Tanzania National Parks can be divided into three Safari Circuits – Northern, Southern and Western Circuits. Each one of them, in its own right, would make Tanzania a top wildlife destination.
Tanzania Northern Safari Circuit
The northern tourism circuit is by far the most popular safari circuit in Tanzania, comprising most of the must-see destinations in the country. If you’re a first-time visitor to Tanzania, this is where you want to be.
The circuit starts in Arusha and includes, from east to west: Arusha National Park at the foot of Mount Meru, Tarangire National Park 110km southwest of the town of Arusha, Manyara Ranch between Tarangire National Park and Lake Manyara National Park and Lake Manyara National Park at the bottom of the Gregory Rift.
The circuit also includes Ngorongoro Conservation Area (which includes the Ngorongoro caldera, the Empakaai Crater and the southern Serengeti plains of Lake Ndutu), and the Serengeti National Park that stretches north to the Tanzania/ Kenya border.
Tanzania Southern Safari Circuit
The south of Tanzania is mostly a destination for the second-time visitor. The south can also be combined with the Serengeti in the north or linked with the west if time and budget allow.
The southern circuit includes parks and reserves that can be visited using Dar es Salaam as a starting point. There’s Saadani National Park north of Dar, then two hours to the west the little park of Mikumi on both sides of the highway that meanders down to Iringa and Mbeya and eventually to Zambia or northern Malawi.
The Selous Game Reserve to the south of Mikumi is great for river experiences on the Rufiji River and also for walking safaris. Udzungwa Mountains National Park is all about forests, waterfalls and weird endemics, while Ruaha National Park just west of Iringa is the gem of the southern circuit.
Tanzania Western Safari Circuit
The Western Circuit embraces the parks along Lake Tanganyika, the western border of Tanzania with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The vast space in a remote natural location makes the circuit worth a visit.
Gombe Stream National Park was made famous by Jane Goodall’s research on its chimpanzee population and subsequent habituation. Mahale Mountains National Park further south, on the shores of the gin-clear waters of Lake Tanganyika, is a more authentic chimpanzee experience and highly recommended.
You’ll have to go further to find the chimps but you’ll get a better idea of how chimps are in the wild than by observing them at feeding pens. Katavi National Park is another 150km towards the south-east of Mahale and probably gets fewer than 500 tourists a year.