Best Things To Do in Serengeti National Park
The main attraction here is the wildlife. Serengeti National Park houses the highest concentration of large mammals in the world, so you're bound to spot giraffes, elephants, hippos and, of course, lions. You'll also come across more than 500 species of birds, including ostriches and flamingos. But while seeing one or two animals at a time may be exciting, nothing beats seeing them in a pack. The Great Migration is the Serengeti's main draw: This voyage of more than one million wildebeest, zebras and other hoofed animals is one of the world's largest wildlife spectacles. When you tire of gazing at grazers, head to Moru Kopjes to mingle with rhinos or to the Retina Hippo Pool to watch these massive mammals splash about.
Updated June 10, 2019
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The primary reason to visit Serengeti National Park is to witness The Great Migration. Considered one of the world's largest animal migrations, The Great Migration involves more than one million wildebeest, zebras, gazelles and a variety of other animals traversing the Serengeti annually in search of food and breeding grounds. From December to June (the Serengeti's wet season), the animals head south to Naabi Hill and Southern Serengeti. As temperatures rise and the dry season sets in, the herd travels through the Seronera River Valley and the Western Corridor before crossing the Grumeti River and moving north to the Lobo Valley and Bologonja Springs. After several months of grazing in greener pastures, the hoofed menagerie turns around and starts the process over again.
Keep in mind the animals' whereabouts when booking Serengeti accommodations. If you're visiting in the winter, stay in the southern plains, and between July and November, set up camp in Central Serengeti, the Western Corridor or Northern Serengeti.
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Encompassing a sizable portion of Central Serengeti, this vast valley teems with wildlife. The valley's river keeps the vegetation plentiful, supporting herbivores throughout the year. Wildebeest, zebras, elephants, giraffes, gazelles and many other species can be spotted here on any given day. The large amount of prey also draws the highest population of predators. The golden grassland rustles with the movement of roaming lions, cheetahs and hyenas. This is also one of the best places to find the park's elusive leopards.
Because of the area's prime wildlife-viewing opportunities, the Seronera River Valley also contains many of the park's permanent lodges. While that's good for those who prefer their excursions with a side of luxury, it's also a drawback for travelers who'd rather watch the animals without the company of other tourists.
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Although it's not technically a part of Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is worth a visit if you're in the area. Flanking the eastern edge of the Serengeti, the site houses the Ngorongoro Crater – the world's sixth-largest intact volcanic caldera – and Olduvai Gorge. This UNESCO World Heritage site, which sprawls across more than 32,000 square miles, is also where more than 25,000 animals and thousands of Masai pastoralists reside.
Though you'll want to make time for all of Ngorongoro Conservation Area's geological and archeological sites, you should consider paying the extra $200 per vehicle fee to visit Ngorongoro Crater, a suggestion of recent travelers. Once a giant volcano that exploded and collapsed on itself 3 million years ago, Ngorongoro Crater measures 2,000 feet deep and covers 100-plus square miles. Animals are regularly seen here, but to increase your chances of spotting creatures, including endangered species like the black rhino and the African wild dog, visitors recommend exploring the crater early in the morning.
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Situated in Eastern Serengeti by the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Naabi Hill serves as Serengeti National Park's main entrance. After paying your entrance fee (or stopping so your safari guide can fill out paperwork), you can stretch your legs on Naabi Hill's walking trail, which offers some of the best views of the Serengeti. This acacia-covered hill also acts as the home base for a pride of lions and welcomes millions of wildebeest, zebras and gazelles during their annual Great Migration to Eastern Serengeti to breed and find food.
Recent visitors enjoyed climbing Naabi Hill to take in stunning Serengeti vistas. If you want to spot a variety of wildlife, visit between December and June when The Great Migration's animals roam the area. You'll also find some of Serengeti National Park's best facilities – like restrooms, a gift shop and a convenience store – in this part of the park. However, some travelers caution that this entrance point is crowded and that you'll face long wait times to pay admissions fees.
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If you're spending time in Northern Serengeti, a trip to the Lobo Valley should be at the top of your list. It was this sprawling area that American conservationist Stewart White described as a "paradise" back in 1913. Along with the Seronera Valley, the Lobo Valley is one of the only places in the park where all three big cats – lions, cheetahs and leopards – roam. Giraffes, elephants and baboons are also regulars in the Lobo Valley, and from July through November, millions of wildebeest, gazelles and zebras come to the area during The Great Migration.
