The Serengeti National Park is one of the most famous in all of Africa and indeed the world. Synonymous with wildlife and classic African scenery, it is Tanzania’s oldest park and a Unesco World Heritage site. The name Serengeti comes from the Maasai word “Siringeti” referring to an “Endless Plain”. Standing on the Southern grass plains, a traveller will certainly experience this vastness, coupled with witnessing one of the greatest concentrations of plains animals, left on earth.
In recognition of the need to preserve this special area, the central Serengeti was declared a game reserve in 1929 making it possibly the first safari park in existence.
In 1951, the reserve became Tanganyika’s first National Park, and in those days included the Ngorongoro Crater. Further alteration in 1959 resulted in the Park boundaries you see today. Covering approximately 14,763 Square Kilometres, the Park is roughly the size of Northern Ireland or Connecticut, making it Tanzania’s second-largest national park.
With good reason, it is also the country’s most visited park. It is simply Africa as you always imagined it. Endless rolling grasslands with scattered acacia trees and animals everywhere. This is Tanzania’s mirror image of Kenya’s Masai Mara and it’s physically much the same but on a much larger scale. Almost from the moment, you enter the gates, wildlife surrounds you in astounding numbers and variety. The headline event is of course the annual wildebeest migration, but it is also known for its high density of predators, birding and general variety of all wildlife.
The human elements of the Serengeti are just as famous, with the Maasai tribes inhabiting the land since ancient times. These warriors and descendants have co-existed in this wildlife haven and today work together for its preservation.
For travellers wanting to explore all of this, most safaris to the Serengeti start from the town of Arusha. The best option to get there is to fly into Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO) which is situated about 46km/29 mi from Arusha. It is also possible to fly into Julius Nyerere International Airport (DAR), just outside of Dar es Salaam, and fly on to Arusha Airport (ARK) or Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO).
Most safaris to the Serengeti start from the town of Arusha. The best option to get there is to fly into Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO) which is situated about 46km/29mi from Arusha. It is also possible to fly into Julius Nyerere International Airport (DAR), just outside of Dar es Salaam, and fly on to Arusha Airport (ARK) or Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO).
There are regular flights from Arusha to several airstrips inside the park.
It's also possible to drive; the trip is about 325km/202mi and will take about eight hours. It is a bumpy ride but it's scenic and you'll see some wildlife on the way.
As the trip takes you through the Ngorongoro Conservation area, a popular option is to fly one way, and drive the other way taking in an overnight stop to visit the Ngorongoro Crater. Coming from the crater, the distance to the Seronera area in the Serengeti is about 140km/90mi, and the driving time is about three hours.
The Park can be accessed by Air and by road through fifteen (15) entry points. By Air the Park is accommodating Seven (7) Airstrips which can be accessed from all Local and International Airports in the country. By road the park can be accessed through eight gates (8) which are Naabi Hill Gate, Ikoma gate, Ndabaka Gate, Kleins Gate, Tabora B, Lamai Gate, Handajega Gate and Ndutu Gate.
The Serengeti National Park is famed for its annual wildebeest migration when some 8 million hooves cross the open plains. More than 1,500,000 wildebeest, 200,000 zebra and 300,000 Thomson's gazelle join this trek driven by the need for fresh grazing. Predators follow the migration and sightings of big cats hunting is always particularly exciting for even the most experienced traveller. Spotted hyenas, and golden and black-backed jackals are never far off either.
But unbelievably, there is still more to see than just the jaw-dropping migration. The Serengeti is considered Tanzania's best park, being incredibly wildlife-rich in species and density. Herds of buffalo, elephant and giraffe, and many antelope such as eland, topi, kongoni and impala are resident all year. All three big cats are easily seen. Lions are often found on a kill. Cheetahs are very common on the southeastern plains, while leopards can typically be found lazing in big trees along the Seronera River.
Birders will also not be disappointed with Serengeti having more than 500 bird species recorded. The Serengeti-Mara ecosystem is one of Africa's Endemic Bird Areas (land important for habitat-based bird conservation), hosting five bird species found nowhere else.
The Serengeti offers amazing wildlife viewing throughout the year, so travellers will have something to see in every season. Though the timing of the wildebeest migration varies every year, aiming for June and July should be the best bet. The famous river crossings of the Mara River can be witnessed around September in the north of the park. February is the best month for the wildebeest calving which coincides with the best time for seeing predators in action. The dry months from June to October offer the best general wildlife viewing.
Overall, wildlife watchers are better off timing their trip to coincide with the drier months (June to October)
Bird watching in the Serengeti is good year-round, but at its very best from November through April. Not only is this when European and north African migratory birds are present, but it is also nesting time for resident species. This makes it easy to spot birds in their breeding plumage.
As malaria is present in the Serengeti, you should take measures to protect yourself. It's a good idea to cover up exposed skin in the evening too. Several vaccinations are also advisable when travelling to Tanzania – seek advice from your local healthcare professional.
Over a century of visitors to Serengeti National Park have ensured that every safari interest is catered for. Here, more than any other national park in Africa, will travellers find a variety of safari options. From the traditional game drive giving an opportunity to explore the tourist circuits to walking safaris designed to suit any traveller. Bird watching in Serengeti is incredibly rewarding as the park offers more than 540 bird species, and those wanting a bird's eye view can experience it by hot air Balloon!
It is also, of course, a true photographic and film paradise with a plethora of documentaries recorded here. And if one wants to slow the pace, there are even designated picnic spots to enjoy a meal in nature’s most spectacular setting.
Attracting visitors for centuries, Serengeti National Park certainly has a well-established infrastructure in terms of where to stay.
There are a variety of facilities for accommodation here. At the lower end, there are camping grounds for Bandas, Hostels and Rest houses. The camping grounds are named Special Campsites (seasonal and owned by tour operators) and Public campsites. Even the most rudimental of these 150 campsites offer ablution blocks, and dining and kitchen facilities.
On the other end of the scale, there are luxury lodges, tented camps and mobile camps. The lodges are well-established resort style, some with over 80 rooms with every amenity possible. The tented camps are just as high-end, but styled more traditionally to provide more of an authentic experience.
The mobile camps, ranging from rustic to luxury, literally are packed up and reset every day as the traveller follows the migration with their guide.