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Serengeti National Park

Photo © mattchayman

Travel Guide Africa Tanzania Serengeti National Park

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Introduction

Zebras in the Serengeti

Zebras in the Serengeti

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Tanzania's oldest and most popular national park, and adjoining Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, Serengeti National Park is famed for its annual wildebeest migration, when some six million hooves pound the open plains, as more than 200,000 zebra and 300,000 Thomson's gazelle join the million wildebeest trekking for fresh grazing. It is placed on the Unesco World Heritage List. It is possible to see all of the Big Five in the park, though with off-roading being illegal you will probably have to rely on binoculars to see any leopards, as they are generally hiding in the treetops.

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Geography

The southeastern area lies in the rain shadow of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area's highlands and is composed of shortgrass treeless plains with abundant small dicots. Soils are high in nutrients, overlying a shallow calcareous hardpan. A gradient of soil depth northwestward across the plains results in changes in the herbaceous community and taller grass. About 70 kilometres west, Acacia woodlands appear suddenly and stretch west to Lake Victoria and north to the Loita Plains, north of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The sixteen Acacia species vary over this range, their distribution determined by edaphic conditions and soil depth. Near Lake Victoria, flood plains have developed from ancient lakebeds.

In the far northwest, Acacia woodlands are replaced by broadleaved Terminalia-Combretum woodlands, caused by a change in geology. This area has the highest rainfall in the system and forms a refuge for the migrating ungulates at the end of the dry season.

Altitudes in the Serengeti range from 920 to 1,850 metres with mean temperatures varying from 15 to 25 °C. Although the climate is usually warm and dry, rainfall occurs in two rainy seasons: March to May, and a shorter season in October and November. Rainfall amounts vary from a low of 508 millimetres in the lee of the Ngorongoro highlands to a high of 1,200 millimetres on the shores of Lake Victoria. The highlands, which are considerably cooler than the plains and are covered by montane forest, mark the eastern border of the basin in which the Serengeti lies.

The Serengeti plain is punctuated by granite and gneiss outcroppings known as kopjes. These outcroppings are the result of volcanic activity. Kopjes provide a microhabitat for non-plains wildlife.

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Sights and Activities

Hot air balloon safaris, walking safari, picnicking, game drives, bush lunch/dinner can be arranged with hotels/tour operators. Maasai rock paintings and musical rocks. Nearby visit Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge, Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano and Lake Natron's flamingos.

Wildlife

Hippo

Hippo

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

The Serengeti is famed for its annual migration, when some six million hooves pound the open plains, as more than 200,000 zebra and 300,000 Thomson's gazelle join the wildebeest’s trek for fresh grazing. Yet even when the migration is quiet, the Serengeti offers arguably the most scintillating game-viewing in Africa: great herds of buffalo, smaller groups of elephant and giraffe, and thousands upon thousands of eland, topi, kongoni, impala and Grant’s gazelle. The spectacle of predator versus prey dominates Tanzania’s greatest park. Golden-maned lion prides feast on the abundance of plain grazers. Solitary leopards haunt the acacia trees lining the Seronera River, while a high density of cheetahs prowls the southeastern plains. Almost uniquely, all three African jackal species occur here, alongside the spotted hyena and a host of more elusive small predators, ranging from the insectivorous aardwolf to the beautiful serval cat. But there is more to Serengeti than large mammals. Gaudy agama lizards and rock hyraxes scuffle around the surfaces of the park’s isolated granite koppies. A full 100 varieties of dung beetle have been recorded, as have 500-plus bird species, ranging from the outsized ostrich and bizarre secretary bird of the open grassland, to the black eagles that soar effortlessly above the Lobo Hills.

Lake Lagarja/Lake Masak, South Serengeti

From December to May, depending on the rains, the large herds are concentrated on the low lying grass steppe between Olduvai, Gol, Naabi and Lagarja. A base on Lake Masak or Lake Lagarja is then ideal because one can travel from there in all directions. Day excursions take one into areas that are little known so that you can enjoy in peace an animal paradise: for example Hidden Valley, the Soito Ngum Kopjes or the Kakesio Plains. You will enjoy the freedom of travelling cross country in order to be able to find the best places and thus have the chance to see rarer animals such as honey-badgers, wild cats, porcupines. In the right season, Southern Serengeti is not to be surpassed.

Moru Kopjes and Seronera, Central Serengeti

Here the savanna animals are joined by species that have adapted to living in the rocky cliffs. From here, or whilst in transit, you visit Seronera in the centre of the park searching for rare leopards and cheetahs. You can also enjoy the ever changing landscape with gallery forests, kopjes and water holes.

Lobo, North Serengeti

The North Serengeti is very different from the grassy plains in the South. As there is always water present the big herds retreat there in the dry season. In addition there are many species that live here permanently and you will also fairly regularly see elephants. A world for itself are the Bologonja Springs on the border to Kenya.

This is a special area which is seldom offered on safari tours. Long distances, poor communications (few vehicles are equipped with a radio) and the frequently difficult road conditions still keep away most visitors from this part of the Serengeti which stretches almost as far as Lake Victoria. An important aspect of the Serengeti is therefore lost to them. This area is very different from the other main zones of the park. In the dry season large stretches of the route westward can be practically empty of animals. The last quarter of the route is however ideally suited to be the home for thousands of animals the whole year round. Gnus and zebras who are resident here do not join their migratory relatives who pass through every year on their way northwards.

