Serengeti National Park
Serengeti National Park is one of the most famous and spectacular wildlife destinations in the world. Located in northern Tanzania, near the border with Kenya, the park covers an area of about 15,000 square kilometers (5,700 square miles) of pristine savanna, woodlands, and rivers. The park is home to over 2 million animals, including the iconic Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino), as well as cheetahs, giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, hyenas, and hundreds of bird species. The park is also the stage for the annual Great Migration, a breathtaking spectacle of nature that involves millions of herbivores moving across the plains in search of fresh grass and water.
Serengeti National Park was established in 1951 as a protected area for wildlife conservation. The name “Serengeti” comes from the Maasai word “siringet”, which means “the place where the land runs on forever”. The park is part of the larger Serengeti ecosystem, which includes other protected areas such as Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Maswa Game Reserve, and Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. The park is divided into four regions: Seronera (central), Ndutu (south), Grumeti (west), and Lobo (north). Each region has its own characteristics and attractions.
The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a biosphere reserve, recognized for its outstanding natural value and diversity. The park hosts one of the largest and most diverse concentrations of wildlife on the planet, with over 70 large mammal species and over 500 bird species. The park is also famous for its large and healthy populations of predators, especially lions, which number over 3,000 individuals. The park is also one of the last remaining habitats for the endangered black rhino, which can be found in the Moru Kopjes area.
The park is not only a haven for wildlife, but also a place of cultural significance for the local Maasai people, who have coexisted with the animals for centuries. The park offers opportunities to learn about the Maasai culture and traditions, as well as to support community-based conservation initiatives.
Wildlife of the Serengeti
One of the main reasons to visit Serengeti National Park is to witness its incredible wildlife diversity and abundance. The park offers some of the best game viewing opportunities in Africa, with a chance to see all of the Big Five, as well as many other iconic species. Here are some of the wildlife highlights of Serengeti National Park:
- The Big Five: The term “Big Five” refers to five animals that were historically considered the most difficult and dangerous to hunt: lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino. Today, these animals are among the most sought-after by wildlife enthusiasts and photographers. The Serengeti is one of the few places where all five can be seen in their natural habitat. Lions are especially common and can be seen in prides of up to 40 individuals. Leopards are more elusive but can be spotted resting on tree branches or hunting at night. Elephants are often seen in large herds near water sources or feeding on vegetation. Buffaloes are also gregarious and form massive herds that can number in the thousands. Rhinos are rare and endangered but can be occasionally seen in small numbers in some areas of the park.
- Lions: Serengeti National Park has the largest lion population in Africa, with over 3,000 individuals. The lions are distributed throughout the park, but some of the best areas to see them are Seronera Valley, Lobo Hills, Simba Kopjes, and Gol Kopjes. The lions are active throughout the day and night, but they are most likely to be seen hunting or resting in the early morning or late afternoon. The lions are also known for their spectacular interactions with other predators and prey during the Great Migration.
- Leopards: Serengeti National Park has a healthy population of leopards, estimated at over 1,000 individuals. Leopards are elusive and nocturnal animals, but they can be spotted in various habitats within the park. Some of the best places to look for leopards are along riverine forests, such as Seronera River, Grumeti River, and Mara River. Leopards are often seen resting on tree branches or rocks during the day or hunting at night.
- Elephants: Serengeti National Park has a large population of elephants, numbering over 5,000 individuals. Elephants are social and intelligent animals that live in family groups led by a matriarch.
- Cheetahs: The Serengeti is one of the best places to see cheetahs in Africa. These graceful cats are adapted for speed and can reach up to 120 km/h (75 mph) when chasing their prey. Cheetahs prefer open grasslands where they can spot their prey from a distance and use their acceleration to catch them. They usually hunt during the day and feed on small to medium-sized antelopes such as gazelles and impalas.
