Serengeti national park Home to the great migration.
A little bit about Serengeti National Park
Chances are that you have dreamt of Africa, and when you did, you probably dreamt about the Serengeti. Countless wildlife movies have been recorded in the Serengeti, and with good reason: this is the home of the Great Migration and may very well be one of the last true natural wonders on planet earth.
Serengeti National Park is a World Heritage Site teeming with wildlife: over 2 million ungulates, 4000 lions, 1000 leopard, 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. Or perhaps see everything from a bird’s-eye view and soar over the plains at sunrise during a hot air balloon safari. Accommodation options come in every price range – the sound of lions roaring at night is complimentary
Going on a Serengeti safari?
If you are planning a safari to Serengeti National Park, you probably have a ton of questions. Naturally, you want it to be the journey of a lifetime and it will be. Why? There are only a few places left with such unspoilt natural splendour, exhilarating wildlife and world-class safari lodges & camps.
Plus, we are here to assist. We would like to provide a bit more background information – if only to stir the anticipation of going on a Serengeti safari – and answer the questions you might have. Start drafting your bucket list as you read more about your safari trip in the sections below. Find a question unanswered? Make use of the contact form below and we will be happy to assist you!
About Serengeti National Park
Let the great migration in this dynamic ecosystem move you.
It’s the only place where you can witness millions of migrating wildebeest over the Acacia plains, it’s the cradle of human life, and probably the closest to an untouched African wilderness you will ever get: welcome to Serengeti National Park. Where time seems to stand still, despite the thousands of animals constantly on the move.
The greatest wildlife destination on earth
The magic of Serengeti National Park is not easy to describe in words. Not only seeing, but also hearing the buzz of millions of wildebeest so thick in the air that it vibrates through your entire body is something you will try to describe to friends and family, before realising it’s impossible. Vistas of honey-lit plains at sunset so beautiful, it’s worth the trip just to witness this. The genuine smiles of the Maasai people, giving you an immediate warming glow inside. Or just the feeling of constantly being amongst thousands of animals – it doesn’t matter what season of the migration you visit the Serengeti National Park, it’s magical all year round.
The never-ending circle of the Great Migration
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. Read more about the Great Migration.
Beyond the Great Migration
Even though for many travellers, migration is one of the main reasons to visit Serengeti National Park, it’s worth looking beyond this immense spectacle. First of all, nature can’t be directed. Having realistic expectations of your chances to witness a river crossing or a large herd on the move, is crucial. A river crossing for example often only lasts thirty minutes, so can be missed in the blink of an eye. But don’t let this discourage you: there are plenty of other reasons to visit the Serengeti. If it’s not for this vast stretch of land where you can drive forever and never get enough, it might be for the incredible skies of dazzling colours, or the primal feeling of excitement when a deep dark-grey thunderstorm appears on the broad horizon. Or you might answer the lion’s call, and come to the Serengeti for one of the largest concentrations of predators in the world: the herds support about 7,500 hyenas, 3,000 lions and 250 cheetahs. And how about the silent grey giants? Elephants in the Serengeti amble over the plains into the woodlands, feasting on leaves and tree branches. Read more about wildlife in Serengeti wildlife.
Tribes in the cradle of human life
Even though animals still rule the plains of the Serengeti, this area has an incredibly long history of human occupation. Not only humans but also human ancestors (Australopithecus Afarensis) lived in this area for almost 4 million years. Today, Serengeti National Park is still home to several indigenous tribes. One of the most famous tribes is the Maasai: this tribe is unique and popular due to their long preserved culture. Despite education, civilization and western cultural influences, the Maasai people have clung to their traditional way of life, making them a symbol of Tanzanian and Kenyan culture. Read more about the Maasai people.
Vibrancy, variety and vastness
You will soon realise that amazement doesn’t have boundaries in this world-renowned National Park of Tanzania. Serengeti is a transition area, with distinct changeovers going from rich flat soils to poor hilly soils in the north, attracting a wide variety of vegetation and animals. Whether you are looking for big cats, birds or even smaller creatures: Serengeti National Park delivers. Even to understand and experience just a small part of this ecosystem, will change your vision of our world and the environment.
After being overwhelmed by the vibrancy, variety and vastness of this land, this place of transition will leave you changed forever.
History of Serengeti National Park
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, explorers and missionaries described the Serengeti plains and the massive numbers of animals found there. Only minor details are all that were reported before explorations in the late 1920s and early 1930s supply the first references to the great wildebeest migrations and the first photographs of the region.
An area of 2,286 square kilometres was established in 1930 as a game reserve in what is now southern and eastern Serengeti. They allowed sport hunting activities until 1937, after which it stopped all hunting activities. In 1940 Protected Area Status was conferred to the area and the National Park itself was established in 1951, then covering southern Serengeti and the Ngorongoro highlands. They based the park headquarters on the rim of Ngorongoro crater.
So, the original Serengeti National Park, as it was gazetted in 1951, also included what now is the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA). In 1959, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area was split off from the Serengeti National Park and they extended the boundaries of the park to the Kenya border. The key reason for splitting off the Ngorongoro area was that local Maasai residents realized that they were threatened with eviction and consequently not allowed to graze their cattle within the national park boundaries. To counter this from happening, protests were staged. A compromise was reached wherein the Ngorongoro Crater Area was split off from the national park: the Maasai may live and graze their cattle in the Ngorongoro Crater area but not within Serengeti National Park boundaries.
