Tanzania offers visitors three safari options: a Northern Circuit safari, Southern Circuit safari, and Western Circuit safari. While there are wonderful parks and game experiences to be had in the south and west of the country, the out-and-out frontrunner for big-game safaris is the north. This is because the Northern Circuit has Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti, the Great Wildlife Migration, a marvellous density of the Big Five, and one of the highest predator concentrations in Africa. For these reasons, in this post about the best time for safari in Tanzania, we share the best times for heading to the parks of the Northern Circuit for a safari.
The Northern Circuit is the most popular region in Tanzania for safari because it boasts the UNESCO-listed sites of Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti.
What are the game parks of the Northern Circuit?
The four game parks of the Northern Circuit are:
- Serengeti National Park
- Ngorongoro Conservation Area (which encompasses Ngorongoro Crater)
- Tarangire National Park
- Lake Manyara National Park
Map of the Northern Circuit
The map below shows the location of the Northern Circuit parks in Tanzania. Note that you can find Ngorongoro Crater in the southeast of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
Which of the Northern Circuit parks should I visit?
The Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater are the stars of the Northern Circuit, receiving by far the bulk of visitors each year.
Lake Manyara and Tarangire are the lesser-known parks, and so offer quieter safaris. Tour guides love the quieter parks, however, as they offer different landscapes, habitats and animal concentrations to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro.
We highly recommend visiting the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater as well as at least one of the quieter parks during your Northern Circuit safari. The Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater are worthy of all of the hype, but the quieter parks are also complete gems!
For a fuller view of the wildlife of northern Tanzania, we recommend visiting Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti, and one of the two smaller parks.
Overview of the safari seasons
The Northern Circuit has a subtropical climate. This means it has warm, wet seasons, as well as drier, cooler seasons.
As Tanzania is so close to the Equator, you have around eight hours of sunlight every day no matter what the season. This means you can enjoy a fantastic Northern Circuit safari at any time of the year.
The Northern Circuit has four main seasons …
A short dry season: January to mid March
January to mid March sees a let up in the rains, which is helpful for game drives. The days can be very hot, however. This is a great season for bird lovers as many migratory birds are in town in all of the four parks. You also see lots of baby animals being born – this is the time of year when antelopes give birth. It’s a popular time for going on safari in Tanzania.
A long wet season: mid March to May
This is the Northern Circuit’s quietest season, as the long rains set in. All that rain does, however, lead to gorgeously green landscapes, and lots of flowers. And on the days when it’s not too wet for a game drive, you have the parks seemingly to yourself. Note that certain parts of the parks can become too clogged to be driven during the heart of the wet season.
A long dry season: June to mid October
This is the most popular safari season along the Northern Circuit. There are two primary reasons for this. Firstly, the days are dry and not too hot, which mean pleasant game drive conditions. Secondly, the vegetation dries up, and the shorter grasses and more barren bushes and trees make animal spotting easier. The crowds swell at this time as you’re likely to see more game than at any other time. Also, the popular river crossings of the Great Migration take place during the long dry season.
June to October offers the best wildlife viewing in all of the parks – the short, dry vegetation makes it easier to spot animals. Also, Lake Manyara and Tarangire see an influx of animals in search of water.
A short wet season: Mid October to December
Late October, November and December see some much-needed rain coming to the Northern Circuit. Green shoots rapidly appear to soften the landscape. This is a quieter safari period, with tourist numbers dropping markedly. Migratory birds start arriving in the region in November. Tarangire in particular is known for its phenomenal migrant bird population.
When is the best time for safari in Tanzania?
So when it comes to determining the best time for safari in Tanzania – or, in our case, a Northern Circuit safari – we need to consider the best times for visiting each park. We discuss what to expect month by month at each park to help you determine when you’d like to plan your Tanzania safari.
You can enjoy an amazing Northern Circuit safari at any time of the year. There’s such a staggering density of large animals in the region that you never have to worry about ‘missing’ the animals!
The ‘best time’ for safari in Tanzania depends on what you most want to see …
So settling on a ‘best time’ is about deciding what you most want to see while on safari in Tanzania. For instance, there are the spectacular (and chaotic) river crossings of the Great Wildebeest Migration. Then there’s the calving season, which sees thousands upon thousands of baby hoofed animals being born. There are the enormous elephant herds that congregate at Tarangire River in the dry season. And the list goes on.
