Those of you who have spent time on safari with me will not be surprised by my final choice: no. 10 out of 10 on my Top Safari Destinations is Tanzania’s magnificent and awe-inspiring Serengeti National Park!
Where: Situated in north-western Tanzania, bordering Kenya’s Masai Marra to the north which is part of the same ecosystem, and reaching almost to Lake Victoria to the west and contiguous with the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to the east, the Serengeti itself is over 5,500 sq miles but its complete ecosystem is very much larger. You can fly in and out of the Serengeti via around a one hour scheduled flight from Arusha, but I generally advise driving one way in and flying out at the end, to see the people and cultures of northern Tanzania and take in a number of its other great wildlife destinations.
Why: Simply unmatched for sheer numbers of wildlife and spectacular and varied scenery. The largest migration of large animals on earth is to be found here with an estimated 1.4 million wildebeest, 400,000 Thomson’s gazelle, 300,000 zebra, Grants gazelle, topi, impala and giraffe amongst many others. This attracts plenty of predators and the Serengeti is an excellent place to watch lion, cheetah, leopard, hyena and jackal during the day. Irrespective of the wildlife, including terrific birding, it’s the sheer size, scope and beauty of the Park which makes it so memorable.
When: The Serengeti is dominated by the great migration, which is a year-round search for food and water, so the great herds can be found at any time of the year, but there are easier and more dependable times than others. Most people choose to avoid the ‘long’ rains of April and early May and the ‘short’ rains of November into December, and the most dependable times for finding the big herds are on the short grass plains of the south in December to May and the dry season grazing grounds to the north in July to September. Having said all of that, one of the most exciting times is the movement off the plains during the wildebeest rut, in late May to June, when the herds form massive groups and collect on the edge of the woodland. The difficulty is that the timing of the movement is weather-dependent, making it a matter of luck when you’re arrangng a safari many months ahead. Calving time for the wildebeest is in February, when around 250,000 calves are born in a four week period, making February and March one of my favourite times.
Where in the Park: Again, determined by the great migration, but in general in the early part of the year, December to May you should be on or around the short grass plains to the south, where the wildebeest calve, whilst in the dry season of July to September you should be in the northern Serengeti, where you can see the zebra and wildebeest crossing the Mara River and braving the crocs and strong currents. The western corridor is good in the June to August time and central Serengeti around Seronera is particularly good in the dry season. Don’t forget, being in the right part of the Serengeti at the right time of the year is critical. It seems a lot of visitors are told ‘it’s all the Serengeti’ or even that Kenya’s ‘Masai Mara is part of the Serengeti’; that might be true in ecosystem terms, but in terms of wildlife viewing, you should maximise your chances by being in the right place – you really don’t want to be a four hour drive from the heart of the action!
How long: You need at least 3 nights in the Serengeti, 5 if you’re going to visit more than one camp and area. You could however spend a lifetime here – I’ve spent over 2 years of my life in the Serengeti and there are many, many places I have yet to see!
What to do : Game viewing by safari vehicle is the main activity here and it has to be remembered that walking is not allowed in most areas of the park. Game viewing by 4 x 4 vehicle undoubtedly gives the best opportunities to game view the wildlife and to see as much of the park as possible, but if you want a real wilderness walking experience there are now just a very few operators with a licence to guide walking safaris within certain areas of the park. If you do this, you will see no one else for the whole of your walking safari – exclusive wild Africa at its best!
My View: Simply the best! The variety, the scope and the sheer numbers of animals is unmatched. The Serengeti has become more popular, so you don’t want to spend your time there in a large lodge, game viewing along the popular roads, you need a small camp and do your game viewing in the remoter areas – then you are in for an unmatched treat! This takes planning and attention to detail but you will have seen the ultimate wildlife destination!
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