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Tanzania: Serengeti National Park

We had planned to spend a couple of days exploring the Serengeti.

On our first day, we reached the gate to the Serengeti National Park. It was mid-afternoon so there was time to do a short game drive. The Serengeti / Masai Mara ecosystem is famous for the migration of herds of wildebeest and zebras that move between these parks in huge numbers. We’d seen some wildebeest in the Masai Mara, but not in great quantities. As we passed through the Northern Serengeti, we realised that they were all here! There were wildebeest as far as the eye could see. As we travelled through the park we stopped for the occasional animal. Our driver took us down to the Mara River to see if there were any herds of wildebeest planning to cross – but none seemed that interested so we decided to call it a day and head for camp.

Our resting place for the night was Kati Kati Tented Camp. The camp was made up of two areas with 12 tents each with a dining tent. These camps are seasonal, so everything was a bit more rustic than in other places we’d stayed. It was quite late, so we ordered our shower – they bring hot water and pour it into a bucket. Inside our tent, you pulled a lever and magically water came through the shower. What we didn’t realise was that a man waited there waiting to top up the hot water. It wasn’t until he said ‘okay’ that we knew he was even there.

The large herds of wildebeest (gnus) and zebras on the plains of the Serengeti - Tanzania
The large herds of wildebeest (gnus) and zebras on the plains of the Serengeti
Zebras and wildebeest in the Serengeti in Tanzania
An elend hiding in the bush - Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
An elend hiding in the bush
A long-crested eagle in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
A long-crested eagle
A redhead agama sunning itself on a rock - Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
A redhead agama sunning itself on a rock
A male elephant in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
A male elephant

The previous night was not the best night’s sleep ever. Once the storm abated the animals moved in, and throughout the night I could hear the wildebeest moving and making strange grunting noises, seemingly right outside our tent. Oh, how I wished a lion would come along and scare them off. The icing on the cake was a zebra braying like a donkey from about 4 o’clock in the morning. We did have a sunrise game drive, so it was not quite so bad to be up early.

The plan for the day was hang around the area we were in of the Northern Serengeti, before moving on further south so we could explore the Southern Serengeti the following day. We left the Kati Kati tented camp and headed back down the Mara River. What we really wanted to see was a crossing of the river by a large herd, most likely wildebeest. This requires patience and bit of cat and mouse. The wildebeest gather on the banks of the Mara River, especially in the morning and early afternoon, and if the numbers get large enough, they may all decide to cross, or they may not, and the herd will simply disperse. This is where the patience comes in.

We got word of a herd of wildebeest gathering on the bank of the Mara, so we headed out. By the time we arrived, there must have been about 25 vehicles parked about 200-metres from the river. There was a group of up to 1000 wildebeest just chilling by the river. So, the waiting began. For nearly an hour we sat there not knowing if anything was going to happen, then it all kicked as the first wildebeest came down the steep banks into the river. Suddenly, all the parked vehicles were off towards the riverbank at high speed – it was exhilarating and scary at the same time. By the time we arrived by the river the cars were all parked in a tight line – it was not clear where the wildebeest would get through. Suddenly, the wildebeest appeared at the top of the riverbank and looked very confused to see all of us and couldn’t work a way through. Quickly, we and several other cars had to move to let the wildebeest through. It took us a minute or two to reposition to the rest of the crossing. As we were watching a crocodile started moving towards the line of wildebeest crossing – we were fascinated as well being concerned for the animals. It missed on its first pass but came back and caused more commotion the second time and still it failed to get its teeth stuck into anything. 15-minutes, after it started everything, was over and calm returned and the wildebeest who had crossed were grazing as if nothing had happened.

A herd of wildebeest crossing the Mara River in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
A herd of wildebeest crossing the Mara River in the Serengeti National Park
During the great migration millions of animals cross through the Masai Mara and Serengeti parks
During the great migration millions of animals cross through the Masai Mara and Serengeti parks

Slowly, the vehicles all departed to leave to find other things to watch. So, did we. After about thirty minutes of cruising through the park, mainly following the Mara, we had not seen anything else of note. Then we spotted a small herd of elephants including a couple of babies heading towards the river. Our driver suspected they might also cross, so we got into position, and sure enough, they crossed the river. It was not quite as exciting as the wildebeest crossing but nonetheless a great thing to have experienced.

