Highlights of the North

Arusha > Tarangire > Manyara > Ngorongoro > Eyasi > Arusha National Park

Tanzania is truly a country of highlights and Africa’s ultimate safari destination. The entire country is gifted by Mother Nature, but the Northern region really is the spoiled kid. You tumble from one legendary safari destination to another, all within a stone's throw distance. For those who love wildlife, have limited time or want to combine it with a Serengeti, Kilimanjaro or Zanzibar add-on, and are not on a budget, the Northern Circuit makes an unforgettable road trip destination. Rent a car in Tanzania 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.

Laura loves the baobab in Tanzania, with Roadtrip Tanzania
The baobab, a secret precious tree for the Masaai

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 for water during the dry season. Maramboi is a high-end lodge but at $315 dbl / FB is 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 definitely 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 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 volumes 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, ($220 dbl / HB) a mid-range tented camp set under the canopy of a forest of acacia trees. The pick of the bunch for those who can afford it is undoubtedly Manyara Green Camp, set on a secluded river bank inside Manyara National Park. Superlatives are needed to describe the set-up, service and ambience of this little, intimate eco-camp ($ 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 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.  

Flamingo's at Lake Manyara National Park
Flamingos at Lake Manyara National Park. See for yourself with a drive 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 quite 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 prefer 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 ($225 dbl / HB).  Rhotia Valley Tented Lodge & Children’s Home, tucked far away on a hill top in the hinterlands of Karatu is a lodge with a story. Run as a social enterprise, 20% of the revenues goes to the orphanage. ($ 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 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.

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 backup 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

Return to Arusha

Allow 4 to 5 hours to drive from Lake Eyasi to Arusha. For first time visitors to Africa, Arusha is an agreeable introduction to urban Africa. It is an organized, green town, with a skyline dominated by the imposing Mount Meru. There are plenty of trendy 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. While most tour operators treat Arusha as little more than a staging post en route to the wild parks in the West, the surrounding areas is well worth exploring in its own right. Check our Arusha & Surroundings page for recommendations on what to do, where to stay and eat here.

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