ($20pp / BB) or sleep in an "African Igloo’’ ($ 25 pp / BB). Twiga Campsite & Lodge is an efficiently organized place in Mto wa Mbu Village. They have a large lawn where you can pitch your own tent or stay in a no frills but decently priced banda  ($ 60-100 dbl / BB). There is a swimming pool. If you want a bit more upmarket, opt for Migunga Forest Camp, ($220 dbl / HB) a mid-range tented camp set under the canopy of a forest of acacia trees. The pick of the bunch for those who can afford it is undoubtedly Manyara Green Camp, set on a secluded river bank inside Manyara National Park. Superlatives are needed to describe the setup, service and ambince of this little, intimate eco-camp ($ 250 pp / FB). 

Lake Manyara National Park

Lake Manyara is a shallow soda lake set at the base of the Western Rift Valley Escarpment. The northwestern lakeshore and its hinterland are protected in a scenic national park. Manyara is one of Tanzania’s smallest parks, yet boasts a very diverse flora & fauna - savanna, acacia woodland, rocks, grassy floodplains and tropical rainforest. The park offers suburb birding and guided walking safaris along the shore to the hot springs and flamingo lookout point is highly recommended. Best to go early in the morning. Start at Endabash Ranger post, 1 hour drive south from main entrance gate. ($ 20 pp / 2.5h). Manyara is also the only park in the Northern Circuit where night game drives are allowed, operated by Wayo Africa.  

Herd of giraffes running along Lake Manyara, a spectacular sight
African giraffes running at the beach of Lake Manyara. See for yourself on a safari with Roadtrip Tanzania

Drive to Karatu, Crater Highlands and Ngorongoro

Karatu is a convenient base for visiting Ngorongoro and the Crater Highlands (Lodware gate is 14 km ahead), all the more if you want to economise on entrance fees and the high prices charged by lodges on the crater rim. The town lies about 30 km from Mto wa Mbu on a smooth asphalt road. If you come directly from Arusha, the drive takes about 2 hours. 

Things-to-do Crater Highlands

  • Self-drive safari on the crater floor
  • Guided (multiple) day hikes
  • Mountainbiking
  • Visiting a coffee farm

The choice of accommodation in and around Karatu is enormous. Our favourite picks: Octagon Lodge ($150dbl / HB) or Eileen’s Trees Inn ($150dbl / HB), both mid-range options in a quiet suburb in Karatu. Spacious, charming cottages set in a nice landscaped garden. Eileen Trees has an inviting swimming pool. Pitching your own tent is allowed at Octagon. For those that rather like to stay more remote and rural, Crater Forest Tented Camp is a nice mid-range option and best combined with a visit to the adjacent coffee estates ($225 dbl / HB).  Rhotia Valley Tented Lodge & Children’s Home, tucked far away on a hill top in the hinterlands of Karatu is a lodge with a story. Run as a social enterprise, 20% of the revenue goes to the orphanage. ($ 310 dbl /HB). Ngorongoro Farm House (upmarket), is situated on a large coffee farm, about halfway between Karatu and the NCA. This stylish lodge evokes the ambience of an old English farmhouse and offers accommodation in luxurious cottages ($ 330 dbl / FB).

If you want to camp near the entrance gate, Doffa Campsite is your budget pick, just outside Karatu town on your right. Leafy campground, but no further facilities, so bring your own food. Flamingo Lodge in town is a rather tasteless lodge, but with a good campsite and a fantastic pool!

Ngorongoro Crater self drive safari

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the flagship of Tanzania's tourism industry and is most famous for and named after the Ngorongoro Crater. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The crater is the world's largest intact volcanic caldera and is the only place in the world where you have a very high chance to see the 'Big 5' in one day. All this beauty does come at a price. The conservation fee is US$ 60 pp / 24 hours. If you want to enter the crater, you have to pay the additional Crater Service Fee of US$ 200 per vehicle each time you go down the crater. It can get very crowded during high season, with vehicles waiting in line for an hour or longer, before they can descend into the crater. Self drive at the crater floor is not common. Read more about the Ngorongoro Crater and how to organize and pay for your crater permits.

It's rattling with wildlife on the Ngorongoro Crater floor.
Ngorongoro Crater Floor

The Ngorongoro Crater is the main focal point of tourist attraction in the NCA, but the highlands boast other, less visited extinct volcanoes and calderas, such as Empakaai crater and Oldupai Gorge. Trekking in the crater highlands is an adventurous, off the beaten track activity. Read more here

Drive to Lake Eyasi

Lake Eyasi is a shallow soda lake at the remote southern border of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and lies at the base of the 800m Eyasi Escarpment. It’s a 2 hour drive from Karatu, mostly on rough, rocky roads, so drive carefully and slowly, as back-up support in case of a car problem is not quickly organised in this remote setting...!

