The 15-Night self-drive, camping and eco-lodge safari in northern Tanzania is the ideal for couples, families or small groups of friends that prefer independent travel and looking for some real adventure!
The itinerary takes you to Tarangire, Manyara, Ngorongoro and Lake Natron, as well as southern, central and northern Serengeti. It gives you one of the BEST wildebeest migration experiences on offer, as you will camp right amongst the herds at some remote spots irrespective of where the migration is at the time of travel. Pretty unique!
The 15-night safari as shown below is for travel between July to September when the wildebeest migration is in the northern Serengeti. With small adjustments the safari can also be done between February to April when the migration is in the south. The accommodation is mostly independent camping in a combination of public and special campsites inside the national parks, a 3-night stay in a mobile camp, with some eco-lodges thrown in for good measure too!
The trip starts upon arrival into Kilimanjaro airport and two-night stay in Arusha, with the first night is at a lodge to pick up your fully equipped Land Rover with rooftop tent, then camping one night to acquaint yourself with the gear and stock up on supplies. The next day head you will head out Tarangire for the first two nights of camping and then onto Manyara and Ngorongoro, camping as you go.
After spending a full day game driving inside the crater you will head out onto the plains of the Serengeti for a two-night stay at Ndutu Safari Lodge, where you can search for the famous big cats of Ndutu. This is followed by a further two nights of camping in the central section of the Serengeti. The highlight of the trip will be the three-night stay at a truly mobile camp that follows the migration on a micro level! You will be right in the thick of it amongst the beasts! The last night in the Serengeti is spent at an eco-camp in an exclusive walking wilderness zone of the northern Serengeti, where bush walks will take your experience to the next level!
On the way back drive through the Rift Valley on the east side of the Serengeti NP past Lake Natron for a wonderful treat and some R & R at Lake Natron Camp, a true gem and one of SAFARI FRANK’s favourite spots! The next day continue on to Arusha, hand over the vehicle and fly home.
Congratulations, you will have completed one the most EPIC trips anywhere in Africa!
Planning: Season, Route & Accommodation, Costs
When planning a self-drive trip to northern Tanzania there are two important aspects to consider as far as seasons go. They are the rain and the wildebeest migration.
As far as rain goes the following:
- The ‘long rainy season’ (March, April & May): This is when Tanzania receives the majority of its rainfall and is fairly consist every year. Safaris at this time of the year can become complicated as road conditions deteriorate and animals disperse from water sources. This is certainly not the ideal season to be on safari especially camping, so be prepared to get wet and muddy!
- The ‘short rainy season’ (November & December): These rains are not as intense as the long rainy season, can be unpredictable and vary considerably from year to year. A safari at this time of the year can be enjoyable and less crowded provided you don’t mind the chance of a little rain.
As far as the migration goes the following:
The herds move in a clockwise direction from the south of the Serengeti (around February to April) through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Grumeti Reserve into the north of the Serengeti around July to October. There are two ‘main events’ that form part of the migration to consider from a traveling perspective, both are spectacular and special, but at different times of the cycle.
- The Mara River Crossings: These take place in the northern part of the Serengeti close to the border with Kenya between July to October depending on rain and grazing conditions at the time. The herds will move between localised areas in the Serengeti and the Mara looking for the best grazing and the herds will do many crossings going back and forth over the Mara river at various locations along the river.
- The calving season: The wildebeest calf around March each year in the south of the Park in the Ndutu area. During this time thousands of babies will be born in a very short period of time and given the prevalence of predators around Ndutu, this makes for some awe-inspiring sightings and mother nature at her best but also cruellest.
It is, however, important to note that not all the animals of the savannah are migratory, and devoting some time to spotting lion, elephant, giraffe and the primates the bush has to offer is deeply rewarding too. In fact, there is a trick in moving counter-clockwise to the migration which both offer you less crowds, and more affordable travel. The magnificence of the Serengeti goes beyond the migration, and there is always more to discover. But this does not mean you have to miss out on the river crossings…
To read more about the migration click here.
