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Your Guide to Visiting Serengeti National Park

by Cris Puscas

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The oldest game reserve in Tanzania, Serengeti National Park is one of the most iconic safari destinations in Africa.  

Together with Kenya’s Masai Mara National Park, which it adjoins, it provides the backdrop to one of the most impressive natural events on Earth: The Great Migration!

Where is Serengeti National Park?

Serengeti National Park is located on the Serengeti Plain in north-central Tanzania. It partly adjoins Kenya. To the north-east, there’s the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

How to get to Serengeti National Park

Even though Serengeti National Park is in a remote corner of Tanzania, it is still quite easy to access.

The recommended point of entry for international travelers is Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO), which is located between Moshi and Arusha. It receives international flights from Europe and the Middle East, as well as regional flights.

If you’re already in Africa, another option is to fly into Arusha Airport (ARK). It only handles regional flights, though.

From these airports, you can fly directly into one of the 9 airstrips serving Serengeti National Park.

  • Seronera airstrip serves Central Serengeti
  • Lobo, Kleins, and Kogatende airstrips serve North Serengeti
  • Grumeti, Kirawira, and Sasakwa airstrips serve the Western Corridor
  • Kusini and Ndutu airstrips serve Southern Serengeti

Most safari operators, however, include the cost for the transfer to/from one of the two major airports.

Rates and fees to visit Serengeti National Park

If you are visiting Serengeti National Park as part of an organized safari, the rates are most often included in the price. Else, they are as follows:

  • Adult (16 years old and over), non-resident, 60 USD per day
  • Child (5 to 16 years old), non-resident, 20 USD per day
  • Children under 5, non-resident, free

The prices exclude VAT.

Best time to visit Serengeti National Park

great migration in tanzania

Choosing the best time to visit depends on which part of the park you plan to visit and what you want to do.

  • For game viewing: June to October. It is the dry season and the sparse vegetation allows the animals to be spotted easier.
  • For wildebeest migration: December all the way to August, and November. They gather in the south from December to May, then cross the Western Corridor from May to July. If you want to see them cross the Mara River, it’s best to visit in July, August, and November.
  • For birdwatching: November to April. It is the rainy season and the migrant birds come from Europe and North Africa.

 

A short history of Serengeti National Park

For 200 years before the European explorer, Oscar Baumann, visited the area in 1892, the Maasai people had been grazing their livestock in the open plains of the eastern Mara Region.

The name “Serengeti” is an approximation of the word used by the Maasai to describe the endless plain: ”siringet”, which means “the place where the land runs forever”.

Because of the hunting, the lion population went into decline, so the British colonial administration made a partial game reserve (800 acres / 3.2 sq km) in the area in 1921. In 1929 it became a full game reserve. But it wasn’t until 1951 that Serengeti National Park was established.

In order to preserve the wildlife, the British evicted the Maasai people from the park in 1959 and moved them in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

 

Going on a safari in Serengeti National Park

Serengeti National Park covers 14,750 sq km (5,700 sq mi) of savanna, grassland plains, riverine forest, and woodlands. It is divided into three regions:

  • Serengeti plains: it is the most emblematic scenery of the park and is in the south. This is where the wildebeest breed and remain from December to May.
  • Western corridor: this includes the Grumeti River and the adjacent forests. The Great Migration passes through here from May to July.
  • Northern Serengeti: it is an area of open woodlands and hills. The migration passes through here from July to August and again in November.

 

Top activities in Serengeti National Park

hot air balloon over the serengeti

For most visitors, a Great Migration safari is the main reason to come to Serengeti National Park. Such a safari usually takes you through Masai Mara and Ngorongoro Crater, too. The mobile camps are unique to the Serengeti National Park and are created to put you in the heart of the action. In order to view the migration, you need to plan your trip carefully as the movement of the herds depends on the rains. This changes from year to year.

A traditional jeep safari is just one of the ways to see the incredible wildlife. The lodges in and around Serengeti offer this type of safari. Night safaris are banned within the park itself but the private concessions in the great area do offer the option and it’s the only way to see the nocturnal wildlife.

The bucket-list activity Serengeti National Park is known for is the hot air balloon safari. It is an exclusive and expensive once-in-a-lifetime experience that will stay with you forever.

There are a lot of game drives available, as well as other types of safaris, included but not limited to: walking safari, horseback safari, and charter flight safari.

