Without doubt one of nature's most incredible spectacles...
Arguably the most famous destination for safari in Africa, the vast, open plains of the Serengeti epitomise, for many, what Africa is all about. In the Serengeti National Park the grasslands are roamed by millions of wildebeest, zebra and others, while being stalked by some of the continent’s fiercest predators; the mighty lion, the leopard, the cheetah, to name a few. To experience a Serengeti safari and witness the daily fight for survival is like nothing else in the world, where life seems so precious and yet so cheap…welcome to the Serengeti!
This stunning eco-system, part of the Mara/Serengeti grassland plains, has long been held by Africa-philes as a must see destination on safari, in part for the diversity and number of animals, but also for the uniqueness of this environment which, while often thought of as the norm in Africa, is actually quite rare.
Serengeti safaris - lay of the land
Loosely speaking, the southern plains of the Serengeti, around the Ndutu Plains, and the northern plains of the Lamai Wedge and into the Masai Mara, Kenya, are the two main feeding grounds for the wildebeest herds, and they oscillate between the two on a yearly basis. In between these two open plains is a series of small ravines, rivers and bush/scrubland. This area of the Serengeti is a predators' delight with plenty of places to lay in wait for the unsuspecting calves as they begin their own safari, moving north and south.
Serengeti safaris - when to go
The movements of the wildebeest herds in the Serengeti are triggered by the annual rains that arrive into Tanzania in November and April and May every year. This movement is critical to their survival and is also a highly important part of planning a Serengeti safari. Below we have illustrated the general times of year to consider.
Serengeti safaris - where to stay
A Serengeti safari is often compared to the nearby Masai Mara National Park, but it is in fact almost 8 times the size, and thus, can offer a safari experience that is a little less crowded and a lot more personal. With this in mind we have selected a few of the best lodges to consider in the different areas of the Serengeti as the Migration herds are moving through. Please expand each of the areas below to have a full run down.
Where and when to go to see... the Great Migration....
The Migration herds reach the southern plains for the calving season.
Moving back down through the Serengeti from the Masai Mara, the Migration herds form into long lines that stretch as far as the eye can see!
The Ndutu Plains – The Southern Plains - come into life as the “short rains’ of November trigger the herd movement back south from the plains of the Masai Mara. This fertile region of the Serengeti provides the wildebeest with much needed nourishment and this period is when it is possible to witness the herd calving…lots of cute baby wildebeest….and predator action on a Serengeti Safari.
The Maswa Reserve – South west of the park - located over to the west of the Serengeti itself, this region does get good numbers of the herds at this time of year and so it is definitely worth considering for a Serengeti safari. The great thing about staying here (and in Ndutu Lodge) is that you are officially outside of the park and so have much more freedom to explore a little.
The Central Serengeti – in all honesty, there is not really a bad time to head to this area of the Serengeti, although, if you want to see the front end of the Migration herds, then try to go here as late as possible in this period.
The main rains offer much needed rest for the herds who mingle in the centre of the park.
Traditionally this is the wettest time of the year to head to the Serengeti for safari and so many people choose not to venture to the Serengeti at this time…but it is still a fantastic time to come here…there are no crowds, the rain comes in spectacular storms that rage and blow out…and the game is as happy as it can be!
The Central Serengeti – the two areas where most of the herds and predators will be gathered is in the central western region, called the Grumeti region, and across the central band, called the Seronera. These two areas of the Serengeti offer game in abundance and, while we tend not to overly recommend staying around here during the drier months due to the concentration of larger lodges, at this time of year it works well. If you have the money, then take a look at Sasakwa as this is real safari in style!
As the long rains end the Migration herds run the gauntlet north to the border.
As the rains start to falter, the herds start to move northwards in the Serengeti again to sit out the sweltering Tanzanian summer by the permanent Mara and Grumeti Rivers in the north. This is probably the busiest time of the year for a Serengeti safari in the central region of the park and so we tend to recommend lodges that are a little more out of the way.
Central Serengeti – as mentioned above these months are the busiest times to head to the central Serengeti. Part of the reason, however, is that there is good game. As the herds move through the Seronera river valley they run the gauntlet of predators; lions, leopard and crocodiles in particular....great safari!
Northern Corridor – while this region doesn’t have a name and can be a bit of a chance as to whether you will see the herds through the thicket scrub, the area that connects the Seronera with the Lamai wedge, has a few really good properties and it would be a mistake to ignore it altogether.
The dry season in East Africa and the herds are located right in the north of the Serengeti.
Around the end of July the herds have usually found their way up to the very north of the Serengeti and tentatively start to cross over the Mara River and move up into the plains of the Masai Mara.
Lamai Wedge – as with the Ndutu Plains in the very south, the Lamai Wedge and the region around the Wogakuria Kopjes, in the very north of the Serengeti, really comes into its own for safari in this period of the year and can lay claim, arguably, to some of the best and least disturbed safari viewing in Africa! The herds tend to mill around on the northern bank of the Mara river for the next three months until the short rains trigger their movement south again.
Central Serengeti – for those that are on more of a limited budget for their Serengeti Safari and can’t head to the Lamai Wedge, the central Serengeti has good populations of plains game and predators year round and so this is still a treat for most. If it is possible, we always recommend that safari clients head further north however.
The migration herds head back to the southern plains as the short rains arrive.
Traditionally this is the season of the short rains in the Serengeti. So called as they are no way near as torrential as the main rains in April/May, they do, however, trigger the herds’ movement back down to the southern plains of Ndutu. As the herds spread out again it can be hit or miss as to seeing them in their millions, but it is still a good time to safari in the Serengeti.
Loliondo Concession – set out to the east of the northern Serengeti, the Loliondo concession was once a favourite for the herds as they headed south. These days, however, through satellite tracking, it seems that the herds have shifted their pattern to head more centrally. Care needs to be taken when booking here!
Northern Corridor – as when the herds are moving to the north of the Serengeti in the June to July period, it can be a little tricky to predict when this area will have the full herds, but it is definitely worth having a look at staying here as, with good vegetation and plenty of dry riverbeds, the predator action and safari can be incredible.
At a glance...The Serengeti NP
- Size: 5,700 square miles
- Location: Northern Tanzania, NW of Arusha
- Recommended time: 3 to 6 nights
- Time to visit: Year round
- Safari Activities: Walking, driving, ballooning
- Topography: open grassland/Acacia scrubland
- Main species: Wildebeest, gazelle, zebra, big 5, cheetah, hyena, giraffe