Visiting Serengeti National Park

Visiting Serengeti National Park

Serengeti National Park is home to the world’s largest unaltered animal migration, one of the greatest spectacles of the animal kingdom. About 2 million animals are part of what’s known as the great migration, following the rain for fresh grasses, while risking their lives amongst the many predators eagerly watching them.

This post covers the highlights of the park, as well as logistics, timing, getting there, and lodging options.

The Serengeti

Serengeti National Park is 5,700 miles² (14,700 km²), making it bigger than the state of Connecticut and almost the size of Montenegro.

One of its biggest attractions is the great migration, consisting of about 1.5 million wildebeest, 200,000 zebra, and 300,000 gazelles. They migrate annually in a clockwise pattern over 500 miles (800 km), moving for fresh grassland.

The park is also known for its abundance of predators, with over 3,000 lions, 1,000 leopards, and numerous cheetah and Nile crocodile, creating heart-pounding spectacles. Most dramatically when the migration crosses the Mara River in the northern Serengeti.

This event truly showcases the cycle of life, with its beauty, trials, and hardships.

Wildebeast Migration | Runyoro91

However, there’s much more to the park than the migration. I visited in October and although we did not see the migration, the amount and quality of wildlife we saw was truly amazing. Words cannot even begin to express how unbelievably magical it is to see the Big Five, as well as all the other animals here.

Lion and lioness mating in the Serengeti National Park.

We did, however, see many lions mating, a completely different, but no less amazing spectacle.

We learned that when the lioness is in heat, they mate every 20-30 minutes, up to 50 – 100 times a day!

She lets her mate know when she’s ready and there’s no shyness in front of jeeps full of tourists.

The Serengeti Ecosystem

Serengeti National Park is located in the larger Serengeti Ecosystem, which includes and protects 12,000 miles² (30,000 km²) of land.

This Ecosystem is where the great migration occurs, actually extending beyond the borders of the Serengeti. Those borders are fenceless and primarily include Kenya’s Masai Mari and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, both key parts of the migration.

Best Time To Visit

The best time to visit really depends on what you want to see. Even if you don’t see the specific event you want, your visit will still be amazing.

The Great Migration

Although the animals follow an annual, cyclical pattern, it’s not as predictable as it sounds. It’s very dependent upon rain and the availability of fresh grazing, which can change by a month or so from year to year.

Late January to February: This is the most predictable time with the wildebeest calving near the Ndutu area of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Up to 500,000 babies are dropped in a 2-3 week span. As incredible as the beauty of new life is, the park predators are always lurking nearby, waiting for opportunities.

Lion in the Serengeti National Park
Serengeti Lion

March, April, and May: As the rains in the Ndutu area dissipate, the animals move on to greener pastures, heading north and west. They move slowly as the baby wildebeest are still developing.

June and July: As the calves mature, the wildebeest move faster and faster, up to 93 miles/day (150 km). In June and July, they’re generally in the northwest corridor of the Serengeti, heading towards, and crossing the Grumeti River. The Grumeti crossing is still a site to see, but doesn’t have the same drama as the Mara river crossing.

This time is also known as the annual wildebeest rut, or mating season.

August to October: During this time the animals are generally in the northern Serengeti or across the border in Kenya’s Masai Mara. This is also when they make their dramatic crossing of the Mara river, which is full of crocodile. There’s often a lot of confusion and panic as they cross the river back and forth between the Serengeti and the Masai Mara, with many losing their lives.

November and December: The herds often splinter and move slowly southward over various paths. Soon, the cycle starts all over again.

General Game Viewing

This is best during the dry season from late June to October.

Elephant in the Serengeti National Park
Serengeti Elephant

Getting To Serengeti National Park

By Air: The closest airports are Arusha, Kilimanjaro, and Nairobi. Regional, or chartered flights, go to several airstrips inside the park.

