Serengeti National Park

Essential Park Info

Established: 1951
Area under protection: 15,000 sq km (Part of a 30,000 extended protected area)
Climate: Subtropical arid, with wet season
Best Time to Visit: July for the Great Migration
Closest Airport or Train Station: Arusha and Kilimanjaro airport (JRO) is about 4 hours drive
Can you drive yourself? Yes


The Serengeti is known worldwide as a wildlife destination. The plains of East Africa, fertilized by the volcanoes of the Rift Valley, are one of the most productive areas on our planet.

No place compares when it comes to large mammals. The Serengeti area in Tanzania is home to the southern half of the famous Great Migration.

Wildlife in the Serengeti

Nothing compares to seeing the confidence of a male lion strutting through the tall dry grasses of the savanna.
Photo taken by Adrian O Brien
Nothing compares to seeing the confidence of a male lion strutting through the tall, dry grasses of the savanna.

The Great Migration, the annual trek of ungulates in search of fresh grass, has over a million wildebeest, a quarter of a million zebras, a few hundred thousand Thomson’s gazelles and many more antelope.

Of course, the abundant prey animals attract predators. Lions, leopards, cheetahs and hyenas are commonly seen Smaller predators include jackals, foxes, African wildcats and mongooses.

Less common predators are the serval and caracal, the two other members of the cat family living in the Serengeti. Though they are found in the National Park, they are not seen that often. The more elusive cats are likely to be spotted at dawn and dusk. Sometimes, the serval can be seen in the long grasses during the day.

The rest of the Big Five – elephants, rhinos and cape buffalo – are seen in the Serengeti. So too are giraffes, hippos, baboons, vervet monkeys and warthogs.

Bird life is very well represented. Approximately 500 species can be found here. Some are migratory, and some are resident all year round. See my gallery of African Birds.

The most noticeable are probably the marabou storks, who circle incessantly in the skies above, as do many species of vulture. Marabou storks are also often found at the river crossings on the great migration route. They are adept at cleaning up the dead carcasses of zebras and wildebeest. Crocodiles can be over-eager when the migration crosses and often kill way more than they eat. The leftovers drift downstream and are ‘cleaned up’ by the scavengers.

Description of the Serengeti Conservation Area

this photo of this young Jackal was taken in the Ngorongoro Crater, it is home to a high number of predators.
Photo taken by Adrian O Brien
This photo of this young Jackal was taken in the Ngorongoro Crater, which is home to a high number of predators.

The Serengeti National Park is just a part of the larger Serengeti Conservation Area in Tanzania.

This large area in the North of Tanzania comprises numerous game reserves as well as the National Park and the famous Ngorongoro Crater, known officially as the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

The Ngorongoro Crater is phenomenally productive. There are more predators here per square kilometer than anywhere else. Any safari to the Serengeti National Park will stop here on the way to or from the Park.

The crater is only about 20 km across, but a day here will give most people more wildlife sightings than they have had in their lives to date. That even applies to a lot of my readers!

Between the Ngorongoro Crater and Kenya to the North are the Serengeti plains, where the Serengeti National Park is found. It stretches to the border and on the the northern side the conservation area continues with the Mara Triangle, mostly covered by the Kenyan Masai Mara National Reserve.

To the West of the National Park is the Grumeti Game Reserve, named after the Grumeti River, famous for its wildebeest and zebra crossings during the Great Migrations.

The plains of the Serengeti are mostly grassland, and depending on the season, they can be fresh green and full of wildebeest or dry and yellowed, with fewer animals. The density of wildlife here is still quite spectacular, even when the migration is in the north in Kenya. During the migration, the wildlife numbers rival those in the Ngorongoro crater.

When the rains fall though, the plains transform into a lush paradise for grazing animals and the predators who chase them.

Best time to visit Serengeti National Park

The soda lakes in the national park hold high numbers of flamingoes. The chances of seeing them in higher in the dryer seasons
Photo taken by Adrian O Brien
The soda lakes in the national park hold high numbers of flamingoes. The chances of seeing them are higher in the dryer seasons

The best time to visit the Serengeti National Park varies depending on your goals.

