Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania is the ultimate in safari destinations! You can drive for hours in all directions and see hundreds of different species of animals and birds.
Importantly, you can find the Big Five here: lion, leopard, elephant, African buffalo and black rhino. A vast park larger than the state of Maryland, the Serengeti encompasses woodlands, grasslands, wetlands, riverine forests and more. It’s a rich and gorgeous ecosystem that you have to see and experience for yourself to fully appreciate. We really cannot recommend enough that you make the time to visit Serengeti National Park. You won’t be disappointed!
Serengeti National Park is in the far north of Tanzania, a country in East Africa. It borders both Ngorongoro National Park to the east and southeast, and Maswa Game Reserve to the south. To the north is the border with Kenya. The western arm of the park is not far from Lake Victoria. The park is two to four degrees south of the Equator, so temperatures don’t vary much throughout the year.
The map of Serengeti National Park below gives an indication of how immense this park actually is. The local Maasai people call the region Serengiti, which means ‘land of the endless plains’. The park isn’t however all plains – there’s also riverine forest, shrubs, woodland, wooded grassland, wetland and more.
The Serengeti National Park is divided into five sections: north, east, south, west and central. Seronera Airport in Central Serengeti is the most popular section of the park, with many accommodation options existing here. There five gates to the park, one of which is on the border with Ngorongoro Conservation Area, another amazing park that’s very much worth visiting.
Did you know that the name Serengeti comes from the Maasai word for ‘land of endless plains’?
The two main ways to get to Serengeti National Park are by car or plane. There is no rail service.
Most people driving to Serengeti set off from the city of Arusha in northeast Tanzania (please see the map above). If you’re coming from Kilimanjaro (many opt for a Tanzania safari following on from their Kilimanjaro climb), Arusha will already be your staging post. The drive west from Arusha to Serengeti takes about seven hours, and you must pass through Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Ngorongoro Crater is a massive and beautiful caldera (collapsed volcano) filled with wildlife, so we highly recommend you include a stopover there in your travel itinerary.
If driving from Arusha to Serengeti National Park on your own, be sure to do some careful homework beforehand. You should carry extra fuel, for instance, as the gas stations along the route don’t always have supply. Further, you should note that you must drive on the left, cellphone reception is rare along the route, and vehicle recovery can take days, even weeks. Most tour operators offering Serengeti safaris organise your transport from Arusha for you.
There are daily flights from Kilimanjaro Airport in Arusha to both Seronera Airport in central Serengeti National Park and Kirawira B Aerodrome in the western section of the park. If you’re not already in or near Arusha, you can get a connecting flight there from Dar es Salaam on the coast of Tanzania (near to Zanzibar) or Nairobi in Kenya. (Note that Tanzania requires you to present a yellow fever vaccination certificate if you enter from a country that has a yellow fever risk, such as Kenya.)
As of 2020, the entrance fees to Serengeti National Park are as follows:
|Adults over 16 years||$60||€55|
|Children aged 5 to 16||$30||€27|
|Children below 5 years||Free||Free|
Yes, you can do a self-drive safari in Serengeti National Park. That said, we don’t advise it. Seriously, it’s not a good idea. We have our reasons for saying this …
You need a good 4×4 to travel inside of Serengeti, and you also need to be skilled at driving it, as the park’s roads are rutted and rough. Remember that you can’t expect a speedy, city-style assist if you breakdown inside Serengeti! It’s therefore very important to travel in a well-serviced off-road vehicle that’s up to the rigours of the terrain.
While you can hire a 4×4 in Arusha, should something go wrong with the vehicle en route to Seregenti or inside the park that you’re unable to address yourself, your holiday could be put in jeopardy. For this reason we recommend travelling with a tour operator like Follow Alice so that you have proper support and vehicle backup should anything happen. Further, it’s helpful to be driven by someone who knows the park and its road network.
The Serengeti National Park is an immense 14,750 km² (5,695 mi²). While you’ll certainly see animals no matter which section you visit or which direction you head, if you’re particularly keen to see certain animals, like lion prides and rhino crashes, then you need a plan. One obvious plan is going on safari with an experienced driver-guide. Driver-guides know the behaviours and habitats of the various animals of the Serengeti. They know the favourite watering spots per season, the paths of migratory herds, the birds to look for in the trees, the meanings of different animal tracks, the best spots for lunch, and so much more. They’re also in communication with park officials and can access the latest on animal positions. So a driver-guide is your very best shot at seeing the Big Five and other fan favourites.
Finally, a proper driver-guide has knowledge about the animals, their habitats and habits that can raise your safari experience to a whole new level. For instance, the uninformed visitor might see elephants rolling in the mud and assume they’re playing. A driver-guide can relate that they are, in fact, doing this to keep cool and also protect themselves from the sun and insect bites.