Another aspect to consider on a self-drive trip is the accommodation. Since your 4×4 will be fitted with a roof top tent camping is a given! However, there are two types of campsites inside the National Parks:
- Public Campsites: these are where you share the campsite with other campers and the campsites are often pretty average with very basic ablution facilities. The rates are lower than the special campsites.
- Special Campsites: this is where you camp all by yourself away from anybody else, but with NO facilities, also no ablution….The sites are however mostly in great locations and if you are ‘up for it’ camping all by yourself in this amazing wilderness is just the best for experienced African travellers and campers. There aren’t special sites at all locations and they are also pretty popular, so it will be subject to availability. They are also more expensive than public sites despite having no facilities.
A further aspect that needs consideration is if it will be a CAMPING ONLY trip, or a CAMPING AND LODGE trip. Some travellers prefer to do their own thing camping all the way, whilst others prefer to break up the camping every now and then for a bit of luxury and a proper shower. There are some great eco-camps along the way and in some places, notably the northern Serengeti, we feel adding the right camp to the itinerary here is the only way to get the full experience of the migration, as well as walking in this amazing wilderness.
Depending on your preference of ‘migration event’, the month of travel and the choice between camping only, or the addition of some camps, SAFARI FRANK will adapt the itinerary to suit your individual needs perfectly!
The itinerary to follow below is based on the ‘river crossing season’ in the north between July and October, and includes camping at both public and special campsites, as well as some awesome camps along the way.
As far as costs go it is important to note that self driving in Tanzania is not a ‘cheap’ safari. In fact it is quite a lot more expensive than self driving in Southern Africa. The daily rate for a fully equipped Land Rover for up to four travellers is around USD 300 per day with discounts available for long rentals. Vehicles can be picked up and dropped off in Arusha or in a number of other locations, but fees may apply. Entrance, conservation and camping fees for the National Parks in Tanzania are more than double those in Southern Africa and vary between Parks, but can be budgeted at around USD $130 per person per night.
Night 1: Arusha, Twiga Lodge
Arrive at Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO) where you will be met by a driver from Twiga Lodge, your stay for the first night in Tanzania. Twiga Lodge is situated right on the boundary of Arusha National Park and is about a 30 to 40-minute drive from the airport. The lodge is named after the Swahili word for giraffe, which frequently visits the lodge. Herds of forest elephants march past the lodge on a daily basis snapping branches, and having lunch or dinner to the sounds of their rumbling stomachs is a special treat!
Check in at Twiga and take it easy for the rest of the day in the very capable hands of the hosts and owners, Erika and Paul Depending on your arrival time you will be briefed at the lodge on the vehicle and all the equipment. Enjoy the lodge’s home cooking and the best fresh produce available in Arusha!
Fall asleep in your cosy room to sounds of Africa all around you!
Night 2: Arusha National Park, Public Campsite
After an early breakfast, you will be briefed on the vehicle and all the equipment, if not done the previous day.
You then take the short drive to Arusha National Park where you will stay overnight in the public campsite. Very few people camp within the park so you will probably be the only ones in the campsite.
Before entering the Park, you can drive to Usa River (10 minutes away) and stop at the Rotterdam Supermarket to exchange money and shop supplies for your safari. You will find most things here although fruit and vegetables are sometimes limited, but you can pick these up tomorrow at the many fresh produce markets along the way. However, there should be enough food in the ‘starter box’ that comes with the vehicle for the first night, so you may decide to go straight to the park and shop the following day.
Enjoy the rest of the day in Arusha NP doing a game drive and even a bush walk or canoeing should you wish. The wildlife here is very good and setting is just spectacular!
Also use the day to double check all your equipment to make sure all is good to go. If there is anything that needs attention, or if you have any questions, pop into Twiga Lodge on your way out the next day and have it attended too.
