East Africa's Northern Circuit

East Africa's Northern Circuit

East Africa is the quintessential African safari destination in the tradition of Karen Blixen of Out of Africa fame. It should be on every nature lover’s bucket list. Africa Safari Expert Tatham Liprini went on an East African safari to some of the region’s most stunning attractions – including the Masai Mara, Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater. She shares her impressions of her memorable experience

Tell us about your itinerary

We did a driving circuit in Tanzania and started off with an overnight stay in Arusha, then drove into Tarangire National Park where we spent a night. Tarangire is a great place for ’fly-camping’, which is an adventurous, private and unique experience, offered as part of a walking safari, where you go on a walk accompanied by a guide to experience a private night out of the main camp. Your walk usually ends when you arrive at a very intimate temporary mobile camp that’s  been set up for your convenience. The night is spent sitting around the campfire under a starry sky, with the guide preparing your dinner on the open fire and stories shared about the day’s events.

From Tarangire we drove approximately three hours to Lake Manyara National Park. It is a beautiful scenic drive as you pass the surrounding villages and children who get very excited and wave as you drive by.

Much of Lake Manyara National Park is taken up by the water. One of the many surprises for visitors is the remarkably wide diversity of terrestrial habitats which in turn support an impressive variety of birdlife.Much of Lake Manyara National Park is taken up by the water. One of the many surprises for visitors is the remarkably wide diversity of terrestrial habitats which in turn support an impressive variety of birdlife.

It was very interesting to see how landscapes change as you drive from the dry grasslands of Tarangire into the lush forests around Lake Manyara. The next day we headed through the town of Karatu into Ngorongoro Crater.

Karatu is an interesting town just 10 minutes from the Crater gate. My colleague Kelly and I took a moment to capture the area’s sunflower plantations.Karatu is an interesting town just 10 minutes from the Crater gate. My colleague Kelly and I took a moment to capture the area’s sunflower plantations.

We spent the day in the Crater, which was amazing! One thing to note is that it can get busy especially compared to Tarangire. Large crowds and high visitor numbers mean that sometimes there can be a queue at the Crater gate.

The Ngorongoro Crater is a unique safari environment; the steep caldera walls provide a bowl-like atmosphere and keep the almost 30 000 animals within a contained area, making them easy to find.The Ngorongoro Crater is a unique safari environment; the steep caldera walls provide a bowl-like atmosphere and keep the almost 30 000 animals within a contained area, making them easy to find.

Our last stop in Tanzania was the Serengeti. It is about three to four hours’ drive from the Crater to the Serengeti, driving via the northern part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (also known as Ndutu). There is lots to see here and you can look forward to a game drive as you head to the Serengeti! A very special sighting during our drive was a cheetah and a serval that we hadn’t seen yet. You can also off-road in this area so you can get closer to the game. It can get very dry and dusty so make sure to pack a buff or scarf.   

Taking in the beautiful views from the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater.Taking in the beautiful views from the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater.

I really enjoyed the driving circuit and it is a lovely way to experience a lot of the country in a short amount of time. Even though we spent a fair amount of time in the vehicle, I was never bored as there was just so much to see! It is also great as you have the same guide for the entire trip so you get to know each other and form a bond. I was actually so sad to leave Jackson when we headed to Kenya.

A quick safari selfie with my colleagues Jonty, Mark and Kelly as we headed to the Serengeti.A quick safari selfie with my colleagues Jonty, Mark and Kelly as we headed to the Serengeti.
Amboseli National Park offers great game viewing and is the place to go for the best views of iconic Mount Kilimanjaro.Amboseli National Park offers great game viewing and is the place to go for the best views of iconic Mount Kilimanjaro.

Our next stop was Kenya; we flew from Seronera Airstrip to Tarime, where we crossed the border with a road transfer to get to Migori airstrip in Kenya. From Migori we took a flight straight out into the Masai Mara. It only took us about two hours to cross the border so this option makes it really easy to combine the two countries.

We then spent the next few days exploring the Masai Mara and Amboseli as well as the private conservancies in the area.

What were the highlights of your trip?

So many to mention! As this was my first trip to East Africa I didn’t really know what to expect. I guess I have been lucky with lots of safari experiences in private concessions where you can off-road so I wasn’t expecting the game viewing to be as good as it was in the national parks and reserves. I was pleasantly surprised! Even though in many places you can’t go off-road, the game viewing really was spectacular. As I mentioned, spotted over a hundred lions in our 2-week trip!

Lions taking a nap in the shade provided by the game-viewing vehicle.Lions taking a nap in the shade provided by the game-viewing vehicle.
African manicure! Scratching against trees enable lions to keep their claws sharp and clean.African manicure! Scratching against trees enable lions to keep their claws sharp and clean.

