Serengeti National Park

When it comes to safari in Africa especially Tanzania, Serengeti National Park will always be the number one to click in peoples mind, where is Serengeti one would ask, but the answer is plan now to visit this great safari destination and you will never forget the experience. Serengeti National Park is the largest national park in East Africa in a country called Tanzania. Serengeti is home to millions of wild animals, the small and the big. Serengeti National Park makes what is known as  Serengeti Masai Mara  Ecosystem which combines several game reserve like, Maswa Game reserve, Grumeti Game Reserve, Loliondo and Ikorongo Game controlled areas as well as a party of Ngorongoro Conservation Area at southern Serengeti . This extension is also includes the Maasai mara Game Reserve in Kenya.

Serengeti National Park history.

The name Serengeti was derived from the Maasai word ‘Siringet’ by the Maasai nomadic people’s language (maa) that means the endless plains. The word itself is an enough explanation of the legendary African savannah plains. Serengeti National Park was established during the fortress conservation times where two big tribes of Maasai and Kuria were moved out of the Serengeti.  Kuria people were forced to go to the areas around Lake Victoria while Maasai were moved towards the southern Serengeti and Ngorongoro, later in 1951 Serengeti was then announced as a national park.

Serengeti National park is Tanzania’s oldest park covering an area of about 14,763 sq km of endless rolling plains, which spread up to the Kenyan border and extends almost to Lake Victoria. The park is flourishing with magnificent wildlife and it is of no doubt that it is the most famous wildlife area in Africa. UNESCO has established two World heritage site and two Biosphere Reserve in this area. It’s unique environment has inspired writers, film makers as well as numerous photographers and scientists.

What to see

1. Spend Time on Game Drives
Obviously, one of the highlights of most visits to the Serengeti is the wildlife drives and the Serengeti is particularly renown for its migrating wildebeest, its dense lion population, and its good birding opportunities.

What might not be as obvious to many potential visitors is that given the large size of the Serengeti, you can’t explore all the areas in a few days and you shouldn’t try. The distances are long and the roads can be rough so expect plenty of “African massage” along the way.

Not all areas of the Serengeti are created equal and you should think about what you are most interested in seeing here and plan accordingly based on your sightseeing priorities and the timing and length of your visit (a good safari company should be able to give great recommendations here). See the “Best time to Visit” section earlier in the article.

Serengeti is the stuff that African safari fantasies are made of and was hands down our favorite park during this visit. I can’t list all the animals and birds we saw in the Serengeti, but the list includes an amazing number of predators, including several cheetah, a leopard, hyena, jackals, and a ton of lions.

We saw all the “Big Five” here except the elusive and rare black rhino. “Oh, it’s just another lioness” and “I don’t want to see any more hippos” were actual phrases we dared to utter on our last day here after seeing so many of these amazing animals! Our Amani Afrika guide, Muridy, was great at spotting animals for us and we learned so much from him about the animals, trees, birds, and ecosystem.

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top things to do in Serengeti Tanzania best guide to Serengeti National Park
this frisky adolescent tried to scare us away!
top things to do in Serengeti Tanzania best guide to Serengeti National Park
elusive leopard with a kill in a tree
top things to do in Serengeti Tanzania best guide to Serengeti National Park
cheetah with a Thomson’s gazelle
top things to do in Serengeti Tanzania best guide to Serengeti National Park
male lion in front of an adult female lion
2. Stop at the Serengeti Visitor Center
The Serengeti Visitor Centre is worth a stop for its self-guided walking path that provides informative signs and exhibits about the history of the Serengeti, its ecosystem, and its wildlife. You are likely to even spot some wildlife along the path, including rock hyraxes (we probably saw close to a hundred of these little critters!), birds, and brightly colored agama lizards. A great place to stretch your feet and let children expend a little energy.

This is also an excellent place to stop for a lunch break as the center has an outdoor picnic area, restrooms, a snack and coffee shop, and a gift shop. This was our favorite visitors center among those we stopped at in Tanzanian game parks.

The center is located in the Seronera area and is typically open daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm (8:00-17:00).

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top things to do in Serengeti Tanzania best guide to Serengeti National Park
informative signs sometimes come with a hyrax guide!
3. Visit a Maasai Village
The Serengeti ecosystem has long been home to the Maasai, a semi-nomadic people who live in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania along the Great Rift Valley. They are the most well-known local tribe in East Africa to visitors due to their residence near and within many of the popular game parks, their continued engagement in their traditional ways of life, and their distinctive traditional clothing.

Some Maasai villages, also called Maasai bomas, welcome visitors to visit and learn about their customs, traditions, and lifestyle. Most visits last an hour or less and include a brief dancing ceremony, a visit to a traditional boma made of sticks, mud, and cow manure, a visit to the village school, and the opportunity to purchase handicrafts produced by members of the village. Along the way, an elder will explain some of the customs related to raising and herding livestock, marriage, construction of the homes, education of the children, and traditional dress.

