From Chris’ Smartphone, august 2013
Contributed by Dawrat Duangdee, August 2013
Size: 5,700 sq. miles (14,800 sq. km.) Best time: Dec-July (wildebeest); June-Oct (predators)
The word “serengeti” is derived from the Masai word for “endless plains.” Without a doubt the vastness of the Serengeti, Tanzania’s largest national park, will leave you breathless. To the south and east, the plains roll unbroken for hundreds of miles, providing an ideal habitat for grazers like zebra, gazelle, and wildebeest who spend much of their lives migrating within the boundaries of the Serengeti. Literally millions of animals can be seen on the plains of the Serengeti; when the grazing is good, you’ll be sure to spot wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, ostrich, cheetah, hyena, jackal and vultures.
Lions also frequent the open plains because of the abundance of food. The Serengeti is home to many lion prides that tend to live on and around the kopjes – rocky outcroppings that dot landscape. The rocks provide a shady place to lie in the hot afternoons as well as a nice place to hide and wait for unsuspecting antelope and wildebeest. Naabe Hill, one of the entrances to the park, has been the base for much of the lion research that has been conducted in the area. In fact, many of the lions you see will be wearing radio collars and you can read up on their personal histories!
In the centre of the Serengeti lies the Seronera Valley. This area is greener and wetter than the plains and is home to a different set of wildlife. Leopards might be sighted lounging in a sausage tree, hippos can certainly be found wallowing in the hippo pool and a variety of antelope bound in and out of the brush. At the brand new visitor centre (opened in 2000), you might be amused by the antics of curious vervet monkeys who will gladly steal your lunch if given a chance. Also in abundance are hyrax, mongoose, and baboons although these tend to keep their distance.
To the west, the Grumeti Western Corridor sees the great migration move through in June and July. The Grumeti river is home to the famous Nile crocodiles – giants that grow up to 18 feet (6 meters) long! As the migration moves through the area, the crocodiles snap up animals that stop to drink and cross the river. The crocodiles may not eat again for a full 12 months until the herds return again next year.
Of course, many of the animals of the Serengeti only come out at night and these are difficult to find since night safaris are not permitted. Early risers may be lucky enough to catch the “tail end” of nocturnal activities but some animals such as the genet cat, serval, bushbabies, and pangolins are a really rare treat.
Visitors to the Serengeti may arrange for a balloon safari and experience the wonders of the great ecosystem from above. Accommodations are available within the parks boundaries and along the edges. Excursions into the Gol area to the east can be made off road with a ranger specially trained in the behaviour of lions.
Why do zebras have stripes?
There are many theories about the zebra’s stripes. Some people say it is to confuse predators, others say it is a kind of display like the peacock’s feathers. The official website of the Serengeti relates a different story.
“While studying buffalo and wildebeest in Serengeti, Dr. Sinclair would watch these animals at night with ‘night vision’ goggles. On starless nights, the ground appeared black and the sky a greenish colour on the screen. Animals appeared as either black or grey shapes silhouetted against the sky. Strangely, every now and then, a wildebeest would just disappear and then re-appear a few seconds later. After watching this occur a few times, a powerful spotlight was brought into play. Standing among the wildebeest were a group of zebra, invisible on the goggles. Since then, technology has improved, but the zebra remain invisible at night.”
Seronera Wildlife Lodge (TAHI group)
The Seronera lodge is situated in the centre of Serengeti National Park near the visitors centre and hippo pool. The lodge has seventy-five rooms with private bathrooms and offers a spectacular vantage point from which to observe the wildlife of the Serengeti; it’s central location makes it ideal for accessing various areas of the park.
Lobo Wildlife Lodge (TAHI group)
Deservedly earning a reputation as one of the most beautiful lodges in Tanzania, the Lobo wildlife lodge is built into a large rocky outcropping overlooking the Serengeti Plains. The Lodge features a swimming pool and is located ideally for game drives.
Serengeti Serena Lodge
Serengeti Serena Lodge is set atop a hill that provides awe-inspiring views of countless zebra, buffalo, gazelle, wildebeest, and other species. Big game feed in full view of the lodge. Inspired by traditional African architecture, the lodge design is charming, offering accommodation in individual cabins that are rich in atmosphere and indigenous touches.
Serengeti Sopa Lodge
The buildings of this Sopa Lodge (link) are inspired by the Maasai, with rounded corners and flat roofs. The lodge is situated in an acacia woodland near year-round springs. It’s elevated position provides scenic vistas and cool breezes.
Located just inside the north-eastern edge of the Serengeti near the Masai Mara in Kenya, Loliondo is a semi-permanent camp located in the shadow of massive kopjes where wildlife frequent the waterholes. Guests are attended by the permanent camp crew and can expect the highest level of service.
Grumeti River Camp
Located in a hidden valley in the western corridor of the Serengeti, the Grumeti Camp overlooks a tributary of the Grumeti River, home to hippo and crocodile. Ten self-contained tents are available, each with private shower and toilet.
Located on the Kirawira hills in the western corridor of the Serengeti, the Kirawira Camp also overlooks the famous Grumeti River – home of the giant Nile crocodiles. 25 double tents are available, each one with its own solar-heated shower.
This camp is at a private ranch on the north-eastern edge of the Serengeti and offers high standards of comfort to guests in eight individual thatched-roof cottages.
Built into a rocky outcropping near Lobo, this camp also overlooks the Grumeti River.
Classic camping can be arranged and is a truly rewarding experience for those who want a closer look at the Serengeti ecosystem. Generally, food and supplies are provided and you will be accompanied by a staff to assist with the logistics of camping in the Serengeti.