Nights 3 and 4: Tarangire National Park, Public and Special Campsites
Pack up camp in the morning and then drive on to Tarangire National Park where you spend the next 2 nights. Allow a 3-4 hour’s drive to get from Arusha to Tarangire. You spend the first night in the public campsite inside the Park.
Simply put Tarangire is an elephant paradise! This National Park has one of the highest density of elephant populations of any park in Tanzania and this combined with beautiful and varied scenery, ancient baobabs and flat-topped acacias have made it a popular stop-over on the northern safari circuit. The dry season is a spectacle to behold as large concentrations of animals congregate along the Tarangire river and the permanent swamps.
Enjoy an afternoon game drive and sundowner before setting up camp early evening. Enjoy cooking outside on the open fire and the sleep in your cosy rooftop tent….
The following morning do an early start and game drive through the Park, as you have the full day to explore. Tonight you camp in a special campsite inside the Park. This will be your first night alone in the wilderness with nobody else around and no facilities either! Cook early and settle into camp whilst enjoying the starry night and the sounds of the Africa around you, just magic!
Night 5: Manyara, Migombani Campsite
Today do another early start and game drive through Tarangire exiting the Park in the north-west. At the village of Minjingu on the main road head a bit south, before turning west and entering Manyara NP in the south. Do a leisurely game drive through Manyara NP along the shore of the lake and through the forests below the escarpment.
This scenic park is home to Tanzania’s tree climbing lions who are often found resting in large acacias to escape the heat. However, Manyara is far from a lion sanctuary, it is an entire destination in its own right. It boasts many habitats and is home to a large diversity of other life forms, such as the thousands of flamingos that sometimes flock here. It is also home to one of the highest Olive Baboon densities of any park in Africa.
In the afternoon exit Manyara in the north and pop in at the village of Mto wa Mbu to stock up on fresh produce. This is a very authentic village and the market is a great experience offering some really good fresh and organic produce. There is also a good bicycle or tuk-tuk tour of the village, highly recommended. Then do the short drive up the Rift Valley Escarpment to Migombani Campsite your overnight stop.
Migombani Camp is a family-run camp located at one of the highlights of northern Tanzania with amazing views of lake Manyara below. The campsite is beautifully appointed with grassy grounds where you can pitch your own tent, or just hire one for your comfort. The site is spaciously designed, fully equipped and safe with 24-hours security. Choose your favourite spot to put up your tent and enjoy the undisturbed views from the privacy of your canvas. There are hot showers, clean flushing toilets and fresh water, thanks to the nearby river. Also a large, modern kitchen area is at your disposal. Suddenly washing dishes is not so bad anymore, thanks to this sensational view!
Night 6: Ngorongoro Crater, Special Campsite
Today you make your way to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area where you will spend one night in a special campsite.
As you drive up to the rim of the crater, you will get your first view into the magnificent Ngorongoro Crater. Take the time to stop at the viewpoint to the magnificence of the crater some 600m below. You spend the night in a special campsite close to the descent road into the crater. Enjoy the view and sunset over the crater that afternoon. By prior arrangement a crater rim walk can be arranged.
Spend a glorious night of camping all by yourself on the edge of the crater, not to be forgotten soon!
Nights 7 and 8: Ndutu, Ndutu Safari Lodge
Early morning (you can start driving at 6am) you descend into the crater for a day of spectacular game viewing, hopefully see the BIG5 and have a couple of hours in the crater all to yourself.
The Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera. The crater forms a bowl of about 265 km2 and is said to have the highest density of wildlife anywhere in Africa. As a result, game-viewing here does not disappoint! It is, however, a popular tourist destination so expect many other vehicles in the crater especially later in the day, hence the emphasis on an early start.
After a lunch in the crater head to the western side and do the steep drive up the crater wall, exit towards the west and join the main road towards the Serengeti. Head to the Ndutu area and the Ndutu Safari Lodge which will be your base for the next two nights. The Ndutu area is perfect for predator viewing all year round. It has many resident predators such as large prides of lions, leopards, plenty of cheetahs and many spotted hyenas.
