Tanzania’s Northern Safari Circuit: Tarangire, Ngorongoro, the Serengeti & Lake Manyara

A 10 day trip to Tanzania 
5 out of 5 stars
3 reviews

The northern Tanzanian safari circuit encompasses the epitome of an African adventure. Expansive savanna, vibrant wildlife, intriguing cultures and quintessential landscapes are incorporated into each moment on this adventure. Travel from the remote Tarangire National Park, through the Ngorongoro Crater and out towards the famed and incomparable plains of the Serengeti, as vibrant wildlife escorts you the entire way. Marvel at the Great Wildebeest Migration (dependent on the month of travel) while learning of the smaller creatures that enable this ecosystem to thrive. Experienced all from the comfort of some of the country’s top lodges, there is no better way to be introduced to the majesty of Tanzania.  

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General Information

Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Arusha, Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Olduvai Gorge, Serengeti National Reserve, Lake Manyara National Park 

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Welcome to Tanzania! Drive From Arusha Into the Heart of the Tranquil Tarangire National Park

Having arrived in the city of Arusha yesterday, today you will be able to get an early start on the day as you hop in a private vehicle and drive into the bush. Moving out of the shadows of Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro, you will drive towards your first destination: Tarangire National Park. As baobab trees become more prevalent along the roadside, you will know you are nearing this remarkable, yet rarely visited national park. Upon passing the park gates, you will drive alongside the Tarangire River, which sustains much of the resident wildlife. Stop for a picnic under the shade of a prehistoric-looking baobab tree, soaking in the beauty of this wild landscape. Stretch your legs as you scramble up the behemoth branches of the baobab, before returning to the truck to continue with the adventure.

Herds of ungulates dot the roadside as you gradually drive up a slight rise leading you towards the Tarangire Sopa Lodge. Tucked between kopjes (rocky outcroppings) with expansive views of the surrounding plains, this will be your first of many unbelievable African safari lodges. Having spent much of the day in the car, you might enjoy spending the remainder of the afternoon unwinding on the various levels of the lodge. The pool is a perfect spot to close your eyes with a cocktail in hand, while spending time on the lodge’s upper deck may just give you your first elephant sighting! Walk through the elaborate marble-floored main lodge, looking at the local art and artifacts that decorate the lodge. Join the lodge guests on the expansive outdoor patio for a dinner under the starry night sky, before gathering round the fire for a few celebratory arrival drinks. When you can no longer keep your eyes open, wander back to your private suite with a guarded escort, keeping your ears open for the sounds of grazing buffalo or cackling hyenas. Located on an unfenced property, wildlife is free to roam throughout the grounds as guards ensure your safety.

Day 2: Set Out on Your First Day of Safaris Through Tarangire National Park

Wake up this morning to a freshly brewed cup of local Tanzanian coffee, before setting out on a full day of safaris through Tarangire. Unlike the parks you will visit in the coming days, today you can look forward to near exclusivity and independence as you traverse the dry landscape. The opportunity to observe an elephant with no other vehicles around is a rarity in African national parks – but one that can still occur in Tarangire. This park is proudly home to some of Tanzania’s largest herds of elephant, which wander gracefully among populations of lions, leopards and cheetah. This park is also distinguished from its northern sisters by its unique ecosystem, which supports unique wildlife including the oryx and the gerenuk – two ancient looking antelope who favor dry grassland. The Kori Bustard is another unique and impressive sighting in this landscape, given that it is the world’s heaviest flying bird.

It will be entirely your choice how you opt to structure this first day. Excitement may lead you to request a picnic from the lodge, enabling you to spend every moment of the day exploring the untouched corners and bends in the river. Others may prefer to return to the lodge as the sun climbs high in the sky, seeking refuge poolside during the hottest part of the day before returning to the bush in the late afternoon. No matter how you choose to spend the day, you will return to the lodge at dusk for sundowners at the poolside bar and an evening of delicious food prepared by a skilled team of chefs.  Drift to sleep as a cool night breeze blows through your airy cabin, dreaming of the adventures that wait in the days coming!

Day 3: Depart Tarangire for the Ngorongoro Crater, Stopping at Mto-Wa-Mbu Village on Route

Indulge in a breakfast of fresh fruit, homemade pastries and coffee on the Sopa Lodge terrace that overlooks the baobab-filled plains below. Energized, return to your private vehicle to begin today’s journey towards the stunning and lush Ngorongoro Crater. On route, however, you will detour through the Mto-Wa-Mbu village, for a taste of Tanzanian culture. This town of 18,000 is home to a rich variety of Tanzanian tribes, with a high prevalence of Masai warriors. This is a wonderful spot to pick up local crafts and souvenirs, in addition to some wonderful people watching. If interested in the Masai way of life, it is possible to join a boma (homestead) tour which will lead you through the village and into the homes of a select number of warriors. There are plenty of opportunities to sample local cuisine. Be sure try one of the many varieties of bananas that make this village famous – or perhaps even some local stewed meat, if feeling adventurous! Enjoy a midday beer at a roadside restaurant before returning to the vehicle.