In 1961 the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya was established and in 1965 the Lamai Wedge between the Mara River and Kenya border was added to Serengeti National Park, thus creating a permanent corridor allowing the wildebeests to migrate from the Serengeti plains in the south to the Loita Plains in the north. The Maswa Game Reserve was established in 1962 and a small area north of The Grumeti River in the western corridor was added in 1967.
The Serengeti National Park was among the first places to be proposed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO at the 1972 Stockholm conference. It was formally established in 1981.
Geology of Serengeti National Park
The Serengeti ecosystem is part of East Africa’s high interior plateau. It slopes from its highest parts in the crater highlands (at an altitude of 3,636 meters) towards Speke Gulf on Lake Victoria (920 meters above sea level).
The highlands result from volcanic activity related to plate tectonics of the Rift valley. The area still has one active volcano: Ol Doinyo Lengai, which means ‘mountain of God’ in the local Maa language. Learn all about Serengeti’s geology on this page.
Rivers in the Serengeti
The Serengeti plains are at an elevation between 1,600 and 1,800 meters above sea level. Several river catchments drain the area. The Mara River in the north flows from the Mau forests in the Kenyan highlands, southwards through the Masai Mara National Reserve, then west through northern Serengeti, out through the great Masarua marshes, and ultimately into Lake Victoria at Musoma. This is the only permanently flowing river in the Serengeti ecosystem. It supports dense riverine forests on its banks in the Mara, and along its major tributaries in Serengeti National Park. South of the Mara is the parallel catchments of the Grumeti and Mbalaget Rivers that form the Western Corridor of Serengeti National Park. Further south there are the much smaller Duma, Simiyu and Semu rivers flowing through Maswa Game Reserve. The area is undulating and dissected by many small seasonal streams that drain into the main rivers.
Hills & mountains
There are bands of hills that rise steeply from this relatively flat landscape. One band forms the north-eastern boundary of Serengeti National Park in the woodlands, running north from Grumechen to Kuko, then joining the Loita Hills in Kenya. The Gol Mountains rise from the Serengeti plains east of the park. Another band stretches from Seronera west along the corridor to form the Central Ranges, and the third group of hills lies in the south forming the Nyaraboro-Itonjo plateau.
Soils & volcanic history
West of the line Mugumu – Seronera the underlying rocks are ancient (600 million to 2.5 billion years) and comprise Precambrian volcanic rocks, banded ironstones and mineral-poor granites. Late Precambrian sedimentary rocks cover this shield and form the central and southern hills. East of Seronera, granite and quartzite form the eastern hills and kopjes. The western corridor is of more recent geological history; it is a complex of unconsolidated sediments and alluvial formations, which form the base for more nutrient-rich soils. The Crater Highlands are volcanoes of the Pleistocene age and comprise basic igneous rocks and basalt. One volcano, Ol Doinyo Lengai, is still active with the last eruption dating back to 2013.
Africa is an old continent. Evidence suggests it is as old as 4 billion years, older than Europe or North America. We can see this old age from the air (so have a good peek when arriving at Kilimanjaro Airport). Millions of years of weathering have flattened mountains and turned much of Africa into a series of endless, rolling plains and hills. One exception is the geologically active East African Rift system.
The East African Rift is the area where two tectonic plates are moving away from one another. The resulting cracks have produced both the immense Rift Valley and the volcanoes on either side of it. Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, and Mount Meru are a few of the best-known examples of the Rift’s volcanoes. Although Ngorongoro Crater looks like an extinct volcano, geological surveys suggest it never exploded, however, most of its immediate neighbours did. Ngorongoro Crater is a caldera, which means the mountain is collapsing on itself as the tectonic plates separate.
The volcanoes of the East African Rift are relatively young. As these volcanoes erupted, they covered the eastern parts of Serengeti with ash and larger particles. This volcanic ash on the plains creates a very specific type of soil rich in minerals. Eastern plains soils contain different salts, such as sodium, potassium, and calcium. The soil here is shallow because of the formation of a calcareous hardpan, also known as caliche. During the regional rains, salts are washed down into the soil. As water is removed by plant uptake, the soluble substances precipitate and the caliche layer develops and cements through lime. Soils in the Serengeti become deeper (where the hardpan disappears) towards the northwest plains and into the woodlands, because of more rainfall and less calcium. At levels of precipitation too high for hardpan formation, a characteristic soil catena is found. This is the gradient of soil types from ridge top to drainage pump, characterized by a sandy, shallow, well-drained soil at the top transforming to poorly drained and deep silty soil at the bottom. These catenas form because of the long-term downwash of the finer soil particles downslope with surface run-off.
Below the layers of volcanic rock and ash, that form the soil of Serengeti National Park is a thick layer of extremely old rock. A giant bubble of liquid granite forced its way up from the molten rock below the Earth’s crust and into the Tanganyika Shield in the late Precambrian period. Today, as the softer rocks wear off, it exposes the jagged top of this granite layer, forming kopjes (pronounced ‘kop-EEZ’). The granite is cracked by the repeated heating and cooling under the African sun and weathered into interesting shapes by the wind. Most kopjes are round or have round boulders on them.