Though a few species stay in the area year-round, Northern Serengeti's animal population typically thins during the wet season, so it's best to visit in the dry season when animals travel north as part of The Great Migration. The Lobo Valley is also a more affordable spot to catch a glimpse of this famous migration, thanks to cheaper rates at area accommodations.
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Situated in Central Serengeti about 32 miles northwest of Naabi Hill, Moru Kopjes is home to Serengeti National Park's only black rhino population. Though the park made strides to bring this creature back from extinction in the 80s, poaching of the animal's horns has caused this species' population to decrease in recent years. A small herd of the critically endangered animal still resides in the region and is closely monitored by armed anti-poaching rangers. Black rhinos are solitary animals, but if you're hoping to catch a glimpse of these endangered creatures, Moru Kopjes is the place to go.
Other animals, such as lions, elephants and leopards, can also be spotted here. And if you're interested in the park's ties to the indigenous Masai community, check out Gong Rock and the region's famous Masai rock paintings.
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You're bound to stumble across hippos at other Serengeti watering holes, but nothing can compare to the spectacle of the Retina Hippo Pool in Central Serengeti. Situated where the Seronera and Orangi rivers converge, the Retina Hippo Pool consists of a deep puddle of water with roughly 200 sloshing, playing hippos.
Some former visitors noted that the smell can be somewhat overwhelming – they are animals, after all – but that's hardly a deterrent. You'll see plenty of hippos (and possibly some herons and Nile crocodiles) to snap photos of, but remember that these creatures are very large and very dangeous, so it's best to keep your distance. Also, consider visiting during the dry season (between July and November) when more hippos are exposed due to the pool's lower water levels.
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Catching The Great Migration as it crosses the Grumeti River near the Western Corridor's Kirawira region is a must for avid nature lovers, although those with weaker stomachs may want to steer clear. This particular section of the river is known for its large crocodile population; the crocs anxiously await the migrating herd's crossing for a guaranteed meaty feast. Yet despite the obvious danger, the wildebeest and zebras will stop at nothing to reach their final destination. Other animals you'll find swimming in the river and drinking from its water include elephants, hippos and monkeys.
To see The Great Migration from this part of the Serengeti, visit between July and November. Also, recent travelers recommend bringing a boxed lunch to enjoy picnic-style near the river.
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Not all safaris require a four-wheel-drive vehicle; in fact, one of the most popular safaris requires no wheels at all. Since 1989, Serengeti Balloon Safaris has helped park visitors take to the skies to spot animals and watch the park's famous Great Migration. The company's fleet of eight-, 12- and 16-passenger hot air balloons carries travelers annually across Central Serengeti (and seasonally through the Western Corridor and Southern Serengeti) to give them a bird's-eye view of the park. The safari guide collects visitors at 5 a.m. so that the balloons and their passengers can rise alongside the sun. Flights last about an hour, after which passengers gather, surrounded by the park's lush plains, for a sparkling wine toast and an "Out of Africa" English-style breakfast.
Some recent travelers bemoaned the balloon safari's early departure time and high price tag, but most say that the experience is worth it. Former visitors were also impressed with Serengeti Balloon Safaris' staff and pilots, who reviewers described as friendly and knowledgeable.
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Tucked away in the northeast corner of the Serengeti near the border of Kenya's Maasai Mara National Reserve, the verdant Bologonja Springs attracts hundreds of animals with refreshing waters and verdant canopies. The Bologonja River's headwaters are almost always devoid of tourists, meaning you'll have a superb view of the region's monkeys that occupy the leafy surroundings in solitude. The springs also draw larger mammals like elephants and giraffes, as well as a variety of birds and antelope species like the mountain reedbuck and steenbok.
For the best wildlife watching, head a couple miles downstream to the Larelemangi salt lick, which earned its name from the salty deposits that hoofed-animals love to lick. Juxtaposing the springs' jungle-like atmosphere, this open swamp provides an unobstructed view of the animals that spend their time dueling and rolling in the mud.
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