Why Visit the serengeti
The grasslands of the Serengeti are arguably one of the most iconic settings for an African Safari. Even if you have not heard of the name itself you surely would have seen footage of the Great Migration crossing the plains, or the crocodiles waiting in ambush at the river crossings, chances are that this was the Serengeti. There are many reasons to visit the Serengeti for a safari and here we will highlight some of what we feel are the main attractions and why you should visit.
An iconic safari destination
Firstly, the Serengeti is a name that evokes awe and wonder for many, with a safari here being on many people’s bucket lists (and if it isn’t on yours then trust us it should be!). Named by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site it is a land protected for its outstanding biodiversity and wildlife as well as its history and considered by many to be the best wildlife reserve in Africa. The Serengeti is also the backdrop to the largest and most well-known migration of large mammals on the planet, the Great Migration. There have been countless wildlife documentaries showcasing the Serengeti, it’s lands and wildlife, as well as many Hollywood films set in the wild places that abound in the region. If you are looking for an African adventure that really epitomises the iconic safari and makes you feel like the explorers of old, then a safari in the Serengeti really is your best option.
The best place in Africa for wildlife viewing
For wildlife viewing the Serengeti is at the top of the list for Africa (and it’s quite an impressive list to be honest). Approximately 70 large mammal and 500 bird species can be found in the diverse habitats. The Big Five can all be found here – lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and black rhino (although these are rarely spotted) and the Serengeti is one of the best places for spotting lions as the prides of the Serengeti plains are well known for their abundance. On top of that you also have a very strong chance of seeing some of the other large predators like leopard, spotted hyena and if you’re lucky the endangered cheetah. If you keep your eyes peeled you may also catch a glimpse of some of the smaller predators such as golden and black-backed jackals, serval cats and if you’re lucky you may see the elusive African wild dog.
An abundance of predators is a sure sign that the eco-system is thriving as there are also many grazing animals for the predators to hunt. Some of the grazers that you will see are wildebeest, Grant’s gazelle, African buffalo, elephant, warthog, giraffe, waterbuck, topi, zebra, impala and eland. All these animals (and many more herbivores) can live in harmony in the Serengeti thanks to its amazing biodiversity and each species having adapted easily to its environment. During a game drive through the Serengeti you will see vast herds of wildebeest and zebra (remember it’s the home to the Great Migration) with the other grazing animals appearing between the herds. With any luck you will then spot the predators at the edges of the herds stalking their prey in the hope of a kill which if you witness is one of mother nature’s most wild experiences.
If you are interested in birds, then the Serengeti is also an amazing destination for bird spotting with more than 500 species in the region. There are even a few species that can only be found in Tanzania, like the Fischer’s lovebird, grey-breasted spurfowl and rufous-tailed weaver. Some other bird species to look out for include the kori bustard, secretary bird, usambiro barbet, yellow-throated sandgrouse, grey-crested helmet shrike, and Hildebrant’s starling.
The Great Migration
Each year the Serengeti Plains host the world's most famous and largest terrestrial mammal migration in the world, ‘The Great Migration’. It is such an awesome spectacle that it has been included as one of the ‘Seven Wonders of Africa’ and even named in the USA Today’s ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’. During the migration more than 2 million zebra, wildebeest and gazelles migrate, with their recently born calves, from the Serengeti towards the Masai Mara in Kenya in search of fresh grazing grounds. The migration starts with the calving season which occurs approximately between January and March, depending on the time of the rains. When the calves are strong enough to travel and the rains end (usually in May), the animals then head northwest into the areas around the Grumeti River, where they typically remain until late June. The iconic and well documented ‘river crossings’ occur in July as the herds have to cross the Grumeti and Mara rivers. This activity has become a very popular tourist attraction and is on many bucket lists as crocodiles gather in the rivers in anticipation for their next meal.