In terms of the game viewing highlights, one that stood out to me was when we saw a cheetah mother with her 2-month-old cub.

An incredible sighting! Cheetah cubs are born with all the spots they’ll ever have, but when they’re tiny those spots are very close together, making their fur a darker, ash grey colour.An incredible sighting! Cheetah cubs are born with all the spots they’ll ever have, but when they’re tiny those spots are very close together, making their fur a darker, ash grey colour.

Other highlights included an ‘almost’ lion kill on some warthogs. We sat and watched the lions corner the warthog from both sides and slowly inch their way patiently forward. The poor warthog was completely unaware until the very last second when he was lucky  enough to make a narrow escape. We also saw a very rare serval at close proximity and a pride of eight lions on a kill.

This pride of lions was enjoying a wildebeest for lunch!This pride of lions was enjoying a wildebeest for lunch!

The two activities that stood out most to me were fly-camping in Tarangire and hot-air ballooning in the Masai Mara. Fly-camping, although not for everyone, is incredible: you have everything you could possibly want in terms of comfort but you are pretty much camping out in the wild so it really is an authentic experience. We had a pack of hyena scouting for leftovers after dinner while we were sitting around the campfire. The hot-air ballooning over the Masai Mara is literally one of the most incredible things I have ever experienced. Watching the sun rise over the Mara and seeing wild animals from above was amazing!

Enjoying the views from the balloon.Enjoying the views from the balloon.
East Africa’s wide open landscapes are ideal for a balloon safari.East Africa’s wide open landscapes are ideal for a balloon safari.

One more unforgettable experience was flying into Grumeti and seeing the Migration. We came into land and we couldn’t because there were so many wildebeest on the runway so had to quickly take off again… it was super exciting!

Another favourite was a day spent in Nairobi where we visited the Giraffe Centre and I had the opportunity to steal a kiss from a giraffe!Another favourite was a day spent in Nairobi where we visited the Giraffe Centre and I had the opportunity to steal a kiss from a giraffe!

What did you eat?

Really great food all round, lots of meat and some of the most interesting and imaginative soups I’ve ever seen with loads of fresh, organic and healthy salads and veggies as sides.

We had fantastic dining experiences at The Manor at Ngorongoro.We had fantastic dining experiences at The Manor at Ngorongoro.

Two of the best meals were the 5-course menu at The Manor at Ngorongoro and the huge fresh salad bar at Kichwa Tembo in Kenya… yum!

Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp has an organic garden so you can look forward to delicious, fresh produce!Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp has an organic garden so you can look forward to delicious, fresh produce!

What were your lodge highlights?

My personal top picks were Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp and Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, although we had extremely comfortable accommodation throughout our trip. The service was especially thoughtful and personal here, and they made us feel so welcome and at home! They sing you an arrival and farewell song that is super catchy (it was stuck in my head for the rest of the trip). Lake Manyara Tree Lodge had the most beautiful treehouse rooms and one of the best outdoor showers I have ever had.

Lake Manyara Tree Lodge’s delightful treehouses are elegantly furnished and offer unique views of the forest canopy.Lake Manyara Tree Lodge’s delightful treehouses are elegantly furnished and offer unique views of the forest canopy.
Sand River Mara was one of my favourites and one of the most luxurious camps we stayed at. It is quite crazy to think of a ‘tent’ that has chandeliers!Sand River Mara was one of my favourites and one of the most luxurious camps we stayed at. It is quite crazy to think of a ‘tent’ that has chandeliers!
Kichwa Tembo has an incredible pool overlooking the plains. It was really great to be able to cool off after a game drive.Kichwa Tembo has an incredible pool overlooking the plains. It was really great to be able to cool off after a game drive.

At Serengeti Pioneer Camp they set up a lovely private dinner for us at the pool in the evening. From Pioneer we saw the most beautiful sunrise as the main area is situated on top of a kopje with amazing views.

Top travel tips

All of these areas are must-sees. There is not one destination that we visited that I would not recommend. Remember your sunblock and a hat, and a buff for the dust! Wear lots of layers and thin clothing as it can be chilly in the mornings and evenings but gets very warm during the day. Relax at the beach after your safari, both Kenya and Tanzania combine really well with Zanzibar or Diani beach on the Kenyan coast and are wonderful destinations to add on to your East Africa Safari.

Want to know more about combining Africa’s islands and incredible wildlife destinations? Sign up to our newsletter for insider info on African travel. If you’re ready to start planning your dream safari, get in touch with a friendly Africa Safari Expert today.

