If you are planning on going to a safari, Serengeti National Park in Tanzania should be on top of that list. Here is how you plan a perfect trip to Serengeti.
Planning a trip to Serengeti National Park can be as organized or as flexible as you want it to be. From group tours for all ages offering customizable multi-day packages to self-driving experiences for those who have been on a safari in Africa several times, Serengeti offers it all. Still, due to its massive size (Serengeti is almost as big as Slovenia) and large options for safari experiences, you will need some basic information on when in the year is the best time to go, what kind of experience are you looking for and of course, how much money are you planning to spend. These are my best tips on how to plan a trip to the Serengeti National Park.
How to get to Serengeti National Park
Located 325km east from the town of Arusha in northern Tanzania, visiting Serengeti requires you to plan ahead no matter how you want to get there.
Entering Serengeti by road
Most travelers enter the Serengeti National Park through the Naabi Hill Gate. It is located in the southeastern part of the park and it will be your obligatory stop, if you were to drive straight through from Arusha.
Furthermore, in order to enter the Serengeti National Park from Arusha, travelers would have to drive through Ngorongoro Conservation Area and still pay a transit fee. The drive from Arusha takes around 7 to 8 hours and is simply a full day of continuous driving and barely time for a stop.
The drive is long and exhausting. That is why most tour operators offer a combination of the Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and the Tarangire National Park in a single tour.
Additionally, there is no public transportation connecting Serengeti to the nearby towns, but don’t worry. Most tour operators will include the drive from Arusha or the nearby airports in your tour package
Entering Serengeti by air
For those traveling with a higher budget and less time, there are several 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 and serve mostly luxurious tented camps, while Seronera airstrip is located in the heart of the park and serves most travelers entering by air.
Other airstrips are Lobo, Kleins, and Kogatende in the north; and Grumeti and Sasakwa airstrips in the west side of the country. These are also airstrips mostly used by guests staying at any of the luxury camps in those areas.
Flights from Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Tarangire, Lake Manyara, or Ngorongoro start at 200 EUR for a round trip and they can be arranged through the tour operator or directly with the lodge you are staying.
How expensive is to visit Serengeti
Unlike other national parks in eastern and southern Africa, where entrance fees and transfer costs are low, a visit to Serengeti is a big expense for anyone traveling on a budget. Transfers, transit fees, game drives, park fees and accommodation fees add up very quickly. Also, with a wide range of customizable safari options available, figuring out an average cost without taking into consideration what exactly you would like to do is a little bit pointless
There are big budget-influencing factors that can help you determine how expensive your visit to Serengeti can be. Before you contact tour operators or start planning your own independent trip, ask yourself following questions:
What level of comfort would you like to have for accommodation?
self-camping, budget camp, tented lodge or an all-inclusive lodge, among others
NOTE: You have to sleep inside the national park. Even though costs are higher, distances are way to far for you to enter the national park every day and see the most of it.
What time of year are you planning to visit Serengeti?
July to October is considered the high season while November to December & April to May are low season. December to March is considered calving season, which is one of the most popular times to visit Serengeti – also quite expensive.
What kind of activities do you want to add to your itinerary?
Are you interested in doing several days of game drives around the park, cultural tours that get you more in contact with the Maasai ethnic group or simply several days of relaxation.
How are you planning to get to Serengeti?
Driving or flying? This is probably the most influential factor in determining your budget. While driving is obviously cheaper, you will end up spending at least 1,5 days in a vehicle. On the other hand, flying will increase your budget significantly, but will give you more time to spend inside the park – especially if you are planning a trip for just a few days.
To give you an estimate of the potential cost of a safari in Serengeti. If you decide to do self-camping, private driver safari with 2 game drives, and cook meals by yourself, expect to spend around 200-250 EUR per day.
What do experts think?
According to Anthony Milinga, owner of the tour company Cross to Africa Safaris, Serengeti is expensive due to the fix costs each traveler has. “In a 4-day budget safari tour for 2 people about 40% of the costs go for permits and fees, 30% goes for gasoline, driver costs during transfers and game drives, 20% in accommodation and 10% in profit for the company.”
Serengeti in high season or low season
While the cost during high season increases quite a bit (everything becomes more expensive), the experience becomes significantly better. Weather is perfect for a safari trip (dry and cool), the lack of water improves the visibility of animals and waterholes become key spots for experiencing large concentrations of mammals and birds.
On the other hand, visiting Serengeti during low season can provide a budget-friendly experience in one of the most magnificent national parks in the world. Landscapes are green and the chances to spot baby animals increase as well.
Without a doubt, the great wildebeest migration is one of the key events at Serengeti. However, it is important to know that the migration runs all year long and the question you need to ask yourself is what part of the migration would you like to see.
What do experts think?
Humphrey Ndara, director of Africa Kenya Safaris, says, “For travelers looking to visit Serengeti or Masai Mara, the beginning of November is probably the best time to visit. Prices are low because the low season began, the chances of rain might be low and the possibility of seeing large concentrations of wildebeest are still high at the border between Masai Mara and Serengeti.“
Self-driving in Serengeti
This is probably one of the most searched questions for road trip lovers and the simple answer is – yes, you can self-drive and camp at Serengeti National Park. However, entrance fees are higher for self-drivers and you need proper off-road driving skills in certain situations.
Furthermore, you need to understand basic safari etiquette when it comes to observing animals from a distance, know the rules of the national park and be ready for any inconvenience you will find along the way.
Extra tanks with gasoline, basic knowledge on how to repair a vehicle and proper maps are essential to avoid any bad experience.
What do experts think?
Japhary Mkelemi, ranger at Serengeti National Park, recommends: “self-driving in Serengeti is a magical experience. However, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone without the proper experience. Self-driving makes way more difficult to find animals in the wild. At the same time, we have lots of inconveniences with travelers getting lost or stuck. It happens more than you think and its expensive, annoying and frustrating for anyone encountering this situation.”
What about additional activities in Serengeti National Park
Beside the standard morning and afternoon game drive, most tour operators offer several activities to travelers visiting the national park: From cultural tours to the Maasai villages to more luxurious experiences such as the famous Serengeti hot air balloon ride.
While Maasai villages can be found in other areas of Tanzania and Kenya for a way lower price, travelers opting to book a hot air balloon ride can have an experience of a lifetime. Hot air balloons depart each morning before sunrise and fly over the plains of the Serengeti while the sun comes out. For 500 EUR and just 60 minutes in the air, this is quite an expensive experience. However, if you manage to plan it while millions of wildebeest concentrate in central Serengeti, this can be one of the most rewarding experiences in Africa.
Read more: How to get ready for your first safari trip?
Serengeti National Park in a nutshell
Select the right season for you: There is not a good or a bad season to visit Serengeti. Each time of the year provides a completely different experience. Inform yourself what you should expect to see in which time of the year and book according to what you want to see.
Pick the right time and place: Either you want to see the Wildebeest Migration river crossings, or the newborns at calving season, make sure your itinerary matches the movement of the herds and the section of the park you want to visit.
Book in advance: The best spots for large concentrations of animals are very well known among tour operators. Some of these lodges even get booked up to 1 year in advance.
Choose your itinerary wisely: 4 or 5 days of game drives can be exhausting to anyone. If this is your first safari, discuss with your operator what kind of additional activities you can do.
Avoid group tours: While they are the best option if you want to save money, group tours simply deteriorate the experience. Booking a private tour means more time for yourself and less time waiting for the bus to get full.