- Giraffes: The Serengeti is home to the Masai giraffe subspecies, which is distinguished by its irregular dark brown patches on a light brown background. Giraffes are the tallest land animals in the world and can reach up to 6 meters (20 feet) in height. They feed mainly on leaves from acacia trees and other plants. They have a long tongue that can measure up to 45 cm (18 inches) and helps them pluck leaves from thorny branches.
- Zebras: The Serengeti hosts two species of zebras: the plains zebra and the Grevy’s zebra. The plains zebra is more common and forms large herds that often mingle with wildebeest and other grazers. The Grevy’s zebra is more rare and has narrower stripes and a larger head. Zebras are social animals that communicate with each other through vocalizations, body postures, and facial expressions. They also have a unique stripe pattern that helps them identify each other and camouflage from predators.
- Wildebeest: The Serengeti is famous for its wildebeest population, which is estimated at over 1.5 million individuals. Wildebeest are also known as gnus and belong to the antelope family. They have a shaggy mane, a beard, curved horns, and a long tail. They feed on grasses and other plants and require water every day. Wildebeest are the main participants of the Great Migration, which we will discuss in more detail below.
- Hyenas: The Serengeti is home to two species of hyenas: the spotted hyena and the striped hyena. The spotted hyena is more common and is the largest and most powerful of the hyena family. It has a brown coat with black spots and a large head with powerful jaws. Spotted hyenas are both hunters and scavengers and can take down prey as large as wildebeest or buffalo. They live in clans of up to 80 members that are led by a dominant female. The striped hyena is more rare and has a gray coat with black stripes and a long mane. Striped hyenas are mostly scavengers and feed on carrion left by other predators.
- Antelopes: The Serengeti hosts a variety of antelope species, which are hoofed mammals that belong to the same family as cattle, sheep, and goats. Some of the most common antelopes in the park are:
- Thomson’s gazelle: A small and agile antelope that has a light brown coat with black stripes on its sides and a white belly. It feeds on grasses and herbs and can run up to 80 km/h (50 mph) when escaping from predators. It is one of the main prey items for cheetahs, lions, leopards, and hyenas.
- Grant’s gazelle: A medium-sized antelope that has a tan coat with white patches on its rump and belly. It has long horns that curve backwards and upwards. It feeds on grasses and shrubs and can survive in dry areas with little water.
- Impala: A medium-sized antelope that has a reddish-brown coat with black markings on its ears, face, tail, and legs. It has long horns that curve backwards and inwards. It feeds on grasses and leaves and can leap up to 3 meters (10 feet) high when fleeing from predators.
- Topi: A large antelope that has a dark brown coat with purple or blue tinges. It has short horns that point upwards and forwards. It feeds on grasses and herbs and can run up to 70 km/h (43 mph) when chased by predators.
- Hartebeest: A large antelope that has a reddish-brown coat with black markings on its face, legs, and tail. It has long horns that curve sideways and downwards. It feeds on grasses and can tolerate high temperatures.
- Eland: The largest antelope in the world, weighing up to 900 kg (2,000 lb). It has a tan coat with white stripes on its sides and a tuft of hair on its forehead. It has long spiral horns that can measure up to 1 meter (3 feet) in length. It feeds on grasses, leaves, fruits, and flowers.
Where to see Wildlife and the Best Time for Safari
The best areas for wildlife sightings in the Serengeti vary depending on the season and the movement of the animals. However, some of the most popular areas are:
- Seronera Valley: This is the heart of the Serengeti, where you can find a high concentration of resident animals, such as lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, hippos, and hyenas. The valley is also a good place to see the migration during April-May and November-December, when the herds pass through this area.
- Ndutu Area: Located in the southern part of the park near Lake Ndutu, this area is famous for being the calving ground for wildebeest during the wet season (December to March). This attracts many predators such as lions, leopards, cheetahs
- Western Corridor: This is a narrow strip of land that follows the Grumeti River towards Lake Victoria. It is a good place to see the migration during June-July, when the wildebeest and zebra have to cross the crocodile-infested river. You can also see other animals such as buffalo, topi, eland, and colobus monkeys.