Further to this, visitors often don’t know the names of many of the animals that they see. Could you identify a caracal? Bat-eared fox? Buzzard? We all like to know what we’re looking at, and so a well-trained safari driver-guide is key on safari. And not only do these folks know their stuff, but witnessing their passion for the animals and the ecosystem is also an important part of a good Serengeti safari.
If you take our advice and opt to use the services of a tour operator when visiting Serengeti National Park, the next logical question is: how do I go about finding and choosing a good one?
When booking a Serengeti safari with a tour operator, how do you distinguish the good companies from the shysters? Here are a few tips for checking on the credibility of a tour operator:
Yes, Serengeti National Park is safe. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit the park every year, making security a top priority for park officials. The greatest danger arguably comes from tourists being, well, silly. Don’t decide you want an Insta pic of you cuddling an itty-bitty lion cub, for instance. Much of the wildlife of Africa is dangerous, and needs to be respected and enjoyed from an appropriate distance. Again, a safari driver-guide is invaluable in keeping visitors to Serengeti National Park safe. You should always, always do as he or she advises.
We advise that you also read our Tanzania page to learn about vaccines requirements and malaria in the country.
Yes, you can find the Big Five in Serengeti National Park! That means you can look forward to hopefully spotting lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant.
You might be interested to know that the term Big Five wasn’t coined in relation to the size of the animals. A hippo, for instance, is far bigger and heavier than a lion or leopard, yet isn’t included in the Big Five. The term was devised by game hunters in reference to the animals that are the hardest to kill (being elusive, fast and ferocious). A rather sad, but true, etymology. Fortunately, the animals within Serengeti National Park are protected, so there’s no hunting allowed there anymore.
A little about each of the Big Five animals found in the Serengeti …
Rhinos are classified as being white or black, with the two species being easily distinguishable by the shapes of their mouths. Black rhinos have pointed or hook-lipped mouths, used to pick leaves off of trees and shrubs. White rhinos, on the other hand, have wider, square-lipped mouths used for grazing grass. (White rhinos aren’t, of course, white in colour, and they actually have their name because English settlers to South Africa misinterpreted the Afrikaans word wyd, which means ‘wide’, to mean ‘white’.) The Serengeti is home to black rhinos, and they too aren’t the colour of their name: black rhinos are grey or brown.
Unfortunately rhino poaching is a serious problem wherever rhinos live in the wild. Things got so bad in Serengeti in the 70s that by 1978 the entire black rhino population of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem was believed to have been reduced to just 10 individuals. Happily that number is a little less scary at present, but the species is still critically endangered, and certain subspecies like the western black rhino have been declared extinct.
There are around 3,000 lions living in the Serengeti ecosystem. They’re relatively easy to spot not just because of their numbers, but also because they like to loll about for hours each day under trees. In fact, lions can lounge around for about 20 hours a day.
Being social creatures, lions live in prides. Related lionesses spend their entire lives together in a pride, along with up to three unrelated male lions. Lionesses do the hunting in groups while the male lions stay and protect the pride. But the males have first dibs when a kill is brought back the pride. And did you know that the male lion has the loudest roar of any cat species? It can be heard up to 8 km (5 miles) away!
Ever heard the saying that an elephant never forgets? This is because elephants have excellent memory. An African bush elephant’s brain can weigh up to 5 kg (11 lb), which is the heaviest of any land animal. And speaking of mass, can you believe that fully grown African elephant bulls regularly grow to be five to six tons?!
African elephants differ from Asian elephants in quite a few ways; there are differences, for instance, in terms of size, head shape, tusk, trunk tip, skin, and ear shape and size. And then African bush elephants differ from African forest elephants, the former being bigger and having a concave back to the latter’s almost flat back. Serengeti National Park has African bush elephants, which are the largest land mammals in the world.
The Serengeti has the African bush elephant, a separate species from the African forest elephant, which is smaller and lives in Central and West Africa.
African buffaloes are large bovines that live their lives in large herds. They’re fearsome creatures not to be trifled with. A herd of buffalo will even take on a lion, especially if revenge is needed for a nabbed calf. A buffalo can weigh up to a ton, and the males have thick, rounded horns that are powerful weapons. Their only real predators aside from humans are lions and large crocodiles. But a buffalo is not an easy kill, and they’re incredibly ferocious when cornered. They’re generally considered one of the most dangerous of African animals.
Leopards are notoriously hard to spot, as they’re solitary creatures and also like to sit camouflaged in trees. The best way to find a leopard is with an experienced driver-guide. They’re known to hang about in the trees lining the Seronera River. When they have a kill, they usually drag it up into the tree so that scavengers like hyenas won’t hassle them. They have incredibly powerful jaws.
Like domestic cats, leopards growl when angry and purr when content. They’ll also scratch trees, urinate and defecate to mark their territory and warn off other leopards. Males and females come together only to mate, then head back off on their own missions. When a leopardess gives birth (usually to two or three cubs at a time), she does however look after them for about two years. After that, the youngsters strike out on their own.