Crusted soils at Lake Eyasi, with Roadtrip Tanzania
Crusty soils at the base of Lake Eyasi

Lake Eyasi is a recommended off the beaten track deviation for anyone looking for something remote and  different, and a cultural highlight because of the unique opportunity to hunt with the Hadza tribe. They are Tanzania’s only remaining tribe of true hunter-gatherers. Their language is characterized by clicks, reminiscent of Southern Africa’s San. The Hadza live in nomadic family bands and they live on what nature provides. Hunting with poisoned arrows and honey gathering are generally male activities, while women and children collect roots, seeds and fruit. We joined the Hadza on a hunt and were still flabbergasted the following days. That this can still exist in the 21st century... Read more in our cultural safaris section. 

On your day of arrival, we recommend you explore the lake and take a refreshment at Kisima Ngeda (read below) and reserve the next day for cultural activities as these start early in the morning. Accommodation options are limited. Tindiga Tented Camp ( $ 225 dbl / HB), is a no frills yet comfortable and welcoming tented camp. Kisima Ngeda is an upmarket lodge at the lake shore. The setup is absolutely stunning, with a natural hot spring at the heart of the property creating an lush oasis of doum palms. For those who can afford it: prices are around US$ 500 / dbl. You receive great discounts if you book their property as part of a car & accommodation package with Roadtrip Tanzania. Alternatively, Kisima has an adjacent campsite. Facilities are very basic, but if you consume at the lodge, you are allowed to enjoy their facilities.

Visit Hadzabe and Datoga tribes

The Lake Eyasi Cultural Tourism Programme regulates tourism in the area. You can find the office at the main road, when entering Mang’ola coming from Karatu. You need to stop here to pay the mandatory entrance fee of $ 20 / vehicle and it is also where all activities and guides must be arranged. Joining the Hadza on a hunt means getting up at 5:00 AM. You return to your lodge around 10:30 AM for your breakfast. The hunting men are fast and will not wait for you, so some level of fitness is required. Other cultural encounters on offer are visiting a Datoga blacksmith or a Datoga family band. Prices are $ 20 for the activity and $ 30 for the guide / group. 

Hadzaba men making fire
Visit tribes on a self drive in Tanzania

Drive to Arusha / Moshi

Allow 4 to 5 hours to drive from Lake Eyasi to Arusha and add an hour if you want to spend the night in Moshi. Arusha has plenty of cafes, restaurants and gift shops catering to expatriates, tourists and wealthier locals, which can be a welcome relief after spending a few days in the bush. Moshi boasts a wide selection of decent budget and some mid-range hotels. The somewhat misleadingly named suburb of Shantytown is the best area to stay in Moshi. Consult your Bradt Guide that comes with the Roadtrip car for the complete overview and check out our Arusha & Surroundings page for recommendations on what to do, where to stay and eat here.

Drive to Western Usambaras

It’s a very scenic 5 hour drive from Moshi to Lushoto, the principal town of the Western Usambaras. Roads are in good condition, with hardly any traffic, but be alert for the many speedbumps. You will pass through extensive sisal plantations, with the Pare Mountains towering on the left. From Mombo, the road starts climbing to Lushoto.

Mountainbiking in Tanzania. Usambara Mountains with Roadtrip Tanzania
Mountainbiking in the Western Usambara Mountains

There are many affordable places to stay in Lushoto. If you are a camper, stay at Irente Farm. They are known, far beyond Lushoto, for there scrumptious farm breakfast of homemade bread, jam, cheeses and muesli. They also provide budget accommodation in a family house, double and  dormitory.

New Karibuni Lodge (Tsh 50,000 dbl / BB), in town is a small guesthouse set in an old colonial house run by a charismatic Scandinavian Lady. The vibe is homely and very reggae. Every Wednesday and Saturday is jam night with bonfire.

Swiss Cottage Farm ($35-$50pp / BB) is another peaceful retreat set on a working farm in Magamba Forest area.

Explore Western Usambaras

Lushoto resembles an Alpine village, yet set in an African context that is. The town peaked during colonial times, and many of the buildings on the main street date to the early 20th century when Lushoto, then known as Wilhelmstal, provided weekend relief for German settlers farming the dry, dusty Maasai Steppes below. The area is fantastic for (multiple) day hikes and biking, passing through villages, colourful markets, farmland and some scenic lookout point. Some farms, mostly still run by Germans and Swiss, cater to day visitors and provide delicious, homegrown food.

Let us know if you go to the Usambaras and we bring you in contact with our local guide, Abu

Explore the Usambara's with Abu, our guide

A snapshot of the activities on offer:

  • walk from Lushoto to Irente viewpoint (12 kms, $ 20pp incl. lunch at Irente farm)
  • full day walk ( $ 35pp), biking to Mkuzi waterfall ( $35pp)
  • 2 day bike trip from Lushoto to Mtae in the Northern Usumbara’s or ($ 110pp, incl bike and accommodation).

