Highlights of the North

Highlights of the North

The Northern Circuit is the most visited area of Tanzania. You start and end in Arusha. You visit Tarangire, Lake Manyara, the Serengeti, and the king of the food chain - the Ngorongoro Crater. A cultural highlight is a visit to the Hadzabe tribe in Lake Eyasi, the last hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. This Circuit is ideal for those who primarily come for wildlife watching, want modest driving hours a day, have limited time or want to combine it with a Kilimanjaro or Zanzibar add-on. 

Scroll down below to see the detailed day-to- day route with lot's of insider travel tips. The price includes car rental and accomodation in either mid-range or deluxe. The selected lodges are hand picked by us and the places we like to stay when we are roadtripping; small-scale, good price-quality ratio and owner-managed when possible.

Check the day to day itinerary

Day 1 of 11

Welcome to: Arusha

Arusha town is a pleasant introduction to East Africa. It is green, orderly town with many 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! 

Accommodation suggestions:
Mid-range: Karama Lodge 
Deluxe: Rivertrees Inn



Day 2 of 11

Start: Arusha
Tarangire National Park
Drive: 150 km | 2,5 hours

Hit the road towards Tarangire National Park. From Arusha, 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 park its famous for its big herds of elephants and baobabs. Animal concentration peaks between July till the start of the rains in November, early December. Travelling in the first half of the year? Skip Tarangire and shorten your road trip with one day or extend it with a day in another park. 

Accommodation in Tarangire:
Mid-range: Whistling Thorn (see picture)
Deluxe: Maramboi  


Day 3 of 11

Start: Tarangire National Park
Mto wa Mbu / Lake Manyara
Drive: 110 km | 1,5 hour 

Today you travel to Mto wa Mbu, the gateway town to Lake Manyara National Park. It's only 1,5 hour drive, so you can first enjoy an early morning game drive in Tarangire. Mto wa Mbu is a lively, tropical village and quite touristy.It is said to be the only place in Tanzania where people from 120 Tanzanian tribes live in harmony together.

Accommodation suggestions:
Mid-range: Migunga Forest Camp, at the outskirts of town
Deluxe: Wayo Green Camp, inside the park. 

Day 4 of 11

Enjoy: Lake Manyara

Lake Manyara is a shallow soda lake, set at the base of the Western Rift Valley Escarpment. The northwestern lakeshore and its hinterland are protected in a scenic national park. Manyara is one of Tanzania’s smallest parks, yet boosting a very diverse flora & fauna - savannah, acacia woodland, rocks, grassy floodplains and tropical rainforest. An exciting aspect of Lake Manyara  is the opportunity to stretch your legs. The park offers suburb birding and guided walking safaris along the shore to the hot springs and flamingo lookout point. Best to go early in the morning.

Day 5 of 11

Start: Mto wa Mbu / Lake Manyara
Lake Eyasi
Drive: 80 km | 2,5 hours

if your looking for something remote and different, Lake Eyasi is a recommended off-the-beaten track deviation. It is a cultural highlight because of the unique opportunity to hunt with the Hadza tribe. Lake Eyasi is a shallow soda lake at the remote southern border of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. From Manyara it's a 30 minute smooth drive to Karatu town, from where you continue off road for some 2 hours, on rough, rocky roads. So drive carefully and slowly. 

The Lake Eyasi Cultural Tourism Programme regulates tourism in the area. You find the office at  Mangola on the main ''road''. You need to stop here to pay the mandatory entrance fee of $ 20 / vehicle and it is also where you arrange a guide for your hunting experience with the Hadza tribe or any other cultural activities that you like to do.

Accommodation in Lake Eyasi: 
Budget: Tindiga Tented Camp
Deluxe: Kisima Ngeda 


Day 6 of 11

Start: Lake Eyasi
Ngorongoro Crater. 
Drive: 40 km | 2 hours

Joining the Hadza tribe on a hunt means getting up at 5:00 AM. It's a unique experience. The Hadza are Tanzania’s only remaining tribe of true hunter-gatherers. Their language is characterised by clicks, reminiscent of Southern Africa’s San. The Hadza live in nomadic family bands and they live on what nature provides. Hunting with poisoned arrows and honey gathering are generally male activities, while women and children collect roots, seeds and fruit. The hunting men are fast and will not wait for you, so some level of fitness is required. 

You return to your lodge around 10:30 AM for your breakfast. After late breakfast, you continue to Karatu, gateway to Ngorongoro Crater. 

Accommodation in Ngorongoro Conservation area: 
Mid-range: Bougainvillea Safari Lodge, Karatu
Deluxe: Ngorongoro Farm House, situated on a large coffee farm about halfway between Karatu and the Ngorongoro Crater.

Day 7 of 11

Enjoy: The Ngorongoro Crater.

The Ngorongoro Crater is an 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. Read more about how to organise your crater safari here

For those that find going down the Crater a too expensive affair, or just want a more off-the-beaten track experience, 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 8 of 11

Start: Ngorongoro Crater
Serengeti NP
Drive: 40 km | 1 to 3 hours

Time to finish of with the Grand Dame, Serengeti National Park. The park is massive, so make sure to read our practical blog about where and when to go, how to arrange for your permits and more.    