Kopjes are a distinctive feature of the Serengeti landscape and are often referred to as ‘islands in a sea of grass’. They provide protection from bushfires, hold more water in the direct vicinity, offer a hiding place for animals, and a vantage point for predators. Hundreds of plant species grow on kopjes, but not in the surrounding grasslands. Many animal species live on kopjes only because of the presence of these plants, and for reasons of protection. These animals include insects, lizards, and snakes, but also mammals such as shrews and mice, up to large specialist mammals, such as lions. Kopjes are one of the best places to see lions, and occasionally cheetah or leopard.
Landscape & vegetation
Serengeti National Park is well known for its open savannahs and endless grasslands. In reality, the Serengeti ecosystem is much more varied than that.
The northern section of the park is hilly, especially around Lobo. Here, woodlands are commonly found. The western portion comprises broken savannah areas, dotted with acacia trees and whistling thorns. Riverine forests are found here, supported by the Grumeti River that slices through the landscape.
Savannah vegetation & fires
However, your image is quite right: Serengeti National Park is made up mostly of savannah. Part of this savannah landscape is the grasslands, plains, kopjes (or koppies), marshes and woodlands. Savannah is a general term for semi-arid land: from woodlands to open grasslands and all mixtures of trees and grasses in between. One-quarter of the world’s surface is covered by savannahs. Savannah land can support a higher density of animals than any other land type on earth. A common feature of savannah is that it is vulnerable to wildfires. Savannahs will occasionally burn unless savannah grasses are completely consumed by animals; or if the savannah is frozen (temperate savannahs, such as tampas or steppes). With frequent fires and the potential to support massive amounts of animals, savannahs are dynamic landscapes that may transform rapidly.
The famous Serengeti plains cover the southern third of the national park: they form one reason the annual Great Migration occurs. The migration herd moves south to the plains following the rains after having spent time during the dry season in the much wetter north of the Serengeti.
During the rainy season, the shallow soil and two million ungulates convert the plains into a super-productive growing state. With ample food available, the female wildebeest produce and suckle their calves. Predators also seize the opportunity to fatten up in the wet season. With an abundance of young animals around, lions, cheetahs and hyenas live in a paradise of boundless food. As the dry season approaches, the seasonal waterholes dry up and the grass turns to yellow, then golden colour. This is the time for the wildebeest to begin the annual northward trek. Grant’s gazelle, warthog and ostrich remain behind to feed on the dried grasses on the plains. Only species that can do without water for lengthy periods can live on the plains during the dry season.
The Serengeti plains hold three distinct kinds of grasslands. The first is the short-grass plains, found around Ngorongoro and which extend into Serengeti National Park. Short-grass plains never burn because the massive herds eat most of the grasses and leave very little left to burn. Intermediate-grass plains are the second grass type and form a crescent-shape west and north of the short-grass plains. The third grassland type is the long-grass plains found in the north of the Serengeti, but also around Seronera.
The shallow hardpan just under the surface of the plains catches rainwater and keeps it available for grasses, allowing it to grow dense. The incredible numbers of grazing animals in Serengeti National Park means that during the rainy season most of the grasses are eaten multiple times. If the grass is cut short by grazing animals, it will rapidly re-grow and will be higher in terms of nutrients and water when grown again. By crosscutting the grass short, and the subsequent process of the grass re-growing, the animals create a prime quality grazing lawn. Some grasses have adapted to this intense grazing pressure by growing horizontally along the ground, which reduces their exposure to being eaten by herbivores.
Why are there no trees on the plains?
During the Pleistocene age about 3 million years ago, volcanic ash blown from the Ngorongoro highlands covered what are now the plains and as a result formed a calcareous hardpan less than a meter below the soil surface. This hardpan is impenetrable to roots and the shallow soil dries out quickly, making it impossible for trees to grow.
Woodlands are not as dense as forests. A sizeable amount of grass grows between the trees which expose woodlands to seasonal bush fires. There are large grassland meadows in the woodland called ‘mbugas’ in Kiswahili, which are often dotted with grazing animals. We can often find resident animals such as buffalo, elephant, topi, giraffe, warthog and impala in woodland areas.
There are three general types of woodland in the Serengeti. Velvet bushwillow / Terminalia Molli’s woodlands occur in the north-west of Serengeti National Park, the section of the park which receives the most rain. The trees here are large and old.
Vachellia (acacia) woodlands occur in the central and western parts of Serengeti National Park. There are 38 recorded species of vachellia in the woodlands of Serengeti. Of these, ten species make up more than half of the woodlands. The most common species is Vachellia Robusta, which grows on slopes and hilltops and can be distinguished by its dark, rough bark and feathery leaves.
Commiphora woodlands occur in the east of Serengeti National Park where there is the least rainfall: these woodlands are a mixture of vachellia and Commiphora species. Commiphora species are not as fire-resistant as their vachellia cousins.
Riverine forests are a rare habitat within Serengeti National Park. Large rivers, while dry for most of the year, flow and flood during the wet season. Even during the dry season, the water table remains higher along the rivers. Because these areas hold more water, a dense forest of broad-leaved evergreen trees can grow. The riverine trees change the environment below them, making it an ideal habitat for other plants, insects, birds and animals.
Below the limbs of the riverine trees, the deep shade of the forest allows the soil and the air to remain moist. The forest floor is lined with shade-loving plants, while the trees themselves are covered with epiphytic plants, including orchids and masses of creeping vines. Fires cannot penetrate deep into these forests.
More Serengeti animals
Serengeti is not just home to the Great Migration and the Big Five but hosts a myriad of incredible wildlife species.