East Africa is the quintessential African safari destination in the tradition of Karen Blixen of Out of Africa fame. It should be on every nature lover’s bucket list. Africa Safari Expert Tatham Liprini went on an East African safari to some of the region’s most stunning attractions – including the Masai Mara, Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater. She shares her impressions of her memorable experience

Tell us about your itinerary

We did a driving circuit in Tanzania and started off with an overnight stay in Arusha, then drove into Tarangire National Park where we spent a night. Tarangire is a great place for ’fly-camping’, which is an adventurous, private and unique experience, offered as part of a walking safari, where you go on a walk accompanied by a guide to experience a private night out of the main camp. Your walk usually ends when you arrive at a very intimate temporary mobile camp that’s  been set up for your convenience. The night is spent sitting around the campfire under a starry sky, with the guide preparing your dinner on the open fire and stories shared about the day’s events.

From Tarangire we drove approximately three hours to Lake Manyara National Park. It is a beautiful scenic drive as you pass the surrounding villages and children who get very excited and wave as you drive by.

Much of Lake Manyara National Park is taken up by the water. One of the many surprises for visitors is the remarkably wide diversity of terrestrial habitats which in turn support an impressive variety of birdlife.Much of Lake Manyara National Park is taken up by the water. One of the many surprises for visitors is the remarkably wide diversity of terrestrial habitats which in turn support an impressive variety of birdlife.

It was very interesting to see how landscapes change as you drive from the dry grasslands of Tarangire into the lush forests around Lake Manyara. The next day we headed through the town of Karatu into Ngorongoro Crater.

Karatu is an interesting town just 10 minutes from the Crater gate. My colleague Kelly and I took a moment to capture the area’s sunflower plantations.Karatu is an interesting town just 10 minutes from the Crater gate. My colleague Kelly and I took a moment to capture the area’s sunflower plantations.

We spent the day in the Crater, which was amazing! One thing to note is that it can get busy especially compared to Tarangire. Large crowds and high visitor numbers mean that sometimes there can be a queue at the Crater gate.

The Ngorongoro Crater is a unique safari environment; the steep caldera walls provide a bowl-like atmosphere and keep the almost 30 000 animals within a contained area, making them easy to find.The Ngorongoro Crater is a unique safari environment; the steep caldera walls provide a bowl-like atmosphere and keep the almost 30 000 animals within a contained area, making them easy to find.

Our last stop in Tanzania was the Serengeti. It is about three to four hours’ drive from the Crater to the Serengeti, driving via the northern part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (also known as Ndutu). There is lots to see here and you can look forward to a game drive as you head to the Serengeti! A very special sighting during our drive was a cheetah and a serval that we hadn’t seen yet. You can also off-road in this area so you can get closer to the game. It can get very dry and dusty so make sure to pack a buff or scarf.   

Taking in the beautiful views from the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater.Taking in the beautiful views from the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater.

I really enjoyed the driving circuit and it is a lovely way to experience a lot of the country in a short amount of time. Even though we spent a fair amount of time in the vehicle, I was never bored as there was just so much to see! It is also great as you have the same guide for the entire trip so you get to know each other and form a bond. I was actually so sad to leave Jackson when we headed to Kenya.

A quick safari selfie with my colleagues Jonty, Mark and Kelly as we headed to the Serengeti.A quick safari selfie with my colleagues Jonty, Mark and Kelly as we headed to the Serengeti.
Amboseli National Park offers great game viewing and is the place to go for the best views of iconic Mount Kilimanjaro.Amboseli National Park offers great game viewing and is the place to go for the best views of iconic Mount Kilimanjaro.

Our next stop was Kenya; we flew from Seronera Airstrip to Tarime, where we crossed the border with a road transfer to get to Migori airstrip in Kenya. From Migori we took a flight straight out into the Masai Mara. It only took us about two hours to cross the border so this option makes it really easy to combine the two countries.

We then spent the next few days exploring the Masai Mara and Amboseli as well as the private conservancies in the area.

What were the highlights of your trip?

So many to mention! As this was my first trip to East Africa I didn’t really know what to expect. I guess I have been lucky with lots of safari experiences in private concessions where you can off-road so I wasn’t expecting the game viewing to be as good as it was in the national parks and reserves. I was pleasantly surprised! Even though in many places you can’t go off-road, the game viewing really was spectacular. As I mentioned, spotted over a hundred lions in our 2-week trip!

Lions taking a nap in the shade provided by the game-viewing vehicle.Lions taking a nap in the shade provided by the game-viewing vehicle.
African manicure! Scratching against trees enable lions to keep their claws sharp and clean.African manicure! Scratching against trees enable lions to keep their claws sharp and clean.