The Serengeti National Park is home to over 300 animal species. And the populations of many are very healthy and strong. Some of the animals beyond the Big Five to look for on safari are:
|Aardvark||Aardwolf (civet hyena)||Baboon|
|Wild dog||Wildebeest (gnu)||Zebra|
Cheetahs can usually be found on the southeastern plains of Serengeti. They hunt the park’s gazelles. Leopards, while very hard to spot, are mostly found in trees along the Seronera River. It’s very rare to see a wild dog in Serengeti, but they are there. The Retina Hippo Pool in central Serengeti is a great place to see plenty of hippos, as well as some crocs. The website of Serengeti National Park has a list of its animals for those of you who are interested.
Serengeti National Park has an extremely impressive population of resident and migratory birds. In fact, it can claim over 500 bird species! One beauty of the Serengeti is the grey crowned crane, which is easy to spot for its spray of stiff gold head feathers. Another of the gems to be on the lookout is the Kori bustard, which seldom flies and can often be seen with smaller birds perching on its back.
One very pretty bird to keep your eyes peeled for is the Fischer’s lovebird, which has beautifully vibrant orange, green and yellow plumage and lives only in Tanzania. It can be found in the wooded areas of Serengeti. Also endemic to Tanzania and also very pretty is the rufous-tailed weaver, a small songbird that is in a genus of its own. Also keep your eyes open for the beautifully patterned greater kestrel, a member of the falcon family.
Other special and striking birds to look for in Serengeti include:
|African ostrich||Augur buzzard||Black-headed heron|
|Black kite||Golden-winged sunbird||Greater blue eared starling|
|Grey-breasted spurfowl||Reichenow’s seedeater||Scarlet-chested sunbird|
|Secretary bird||Usambiro barbet||White-bellied bustard|
There Serengeti National Park has a list of bird species for those of you who are interested in learning more about the birds you might spot there.
The Great Migration, also known as the Great Wildebeest Migration and the Great Wildlife Migration, is the largest land-based mammal migration in the world. It’s an annual mass migration that sees enormous antelope herds move north and northeast through Tanzania towards the lands of Maasai Mara Game Reserve in the very south of Kenya. While the animals actually migrate within the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem throughout the year, the Great Migration refers to the period when the herds head north to find water and greener pastures because the dry season has set in.
The driving force behind the migration is the search for grazing pasture and water. While the course of the migration naturally changes a little each year based on factors like rainfall and land changes, the overall path of the migration is fairly predictable. This allows guides and visitors to the park to know whereabouts to head to see the migration in action.
At the very heart of the Great Migration is the wildebeest, or gnu. (The name wildebeest is Afrikaans for ‘wild beast’.) Roughly one and a half million wildebeest take part in the migration, as well as 300,000 Thomson’s gazelles, 200,000 zebras, as well as large herds of eland and impala. Interestingly, one of the reasons why wildebeest and zebra are able to exist in harmony and migrate together is that they eat different parts of the same grass.
The scale of the Great Migration is topped only by Zambia’s Kasanka Bat Migration. But the former is more famous as the open plains and size of the antelopes makes for such an incredibly popcorn-munching spectacle.
Here’s a map showing the general movement of the animals of the Great Migration.
Some of the most mesmerising moments of every migration are the Mara and Grumeti River crossings within Serengeti National Park. There is pandemonium whenever a herd of wildebeests crosses one of the rivers. They sense the danger, but are so powerfully driven by instinct to reach good pasture. Every year thousands of wildebeest don’t survive the river crossings, succumbing to the stampede or crocodile attacks. Their carcasses then form a vital part of the ecosystem, feeding crocs, hippos, hyenas, vultures, fish and more.
Did you know that wildebeests possess a ‘swarm intelligence’, which allows them to approach and overcome obstacles as one?
The Serengeti-Mara ecosystem is a cross-border, protected region that includes the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya and the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania. At 40,000 square kilometres (over 15,000 square miles), it’s one of the largest ecosystems in the world!
Every year about half a million wildebeest are born into the ecosystem. Calving season is January to March, which is why this is one of the peak seasons in Serengeti National Park. In February around 8,000 calves are born every day! Zebra and other buck are also born at this time, so visitors get to witness calves being born left, right and centre.
The migration draws plenty of predators too, like lions and crocodiles, adding to the drama and spectacle. In fact, the lions of Serengeti spend the migration months following the movements of the wildebeest migration. Scavengers like hyenas are also an important part of the ecosystem, as they feed on the carcasses of the wildebeest and other animals that don’t survive the migration.
You can visit Serengeti National Park at any time of the year and have an epic safari. The park is a rich ecosystem with millions of large animals, so you don’t have to worry that you’ll somehow ‘miss’ the animals! That said, peak seasons in the Serengeti are January to March and late June to October, for different reasons.