We encourage everyone visiting Serengeti National Park to look beyond the Big Five only. The Serengeti offers so much in terms of animal variety that is it sometimes hard to comprehend how diverse this area really is. Below we have outlined some of the highlights.
Wildlife on the plains
The Serengeti sustains not just the largest herds of migrating ungulates but also the greatest concentrations of predators in the world. Estimates put wildebeest at between 1.3 and 1.7 million, zebra at 200,000 and Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle at around 500,000. These herds support around 7,500 hyenae, up to about 4,000 lions and 500 to 600 cheetahs.
Interminable distance migrants comprise wildebeest, zebra, Thompson’s gazelle and eland. Likewise, Grant’s gazelle also moves some distance, however little is known about where they go. The migrants are supported by the plains in the wet season, but only a few of Grant’s and Thompson’s gazelle and ostrich live there in the dry season. Oryx occur on the Salai plains, but they are rare and their numbers are unknown.
Wildlife in the woodlands
The woodlands have several resident species of animals. Topi occurs throughout the woodlands, but they form large herds on the wetter plains of the Western corridor and the Serengeti Mara area and are non-existent in the east. In contrast to their close relative, the kongoni, prefer the eastern woodlands and long grass plains. Impala, steinbuck, dik-dik, elephant and buffalo are active throughout the woodlands and avoid the plains. At the turn of the millennium, elephants were scarce in the Serengeti, but an aerial survey undertaken in 2014 counted over 8,000 individuals in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, as compared with the 1986 tally of around 2,000. Some sources attribute this increase to greater persecution outside protected areas, but whatever the cause, elephants are noticeably more common than they were even ten years earlier, with the greatest concentrations to be seen in the north. The same survey showed that the buffalo population of the Serengeti possibly stands at around 50,000 individuals.
Giraffe also occurs throughout the woodlands, but you may see them strolling across the plains to the Gol Mountains and the Ndutu woodlands. Waterbuck are confined to the bigger rivers with grassland. Bahor reedbuck may also be found along rivers. They spread through the long grass plains in the rainy season but are most active at night. Warthog is widespread but scarce in the woodlands and just a few on the plains. Oribi is prevalent in the northwest, with a few found northeast near Klein’s Camp. Grey duiker are also found in the northwest with a few in the hills elsewhere. The majestic Roan antelope occurs in two localities, the northwest (Ikorongo, Lamai and Mara Triangle in Kenya), and in the south near Maswa. The far south of Maswa also sustains greater kudu.
Wildlife in riverine forests
If you are in the riverine forests, keep in mind to look up and down. The diversity and abundance of insects and plants make the forest a fantastic place to see animals and birds. There are insects and seed eaters such as banded mongoose, shrews and the large marsh mongoose. Plant eaters such as duiker and bushbuck hide in the thick cover. In the canopy above, you might see tree hyrax which may seem like huge rodents; in fact, they are more closely related to elephants! Black-and-white colobus monkeys can be seen in the woodlands along the Grumeti River. We find both olive baboons and vervet monkeys through the woodlands close to water, and baboons are especially abundant along the western corridor.
In the rivers themselves, shaded by the trees of the forest, rest the giant crocodiles of the Grumeti and Mara rivers. Hippos spend the days submerged in the river or their greenish pools throughout the dry season. These two species live without a problem in the same confined pools.
Of the larger carnivores, cheetah, hyena and lion are found in almost all Serengeti environments. Serengeti National Park rarely disappoints when it concerns large cats. The Tanzanian side of the Serengeti ecosystem supports about 3000 to 4000 individuals of the lion, most likely the largest population left in Africa, and hundreds of resident lions wander the plains around Seronera, and the Simba, Moru and Gol koppies close to the main Ngorongoro road. Here, it is not unusual to see two or three pride in the course of a single game drive. We frequently see lions lying low in the grass or basking on rocks, though many Serengeti pride are increasingly given to languishing in the trees on scorching days.
Leopard numbers are unknown, because of their secrecy and elusiveness. However, they are common in the Serengeti and are often seen in the Seronera Valley. The estimated leopard population stands around 1000 individuals. Cheetahs are frequently sighted as well: the park’s estimated population of 500 to 600 individuals is densest in the open grasslands around Seronera and further east toward Ndutu.
Of the other predators that can be seen in Serengeti National Park, spotted hyenas are very common, perhaps more so than lions. Hyena from sizeable groups on open areas like the plains but are solitary in much of the woodlands. Golden jackals and bat-eared foxes appear to be the most abundant canid species on the plains around Seronera, while black-backed jackals are fairly common for the thicker vegetation towards Lobo.
Driving at dusk or dawn, you stand the best chance of seeing night-time predators such as civet, African wildcat, and serval. A true rarity among the predators is the African wild dog (or painted dog), which was common until the 1970s; but unfortunately, disease wiped out the entire population from the park in 1992. Fortunately, wild dogs are very mobile and wide-ranging animals, some travelling groups have been seen on the eastern plains and in recent years wild dog populations have been re-establishing to the northeast of the park in Loliondo. Several other introductions from elsewhere in Tanzania have taken place, and the Serengeti’s wild dog population is estimated to be as high as 250 individuals.
Reptiles, amphibians & fish
Serengeti National Park contains a vast variety and number of animals that creep and crawl. Most of these lizards, skinks, and serpents feed on the abundant insects and rodents in the grass while others specialize in birds eggs. Pythons can even devour animals as large as gazelles. Some crawlers are herbivores themselves, such as the leopard tortoise. Not all crawlers are small: monitor lizard lives in reeds and bushes and can grow to 1.5 meters long. The master of all crawlers, at over 800 kilograms and sometimes over five meters long, is the massive freshwater crocodile of Serengeti. These ancient creatures can live for over a hundred years and will happily eat a whole wildebeest for supper.
