Zebra in the Serengeti

Best Time To Visit Serengeti And What You Can Expect

Read This Article For Choosing The Best Time To Visit Serengeti

Our Serengeti safari was truly a magical experience. We had been on game drives in many locations before but the three and half days we spent in the Serengeti were more exciting than we could have imagined. In this article, we will provide insight into the best time to visit Serengeti to make the most of your visit along with what you can expect while there.

Plan Your Visit During The Dry Season from June to October

Best Time To Visit Serengeti National Park

For most, the reason for doing a safari is to see animals in their natural habitat. But let’s face it, we typically want to do this in the easiest manner possible while also being comfortable. If these are your priorities, then you should be planning your visit in the dry season.

But if you are more interested in seeing the park in a greener state, or seeing the babies in the fields or you are an avid birder then the wet season may be a better time for you. Just understand that during the long rains – March through May – it rains a lot which can make viewing more challenging and add a level of discomfort for those who don’t enjoy potentially being wet.

What You Can Expect On Safari in the Serengeti

Serengeti translated means endless plains in Swahili, and this is very aptly named. The park is immense and covers over 14,000 square kms. When driving through it seems like it goes on forever!

✦ Surprisingly it is only the 3rd largest national park in Tanzania, and it received its designation back in 1959.

✦ It is the ideal place to see large herds of animals with an estimated 1.5 million wildebeest, 500,000 zebra, 2700 lions and 1000 elephants. At first, these numbers seem unimaginable, but it becomes evident as you cross the plains and there are animals everywhere.

✦ It is a different experience than other parks in Tanzania where you drive along for a while without seeing anything and then you come upon one or a few animals. In the Serengeti, it is non-stop which makes it so exciting to see.

✦ The Central and Northern areas are where the large migration can be seen depending on the time of the year. And the Central Serengeti is the area that is the most active for cat sightings including over 100 cheetahs.

Our Experience In The Serengeti

Day One

We arrived by driving the morning around the Ngorongoro Crater, with stunning views.

We entered the eastern gate of Naabi Hill since this is the most popular gate for entering the Serengeti National Park as it borders the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Naabi Hill Gate

We first had a briefing here along with some pictures and then hopped back into the vehicles to move onto the actual gate where the permits were issued. At this location, we also stopped for lunch before starting our exploration of the plains.

Serengeti sign
Lunch stop

Immediately we could see the difference in the landscape with large expansive open fields that make game viewing so readily available. We were seeing large groups of zebras and antelope everywhere.

Zebra herds

We also had our first clear viewing of a Kori Bustard – known to be the heaviest flying bird in the world.  There are many of them in the grasslands of the Serengeti and while they can fly, apparently, they don’t often take flight unless they feel they are in danger.

Kori Bustard

Very quickly we came across a pride of lions that were lounging in the grass. This would become a regular occurrence as we had numerous lion sightings during the day. Even with some that were meandering between the vehicles stopped along the road. Our guide shared with us that the Serengeti has the largest population of lions in Africa – thought to be over 2700 at this time.

Lions lounging in the grass

It was exhilarating to see the lions lounging but alert. A person in the vehicle in front of us made some clicking noises that disturbed one of the females and she was quite annoyed. She left the male she was resting with and made her way in an irritated fashion across where she couldn’t be seen. It is so important to ensure while observing these animals in their surroundings that you are respectful of them.

Female lion

The day progressed with interesting bird sightings including the Tawny Eagle and Augur Buzzard.

We loved seeing the large number of giraffes grazing in the trees. We were reminded that a group of giraffes while standing is called a tower and while travelling is called a journey. Our group observed both and enjoyed watching these quiet and majestic animals.

Giraffes

Amongst the flat plains, there were numerous different types of antelopes including the Topi Antelope which are large sturdy animals with strong horns, loads of Impala (known as a rank), Hartebeest and the tiny-sized Klipspringer which is known for its famous jumping amongst rocks.

Impala
Hartebeest
Klipspringer

Our drive took us past a large pond with numerous hippos. It was fun to watch them with just their heads poking above the water. Every once in a while, they would rise up and yawn showing us their large mouths and vicious teeth. Many had birds sitting on their backs using them as a good vantage point for fishing.

Hippos

Today was also our first sighting of a cheetah – although it was quite far off in the distance, we were still quite excited to have seen one in the wild. Little did we know what would be in store on one of our other days in the Serengeti!

Cheetah

The day ended with an observation of even more elephants – can be called a herd or a parade – wandering amongst the trees with the beautiful Serengeti sunset blazing behind them.  It was a magical way end to the day as we arrived back at our lodge to reminisce about our experience.