Carrying on westwards, the landscape will grow increasingly lush as you approach the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. For the next two nights, you will stay at the Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge, which is perfectly located on the edge of the crater. Arriving in the late afternoon, familiarize yourself with your room and the property before heading towards the crater edge for one of the best locations for a sunset cocktail. As you sip your sundowner, peek over the edge for your first look at the crater floor over half a kilometer below.  Return to the main lodge for a buffet dinner before retiring early to bed. Tomorrow will be an exciting and adventurous day!

Day 4: Spend a Full Day Exploring the Floor and Surrounding Plateaus of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Today you will rise early to begin a full day’s exploration of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Created two to three million years ago when an ancient volcano exploded in on itself, today this crater is the world’s largest inactive caldera. The rain-forested walls act as a natural enclosure for resident wildlife, which you will encounter countless times over the course of the day. Ungulates, including gazelle and zebra, stipple the crater floor as they feast on the fresh grasses and plentiful water sources. Impressive prides of lions lurk along the perimeter, either scouting out potential prey or feasting on a recent kill. The Ngorongoro Crater is one of the best places to view lions in Africa, since the natural enclosure of the crater has created incredibly high lion density.

As the sun climbs high, drive towards the shore of the crater floor’s alkaline lake. Often coated with flamingos and pelicans, these pink and blue shores may make the perfect place for today’s bush picnic. Continue with the adventure as you ascend the opposing side of the crater, climbing through the tangled rainforest. The day concludes with a tour along the crater plateaus, in the shadow of a series of volcanoes and Mount Meru, Tanzania’s third highest peak. As the sun begins to set, return to the lodge for another evening of food, drinks and great company.

Day 5: Drive Through the Olduvai Gorge as you Leave Ngorongoro on Route to the Famed Serengeti

Wake up today to enjoy a final breakfast on the lip of the crater, before venturing onwards to the crux of this tour: safaris in the Serengeti. As you drive westwards, you will again make a detour – this time to the Olduvai Gorge. This site was made famous by anthropologists Mary and Louis Leaky, who discovered the oldest known hominid remains in the 1960s, after 30 years of excavation work. This ancestor of man dates back 1.75 million years, and currently stands among the oldest known remains. The Olduvai Gorge is one of the most important paleoanthropoligical sites worldwide, and is commonly referred to as the ‘Cradle of Mankind.'  Since the initial discovery, over 60 hominids have been discovered in the area, which provides the most comprehensive and continuous documentation of human evolution. Take a spin through the visitor center and allow yourself to drift back over centuries, imagining the evolution of life in this critical region.

Departing the gorge in the early afternoon, the adventure continues west into the famed plains of the Serengeti. Golden and vast, the coming days on safari will make for quintessential African moments. You will arrive at the Seronera Wildlife Lodge in the late afternoon, which is artfully built around an impressive kopje – a rocky outcropping. After checking into your private room, venture over to the Ikoma Sundowner Outdoor Bar, where you can enjoy a glass of wine as the sun descends over the Serengeti. As the sky theatrically lights up around you, look to the plains below for signs of activity and life. As hunger sets in, migrate towards the Chui Restaurant, artfully built from rock and wooden materials. Enjoy a meal that fuses international dishes with local specialties, giving you a taste of Tanzania.

Day 6: Spend a Magical Day Exploring the Serengeti, Searching for Africa’s Big Five

Serengeti translates from the Masai language to mean ‘the place where the land moves on forever.'  Today, you will begin to understand exactly what that idea means.  Set out in a private safari vehicle in the early morning hours, beginning your multi-day search for the savanna’s prolific wildlife. Guides will tailor your explorations to your particular interests – whether that's birdlife, mammals, or, the Great Wildebeest Migration. The guides will also be sure to expose you to some of the lesser-known corners and species of this remarkable ecosystem, ensuring that education is coupled perfectly with adventure.

Of course, most who visit the Serengeti come in hopes of spotting Africa’s Big Five. Aptly named by hunters for being the most dangerous and difficult mammals to hunt on foot, this group has come to characterize an African safari. Moments with lions, leopards, rhinoceros, elephant and buffalo are coveted by all lucky enough to see them, and in this environment rife with life, spotting will not be difficult. Spend the day venturing in and out of the shade as you search for a herd of elephants splashing in the river, or a lion lazing with his cubs in the shade of an acacia tree. Return to the lodge midday to seek refuge poolside, before returning into the bush as the sun sets. Enjoy another locally inspired evening meal at the lodge restaurant, followed by an aperitif on the lodge patio. Retire to your queen sized bed in your African-inspired room where you easily fall asleep after this thrilling day.