In terms of the game viewing highlights, one that stood out to me was when we saw a cheetah mother with her 2-month-old cub.

An incredible sighting! Cheetah cubs are born with all the spots they’ll ever have, but when they’re tiny those spots are very close together, making their fur a darker, ash grey colour.An incredible sighting! Cheetah cubs are born with all the spots they’ll ever have, but when they’re tiny those spots are very close together, making their fur a darker, ash grey colour.

Other highlights included an ‘almost’ lion kill on some warthogs. We sat and watched the lions corner the warthog from both sides and slowly inch their way patiently forward. The poor warthog was completely unaware until the very last second when he was lucky  enough to make a narrow escape. We also saw a very rare serval at close proximity and a pride of eight lions on a kill.

This pride of lions was enjoying a wildebeest for lunch!This pride of lions was enjoying a wildebeest for lunch!

The two activities that stood out most to me were fly-camping in Tarangire and hot-air ballooning in the Masai Mara. Fly-camping, although not for everyone, is incredible: you have everything you could possibly want in terms of comfort but you are pretty much camping out in the wild so it really is an authentic experience. We had a pack of hyena scouting for leftovers after dinner while we were sitting around the campfire. The hot-air ballooning over the Masai Mara is literally one of the most incredible things I have ever experienced. Watching the sun rise over the Mara and seeing wild animals from above was amazing!

Enjoying the views from the balloon.Enjoying the views from the balloon.
East Africa’s wide open landscapes are ideal for a balloon safari.East Africa’s wide open landscapes are ideal for a balloon safari.

One more unforgettable experience was flying into Grumeti and seeing the Migration. We came into land and we couldn’t because there were so many wildebeest on the runway so had to quickly take off again… it was super exciting!

Another favourite was a day spent in Nairobi where we visited the Giraffe Centre and I had the opportunity to steal a kiss from a giraffe!Another favourite was a day spent in Nairobi where we visited the Giraffe Centre and I had the opportunity to steal a kiss from a giraffe!

What did you eat?

Really great food all round, lots of meat and some of the most interesting and imaginative soups I’ve ever seen with loads of fresh, organic and healthy salads and veggies as sides.

We had fantastic dining experiences at The Manor at Ngorongoro.We had fantastic dining experiences at The Manor at Ngorongoro.

Two of the best meals were the 5-course menu at The Manor at Ngorongoro and the huge fresh salad bar at Kichwa Tembo in Kenya… yum!

Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp has an organic garden so you can look forward to delicious, fresh produce!Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp has an organic garden so you can look forward to delicious, fresh produce!

What were your lodge highlights?

My personal top picks were Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp and Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, although we had extremely comfortable accommodation throughout our trip. The service was especially thoughtful and personal here, and they made us feel so welcome and at home! They sing you an arrival and farewell song that is super catchy (it was stuck in my head for the rest of the trip). Lake Manyara Tree Lodge had the most beautiful treehouse rooms and one of the best outdoor showers I have ever had.

Lake Manyara Tree Lodge’s delightful treehouses are elegantly furnished and offer unique views of the forest canopy.Lake Manyara Tree Lodge’s delightful treehouses are elegantly furnished and offer unique views of the forest canopy.
Sand River Mara was one of my favourites and one of the most luxurious camps we stayed at. It is quite crazy to think of a ‘tent’ that has chandeliers!Sand River Mara was one of my favourites and one of the most luxurious camps we stayed at. It is quite crazy to think of a ‘tent’ that has chandeliers!
Kichwa Tembo has an incredible pool overlooking the plains. It was really great to be able to cool off after a game drive.Kichwa Tembo has an incredible pool overlooking the plains. It was really great to be able to cool off after a game drive.

At Serengeti Pioneer Camp they set up a lovely private dinner for us at the pool in the evening. From Pioneer we saw the most beautiful sunrise as the main area is situated on top of a kopje with amazing views.

Top travel tips

All of these areas are must-sees. There is not one destination that we visited that I would not recommend. Remember your sunblock and a hat, and a buff for the dust! Wear lots of layers and thin clothing as it can be chilly in the mornings and evenings but gets very warm during the day. Relax at the beach after your safari, both Kenya and Tanzania combine really well with Zanzibar or Diani beach on the Kenyan coast and are wonderful destinations to add on to your East Africa Safari.

Want to know more about combining Africa’s islands and incredible wildlife destinations? Sign up to our newsletter for insider info on African travel. If you’re ready to start planning your dream safari, get in touch with a friendly Africa Safari Expert today.