We continued on through the park until we came across a carcass of an animal that was being eaten by a large flock of vultures and other carrion, including marabou storks.

A small herd of elephants crossing the Mara River in Tanzania
A small herd of elephants crossing the Mara River
The male of the elephant group in the Mara River
The male of the elephant group in the Mara River
Lappet-faced vulture on a carcass in the Serengeti National Park
Lappet-faced vulture on a carcass in the Serengeti National Park
Marabou storks in the Serengeti National Park
Marabou storks in the Serengeti National Park

It was getting towards lunchtime so moved towards a grove of trees. This part of the Serengeti has quite a lot of vegetation, so finding shelter was quite easy. First things first we had to inspect the tyre on the back of the Landcruiser (a euphemism for taking a pee) before moving along to have our lunch.

After lunch we carried on through the park, making our way back to the gate to the Serengeti Park, which we’d come through the day before. Along the route, we came across a group of game drive vehicles that were parked up. When we got there we discovered they were watching a cheetah who was hiding from the heat of the sun underneath a tree. After a few minutes the cheetah got up and left and so did we.

From here we headed south and back into the park, where we’d be starting our game drive the next day. We were staying at a different Kati Kati Tented camp, which looked identical, but this time there were no noisy wildebeest and zebra to keep us awake.

It was time to explore the central area of the Serengeti before moving on to the Ngorongoro crater. We awoke to a chilly morning at the Kati Kati camp, so we quickly dressed and headed over to join Ezekiel for breakfast. This promised to be a long but interesting day.

For our first stop, we went to a small pond where about half a dozen hippos were wallowing. It was still early in the morning, so the pond was soaked in warm yellow light, perfect for hippo viewing and capturing a few photos besides. Our guide obviously understood our appreciation of these giant beasts, so he said he’d take us somewhere where there is an even bigger pod of hippos – so off we went. Along the way, we stopped at a large gathering of game drive trucks to see what they were eyeing. About 400 metres from the road was a very large pride of lions, made up of males, lionesses and cubs – probably over 20 in total. They were a way off, so I needed binoculars, or my telephoto lens to get a clear view of the pride.

As promised, our guide found us a section of the river with a huge pod, of around 50 hippos. They were squeezed up against each other, snorting and farting – the water did not look or smell very good! Of course, such a sight as this attracted the crowds and soon enough there were a lot of other people around us. Hippos are very dangerous animals. They kill more people than any other animal in Africa including lions and elephants. Despite the signs warning people of the dangers, some people insisted on pushing the limits, going beyond the posted warning signs, just to get that perfect Instagram shot!

After, the hippo experience we headed further into the park, where we found yet another water hole full of hippos and crocodiles. This time the hippos seemed more bothered by the proximity of their neighbours and a few outbreaks of aggression started in the pod.

The Masai named this land Serengeti, meaning endless plains, and it truly lives up to this with massive expanses of savannah disappearing into the distance as far as the eye can see. It is full of wildlife, these plains fill with wildebeest at times during the great migration, but even outside these times, there are antelope and zebra everywhere. This makes it a great place for big cats, including lions, leopards and cheetahs. As we covered the miles, we got to see all these close up. I was especially excited to get to see a couple of leopards and a cheetah at close quarters. Amazing!

Hippos in a pool in the Serengeti National Park
Hippos in a pool
When living tight space things can get a bit fractious - Hippos in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
When living tight space things can get a bit fractious
The Serengeti is a huge savannah stretching as far as the eye can see
The Serengeti is a huge savannah stretching as far as the eye can see
A leopard sleeping in a tree in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
A leopard sleeping in a tree in the Serengeti

About the Serengeti

The Serengeti National Park is a World Heritage Site teeming with wildlife: over 2 million ungulates, 4000 lions, 1000 leopards, 550 cheetahs and some 500 bird species inhabit an area close to 15,000 square kilometres in size. Join us on a safari and explore the endless Serengeti plains dotted with trees and kopjes from which majestic lions control their kingdom; gaze upon the Great Migration in awe or find an elusive leopard in a riverine forest.