 

Visa policies to enter Tanzania

Before you book your safari in Serengeti National Park, make sure to check the entry requirements in Tanzania. Citizens of 66 nations are not required a visa to enter the country (including nationals of Malta, Cyprus, and Romania). A single-entry visa for a US citizen costs 100 USD and can be obtained on arrival (but it is recommended to apply in advance). For UK citizens the single-entry visa costs 40 GBP (if applied for in advance). All other nationals that require a visa, pay 50 USD. There’s also a transit visa available. It costs 30 USD and proof of itinerary / onward travel as well as funds, are required.

 

Cash withdrawals and use of cards within Serengeti National Park

The entrance fee cannot be paid in cash at the gate. If it’s not handled by your safari operator, then you can pay with a card (debit or credit).

There aren’t any ATMs within the park. Most properties can do “cash advances” but there’s an added fee to that. Ideally, you want to withdraw money (local currency) in a large city before you get to Serengeti or bring US Dollar bills (issued after 2006).

You can pay with your card at most established properties.

 

What should you bring?

You should always avoid bright colors when you go on a safari. Do make sure to pack a hat and don’t forget the sunscreen. It’s recommended to always travel with non-prescription medications like pain relievers, antidiarrheals, antihistamines, and motion sickness pills.

A pair of binoculars is always a good idea. Don’t forget your camera and if you use a DSLR, a telephoto lens and a wide-angle lens are recommended.


Do you want to take awesome photos during a safari? Check out our tips.


Wildlife in Serengeti National Park

lion in the serengeti

Serengeti National Park is home to the greatest concentration of plains game in Africa. There are two million wildebeest, about 900,000 Thomson’s gazelles, and 300,000 zebras. This also means there’s a healthy number of predators here as well. Serengeti National Park is home to the largest population of lions in the whole of Africa. And it is also one of the best places to spot the elusive leopard.

The hoofed animals - zebra, gazelle, impala, hartebeest, topi, buffalo, waterbuck – can be spotted in the Serengeti plains. The Western Corridor is where one can see the Nile crocodile, hippopotamus, and monkey, while the Northern Serengeti is perfect for spotting the elephant, giraffe, and dik-dik. Cheetahs are also common in this area.

The Big Five can be spotted in Serengeti National Park.

  • Lion: the park is home to large prides of lions, and they are quite easy to spot.
  • Leopard: they love to play hide and seek, and the savanna offers the perfect camouflage for them. So, look up in the tree. You have the most chances to spot them when they are resting.
  • Buffalo: notoriously bad-tempered, they can be spotted at the waterholes. More than 1,000 make Serengeti National Park their home so there’s a pretty good chance you’ll spot them.
  • African elephant: they frequently visit the waterholes close to lodges.
  • Rhinoceros: unfortunately, due to poaching, the population of rhinos in the park has decreased to less than 70. But with an experienced guide, you may get lucky to see one!

 

 

Where to stay in Serengeti National Park

accommodation in the serengeti

 

Serengeti National Park is famous for its 5-star camps and lodges. They are divided into luxury and luxury plus. Accommodation is thus notoriously expensive. However, there are options for those on a more limited budget.

  • Permanent tented camps: they combine staying under canvas with the luxury of formal furniture, staff, and gourmet dining. Game drives and full board are included. They may or may not include airstrip transfers.
  • Lodges: offer the creature comforts and reassurance of solid walls. They are luxury accommodation and include all amenities you may think of (en-suite bathroom, shower), as well as spas, pools, and campfires. Game drives are included in the price, as well as airstrip transfers, full board, and many more. They allow you to pay with cards, too.
  • Farms: are just as luxurious as the lodges. Aside from all amenities (en-suite bathroom, shower), game drives are included the price, as well as airstrip transfers and full board.
  • Mobile camps: follow the migration so you are always in the heart of the action. Toilets and showers are available and there are even air conditioning and campfire. Airstrip transfers and game drives are included.
  • Campsites: are a relatively affordable option for those on a budget. They belong to the park and have basic amenities, so you’ll be entirely self-sufficient (bring your own food, water, and cooking equipment). You are likely to share space with tour groups.

Intrigued by the fascinating safari options in Serengeti National Park? Then why not book a budget safari in Tanzania to enjoy the best of Africa’s wildlife.

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