Elephants against the sunset

Day Two

Our second morning was planned to start with a hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti but unfortunately due to some flooding in the area we were unable to make it to the balloon launch site and it had to be rescheduled.

So, after a 3:30am wake up we headed back to our lodge with the plan to head out for a mid-morning safari in the Central Serengeti for an early game drive instead.

Our view from our lodge with zebra on the grass

This is where we started to see vast numbers of wildebeest. We were informed that this was part of the Great Migration, and it was pretty apparent when we passed thousands of animals grazing along the hilly landscape. The wildebeest make quite a smell, so we found there to be a lot of tsetse flies here along with the wildebeest.

Herd of wildebeest

They can become quite annoying so it is recommended that you have a face covering and/or a fly swatter that you can use to keep them from landing on you.

Wearing face covering for the flies

Insider Tip

It is recommended that you not wear black or dark blue on days when you will be in areas with the flies as those colours attract them.

In this area, we also saw large herds of elephants, similar to our experience in Tarangire, including many females with their babies. It was amazing to sit quietly and watch the herds as they grazed on the grass and munched on trees. At one point our vehicle was completely surrounded by these incredible animals. Such a magical moment that we couldn’t believe how fortunate we were to have experienced.

Elephant herd
Elephant herd

As we continued on, our guide all of a sudden came to a stop on the road. He had noticed a dung beetle pushing a large piece of dung along the road and was concerned that it might be run over. So, using a stick, he gently pushed the beetle back off the road into a safer area where it wouldn’t be in danger.

It is amazing how the guides can pick up on things we would have never noticed. They are so highly trained to spot things, and this makes all the difference to an overall safari experience.

The landscape in this part was very expansive and quite flat with trees more spread out across the plains. The red clay was a beautiful contrast against the green grasses. We continued to see large herds of zebra – called a dazzle.

Landscape of the Serengeti

Along the plains were also some marshy areas where we saw various bird species including the black headed heron and saddle billed stork. Both were busy looking and feeding in the pools of water.

Our drive finished off with some lion cubs who were lounging and playing under a tree. We didn’t realize at first but then saw that they had killed a zebra and stashed it in the bushes. While this was sad to us it is important to understand that this is the circle of life and is necessary for the lion’s survival.

We spent some time watching the cubs as they rested and swatted playfully at each other.  What a way to end off the day’s fantastic game drive!

Lion cub

Since we had been up very early, our group decided to have a late lunch at the lodge on this day and to spend some time enjoying the facilities including the infinity pool that had magnificent views.  It was a perfect day of excitement balanced with some R&R.

Swimming in the lodge pool

Day Three

Our safari today had some continued great animal sightings. We started the day with some lion lovin’. Our guide explained the process whereby a male lion will initiate by mounting the female from behind and biting on her ears or neck. The session is over very quickly but then repeated every 15-20 minutes – all day!!

Lions mating

After watching a couple of sessions, we were already exhausted for her and couldn’t imagine upwards of 75 to 100 times more during the rest of the day!

Male and female lion

We spent the rest of the day seeing some awesome sights including giraffes, impalas, more lions both on the ground and sleeping up on the rocks, hippos, crocodiles and baboons – the same as what we saw in Manyara.

Giraffes
Lion sleeping up on a rock
Baboon

But the highlight for the day was definitely the cheetahs. Our guide spent a long time searching for an area where a colleague of his had suggested they had seen cheetahs.  We went off-road in search of the cats and were well rewarded with an up-close encounter with a female and her three cubs.

Cheetah cubs

This was fantastic seeing them so close. We saw the cubs chewing on some skin left from a kill and playing with each other just like young children. Our guide advised they were less than a year old. Their mother was quite fine with us peering at her babies while she kept a close eye on their surroundings. Yet another phenomenal experience in the Serengeti.

Female cheetah

Day Four

Our final morning in the Serengeti began with a super early wake-up for our rescheduled hot air balloon. If you are in the Serengeti this is a must-do activity.

You arrive in the dark at the designated launch area and receive a briefing from your pilot. Then the team works on getting your balloon ready to go.  The balloons are huge and hold up to 16 people, so it takes some time to fill them with gas.

Our hot air balloon being prepared

Once everyone was loaded in, we had a quick take-off and were quickly soaring over the plains with the sunrise over the horizon.  This is an amazing way to view the wildlife of the Serengeti. All our previous viewing had been from the roadside in a vehicle, but this gives you a completely different perspective.

View from above in the hot air balloon

We spent approximately one hour in the air and saw so many animals down below – it was fantastic. On our landing, we unfortunately came down in some deep mud which led to an interesting walk through the field and past the wildebeest migration – something we will never forget.  But again, this is another reason why the best time to visit Serengeti is in the dry season!

