- Africa’s best-known safari destination is the Serengeti, 12,000 miles of grasslands, forests, swamps, and woodlands teeming with wildlife.
- Eighty percent of tourists to Tanzania visit the Northern Circuit, where the Serengeti is located. During peak season the parks are flooded with safari jeeps.
- That meant that any time there was something spectacular happening — like a pride of lions feeding — the area was swarmed with other tourists. The crowd sometimes scared off the wildlife.
Going on safari is about taking a journey into nature; “safari” is the Swahili word for journey. But, if you thought that would mean you’ll be rumbling through the savannah with only the wind as your companion, think again.
For many, the dream safari is the Serengeti, a park spanning 12,000 square miles in northern Tanzania that looks like the setting of The Lion King. Most visit the Serengeti to see the Great Migration, where 1.5 million wildebeest migrate annually along a nearly 2,000-mile cycle in search of new grass and fresh water.
It’s by far one of the most popular safari destinations. Out of the 1.4 million annual visitors to Tanzania, 80% visit either the Serengeti, the adjacent Ngorongoro Crater, or Mount Kilimanjaro — the three destinations that make up Tanzania’s Northern Circuit.
Most visitors travel to the Serengeti during one of two peak seasons: January through February, or June through October. The first is known as “calving season,” when wildebeest and zebra migrate south to find grasses suitable to give birth to new calves. During the second, the dry season, wildebeest and zebra migrate north in search of water.
In February, I took a safari through the Serengeti. While dry season is a more popular time to visit than calving season, the Serengeti was still bustling with tourists.
Anytime something spectacular was happening — like someone spotted a pride of lions or a leopard in a tree — half a dozen jeeps or more soon pulled up to watch, too.
Take, for example, the pride of lions I photographed at the top of this article. We spotted them near one of the main roads in the park. As soon as jeeps saw our car stopping, they, too, immediately pulled up. Within five or ten minutes, there was a traffic jam.
It looked like this:
It’s more than annoying. Sometimes it scares the wildlife. One morning, my guide had heard word that there was a caracal cat hiding out beneath a tree in the bush near our camp. By the time we got there, there were too many jeeps around.
The cat had gotten spooked and hid under some bushes until the jeeps left.
The number of tourists in Tanzania’s northern parks and game reserves is a big reason many safari junkies swear by the country’s Southern Circuit, made up of Selous Game Reserve and Ruaha, Mahale, and Gombe national parks.
While there is a lot of tourist infrastructure around the Serengeti, the southern parks are about as off the grid as you can get, requiring a day’s drive or an extra flight. There is little in the way of development, with most people staying at camping sites or a few high-end lodges.