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The northern part of Tanzania is home to some of the most famous parks and landmarks in the continent, including the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater and Africa’s tallest peak – Mount Kilimanjaro. The southern parks definitely don’t have as much exposure behind them, but in our eyes, this makes them so special. Hidden gems like the Selous Game Reserve, Ruaha National Park and Katavi National Park offer some of the most unique and memorable safari experiences in Africa and, with much fewer tourists, you may get the sighting all to yourself.

Here is a guide of both the northern and southern parks of Tanzania, offering an insight into the game activities, the accommodation and the overall safari experience.

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Cheetah in Northern Tanzania

The Northern Parks

Northern Tanzania is home to arguably, the most iconic park in all of Africa – the Serengeti National Park. The Serengeti is over 14,700 km² and encompasses a range of landscapes and environments. The main draw to the Serengeti is its vast open plains, which were the inspiration for Disney’s Lion King. The Serengeti and its surrounding areas are also home to the Great Migration which is an annual pilgrimage of over 1.5 million wildebeest accompanied by 200,000 zebra.

The Ngorongoro Crater is located to the east of the Serengeti and is another iconic park in Africa. With a diameter of 20 kilometres and a depth of over 600 metres, the Ngorongoro is the largest extinct volcanic caldera in the world. The views and the actual geology of the crater is extraordinary in itself, but the game viewing on the crater floor is also fantastic. It is probably the most reliable place to see rhino in Tanzania.

Namiri Plains Serengeti Northern Tanzania

Smaller national parks in northern Tanzania include Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Park. These are both located south of Arusha and offer excellent bird life and huge elephant herds respectively. A northern Tanzania safari itinerary usually starts from Arusha and combines a safari in Lake Manyara on route to the Ngorongoro Crater to stay for two or three nights. After your full day descent into the crater, you will then fly into the Serengeti National Park (dependent on where the herds are). To make the itinerary longer, you can add a few nights in Taranagire National Park at the beginning of the itinerary but we would only recommend this between the months of July and October as the wildlife begins to migrate outside of this period.

Serengeti Northern Tanzania

Are the northern parks for me?

If you have never been to Tanzania, there is no denying that the northern parks are the best place to visit. They are the destinations that should be ‘ticked off’ and the ones that offer particular experiences and sightings (such as the Great Migration or the Ngorongoro Crater). The northern parks also work really well for families or multi-generational families heading on safari. This is because they have a range of accommodation including larger lodges which have family requirements like a swimming pool, air conditioning or private safari jeeps. With reliable internal airlines operating in Tanzania, you can easily combine the northern parks with a beach trip in Zanzibar afterwards.

African Wild Dog Southern Tanzania

The Southern Parks

A safari in the southern parks of Tanzania is a very different experience to the northern parks. Although in our opinion there is no ‘better’ safari, for some people, the southern parks are definitely more suited to them compared to the northern parks. This is because of the fewer visitors, the varied safari activities and the overall landscape of the southern parks.

At a size of over 45,000 km², the Selous Game Reserve is Africa’s largest game reserve. To put that into perspective, the Selou is three times the size of the Serengeti. The Selous is a beautiful reserve and features a wealth of varying landscapes – from lakes, open plains, dense vegetation and palm-fringed streams. The main focus of the reserve is the mighty Rufiji River which runs through the park. Almost all of the safari activities are focussed around the river: your safari guide will drive along the river banks for your game drive, you will have lunch and sundowners on the boat safaris, and you can even enjoy catch-and-release fishing on the Rufiji.

Ruaha National Park Southern Tanzania

The other national park in southern Tanzania is Ruaha. In comparison to the Selous, Ruaha National Park is very dry. Parts of the Great Ruaha River dry up in the dry season (July to October) and the earth exposes its red soil. Often the safari camps will use the dry riverbeds to set up dinners or sundowners in the evening. The activities here are also varied – you can do walking safaris, game drives and even fly camping. As a park, Ruaha is known for its buffalo herds, its native huge baobab trees and its lion population. In fact, Ruaha is home to 40% of Tanzania’s lions.

The final national park located in southern Tanzania is Katavi. Because of its remoteness and limited accommodation options (two main safari camps here), Katavi is probably one of the least visited national parks in Tanzania. That said, if you are looking for a complete wilderness, fairly basic accommodation and authentic experience with very few other travellers, this is a good option for you. You can fly to Katavi from Ruaha National Park.

Jabali Ridge Ruaha Southern Tanzania

Are the southern parks for me?

So as you have just read, the southern parks offer a much wider variety of activities which allow you to get a broader safari experience. In the southern parks, you can do walking safaris, fishing, fly camping, game drives and boat safaris whereas in the northern parks, you are limited to just game drives most of the time. The southern parks are also much quieter, with much fewer camps and tourist numbers. This means that you will often get a sighting to yourself or, at least, with only one or two other vehicles nearby.

Because of the varied activities and the much lower tourist numbers, we would recommend the southern parks for honeymooners in particular. The camps in the Selous and Ruaha have no more than 8-10 rooms so they are all very intimate and have an authentic feel to them. This is great for honeymooners who are looking for fantastic service – the staff will immediately know you by name and will organise countless surprises to make your honeymoon special.

Issue 3 Mag and iphone 2

Read more travel insights in Issue 3 of Unforgettable Travel

This article was first published in issue three of the Unforgettable Travel Magazine.