Go North for teeming wildlife, grand scenery and tourist herds photo-grazing everywhere. The dream of a magical, remote safari experience may be killed stone dead if every time you get near something interesting – such as lions chowing down on a fresh wildebeest breakfast – a dozen open-top 4WDs screech up and jostle for pole-picture position. If you decide to go north, which you should, then go with expectations of a wildlife Grand Prix, factoring in thousands of animals pursued by tens of jeeps and you won’t be disappointed.
Go South for less animals, less tourists, worse roads, better ambience, more cost.
***Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a uniquely lush and picturesque volcanic bowl, the largest unbroken caldera in Africa, with its own micro-ecosystem of lakes and forests that attracts many species of animals, including the ‘Big Five’. However, due to Ngorongoro’s relatively small land area human overload may detract from the ambience. Most tourists get there via Arusha.
***Tarangire NP/CA, a massive, somewhat uncared-for game reserve encompassing both a National Park and a Conservation Area (CA), offers almost the number of animals as Serengeti or Ngorongoro but far less tourists and a fine river to boot, in the NP.
Tarangire’s three specialties are elephants, birds (more than any other Tanzanian park, best time for bird-watching is September-March) and baobab trees, those obese, alien and extremely photogenic trees that are not, in fact trees, but super-size succulents. Guided bush walks are offered in Tarangire CA.
Tarangire NP is best July-October, Tarangire CA is best December-March (migration time), also July-October.
Tourists can get there in two hours from Arusha.
**Selous Game Reserve, a well-organised space with varied safaris possible, including walking and boating. Only a limited section is open to tourists but the whole park is the size of Switzerland so that’s not a problem and the number of visitors is way less than up north, so the atmosphere is more exclusive.
The scenery around the Rufiji river is especially attractive and awash with hippo, elephant, zebra, lions and others; most lodges and tented camps lean towards luxury living. Best July-October, the dry season or January-February for bird watching. Get there from Dar es Salaam though roads are bad and flights are encouraged.
**Katavi NP, quiet, remote and undeveloped yet loaded with beasts and birds so Katavi is the place for those who really want to get away from the human hordes, though camps are limited in number and access difficult other than by plane. Best July-October (dry season).
**Ruaha NP, another excellent small park with as much wildlife as big northern reserves but a fraction of the visitors. Bush walks with an armed ranger are a feature of Ruaha. Best July-October (dry season).