Northern Circuit National Parks

The world’s most famous national park covers an area of 14.763 sq km (the size of Northern Ireland or Connecticut). It is neighboring Kenya’s Maasai Mara Game Reserve in the north and Ngorongoro Conservation Area in the east, and stretches as far as Lake Victoria to the west. The name Serengeti comes from the Maasai word “Siringet” meaning “endless plains”.

In recognition of the need to preserve this special area, the central Serengeti was declared a Game Reserve in 1929 and in 1951, the Reserve became Tanganyika’s first National Park. In 1981, it was accepted as a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve.

The Serengeti ecosystem supports the greatest remaining concentration of plains animals in Africa, including more than three million mammals; it is a sanctuary of an estimated four million different animals and birds. The annual ‘Great Migration’ of more than 1.5 million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebra and gazelles from the Serengeti into Kenya (in a continuous search of water and pasture) is an amazing spectacle that attracts thousands of people worldwide. At times the line of wildebeest can be even 40km long. The open plains provide the predators and scavengers which follow these massive herds, with relatively easy pickings. It is not unusual to see a kill from start to finish.

The Great Migration also known as ‘The Race for Life’ is the most breathtaking event in the animal kingdom ever known to man. As the dry season intensifies, the herds drift out towards the west, north towards Lake Victoria, and to the northeast in search of the permanent waters of the northern rivers and the Mara. The migration instinct is so strong that animals are prepared to sacrifice their lives when crossing rivers full of hungry crocodiles. Whilst many die in the rivers, many more survivors gather in the green Maasai Mara National Reserve of Kenya, until the grazing there is exhausted; then they turn back south to the Serengeti along the eastern and final stage of the migration circuit. The migration also coincides with the breeding season, which causes fights amongst the males.

Other mammal species found in the Serengeti include Elephant, Giraffe, Buffalo, Black Rhino, Cheetah, Eland, Thompson’s Gazelle, Hippopotamus, and a large population of Lion and Leopard. The Park’s abundance of wildlife is also marked in the insect world with 100 species of dung beetle alone. Serengeti is known also for its rich bird-life; with almost 500 species of birds having been identified here, including Eurasian migrants. Both Greater and Lesser Flamingos flock the saline lakes of Lagaja and Magadi.

Grumeti Western Corridor, stretching almost to the shores of Lake Victoria, with its colorful topography of hills, rivers and flood plains provides year-round habitat for many of the Serengeti species. The Grumeti River flowing through the corridor is full of giant Nile crocodiles, which grow up to 6m in length and have unusually thickset jaws; their life is dependent on ‘the Great Migration’ and this time of plenty sustains them for the whole year.

Kopjes are the stunning rock outcrops patched throughout Serengeti. These ancient granite rocks are the result of cracking and erosion after years of being exposed to the sun, wind and rain. They provide shelter and capture water for numerous wildlife and plants. Actually, without Kopjes, Lions and other large animals would not be able to survive the dry season on the plains.

Lobo Northern Woodland is the place where ‘the Great Migration’ passes from the Maasai Mara Reserve in Kenya. Rocky hills, rivers and woodlands typify this scenic area.

Serengeti Plains on the southern part are some of the most productive and nutritious natural grasslands in the world. In February/March one of wildlife’s most amazing spectacles occurs; within three to four weeks, 90% of the female Wildebeest give birth, flooding the plains with thousands of newborn calves each day. Here is also where ‘the Great Migration’ ends in November/ December and starts again in May/June.

Seronera Valley is an important transition area between the southern plains and the northern woodlands. With year-round water, it is perhaps the most reliable area in the park to view resident wildlife including Lion, Spotted Hyena, Leopard, Cheetah, Serval, Caracal, Giraffe, Buffalo, Topi, Hartebeest, Waterbuck, Impala, Reedbuck, Bushbuck, Kirk’s Dik-dik, Hippopotamus, Crocodile, Warthog and diverse birdlife. The Serengeti Research Institute is based here; since 1966 scientists have carried out extensive research on the Serengeti ecosystem, which has made it one of the most studied areas in the world.

Game drives, bird-watching, following ‘the Great Migration’, hot-air balloon safaris. Most tourists visit Serengeti as a part of their safari tour including Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the active volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai and/or Lake Natron’s Flamingos.

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a vast protected area (8.300 sq km) of several volcanic mountains and craters within the Great Rift Valley; it stretches from Lake Natron in the northeast to Lake Eyasi in the south, Lake Manyara in the east and the famous Serengeti National Park on the west.

The area is managed by the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA). The focus is on balancing the needs of wildlife, the local Maasai people, their domestic stock and the general natural environment, to control the effects of tourism on the area. This amazing area comprises archaeological sites, extinct and active volcanoes, breathtaking mountains, forests, vast lakes and magnificent wildlife. Due to the varying topography, altitude varies from under 1.500m to 3.648m, and hence climate, a wide scope of habitats are found here including dense montane forests, grassy plains with both fresh and salty water lakes, swamps, undulating plains covered in grass and upland woodlands, consisting mainly of Acacia tree species.