A snapshot of the activities on offer: walk from Lushoto to Irente viewpoint (12 kms, $ 20pp incl. lunch at Irente farm);  full day walk ($ 35pp), biking to Mkuzi waterfall ($35pp), 2 day bike trip from Lushoto to Mtae in the Northern Usumbaras or to Mazumbai forest ($ 110pp, incl bike and accommodation). 

Drive to Pangani – the coast

Kipepeo beach campsite

Exciting day ahead – we are going to the Indian Ocean! From African Alpine villages to Swahili coastal towns, what a change. It’s around a 4 hour drive from Lushoto to Pangani. The road from Lushoto to the tiny village of Pongwe is tarred and in good condition. From there, you turn off the main road onto a minor road which is dusty and rocky, so drive carefully.

Pangani used to be an important trading port during the slave heydays, noticeable from a number of crumbling colonial buildings, and it has a profound traditional Swahili culture. Whilst the town itself remains little developed, the surrounding coast has witnessed a strong growth in beach resorts in recent years. Zanzibar becomes overcrowded, so people are increasingly looking at the unspoiled mainland coastline, with its endless white beaches, coconut palm trees and blue waters.

Things to do at Pangani, beyond sipping cocktails

  • Dhow cruise
  • Diving & Snorkel trips
  • Game fishing
  • Windsurfing, kite surfing and kayaking
  • Sunset cruise up the Pangani River
  • Community run walking tours
  • Safari to Sadaani National Park
  • More details on our Pangani page

Up to date, the area receives little tourists and is mainly known among the East African expatriate community. But this is bound to change in the future. So this is the time to visit this paradise; friendly people, no hawkers, no resorts, but intimate family run lodges and campsites. Our favourite picks north of Pangani are Peponi Holiday Resort and the adjacent Capricorn Beach Cottages, both very friendly, owner managed places, right on the beach and great value for money. Peponi has a good restaurant, beach bar and small swimming pool. You can either pitch your tent – the resort has fantastic facilities for campers – or sleep in a banda (mid-range). Next door is Capricorn, known far beyond Pangani for their fantastic pizzas. We dare to say, the best pizza in Tanzania! Accommodation is in stylish self-catering beach cottages. They operate a small deli store on site, where you can buy banquette, cheeses, seafood and a range of basic essentials for your Do-It-Yourself BBQ.

Just south of Pangani, after crossing the river by ferry lies Ushongo Bay. Our favourites are Emanyani Beach Lodge and the Beach Crab Resort. Emanyani (mid-range) has a number of airy, stylish beach chalets, made entirely from organic materials and spaced out along a beautiful, deserted beach at Ushungo. Next door is Kasa Divers, offering a range of activities. The Beach Crab (budget) owned by a lovely German couple, is a very laid back place, offering a range of budget accommodation options,  camping, simple beach huts or bungalows with en suite bathroom. Don’t miss out on their breakfast, one of the best we had in Tanzania!

Ushongo Bay
Ushongo Bay

Drive to Northern Usambaras

Be prepared for a full day of driving, so wake up and leave very early. We are heading back to the mountains, but this time the Northern Usambaras.

Northern Usambara Mountains
Northern Usambaras

The far North is undoubtedly the most scenic part of the Usambaras, where the high escarpment offer breathtaking views over the Mkomazi Plains deep down (1.3 km!) below. There is hardly no tourism and chances are slim you find a local person who speaks English.

Stay in either Mambo Viewpoint Eco Lodge or the adjacent cheapy sister Mambo Cliff In, both situated on a cliff at an altitude of 1,900m on the outskirts of Mambo village. The Dutch owners of Mambo Viewpoint Eco Lodge are a great source of information on culture, birding, hiking and biking possibilities in the region. They have developed a number of itineraries, which can be undertaken on your own with a GPS or with a guide. Also the grassroots organization Friends of the Usumbaras and the Bradt Travel Guide that comes with the Roadtrip car provides detailed information about the region.

Drive to Lake Chala

If you have the time, spend a night at Lake Chala, another hidden gem when coming from Mambo en route to Moshi. If you don’t have the time, you can return in one day to Arusha. For both options, it’s a full driving day, so leave really early in the morning.

Lake Chala is a beautiful caldera lake, on the eastern flank of Mount Kilimanjaro, 30 km east of Moshi near the Kenyan border. The only place to stay is Lake Chala Safari Camp, situated on a large private estate on the crim. Tanzania has many good campsites, but this one is definitely in our top three! Clean bathroom facilities, cooking and BBQ areas, outdoor lighting, plenty of sitting areas and they make you a campfire in the evening… and all that for $ 10 / pp. Also, they have a number of tastefully appointed, luxury safari tents ($ 230 dbl / FB).

Drive to Arusha

Enjoy a morning swim in the lake and continue to Arusha to drop off the car. It’s about 3 hours drive. Check our Arusha page for recommendations on what to do, where to stay and eat in Arusha here. 

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