Please take a look at the highlights of each month as described below to help you identify what you most want to see and experience during your Tanzania safari …
Northern Circuit weather and highlights by month
Each month in northern Tanzania has something special to offer. Often it’s just about knowing what, where and when!
January sees the start of the short dry season in northern Tanzania. This makes it a popular safari time, as most mornings are warm and dry. There’s also still a fair bit of lush vegetation from the recent rains, so the landscapes are pretty. Many migratory birds also flock to the region in January. And this is the time when hundreds of thousands of hoofed animals start giving birth – a major drawcard!
What’s the weather like in January?
- It’s hot and humid in northern Tanzania in January. There’s usually not too much rainfall, though late afternoons sometimes see short-lived storms after the heat of the day. Evenings are pleasant.
What are the pros of a Northern Circuit safari in January?
- January sees the start of the calving season. The herds of the Great Migration settle down for a spell in the short grasslands of southeastern Serengeti and western Ngorongoro Conservation Area to give birth. As discussed in 7 truly stupendous fact about the Great Migration, around half a million calves are born every year during calving season! It’s wonderful to see spindly-legged antelopes learning to walk and run.
- Predator action is also high at this time, as lions, cheetahs, leopards and more try to make some easy kills while the herds are vulnerable.
- Migratory birds from around the world (primarily North Africa and Europe) visit the region at this time of year. And many birds display their beautiful breeding plumage at this time of the year.
- The parks of the Northern Circuit see some visitors at this time, but they’re not as crowded as they are during the long dry season later in the year. So you can enjoy a quieter safari in January.
Are there any drawbacks to visiting in January?
- It can get pretty hot, with midday temperatures sometimes reaching 30 °C (86 °F).
- There’s some humidity, which can be uncomfortable, especially for those unused to it.
February is a great time for a Northern Circuit safari! Lots of animals are being birthed, the parks aren’t as crowded as they are later in the year, many migrant birds are about, and lots of birds are in their gorgeous breeding plumage.
What’s the weather like in February?
- The days are very hot and humid.
- The skies tend to be clear, though short-lived afternoon thunderstorms are common.
What are the pros of a Northern Circuit safari in February?
- February is in the heart of the birthing season! Hundreds of thousands of hoofed animals like zebras, wildebeests and gazelles are born at the beginning of every year in the grasslands of the parks. It’s a real treat to see spindly-legged animals learn to walk besides their mothers.
- Predator action remains high around the antelope herds.
- Many migratory birds are in residence in the parks. And it’s breeding season, so males have on their prettiest plumage to attract mates.
- The thunderstorms can be a cool experience for this unused to dramatic afternoon storms after a very hot day.
- The parks don’t receive as many visitors as they do during the long dry season, so you can enjoy a less crowded safari.
Are there any drawbacks to visiting in February?
- It can be very hot during the day.
If you’re keen to see baby animals being born, February is a fantastic month for a Northern Circuit safari!
The weather usually changes quite markedly from the beginning of March to the end of March. While the early days of the month offer good game-viewing conditions, rainy days dominate by the end of the month. The days tend to still be pretty hot.
What’s the weather like in March?
- At the beginning of the month you tend to still have dry, hot days.
- By the end of the month, the rains have usually set in.
What are the pros of a Northern Circuit safari in March?
- Early March offers good conditions for game drives and very good animal spotting.
- March is still part of the birthing season, which sees hundreds of thousands of newborn animals being born!
- You can often enjoy some beautifully stormy skies in March. Great for photographers!
- The parks are fairly uncrowded in March.
Are there any drawbacks to visiting in March?
- If the rainy season starts early, you could have some wet days.
- The days are still pretty hot.
It’s safer to head to the Northern Circuit in early March rather than late March, as the rainy season usually starts somewhere around the middle of the month.
April is part of the long rainy season. Conditions are often muddy as a result. And some of the dirt roads can become difficult to navigate (occasionally they’ll be impassable). The parks are very empty of visitors at this time.
What’s the weather like in April?
- There’s a lot of rainy days.
- There’s high humidity.
What are the pros of a Northern Circuit safari in April?
- The parks are pretty empty of visitors in the long rainy season, so you can enjoy a wonderfully quiet safari at this time of year.
- The vegetation is very beautiful, with lots of flowering plants springing to life, and wildflowers cropping up across the landscape.
- The dramatic, stormy skies can make for beautiful photographs.
- The animals of the Great Wildlife Migration are usually on the move within Serengeti at this time, with their young in tow.
