When the American hunter Stewart Edward White crossed into the Northern Serengeti in 1913 and found the area around the Bologonja River, he described it as ‘paradise’. ‘One could see as far as the limits of the horizon,’ he wrote, ‘and yet everywhere were these trees, singly, in little open groves; and the grass was the greenest green.’
Paradise works as a description, but this rolling landscape in Northern Tanzania actually gets its name from the Maasai word Siringet, meaning ‘the place where the land moves on forever’. It truly is a vast place, where grassy plains are punctuated by waterholes, acacia forests and rocky outcrops. Here, wildlife of every shape and size roams, often in staggering numbers. The Great Migration thunders through, the Big Five are ever present, and the Serengeti is home to one of the largest populations of lions in Africa. People are also at the heart of this region. The Maasai have grazed their cattle in this region for millennia, while the Hadzabe tribe lives here as hunter gatherers. Learning more about this rich human heritage is the essential complement to any game watching experience in the Serengeti.

Serengeti - A geography lesson

The Serengeti ecosystem is a massive geographical region sitting mostly in northern Tanzania, but also reaching up into southwestern Kenya, where it’s known as the Masai Mara. Taken all in all, the Serengeti spans approximately 30,000km2, but when most people refer to the Serengeti, they’re talking about the national park. Created in 1951, this is Tanzania’s oldest park, which protects 15,000km2 of vast plains and an abundance of wildlife. Its history is not entirely straightforward, as local people were displaced in order to create it. Some of these issues are ongoing as the government considers expanding the park borders towards Lake Victoria, for better water access.

Wildlife – What’s here & where to see it

The vast Serengeti Plains are home to the world’s largest herds of hoofed animals in the wild. Here you can see zebra, wildebeest and gazelle in dizzy-making quantities, and also large numbers of giraffe, buffalo and warthog. In the acacia woodland, Kirk’s dik-dik, oribi and roan hide, whilst herds of elephant feed on the fringes.

During the annual Great Migration, these herds get moving, as over a million wildebeest, accompanied by hundreds of thousands of gazelles, zebra and eland, loop north into Kenya’s Masai Mara in search of green pastures. From as early as December this extraordinary exodus is thundering through the southern Serengeti and by July it’s arrived in the north Serengeti, eagerly awaited by crocodiles, lions, cheetahs and hyenas, who all wait to pick off a meal at key vulnerable points. The Mara River crossing is one of those, but the Mbalageti and Grumeti Rivers serve up similar drama, too.
Even ignoring the migration, the Serengeti’s wildlife is jaw-dropping. Lions exist in huge numbers, cheetah pace the plains, leopards lounge in sausage trees and spotted hyena and golden jackal can be seen trotting through the grass. Black rhinos inhabit the rocky outcrops of the Moru Kopjes, and in the Central Serengeti, the Retina pool where the Seronera and Orangi Rivers converge, is the muddy playground for about 200 hippos.

Best time to visit the Serengeti

The best time to visit the Serengeti for most people is when the Great Wildebeest Migration is in full flow. From late June to October the dramatic Mara and Grumeti River crossings are happening, but you can see evidence of movement from as early as December in the southern Serengeti.

July and August are peak season, when visitor numbers swell and temperatures soar up to 30°C. Come in late June or September to catch the river crossings without the biggest crowds. Many people avoid the rainy season, from March to early May, although there is still great wildlife to be seen, with trips often much cheaper. Short rains fall November to December, refreshing the landscape; and in January and February it’s green and gorgeous with recently born animals adding to the spectacle.

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Women only safari in Tanzania

Women only safari in Tanzania


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Amanda Marks, from our supplier Tribes Travel:
“The Great Migration moves constantly so you have it from December to March in the southern Serengeti – you can find the wildlife there quite easily. They tend to give birth at the beginning of the year, then move north and west, though they are more spread out so it’s not such a spectacle – but you can still find them. Then from July to October they are in Kenya, but they are also in the very north of the Serengeti, which is just as good a place to see the migration.”

Where to stay & what to do

The Serengeti has camps and lodges to suit all tastes and budgets, and numerous vacation options. You can choose between luxury safari camping, hotels or ecolodges, a small group tour or a tailor made trip with your own driver guide. This last option is ideal if traveling with children, as you can go at your own pace. The best sights in the Serengeti and Tanzania’s larger northern circuit are all fairly close to each other, so it’s easier to break up the journey and keep drive times to a minimum. Booking a specialist family vacation, whether small group or tailor made, will mean you are assigned a guide who is adept at keeping kids engaged. They will also offer lodges with a pool so young ones can let off some steam after a day in the vehicle.

Most Serengeti National Park vacations include a few of the neighbouring wildlife wonders, too, such as Lake Manyara National Park (home to tree climbing lions), Tarangire National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater. If you have more time and funds, take in Lake Victoria, too, or Mount Kilimanjaro. Or head into Kenya! It’s easy to hop across the border to explore the Masai Mara, or to stay in one of Kenya’s 140 conservancies. Here, a la carte safari options that may not be available in the Serengeti, such as night bush walks and fly camping, are often on offer.
A weeklong trip can give you an overview of this area, traveling overland, but allow more time if you can, to put gaps between the long drives on often bone-rattling roads. Traveling independently in Serengeti National Park is not possible, as you can’t go off road and you need to be accompanied by a licensed driver guide or tour operator. For self-drive safaris, head to South Africa or Namibia.

Remember, though, that riding around in a jeep is not the only way to experience this region. One of the most exciting ways to see the Serengeti is from a saddle, with wonderful cycling vacations on offer which combine off road biking with traditional game drives. Guided walking safaris are also becoming available now in the Serengeti – another great way to get close to this vast landscape and reach the remote areas a safari car can’t.
Written by Joanna Simmons
Photo credits: [Page banner: Ian Cochrane] [Intro: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen] [Wildlife – What’s here & where to see it: jean wimmerlin] [Best time to visit the Serengeti: Thomson Safaris Tanzania Safaris and Kili Treks] [Where to stay & what to do: Filip Lachowski]