Serengeti National Park
The park is but one of several conservation areas within the Serengeti region of East Africa, though a vitally important one. As well as conserving wildlife, flora and iconic landscapes, Serengeti National Park has emerged as a major traveller and tourist destination, many making the journey there to engage in safari. The name Serengeti comes from the Maasai language, meaning 'endless plains'.
Two World Heritage Sites and two Biosphere Reserves have been established within the 30,000 km² region. Its unique ecosystem has inspired writers from Ernest Hemingway to Peter Mattheissen, filmakers like Hugo von Lawick and Alan Root as well as numerous photographers and scientists.
The Serengeti ecosystem is one of the oldest on earth. The essential features of climate, vegetation and fauna have barely changed in the past million years. Early man himself made an appearance in Olduvai Gorge about two million years ago. Some patterns of life, death, adaptation and migration are as old as the hills themselves.
It is the migration for which Serengeti is perhaps most famous. Over a million wildebeest and about 200,000 zebras flow south from the northern hills to the southern plains for the short rains every October and November, and then swirl west and north after the long rains in April, May and June. So strong is the ancient instinct to move that no drought, gorge or crocodile infested river can hold them back.
Over 90,000 tourists visit the Park each year.
Wildlife viewing in the Serengeti Ecosystem with its Great Migration is tremendous! Nowhere on earth is there a sight rivalling the spectacle of 1.5 million hoofed animals on the march. Serengeti has the highest concentration of large mammals on this planet and is famous for its 2,500 lions, the highest concentration found anywhere! Unlike in Kenya (and with the exception of the Ngorongoro Crater), you rarely see other tourists or vehicles on a game drive in the Serengeti National Park.
Early and late daylight hours are usually the best times to observe the more than 518 species of birds which have been identified in the Serengeti. Some of them are Eurasian migrants who are present in the European winter months from October to April.
The Serengeti falls into the classic bimodal rain pattern of East Africa. The short rains are concentrated in November/December, the long and heavier rains in March - May. Mean monthly maximum temperatures are relatively uniform throughout the year being constant around 27 to 28 degrees centigrade (or 75 - 80 degrees Fahrenheit) at Seronera. At Ngorongoro Crater the nights can be very chilly due to altitude.
The nearest international airport to the Serengeti is Kilimanjaro Airport near Arusha. KLM is currently the only international airline that flies directly into Arusha (on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday from Amsterdam). Other airlines such as Swissair will fly into Nairobi, Kenia (from Zurich) or Dar-es-Salaam, from where you can get a connecting flight to Arusha.
By car: 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.
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 16km of Seronera.
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. The 'Corridor', West Serengeti
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. 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". During your excursions in this least visited part of Serengeti, you can stay at the most luxurious and exclusive camp near Kirawira, the "Kirawira Serena Camp", at Conservation Corporation's "Grumeti River Camp" (also very exclusive!) or at the cheaper, but good and charming new Speke Bay Lodge right on the shore of Lake Victoria (4 km outside the park, an hour's drive from Kirawira).
Take photographs! A good zoom and a large memory card make the results so good you'll be looking at the photos months and months later. (Save them on high quality image and you can do amazing things with your photo program when you get home!)
Shopping in the Serengeti naturally is extremely limited due to the absence of human settlements. In Arusha, however, and other major towns you will find curio markets where you can buy all sorts of carvings, masks, Maasai spears, textiles, drums, tinga-tinga paintings, batik work, silk shawls, locally made jewelry, coffee, etc. The Arusha Heritage Centre offers a large variety of souvenirs and crafts. Also, The Sayari Camp had arrangements with locals to supply a little "gift shop" and the money goes right back into local programs.
Eat fresh roasted cashews, drink watermelon juice, try the tiny sweet bananas.
Coffee, bungo juice, Tusker lager, Amarula!
Safari Lodges 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.
Luxury Tented Camps The 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!
Organised Safaris 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.
Camping 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.
The official currency of Tanzania is Tanzanian shillings and cents. However, US dollars are mostly favoured. You will need very little spending money on most safaris as the majority of meals and activities are included in your package cost. Bills may be settled by US cash, by travellers cheques or by credit cards. Please do not rely on automatic teller machines (ATM's) to withdraw currency with your credit card. Make sure you bring enough cash with you in US dollars or carry a sufficient number of travellers cheques (see below). US cash or travellers cheques can be changed into local currency at airports and banks. Small bills are best. Do not exchange too much money, as US dollars are mostly favoured and you will lose a considerable amount of money changing it back. The current official exchange rate is: 1 US$ = 790 TSH This exchange rate should only affect you if you use international credit cards (which makes using them very expensive - so better keep the plastic for emergencies!) Sticking with cold hard cash or traveller cheques, there are Forex bureaus in most cities offering much more favourable free-market exchange rates.
Tipping at restaurants (at your discretion) is 10%. We recommend tipping US$5 for each traveller per day at lodge based safaris; US$ 10 per day for your driver guide and US$5 each per day for the camp staff when camping on mobile safaris.
As in most major cities throughout the world street crime including mugging, petty and vehicle theft is common in Tanzania. A good practice is to leave valuables, such as cash, passports, and airline tickets, locked away or under the supervision of your camp/ lodge manager. Please keep in mind that road conditions are usually bad and the safety of Public Transportation is poor.
Food and Water
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.
When travelling to Tanzania a course of anti malaria tablets is essential and many doctors also advise a Hepatitis A vaccination. All childhood vaccinations, especially Tetanus, should be up to date. Malaria prophylaxis and a stand-by suppressant (as well as insect repellents) are advised. When entering Tanzania a proof of immunisation against Yellow Fever is required. We highly recommend that you consult a local travel health specialist at least 6 weeks before travelling. Medical facilities in Tanzania are limited, and medicines are often unavailable. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. In case of serious medical problems we recommend immediate evacuation to your home country or hospitalization in Nairobi, Kenya.
Swahili, otherwise known as Kiswahili, is the main language of Tanzania. English is spoken widely throughout the country.
The main electricity supply is 240 volts. Many lodges and tented camps operate their own generators or solar lighting systems providing intermittent electricity.
Visa and Entry Requirements
All visitors require a visa except citizens of some Commonwealth countries and a few other nations. The cost of the entry visa varies according to your nationality. Visas can be obtained upon arrival in Arusha or Dar-es-Salaam at a cost of US$ 50 or issued by your nearest Tanzanian High Commission before departure.
Clothing and Packing
On Safari comfortable cotton clothing in subdued safari colours is very practical. During the day, shorts or casual lightweight trousers are ideal, but the nights can get chilly, so do not forget to bring a few warm sweaters. After sunset long sleeves limit the chance of being bitten by mosquitoes. You should also bring a pair of comfortable, closed walking shoes as well as a pair of sandals. Furthermore, your packing checklist should include: - a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen
- insect repellent
- a small flashlight
- malaria stand-by medication + first aid kit
- passport (6 month valid) + vaccination certificate
- a sufficient amount of cash and/or traveller cheques
- plenty of films
- and a good deal of patience and a sense of humour - for this is AFRICA!