Serengeti National Park was one of the first sites listed as a World Heritage Site when United Nations delegates met in Stockholm in 1981. Already by the late 1950s, this area had been recognised as a unique ecosystem, providing us with many insights into how the natural world functions and showing us how dynamic ecosystems really are.

Today, most visitors come here with one aim alone: to witness millions of wildebeest, zebras, gazelles and elands on a mass trek to quench their thirst for water and eat fresh grass. During this great cyclical movement, these ungulates move around the ecosystem in a seasonal pattern, defined by rainfall and grass nutrients. These large herds of animals on the move can’t be witnessed anywhere else. Whereas other famous wildlife parks are fenced, the Serengeti is protected, but unfenced. Giving animals enough space to make their return journey, one that they’ve been doing for millions of years.

Planning your visit to the Serengeti

By Air

The favoured route for a Serengeti fly-in safari is by flying from Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO) or Arusha Airport (ARK). From here it will take approximately 1 to 5 hours to fly to one of seven airstrips within the Serengeti National Park. All flights are operated by local airlines such as Grumeti Air or Coastal Aviation. Once landed at the airstrip, the lodge staff will pick you up and transfer you to your final destination where a cold drink will be ready and waiting (please allow another 45 minutes to 2 hours for road transfer – depending on the chosen lodge). More information about flights to Serengeti.

It is also possible to fly from Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta Airport (NBO) or Wilson Airport (WIL) to Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO). When travelling from the Lake Victoria area, the favoured airport is Mwanza Airport (MWZ). There are also direct flights from the Serengeti to Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam and other national parks in Tanzania such Lake Manyara and Tarangire.

getting there By car

Serengeti drive-in safaris
The most popular way to travel to Serengeti National Park by road is by booking a drive-in safari. In general the drive-in safaris start from the town of Arusha. As it will take approximately eight hours to travel from Arusha to the Serengeti National Park, an overnight stay at one or more wildlife sites en route is usually part of your safari itinerary.

Serengeti self-drive safaris
Although not recommended, the Serengeti National Park is accessible when travelling by (rental) vehicle. Please keep in mind that careful planning is necessary when driving by yourself through the Serengeti National Park. A 4×4 vehicle is required to be able to access all roads throughout the year. Petrol is sold at Seronera in the Southern Serenget.

There are four main gates to enter.

  • Naabi Hill Gate
  • Ndabaka Gate
  • Klein’s Gate
  • Bologonya Gate
Website:https://www.serengeti.com/
Hours:06h00 and 18h00 daily but please note at some gates the last entry is at 16h00.
Admission Fees

Per adult (16+ years old): US$ 82.60 per person per 24 hours.
Per child (between 5 and 15 years old): US$ 23.60 per child per 24 hours.
Children below the age of 5 years old: free of charge.

Best time to visit the Serengeti National Park

The best season to visit Tanzania is during the long dry season, which falls from July to September. These are considered the best months for safaris, the Great Migration, trekking, and beach holidays in Zanzibar.

Of course, these months are peak travel season. They will be busier, and some lodges, hotels, and parks will apply higher rates.

If you prefer a more secluded experience, consider visiting during the short rainy season from the end of October to December.

If possible, you’ll want to avoid visiting during the long rainy season from March to May. The rains are often heavy and sudden, which can result in activities being cancelled last minute.

Visiting Tanzania in January – February

There is a chance of rain, the temperature is getting higher and the humidity is building. It’s still a good time to go as rates are lower and safari is excellent. At this time of year the migration herds are in the southeast of the Serengeti for calving season, so the Ndutu Plains are busy but it is amazing to see so many animals in one place.

