Top 10 Serengeti Highlights
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?