The main attractions include ‘the eighth wonder of the world’ – a ‘the natural Zoo,’ which is the magnificent Ngorongoro Crater, the archeological site of Olduvai Gorge, East Africa’s only active volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai and Maasai tribe. The famous »Serengeti Plains«, where the greatest concentrations of mammals and the spectacular »Great Migration« take place from, are shared between the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti National Park.

Until 1959, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area was a part of the Serengeti National Park. Out of consideration to the local Maasai who lived in the area for centuries, its status was changed to the conservation area; now both, the wildlife and the Maasai rights are protected. Maasai are allowed to lead their cattle into the crater to water, but they can not stay inside permanently and leave the crater every day.

On the southern part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area at Lake Eyasi, the Haadzabe tribe or »the real Bushmen« live.

Game viewing and Bird-watching in the Ngorongoro Crater, Walking safaris/Trekking in the Ngorongoro Crater Highlands, Cultural Tourism (Maasai, Haadzabe), archeological findings at Olduvai Gorge.

The Park is located in Northern Tanzania, approximately 120 km southwest of Arusha town, and 160 km from the Kilimanjaro International Airport. It covers an area of 2.600 sq km and is Tanzania ’s fourth largest Park.

The Tarangire National Park is named by the Tarangire River that flows through the centre of the park providing a year-round water source for the abundant wildlife. It is the second only to the Serengeti ecosystem for concentrations of wildlife during the dry seasons (June to November). During that time thousands of animals including Wildebeests, Zebras, Elands, Elephants, Buffalos, Hartebeests and rare Oryx migrate from Maasai steppe to the Tarangire River looking for water with Lions, Leopards and other predators following them. In the Park you have a great chance to see also Olive Baboon, Bat-eared Fox, Bohors Reedbuck, Bushbuck, Cheetah, Gerenuk, Impala, Hippopotamus, Lesser and Greater Kudu, Rock Hyrax, Spotted and Striped Hyena, Warthog and if you are lucky, even a Black Rhino or a tree-climbing Python.

Tarangire is the only National Park in Tanzania’s Northern Circuit where you can see a large concentration of elephants all year round. The park is an ornithologist’s paradise with more than 550 species of birds, including the largest bird in the world, which is the Ostrich, and the heaviest bird that can fly – the Kori Bustard. The peculiar Ground Hornbill is also a firm resident. Flamingos and Pelicans are common at Lake Burunge; the swamps are rich in bird-life as well as the Acacia woodlands and the flood plains of the Tarangire River. Bird species found here include African Hoopoe, Bataleur Eagle, Brown Parrot, Goliath Heron, Helmeted Guinea fowl, Hamerkop, Long-toed Lapwing, Madagascar Bee-eater, Yellow-collared Lovebird, White-bellied Lourie as well as various species of ducks, francolins, kingfishers, owls, doves, weavers, plovers, and sand pipers.

Vegetation of the Park includes wooded steppe, arid acacia savanna dominated by Acacia and Carniphora species, wetlands and seasonal flood plains, riverine grassland, deep gully vegetation and grasslands with scattered thousand-year-old giant Baobab trees.

Game viewing, Bird-watching. Outside the park: Cultural tourism at Babati town (Barbaig tribe, ancient Kolo Rock Paintings).

This park is another of Tanzania’s little parks, protecting an area of 330 sq km of which 230 sq km is covered by Lake Manyara itself. It is located between the alkaline Lake Manyara and the western wall of the Eastern Great Rift Valley on the way to Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti National Park; the Great Rift Valley is part of a fault in the earth’s crust stretching 8.000 km from Turkey to the mouth of the Zambezi River in Mozambique; it is so large that it is visible from the moon!

The most famous sight in the park are the »tree-climbing Lions«, which are occasionally seen along branches of Acacia trees six to seven meters above the ground. Other animals found in the area include Elephants (Tanzania’s highest concentration per sq km), Buffalos, Giraffes, Leopards, Impalas, Hippos and over 400 species of birds including Lesser and Greater Flamingos, African Spoonbill, Cormorant, Egyptian Geese, Pelican, thousands of Red-billed Quelea, Sacred Ibis, Stork and White-faced Duck. After entering the Park Gate one passes into the lush forest where packs of Blue Monkeys and Baboons are frequently seen. Troops of Mongoose are often seen feasting on the trails of Buffalos and Elephants.

The vegetation is also unique including the rift wall, the ground water forest (unlike a rain forest that depends on rain, a ground water forest depends on the water seeping from the rock of the escarpment), Acacia woodland, and areas of open grassland and swamps, as well as the sulphur springs at Maji Moto. The escarpment itself is rather dry but between the lake and the escarpment is it a real jungle with lots of Ficus trees, Mahogany, Ebony, Vines, and plenty of flourishing growth.

Game viewing, Bird-watching; Treetop walkway; Night game drive; Canoeing safaris, Cultural tours, Bike tours and Abseiling. Great day trip option from Arusha.

This mini park with its 137 sq km lies between the peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru in Tanzania’s north-east, near Arusha town. Until 1967 it was known as Ngurdoto Crater National Park; its new name, the Arusha National Park, as well as the name of the Arusha town derive from the Waarusha people who traditionally lived in this area.