Are there any drawbacks to visiting in April?
- If there’s heavy rain, your view of the animals will be obscured.
- Conditions in some places can be become very muddy and, on occasion, impassable.
- As the vegetation is lush, certain animals are harder to see, either from being camouflaged or hidden. It really helps to do a game drive with an experienced safari guide who can help you to find hard-to-spot animals.
May is one of the quietest months along the Northern Circuit. This is because the rains of the past couple of months have thickened vegetation and made animals harder to spot. That said, the seasoned safari guide can still find them! Late May in particular can offer very lovely safari adventures.
What’s the weather like in in May?
- There’s heavy skies and some rain in early May.
- Nights are reasonably pleasant temperature-wise.
- The weather tends to turn mid May, with late May often often offering very good safari conditions.
What are the pros of a Northern Circuit safari in May?
- The biggest pro of a Mary safari would probably be the landscapes, which are incredibly beautiful after all the rain and warm temperatures. You can expect green grasslands, thick woodlands, rushing rivers and lots of colourful flowers.
- Another pro is the empty parks – almost nobody chooses May for a safari in Tanzania.
Are there any drawbacks to visiting in May?
- Obviously, the big drawback is the possibility of a day – or days – of rain. But in late May, the Serengeti is actually relatively dry.
- You could well struggle to visit certain low-lying areas like wetlands.
June is the start of the long dry season. You still have lush landscapes to enjoy, but the days are cooling and the skies clearing up – these things make for great safari conditions! The second half of June is a safer bet for avoiding any lingering rains.
What’s the weather like in June?
- The days are warm, but not too hot. The nights are cool.
- By the end of the month the skies are generally clear and cloudless.
What are the pros of a Northern Circuit safari in June?
- As the start of the long, dry season, you tend to have clear-skies days, which are great for game spotting.
- The landscape is still lush and pretty, but the rains are mostly gone.
- The parks aren’t yet as crowded as they become in July.
Are there any drawbacks to visiting in June?
- There could still be some rain in early June.
- The grass hasn’t dried up yet, so some animals may be harder to spot.
From June to October, Tarangire has the highest concentration of mammals in all Tanzania. It’s 100% worth a visit!
July is well into the long dry season and as such offers fantastic wildlife viewing. This is because the skies are clear and the days not too hot. Visitors who head to the western section of the park should see the Great Migration herds start to cross the Grumeti River. Meanwhile, further south, herds and other large animals start to congregate around the waterholes of Lake Manyara and Tarangire River.
What’s the weather like in July?
- You can generally looks forward to warm, sunny days with no rain.
- Evenings are pleasantly cool, even a touch chilly on occasion.
What are the pros of a Northern Circuit safari in July?
- July is a great month for game spotting. Animals start to congregate around river and waterholes, making them easier to find.
- The shorter grasses also make game spotting easier.
- You don’t tend to get mosquitoes at this time of year.
- The herds of the Great Wildlife Migration are busy heading north through Serengeti, and you could get luck and see see a river crossing!
Are there any drawbacks to visiting in July?
- Visitor numbers start to rise in July, so the park and its campsites will be buzzing with people and 4x4s.
- Crowds can scare off wildlife, so you want to have a safari driver who knows where to head to avoid the worst crowds.
There’s a good chance of seeing a Great Migration river crossing in northern Serengeti National Park from July to September.
August is a very popular month along the Northern Circuit, and for good reason. The safari conditions are excellent, as you have clear skies and minimal vegetation to hide the animals. It’s also not too hot during the day. Further, it’s a popular month as the Great Migration herds are on the move and there’s the chance of seeing a river crossing!
What’s the weather like in August?
- The weather is really pleasant in August. The days are warm and sunny, while the nights are cool and still. Good for stargazing.
- There’s very little humidity and fewer mosquitoes at this time of year too. Nice!
What are the pros of a Northern Circuit safari in August?
- The weather is very pleasant for game drives, as there’s no rain, and it’s not too hot. It’s also not humid.
- The herds of the Great Migration can be seen moving north through the Serengeti, and some will likely be crossing the Mara and Grumeti Rivers, which is an amazing and formidable sight!
- Many large animals like elephants congregate around the waters of Tarangire River at this time. So we highly recommend visiting this park if you come in August in addition to Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater.
Are there any drawbacks to visiting in August?
- The Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater can become quite crowded in August. This is one of the reasons why visiting a smaller park as well offers a nice counterpoint, affording you a quieter game drive as well.