The fish in Serengeti National Park are adapted to live in low oxygen muddy conditions and sometimes survive without water altogether. A helpful feature during the dry season. The catfish of the Mara and Grumeti Rivers sometimes pull themselves through the mud from pool to pool and can weigh up to 20 kilograms. Others, such as the lungfish, bury themselves completely in the dry season, living in a cocoon beneath the dried cracked mud. Some smaller fish live to use their entire lifespan in the few months during the rains. As the pools dry they breed and lay their eggs in the mud. The eggs miraculously survive the hot dry winds of August and September, hatching into the next generation when it rains once again in December.
Frogs surveys have identified some 20 different species, many of these live in the trees and grasslands and ponds and watering holes. The night sounds of the wet season are filled with the chorusing of frogs intent on making themselves heard above the background symphony of crickets and cicadas. This is the soundtrack of the African bush in the wet season.
The first thing that many Serengeti National Park travellers notice is the apparent low numbers of insects. In fact, while the numbers of stinging insects are much lower compared to North America or Europe, the diversity of insects is much higher. Insect diversity abounds in Serengeti National Park from ants, beetles, weevils, and termites on the forest floor, to clouds of flies, wasps, and bees, to high flying swallow-tailed butterflies and giant rhinoceros beetles. Five of the more common insect groups and ones crucial for the ecology of the park are dung beetles, grasshoppers, termites, butterflies and ants.
Beetles are the most diverse and successful group of animals on planet earth, with over 400,000 (!) known species. In the Serengeti over 100 different species of dung beetles are identified in just a small area of the plains. Each of these species specializing in a distinct dung type in different seasons. Without dung beetles, the Serengeti would become uninhabitable. These amazing creatures roll away and bury up to 75 per cent of all dung dropped in the Serengeti, which amounts to several hundred tons per day. Their carefully crafted dung balls are buried and become home for beetle larvae which eat the leftover nutrients inside, leaving behind a hollow ball of earth. When soil researchers dug pits on the Serengeti plains, they found that 15 to 20% of the soil comprised buried dung balls. The colossal amount of dung and soil moved by dung beetles serves to fertilize and loosen the soil and plays a major role in maintaining the productivity of the entire Serengeti ecosystem.
Grasshoppers are a diverse group of insects. Their physical shape and colour change as they grow, making the different species challenging to identify. Although eat fresh green grasses, some eat flowers, seeds and some are even predatory on other grasshoppers and tiny insects. Estimates accounting for the population size suggest that at certain times of the year grasshoppers eat more grass than any other group of animals in Serengeti National Park, including all wildebeest. Grasshoppers diversity in Serengeti is very high, researchers have identified over 60 species in just a few collection points. After the seasonal rains, the grasshopper numbers increase and draw enormous flocks of migratory birds to the Serengeti feasting on them.
Termites play a critical role in turning over nutrients in the Serengeti. Most termite species are night creatures, harvesting dead wood and grass. They use dead plant material to support fungus forms in underground chambers which they cultivate and eat. The soil used to build these chambers is mixed with saliva and used to build their distinctive mounds. Some termite mounds are up to 3 meters high with turret-like chimneys. The shafts of the mounts provide homes for a variety of animals, such as snakes, mongoose and mice. Cheetah, lion, and wildebeest often stand on top of termite mounds using them to survey the area. On the flat plains, even a rise of just one meter gives an impressive view and is well worth the trouble to find food.
Butterflies and moths
Flying low over the grass or flitting from branch to branch in the woodlands, butterflies feed on nectar from flowers, thus fulfilling their function as pollinators. A sizeable group of animals feed on butterflies and moths, and as a result, they have developed impressive tactics against being eaten. These include camouflage colouring, hiding, radar detection, toxic hairs, and large ‘eye’ patterns on their wings which they flash to scare predators.
Biting red ants are the most noticeable of ants in Serengeti National Park. Biting red ants live in massive colonies. Unlike most ants, they do not have a permanent home. These ants rather hide in hollow tree trunks or underground holes during the day, but at night become voraciously marching predators. Enormous armies of ants have been known to push lions off a kill, consuming what is left. However, typically they go easier targets such as insects, nesting birds, rodents, lizards and geckos. During the rainy season, you can occasionally see highways of red ants crossing the road in the early morning as they return from their nightly escapades.
Why does the Serengeti have so many animals?
The Serengeti is unique because it is a transition area. There is a distinct changeover from the rich flat soils in the southern plains to the -much poorer- hilly soils in the north. Because of a rainfall gradient, the south receives much less rain than other locations. The Serengeti is also home to pockets of leftover riverine forests, the result of the landscape once being covered by dense lowland forests. Combined, this results in a diversity of different vegetation types and habitats across Serengeti National Park. It is precisely this diversity (and their dynamics) that supports the many different species we see today.
The Great Migration
Africa’s race for life.
The journey for the key players in the Great Migration, the roughly two million wildebeest, starts in the south of the Serengeti, with the birth of half a million calves between January and March. A favourite season for many of the seasoned Serengeti guides: the air during these months is full of new life and action. Read all about Africa’s biggest wildlife event on this page.
