The Serengeti is arguably the finest national park in Africa and offers a cornucopia of wildlife viewing. Just about every large animal in East Africa can be regularly seen in the Ecosystem. Truly extraordinary wildlife sightings are frequently reported by many of our returning guests and even our most experienced guides with 100 plus safaris under their belts can still be heard oohing and awing over some rare animal or behavior.
In fact, one of our veteran guides was explaining in delight about watching a pride of lions attack a young buffalo when the tables suddenly turned and the lions became the hunted as the entire buffalo herd parried in defense. This got me reminiscing about my personal favorite bush experiences and what other returning guests commonly report back as their own highlights while on safari in the Serengeti. Accordingly, here we have the Top 10 Serengeti list in my opinion:
#1 – Watching the antics of the Sametu Lion Pride at the Sametu Kopjes, East Serengeti. This unusually large lion pride was made famous by the booked entitled ‘Lions Share’ and was featured a few years back in the National Geographic movie called ‘Super Pride’. A coalition of 4 extraordinary large male lions, known as the “Greek Gods” (Zeus, Ares, Apollo and Demeter), led this pride for several years. Seeing the pride all together at the epicenter of their territory right at the Sametu Marsh with all the cubs, adult females and resident males in attendance is tough to beat!
Just game driving to the very remote Sametu Kopjes is an adventure in itself. What an amazing home for the Serengeti’s most famous lion pride! There were some great pictures posted a while back of the Sametu pride lounging on their favorite kopje (scroll down towards the bottom of the linked to trip report).
#2 – Witnessing the Great Migration. This is simply the pinnacle of wildlife viewing in Africa and no pictures, videos or even words can do justice though shock and awe comes to mind. Wild Travel Magazine ranked it #1 in all of Africa. The Great Migration is a continuous cycle of movements by the dominant migratory herbivores in the Serengeti (wildebeest, zebra, eland and gazelle).
There is no beginning or end to the migration though there are quite a few noteworthy moments that reoccur every year including the following:
- Grumeti River Crossing in the Western Serengeti during May/June
- Mara River Crossing in the Northern Serengeti from July to October and in some years as early as June and as late as November
- Wildebeest Calving in the South Serengeti during January/February though zebra and gazelle do not have a pronounced birth spike like the wildebeest and their birthing period is spread from December to April
- Northward Migration and Wildebeest Rut in the Central Serengeti during April/May (this is called the Moru Crush when the migration exits the plains through the narrow valley at Moru Kopjes)
- Southward Migration in the Central Serengeti during November/December…this return to the plains is an exciting time
- The End of the Green Season (my personal favorite time) in March/April when the great herds typically come together (after calving) on the southern and eastern plains (usually near Naabi Hill) and reach their highest densities
#3 – Witnessing the ultimate speed contest on the open Southern Serengeti Plains. Cheetahs live their lives in pursuit of the migratory Thomson’s gazelles. Watching the world’s fastest land animal sprinting across the plains in pursuit of the fleet footed Thomson’s Gazelle is truly exhilarating. Due to enhanced visibility on the flat, short grass plains of the Serengeti, there is a higher then normal chance of seeing cheetahs in action. The tricky part is keeping a cheetah running at top speed centered in your binoculars or trying to snap off a picture!
#4 – Watching Giraffes in the Lobo River Valley of the North Serengeti. Lobo Valley is one of the most beautiful scenic spots in the entire park and is home to good numbers of giraffes (the national emblem of Tanzania). It’s a quintessential African Safari experience watching these polite giants as they delicately browse acacia trees. Stewart White was one of the first explorers to discover the Lobo River Valley. In 1913 Stewart wrote: “Never have I seen anything like that game. It covered every hill, standing in the openings, strolling in and out among groves, feeding on the bottom lands, single, or in little groups. It did not matter in what direction I looked, there it was; as abundant one place as another.”
# 5 – Dodging elephants in the Lower Grumeti Woodlands of the Western Serengeti. The Western Corridor is home to some of the Serengeti’s largest concentrations of elephants. Some of these elephants are notorious for exhibiting fake or demonstration charges where they rapidly approach the vehicle with ears spread, head held high and are often accompanied by an unfurling of their trunk with a loud trumpeting similar to a party noisemaker. Signs of uncertainty immediately before the charge including displacement activities like exaggerated feeding behavior (breaking off branches, etc.), swinging of the feet or swaying are usually indications for demonstration charge rather then a real charge. However, such mock charges can still be quite dramatic and the first time you witness one, you will undoubtedly remember it!