The days are warm and dry in August, and the skies are clear and blue. This is excellent safari weather!!
September is still in the thick of peak season along the Northern Circuit. The days remain mostly cloudless and blue. These conditions are excellent for game drives and animal spotting. So you’re likely to see plenty of exciting wildlife on a September safari!
What’s the weather like in September?
- September is dry and mild. The days can be hot, but not too humid. Nights are cool.
What are the pros of a Northern Circuit safari in September?
- The grass is very brown and short by this stage of the year, so the wildlife spotting conditions are excellent.
- Animals are thirsty for water, so they tend to congregate around water sources, making them easier to find.
- Water levels have gone done notably, which makes hippos easy to spot.
- The days are still pleasant, with no rain and little humidity.
Are there any drawbacks to visiting in September?
- The parks are still relatively crowded, so you can expect to see plenty of other vehicles, especially in Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater.
- The landscape is very brown, so it isn’t as pretty or restful as it is during the wet seasons.
September is a busy month along the Northern Circuit, as the dry conditions offer really good game viewing.
October is the last month of the long dry season. We recommend going on safari in the first half of the month, as late October can see the arrival of the rains. But early October is an absolutely fantastic time for game-spotting!
What’s the weather like in October?
- October is the turning point that sees the end of the long dry season and the start of the short rainy season. Obviously the arrival of the rains varies year by year, but tends to come around mid October.
- The days are hot, but not as hot as they become at the end of the year.
What are the pros of a Northern Circuit safari in October?
- Early October is still part of peak season in the Northern Circuit and offers really good game spotting conditions.
- Thirsty animals are looking for water sources, so those who go the watering holes and rivers, find lots of animals!
- The short grass makes animals easier to see and photograph.
Are there any drawbacks to visiting in October?
- If the rains arrive early, you could find your game drives hampered.
If your perfect safari is just about seeing as many animals as possible, then early October is the perfect time for a Northern Circuit trip.
November is the start of the short rainy season in Serengeti, and as such not a popular safari month. That said, it still offers excellent game-spotting opportunities, and could be for you if you prefer to travel when there are fewer crowds.
What’s the weather like in November?
- The days are warm, wet and humid in November.
- Nights are mild.
What are the pros of a Northern Circuit safari in November?
- The vegetation is fresh and beautiful, and often not too long or dense as yet to hide many of the animals.
- The parks are emptied out of visitors, so you feel you’re having a much more private safari.
- Migratory birds from the north start filling up the parks, so this is exciting for bird lovers.
Are there any drawbacks to visiting in November?
- The rains settle in, so you’ll want to bring waterproof clothes.
- Dense vegetation can make certain animals hard to spot. It really helps to have a trained safari guide (like our Kazi) with you if going on a wet-season safari.
- Heavy rains can make safari drives difficult or impossible. You can still drive in light rain, but it does make animal sightings a little harder, and tends to limit photography options.
From November to April, Lake Manyara offers excellent bird watching. You can canoe on the lake, which is great for seeing its vast array of waterbirds.
December sees the last of the short rains, which produce beautifully lush landscapes. There’s also wonderful, varied birdlife in the park. This is one of the Serengeti’s prettiest months.
What’s the weather like in December?
- The days tend to be hot and humid.
- The rains are unpredictable and can make game drives difficult.
What are the pros of a Northern Circuit safari in December?
- The parks remain quiet and uncrowded.
- There are excellent birdspotting opportunities, especially in Tarangire National Park, which has the highest number of breeding bird species anywhere in the world!
Are there any drawbacks to visiting in December?
- Certain parts of the park (the low-lying regions) can be difficult to visit when they become waterlogged.
Is it your turn for a Tanzania safari?
We cannot recommend enough that you plan to go on a Northern Circuit safari in Tanzania! You won’t regret it. The time spent in such pristine, expansive wilderness amongst some of the most iconic big animals on the planet is a real privilege and restorative. It breaks you out of routine and reminds you of the power, beauty and resilience of nature.
You might like to check out our suggested Tanzania safari itineraries, which we’ve put together to offer the ultimate Tanzania safari adventures. Each one of course includes time spent in Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater.
If you’re considering a Kilimanjaro climb, or a visit to Zanzibar, you might also like to read The best time to travel to Tanzania. This way you can ensure you travel at a time that offers good weather for all aspects of your trip.
Contact us via our online contact form if you’d like to get in touch, book a safari, ask any questions – whatever!