January to March is calving season for the wildebeests, zebras and other antelopes. There’s plenty of predator action going down. On top of this, the scenery is green and pretty.
June to October is the main peak season. This is the dry season in Serengeti, which has a few advantages, namely:
June to October is also the time of year when the Great Migration is in full swing and visitors are rewarded with glorious vistas of millions of wildebeest and other antelope crossing the plains in search of water and grazing lands. During June and July the wildebeest migration takes place mostly in the west of the park. In August and September it moves to the north of the park.
Note that peak seasons can result in some very real jeep traffic in certain parts of the park, especially when there’s a particularly exciting animal sighting. Sometimes this scares off the animals, so only the first to arrive on the scene get to see them. But again, the park is immense, so you can always head to the more isolated parts if you wish to have a more solitary safari.
November to May is the best season in terms of birdwatching, as many migratory birds from North Africa and Europe are present at this time. And many are decked out in their breeding plumage.
If you’re adding a Serengeti safari onto another adventure like a Kilimanjaro climb, consider which time of year is best for both adventures.
Below we summarise the pros and cons of going on safari in Serengeti National Park at different times of the year. Hopefully this will help you settle on a month to visit the Serengeti that best suits your needs and preferences. Just remember that game spotting is good at Serengeti all year round!
|Time of year||Popularity||Pros||Cons|
|January and February||Peak season||– Wildebeest and zebra calving season|
– Lush scenery
– Lots of predator action
– Good birdwatching
|March to May||Off-peak season||– Uncrowded|
– Lush scenery
– Cheaper rates often available
– Good birdwatching
– Tail-end of the calving season (pun intended)
|– Lots of rain|
– Animals are harder to spot
|June and July||Peak season||– Sunny, with little rainfall |
– Fewer mosquitoes
– Excellent game viewing
|– Large crowds, especially in the Seronera area|
|August to October||Peak season||– Sunny, with little rainfall |
– Fewer mosquitoes
– Excellent game viewing
|– Large crowds|
|November and December||Off-peak season||– Smaller crowds|
– Good birdwatching
Did you know that safari is the Swahili word for ‘journey’ or ‘trip’?
Visitors to Serengeti National Park usually stay within the park itself. Fortunately there are numerous and varied accommodations on offer, which makes it likely that you’ll be able to find one that suits your needs and budget. It also means there’s always room for last-minute travellers. Accommodation within Serengeti includes tented camps, chalets, B&Bs, lodges and hotels. You can go minimalist, opting for a campsite with communal facilities, or ultra luxurious, opting for a hotel with a swimming pool, laundry service and other such niceties.
Note that off-season accommodation is drastically cheaper than peak accommodation. In fact, you can pay about a quarter of the fee at some establishments. As mentioned, peak seasons are January to March (calving season) and June to October (the dry season).
During migration season there are also mobile camps known as Great Migration camps. These are moving campsites that follow the movements of the wildebeests. Such setups essentially guarantee guests that they’ll enjoy multiple herd sightings. Great Migration camps are understandably more expensive than stationary camps, and cost around $400 (€365) per person per night.
Over the years we’ve found that many would-be safari goers to the Serengeti start to feel overwhelmed by the volume of accommodation choices on offer. It’s hard to know when simply browsing on the internet which establishments offer good value and actually live up to their claims. This is when a tour operator is so useful, as they know the different offerings and can make informed recommendations.
At Follow Alice we put our guests up at ThornTree Camp, which is in the central Seronera portion of the park. ThornTree Camp offers glamping accommodation, making it both an affordable and comfortable option. We also feel that there’s just something special about camping in Africa! Further, we find that situating ourselves in the central part of Serengeti is useful as it makes all areas of the park reasonably accessible.
Tipping is an important part of service culture in Tanzania, as you’ll already be aware if you’ve read our post Tipping on Kilimanjaro. Tanzanian salaries tend to be very low, so staff rely on tips to supplement their income. Those working in and around Serengeti National Park are no different. As a rough guide to help you with budgeting, consider giving a $20 to $30 tip to your safari driver-guide per day of service. Obviously anything above that, especially if the service was good, is greatly appreciated. Consider tipping accommodation staff $15 per person per day. And when eating out, tipping 10% is the norm.
Here are some tips for going on safari in Serengeti National Park:
Some of the attractions near or even directly next to Serengeti National Park that are very much worth adding to your safari trip are:
If you’re interested in a Serengeti safari – and we can’t see how you wouldn’t be! – then please feel free to get in touch with any questions you may have. We’re always happy to chat via email, Skype or WhatsApp and share our insights with you. A Serengeti safari is a truly unbeatable experience that will stay with you for the rest of your life. We cannot recommend it enough!Share this tour
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