- Northern Serengeti: This is the most remote and least visited part of the park, but also one of the most scenic and rewarding. It is a good place to see the migration during July-October, when the herds gather along the Mara River and attempt to cross it under the watchful eyes of lions, leopards, cheetahs, and hyenas. You can also see other animals such as elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and antelopes.
The Great Migration
The Great Migration is one of the most awe-inspiring natural phenomena in the world. It involves the movement of more than 1.5 million wildebeest, 250,000 zebras, and hundreds of thousands of Thomson’s gazelles and elands across the Serengeti ecosystem, following seasonal rains and grass growth. The migration is not a linear or predictable event, but rather a dynamic and complex process that depends on environmental factors and animal behavior. However, some general patterns can be observed:
- From December to March, the herds congregate in the southern Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Area, where they give birth to their calves and foals in a synchronized event known as calving season. This attracts many predators, such as lions, hyenas, cheetahs, and leopards, who prey on the vulnerable young animals.
- From April to June, the herds start moving northwards and westwards towards the central and western Serengeti, where they encounter fresh grasses after the long rains. This is also the time when they face one of the most challenging obstacles of their journey: crossing the Grumeti River, where large crocodiles lurk in the water, waiting for their chance to snatch a meal.
- From July to October, the herds reach the northern Serengeti and cross into the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. Here they face another river crossing: the Mara River, which is also infested with crocodiles and often swollen by heavy rains. The herds may cross back and forth several times between Tanzania and Kenya, depending on the availability of food and water.
- From November to December, the herds start moving southwards again towards the southern Serengeti, completing their circular route of about 800 km (500 mi).
Game drives are one of the most popular ways to explore Serengeti National Park and see its amazing wildlife. Game drives are conducted in specially equipped safari vehicles that can navigate the rough terrain and offer comfortable seating and viewing opportunities for passengers. Game drives are usually guided by experienced rangers who know the park well and can spot and identify animals and birds. Game drives can be done at different times of the day: morning game drives start early before sunrise and offer a chance to see nocturnal animals and predators on their hunt; afternoon game drives take advantage of the cooler hours when animals are more active; evening game drives end with a sundowner drink at a scenic spot; night game drives use spotlights to reveal nocturnal creatures that are otherwise hidden in the dark.
Hot Air Balloon Safaris
Another unique option to enjoy the Serengeti National Park is to take a hot air balloon safari over the park, offering a bird’s-eye view of the wildlife and landscapes below. You can float silently above the plains at sunrise, watching the animals wake up and start their day. You can also see the spectacular scenery of the park from a different perspective, such as the rivers, hills, forests and kopjes. A hot air balloon safari is a once in a lifetime adventure that you will never forget .
The Serengeti National Park is home to different ecosystems that support its abundant wildlife. The park has grassy plains that are ideal for grazing animals such as wildebeests, zebras and gazelles. The plains are also where the famous Great Migration takes place every year, when millions of animals move across the park in search of fresh pastures and water. The park also has acacia woodlands that provide shade and shelter for animals such as giraffes, elephants and monkeys. The woodlands are also where you can find some of the endemic bird species of the park, such as Fischer’s lovebird and Rufous-tailed weaver. The park also has riverine forests that are rich in biodiversity and water sources for animals such as hippos, crocodiles and buffaloes. The forests are also where you can spot some of the rare and elusive animals of the park, such as leopards, rhinos and black-and-white colobus monkeys .
Birdwatching in the Serengeti
The Serengeti National Park is a paradise for bird lovers, as it boasts over 500 bird species. You can see a variety of birds in different habitats, such as ostriches on the grasslands, secretary birds on the savannahs, Kori bustards on the woodlands and flamingos on the lakes. You can also see some of the notable bird species of the park, such as the lilac-breasted roller, the grey-breasted spurfowl, the grey-crested helmet-shrike and the Usambiro barbet. The park is also one of Africa’s Endemic Bird Areas, hosting five bird species found nowhere else in the world. Birdwatching in the Serengeti is good year-round, but at its best from November to April, when migratory birds are present
Safari Planning and Booking
If you are planning to visit Serengeti National Park, you might have some questions about how to make the most of your safari experience. Here are some tips and advice to help you prepare for your trip.
