By Car -- Most visitors traveling by road enter the Serengeti through Naabi Hill Gate, which lies in the southeastern part of the park. Were you to drive straight through from Arusha (not recommended), the 325km (202-mile) drive would take 7 to 8 hours; the flight takes just more than an hour. Naabi Gate is about 2 hours from Ngorongoro, 4 hours from Lake Manyara, and 6 1/2 hours from Tarangire.
By Plane -- There are airstrips throughout the park, allowing visitors to fly within easy reach of whichever camp or lodge they have booked. Kusini and Ndutu airstrips are located in the south; Seronera airstrip is in the center; Lobo, Kleins, and Kogatende serve the north; and Grumeti and Sasakwa airstrips serve the Western Corridor. You can fly in from Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Tarangire, Lake Manyara, or Ngorongoro, or fly within the park for relatively little money (a round-trip from Arusha to Kogatende, near the Mara River, will run you around $250).
Regional Air Services (www.regionaltanzania.com) has the biggest fleet of twin-engine, turbo-prop aircrafts servicing all the Serengeti airstrips. You can book charter flights or check out (and book online) the daily scheduled flights between Serengeti and Manyara, Zanzibar, and Dar es Salaam. Northern Air (firstname.lastname@example.org) is another very professional charter company based in Arusha, operating three Grand Caravans (13 seats) and one Cessna 206 (five seats), all in mint condition. Precision Air (www.precisionairtz.com), Tanzania's fastest-growing airline, operates scheduled flights to Grumeti and Seronera (from Kilimanjaro, Arusha, and Lake Manyara).
Park fees, payable in advance at the gates, are $50 per person, per day. The park headquarters is located at Seronera. It's worth stopping here to take a look around the visitor center and take the elevated walkway that leads you past informative displays. These are filled with interesting tidbits about various animals and the park itself, such as the role played by the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), which has supported TANAPA's efforts ever since Professor Bernhard Grzimek, then the society's president, first came to the Serengeti in the 1950s and campaigned for its protection. There is also a coffee shop and picnic site. For more information, visit www.serengeti.org.
If you are on a game package, your price will include a transfer from the closest airstrip, as well as scheduled game activities (either a full-day game drive or morning and late-afternoon drives), so you need not concern yourself with the practicalities of how to get around (though it's worth knowing that you may not drive around after 7pm or before 6am). If you are being transferred by a ground operator (driven by an Arusha-based guide), you can choose to travel by road between camps or fly while your driver catches up via road. Personally, I like traveling by road within the Serengeti -- it's effectively a game drive taken at a bit of a lick, so you can flip open the lid and feel the wind in your hair while looking out for animals. And once you've negotiated the hell that is the Ngorongoro-Naabi gate road, the Serengeti roads, though not perfect, are relatively smooth. Not everyone agrees with me on this, however, and if you're at all unsure about spending time on bumpy roads, opt to fly.
Exploring the Park/Understanding the Park Layout -- The park can be geographically divided into four areas: the Southern plains, the central Seronera valley, the Western Corridor, and the northern parts, extending from Lobo northward to the Masai Mara.
Visitors traveling by vehicle usually enter the Serengeti through the Naabi Hill Gate, gateway to the undeveloped southern plains (they contain only one permanent lodge, Ndutu, but also a number of mobile camps, as well as the remote Kusini Camp). The wide-open southern plains, interspersed with rocky kopjes and acacia woodland, blend seamlessly into the short-grass plains of the central Seronera valley (which is why many choose to lump these regions together), but unlike the southern plains, the Seronera valley has a network of rivers to sustain its incredibly varied and stable wildlife population, with great game sightings virtually guaranteed all year. It's also very accessible (the drive from Naabi Gate to Seronera takes around 1 1/2 hours), making this region the most popular with tourists, with far too much vehicle action for safari buffs. Naturally, this is also where all the big commercial lodges are located. Note that there is a fuel station at Seronera, and you can also opt to do a hot air balloon trip here.
