Serengeti in Tanzania is the epitome of Africa. Almost a cliché perhaps, but difficult to beat when it comes to classic savanna biome, biodiversity and animal density. Many aspiring safari travellers chose between Serengeti and Kruger National Park in South Africa, as these are the two most obvious contenders. Having already discussed Kruger in a previous post, here’s the case for Serengeti.
The answer could easily be similar to when I wrote about Kruger recently: “because it’s Serengeti”. Honestly, say the name out loud and I bet that you will start seeing images of lions chasing a zebra over a vast savanna landscape, punctuated with the odd thorn tree. You would be right of course: this is where most of the nature films you have seen in your life have been filmed. Here, and in the adjoining Ngorongoro Crater. Serengeti is one of the largest national parks in Africa and, together with Kruger, probably the best known. There are definitely reasons for that, although the fame does come at a price. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Personally, I love Serengeti for its open, iconic scenery and the sheer scale of things, most notably the herds of plains game during certain times of the year. Its openness is great for photography and for reliving those nature film moments. I remember thinking, when I first visited Serengeti, that it was not only as I had imagined but even more beautiful and thrilling.
Things to consider
Like I said, fame comes at a price. Serengeti is popular to visit and the south-central part of the park can get crowded during certain periods. There are effectively no regulations of how many vehicles are allowed at a sighting (something which is religiously practiced in some other reserves in Africa). This means that you might, and will, at times end up with 20 vehicles around a sleeping lion. Does this bother the lion? Not really. If it did, the lion would simply walk away to where no vehicle could follow. But it might bother you as a visitor. Around the time of the so-called big migration it is of course even more busy with visitors (which isn’t to say that you should avoid seeing this spectacular event if you have a chance).
Having said that, I have had some of my most memorable and exclusive sightings in Serengeti – and I’m rather spoilt for choice when picking my best sightings. Serengeti is huge and venturing away from the crowds in the Seronera area, you are guaranteed one of the best safari experiences on the continent.
As for the financial side of it, Serengeti is more expensive and not quite as accessible as national parks in South Africa. Then again, it all depends on how you decide to do it.
I must be honest here, my experiences from staying in Serengeti is primarily limited to self-catering camping within the park. If that’s an alternative, I always prefer to do it that way. There are several un-fenced public campsites in the park, very basic but as close to nature as you ever wanted to be. There are usually no caretakers or staff, sometimes not even a communal area, but the parks’ guards will be around at sunset to make sure everyone is where they have said they would be when entering the park. I remember how Görrel and I once pulled in to one of the campsites at dusk, realising to our joy that we were to be completely by ourselves for the evening and night. We had curious hyenas coming to check us out just after dark and we went to sleep in our tent with lions, jackals, hyenas, and hippos treating us to their characteristic sounds close by. It was simply wonderful.
Prefer to stay at a lodge? Well, there is such a wide range of options that it’s difficult to know where to begin. Pricewise the sky is the limit and my general take is that if you travel for the safari experience only, you might want to cut back a bit on the lodge luxury. If you consider life at the lodge to be as important for your trip as viewing animals, well then you should go as crazy as your wallet allows you. And believe me, you can spend some serious money in Serengeti if you want to – but you don’t have to, and that’s the point here.
It’s difficult to look past the big migration. Yes, it’s something that will attract hordes of visitors, but that is of course only natural when you have such a spectacular, natural event. I’m sure you have seen the pictures and films describing the migration of a million or so wildebeests, zebras and other grazers. So had I before I went to see it for the first time. I soon realised that no image can do the migration justice. You simply must see it. Or rather experience it, because what you actually see is only a very limited part of the whole thing. Sitting in a moving sea of wildebeests however, you can definitely feel the massive scale of it.
Serengeti is a large and unique eco system that is unfortunately under increasing pressure. The most reported reason is the plans to build a road, a railway, and/or a pipeline straight through the Serengeti. There are precious natural resources in the inland and unscrupulous investors, mainly from Asia, are lining up to transport them to the coast for export as fast and cheap as possible. The plans have circulated for decades now and many dedicated conservation organisations have done a tremendous job fighting them. However, the plans have never been permanently scrapped and we should all follow the development closely. In the worst-case scenario, they will be back on the table and if realised, they will be the end of the Serengeti eco system as we know it. This is another reason to consider an eco-friendly safari trip to Serengeti: when money talks, the only argument for preserving Serengeti that actually works, might be that it’s worth more intact than destroyed.