# 6 – Scouting for Cats in the Gol Kopjes, East Serengeti. The Gol Kopjes complex (called the world’s largest Japanese rock garden) extends roughly 100 square miles and covers dozens of kopjes or granite outcroppings. Hundreds of game loops bisect the constellation of kopjes and photographic opportunities abound (perhaps the best in the park). Exploring this beautiful area while checking each outcropping for lion or cheetah is always a memorable experience. One never knows what surprises may lurk on each kopje!
# 7 – Peering down at Hippos at Retina Hippo Pool, Central Serengeti. One can climb to within just a few feet of these enormous creatures. The riverbank here is about 10-feet above the pool and it is possible to climb to only a few feet away from the approximately 200 hippos that inhabit the pool. Great photography opportunities abound here as the large groups of hippos huddle together, spouting and grunting in the water.
# 8 – Tracking Rhinos at Moru Kopjes, Central Serengeti. Coming across one of these critically endangered creatures, especially in the beautiful Moru area, is a real safari treat. Moru is an excellent place to lose yourself in the magic of the Serengeti and is home to the remaining population of black rhinos in the Serengeti. Last year, there were several black rhinos reintroduced to the North Serengeti (they were flown from South Africa) and we are just now having more regularly sightings. However, nothing beats coming across one of the original rhinos in the Moru Kopjes!
#9 – Exploring one of the more remote and off the beaten path areas. The Serengeti Ecosystem (roughly the size of Massachusetts) is so enormous that there are still plenty of opportunities to get off the beaten path and explore area where few tourists have ever traveled. Named after one of our guides, one of my favorite hidden spots (pictured below) is a place called ‘Reggie’s Kopjes’ in the East Serengeti, which is located roughly 1/2 way in the middle of a giant plain that stretches perhaps 30 miles between Naabi and Lemuta Hills. There are no roads here but rather just mile upon mile of pristine wilderness. You can climb up one of the kopjes here (just make sure there are no lions) and look east towards Lemuta Hill and Nasera Rock for arguably the finest view in the Serengeti. And, I guaranty you won’t see a single other soul. When the migration thunders through this area, this place would surely be tough to top.
#10 – Spotting Leopards along the Seronera River, Central Serengeti. The banks along the Seronera River, along with the nearby Songore River,are the best areas in Africa to find leopards. Elegance personified, leopards are notorious for being especially graceful and enigmatic. Maybe it is their stunning beauty, or perhaps their incredible power, that captures the imagination of all visitors who travel here. A study in the Serengeti found that there were 7 resident adult leopards in a 72 square mile study area in Seronera. This equates to about one leopard per ten square miles, and when cubs and a smaller proportion of nomadic leopard are factored in, Seronera boasts one of the highest concentrations of leopards in all of Africa. Click here for an excellent leopard article entitled ‘The Prince of Stealth‘.
I seem to have run out of slots and failed to mention one of the most exciting thrills anyone can receive while on safari, which is coming across one of the Serengeti’s rare and unusual inhabitants like the pangolin, bushbaby, rock python, wild dog, caracal, oryx, serval cat or bat-eared fox. Check out this posting entitled The Bizarre, Quirky, Rare and Deadly to see some of the more unusual animals that live in the Serengeti.
What are your top highlights or favorite memories from your Serengeti Safari?
The School of St Jude is a charity funded school that provides a free, high-quality primary and secondary education to over 1,600 of the poorest, brightest children of Arusha region, Tanzania, East Africa. The school, located across three campuses, also provides boarding for 1,100 students, and employs over 450 Tanzanians. It was founded by Australian Gemma Sisia in 2002.
1. To be at the gateway of the most iconic national parks in Africa like the Serengeti and pay reverence to Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain.
2. To be warmly welcomed into the family home of a St Jude’s student and learn the true meaning of a free, high-quality education.
3. To meet passionate volunteers from all over the world.
4. To broaden your children’s experience of the world. They will have fun while learning lifetime lessons.
5. To see for yourself how a successful nonprofit is spending its donated money wisely.
6. To give back. It feels good and you get to have fun at St Jude’s while doing it!
7. To make real connections with interesting people from Africa and travelers from the world over.
8. To get to know a great educational institution supported by Africa Dream Safaris.
9. To meet our founder, Gemma Sisia, and hear firsthand the challenges and triumphs in establishing one of the most successful educational projects in Africa.
10. To build a trove of indelible memories guaranteed to stay with you 20, 30 or 50 years from now.
From the moment we made our reservations, to the time we arrived in Arusha and even after, Africa Dream Safaris provided a high quality safe adventure beyond anything we could have imagined. Even several months later, we all agree that we still can’t believe what we experienced during our 12 days safari.
Day 1 After an 18 hour flight, we emerge from our KLM flight, tired and nervous as we step into the crowd of people at the airport in Arusha. Within one minute our African Safari guide greets us and quickly whisks us past the other passengers, through customs and into the awaiting vehicle.