Check into the Ndutu Safari Lodge for a homely stay for the next two nights and enjoy a bit of comfort after the camping. The lodge has a long-standing safari history of over 50 years. It has always been the base for many photographers, filmmakers, researchers and safari guests, because of its outstanding location. It is the home to many resident predators and is visited by the annual wildebeest migration each year between mid-December to April. The lodge has 34 stone and thatch lake-front cottages, each having its own en-suite bathroom facilities and a private veranda.
On the first morning at the lodge do an early start and explore the many tracks around the lake and feeder steams looking for the big cats of which there are plenty. Ndutu is particularly famous for its cheetah population and since you can drive off-road here, choose a direction and just head out into the plains for the day. Stop somewhere on the plain for lunch with nobody in sight for miles, this will be one of the highlights of the trip!
Make sure you are back at the lake late afternoon and again explore the areas around the water sources for when the predators start to move, it will not disappoint!
Head back to the lodge for some time around the campfire and a scrumptious dinner…. did we mention that food is VERY good?
Nights 9 and 10: Central Serengeti, Public and Special Campsites
Today you head for the Serengeti NP and onto the famous plains, where you will spend the next 2 nights in a combination of a special and a public campsite in the central Serengeti.
On the way to the southern entrance to the Park at Naabi Hill, you can back track a bit and visit Olduvai Gorge and museum, which shows the work of Dr Louis and Mary Leakey and the discovery of the first humanoid footprints. Well worth it!
At Naabi Hill entrance gate you must “exit the Ngorongoro Conservation Area” and “enter the Serengeti National Park”, an important step to prevent not being double charged! This road is quite corrugated and dusty and you need to allow 4 hours driving dependant on road conditions. Head to Seronera the HQ of the Park game viewing along the way exploring the boulder outcrops dotted on the plains. Keep a lookout for lions using the ‘boulders islands’ for shade and viewing advantage over the plain. If you are lucky maybe you will get that famous photo of Simba on the rock!
At Seronera stock up on supplies and fuel and do an afternoon game drive around the myriad of roads and tracks in the area. Late afternoon head to the public campsite and set up camp for the night.
The Serengeti is one of the most famous National Parks in the world, known for the famed wildebeest migration that takes place here annually. However, it also offers much more! The name is derived from the Maasai language and means ‘the land of endless plains’ and is certainly one of the most scenic safari destinations in Africa and one of the most sought after. The enormous park is a critically important open ecosystem as it covers nearly 15,000 km2 of protected land and is surrounded by a greater area of unfenced wildlife reserves
The next morning pack up camp and decide which direction you want to explore! The Seronera area can be pretty busy given all the lodges and camps, but once you move further away the vehicles will quickly thin out leaving you to explore at your leisure. Once again you will have the whole day at your disposal returning late afternoon to your special campsite, where you will be all alone on the plain for the night…. need we say more, heaven!
Nights 11, 12 and 13: Northern Serengeti, Great Migrations Camps
Toady you will drive north-west and exit the Serengeti NP at Ikoma gate from where you will drive a bit north and re-enter the Park in the north-west at Tabora B gate.
The migration should be in this area towards Kogatende during July to October. Due to recent floods this route is the only way to get to Kogatende at present and is quicker. If the migration is more to the north-east you would drive to Bologonja past Lobo Hills within the park. One will not know where the migration will be until nearer the time so this part of the itinerary is flexible, but you will drive to wherever the migration is to meet the Great Migration Camp which moves with the migration.
Great Migration Camp is a truly mobile camp and moves to where the migration is on a micro level and the owners and guides, Sally and Carel, guarantee you experiencing the migration up close and personal. They basically live fulltime in the Serengeti and have done so for many years, so you will not find better guides for the migration than these guys. As a result you may be camping in very remote places, but with the security of the camp, just perfect for an amazing migration experience!