Drive: The drive from all three airports above is about 7 – 8 hours and requires a 4 x 4. From Arusha or Kilimanjaro, you drive through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which has a steep vehicle fee, even if just passing though. Note that this will be for each way. The drive from Ngorongoro Crater is about 3 hours.

Self-driving in the park requires a 4 x 4 and a lot of research as the park is large. Especially if trying to catch specifics of the migration. A ranger is recommended and can be arranged at the gate.

Combination Fly/Drive: A popular option is to fly into the Serengeti and drive out, as they generally want to see other parks in the area as well (or visa versa).

Overland Tour: I visited as part of an overland camping trip with Intrepid, covering over 10,000 miles from Cape Town to Nairobi. This was one of our last stops after 6 weeks of travel and definitely one of the highlights of the trip. Another great overland tour company is G Adventures.

I loved the overland tour, but one downside is that you can’t control your length of stay here. I would have really liked to spend a few more days in the Serengeti.

Where To Stay

There are about a variety of choices for accommodation in the Serengeti, ranging from camping to 5-star options. Research what area of the park you want to explore before making your choice, or opt for the mobile tent option which follows the migration, making it easy.

Giraffe in the Serengeti

Camping: This is the least expensive option, but you need to be completely self-sufficient, bringing all your own food and cooking supplies.

Mobile Tenting: In mobile tenting, the tents are moved monthly to follow the great migration. This is a mid-range price option.

Permanent Tents: These are luxurious tents with furniture, beds with linens, and gourmet menus.

Lodges: There are a limited number of lodges and facilities vary. Some are all inclusive and include swimming pools and spas.

As part of our Intrepid tour, we set up our own tents in the camping area. There were bathrooms, although not the cleanest, and some warm water for showers. The bathrooms have no electricity, so you needed a flashlight after dusk.

Also, venturing out of your tent in the dark also requires scanning with a flashlight to make sure no animals are present. This is for real as we had a couple lioness in our camp one night! A very cool part of the adventure.

Serengeti Hot Air Balloon Ride

Balloon rides are a popular feature of the park, which I took advantage of. Although quite costly, and you need to be there well before sunrise, the experience is worth it.

Hot air ballooning is an option over the Serengeti National Park.
Ballooning Over A Hippo Pod


Don’t expect to great wildlife photos from the balloon, however. First, the sound of the balloon often scares the animals, sending them running. Others were just too far away or we flew by too quickly.

That said, it’s still amazing floating above the park. Go ahead and bring your camera, but this experience is better without the lens.

After our ride, we were served a wonderful brunch under an acacia tree in the park, including champagne at tables with tablecloths.

Want More Of Tanzania?

Serengeti National Park is definitely a dream come true for the wildlife enthusiast. It’s one of those places you’ll want to visit multiple times, likely at different times of the year. I was here for two nights, which really isn’t enough time to fully experience the park. I think at least three days is good, four is better.

Plus, as the park is so close to the Ngorongoro Crater, it’s great to combine the two, which we did. If you have time, see the full Northern Circuit. It includes the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Mount Kilimanjaro, Lake Manyara, and Tarangire.

If you’re interested in cultural stories from Tanzania, see my post on campfire stories in the Serengeti.

Also, if you’re in Tanzania, I highly recommend visiting Zanzibar, which is off the coast near Dar es Salaam. It’s beautiful beaches provide the perfect compliment to a safari and the history and cultural fusion of Unesco heritage site Stone Town is fascinating.

For an overview of all the highlights of Tanzania, as well as information on how to get around, safety, scams, logistics, and more, see my Tanzania Travel Guide.

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

5 Comments

  • Kerry Dare

    What a great African trip you had. I would love to take the same trip based on your wonderful narrative. I’ll put it on the retirement list

    I am sad to hear about the gentleman that got away however it wasn’t in the cosmic cards. It still hurts though.

    • Julie

      Thanks Kerry!!! Say hello to everyone for me ?

  • Maria

    I would be sleeping with one eye open!!

    • Julie

      Ha….they keep us too tired for that!!!

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