THE ENDLESS PLAINS OF SERENGETI

The seemingly endless plains of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park are the iconic images of East Africa for many – where some of the world’s most mesmerizing wildlife species roam grasslands dotted with acacia trees, protected and entirely free, and living alongside indigenous people including the evocative Maasai. Indeed, the name Serengeti is believed to stem from Siringitu, a Maasai word meaning unending savannah.

Where to find the Serengeti

The Serengeti borders Kenya in Tanzania’s north-west close to Lake Victoria and is continuous with the much smaller Maasai Mara National Reserve on the Kenyan side of the border. It is famed as the home of the annual Great Wildebeest Migration, and one of the few places anywhere in Africa where it is still possible to catch sight of the famous Big Five of lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino, and leopard.
Created in 1959, the Serengeti is Tanzania’s oldest national park, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the most popular destinations in Africa in which to take a wildlife safari, the Serengeti spans close to an incredible 15,000 square kilometers (5,700 square miles) – making this protected area roughly twenty times larger than New York City.
While known as the heartland of Africa’s savannah ecosystems, the Serengeti also boasts a range of other landscapes. The grasslands and occasional lone trees turn into acacia woodland, before evolving into the verdant greenery found around the park’s rivers. Then there are the ancient stone escarpments that hint at the might of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, beyond.

Serengeti Sunset

 

When to visit the Serengeti

Thanks to its immense size, there’s no bad time to visit the Serengeti on a luxury Tanzania Safari. That said, there are certainly times of year when wildlife viewing in one area of the park is better than at other times of year.
The region’s dry season runs from the beginning of July through to October, and incorporates the Great Wildebeest Migration (detailed below). These months boast the best weather, and see very little rainfall, meaning animals are easy to spot as they are forced to concentrate at year-round waterholes.
However, wildlife viewing opportunities are still some of the best in the world right up until the beginning of March, making a Christmas or New Year tailor-made safari a very real possibility. Arrive at the Serengeti during January or February when the new season grass begins to sprout in the park’s southern sector and you’ll have the added benefit of being around during the Wildebeest calving. This is also the best time of year to visit for bird watchers interested in endemic and migratory species to the park.
The months of March, April, and May has poorer wildlife viewing conditions, and heavy rains become more and more of a problem as March becomes April, with many of the unsurfaced routes through the park becoming waterlogged and difficult to navigate.

Lion family

 

What is the Great Wildebeest Migration?

One of the world’s largest migrations, the annual Great Wildebeest Migration is something to behold. The plains of the Serengeti are packed with a mass of Wildebeest, zebra, and antelope some two million individual members strong. They trek 3,000 km (1,800 miles) across the Serengeti in a clockwise direction in search of new season grass.
Often called the Greatest Show on Earth, the Great Migration can actually be said to take place twice a year, as the wildebeest head first one way and then the other. In June or July of each year the migration takes place in what is known as the western corridor, while in August and September the herds can be found further north in the park, although the exact timing is dependent on the precise coming and going of the seasons.
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that these great herds of prey species are shadowed closely by the region’s predators, making it perhaps the best season of the year to encounter the park’s 2,500 lion and cheetah on the hunt, and hyenas battling for the spoils alongside vultures and the 500 other bird species that call the park their home.
Then throw into the mix the Serengeti’s resident populations of Big Game – herds of elephant gently swaying through the high grasses, giraffe stretching for the freshest of acacia leaves, and hippos making themselves known in the Grumeti and Mara Rivers – crossing points and croc hotspots for the Great Migration – and you have all the quintessential experiences of an African safari in one place.

The Great Wildebeest Migration – Serengeti Plains

How to explore the Serengeti

The traditional way to explore this vast area of wilderness is by hitting the unsurfaced roads that scour the park in an all-terrain 4×4 safari vehicle, trusting in the wildlife-spotting talent of local drivers and guides to bring you unforgettable wildlife encounters from ground level. Here lions become all the more menacing, and the oldest elephants rise high above you as a solid wall of grey muscle and bone. But to truly understand the extraordinary size of the Serengeti, Magical Africa recommends a sunrise or sunset balloon safari. At these times of day, the Serengeti’s wildlife is at its most active, while floating silently through the warm African air with the colours of a tropical sun igniting the twilight is the only way to admire the national park as an entire ecosystem.

All-terrain 4×4 safari vehicle

 

Where to stay in the Serengeti

Long gone are the days when heading out on safari meant roughing it. Today there is a good choice of luxury camps and lodges, offering five-star experiences and facilities including outdoor pools and spa complexes, within easy reach of smaller airfields as well as the region’s main domestic airport at Arusha, and Kilimanjaro International Airport located 50 km (30 miles) from Arusha. Created with every comfort in mind, these luxury lodges are well-versed at providing magnificent backdrops to family safaris and the romantic ambience for honeymoon safaris to go without a hitch.

Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park is rightly celebrated as one of the world’s most important ecosystems. Its phenomenal wildlife encounters, together with luxury safari lodges and camps, makes it one of the best places in Africa to enjoy life on the wild side.

Tented Camp in the Serengeti
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