Suggested self drive trips in Tanzania
Highlights of the North
Arusha > Tarangire > Manyara > Ngorongoro > Eyasi > Arusha National Park
Tanzania is truly a country of highlights and Africa’s ultimate safari destination. The entire country is gifted by Mother Nature, but the Northern region really is the spoiled kid. You tumble from one legendary safari destination to another, all within a stone’s throw distance. For those who love wildlife, have limited time or want to combine it with a Serengeti, Kilimanjaro or Zanzibar add-on, and are not on a budget, the Northern Circuit makes an unforgettable road trip destination.
Rent a car from XCAR and drive your own adventure.
Start of your road trip: Arusha – Tarangire National Park
Tarangire National Park is located 100 km southwest of Arusha, about 7 km off the main Arusha – Dodoma road, and the turn off at Kwa Kuchinja is clearly signposted. The road is tarred and in perfect condition, and the journey takes less than 2 hours. After lunch at your camp, it’s time to bite the dust for your first self-drive safari in Tarangire National Park!
Tarangire lies within the Central Rift Valley, a semi-arid region inhabited by various traditional pastoralists, most famously the Maasai, who live in the immediate vicinity of the national park, but also the Barabaig and other sub groups of the Datoga further southwest. Tarangire National Park is best known for its density of baobab trees and large herds of elephants.
Tarangire – Mto wa Mbu – Lake Manyara
Park permits are valid for 24 hours but only allow you to enter once.
Things-to-do Mto wa Mbu
- Visit the local crafts market
- Village walk organised by the community
- Walk through the ground water forest in Kirurumu George (Wayo Africa)
- Mountain biking down the Rift Valley (Wayo Africa)
Spend another day in Tarangire or, after early morning safari and breakfast, hit the road to Lake Manyara National Park. From Arusha, it’s 120 km on a smooth tarred road in perfect condition. Coming from Tarangire, it’s even closer by and the road is also in perfect condition.
The main entrance gate to the park is at the outskirts of the unpronounceable village Mto wa Mbu (try it…) meaning “river of mosquito’’. Despite its unappealing name, it is an inviting, tropical town with a laid back Rastafari vibe well worth spending an extra day. This village sees a large volumes of tourist traffic, so it’s well stocked with various tourist paraphernalia. It is said to be the only place in Tanzania where representatives of 120 Tanzanian tribes are resident! An exciting aspect of the Lake Manyara area is the opportunity to stretch your legs.
Lake Manyara National Park
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 boasts very diverse flora & fauna – savanna, acacia woodland, rocks, grassy floodplains and tropical rainforest. The park offers suburb birding and guided walking safaris along the shore to the hot springs and flamingo lookout point is highly recommended.
Drive to Karatu, Crater Highlands and Ngorongoro
Karatu is a convenient base for visiting Ngorongoro and the Crater Highlands (Lodware gate is 14 km ahead), all the more if you want to economise on entrance fees and the high prices charged by lodges on the crater rim. The town lies about 30 km from Mto wa Mbu on a smooth asphalt road. If you come directly from Arusha, the drive takes about 2 hours.
Things-to-do Crater Highlands
- Self-drive safari on the crater floor
- Guided (multiple) day hikes
- Mountain biking
- Visiting a coffee farm
Ngorongoro Crater self-drive safari
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the flagship of Tanzania’s tourism industry and is most famous for, and named after, the Ngorongoro Crater. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The crater is the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera and is the only place in the world where you have a very high chance to see the ‘Big 5’ in one day. All this beauty does come at price. The conservation fee is US$ 60 pp / 24 hours. If you want to enter the crater, you have to pay the additional Crater Service Fee of US$ 200 per vehicle each time you go down the crater. It can get very crowded during high season, with vehicles waiting in line for an hour or longer, before they can descend into the crater. Self-drive at the crater floor is not common.
Drive to Lake Eyasi
Lake Eyasi is a shallow soda lake at the remote southern border of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and lies at the base of the 800m Eyasi Escarpment. It’s a 2 hour drive from Karatu, mostly on rough, rocky roads, so drive carefully and slowly, as backup support in case of a car problem is not quickly organised in this remote setting…!
Lake Eyasi is a recommended off-the-beaten track deviation for anyone looking for something remote and different, and a cultural highlight because of the unique opportunity to hunt with the Hadza tribe. They are Tanzania’s only remaining tribe of true hunter-gatherers. Their language is characterized 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. We joined the Hadza on a hunt and were still flabbergasted the following days. That this can still exist in the 21st century… Read more in our Cultural Safaris section.
Visit Hadzabe and Datoga tribes
The Lake Eyasi Cultural Tourism Programme regulates tourism in the area. You can find the office at the main road, when entering Mang’ola coming from Karatu. You need to stop here to pay the mandatory entrance fee of $20 / vehicle and it is also where all activities and guides must be arranged. Joining the Hadza on a hunt means getting up at 5:00 AM. You return to your lodge around 10:30 AM for your breakfast. The hunting men are fast and will not wait for you, so some level of fitness is required. Other cultural encounters on offer are visiting a Datoga blacksmith or a Datoga family band. Prices are $20 for the activity and $30 for the guide / group.
Hadzaba men making fire
Return to Arusha
Allow 4 to 5 hours to drive from Lake Eyasi to Arusha. For first time visitors to Africa, Arusha is an agreeable introduction to urban Africa. It is an organized, green town, with a skyline dominated by the imposing Mount Meru. There are plenty of trendy cafes, restaurants and gift shops catering to expatriates, tourists and wealthier locals, which can be a welcome relief after spending a few days in the bush. While most tour operators treat Arusha as little more than a staging post en route to the wild parks in the West, the surrounding areas is well worth exploring in its own right