A Landcruiser is required if you want to visit the Serengeti. Driving times to Serengeti are as follows:

  • Loduare Gate (Ngorongoro Conservation Area entrance) to Ngorongoro Crater Road: 1.5 hours.
  • Ngorongoro Crater Road to Naabi Hill Gate (Serengeti): 2.5 hours.
  • Naabi Hill Gate to Seronera: 1 hour.

Accommodation suggestions:
Mid-range: Serengeti View Mobile Camp
Deluxe: Wayo Green Mobile Camp 

Day 9 of 11

Enjoy: Serengeti NP

Enjoy a day of game drives. Early morning and late afternoon drives are the best. Its great fun to drive yourself, but if you find it hard to spot the predators, you can always decide there and than to pick up a ranger at the gate. Again, the Bradt Travel Guide is a great source of information about the different sections of the park. 

Day 10 of 11

Start: Serengeti NP
Drive: 300 km | 5,5 hours. 

Perhaps you can't get enough of the game viewing and you stay another day, otherwise make your way back to Arusha. Your last stay will be at the foothills of Mount Meru, in between Arusha and Moshi.    

Accommodation near Mount Meru:
Mid-range: African View Lodge
Deluxe: Eileen Rivertrees Inn

Day 11 of 11

Enjoy: Arusha & surroundings

After this hectic safari schedule, the surroundings of Arusha are nice to explore. USA river is great for mountain biking (from Rivertrees Inn), Lake Duluti for canoeing, Moshi town is nice to visit and offers cultural coffee tours, Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru is fantastic for walking and hiking. Or just enjoy some chilling at the pool of your lodge. Rivertrees  Country Inn and Mount Meru View Lodge (the mid-range and deluxe options of this accomodated roadtrip) have particularly nice ones.


What to expect on this self-drive adventure in Tanzania?

Travel time and road conditions

11 days / 9 car rental days are recommended to follow this route.

By East African standards, the road conditions in the Northeast of Tanzania are very good. All the primary roads connecting Arusha to the parks in the west are smooth asphalt. Only the last stretch requires  driving on gravel or dirt roads to get to your lodge or park entrance.  Inside the parks it is off road driving on dirt roads. The conditions of these roads are the most challenging during rainy season, but in general off road driving is not technical in the parks of the Northern Circuit, the Serengeti being the big exception here. Therefore a Landcruiser is required for the Serengeti. The main gravel road is rocky surface with washboard ribbons. Drive at limited speed (25 km /h), otherwise you lose control instantly with a single vehicle rollover as a result. Consult our on the road section.

Go to Travel time and road conditions

When is the best time to go to Tanzania?

The hottest time of the year is from November till March. The coolest months are from May to July, when it gets cold in the evenings at higher altitudes (Ngorongoro, Arusha). The long rains are from March to May when there is less tourism, yet that also has its advantages. Lodges drop their prices, the parks are far less crowded with 4x4's and there is nothing wrong with the game viewing. Peak tourist season is around Christmas, July and August. Book your roadtrip rental car well in advance.  

The most accessible part of the Serengeti from Arusha is around Ndutu and Seronera, where wildlife activity peaks between early November till end of May. If you want to time your visit to the Serengeti with the migration, read our blog. Tarangire also has a seasonal wildlife pattern. Animal concentration peaks between July till November. From end November to May, much of the game leaves the park. We wrote a blog post about Tarangire Park, find it here.

Go to When is the best time to go to Tanzania?


Rest of year

Price is per person, in US Dollars. 

Price includes 10 nights accommodation on the basis of Half Board, 9 day Landcruiser rental, airport pick up & drop off, Ngorongoro quote.

Do you want to do the Northern Circuit with a RAV4? Then the Serengeti is excluded. The price includes 8 nights accommodation Half Board, 7 day RAV4 rental, airport pick up & drop off, Ngorongoro quote.

Want to do the Highlights of the North with the company of a driver- guide? Add US$ 360  |$ 290  

  RAV4 Landcruiser
  2 persons  4 persons  2 persons  4 person 
Mid range $ 1,770 $ 1,540 $ 2,520 $ 2,160
Deluxe     $ 3,660  $3,280

Low season | March - May 

Price is per person, in US Dollars. 

Price includes 10 nights accommodation on the basis of Half Board, 9 day Landcruiser rental, airport pick up & drop off, Ngorongoro quote.

Do you want to do the Northern Circuit with a RAV4? Then the Serengeti is excluded. The price includes 8 nights accommodation Half Board, 7 day RAV4 rental, airport pick up & drop off, Ngorongoro quote.

Want to do the Highlights of the North with the company of a driver - guide? Add US$ 360  |$ 290  

  RAV4 Landcruiser
  2 persons  4 persons  2 persons  4 persons 
Mid range $ 1,680 $ 1,499 $ 2,640 $ 2,230
Deluxe     $ 3,830  $3,370

Create & Book

Book the Highlights of the North as a fully accommodated road trip in mid-range or deluxe lodges. Or secure your car, and use this suggested route for inspiration only.

Book your roadtrip


  • Airport transfers
  • Bed & Breakfast
  • Mobile phone with local SIM
  • Roadmap and Bradt Travel Guide
  • Comprehensive car insurance


  • Electrical fridge
  • Driver-Guide