Stretching beyond Lobo (the other refueling point in the park, reached from Naabi Gate in around 4 hr.) are the more vegetated northern parts of the Serengeti. Around the Lobo Hills are open clearings where you will see lions, but large swathes are dominated by woodland, which are good areas for giraffes, impalas, elephants, and dik-diks. Previously inaccessible, the area known as Wogakuria, close to the Masai Mara border, has been opened up with flying safari options to superb tented camps such as Sayari and Lemala. This is a beautiful environment, particularly after the rains, when the green parkland is carpeted in flowers, and its relative inaccessibility makes it the least busy part of the park, with only a handful of operators setting up exclusive mobile camps, their impact negligible. This is then -- along with the southern plains from December through March -- a most attractive destination, and it's worth timing your visit for June and July to September and October, when camps are operational in this area. The Western Corridor is also less busy than the central plains but sustains relatively stable populations with its varied landscapes (it's also possible to see from a hot air balloon). The area, however, really comes into its own during June and July, when the Grumeti River crossing occurs. The exception to this is at the Grumeti Private Game Reserve (north of the river), where game sightings and photography opportunities are enhanced by the fact that vehicles can go off-road to approach animals (with care), and walking and riding safaris as well as night game drives are offered, making it the most exclusive experience in the greater Serengeti.
Balloon safaris are a great way to see the Serengeti (essential if you're doing all transfers by road, less so if you're flying in or out by plane), a truly romantic experience as you float above the vast plains tinted pink by the rising sun, heading whichever direction the winds take you. It's a real treat (aside from the 5am wake-up call), lasting about an hour before descending to your champagne breakfast in the bush; you should be back in camp at 9:30am. There are only three balloons operating at any given time; to include a balloon safari ($499 per person) you need to overnight at one of the lodges or camps in central Serengeti (Serena Lodge, Seronera Wildlife Lodge, Sopa Lodge, Mbuzi Mawe Camp, or any central Serengeti camp site) or one of the Western Corridor camps (Grumeti River Camp, Kirawira Camp, Mbalageti Camp). Book ahead at www.balloonsafaris.com.
When to Go
Given that the Migration is not an event so much as a continuous (and unpredictable) cycle, where is as important as when (which is why I've included month indications on when best to visit).
Obviously, you'll want to time your stay and location with the animal movement, but lodges and camps cash in on this, and peak season does not come cheap. If you're strapped, you're best off booking one of the large lodges in the central plains, where stable animal populations mean plenty of productive game drives. Even if you have shelled out for a position close to the Migration, bear in mind that some years the Migration can be dispersed in pockets with huge empty areas between, but if you are prepared to drive long distances (and it is worth it), you will always find them. Allow at least 3 days to be assured of seeing them.
Calving season usually occurs January to March in the southern plains. This is an incredible time to be in the Serengeti, with thousands of calves being born every day, and -- thanks to the short-grass plains -- the clearly viewed predator action riveting. This is also the most predictable timing of the Migration, as calving must occur during this time. But with virtually no water source other than rain, the plains start to dry and the lakes become too saline to drink, forcing the herds to move north to the grasslands of the central area, soon to be replenished by rain.
April to May is when the main rainfall occurs and is low season for the camps and lodges in the Serengeti, many of which close down for refurbishment at this time. Animals are widely dispersed throughout plains, but the wildebeest rut -- done on the hoof and usually occurring in May -- is something to behold (and hear), as is the transformation of yellow savannah into lush green parkland.
Toward the end of May, when the rains abate, the Migration moves north or into the Western Corridor. If it's a dry year, the Migration could be at the Mara and Grumeti rivers in June, but this usually happens in July. If you're lucky, you'll be there when it happens, as the sight of thousands of animals plunging into waters infested with some of the biggest crocodiles in Africa is for many the eponymous moment of the "greatest wildlife spectacle." However, if the April and May rains have been good, the migration can spread out very slowly from the Seronera, reaching the river only by August. Between August/September and October, the herds are at the Mara River, equally infested with monster crocodiles, and over these months they cross backward and forward, in and out of Kenya, drawn by localized rain showers. In November, when the rain clouds usually gather to green the south, they again cross the Mara, passing through the eastern Serengeti and Loliondo, to return to the short-grass plains of the southern Serengeti in December.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.