Day 7: Explore the Northern Serengeti From Yet Another Unbelievable Safari Lodge

Wake up this morning before dawn. It is during these early hours that the bush is at its most active, and today you will set out on a pre-breakfast safari to catch some of the magic. Drive beneath acacia trees and across grassy plains as the sunrise illuminates the landscape around you. Watch thousands of gazelle, zebra and wildebeest as they feast on the grass before venturing into the shade. Scan the horizon for signs of a predator’s evening hunt before returning to the Seronera Lodge for a breakfast of fresh fruit and pastries.

Mid-morning, you will travel north through the Serengeti towards the Kenyan border. Driving slowly through the park, this transfer will be fringed with wildlife viewing opportunities as you approach the Lobo Wildlife Lodge.  Built on a rocky outcropping in the northernmost section of the Serengeti, Lobo is the largest lodge in this critical section of the wildebeest migration route. Having spent much of the day in the vehicle, this afternoon you will likely want to unwind and relax on the lodge grounds, which overlook a popular watering hole. Sip a cocktail as the sun sets, and watch as the watering hole is lit up with a night light, providing you with the chance to watch the nocturnal landscape. Dinner will be served in the Fig Tree Restaurant, which again fuses international favorites with local traditions.

Day 8: Spend a Final Full Day Traversing the Serengeti, Searching for the Great Wildebeest Migration

Today will be an epic finale to your time in the Serengeti, as you spend a full day immersed deep within the heart of the Great Wildebeest Migration. Lobo is perfectly situated to pitch guests into the heart of this two million strong migration within moments of leaving the lodge property. Heralded as one of the planet’s greatest natural spectacles, today will be both humbling and awe-inspiring.  Your tour will begin amidst herds of grazing wildebeest, zebra and impala that are feasting on the final remains of the Serengeti grasses. Driving northwards, you will approach the mighty Mara River, made famous by images of wildebeest trundling through its crocodile-infested waters. Drive alongside this natural division between Kenya’s Masai Mara and the Serengeti, observing prominent hippo and crocodile populations that guard these treacherous waters. With luck, you too will have the chance to watch as wildebeest plunge through these waters in an effort to reach the greener pastures further north.

As the sun climbs higher in the sky, pause in a shaded picnic area as vervet monkeys look onwards. Defend your fruit from bolder monkeys in the troupe, who will eagerly approach you in hopes of a snack. As the sun’s strength lessens, return to the vehicle to carry on exploring the migration. In the late afternoon, you may wish to detour away from the central portion exploring the outskirts of the herd, where carnivores often lurk in the shadows. Return to Lobo in the late afternoon, leaving just enough time to take a refreshing dip in the pool while looking out over the plains below. Join guests in the dining room for one more evening meal, before falling asleep to the sounds of the migration moving around you.

Day 9: Leave the Serengeti and Drive Towards Lake Manyara National Park

This morning you will have the option of squeezing in a final early morning game drive before you begin a leisurely journey eastwards. Following a fresh breakfast, you will return to your private vehicle to drive towards Lake Manyara National Park. Detouring through a resident Masai village will provide you with a final opportunity to observe and interact with local Masai warriors. This would be the perfect time to watch a traditional dance performance, which often incorporates the infamous Masai jump. Male Masai warriors are capable of soaring to remarkable heights as part of their coming of age ceremony, and observing this feat is to observe one of the most celebrated components of their culture. This village visit will also be a great time to purchase a few final mementos from Africa.

In the late afternoon, you will arrive at the gates of Lake Manyara National Park. This is another gem in the northern circuit, less frequently visited yet impressively beautiful. As you ascend the western escarpment, you will happen upon the Lake Manyara Wildlife Lodge, located on a cliff with sweeping views of the lake below. Tuck into your African-themed suite and enjoy the panoramic view of the park from your private balcony. Relax poolside with a cocktail in hand, soaking in every moment and color of this final sunset. Savor this last bush dinner prepared with ingredients sourced from the local farm, before indulging in aperitifs around the fire. The serenity and tranquility of this lodge and park will be the perfect place to wrap up this Tanzanian adventure. 

Day 10: Squeeze in a Final Morning Game Drive in Lake Manyara Before Returning to Arusha

Rise early this morning in order to take full advantage of this final day in the African bush. After the excitement of the Serengeti, game drives throughout the tranquil Lake Manyara National Park will be the perfect way to unwind and reflect upon this sensational adventure. The park itself is structured around the central alkaline lake, characteristic of the Great Rift Valley. During the dry season, this lake sustains much of the region’s wildlife with impressive migratory bird populations flocking to the flamingo-filled shores. The mixed forests that encircle the lake are of particular interest, given that resident lions are often found high within their branches. Tree-climbing lions are a phenomenon unique to this park in Tanzania. Spotting the tail of a male lion dangling from a tree is one of the most perfect conclusions to this tour.

Following this game drive, it will be time to return to Arusha in time for your outbound flight. Some guests may prefer to extend the trip by a day.  See the Tanzania travel reviews for some ideas.  You may consider spending time regrouping in Arusha before venturing onwards. Others may not yet be ready to leave Africa at all, in which case we will gladly organize a trip extension to the Swahili coast – or elsewhere.   


Starting Price 

This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.