Why do wildebeest migrate?
The 800-kilometre trek of the immense wildebeest herd is the largest mammal migration on earth. The timing of the migration coincides with the greening of nutritious grasses on the short-grass plains during the wet season. These areas are safer because predators can be easily spotted making it an ideal place for calving. However, the plains dry and the wildebeest are forced to move in search of greener pastures in the western corridor. The northern extension of the ecosystem has the highest rainfall, but the grasses are least nutritious. This is the dry season retreat for the wildebeest, at least until the south becomes green again. The result is a clockwise movement from the south, west, north, and back to the south.
The Great Migration in short
A better representation of the circle of life probably cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The journey starts in Southern Serengeti when wildebeest calves are being born. Predators like lions and hyenas are constantly hunting for babies, and thousands and thousands of calves are born within a couple of weeks of each other – a feast for the eyes of true wildlife enthusiasts.
When the drought comes in May, the herd moves north, to the Masai Mara in Kenya, chomping down the high green grass, quickly followed by the gazelles and zebras. The migration is not without risk: crossing rivers means facing about 3,000 crocodiles, patiently waiting for a kill. Not to mention the famous Serengeti lion population: by far the largest in Africa. Despite the abundance of hoofed meat in this area, life is not easy for these big cats in this unforgiving landscape. But seeing a group of lions collaborating to hunt down a wildebeest is an unforgettable sight.
Then, with the beginning of the short rains in late October, the migration makes its way back into the Serengeti. By December, the herds trek past Seronera – a small settlement in central Serengeti where the official Serengeti Visitors’ Centre is located – to return to their calving grounds again, and the circle is complete.
The Great Migration in detail
When planning your Serengeti safari you probably want to include seeing the Great Migration. So how do you ensure to be there when it happens? The long and short of it is that you can’t. It is important to realize that the decision of when to visit the Serengeti always involves an element of risk. We have detailed the Great Migration below, and this is what usually happens, but keep in mind that there are no guarantees.
The annual migration of two million ungulates, wildebeest but also enormous groups of zebra and Thomson’s gazelle, Grant’s gazelle and eland, through Serengeti National Park is the greatest wildlife spectacle of its type in Africa, and perhaps the world. Although variations occur from year to year, the Serengeti migration follows a reasonably predictable annual cycle, dictated by local rainfall patterns. The Great Migration cycle breaks up into the following periods:
We can find the main calving grounds in the area southeast of Seronera: typical Serengeti plains stretch all the way to the Ndutu area near Ngorongoro. Triggering their move to this area are the short rains in November and December. The wildebeest stick around this area until the end of the long rains, end of April, early May. The delightful news is that this section of Serengeti National Park is easily accessible and that in this period the landscape becomes lush. February is usually calving season in the Ndutu area and the southeastern plains: the very best time to visit this area. As wildebeest, zebra, and other ungulates are so many and give birth to so many calves, the spectacle works as a magnet for predators. As early as March or April the herd may move again in search of greener pastures. Seeing the actual migration in this period is more difficult, but the chances are that you will encounter huge herds on the move.
This is the period that the wildebeest, after having feasted on the short green grasses of the southeastern Serengeti and after having giving birth to their offspring, start getting ready for their 800-kilometre long trek. The actual starting date may be anytime between late April and early June. This is the time you may have the privilege to see one of the greatest natural phenomena in the world: more than a million marching animals in a column up to 40 kilometres long. During the migration, the herd will move towards the Western Corridor, where they will face the first major obstacle: crossing the Grumeti River. Many animals don’t survive the crossing as they are being awaited by the area’s population of oversized crocodiles ready to feast. The herd may congregate on the southern bank of the river and stay there for up to two weeks before crossing the river.
When the Grumeti River obstacle has been taken, the herd moves further north and starts crossing the next big hurdle, the Mara River, in July or August. The Mara River crossing is where so many iconic Great Migration photos have been taken. After this crossing the herd flocks to the northwest plains and Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. The August – September period is considered being a bad time to visit Serengeti National Park and see the Great Migration as the herd moves into the Masai Mara in Kenya. However, migration patterns show that about half of the herd stays on the Tanzanian side, in the Mara Serengeti area. In this period, smaller herds of wildebeest (well consider small… herds may count up to between 500 and thousands of individuals) frequently cross the Mara River, back and forth, for no apparent reason. This is an excellent time to stay at one of the Serengeti Mara camps.
Crossing the Mara River northbound means that, at one point, the herd needs to cross the river one more time before commencing the trek back in a southerly direction. This usually happens in October, but sometimes earlier. In this period the herd will cross the northern plains and Lobo area. This section of Serengeti National Park is little-visited, so if you are looking to see the migration in relative quietness, this would be the time. The wildebeest return to the short- grass plains and calving ground around Ndutu in late November. And from here, the Great Migration starts all over again.
As mentioned earlier, the timings outlined on this page concern guidelines as exceptions occur frequently. In November 2013, the wildebeest already started trekking back to the southern Serengeti short-grass plains when suddenly it started raining north of the Mara River. Nature is as nature does and the herd turned around, back into the Masai Mara in Kenya. The herd stayed there for about three weeks before resuming their southbound journey. A year later, in 2014, freak rains in the southern Serengeti caused much of the herd to remain behind and not make the northbound journey towards the Western Corridor up to July.
When to visit?
