What (and Where) Is the Serengeti?

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The Serengeti plain is a massive, sprawling African grassland that’s home to some of the most spectacular and ferocious animals on the planet. About 8,000 square miles of the Serengeti are protected as a national park, with some arguing it’s the mecca of all national parks for its animal migrations and ancient ecosystem. Here’s everything you need to know about the Serengeti.

Landscape

Serengeti landscape
Credit: Thomas Bresenhuber/ Shutterstock 

The Serengeti is a vast plain that covers more than 23,000 square miles of land. Most of the land is classified as a savanna, which is an area of rolling grasslands. The grasslands have become almost synonymous with the Serengeti because it’s so easy for photographers and videographers to get amazing footage of the animal life in the flat, open areas. Hilly woodlands also exist in the northern regions of the Serengeti along with granite rock formations called kopjes.

Climate

The Serengeti is mostly warm and dry throughout the year. March is the beginning of the rainy season, which lasts for only three months. During that short time, the parched land receives between 20 and 47 inches of precipitation, depending on the area. During the dry season, the grasses dry out and turn brown, and most of the streams and rivers stop flowing. This is the time of year that many of the animal species migrate to wetter areas for nourishment.

Location

Lake Victoria
Credit: Tykhanskyi Viacheslav/ Shutterstock 

The Serengeti is located in eastern Africa in Tanzania. The national park itself sits south of the border between Tanzania and Kenya, just below the equator. To the west of the park is Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, to which many of the animals migrate during the dry season.

Wildlife

Cheetahs sitting on rock
Credit: Vaganundo_Che/ Shutterstock 

The Serengeti is famous for its abundant wildlife, which attracts visitors from all over the world. Some of the most common animals you’ll find roaming the plains are:

  • Elephants
  • Giraffes
  • Hippos
  • Buffalo
  • Zebras
  • Wildebeests
  • Gazelles
  • Lions
  • Cheetahs
  • Hyenas

If you’re lucky, you can also find rhinos, leopards, and wild dogs. Most wildlife lovers travel to the Serengeti to catch a glimpse of the annual migration. Every year when the grasses dry out around June or July, more than 2 million animals make their way to wetter areas for grazing. Of course, where there are herbivores, there are predators. Big cats and hyenas also follow the migration in large numbers, while crocodiles wait in the ponds and rivers. During the journey, over 250,000 wildebeests alone will fall victim to predators.

Maasai Tribes

The plains aren’t home to just animals. Native African tribes have also lived in the Serengeti for centuries. The most predominant are the Maasai people. Today, they retain many of their ancient traditions despite the constant encroachment of modern society.

Despite the difficulties in keeping up with their traditional way of life, the Maasai are friendly people who regularly welcome visitors into their villages.

Visiting the Serengeti

Mt. Kilimanjaro with low clouds
Credit: Dani Berszt/ Shutterstock 

Because of its unique ecosystem, the Serengeti is a popular tourist destination. There’s an entrance fee to get into the national park, but for what you get to see, it’s very affordable. What you’ll see varies depending on when you visit.

  • January – February: lush vegetation and cold morning and evenings. There’s a good chance that you’ll see most of the wildlife as the animals graze in the lush grass.
  • March – May: the wet season is finishing up. You’ll see the lushest vegetation of the year but finding animals might be tough.
  • June – October: the best time to visit the park. June starts the dry season and the great migration. Animals begin crossing the Mara River, one of the most dramatic parts of the migration, around July.
  • November – December: wet season is starting. The wildebeest start to move back onto the plains, but this time, they don’t use exact routes. There’s a good chance of spotting some as they wander back to the grasslands.

There are plenty of lodging options for any type of traveler, even inside the park. Depending on the comfort level you’re used to, visitors can rent anything from a tent, a yurt or even a luxury hut, all complete with hot water.

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