The great migration is an awesome spectacle to behold so think about planning your trip in order to witness it, just expect the park to be busy. If you do want to avoid the crowds then there are other areas and times of the year to witness part of the migration. No matter when you decide to visit the Serengeti, we guarantee that you will be blown away by the immense vistas, vast herds and diverse wildlife. The Serengeti is a once in a lifetime destination that we highly recommend.
An impressive and vast expanse of open plains and acacia woodlands, the name Serengeti signifies ‘endless plains’ in the Maasai language, and this place definitely does justice to its name. The Serengeti area covers approximately 30,000 km2 (12,000 sq. mi), spreading from northern Tanzania through to southwest Kenya. The protected area within the region includes the Serengeti National Park and several other world-renowned game reserves.
A variety of habitats can be found as you journey through the Serengeti, including grasslands, woodlands, kopjes, riverine forests and swamps. The southeast consists mainly of shortgrass treeless plains but has rich soils due to the previous eruptions of the now extinct volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai. The plains are punctuated by granite and gneiss outcroppings known as kopjes which were also caused by volcanic activity. The Kopjes provide a microhabitat for non-plains wildlife and are well worth a closer look to see just how important they are in the overall environment. As you head towards the north and the west the grasses get longer and to the west you will find acacia woodlands around the Lake Victoria area. 16 acacia species can be found through these areas. Old lakebeds in the Lake Victoria area have now become flood plains and create marshlands punctuated by rocky outcrops. Far to the northwest you will find further changes as this area gets the most amount of rainfall and allows for broad-leaf deciduous forests to grow, providing a stark contrast to the wide-open plains of the south.
Obviously, game drives are the top of the list when it comes to activities to do in the Serengeti, however, there are many more activities to choose from and some you may not have even thought were possible. For example, have you ever thought about experiencing the wildlife and views from up high, where the eagles soar? The Serengeti Plains are, in our opinion, one of the world’s best settings for a hot air balloon flight. Balloon flights start early, with the balloon being inflated while you enjoy the beauty of the African sunrise. Board and lift off and you will realise just how much wildlife surrounds you on the plains. Rising along with the sun, your balloon floats in whatever direction the winds of the day are blowing. You will marvel at the timeless cycle of life and death as it unfolds right below you, safely tucked away in your basket suspended in the sky. This truly is an experience like no other.
There are other equally amazing ways to view the wildlife in the Serengeti and we can highly recommend getting away from the comfort of your safari vehicle and seeing the wildlife from their level. After hours in the safari vehicle why not stretch your legs on a walking safari or even just a short bush walk. A walking safari is one of the best ways to appreciate the vast wild spaces of the Serengeti and witness the animals interacting in their natural habitats from up close. It is an exhilarating feeling to track wild animals, following their tracks and learning from your guide how to observe the signs all around you, finally catching up with them and observing up close in such a natural way.
Other amazing activity options include horse-back safaris and treks, ride through the savanna plains and become one with your natural surroundings. This comes highly recommended and is a once in a life-time activity to do in the Serengeti. On horseback you’ll be able to get off the beaten track and go deeper into the bush to view the lands in the wildest way possible. Or if walking and horses aren’t your thing and you would rather stick to the comfort of a safari vehicle then you still have awesome options available to you. Try out a night-time game drive to see the plains transform under the starlit night sky as the diurnal animals are replaced by the night-shift of nocturnal animals. You may be lucky enough to spot civets, hyenas, genets, bush babies, lions, hippos, aardvarks, porcupines and maybe even the elusive leopard if you are lucky! (Be sure to check if your lodge can run night game drives as they are banned in some areas of the Serengeti).
Luxury accommodation and lodges
You may think that on a safari in the Serengeti you would be roughing it, but you couldn’t be further from the truth. The Serengeti offers up some of the most luxurious accommodation options which you wouldn’t believe possible in such a wild setting. Choose from mobile tented camps, permanent tented camps or lodges, or why not a combination of all of them. The most basic of all options is the mobile tented camps which are seasonal camps and move every few months, following the migration of certain animals. These camps allow you a great sense of freedom and are well worth spending a few nights in at least. They are very comfortable camps, but they do lack AC, mains electric and in some cases running water. If you are happy to trade those little luxuries in for the chance to get front row seats to nature right from your camp, then go for it.