Set against the backdrop of the great wildebeest migration, this completely mobile, self-sufficient and environmentally friendly camp can travel anywhere in the Serengeti depending on the time of year and the stage and location of the migration, giving you a front row seat to one of Mother Nature’s greatest events. The mobile camp moves location as the wildebeest move with the ability to move camp in a day. Like the wildebeest they stay in tune with the natural environment, weather conditions and where the herds are gathered. During your stay there is also the opportunity to do hot air ballooning over the Mara River and the migration, not be missed!
You will spend three glorious nights at Great Migration Camp on a full board basis. You will sleep in your own roof top tent, but all activities and meals will be provided, as well as hot showers and a porta/chemical toilet.
Your stay at Great Migration Camp will be the highlight of the trip, truly an unforgettable experience!
Night 14: Northern Serengeti, Serengeti Green Camp
On the last morning at Great Migration Camp after the morning game drive and a hearty breakfast, you will head east along the Mara River to a wilderness zone of the northern Serengeti where walking safaris are permitted The Serengeti Green Camp is the only camp in the wilderness area, so you will not see another vehicle or people around while staying here.
Make sure to arrive in time for a late afternoon bush walk with the resident professional walking guide. This is an excellent walking area where it is not uncommon to see 15 or more large mammal species on one walk, including elephants, buffalo and even cats if you are lucky! The walk will end in an elevated spot from where the magnificent sunset over the Serengeti can be experienced, G &T in hand!
Serengeti Green Camp is located at a saltlick on a stream which is frequented by lots of animals all the time. The camp itself is stylish and comfortable with accommodation being in the form of 10 spacious square tents. Each tent contains a double bed, linen bedding, outdoor chairs, luggage racks and an attached large bathroom with a hot bucket shower system. With 10 tents the camp normally sleeps up to 20 guests, although it is possible to accommodate three people per tent on request.
All meals are prepared by the camp chef and are either served as plated or buffet style. They are all hearty three course meals which are enjoyed in the dining area or under the stars. The camp is designed to be environmentally sustainable with impact on the environment minimised where-ever possible. It is 100% plastic free, uses solar lanterns, recycles and much more.
Spend a great night at this eco-camp including a delicious dinner under the stars.
Night 15: Lake Natron, Lake Natron Camp
The next morning rise early and head out on another bush walk with the guide but this time in another direction, once again the walk will not disappoint!
Come back to camp for brunch, pack and head south-east through the Park exiting at Klein’s Camp Gate. Then drive down the south-east of the Park towards Lake Natron where you will spend one night at Lake Natron Camp. This is a full day of driving but the scenery is just breathtaking as you approach Ol Donyo Lengai Crater a free-standing active volcano towering some 2300 m above the Rift Valley, a magnificent sight!
Lake Natron Camp is near Ol Donyo Lengai, at the lowest point of the Great Rift Valley in East Africa at an altitude of 600m above sea level. Here, between the only active carbonatite volcano in the world, Ol Donyo Lengai to the south, the pinnacles of Mt Gelai to the east, the gorge etched escarpment of the Rift Valley to the west, and the mirror-surfaced Lake Natron sanctuary to millions of flamingos to the north, is the oasis adjacent to the soda flats where Lake Natron Camp lies! Just breathtakingly beautiful and here it is impossible to take a photo that is just not stunning!
Lake Natron Camp has ten spacious guest tents, cleverly disguised under camouflaged shade netting. Each tent is comprised of a porch area, main bedroom and en-suite bathroom with a shower and eco toilet. The main bedroom is furnished with a comfy king size bed, luxurious Egyptian linen and furniture made from greenwood. A private path leads from each tent to a natural swimming pool in the spring-fed stream where you can spend the afternoon sipping G &T’s in the water! A fitting finale to an amazing tour. Enjoy the hospitality and great dinner on offer at the camp and sleep in luxury at this gem of a camp, one of SAFARI FRANK’s favourites!
The next morning do an early start and head back to Arusha and Twiga Lodge for the handover of the vehicle. You will then be transferred to the airport for your onward flight home.
You will come to the end of an amazing adventure, one of the very BEST safaris on offer in the whole of Africa!
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