Tanzania is quite simply made for safari; wildlife of the epic variety (and lots of it), game-changing scenery and a multitude of camps and lodges to suit every style and budget, need and want. But with so much choice on one’s plate, where do you start? And more importantly, do you go north or south? Well, help is on hand. We’ve broken down the North Vs South Tanzania debate into bitesize chunks to make your planning a little easier – and there’s even a couple of extra morsels of information in there too…
What’s the divide?
Tanzania’s safari ‘routes’ are generally divided into two sections: routes around the northern parks (Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Tarangire being the most popular), and routes around the southern parks (Ruaha and Selous, and sometimes over to the wilds of Katavi and Mahale Mountains). Although it’s possible to combine both the northern circuit and the southern circuit in one blockbuster safari, most people will stick to one or the other.
What’s the difference?
The million-dollar question in the northern Vs southern Tanzania debate! Generally, when people imagine safari-ing in Tanzania, they’re thinking of the northern circuit. These parks offer some of the most iconic experiences and landscapes on the continent, from the long-limbed Maasai traversing the Serengeti plains, to the luscious greenery and towering peaks surrounding Ngorongoro. The south, however, is a different kettle of fish. To steal a favourite cliché, Ruaha and Selous are the very definition of off-the-beaten-track. The parks are much less well known, and that simply adds to the feeling of being somewhere truly wild.
What will I see?
In terms of wildlife, northern Vs southern Tanzania are similar in that both have good quantities of animals as well as lots of variation, but each has its own quirks and qualities. The northern circuit is most famous for the Great Migration in the Serengeti, a stampede of tens of thousands of wildebeest as they search for water and grass. A spectacle it is, and one that’s certainly worthy of its bucket list position. Other highlights of the north include fabulous Big Five sightings in Ngorongoro, trumpeting herds of ellies amid Tarangire’s baobabs, and in Manyara, clouds of pink flamingo. In the south, Ruaha is home to almost 10% of the world’s lion population, and the other big cats are plentiful and beautiful. Enormous herds of elephant and buffalo are common in both Ruaha and Selous, but you won’t see cheetah or rhino down here.
What kind of activities can I do?
The northern circuit is the home of classic safari experiences, and early morning and afternoon game drives are the name of the game. Walking safaris are permitted in Tarangire and some parts of the Serengeti, as are night drives, but they are definitely less common. In Ruaha and Selous, there’s an extravaganza of activities to enjoy; morning and afternoon game drives, walking safaris with expert guides and night drives are standard in both, and Selous specialities include boat trips down the mighty Rufiji River, and fly camping expeditions.
How much will it cost?
In a northern Vs southern Tanzania debate on price, northern Tanzania will always come out cheaper! Simply put, it’s easier to access and there are more flights, meaning much cheaper prices. It’s also one of the easiest places on the continent for a driving safari; book a vehicle and a driver, and they will whizz you around the parks on four wheels, saving you some pennies along the way. The southern circuit is generally more expensive, with less flights and further distances to cover. However, many of the camps offer excellent deals to combat this and a southern circuit safari doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive.
What should I be aware of in each?
The popularity of the northern circuit has increased in recent years. Ease of access and a relatively low cost are huge drawcards, and the parks can seem crowded in certain areas, and at certain times. If there’s one thing the south isn’t, it’s crowded! But the wildlife down here is sometimes skittish and can seem more spread out.
How do I get there?
The gateway to the northern circuit is the quaint town of Arusha, and you may end up spending a night here either at the beginning or end of your safari. Flights depart from Arusha airport and fly in a circular route around all the parks in the north, picking up and dropping off passengers in each. For the southern circuit, your starting point is Dar es Salaam, from which charter flights depart and leave the airport for Ruaha and Selous. Again, you’ll probably end up spending a night in the city at the beginning and/or end of your trip.
For first timers
Truly, it’s impossible to pick a winner in the northern Vs southern Tanzania debate! It really comes down to what you’re looking for in a safari. If wide, open plains scattered with storybook animals, and hot air balloon flights at dawn float your boat, then the northern parks might be for you. If you’re looking to escape the crowds and experience something unique and a little bit wild, the southern parks could be right up your street…