Day 2: We spend the day in Arusha, touring the town with our driver. We had arranged to visit the School of St. Jude. Being that 4 of us were former educators, we want to see the work being done at this school. It is a truly amazing experience as Felix, the school public relations person, takes us to classes where we are greeted by smiling children who speak English to us and sing songs in Swahili. So glad we came. We then visit the Cultural Heritage Museum which includes the most amazing art.
Day 3: After a quick 45 minute plane ride to the Northern Serengeti we are finally in the “bush”. Within 5 minutes we come across a small pack of elephants with babies. The day continues to be amazing as we see over 1,000 wildebeests crossing the Mara River, giraffes, zebras, impalas, and hippos. We end the day, as we arrive at the Mara River Camp and are greeted by a friendly staff.
The Mara River Camp provides us with comfortable tents, private hot showers and bathrooms, a great dinner and campfire. At night the wildebeests come into camp, and we hear them chomping on the grass next to our tent. One even knocks against our tent. I knew I wanted to experience the bush, and we certainly are!
Day 4: As we finish our excellent camp breakfast, we jump into the vehicle and after a quick crazy bumpy ride, we arrive at the river to see thousands of wildebeests crossing the river. Our amazing journey continues as we see a leopard on a rock, herds of elephants, hippos, and zebras. Our vehicle is able to pull within 5 feet of some of the animals giving us unobstructed views and experiences
We see our first baboons, warthogs, Topi, Thomson Gazelles and are thrilled as we came across 3 female lions. They are so close to our land rover that I close my window when one looks our way! As if that isn’t enough amazement, just down the road we watch a crocodile bring down a wildebeest.
We get a good night’s sleep as we hear the lions roaring in the distance, wild dogs barking and wildebeest quietly eating the grass next to our tent.
Day 5: We continue to see animals everywhere. What we find most interesting is that we see so many different ones all in the same area. At one point we are watching a group of giraffe, while zebras are walking by, warthogs are doing their crazy run with their tails standing straight up and Thomson gazelles are grazing in the grass.
We see more lions resting, our first male lions and spot our first cheetah. We enter Lobo Valley which is known for elephants. We are thrilled to watch the elephants munch on the tree branches and even knock down the trees. Suddenly we see a few vehicles stopped at a tree, and there sits a leopard eating a fresh kill. What a great end to the day.
We arrive at Migration Tented Lodge where we are escorted to our individual lodge tents by a river. Each is on stilts and looks like something from the movie, “Out of Africa”. The dining room is open air and beautiful with a great menu. We return to our rooms to turned down beds and hot water bottles. We fall asleep to the sounds of the hippos grunting.
Day 6: Today we head to Western Serengeti. There are herds of elephants, zebra and wildebeest everywhere. We stop by a place called, “Hippo Pool” to see more hippos piled upon one another attempting to stay cool. After lunch we sight a male and female standing on the side of the road. They quietly move toward each other and engage in a not so quiet mating sequence!
Day 7: We start out early today (6:00) with box breakfasts. Dark is quickly turning to light, and the sunrise and scenery is amazing. The brilliant sun rising over the horizon is stunning and a photographers dream. We see new animals this morning including kudu, vervey monkeys and Cape buffalo. Wildebeests continue to be everywhere and more baboons appear.
We drive quickly to spot the lion with its kill as well as other lions and some cubs. We see more zebras, gazelles, giraffes and crocodiles and begin paying attention to the beautiful birds. Although we are thoroughly enjoying the animals, our wonderful guide, Arnold, continues to entertain us with his vast knowledge and stories. We feel like he is part of our family and spend a great deal of time talking and laughing
Day 8: Each day continues to amaze us. The highlights are spotting a mother lion and her cubs, 12 elephants with several babies that were within 10 ft. of our vehicle, watching 2 female lions do a head butt to greet each other, but the best is spotting a leopard sitting in a tree and then watching him climb down a tree, grab a gazelle and drag the gazelle back up to the tree to eat.
Arnold explains that this was rare to see so imagine our excitement when we see a second leopard in a tree hunt a gazelle later in the day. Two in one day!
Day 9: Today we head out early to the Central Serengeti. We come across a number of lions lounging on various outcroppings. We laugh as we watch the two young male cubs playing and fighting. They show no fear of us as they walk within feet of our vehicle.
The morning continues with more lions and elephants, giraffes, gazelles, antelopes, hippos and our first ostriches. We visit the rhino research center and learn about the efforts to save the rhino. At one point there were only been 3 rhinos left. Arnold explains that we will have a good chance to see one today.
For lunch we stop at a large Kopje area which once belonged to the Masai. We climb the large rocks and bask in the amazing endless scenery around us. Arnold shows us “Gong Rock” which a large boulder formerly used as a musical instrument by the Masai. He demonstrates how it was used and entertains us with some songs as we clap along. Wonderful lunch experience.
