The Serengeti National Park was established in 1951 and is Tanzania’s oldest national park. Serengeti is the Masai word for ‘endless plain’ and it certainly seems endless! It is approximately 14,763 km2 (5700 square miles) and the altitude varies between 1000 to 1900 m (3280 to 6234 ft) above sea level. The name Serengeti comes from the Masai tribe who had been using the land as a grazing area for their livestock for more than 200 years before the establishment of the national park. The Serengeti is nearly ten times larger than its contiguous park in Kenya – Masai Mara National Reserve – yet it receives far fewer visitors each year, per square kilometer or square mile. Here you will find all big five: buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino. With an estimated 2 million wildebeest, 250,000 zebra and 450,000 Thomson’s gazelles there is also an excellent chance to see a chase and, if you’re lucky, even a kill.
Annual wildebeest migration – Serengeti, Tanzania
A top attraction of the Serengeti is the annual migration of the white-bearded wildebeest. To witness the migration of millions of herbivores is truly must-see experience! The wildebeest migration is a circuit that follows the annual rainfall around the Serengeti in a clockwise fashion. Even when they head up into Kenya for a few weeks in September and / or October, there is nearly always a good time to see the migration. Because the migration does vary slightly year from year, the map below is only a rough guideline of where the migration will be. When you book your safari we will have data from our camps that will help us put you in the best location possible to view the wildebeest action.
The central region has adequate water year round, with the main trees being: fig trees, sausage trees and yellow fever acacia trees. Candelabra trees, desert date trees and umbrella thorn acacias are also found in the open plains, valleys and hills.
At the heart of the Serengeti is the lovely Seronera Valley. A crisscross of rivers can be found in the grassy plains of the Seronera and there will most certainly be ample herbivores about. This is the region that attracts the most visitors. This is mainly because there are always large numbers of animals in this region due to the permanent water supply. The migration also passes through here a few times during the year, depending on whether they are heading south from Kenya or north and west. There is a very good chance of seeing lions, leopards and cheetahs year round here.
The central Serengeti is an excellent spot year-round for safaris. There are always resident animals in the area, and due to its prime location we can easily get out in the bush to where people are less like to venture. We always incorporate a few days here for those who have the time and wish to get away from the crowds.
In the north of Serengeti National park the area consists of rolling hills, rivers, grassland and acacia woodlands. The Grumeti River has its source in the hills of southern Kenya, just across the border from North Serengeti. The altitude here varies between 1500 to 1800 m (4921 to 5905 ft) and the weather tends to be very pleasant. The north tends to get a bit more rainfall than other regions of the Serengeti. Common tree species along the rivers here are fig, acacias, river medlar and sausage trees. Rocky hills are dominated with trees like croton, euclea, commiphora and grewia species. Open grasslands are dominated with umbrella thorn trees and desert dates Ballanites aeyptiaca.
This region is also less explored and is an excellent location for wildlife viewing. In fact, the largest number of African elephants in the Serengeti can be found here. The annual migration passes through here between the end of July and the beginning of November. The valleys and hills are dotted with herbivores while flocks of vultures soar in the sky above. The nights are full of activity, with hyenas and lions making noise all night long. For them this time of year is the time of plenty. Now is the perfect time to be in a tented camp and to snuggle up with a good book while being serenaded by hyenas and lions.
The Mara River flows from the highlands of Kenya and through north Serengeti before reaching Lake Victoria. Northern Serengeti is also an ideal spot for river trips, particularly during migration season, when one can witness thousands of herbivores running down towards the river where stealthy crocodiles watch and wait.
This area has more open plains dominated by umbrella thorn acacias—Acacia tortilis. The wildebeest will start to drop their young towards the end of January here. This also means that a fair number of predators are about, including: lions, jackals, cheetahs and hyenas. January through March is also the best time to see the wildebeest migration here. The weather is more pronounced in the south east, with the dry season being particular harsh. The long rains start in March and continue through the end of May. During this time the plains are sprinkled with pink and white ink flowers. This is also an excellent time to see a high concentration of herbivores as they are particularly fond of grass that thrives in the nutrient-rich soils here.
Other animals to be found in the Serengeti include: baboons, cheetahs, crocodiles, dikdiks, dung beetles, elands, genet cats, giraffe, guinea fowl, hippos, hyenas, impala, lovebirds, olive baboons, ostriches, rock hyraxes, serval cats, topis, vervet monkeys, vultures and warthogs.
Western Serengeti is recommended in May through early August for wildebeest migration viewing.
The open plains of the western Serengeti are dotted with bush-clump thickets. There are also lots of acacia, whistling thorn acacia trees and desert date trees. The fabled Grumeti River runs through this region and along its banks you can often find trees like: tamarind, fig, acacia and many shrubs.
The western regions are not frequented as much as those of central and eastern Serengeti. May through the start of August is the time to view the annual migration of zebra and wildebeest. This is also the rut season for wildebeest and the plains are noisy with male wildebeest defending their temporary territories. The migration must also forge the Grumeti River, which is a spectacle to behold. The river is teeming with Nile crocodiles – the largest crocodile in the world. During the dry season, when the migration has long gone, there have been reported sightings of lions resorting to attacking crocodiles for food. Apparently one sighting reported seeing a hunt consisting of about five female lions (the main hunters of the pride) against one crocodile. In the end the crocodile managed to escape back into the river.
Due to the sheer size of the Serengeti the landscape varies from north to south and east to west. The region we select for your Serengeti safari depends largely on the time of year you wish to visit Tanzania. We’ll always take you to where the wildlife action is, which naturally includes the great wildebeest migration – a must see for any visitor to Tanzania! However, there are many other less visited areas in the Serengeti that are home to large numbers of resident wildlife. We’ll also explore some of these areas and get you off the beaten path to experience the tranquil solitude that the mighty Serengeti offers.