Northern Circuit - Classic
Tanzania is truly gifted by Mother Nature, but its northern region really is the spoiled kid. You tumble from one legendary safari park to another. The Northern Circuit is the classic safari circuit of Tanzania: you visit Tarangire, Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara.
The circuit is ideal for Tanzania first-timers, those who primarily come to Tanzania for safari, have limited time or want to combine their road trip with a beach add-on.
Scroll down below to see the day-to-day itinerary for this suggested road trip, including distances and driving times.
Check the day to day itinerary
Day 1 of 9
Welcome to: Arusha
Arusha town is a pleasant introduction to East Africa. It is a green, orderly town with several nice coffee bars and restaurants. Being considered the safari capital of Africa, it's bustling with Landcruiser's, safari guides and the like, but you're a trendsetter when going on a self-drive safari!
Day 2 of 9
Destination: Tarangire National Park
Drive: 150 km | 2,5 hours
It's an easy 2-hour journey on a smooth asphalt road, so you can still bite some dust for your first afternoon self-drive safari in Tarangire. The game viewing tracks are well signposted and the public facilities like toilets and picnics sites are well maintained. There are even food trucks ( bush baristas nowadays..). Tarangire is famous for its large herds of elephants, giant baobabs and scenic landscapes. During dry season, Tarangire has, after the Serengeti, the highest wildlife density of any Tanzanian National Park. Animal concentration peaks between July till November and January to February. Between March and early June, much of the wildlife has migrated and you might want to consider visiting Lake Manyara National Park instead.
Tip the Tanapa public campsite in Tarangire is at a scenic location, and as opposed to the campsites in the Serengeti, it feels like a bush camping experience.
Day 4 of 9
Destination: Serengeti - Seronera section
Drive: 260 km | appr 6 hours.
When visiting Serengeti, you first transit the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The entrance permits for the NCA need to be reserved in advance, this can't be done on arrival at the gate. Roadtrip Africa can help you with this. It's a smooth tarmac road from Tarangire to Loduare Gate, the entrance to the NCA. It's a scenic ride whereby you pass Mto wa Mbu, the touristy gateway town of Lake Manyara National Park and Karatu, the last town before entering the NCA and the Serengeti. In Karatu, you'll find several hotels in all price ranges and its a good place to refuel your car and stock up on supplies.
Approximate driving times to the Serengeti are as follows:
-Loduare Gate (NCA entrance) to Ngorongoro Crater entrance: 1 hours
-Loduare Gate (NCA entrance) to Naabi Hill Gate (Serengeti entrance): 2.5 hours
-Naabi Hill Gate to Seronera: 1 hour
The road from Naabi Hill gate to Seronera is a challenging road, with a rocky surface and washboard ribbons. Drive at limited speed (25 km/h), or else you'll risk losing control instantly.
The public campsites in the Seronera section have a large setup and can be crowded with overland trucks and budget safari operators. It comprises the bush camping feeling.
Day 5 of 9
Enjoy game drives in the Serengeti. It's great fun to drive yourself. We personally like to spot the wildlife ourselves and be surprised and rewarded ( that's why it's called '' game drive'') instead of following the other tour guides with their radios, as then you can be certain you shall be lined up with other vehicles when watching the game. Serengeti is rattling with wildlife. If you nevertheless find it hard to spot predators or have a specific interest, you can always decide to hire a ranger to help you spot wildlife better. You can arrange this at one of the gates.
Day 7 of 9
Start: Serengeti, Seronera section
Destination: Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Drive: 140 km | appr 3,5 hours.
If you want to keep your time inside the NCA limited to one permit ( valid for 24 hours), then we advise you to enjoy a morning game drive in the Serengeti, enter the NCA in the afternoon, and do your Crater safari the next morning.
From Seronera to Naabi Hill gate is approx 1 hour and from Naabi Hill to Ngorongoro Crater is approx 2.5 hours.
Day 8 of 9
Start: Ngorongoro Crater
Destination: Lake Manyara / Mto wa Mbu
Drive: 80 km | appr. 2,5 hours
The Ngorongoro Crater is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The crater is the world's largest intact caldera and is the only place in the world where you have a very high chance of seeing the 'Big 5' in one day. In half a day, you are able to cover most of the game-viewing tracks. Consult our Ngorongoro Travel Guide for more practical information.
For those that find going down the Crater a too expensive affair, or want a more off-the-beaten track experience ( the Crater is crowded in high season...), good to know that the highlands of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area contain more extinct volcanoes and calderas, such as Empakaai crater and Oldovai Gorge. Trekking the crater highlands is great fun. Your Bradt Travel Guide is a good source of information.
Day 9 of 9
Start: Manyara / Mto wa Mbu
Drive: 115 km | appr 2,5 hours.
In case you want to go camping, we don't recommend to camp at the public campsite inside Manyara. It's a bit gloomy in the forest and close to the gate so you hear cars coming in and out. Instead, camp at Migombani campsite, high on a cliff opposite the main entrance gate.
We find Arusha National Parka and Manyara the best parks for undertaking a walking safari.
What to expect on this self-drive adventure in Tanzania?
Travel time and road conditions
7 to 9 days / 6-8 car rental days are recommended to follow this route.
We recommend a minimum of 2 nights in Tarangire and 3 nights in the Serengeti. If time is not on your side, you can take out a day in Tarangire and/or the Serengeti. The minimum time needed to follow the Classic Northern Circuit is 7 days.
The main road from Arusha to the entrance gates of Tarangire, Manyara and the Serengeti is a smooth tarmac road. The gravel road from Naabi Hill gate (Serengeti's main entrance gate) to the Seronera section is a challenging road. It has a rocky surface and washboard ribbons. Drive at limited speed (25 km/h). The game-viewing tracks in Tarangire, Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater are well-signposted and not technical. The Serengeti is massive. Consult our on the road section and Travel Guides for more tips and inspiration.
Low season (March-May + Nov): from € 977 / vehicle
Regular season: from € 1137 / vehicle
Peak season(July + Augustus, 20 Dec - 5 January): from € 1217 / vehicle
Price includes 8-day Landcruiser rental, unlimited mileage, 24/7 backup support, accommodation tips and Ngorongoro reservation quote.
Fuel is at your own expense.
Like to discover the Northern Circuit with the company of a driver-guide? Add € 360 to your total trip amount.
Create & Book
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What's included in your roadtrip package?
- Car delivery to your hotel or airport
- Roadmap and Bradt Travel Guide
- Comprehensive car insurance
- Electrical fridge
- Camping gear