Tanzania: Take a ride on the wild side

By Katherine Dorsett Bennett, CNNUpdated 12th July 2012
The thunderous sound of more than a million wildebeest trekking across wide open plains in the Serengeti is not one you're likely to forget. Tanzanian safaris serve up all kinds of memorable moments.
The country's bountiful wildlife, vast array of landscapes, relatively safe environment for tourists and temperate climate near the equator make Tanzania a desirable year-round destination for a safari. You just need a knowledgeable guide to help you make the most of the seasonal patterns of the animals while you're there.
For the best experience, most travel experts suggest planning and booking your trip with a safari operator, and it's worth your time to obtain quotes, research and compare differences between a few of them before deciding.
Accommodations in Tanzania can range from high-end luxury lodges and tented camps to mid-range and budget lodges or basic camp sites. Mid-range lodges in Tanzania may cost on average $350 to $700 per night for a double room and upscale operations may run visitors between $750 and $3,000 per night.
The most popular Tanzanian safari destinations are in the north, in what's commonly referred to as the northern game circuit. Here are five stunning parks to explore:
Arusha National Park
Size: 52.9 square miles
The northern town of Arusha is considered the gateway to the northern game circuit. Nearby Arusha National Park might be small by Tanzanian standards, but it's filled with animal life covering three distinct areas: the Momela Lakes, Ngurdoto Crater and the rugged Mount Meru.
Arusha National Park has a large variety of wildlife, including giraffes.
Arusha National Park has a large variety of wildlife, including giraffes.
Katherine Dorsett Bennett/CNN
The park is famous for its 400 species of birds, said Nandi O'Dell, a Tanzanian safari specialist with Proud African Safaris. The lakes particularly attract pink-hued lesser flamingos. The Ngurdoto Crater is surrounded by steep, rocky cliffs and often filled with herds of buffalo and warthogs roaming the swampy ground. Mount Meru is covered with lush forests and bare rocks.
Arusha is the only place on the northern safari circuit where you can easily find a black and white colobus monkey. You are fairly certain to spot giraffes, zebras, hippos, leopards, elephants, baboons, buffalos and hyenas, too. "Lions are absent from this park since they need a larger territory for hunting and can't thrive like they do in bigger parks," noted O'Dell.
Accommodations: Try the midlevel Arumeru River Lodge or the upscale Lake Duluti Lodge.
Lake Manyara National Park
Size: 127 square miles
Ernest Hemingway once called Lake Manyara National Park "the loveliest" in Africa.
Some 77 square miles of the park's 127 square mile area are covered by the alkaline Lake Manyara when water levels are high. A lush forest in the park is home to baboons and blue monkeys, among other wildlife. The acacia woodland is a favorite spot for tree-climbing lions, a behavior that is not common in most places in Africa, said O'Dell. The Rift Valley escarpment, which towers 1,968 feet, provides a striking backdrop to the lake.
The trail inside the park is a huge loop that O'Dell says can be navigated by a safari truck within a couple of hours. You're likely to spot baboons, giraffes, hippos, elephants, wildebeests, impalas, buffalo, warthogs, dik-diks and flamingos along the way.
Accomodations: Explore the mid-level Plantation Lodge or try the high-end Manor at Ngorongoro.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Size: 3,205 square miles
This region has often been described at the "eighth wonder of the world" and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The main feature of Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the Ngorongoro Crater, the world's largest unbroken volcanic caldera. The 2,000-foot-deep crater formed when a volcano exploded and collapsed on itself some 2 to 3 million years ago. A rich grassy pasture covers the crater floor and provides favorable conditions for grazing animals such as lions, zebras, gazelles, buffalo and warthogs, to name a few.
"This natural enclosure provides a safe haven for some of Tanzania's endangered black rhinos," O'Dell said.
Accomodations: Try the mid-level Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge or the luxury the luxury Ngorongoro Crater Lodge.
Serengeti National Park
Size: 5,700 square miles
The Serengeti is Tanzania's largest, and perhaps most famous, national park. The seemingly endless grassy plains are host to the famous Great Migration -- the largest mass movement of hooved animals on the planet, said O'Dell. More than 1.4 million wildebeest, 250,000 zebras and 400,000 Thomson's gazelles annually migrate in a clockwise direction over 1,800 miles in an endless search for food and water.
This park also boasts some 9,000 hyenas, 2,800 lions, 1,000 leopards and 500 cheetahs. O'Dell said these statistics can fluctuate on a yearly basis, but these numbers are fairly consistent estimates. The name Serengeti comes from the Maasai language and means "endless plains."
Accomodations: Stay at the mid-level Mbuzi Mawe Luxury Tented Camp in the central region of the Serengeti or or the high-end Serengeti Bushtops in the northern extension of the Serengeti.
Tarangire National Park
Tarangire National Park is famous for its Baobab trees.
Tarangire National Park is famous for its baobab trees.
Proud African Safaris
Size: 1,100 square miles
This natural wonder is named after the Tarangire River that flows through the park and provides the only permanent water for wildlife in the area. This national park is famous for its large population of elephants and more than 550 species of birds. These creatures are among the fauna that roam the park's grounds, which are dotted with baobab trees, acacia woodlands, high grasses and seasonal swamps.
Accommodations: Try the mid-level Kikoti Luxury Tented Camp or the high-end Tarangire Treetops Lodge.