It is a matter of choice whether you would like to plan your Serengeti safari around the Great Migration. We have mentioned earlier that the Serengeti is a year-round destination as it covers a vast area and offers unparalleled wildlife viewing. Chances that you will be at the exact spot of the Great Migration herd crossing a river (either at the Grumeti or Mara River) are very slim. Also, the timing of herd movements cannot be guaranteed. However, if you choose the right part of the Serengeti: the southeast and Ndutu from December through to May, the Western Corridor from May to July, the Serengeti Mara area from July through to October, and the northern Serengeti and Lobo area in October and November, large herds of wildebeest and their entourage should be easily located.
Weather & climate Serengeti National Park
The Serengeti is a vast ecosystem with many seasonal differences in terms of weather and climate.
Serengeti National Park experiences a generally cool and dry season from May to August; a dry and warmer season in September and October; and a wetter and hot season from November to April.
Temparatures in Serengeti
Although popular image dictates that Africa is mostly a very hot place, Serengeti’s climate is actually very pleasant and moderate. It seldom gets uncomfortably hot, and temperatures drop during the night and early mornings. The minimum and maximum temperatures vary with the seasons, with the wet season being the warmest. The Seronera area rarely exceeds 37 °C on a hot afternoon in the rainy season, and hardly ever dips below 13 °C on a cold early morning in the dry season.
The average maximum daily temperature changes with elevation: from 15°C near the crater highlands to about 30°C near Lake Victoria. Because of its altitude, Serengeti National Park is a ‘cool island’ in a much warmer region.
Rainfall periods in Serengeti
There are two rainy periods in Serengeti National Park. The short rains from November to December are the first to break the grip of the dry season. These rains are unpredictable and are unlikely to interfere with your safari. The long rains follow the short rains in the period from March to May, which are the highest rainfall months. It seldom rains for the entire day, but please remember that it rains on most days. As a result, the landscape turns green and as a result, this season is often dubbed the ‘green season’. Sometimes the rains fuse into one extended period, particularly in the north. Or the short rains may fail, especially in the southeast of the Serengeti.
There is a rainfall gradient from the dry southeast plains (400 mm per year) to the much wetter northwest near the Kenyan border and the Masai Mara (up to 1,200 mm per year). The low rainfall on the Serengeti plains is caused by the rain shadow of the Ngorongoro Crater Area and the Meru-Kilimanjaro mountain range. Prevailing south-easterly winds carrying moisture off the Indian Ocean are forced to rise over these highlands. As the air cools the moisture condenses and the water in the air rains out. However, shifting winds can carry moisture back inland from Lake Victoria, counteracting this effect, and inducing this rainfall gradient.
Serengeti climate charts
MONTH TO MONTH AVERAGE MAXIMUM AND MINIMUM TEMPERATURES
4 Common Serengeti safari areas
Discover different safari areas in Serengeti National Park by browsing the below quick links.
Please find below the most important private concession areas that comprise the Serengeti. You may also be interested in viewing the various locations on or Serengeti map.
1. Seronera & south-central
SAFARI AREA CENTRAL SERENGETI
2. Southeastern & Ndutu
SAFARI AREA SOUTHEASTERN SERENGETI
3. Western Corridor
SAFARI AREA WESTERN CORRIDOR
4. Grumeti Game Reserve
SAFARI AREA GRUMETI GAME RESERVE
How to get to Serengeti National Park
Although located in a rather remote corner of our planet, Serengeti National Park is easily accessible.
Most travellers start their Serengeti safari adventure at either Kilimanjaro International Airport or bustling Arusha. From here you may either travel to your preferred lodge using a short transfer flight or by safari vehicle. It is also possible to combine the two and enjoy the best of both worlds!
Travelling to Serengeti National Park
Even though Serengeti National Park is one of the few places left where nature’s ancient rules and seasonal cycles have been more or less unaltered, the Serengeti is fairly easy to access. The most convenient option is to fly from Arusha to one of the park’s seven airstrips. It is also possible to book an overland safari in a 4×4 safari vehicle from Arusha to Serengeti National Park and visit one or two other parks along the way. Of course, it’s also possible to combine these options; book a one way Serengeti overland safari and fly back to Arusha. More information on the different safari possibilities may be found on going on a safari in Serengeti National Park.
Getting to Serengeti by air
International air travel
The recommended point of entry is Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO) which lies between the towns of Moshi and Arusha. The airport is located about 200 miles / 320 kilometres from the park’s southern entrance. There are a couple of international flight options such as KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (daily), Turkish Airlines, Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines (a few times per week). Kilimanjaro International Airport also has daily connections with Nairobi (NBO) in Kenya, which offers more international flight possibilities. Additional airlines such as British Airways, Emirates and others fly into Tanzania’s capital Dar es Salaam (DAR). Please note that arriving at Dar es Salaam may require an extra overnight and a domestic flight on a small regional airline with luggage restrictions. More information about flights may be reviewed on our Kilimanjaro Airport page.
Regional air travel
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 as Lake Manyara and Tarangire.
Serengeti fly-in safaris (private airstips)
Looking for a faster and even more convenient option to get to the Serengeti? A scheduled or private charter flight is the way to go. Some of the more exclusive lodges have their own airstrip and can arrange direct scheduled and/or private charter flights from Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO) or Arusha Airport (ARK) to their airstrip.
Getting to Serengeti National Park by road
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 Serengeti.