Ethan and I had mixed feelings about the village we visited that was located between the Ngorongoro Crater and the entry to the Serengeti National Park. I do think that all visitors should learn about the Maasai and their culture, but the touristy village visit felt “icky” to us. We felt like there was way too much emphasis on making money and selling stuff and we got the strong impression that residents spend the whole afternoon waiting for each tourist group so they could perform out-of-context ceremonial dances.

The worse part was that the adorable school children at the school were clearly reciting a script (alphabet and numbers in English) while we visited and it did not appear that they were actually being educated as there were no books, few supplies, and the chalkboard contained only the recited alphabet and numbers. How could they possibly learn anything if they have to perform for tourists all day?

While not all villages are the same, we heard that many other visitors to other villages had similar experiences and we hope that these visits change to offer a more enriching cultural experience for visitors (that doesn’t feel so choreographed and commercial) without disrupting the daily life of the villagers, particularly the school-aged children.

Most Maasai villages charge an entry fee and then many also suggest a donation for the village school or “hospital” as well as a strong sell of their handicrafts.

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4. Experience a Night Game Drive
A night game drive allows you the unique opportunity to spot a number of nocturnal animals, such as civets, bush babies, nightjars, and aardvarks, and possibly even predators on the hunt. Seeing new animals is definitely a highlight of these evening game drives, but these drives also give you the unique chance to see your surroundings from a very different perspective.

While night game drives are not allowed in most parks in Tanzania and I don’t think anyone has permission to take guests on night game drives within the Serengeti National Park, certain lodges and camps have permission to do night drives on land located just outside the Serengeti. There are no fences around the park so there is still great wildlife viewing along the borders of the Serengeti.

So if you are interested in a night drive in this area, look for lodges and camps located just outside the national park and let your safari operator know you are interested in this experience. For instance, some camps and lodges within the Ikoma Wildlife Area, such as Ikoma Safari Camp, have permission to do night game drives. Klein’s Camp sits on private wildlife concession land leased from the Maasai and has permission to do night drives as does TAASA Lodge which sits on privately owned land located just outside Klein’s Gate.

We had the opportunity to do two night game drives at Buffalo Luxury Camp (now TAASA Lodge) and were able to see bat-eared fox, chameleons, skinks, bush babies, impala, topi, wildebeest, giraffes, dik diks, gazelle, impala, zebra, scrub hare, jackals, mongoose, and hyena. While we were lucky to spot a lot of different animals, there is simply something thrilling about being able to drive around at night and hear all the night sounds of the wildlife.

Tim, our wonderful guide, told us about some very exciting nighttime game drives he’d been on recently involving a group of hunting lions! We didn’t see anything quite that thrilling, but we were content to just watch the delightful big-eyed bouncing bush babies!

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Our spotter and our guide Tim at Buffalo Luxury Camp
5. Visit the Moru Kopjes
Kopjes are interesting weathered gigantic rock formations that rise out of the central Serengeti plains like little mountains. Islands in a sea of grass. Trees, vines, and bushes sprout out of many of the formations and you can see them scattered around the Serengeti Visitors Center. These rock formations provide shade, small water pools, and a great vantage point for many animals, including lions, leopards, and cheetahs.

The Moru Kopjes are the most frequently visited kopjes and some kopjes contain African rock paintings done by Maasai cattle herders and at least one of the rocks, nicknamed the “Gong Rock”, is believed to be an ancient musical instrument.

While we didn’t see any kopjes that were quite as spectacular as The Lion King‘s Pride Rock and there were no baboon presentations of newborn lion cubs going on during our visit, the kopjes are a good place to spot big cats and smaller mammals such as hyraxes so point your binoculars here when on game drives. The Moru Kopjes area is also the one of the best places to spot a black rhino in the Serengeti National Park.

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6. Witness the Great Migration
The Serengeti is the setting for one of the world’s great natural spectacles: the Great Migration of herds of over a million wildebeest as well as hundreds of thousands of other hoofed animals, including zebras, eland, and gazelle. Who has not seen at least one of the amazing videos or photos of hundreds of thousands of these animals crossing the Mara River in a line and hundreds being dramatically pulled down by crocodiles!?

Now this event could also be termed the Great Misconception as people seem to think the migration consists of just a single event (river crossing) or happens over a short time frame, but in fact it is a cyclical event that essentially never ends.

Here’s a rough sketch of the cycle:

January-March: the wildebeest are concentrated in the northern Ngorongoro Conservation Area and southern Serengeti area grazing and calving (February is prime calving month typically)
April and May see the herds beginning to head in a northwest direction in search of green grass and May is generally the beginning of the mating season or “the rut” for the animals, June often finds the herds beginning to concentrate on the western side of the crocodile-infested Grumeti River (river crossings)
July and August the herds continue to move in a northeast direction towards the Mara River and the Kenyan border (time of dramatic Mara River crossings)
September-December the herds graze in the Maasai Mara in Kenya and then begin to slowly migrate in a southwestern direction back into Tanzania to begin the process again!