Shortly after lunch we see our rhinos. Two rhinos are off in the distance, and we watch these huge animals as they graze. It’s still early in the afternoon, and we have seen 4 of the big five in one day!!
Our afternoon continues as we spot 2 female lions in a ravine with 4 tiny cubs feasting on a fresh kill. Across the road, not five feet from the jeep, is a large dark maned male. We head back down the road and see the same leopard we had seen previously still sitting in the tree with his kill.
That makes seeing “The Big Five” in one day! We are covered with dust, a bit tired from the 10 hours of bumpy roads, but all agree it was worth it!
As we are heading back to camp dreaming of our hot showers, we see a beautiful female cheetah stretched out under a tree with 4 baby cubs. The mother spots a gazelle, and the family approaches our jeep, using it as camouflage. They walk up along the side of the vehicle and cross in front of it. Talk about up close and personal!
We arrive back at Seronera Sametu Camp exhausted and dirty and are greeted by smiling staff who provides us with juice and warm cloths to wipe the grit away. The head staff person encourages us to look through their spotting scope to “meet our visitors at the camp”. We pause, look, and see a pride of lions under a tree about 200 yards from our camp. This is almost too much after such a spectacular day.
Day 10: We are awakened around 5:30 a.m. to the voice of a staffer outside our tent saying “Good morning, No lions!” which is good news since we heard lions in the distance throughout the night. We depart camp heading to the Southern Serengeti. We are beginning to see Masai and stop by a Masai village for a tour.
At the Ngorongoro Crater we see two lions sleeping on the side of the road. One gets up, bites the tire of the jeep in front of us and falls back asleep next the jeep which was providing a nice piece of shade. We spot a dead hippo that has been downed by lions and spend a half an hour watching the different lions taking turns feasting on the hippo.
We arrive back at Lion’s Paw camp to hot showers, a great dinner, and a campfire.
Day 11: We awaken early to get to the Crater. The sky is spectacular as the clouds roll over the top of the crater. We come upon two lions finishing off the wildebeest kill and stop to watch the interaction between the lions, jackals and hyenas, as they all compete for some of the meat.
At one point a hyena chases a jackal around and under the vehicles as the hyena attempts to get the piece of meat from the jackal. We are also fortunate to see two more rhinos in the distance.
We visit the F.A.M.E. (Foundation for African Medicine and Education) where we meet the amazing Dr. Frank and his wife. We are awed by the work that they are doing to bring quality medical care to the people of Tanzania.
Day 12: We head for Lake Manyara National Park, which is famous for its birds. We see monkeys, baboons, zebras and birds including flamingos and pelicans. At one area we see about 150 baboons walking along the rocks.
We leave the lake area and head to the Tarangire National Park. Masai children come running out of their houses as they hear our vehicle, hoping we will stop and give them something. We are enthralled at the size of the baobab trees which look like they are planted upside down and live up to 1500 years.
We camp at Kikoti Tented Camp which is a beautiful open-air camp sitting on the edge of a ridge in the middle of nowhere. Our “tents” are huge individual screened chalets on stilts. Because it is always warm here, the tents have little canvas on the sides, providing a wonderful sense of being up in the trees. We are thrilled when we realize the six of us are the only ones at the camp.
Day 14: It is our last day in the bush, and we are filled with a bit of sadness to think this amazing adventure is almost over. Although it is our last day, it is still wonderful. We see over 300 elephants, along with giraffes, impalas, a cheetah, Cape buffalo, warthogs, baboons etc. Again we see 4 of the “Big Five” in one day. Can’t get much better.
For lunch we stop at a beautiful overlook near the Tarangire River. We all agree it seems like something out of the Garden of Eden with green grass, the flowing river and zebras, elephants, giraffes, antelope and other animals all together eating and drinking at the river’s edge. Such a beautiful and amazing sight for our last day.
We spend the afternoon game driving and then head back to camp. We meet at the stone patio around the fire where we have drinks. Dinner is wonderful including a farewell cake.
We are thankful for this experience that we had together with our friends. We thank Africa Dream Safaris for providing this excellent safe adventure. Between the six of us, we took over 10,000 photos and hours of video. Our driver, Arnold, was the best and felt like one of the family by the end of the trip.
My advice to anyone wanting to go on a real safari, choose Africa Dream Safaris. You won’t be disappointed. Also, get out of your comfort zone, get into the bush, and stay at bush camps for at least part of your trip. The camps are safe, comfortable, with all the amenities you need. You won’t regret it!
Fred and Diane A.
Safari Dates: September 14, 2016 to September 26, 2016