4 Serengeti National Park access gates (Entrance)
The Serengeti has four main entry and exit point:
1. Naabi Hill Gate
Serengeti’s main gate, and therefore also the busiest. Naabi Hills Gate is located approximately 45 kilometres from Seronera. The gate is open between 06h00 and 18h00 daily.
2. Ndabaka Gate
Main access gate for the Western Corridor area; approximately a 1.5 hours drive from Mwanza and 145 kilometres from Seronera. The gate is open between 06h00 and 18h00 daily but please note that last entry is at 16h00.
3. Klein’s Gate
Klein’s Gate is located in the far north-east of the Serengeti. The gate is open between 06h00 and 18h00 daily but please note that last entry is at 16h00.
4. Bologonya Gate
Bologonya Gate is located en route to or from Kenya, but the border is currently closed and unlikely to open soon.
Park fees Serengeti National Park Entance price
Upon entering Serengeti National Park through one of the above-mentioned gates, you are required to pay park fees. These Serengeti park fees are usually included in the rate when booking an organised safari package. The following entrance fees apply:
1 JANUARY 2021 – 30 JUNE 2021
- Per adult (16+ years old): US$ 70.80 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.
1 JULY 2021 – 14 MARCH 2022
- 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.
15 MARCH 2022 – 15 MAY 2022
- Per adult (16+ years old): US$ 70.80 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.
16 MAY 2022 – 30 JUNE 2022
- 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.
Please note that:
- Reduced rates are applicable for EAC member state citizens (passport required upon entry.
- Proof of identification (for all visitors) is mandatory at the entry gate.
- Fees at the gates can only be paid by Mastercard, Visa or Tanapa (Tanzania National Parks) Smartcard. Cash or other cards are not accepted.
- All fees are for a single entry.
- Serengeti park fee once paid is non-refundable.
- Expatriates/residents and their dependents living in Tanzania must have one of the following documents: resident permits Class A, B, C, exemption certificate, temporary pass attached with government receipt plus acknowledgement letter, diplomatic passport or ID.
Kindly note that all above rates and conditions are subject change without notice.
Immigration and visa information: Tanzania
Most international travellers require a visa when arriving in Tanzania, which can be arranged upon arrival at one of the major airports. However, queues for these visas usually entail wasted hours spent at the airport. Alternatively, you may download your visa application from your local Tanzanian embassy website and submit these via post. Applications require two passport-sized photographs, payment for visa fees and a stamped, self-addressed envelope for the return of your passport, visa and other materials. More information about the visa application can be obtained from your nearest Tanzanian Embassy or Consulate. The current Tanzanian visa rates are US$ 50.00 to US$ 100.00 for single entry – depending on your country of origin. Please note that these rates are subject to change.
(5 Stars) Serengeti lodges & camps
The Serengeti is a land raw and wild, yet comfortable and sophisticated. Crisp, soft linen four-poster beds? You got it. A personal viewing deck to watch wildlife wander past? Sure thing. Five-star meals served under a million stars? This is your place.
A head full of fresh safari memories needs a soft bed for the night. All of our accommodations are luxurious, eco-friendly and provide a true Serengeti experience. We love to help you find your home away from home.
Serengeti lodges you might like (4 Luxurious)
Below are a few suggestions for safari accommodation in Serengeti National Park. Accommodation options come in various price ranges, so you can rest assured to find an offer perfectly suited for you.
The below options are just suggestions. All of our trips are tailor-made, so we will always fit in your preferred accommodation, including safari lodges in other Tanzanian national parks and reserves.
1. &Beyond Klein’s Camp
LODGE LOCATION NORTHERN SERENGETI & LOBO
Enchanting, relaxing, and quiet: &Beyond Klein’s Camp is an unaffected paradise, located in a remote corner of the Serengeti. Discover this area by safari vehicle (also by night) or on foot – and be sure you take time to meet the local Maasai residents.
2. Four Seasons Serengeti
LODGE LOCATION CENTRAL SERENGETI
Indulge yourself with great game drives, spa treatments, a cocktail bar with the best possible views, a gourmet food experience as well as many excursions options and more. Get ready for an immersive safari experience at the Four Seasons Serengeti.
3. Kubu Kubu Lodge
LODGE LOCATION CENTRAL SERENGETI
Wildebeests, zebras, giraffes, lions, elusive leopards, cheeky hyenas, and perhaps a cheetah – with abundant wildlife around, plus the opportunity to stay in one of six spacious family tents, a stay at Kubu Kubu Lodge turns into a true African family safari experience.
Serengeti National Park highlights
Serengeti National Park is nature. At its wildest. However, besides the Great Migration, there is much more for you to explore and experience.
The Serengeti is the place for a picture-perfect safari, a destination that fulfils your wildest dreams, time and time again. Why not explore some of the more remote corners of this vast national park? Or meet your hosts, the Maasai? Of course, you can also take to the skies, and see the plains from above when floating through the air on a hot air balloon safari.
1) Exhilarating wildlife
WILDLIFE UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
2) Balloon safari
VIEW ENDLESS PLAINS FROM ABOVE
3) The Great Migration
THE GREAT WORLD’S BIGGEST WILDLIFE SPECTACLE
4) Grumeti Game Reserve
PRIVATE SAFARI AREA ADJACENT TO SERENGETI
5) Serengeti Mara
PRIME WILDLIFE AREA BORDERING KENYA
6) Maasai culture
7) Luxury accommodation
A LUXURY HOME FROM HOME
8) Southeastern plains & Ndutu
WOODLANDS AND OPEN SAVANNA