The Park is known for its rich flora and fauna and walking safaris; it is the only park where you can have a walking safari in the Northern Circuit of Tanzania.

It consists of three impressive features: the shallow alkaline Momela Lakes, where thousands of Lesser and Greater Flamingos as well as migratory birds can be seen (roughly 400 species including Crowned Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Silvery-Cheeked Hornbill, Egyptian Vulture, and Hammerhead Stork). The volcanic Ngurdoto Crater (3km wide, 400m deep), known also as ‘Little Ngorongoro’ is rich with wildlife on its crater floor, including Buffalos, Elephants, Baboons and occasionally Black Rhinoceros. The park also boosts the second highest peak in Tanzania, Mt. Meru (4.566m, metric converter). On clear days of both highest Tanzania’s peaks can be seen from the Arusha National Park, Mt. Meru and further afield in its own park Mt.Kilimanjaro.

The vegetation of Arusha National Park varies according to the altitude and geology of the area. The Momela Lakes are alkaline; the Ngurdoto Crater is surrounded by forest whilst the crater floor is a swampy area. Mt. Meru is a combination of bare rocks and tropical forests. The different habitats of this Park are home to Giraffes, Zebras, Hippos, various antelopes, Warthogs, Hyenas, and Leopards. It is a rare place where you can spot fluffy-tailed Black and White Colobus Monkeys (Guereza) in large numbers.

Walking safaris, Game drives, Bird-watching, Kayaking; Photography, 3-4 day Mt. Meru climb. Great day trip option form Arusha.

Mt Kilimanjaro or Kilemakyaro, as it is called by the local Chagga people, stands 5.895m and is the highest mountain in Africa, and the highest freestanding mountain in the world (metric converter)!

An almost perfectly shaped volcano that rises up from the plains, Mt. Kilimanjaro is one of the Africa’s most breathtaking sights. It is unique in being so close to the equator (3 degrees South or 330km) and yet having a snow-capped summit. Mt. Kilimanjaro is located in the northeast of Tanzania, near the border with Kenya, as a part of the Mt. Kilimanjaro National Park, which is a protected area of 756 sq km.

Although appearing flat topped from a distance, Mt. Kilimanjaro actually consists of three volcanoes: ‘Shira’ (3.962m) – the oldest and extinct, ‘Mawenzi’ (5.149m) and ‘Kibo’ (5.895m) both of which are dormant. The last activity was registered in the 1940’s. The Uhuru Peak (5.895m) is the summit of Kibo and the highest point on the continent (and this is the peak Kilimanjaro is most famous for), which thousands of visitors annually attempt to summit.

There is so much more to Kilimanjaro than just its summit. Journey up its slopes for a climatic world tour from the tropics to the Arctic. Below the grassy slopes turn to lush rainforest and above the tree line lies the heath and moorlands, dominated by giant heathers. Above this is a lunar-like landscape of an alpine desert, that stretches up its summit and the ‘Roof Top’ of the African continent, covered by ice and snow.

The mountain forest area is inhabited by Elephants, Buffalos, Leopards, Elands, Blue Monkeys, and Black and White Colobus Monkeys. Above the tree line, the most frequently encountered animals include Grey Duikers, Giant Eland antelope, as well as Bushbucks and Red Duikers. Buffalos also venture up into the moorlands and grasslands. Birds can be seen at even higher altitudes, but conditions near the peak are too harsh for any animal to endure on a permanent basis.

There are six corridors or climbing routes up to Uhuru Peak, which differ in popularity and degrees of difficulty. All can be done within 5 to 7 days (more in Mt. Kilimanjaro Trekking Tours section):

Marangu Route also known as ‘the Tourist Route’ or ‘the Coca Cola Route’ – it is very popular, the least difficult and accommodation is in huts.
Machame Route also known as ‘the Whiskey Route’ – it is considered the most scenic route and accommodation is in tents only.
Mweka Route is usually the choice route descending the mountain – it is the fastest route for descent and accommodation is in tents only.
Rongai Route is gaining in popularity – due to its unspoiled wilderness and atmosphere. Accommodation is in tents.
Umbwe Route is a steep and strenuous. Quite scenic it is also the most direct route to the Uhuru Peak. Accommodation is in tents.
Shira Route is less popular because its approach path is in bad condition. Shira plateau is however very scenic and the ideal place to camp for a day or two to acclimatize and enjoy its fantastic views. Accommodation is in tents.

The local Chagga people who farm on the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro have always revered the mountain and trek regularly in search for medicinal herbs and plants. In 1889, the first Europeans reached the summit with help from local guides and porters.

The climb is definitely a physical challenge with many risks involved, but if you are reasonably fit, aware and prepared for its conditions, trekking Kilimanjaro will be the experience of your lifetime. In 1976, a youngster aged 11-year-old made it to the summit, and in 1988, an 88-year-old reached Uhuru peak!

Hiking and climbing the Mountain can be achieved by any reasonably fit person, when also properly prepared and equipped.