Size: 20 sq. miles (52 sq. km.) – Best Chimpanzees Viewing: Feb.-June, Nov.-Dec. (wet) – Best Photography: July-Oct., Late Dec. (dry)
Sweeping up from the shores of Lake Tanganyika, Gombe Stream National Park is a forested wonder. The smallest of the Tanzanian parks, Gombe Stream owes much of its fame to the studies of Jane Goodall, who conducted her groundbreaking research on the wild chimpanzees in this area.
Indeed, the chimps are one of the main attractions and visitors are overwhelmed by the experience of joining the primates in their natural habitat as they go about their business.
Gombe Stream does not contain roads and observation of wildlife must be done on foot or by boat. (The park is accessed by boat from Kigoma.) It’s a small park, but hilly and some trails can be demanding. Chimpanzee treks and swimming in the rivers and lake can be arranged as well as a visit to the chimpanzee feeding station.
Did you know?
Stanley’s famous encounter with Dr. Livingstone took place near Kigoma in a place called Ujiji.
Camping in the park
Camping on the beach is allowed; however, remember that animals will be attracted to food and can be very destructive so be sure to secure all your supplies.
At the park headquarters visitors may spend the night in one of several buildings but be sure to bring all your own supplies.
Kigoma Hilltop Hotel
Overlooking the blue waters of Lake Tanganyika from a rocky outcropping above, the Hilltop Hotel offers 30 luxury cottages each with hot/cold water, ensuite bathroom facilities, satellite TV and beautiful views.
Size: 12,950 sq. km. Best time to visit: Anytime
Located in central Tanzania, Ruaha is less accessible than many other parks and largely untouched by human interference; It has only recently been developed for tourism and its unbroken peace is one of its main attractions. It is home to over 350 species of birds that are not found in northern Tanzania and attracts photographers with its spectacular gorges and massive baobab trees.
Ruaha is home to over 8,000 head of elephant as well as Lion, African Hunting Dog, Hippo, Crocodile, Ostrich, Cheetah, Gazelle and a large Leopard population. The Mwagusi and Mdonya Sand Rivers are dry rivers of sand for most of the year, but in the rainy season they turn into tributaries of the Ruaha River. The area is home to hundreds of different animal types and makes for a wonderful safari.
The Tragedy of Poaching
The animals of Ruaha have been particularly damaged by illegal poaching. In 1973 the elephant census reached 25,000 but today only 8,000 remain. The rhinoceros has disappeared from the area completely. Other parks in Africa have similar problems that are often due to an impoverished local population who seek not only the valuable horns, hides, and tusks, but who in some areas hunt for food in protected areas. The tragedy of poaching endangers the livelihood of the African people both by eradicating species that are used to sustain local human populations and by diminishing the potential for income through the tourist trade.
Ruaha River Lodge
Overlooking the mighty Ruaha River, the lodge is designed to complement the environment, allowing guests to feel right at home in the midst of the African wilds. Inspired by the African ‘bandas’, the individual cabins, built from local stone and thatch offer a great place to relax and observe the animals.
Located inside the Ruaha Park boundaries on the banks of the mighty sand river, the Mwagusi Camp (link) offers 16 beds with ensuite bathrooms and hot showers. The architecture is inspired by traditional African ‘bandas.’
Size: 450 sq. km. (including water area) Best time: June-Aug. (dry); Nov.-March (wet: birds, flowers)
Rubondo Island National Park is composed of Rubondo Island itself and eight smaller islands in Lake Victoria, just off the Tanzanian coast. The islands are very secluded and offer a glimpse of unique African habitats and wildlife. Most of the park is primary forest with a dense canopy; papyrus beds and grassland make up the rest.
Rubondo Island is home to many Sitatunga, a type of aquatic antelope that cannot be observed anywhere else in Tanzania. Rubondo is also a good place to observe chimpanzee as well as colobus and vervet monkeys, crocodiles, hippos, elephants, eagles and storks. The experience of Rubondo Island is unique in that, due to the lack of large predators, visitors can explore the African wilds on foot. The island is a naturalist’s delight with myriads of exotic orchids, lilies, insects and trees.
Although the island takes a while to reach, its pristine seclusion is well worth the trip. Chimpanzee treks, boat and walking safaris and fishing are all available. Luxury camping is possible on the island itself with advance reservations.
Did you know?
Lake Victoria is the second largest freshwater lake in the world, second only to Lake Superior on the border of Canada and the United States.
Camping in the park
Rudimentary camping facilities are available on the island; be sure to take all your own equipment and supplies.
Luxury Tented Camp
Flycatcher Hotel Ltd. have opened a 20-bed luxury camp on Rubondo Island.
Size: 1100 sq. km. Best time to Jan.-Feb. / June-Aug.
Some people say that Saadani is the only place in the world to see elephant bathing in the Indian Ocean; to be sure, Saadani is the only coastal reserve in Tanzania. It is a very new park, previously a game reserve, and is located across from the Island of Zanzibar.
The park is fairly small but because of its unique situation it is a completely unique wildlife experience. Green turtles come to its beaches to breed and Roosevelt Sable Antelope, previously thought to reside only in the Shimba Hills of Kenya, have found a home in Saadani. Visitors can relax on the beach, take a walking safari or take a boat up the river to see the hippos, crocodiles and flamingos.
Different types of protected habitats in Saadani include tropical forest, coastal savannah, mangrove forests and coastal dunes.
Saadani Tented Camp
The camp is situated on the beautiful sands of Saadani beach. Accommodation is offered in permanent tents with full bathroom facilities including shower, toilet and wash basin. The camp features a bar, library and restaurant.