If you can’t rough it that much but still want a more authentic camping experience, then a permanent tented camp is perfect for you. These are often large safari tents built on permanent platforms, well furnished and just as comfortable as a modern hotel. Here you will get the same luxuries as anywhere else but with the added benefit of having an abundance of wildlife on your doorstep. Permanent tented camps are our preferred choice when it comes to accommodation, allowing you to enjoy a luxurious and yet adventurous safari with amazing service in a spectacular bush setting.
If you feel the need to have four solid walls around you and a proper roof above, then it is possible to get lodge accommodation in the Serengeti. There are limited lodges available inside the park but among these there are some remarkable options complete with spas, recreational facilities and swimming pools. These lodges truly are a sight to behold and some of the most luxuriant buildings in Africa, a stay in one of these high-end lodges could well be the highlight of your trip.
Culture and tradition
It may seem strange to include human interaction in a list of reasons to visit a wildlife region, but once you meet the Maasai people you will know why we have included it. Forever smiling and always welcoming, the Maasai are the ever-present sentries who protect this ancient land. The Maasai have been living in this region for countless years and still play a huge role in the land and wildlife management today. The Serengeti is sometimes even referred to as ‘Maasailand’ after this warrior tribe who live side by side with the wild animals.
On safari you will most likely meet several Maasai as they are often employed by safari companies as trackers, guides and watchmen. If you want to get a better understanding of the Maasai culture then you can book a visit to an authentic Maasai village to witness the way of life, ceremonies, dances, traditions and much more to immerse yourself into their ancient customs.
The geographical setting or location of the Serengeti may also seem like a strange point to include as one of the reasons to visit, but really it is quite simple and comes down to two key reasons. The Serengeti is extremely easy to travel to and once you are there then there is an abundance of other amazing locations and activities available to you nearby. With several large airports nearby, including Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar, there are many flight options open to international visitors. An array of domestic flight companies run daily services to airstrips dotted around the Serengeti region, with short flight times of between 30 minutes and 1.5 hours, offering stunning views as you fly over the plains. Or you could opt for a safari operator that will collect you in Arusha and drive you overland to the Serengeti, giving you the chance of a lengthy game drive all the way to the park.
Once you are in the region then there are some amazing options for you to also look at nearby. You could check out the Ngorongoro Crater, also known as ‘Africa’s Garden of Eden’, a spectacular landscape with unparalleled wildlife viewing options and only a short drive away. You could also visit some of the country’s other excellent national parks and game reserves including Ruaha, Selous, Katavi, Manyara, Tarangire, Mikumi and Mahale. The country has an awesome selection of game viewing options and there will be something to please everyone. If you want to explore Moshi and Arusha there are plenty of day trip options to nearby waterfalls, coffee plantations and cultural interactions. Trips to Mount Kilimanjaro are also based out of these two towns, if you plan to scale the mountain, walk along the foothills or just simply gaze up at it you will be stunned by its serene majesty.
A trip to Tanzania is not complete unless you also visit the Zanzibar Archipelago, and what better way to finish a safari than with a relaxing stay alongside the picture-perfect sandy beaches of Zanzibar. Wander through the streets of old Stone Town, soaking up the culture whilst admiring the elegant architecture. Make the most of one of nature’s biggest playgrounds, the Indian Ocean, with scuba diving, sailing, free-diving, fishing, snorkeling, kite surfing kayaking, stand up paddling and much more. Scroll down to check out our previous blog on the top 10 reasons to visit Tanzania for more options available to you in the area. You will see that a safari trip in the Serengeti is the trip of a lifetime not only because it offers some of the world’s best game viewing in a stunning location but you can also include so many more fantastic activities and locations.