Serengeti National Park – Best Tanzania Safaris
The Serengeti has probably been the subject of more books and television documentaries than any other game reserve in Africa. Hosting the annual wildebeest migration across its grassy plains – arguably the world’s greatest wildlife spectacle – it is without a doubt a defining image of East Africa. The park covers an area of 14 763 square kilometre, but the greater Serengeti – roughly 30 000 square kilometre in extend, incorporates several other reserves, notably the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Kenya’s Masai Mara Park. The park is grassland of awesome beauty and size. Derived from the Maasai phrase siringet meaning “endless plain”, the Serengeti ecosystem is defined by an ancient migration route, followed annually by around two million head of game.
The Park can be divided into 3 major vegetation areas: In the southeastern area are the open grasslands, to the north open woodlands and in the west a mosaic of grasslands and woodlands. The lion is one of the park’s main attractions, as there are about 2500 lions in the Serengeti ecosystem. This is the biggest concentration in the world of Africa’s largest predator.
A series of weathered granite outcrops called kopjes, one of which contains rock paintings, while another has a mysterious “rock gong”. Scattered around the plains are a number of granite kopjes, which are miniature ecosystems, providing shade and drinking water in pools left in the rock after the rains. The Moru kopjes are the most frequently visited by tourists.
The park is divided into four distinctive topographical areas, the Serengeti Plains and its kopjes in the southern park area, the Seronera in the central park area where most of the campsites and some lodges are. To the west is the Western Corridor a wedge of land along the Gumeti River and the northern corridor, which reaches to within 8km of Lake Victoria. To the north is another corridor which links up with the Maasai Mara and, which animals use during the up and down migration. Each area warrants at least half a day, meaning that two to three days is the ideal minimum to see a bit of everything the park has on offer.
Ndutu Lake Area: Between December and May, this is a very special area, as many wildebeest calve in and start their annual migration from this area. The short grass plains also offer an abundance of gazelle, before the migration. The main attraction of the area, the small seasonal Lake Ndutu (or Lagarja), is surrounded by beautiful acacia trees. A number of giraffes reside in the area around the lake, which is without a doubt a birdwatcher’s paradise supporting a rich bird life, including pink flamingos.
Moru Kopjes: Moru (meaning “old” in Maasai) kopjes are set further north on the migration path. The Kopjes display some interesting geological formations made up of ancient granite, which were left standing after centuries of erosion and weathering. The area offers good game viewing year-round, due to the presence of drinking water. The kopjes are favourites among many big cats, including lion and leopard. Rainwater gathers in the rocky clefts, providing much needed drinking water for a great variety of animals. This makes the kopjes particularly good for spotting wildlife in the dry seasons – including lions, which like to lie in wait for animals coming to drink! Look for the natural shelter used by Maasai cattle herders about half a century ago, is daubed with rock paintings.
Simba Kopjes: The kopjes are named after the lions, which frequently use these kopjes to just lie and bath in the sun. You may also see baboon, giraffe and some interesting birds in this area.
Serengeti Plains: The rolling landscape appears endless and is only broken by the occasional kopje. Conspicuously missing from these open plains are trees. The cornerstone of the Serengeti’s ecosystem is with out a doubt the Serengeti Plains. About 3 million years ago during the massive eruptions of Ngorongoro and other volcanoes in the area, a thick rain of ash settled over the plains, creating a hard top coat, which discouraged the rooting of tress but encouraged the growth of shallow rooted grasses- packed with nutritious minerals. It is these grasses rich in minerals, which are essential in many animal’s diets especially during lactating – which is why more than eighty percent of the wildebeest population give birth on these plains. These plains are a hive of activity just after the October to November rains – when the new grass is sweet – and the animals take full advantage of the short-term spurt of growth. These short-grass plains will however quickly deplete with the onset of the dry season, as no permanent water source exists here.