Rain falls in the south of the park from January to February, reviving the short grass plains of the Ndutu area. As this area greens, the herds return from the north. These grasses, growing on the volcanic ash of the Oldonyo Lengai Volcano, are extremely nutritious and the wildebeest and zebras take advantage to give birth.

February/March is an excellent time to visit this area as the young provide ample hunting opportunities for the predators. The overall amount of wildlife in the area can produce amazing sightings of lions or cheetahs hunting. The less common predators or hunting behaviors are seen more often during this time due to the sheer number of prey available.

This is often known as the start of the Great Migration route. It is here, in the south of the Serengeti that hundreds of thousands of babies take their first steps in the nearly 1000 km trek around East Africa. By the end of March, the birthing season is over, and the grass is used up. The herd moves North.

The park is in its low season from mid-March to mid-May. This is known as the Long Rains, a period when there is generally heavy rain most days. It is a good time to visit the park if you don’t like people, but some roads and areas can be off-limits due to the rainy season.

During this time, park entry fees and campgrounds are slightly discounted. The grass is at its most lush, and the herds of grazers are slowly moving north-west. The wildlife spreads out a bit more and doesn’t congregate around water holes, as water is abundant. Sightings are sometimes hindered by the fresh growth as well at this time.

By July the herds have reached the Grumeti River. If you visit the Serengeti during this time, then be sure to include the North and Northwest parts of the National Park in your itinerary. I personally don’t recommend this period as the crowds can be a bit too much.

However, the adventure of witnessing 1000’s of animals trying to cross a river at the same time is something special, regardless of how many people you share it with. I have unfortunately not been lucky enough to experience this, but the sight of a smaller group risking their lives to get to the greener grass on the other side will stay with me forever. I can only imagine what a full-scale crossing is like.

Getting to Serengeti National Park

Zebras and wildebeest co-mingle happily as they eat different parts of thee grassy plain.
Photo taken by Adrian O Brien
Zebras and wildebeest co-mingle happily as they eat different parts of the grassy plain.

Most people who visit the Serengeti National Park do so on an organized safari. The closest city is Arusha, in Tanzania and it is a good base for a trip, including multiple national parks in the area. Tarangire and Lake Manyara National Parks are also close to Arusha.

Kilimanjaro International Airport is about an hour east of the city.

From Arusha, you can fly to a lodge in the park or drive. Driving is a relatively easy and certainly a cheaper option. The Serengeti National Park is about 5-6 hours from Arusha, and the Ngorongoro Crater is about halfway between them.

Visiting with your own vehicle is also possible. Be aware, though, that the fees for vehicles are relatively high unless you have a locally registered one. 4x4s are necessary.

Accommodation in the Serengeti

Tented camps are common in the Serengeti. While nature is just outside the canvas they can still be quite luxurious.
Copyright (c) 2015 LMspencer/Shutterstock. No use without permission.
Tented camps are common in the Serengeti. While nature is just outside the canvas they can still be quite luxurious.

Arusha has a full range of accommodation if you need a night before or after a safari.

The National Park itself has lodges within the park, which are rather luxurious and quite expensive.

There are also some lodges on the edge of the park and many camping opportunities. Budget safaris tend to offer camping on the edges of the park but still within the conservation area.

If you are visiting the Ngorongoro Crater, there is no accommodation within the crater. On the ridge above, though, there are many accommodation options, from campsites to luxury lodges.

Special Equipment

The savannah can sometimes seem endless and even more so with a wide angle lens.
Photo taken by Adrian O Brien
The savannah can sometimes seem endless and even more so with a wide angle lens.

There is nothing special needed to visit the Serengeti. In terms of camera equipment, standard wildlife lenses are necessary. 24 – 600 mm full frame equivalent lengths are very suitable.

Often, you will be close enough to some larger animals that the telephoto lengths are a bit awkward. The 200 mm length is good for getting some wider shots of animals.

A “wide angle” lens is necessary for the Serengeti. You might not need the widest 24 mm, but the opportunity for landscape shots is huge. The endless plains might seem a bit bland, but the stunning skies that are common add character. Combining that with a small group of zebras or a giraffe in the foreground offers the opportunity for a classic African image.

