The title is very accurate, considering Serengeti derived from the word siringet, which means vast land without visible borders. Despite its massive size, it is not difficult at all to cross paths with roaming wildlife. Serengeti in northern Tanzania is the most famous park in the country thanks to millions of wildebeest and zebra, not to mention thousands of big five. What makes the park special is not only the large quantity but an astounding flow of animals between Serengeti and Masai Mara, called The Great Migration.
Serengeti is part of an ecosystem that comprises the most distinguished National Parks in Tanzania. Covering 14 740 square kilometers on the Kenyan border, it is adjacent to Maasai Mara National Park, Kenya’s phenomenal safari destination.
The first inhabitants were the Maasai people, who were busy grazing through the land before the first European explorers arrived in 1892. Further exploration led to the discovery of the wildlife potential in the early 20th century, but this came with drastic consequences for animals, especially lions. Luckily, a German zoologist called Bernhard Grzimek shot a documentary in the area in the 50s to raise awareness about the park’s value and the threats it faces. As a result, it has been evicted and proclaimed a National Park in 1951, making it the country’s oldest National Park.
The park consists of three regions:
- Serengeti plains are massive grassland in the south, with occasional granite formations.
- Northern Serengeti is hillier, and it consists of woodlands. It borders the Mara River and the Kenyan border in the north. It is also home to the park’s main airstrip.
- Western Corridor is mainly savannah, where the soil is of black clay. The region is home to the Grumeti River and the riverine forests around it.
Serengeti borders the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in the southeast, Maswa Game Reserve in the southwest, and Ikorongo and Grumeti Game Reserves in the west.
With millions of various animals all around the park, Serengeti is like the New York or Shanghai of national parks. The most populous member is wildebeest, with an astoundingly large population of almost 2 million if you include the migratory ones. Next on the list is the zebra population with 200,000 individuals, followed by 150,000 Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle. Thousands of other herbivores- including Masai giraffe, waterbuck, warthog, impala, topi, and hartebeest also accompany them during the great migration.
Serengeti is also home to all of the big five, some of which you will find in thousands. With 3000 lions and 1000 leopards, Serengeti is considered the most abundant in Africa in these two predators. The numbers of elephant and buffalo are not disappointing either, with 5000 and 35,000 individuals respectively. Despite the destructive poaching in the past, Serengeti is one of the very few places in East Africa to view Eastern black rhinos. There are currently 31 members in Serengeti.
The other common carnivores are 3500 spotted hyenae, 225 cheetahs, hundreds of jackals, African golden wolf, serval, wild dog, striped hyena, and honey badger. The abundance of all these carnivores can be associated with the unbelievably large number of wildebeest and gazelle.
The rare species in the park include aardvark, aardwolf, porcupine, hyrax, roan, fringe-eared oryx, and dik-dik. Last but not least, there is a large population of primates, such as vervet monkey, colobus, and baboons.
The riverside is home to hundreds of hippo, Nile crocodile, flamingo, and more than 500 bird species.
Technically, you can spend months here but still not see all the animals on this list.
You shouldn’t confuse Serengeti with a small nature reserve that you can explore in just a couple of hours. Serengeti is an enormous park with very long distances between the endpoints. Luckily, there are plenty of activities that will help you spend your time efficiently.
The guided game drives will help you explore the park, but you can’t expect to see everything in one game drive. Several guided drives depart from different sections of the park, with each tour offering a different type of flora and fauna. It sounds overwhelming, but the experienced guides will help you pick the best drives according to your priorities and checklist of animals. The predators are especially active in the cooler hours of the day, such as early morning and late afternoon, so you should definitely try to join the guided tours at these hours. Night drives are also possible, but only Buffalo Tented Lodge (TAASA Lodge) organizes them. TAASA is a private wildlife concession with off-road opportunities.
Walking safari is a great way to get in-depth knowledge of the park’s history, geology, flora, and fauna. These tours are only available at designated areas, so they don’t cover the areas that you can access via game drives.
If you want to get a broader view of the vast plains of Serengeti, we recommend the hot-air balloon safaris. With the balloons taking off just before sunrise, these tours will make you realize just how far the borders of the park can reach. Also, a full English breakfast and a bottle of champagne will be accompanying you.
The semi-nomadic Maasai people are also waiting for visitors so that they can introduce their culture to the world. Visiting the Maasai bomas gives you an idea of their traditions and ceremonial dances while giving you a chance to buy local crafts.
Climate & Best Time To Visit
Serengeti experiences pleasant weather all year round, but your experience will depend on when you visit.
The dry season is between June and October, with temperatures between 14 and 25 degrees, while early mornings can feel extra cold.
The wet season between November and May experiences the same temperature range. The amount of rainfall varies from month to month. November and December experience short rains in the afternoon and a dry spell follows in January and February. Between March and May, Serengeti experiences heavy rainfall and thunderstorms.
The best time to visit depends on what your priority is. Let’s start with the Great Migration. The dry season overall is the best time of the year to see the river crossings. The migration occurs in the western corridor in June-July and the north in August-September. Just like any other safari park, the dry season offers better wildlife viewing than in the wet season. November-February is also ideal due to its lower rates, fewer crowds, lush scenery, predator action, migratory birds, and baby animals. If you visit between March and May, chances are your safari experience will be interrupted by heavy thunderstorms.
Arusha is the closest city to Serengeti. The city is only 46 km from Kilimanjaro International Airport. You can take a direct flight, but flying to Dar Es Salaam’s Julius Nyerere International Airport will be cheaper. From Dar es Salaam, driving will take 8 hours on a 325 km road. The highway goes through several other national parks, enabling you to see even more animals on the way. You can also fly from Dar Es Salaam to Arusha Airport or Kilimanjaro. Certain lodges organize air charters that will take you to their private airstrips.
Tips And Things You Might Need To Know
- Because Serengeti is in a high-risk malaria zone, you must take precautions before traveling.
- Don’t forget to look out for Moru Kopjes, gigantic rock formations that boast unique microflora like vines and trees. It is also worth noting that the elusive black rhinos usually roam around these rocks.
- The rate of wildebeest migration depends heavily on the rainfall and the river flow rate and can vary from day to day. It is best to enquire from your tour guide or at the reception.
- There are various day trips to places near Serengeti. Oldupai Gorge is quite famous not only for its scenery but also for the fossils of human ancestors and animals dating back to 2 million years ago. There is also a small museum that you can enter with a small fee. Nearby is the Laetoli archeological site, where you can see ancient footprints from 4 million years ago.
- While Central Serengeti and Seronera are the richest in terms of wildlife, they are also the most crowded. The Southern Plains and the Northern Serengeti provide a quieter experience with luxurious lodges. For the best Serengeti experience, we recommend that you allocate enough time to all the sections in the park and stay at different lodges in a single trip.
- Campsites get booked out very quickly in the dry season, so you should book your spot well in advance.