Seronera Valley: The area is located in the southern-central area of the park. The area features several kopjes and many watercourses and rivers, providing some of the best wildlife viewing in the park. The riverine forest along the Seronera River is rich in wildlife and offers excellent opportunities to view hippo wallowing in the river. There are a large number of drivable circuits in the area of which the Seronera River Circuit and the Kopjes Circuit are the most rewarding. The Visitor Centre close to the Seronera Wildlife Lodge and public campsites is well worth a visit after a morning game drive. This nicely designed centre offers some interesting wildlife displays, gift shop selling information leaflets and maps f the area. The centre also has a shop where clod drinks and snacks can be purchased as well as a picnic area and information trail up and around a nearby kopje.
Western Corridor: This corridor is a 50 km wide strip of land following the Grumeti River from west of Seronera the whole way to Lake Victoria The area is offers some unique wildlife as well as rivers, valleys, hills and floodplains – in stark contrast to the southern Serengeti landscape. The perennial Grumeti River and its fringing belt of riparian woodland dissect this beautiful corridor. This area receives the annual migration between May and July, which is the best time to visit this area – when the animals attempt to cross the flooded Grumeti River, where lions and crocodiles lie and wait for the weak and injured animals. The corridor does however support a substantial size of non-migratory animals like the ever-present predators, giraffe, eland, hartebeest, huge hippos and impala, which cluster along the river. The wooded riverbanks are home to a population of black-and-white colobus monkeys, and in the river you can see huge crocodiles (up to six meters in length), which spring into a feeding frenzy when the migration comes through.
Northern Serengeti / Lobo Area: The Lobo Hills are probably the most conventional scenic part of the Serengeti, with all its rolling hills and massive granite outcrops. The area supports a rich variety of resident animals and it has retained a tangible wilderness character, interrupted annually by the passing wildebeest migration parade. The game viewing is very good and you can follow game for long periods without seeing any other vehicles – truly on of the forgotten corners of the Serengeti. The exceptionally large lion prides are a unique feature of this area. As you move north the vast expanses of grassland plains dramatically disappears as acacia woodland bush and thick scrubs take over. The undulating nature of the landscape makes it easy to spot animals from a distance. The wildlife changes too and in this section, visitors are most likely to see elephants.
The higher ground of the Lobo Kopjes provide fantastic views of the migration, when its heads north during July to September or returns during November to December. There is a nice game-drive circuit to the east of the Lobo Wildlife Lodge, whose waterholes attract a variety of wild life. Non-migrating game like elephant, buffalo, lions, zebra and gazelle can be seen all year round.
HOT- AIR BALLOON SAFARIS
Another option is to gain a bird’s-eye view of the wildlife from a hot-air balloon. An early morning departure, gentle lift-off, the lush rolling expanse of the Serengeti plains below, and a champagne breakfast to complete this very special experience. Please click Hot air balloon safaris for more information in this regard
Even with the migration up in the Maasai Mara, the park contains a substantial population of plains game including buffalo, giraffe, warthog and a wide range of antelopes like impala, bushbuck, waterbuck, dikdik, reedbuck, and the massive eland. The elephants also tend to be migratory and a large number move down south towards the Tarangire Park area. But probably the most memorable of the Serengeti’s animals is its thriving predators, which include the more than 3000 lions whose males have unique and characteristic black manes, a great number of cheetahs and leopard, as well as over 8000 spotted hyenas.
WHEN TO VISIT
The Serengeti is remarkable and can be enjoyed throughout the year. The rainy seasons (March to May and October to November) may affect road conditions, but this not usually a serious problem. The wildebeest migration normally takes place between April and June, while the wildebeest are usually concentrated in the southern Serengeti during the calving season from December to May. From December to February the Park is at busiest, and to a lesser extend July to August. The park is however massive and it will not get anything like the congestion experienced in the Ngorongoro during this time. Short rains fall November to mid December and the long rains are from March to the end of May. By September and October the bulk of the migration is concentrated in the Maasai Mara Park in Kenya, but even during this period there’s plenty of wildlife to see, including thriving lion prides and large clans (up to 80 members) of hyena. Please click on the Wildebeest migration for more detailed information regarding this great spectacle.
LODGES AND CAMPS
There are several tented camps and lodges of various standards available inside and around the Park. Please click here to get full details of the lodges and campsites offered in our itineraries in and around the Serengeti National Park