Walking in front of the wildebeest migration

After enjoying a wonderful full breakfast in the bush, we were picked up by our guides and continued for a morning game drive – our final one in the Serengeti but certainly no less exciting.

Breakfast in the bush

As we were on our way to Ngorongoro Crater we quickly came upon more lions which of course we never tired of seeing. They were very close to the road and at one point one large male decided to meander between the vehicles. Seeing him walking rather than sitting showed us his power and size.

Wandering lion

We also noticed a large healing cut on his face. We think that he was one of the lions we saw on our earlier game drives who had a fresh cut in the same place. We were glad to see he was healing.

Male lion

We passed huge numbers of wildebeest and giraffes. And there were large numbers of zebra in the fields and crossing the road in front of us. 

Large zebra herds

One of our group saw a lone zebra standing by the side of the road and yelled to our guide to stop. We then realized the zebra was about to give birth.

Zebra giving birth

We spent the next 15 minutes watching in awe as this mama gave birth to her foal. The delivery was very quick from the time of a foot sticking out to the time the baby was fully born – only perhaps 5 minutes. After delivering we observed how the mother rested for only a few minutes and then encouraged her baby to stand up.

Newborn zebra

They were in a vulnerable situation, and she needed to push her little one along to keep it safe. This by far was the most memorable moment of our time in the Serengeti – what a way to finish off our time in this awesome park!

Coaxing her baby to stand

Here is the more expanded list of the animals we saw while in the Serengeti:

Kori BustardSlender mongooseBat Eared Fox
Golden JackalBaboonSaddle Billed Stork
GiraffeElephantBanded Mongoose
LionsSecretary BirdBlack Bellied Bustard
Tawny EagleTopi AntelopeLilac Breasted Roller
ZebraRock HyrexHartabeest
HyenaKlipspingerSpur Winged Plover
CheetahLeopard TortoiseNile Crocodile
HippoBlack Headed Heron

How To Get To Serengeti National Park

Depending on your itinerary you can fly into one of the small airstrips located within the Serengeti National Park from Kilimanjaro or Arusha.

If the Serengeti is part of a larger stay and you are visiting several parks on the Northern Circuit in Tanzania, then it is easily accessible by car. It is best to arrange a safari so you have an experienced guide driving you both for safety and to make the most of your trip.

Our safari vehicle

How Many Days Is Enough For Serengeti?

Based on our personal experience we enjoyed three and half days in the Serengeti plus a morning hot air balloon ride. We felt that we saw a lot of animals during this period. An additional day would have been perfect and given us some flexibility to enjoy our lodge accommodations a little more. So ideally plan for four days to be in the Serengeti at a relaxed pace.

What Is The Best Month To Visit The Serengeti?

The Serengeti is best visited during the dry season. In this area that is between June and October. This is the best time for viewing and having exceptional wildlife interactions.

What Month Is Serengeti Migration?

Most people don’t realize that the Great Migration takes place all year round. It is determined by where the water is located. This is a time that the large herds of wildebeest, zebra and antelope move around in search of water. The herd crossings of the Mara River in August are the most optimal time, and you are sure to see thousands of animals while they move en masse.

However, in the Serengeti you can have viewings starting as early as June and as late as October but ideally, the best times will be in July and August as the herds cross the Grumeti River in the west and then the Mara Rivers in the north.

What Is The Best Time For Bird Watching In The Serengeti?

Birds can be viewed during the entire year in the Serengeti however the best time for bird watching is during the wet season as it is nesting season for many of the birds of this region and that makes it easier for sightings.

Serengeti Weather By Month

✅ In the winter season of June to September, the average temperatures range from 14 degrees celsius at night to 25 degrees celsius during the day. This is the dry season so there is minimal rainfall. Temperatures can drop to close to 0 degrees celsius when occasional cold fronts come through.

✅ October has the same general temperatures however the short rains can begin at the end of the month.

✅ In the summer season of November to January, it is the wet season. Temperatures range from 15 degrees celsius at night and 26 degrees celsius during the day. Short rains happen during November and December.

✅ In January and February, it can be slightly drier since there is a reprieve from the short rains before the long rains set in.

✅ March to May are the wettest months and the months of April and May can be quite cold.

Final Word….Best Time To Visit Serengeti

It really depends on your priorities for determining the best time to visit Serengeti. If you want to see the Great Migration at its height, then be sure to plan a visit in the dry season. If you are more budget conscious, then look at the wet season.

For us, we travelled there in the shoulder season just at the beginning of the short rains. This was about timing around other planned travel and enabled us to see large herds, have mostly dry weather and fewer crowds. We really enjoyed our time in the Serengeti and Tanzania overall. It is one of our top trips ever experienced and we would highly recommend including it on your bucket list.

Our selfie in the Serengeti