Events & Festivals
  • Green Season (November to March): Tanzania’s Green Season offers superb birdwatching opportunities, with migratory birds arriving in their thousands.
Visiting Tanzania in February – February

Migration is still occurring in Ndutu. The weather is hot and humid with a chance of rain.

Events & Festivals
  • Green Season (November to March): Tanzania’s Green Season offers superb birdwatching opportunities, with migratory birds arriving in their thousands.
Visiting Tanzania in March

Migrating herds are starting to leave Ndutu, heading west toward Grumeti. This is truly low season, before the heavy rains but with humidity building. Great rates can be taken advantage of at this time of year.

  • Green Season (November to March): Tanzania’s Green Season offers superb birdwatching opportunities, with migratory birds arriving in their thousands.
Visiting Tanzania in April – May

This is a period of heavy rain, so we would advise against travelling at this time.

Visiting Tanzania in June

This is the green season, bringing lush grasses and bush that can make spotting game more difficult. However, this is still a wonderful time to travel — particularly for bird watchers as parks are full of migratory birds; especially in the south. Migration should be in the Grumeti area of the Serengeti heading north.

Visiting Tanzania in July

This is the start of the peak season. The Migration is in the north of the Serengeti moving toward Kenya, and elephant start to gather in Tarangire. The land is getting drier and spotting game is becoming easier. Temperatures are in the high 20°Cs to early 30°Cs and the humidity is low.

  • The best chance to observe herds of animals in their hundreds as they cross Tanzania’s rivers on their epic journey across the continent is as part of the Great Migration in Africa.
Visiting Tanzania in August

Peak season. Migration is still in the north. As the land becomes more parched, the animals’ behaviour becomes more predictable. The dense bush in Ruaha is drying out so game spotting here becomes much easier.

  • The best chance to observe herds of animals in their hundreds as they cross Tanzania’s rivers on their epic journey across the continent is as part of the Great Migration in Africa.
Visiting Visiting Tanzania in September

Peak season. The end of the migration is still in the north, with herds on both sides of the Kenya and Tanzania borders and high numbers of elephant in Tarangire. The northern circuit can be very busy, but it is less busy in the south, so for those who want to avoid crowds it’s best to visit the southern parks.

  • The best chance to observe herds of animals in their hundreds as they cross Tanzania’s rivers on their epic journey across the continent is as part of the Great Migration in Africa.
Visiting Visiting September in October

Peak season. The migration is now in Kenya, but the game viewing in central Serengeti is still very good. Southern parks are particularly rewarding at this time of year.

Visiting Visiting Tanzania in November

Short rains. This is a great time to take advantage of low season rates and is still a popular time to travel. The rains tend to be overnight, but there is a risk of rain during the day as well. Migrating herds are starting to travel south from Kenya, so crossings can be seen in the north of the Serengeti.

  • Green Season (November to March): Tanzania’s Green Season offers superb birdwatching opportunities, with migratory birds arriving in their thousands.
Visiting Visiting Tanzania in December

There is a chance of rain, but this is generally overnight. Temperatures and humidity start to build. Safari is good, with migrating herds in the north travelling south to Ndutu. The festive season can be very busy and needs to be planned well in advance to ensure availability.

  • Green Season (November to March): Tanzania’s Green Season offers superb birdwatching opportunities, with migratory birds arriving in their thousands.

Kati Kati Tented Camp

There are many lodges and places to stay around the Serengeti National Park. We were booked into Kati Kati Tented Camp which is a hotel group with lodges and tented camps around Tanzania. The tented camps are non-permanent camps located right in the heart of the Serengeti.

Each camp has a small number of tented rooms. Like most these tents are more glamping than camping and are fully ensuite, but the showers are bucket style but are still nice The tents all look out across towards the Serengeti, and have some chairs outside so you watch the sun go down.

There is one large tent where meals are served.  The food was amazing and there was a vegetarian option on each menu,

They set up a big fire pit with seating around the outside, which is a great place to meet fellow travellers.

These camps are out in the bush with no fences, so at night so you need to get accompanied to and from your room.

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