Big herds of giraffes, buffalo, eland, topis, kongonis, impalas, waterbuck and Thompson's gazelles live here together with them. All the big cats and hyenas are present in a good number as well.

The end of May through August is the time to view the annual migration of zebra and wildebeest in Western Serengeti. This is also the rut season for wildebeest and the plains are noisy with male wildebeest defending their temporary territories.

A special attraction, that has become quite famous, is the crocodile population of the Grumeti River. This is particularly large at Kirawira, where the river does not dry up. The time spent at this life-giving water source can be among the most inter-esting. Here there are not only crocodiles and hippos to observe but also a large number of varieties of birds. Those tourists with a lot of time (or luck) will be able to discover the Black and White Colobus monkey in the crowns of the trees.

On the wooded savannahs of the Ndabaka plains there is always something to see. You will always feel at peace at the calm pools and mysterious "korongos".

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Opening Hours

Open year-round. Best time to follow the wildebeest migration, December-July. To see predators, June-October.

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Cost

Park fees can be very expensive in Tanzania. If you book your trip through a travel agent they are generally included in the overall trip cost.

In Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation area the park fee is US$50 per person per day, for camping US$30 per tent per day and US$30 per vehicle per day.

There is a number of definite "don'ts" in the Serengeti. These include approaching too close and disturbing animals, making an unacceptable noise, picking flowers or destroying vegetation, discarding litter, exceeding 50km/h speed limit, bringing pets or firearms into the Park, and going off the roads within 16 kilometres of Seronera.

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Getting There

The nearest international airport to the Serengeti is Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO IATA) near Arusha. International airlines flying into JRO from outside Africa include KLM, Qatar, Turkish, with Ethopian and Kenyan also offering services connecting via their home ports.

Don't expect regular ground transport service to be available at Kilimanjaro airport. Almost everyone arriving will have pre-arranged their transport. Taxis are available into Arusha for around US$50.

Internal flights by small aircraft from Arusha to the Seronera Airstrip in the heart of Serengeti or to Kirawira Airstrip in the Western Corridor cost US$135 per person one way. The cost of charter flights varies widely. Limit your baggage to 10-15 kg per person. It is advisable to carry your luggage in soft bags rather than hard sided suitcases.

If you are travelling from Maasai Mara, then it is possible to fly via Migori and Tarime directly to Seronera with Sararlink and Coastal, avoiding the need to transfer via Nairobi. This is a coordinated transfer, and costs around US$600.

The main access road into the Serengeti from Arusha passes the gate of Lake Manyara National Park, mounts the Rift Valley Escarpment, goes on through communal farming lands to the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, drops down onto the plains past Olduvai Gorge to the east, and enters the Serengeti through Naabi Hill Gate. The distance is 325 km and the drive takes around eight hours. At Seronera and Lobo, garage facilities are available to refuel cars. Breakdown facilities, however, are virtually non-existent.

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Eat/Drink

Eat fresh roasted cashews, drink watermelon juice, try the tiny sweet bananas or even the red bananas.

Most visitors are surprised by the quality and the variety of the food available on safari. No matter whether you are staying in a lodge, a tented camp or a mobile safari camp, you will be served freshly prepared food according to international tastes and standards.

Bottled water can be purchased at all the lodges and camps and is provided by all Safari Operators. Non alcoholic drinks are often included in the all inclusive rates. It is wise to stick with bottled drinks.

Coffee and mbungo juice are common non-alcoholic drinks found in the park. If you want something stronger, you can try tusker lager and Amarula, a cream liqueur made from the marula plant.

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Sleep

If you go on an organised safari with a tour operator you will mostly sleep in mobile camps. Here facilities are more limited. The tents usually have simple beds with lining and duvets, camping toilets and showers depending on the Safari Operator. Many lodges and tented camps operate their own generators or solar lighting systems providing intermittent electricity.

There are various camps within the national park. If you are visiting during the wildebeest migration, make sure you (or your guide) knows which one(s) will be best for viewing the migration. Note that not all have electricity (or hot water), so make sure those camera batteries are charged before you go.

The term and the concept of the safari lodge are of Tanzanian origin. Here you will find buildings of exciting design, specially build to fit in with the wild landscape of the parks, yet with all the amenities of a luxury hotel, such as swimming pools and fine food. As you eat, drink, laze by the pool or sit on your private veranda, you will be able to observe game, often at only a few yards distance.

There are a few luxury tented camps in the Serengeti offering an absolutely unique safari experience. The tents usually offer fully equipped en-suite bathrooms, private verandas and elegant furniture. At night you can listen to the wild sounds of the Serengeti cuddled up in a warm and comfortable bed!

A much cheaper alternative is to stay on one of the Serengeti's nine campsites. If you wish to stay at them you must obtain permission from TANAPA or the nearest park warden.

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This is version 9. Last edited at 14:08 on Sep 15, 17 by Utrecht. 13 articles link to this page.

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