We were quite excited to leave Masaimara (Mara for short) for Serengeti (Geti for short and cool). We had reasons to be. We had seen almost everything there was in wildlife (except Leopard) in Mara, where every safari session was pure awesome. And now, Serengeti – which is ten times the size of Mara – the biggest national park for wildlife in the known world, lay across the border. All indicators told us that we will have an even more gala time in Serengeti.
The drive from Mara to Serengeti gradually got longer than usual – due to overflowing rivers that time of the year. We expected an overall 6 hours from one park to another, but it turned out to be much longer. Because of a swell in the Mara river, we had to take a longer circuitous route to get to Namanga – the border crossing town between Kenya and Tanzania. Then, we were caught in a diplomatic cross fire as our yellow Red Cross vaccine books were not updated and ate up quite a lot of time.
Lastly, when we were finally clear to drive down in the Tanzanian country, speed limits of 30 mph and dirt roads to Serengeti made the journey longer by 6 more hours. Overall, we took 13 hours to get to Serengeti. It’s a price you pay to see Heaven. We hit our beds as soon as we could check in.
Serengeti welcomed us the next morning with an epic sunrise – the kinds you see in Lion King. The air is pure, a bit dust laden in the pre-migration months of May and June, but with clear blue skies and all possible shades of green. These were good signs. And then, the safari jeep honked. Let’s get in…
Serengeti is vast – immensely vast. It normally takes an hour’s ride from the gate to get to see anything worthwhile. Animals are very well protected and have amazing privacy. The park inside has much lesser routes and roads than Mara. So, you spot animals only from a distance unless those divine creatures feel like coming upto the road and sneaking into a vehicle – something that happened to a safari jeep when 2 Cheetahs got inside the vehicle for a full 7 minutes (you can look it up at YouTube).
Such distances and vast landscapes accelerate the feeling of solitude and makes wildlife spotting in Serengeti a unique experience. In other words, Serengeti is too cool man!
We spotted (and spotted, and spotted) all that we call wildlife, including Leopards, Hippos, Cheetah. In fact, the Cheetah spent more than 30 mins around us, toying, teasing, running, jumping around the safari vehicles. We saw the early glimpses of what the Migration in 2 more months would be.
We spotted colorful birds and flamingos near the water bodies at Ngorongoro. Serengeti ticked all boxes.
We also were given a brief demo of the 2 dangers which exist in such wildlife parks – the Mosquito and the Tse-Tse fly.
As I was enjoying our “wind in the hair” moment from the sunroof of our Safari SUV, in my blue UV protecting T-shirt, I felt a sharp pain in my ribs as if a crocodile was trying to chew off my rib. When I looked for what happened, I saw a huge fly taking off from my T-shirt after having had a generous drink of my blood. That was the Tse-Tse. These flies are attracted to dark colors, especially blue (I was dressed in blue from top-to-toe) and thrive in hot humid conditions.
Thank God when I changed my clothes and drove to a cooler Hippo pool that Tse-Tse left me to my own means.
Tse-Tse notwithstanding, Serengeti gets 9/10 from me. The place is super awesome, the people around very nice and warm and there literally is no worry in those lands. A beer there is like an Oscar winning moment in the everyday lives of people there. And yes, the wildlife is a wow. Should you go there – YES, if you love wildlife. Will I go there again – YES!
When to go to Serengeti:
Obviously, the best time to be at Geti is during the migration season – which is August – September. However, it also is the most expensive at this time. In our view, May to October is a good enough period where you find the dry season bring out wildlife from all pores of the park and show you some pre-migration glimpses. June to October also is the best weather with no rains to spoil your plans.
How to reach Serengeti:
If you are flying, the quickest option is to reach Arusha, Tanzania (airport: Kilimanjaro International Airport). The most well connected international airport in this region is Nairobi Airport, from where one can get flights to Arusha. Dar Es Salam (Tanzania) also has connectivity to Arusha.
From Arusha, one can take smaller chartered flights – 1 hour long, or could do an 8-hour road trip to reach Serengiti.
If however, you are on Mara – Geti twin combo Safari package, then your travel organizer may book you (1) on a short haul flight between Mara and Geti airports, or (2) send you down through the road trip that would normally take ~ 8 hours from Mara.
Where to Stay:
There are 49 odd game lodges and resorts in Serengeti and almost all are well equipped, luxurious and tourist friendly. Your budget would decide your final choice. From uber luxurious Four Seasons to regional chains like Serena as well as tented camps like Kananga, choices abound. Our pro tip is to pick a place inside the reserve so that you spend lot less time in traveling into the game reserve from your lodge.
We spent an hour each side driving into and out of the park and that really put us at disadvantage.
Do’s and Don’ts while in Serengeti:
- Clothing: wear pastel shades which are light and sun friendly. Keep one layer handy for evenings.
- Keep yourselves covered. That helps in the day against sunlight and bush scratches and in the evenings against insects. Though all lodges are best maintained, you should still remember that you are living inside a deep jungle.
- Keep cash with you. While lodges would mostly be pre-paid and will settle on cards, quick buys like a beer, medicine, toiletries etc are best done locally in their currency. Buying souvenirs around the park gates will become easier.
- Early mornings and closing hours in the evenings are best times to spot the Cats and also the best time to shoot pictures. Having traveled that far, it would be a shame if you do not spot more than your fair share. So, try getting up early and compensate that extra effort by taking a nap in the vehicle during lunch times.
- Try to take 1 day long safari trip instead of doing 1 morning and 1 evening. This reduces your travel time to and from the resort and gets you more time at the reserve, with more chances of spotting wildlife. Most lodges support this by packing you a good lunch (if told the previous night) and you could be off with a quick breakfast by 6:30 am. The Serengiti Visitor Center is where all vehicles stop by for eating their packed lunches.
- Your driver (who doubles up as game guide) is excellent in understanding animal calls and driving where to best spot. Let him drive you and not the other way around.
- Balloon Safaris are one of the best ways to see Serengeti. You cover a lot of the vastness which is impossible to do in a ground vehicle. Most of these also happen during early dawn hours thereby giving you enough time back for the rest of the day. Most lodges our your travel operator will oblige you with pre-booking if you tell them to do so.
- Drink bottled water only, everywhere.
- Keep an insect spray (DEET is the best) handy. Keep a cap, hat whatever that helps you against the sun. Apply sunscreen regularly and do use shades.
- Keep your documentation ready and done. For example, you could get e-visas done before you embark (for those who need visas to enter Tanzania). Also keep your Red Cross Yellow Diary updated with the proper vaccination prescribed against your country for entering Tanzania. These things take a lot of time if you want to do it at your arrival.
- If you are prone to a bit of fever, cough and cold etc, keep a pouch of medicines from your home country alongwith a doctor’s prescription. It saves a lot of time and effort in the wild to go get a doctor when you have common ailments bothering you.