How to choose between the green and the dry season is not easily done. Each has its own unique rhythms and beauty, and both are equally rewarding. During the dry season we observed great concentrations of animals in the Northern Serengeti along and near the Mara River. Within five minutes of leaving the Kogatende Airstrip we saw elephants, giraffes, a mother and baby rhino, zebra, and wildebeest. It was incredible to witness so many animals sharing the environment.
Then, that same day we saw two major river crossings complete with false starts and long jumps into the river. Thousands of wildebeest were swimming against the currents, resting on the rocks, clambering up the river edges to safety, and a few succumbing to crocodile attacks. The sounds, smells, reverberating earth, and the clouds of dust contributing to the chaotic ballet that gyrated all around us were exhilarating. No National Geographic film, no IMAX film can ever compete with the first person experience of the great migration.
Seeing the many species of animals co-mingle with one another, displaying both the harmony and the harsh realities of their coexistence is a spiritual experience. The life cycle of the earth’s inhabitants swirl around you in the Serengeti. The symbiotic relationships are writ large here. Ox peckers enjoy a meal as they remove insects from giraffes, Cape buffalo etc. Dung beetles roll balls of excrement, creating homes for their eggs. Cheetahs repurpose termite mounds for observation towers as they search the plains for prey. Everything is intertwined, connected.
Dry season or green season, the animal behavior is all around to see. The grazing animals follow the rains, seeking water and nourishing grasses. Their predators pursue them. Then the scavengers arrive, awaiting the leftovers. Nothing is wasted. In the dry season, the animals head north to the Mara River where they cross back and forth in search of an oasis in which to replenish their parched selves. Dust rises from pounding hooves, coating animals (and vehicles and their occupants in their midst) a chalky brown. Wind blows the dust so that it permeates the air.
In the dry season the hot air and dust make the wet cloths at the camps a welcome refresher. Wiping away the grit of the day and savoring a delectable glass of juice prepares you for relaxing around the campfire and recounting the day’s adventures. Dinner, conversation and a bush music lullaby round out the day. Waking refreshed, you are ready for the new day to begin. Early morning game drives are spectacular as you watch the sun rise above the horizon, the world aglow in mystical light. The roads are dry and navigable. Only the desire to sleep in prevents you from enjoying magical early morning wildlife viewing.
During the green season, the rains may come (or not). What does this mean? Worst case, there may not be hot water for a shower (it doesn’t matter, you aren’t dusty!), the roads may melt into a river of mud that can’t be safely navigated early in the morning, and a late game drive may be cut short so you can return to camp without getting mired in the mud. What? Why would you go then? Because the green season translates to a more relaxing safari, not as much intense driving, but still seeing everything you came to see – just closer to the camps. The green season affords lots of opportunity to observe animal behavior without other vehicles around. It is an intimate experience. We felt like we had the entire Serengeti to ourselves, including several of the camps; a true private safari.
We also saw the grasses seemingly turn green overnight and saw the impact the rain had on the animals awaiting its arrival. To see tens of thousands of wildebeest pour onto the plains from the forests with their young was an incredible, unforgettable sight. The views of baby animals are unparalleled. To see wobbly-legged newborns, protective mothers, and playful babies a few weeks old is enchanting and memorable. Plus, the sound of the rain on the tents – unbeatable! Oh, and the landscapes – verdant plains stretching up to emerald mountains – stunning. The Emerald City of Oz on steroids.
Rain or shine the ADS driver-guides know the Serengeti and its occupants. They know the patterns, likes and dislikes of the animals, and where and how they sleep, hunt, graze, mate, and give birth. The important thing is to let your safari unfold. You will see the animals and birds you have come to see no matter the season.
What you can never predict is what special sightings you alone will witness. From the terrain, suddenly, without warning, right before you is…a birth of a baby animal, a cheetah, leopard, or lion chasing its prey, a mother nursing her young, a pride of lions resting from a night hunting, elephants arranging marriages, golden jackals and black-backed jackals sprinting, a family of wart hogs resting on their forelegs feasting on grass, hyenas soaking in a puddle, ungulates, giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and hippos displaying their behaviors, and Bat-eared foxes grooming one another; all sharing their secrets with you.
Each day is special. No day is the same. Many miracles and surprises await you. Green or dry season, both experiences are incredibly rewarding and are to be savored and enjoyed. If you are still unsure, green or dry season, just remember the only lamentable day in the Serengeti, is the day you leave….
Lynn and Phil
Oak Hill, VA
9-21 March, 2014