Don’t forget the wide-angle lens.

As with other vehicle-based safaris (you aren’t allowed to leave your vehicle in most of the Serengeti conservation area), a beanbag is indispensable. Resting a long and heavy lens on the beanbag on the edge of the safari vehicle will rest your arms and make sure your camera is always at the ready – or as close as possible.

If you are on a fly-in safari, be aware that there are weight limits on the flights. Too much heavy equipment like tripods can cause issues.

Fees for the Serengeti National Park.

Always check what the official fees are at the TANAPA (Tanzania National Parks Authority) official website.

Normally your safari operator will have these included. Be sure to check when asking about prices.

There are significant discounts for Tanzanians or East African citizens and residents. Below are a few of the main fees for foreign tourists (2024 prices, per person):

  • Serengeti National Park Conservation fee: 70 USD
  • Public Campground fees: 30 USD
  • Special/Seasonal Campground fees: 60 USD
  • 4×4 Vehicle fees: 150 USD per vehicle

Conservation efforts

Girafs often pose very patiently for photographs, Their beautiful patern and good size offer a lot of different opportunities.
Photo taken by Adrian O Brien
Giraffes often pose very patiently for photographs. Their beautiful pattern and good size offer a lot of different opportunities.

The efforts of Tanzania Parks have been instrumental in preserving the rich biodiversity of the Serengeti. Through a combination of strict conservation policies, community involvement, and international cooperation, significant successes have been achieved in making the Serengeti one of the premier destinations for an African Safari.

The most notable of their successes is the establishment of multiple protected areas surrounding the Serengeti National Park ecosystem, such as the Grumeti Game Reserve. These protected zones serve as crucial habitats for a wide range of species, who need more than just the core area of the park. One of the most effective ways of protecting our biodiversity is simply expanding the area under protection, and creating larger interconnected reserves.

In fact it is probably the conservation efforts of the East African governments that has created the Great Migration. In the early part of the 20th Century the Wildebeest population had been decimated by Rinderpest, a viral infection introduced by bringing domestic cattle to the area.

The improvements in disease management meant that the population of wildebeest was ready to grow again at the time of the founding of the National Park. Throughout the 1960’s the population started growing leading to more and more pressure on the land. Protection efforts and the natural willingness of Wildebeest and Zebra to search out the best freshest grasses meant that the Great Migration took its present day form.

Despite these achievements, conservation efforts in the Serengeti have not been without controversy. One contentious issue revolves around the proposed construction of a road through the park. Advocates argue that the road would improve infrastructure and facilitate access for tourists, while opponents express concerns about the potential environmental impact, including habitat fragmentation and disturbance to wildlife populations.

Overall though, since the founding of the park in 1959, the conservation efforts by Tanzania Parks in the Greater Serengeti Area have had significant success in protecting the vast plains and their inhabitants, particularly in their wildlife management, and the reduction of poaching. In this time the great migration has almost doubled in size.

Climate Change in the Serengeti Ecosystem

One thing to note if you are planning a visit to the Serengeti National Park in the future is an aspect that often goes underreported: the impact of climate change on the Serengeti ecosystem. We often talk about the impact on people, on the general area, on the local Masai farming.

With specific regards, to the Serengeti, rising temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns will pose challenges to both the flora and fauna of the region and potentially affect the timing of the Great Migration. A change in the availability of water sources, along with a corresponding shift in the distribution of grasslands, will completely change the ability of the ecosystem to support almost 2 million grazers.

When planning, check with your safari company or lodge if they have noticed significant seasonal changes over the last few years. Knowing and understanding the pattern of the rains is essential to getting the most out of a trip to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro reserves.


The Serengeti National Park is more than just a destination; it is a dynamic ecosystem rich with wildlife and natural beauty.

From the dramatic scenes of the Great Migration to the serene moments watching a sunset over the plains, the park offers an array of unforgettable experiences. If you want to explore and experience the marvels of the Serengeti, don’t forget your responsibility to support ongoing conservation efforts that help sustain this unique environment.

Further Reading:

Check out my guides to Lion Photography and Elephant Photography to make sure you don’t miss the perfect shot while on safari.

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