Africa is an enormous continent, with countless natural wonders. But if you have to choose only one place to visit, Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park is hands down your best option.
Want to know why? Take a look at these 9 reasons why Serengeti was voted the best African safari park of 2019.
1.Some of the Greatest Concentrations of Wildlife on the Planet
Saying that Serengeti National Park has a lot of biodiversity is an understatement. We’re talking zebras, lions, cheetahs, wildebeests, honey badgers, buffalo, leopards, giraffes, gazelles, crocodiles, more than 500 species of birds… the list just goes on and on.
With more than 430 species roaming the plains of the Serengeti, this area boasts one of the most densely populated pockets of wildlife on earth.
The park is a whopping 5,700 square miles, which is larger than the state of Connecticut, providing a wide birth for the complex cycles of migration. You’re going to want to make sure you have a lot of storage on your camera, because the sheer number of animals you’ll witness is unreal.
Every spring the Great Migration begins with more than 2 million wildebeests traveling north from Serengeti to Maasai Mara in Kenya. This is the single largest population of big mammals on the planet.
The migration is an ancient ritual. The work of paleontologists tells us that these amazing creatures were inhabiting these same lands some one million years ago.
Teaming up with the wildebeests are more than half a million gazelles, 250,000 zebra, and a variety of antelopes. All of these animals give birth to their young in the same month, and then begin their long journey across plains and savannas, forging rivers and streams to get to their final destination.
It is a long and difficult trek, and many animals die from starvation and dehydration. When herds stop to drink, this is the opportune time for predators to attack, picking off the young or the weak from the herd.
The brutal realities of nature are not for the faint of heart, so be prepared to witness the age-old dance of predator and prey.
3. Experience the Big Five
Historically it was hunters who coined the term “the Big Five.” Leopards, lions, buffalo, elephants, and rhinos were the hardest animals to kill, and therefore the most sought after. Things have changed since then, and now it is park visitors and safari-goers who are on the hunt (with their binoculars) for these five majestic beasts.
The Big Five consist of:
- The African Leopard – these big cats can be either all black, or white and cream-colored with lots of black spots. They only come out at night, making them difficult to find. While some hunting permits are still issued for the Big Five, leopard permits are the hardest to get.
- The African Lion – more than twice the size of leopards, the African lion truly is the king of the jungle (or savanna). Lions skulk about in tall grasses and shrubs, using the underbrush as natural camouflage until they erupt from their hiding spot, taking their prey by surprise.
- The Cape Buffalo – Cape buffalo are the only animal on the Big Five list that isn’t endangered. This is an interesting fact, considering that they actually kill more hunters per year than any other animal.
- The African Elephant – African Elephants are the largest animals that walk on land. These incredibly intelligent herbivores have been hunted for decades because of the value of ivory, though it has been illegal to do so since 1973.
- The Black Rhinoceros – also known as the hooked-lip rhinoceros, this critically endangered animal can weigh anywhere from 1,760 to 3,090 pounds. Rhinos have thick skin and serious horns, so make sure you stay close to your guide when these guys are around.
4. The Diversity of Ecosystems
What makes this region such a hospitable home to so many different kinds of wildlife is the diversity of its ecosystems.
To explain them, the park is usually divided into three quadrants:
- The Northern Serengeti – this rolling, hilly region is mostly composed of verdant woodlands, where giraffes and elephants are abundant.
- The Serengeti Plains – when you picture the Serengeti in your mind, this is probably what you see. Wide expanses of grassland teem with herds of roaming animals, and the lack of trees allows you to see for miles in every direction.
- The Western Corridor – this is the heart of the savanna, where black clay soil rolls out to the banks of the Grumeti River, home to Nile crocodiles, hippos, monkeys and other types of wildlife.
With all of this biodiversity, it is no wonder why Serengeti National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Another key element of the varied ecosystems is the abundant and diverse plant life that can be found in the park. All of the guides who work there are extremely knowledgeable about the plant and animal life, and will be able to help you identify the amazing things that surround you.
5. There are Animals You’ve Never Even Heard Of
In addition to the throngs of creatures we’ve already mentioned, Serengeti National Park is home to some unique species of animals that you probably didn’t learn about in your high school biology class.
In the antelope family alone there are a plethora of species with intriguing names. These four-legged explorers come in all shapes and sizes.
Here are a few different kinds:
- Dik diks
- Fringe-eared Oryx
And believe it or not, this is only the tip of the antelope iceberg.
6. A Cultural Diversity That Rivals the Biodiversity
It is not surprising that an area that is so rich in plant and animal life would also be home to a diverse group of human beings.
More than 120 different ethnic groups can be found throughout the surrounding region. A vast array of indigenous traditions intermingle with people of Muslim and Christian faiths to produce a vibrant melting pot of cultures.
Many tour groups offer opportunities to visit local villages, to see what life is like for the people there, to experience their food, music, language, and culture.
If you’re lucky, you might even get a chance to see the Maasai jumping dance, a traditional rite of passage. It is experiences like this that will teach you new ways of seeing the world and that you will remember for the rest of your life.
7. Travel on Foot, by Jeep or by Sky
While the most popular form of transportation in the park is by guided jeep, there are other options available.
Some people choose to take a walking safari tour of the park, which allows you to get up close and personal with the wildlife and scenery, in a way that riding in a vehicle doesn’t.
Some companies even offer sky tours, where you drift lazily above the grasslands and savannas in a hot air balloon. Some travelers claim that a sunrise over the Serengeti watched from a hot air balloon is the most beautiful thing they have ever witnessed.
8. Supporting Conservation
The first American to visit the Serengeti was the novelist Stewart Edward White. He took his first trip there in 1913, and then returned with friends in the 1920’s where, in classic American fashion, they preceded to kill 50 lions.
They weren’t the only ones hunting lions, and the population quickly dwindled, leading the British government to create an 800-acre partial game reserve in 1921. This eventually evolved into Serengeti National Park, which was officially created in 1951.
Efforts to protect the park and its inhabitants remain vigilant, as poachers still pose a huge threat, despite all of the laws put in place to stop them. Your contribution to the tourist economy helps to fund these efforts, so you can give yourself a pat on the back for that if you do decide to visit.
9. Every Visit Is a New Experience
The philosopher Heraclitus said that “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” This could not be more true about Serengeti National Park.
Many travelers return to Tanzania again and again, because each experience they have there is completely unique. Nature is unpredictable and ever-changing, and with more than 4 million wild animals inhabiting this breathtaking wilderness, it’s impossible to see the same thing twice.