When to visit Serengeti National Park
The Serengeti is a year-round destination, as there is always something to see and do in the park. However, depending on your interests and preferences, some seasons might be better than others.
The most popular time to visit is from December to March, when the wildebeest herds congregate in the southern part of the park for calving season. This is also a good time to see predators such as lions, leopards and cheetahs hunting their prey. The weather is usually warm and sunny, with occasional showers.
Another peak season is from June to October, when the wildebeest migration reaches the western and northern parts of the park, crossing the Grumeti and Mara rivers in dramatic scenes. This is also the dry season, which means that wildlife is easier to spot as they gather around water sources. The weather is cooler and drier, with clear skies.
The low season is from April to May, when the park receives heavy rains that make some roads impassable and some lodges close. However, this can also be a good time to visit if you want to avoid crowds and enjoy lower prices. The park is lush and green, and you can still see plenty of wildlife, especially birds.
How to plan and book your Serengeti safari
There are many ways to plan and book your safari to Serengeti National Park, depending on your budget, style and preferences. Here are some options:
- Join a group tour: This is a good option if you want to save money and meet other travelers. You will share a vehicle and a guide with other people, and stay in pre-arranged accommodation. You can choose from different itineraries and durations, ranging from a few days to a few weeks. Some tours also include other destinations in Tanzania or Kenya.
- Book a private safari: This is a good option if you want more flexibility and privacy. You will have your own vehicle and guide, and you can customize your itinerary and accommodation according to your wishes. You can also choose from different levels of comfort and luxury, from budget campsites to exclusive lodges.
- Fly-in safari: This is a good option if you want to save time and avoid long drives on bumpy roads. You will fly from Arusha or Kilimanjaro airport to one of the airstrips in the park, where you will be picked up by your lodge or camp. You will then enjoy game drives or other activities in the park. You can also combine different regions of the park or other destinations by flying between them.
Whatever option you choose, it is advisable to book your safari well in advance, especially if you want to visit during peak seasons or stay in popular lodges or camps. You can book directly with local operators or through online platforms or travel agents.
Packing checklist and requirements
Before you embark on your safari to Serengeti National Park, make sure you pack everything you need for a comfortable and safe trip. Here are some essentials:
- Passport and visa: You will need a valid passport and a visa to enter Tanzania. You can apply for an e-visa online or get one on arrival at the airport.
- Vaccinations and malaria prophylaxis: You will need a yellow fever vaccination certificate if you are coming from or transiting through a country with risk of yellow fever transmission. You will also need to take anti-malaria medication before, during and after your trip, as malaria is prevalent in Tanzania. Consult your doctor for advice on other vaccinations and medications you might need.
- Travel insurance: You will need a comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical expenses, emergency evacuation, cancellation, theft and other risks. Check the terms and conditions of your policy and keep a copy of it with you.
- Clothes and shoes: You will need to pack light and comfortable clothes that are suitable for the weather and the activities you plan to do. Avoid bright colors and opt for neutral tones that blend in with the environment. Layering is a good idea, as temperatures can vary throughout the day and night. You will also need a warm jacket or fleece, a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, insect repellent, a raincoat or poncho and a swimsuit. For shoes, you will need a pair of sturdy walking shoes or boots and a pair of sandals or flip-flops.
- Camera and binoculars: You will need a good camera and binoculars to capture the amazing wildlife and scenery of the Serengeti. Bring extra batteries, memory cards and chargers, as well as a waterproof bag or case to protect your equipment. You might also want to bring a tripod or monopod for stability.
- Other items: You will need a small backpack or daypack to carry your essentials during game drives or other activities. You will also need a flashlight or headlamp, a water bottle, snacks, toiletries, a first aid kit, books, games, cards or other entertainment for downtime.