The Serengeti plain is world famous. It is the home of the ‘Big Five’, but it’s also known for the annual migration of millions of blue wildebeest, zebras and Thomson’s gazelles. The footage of hungry Nile crocodiles grabbing the animals as they were crossing a river are known the world over. Officially, the Serengeti plain is a nature reserve that lies in two countries.
Around October, about one and a half million herbivores will move from the north, across the eastern parts to the south in Tanzania because of the drought. After the wet season (around April), they will go to Kenya, across the western part. Their route seems somewhat clockwise. During their migration they make the most of the weather conditions that ensure the growth of the grass. Researchers have discovered out that the animals cover approximately 800 kilometers per year. With many predators, like lions, in their wake.
The Serengeti plain is one of the oldest safari territories in Africa. It’s all in the name: Serengeti is derived from the Maasai language and means ‘endless plains’. It is somewhat confusing, though. The Tanzanian part is called Serengeti, but in Kenya it is called the Maasai Mara. There also are several other territories that are part of the Serengeti plan. Approximately two-thirds of the Serengeti plain lies in Tanzania, one-third in Kenya.
Some scientists also consider the famous Ngorongoro crater and the surrounding area as part of the Serengeti plain, among other things because the migration also runs through this portion of Tanzania. Because of this, the Serengeti is over 30,000 km2 in size. Even without including the crater, the size of the territory is almost impossible to comprehend.
As far as the eye can see, there are savannahs, large grassy plains, with here and there a tree. There is notably little water, except in the wet season. The region also has many forests, rivers and rocky hills. However, the Serengeti plain is the key attraction. For travellers this is a much sought after destination. Particularly the part in Tanzania that is larger and provides ample opportunities to meet extraordinary animals, without a human being in sight.
Go on a night safari
The night safari cannot be compared to the daytime safari. Not only do you see less, it also seems a totally different world. You may still see hyenas, antelope and many other ‘familiar’ animals, you also encounter animals that roam the plains at night. If you ask, you may even be given the chance to try and spot the animals yourself, using a special lamp. Not an easy task, you will surely admire the spotter, who performs his trade well at night too. In Tanzania night safaris are allowed in the national park, not so in Kenya.
Meet the Maasai people
The Maasai are well-known cattle farmers in Eastern Africa. Meeting them is very special and you will see them in the area around the Serengeti. They’ve kept most of their traditions during the last decades. They still use the meat of the goats, the blood and the milk, and also the skin and bones for accessories. Take your time when you meet them, they’re very friendly.
Go on a walking safari
It sounds dangerous, but walking safaris don’t result in very many casualties. Guides and park rangers know the animals well and will fire warning shots if they come too close. Worst case scenario, they will shoot the animal, but it hardly ever comes to that. Most of the animals are afraid of people on foot. Despite seeing less than when you’re in a jeep, there is no way of getting closer to the African nature than by walking safari. You can hike for several hours, but also go from one camp to another, for instance.
Take a course: filming wildlife
If you’re convinced you’re as good at making documentaries as the ones you see on television, or if you’d like to produce beautiful images during your vacation, you can follow a real course in film making. This course includes information on the equipment, all other requirements, and also attention for animal behaviour and composition. A lot of attention is paid to the patience that can be required while filming wildlife. Courses are not always available, but if you check the website regularly, you will find out when the Serengeti course will be held.
Wake up with the animals
In the early hours of day the nocturnal animals will turn in and the day animals will wake up. This process has been going on for centuries and can still be experienced in the Serengeti. If you set out early enough, you may see hyenas and jackals on their final quest for food for the night. Meanwhile, the gazelles are getting up and starting to graze and the sun gradually rises over the horizon. Other advantages are that you will be ahead of most tourists and that the soft light will add an extra dimension to your photos.
Greet the ‘tommies’
The Thomson gazelles also join the Great Migration, only they get far less attention than the wildebeest and zebras. Despite some 500,000 of them making the long journey. These animals, referred to as ‘fast food’ for predators, are often taken for granted. However, just like the impala, the gazelle leads a complex social life in a herd and this often-seen animal deserves a bit more respect.
Go camping under the stars
Those who go camping in the Serengeti will not only be impressed by the sounds, but also by the night sky. On a cloudless day, of which there are many, there will be no light pollution and you will be able to see the stars, the Milky Way and planets extremely well. You may also see the Southern Cross, which is only visible in the southern hemisphere. Many lodges and hotels have telescopes you can use to gaze at the sky. Half an hour of staring will enhance the feeling that you are far away from civilisation.
Sleep in a ‘tented camp’
The luxury lodges are very appealing, but also expensive. If you wish to stay here at a cheaper rate, you may want to go camping. But there also is a combination of the two. The ‘tented camps’ are luxury safari tents with a real bed, often include a shower and many other amenities. Ideal for someone who wants to spend the night close to nature and still be comfortable.
In the Serengeti there also are several ‘mobile tented camps’ that are set up in the wilderness for the season. The choice is up to you. When preparing for your journey, ask about the possibilities to include these types of tented camps as accommodation.
If you want to experience the Great Migration, you have two options:
- From February til June in Tanzania
- From June til September in Kenya
Other than that, Serengeti National Park can be visited throughout the year, except for March until May when it’s the wet season. The roads will be almost or completely inaccessible.
It’s hard to choose: will you visit Tanzania (Serengeti) or Kenya (Maasai Mara)? The Great Migration can be witnessed from both these countries, including the crossing of rivers. You may also do as the Maasai do and cross both countries.
- The area is much larger.
- Night safaris and hiking safaris are allowed.
- The Maasai presence is much more prominent here.
- No night safaris and hiking safaris allowed here.
How do I get there?
There are flights to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania from all over the world. The Serengeti lies at about 900 kilometers from the capital. On the way, right before you get to your destination, you will reach the Ngorongoro Crater.
There are domestic flights that go to the Serengeti as well.