Close your eyes for a moment and listen. Listen for that rumble, a groundswell of two million wildebeests, zebras, and gazelles encircling you at this very moment in the Serengeti.
What you’re hearing is the Great Migration, the largest movement of terrestrial creatures on the planet, a number exceeding the population of Barcelona. Add 70,000 buffalo, 7,000 elephants, 3,000 lions, tons of hippopotami and innumerable other species, and you begin to scratch the surface of the world you step into when entering Serengeti National Park.
Now open your eyes and imagine staring directly at a lion. To experience the Serengeti is like this: looking into a pair of wild eyes and seeing a version of yourself looking back, a version with sharp teeth and present awareness, a version that lives in harmony with your surroundings. The Serengeti is a mirror to your own aliveness, and that feeling lives at the heart of safari: to encounter what remains free and true. But why all the hype about the Serengeti? Is it worth keeping on your bucket list? Without a doubt, the answer is: YES.
Serengeti history (in 2 minutes)
Before I gush about 5 reasons why the Serengeti is a bucket-list destination, you must first understand where it is, what it is, and why it exists. Ready?
Okay, before colonial Europeans arrived into what’s now Northern Tanzania in the mid-1800s, the Maasai people grazed cattle here for hundreds of years in large swaths of the savannah, what we now call the Serengeti—in Swahili the word refers to “Endless Plains” or “Extended Place.”
The undeveloped area was a 12,000 square-mile ecosystem teeming with wildlife. In 1892, Austrian explorer Oscar Baumann visited this area and his expedition broke ground for increasing visits by European explorers, mainly indiscriminate hunters that killed thousands of the region’s large predators. Yikes.
By 1929, the British were forced to curb the slaughter by establishing a full game reserve, and that would later evolve into a full-blown national park by 1951, the first of its kind in Tanzania. Numbers of wildlife have since recovered, and now we have it: a 5,695 square-mile national park within the greater Serengeti ecosystem, the crown jewel of East African wildlife conservation and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Source 1) (Source 2)
5 reasons why the Serengeti lives up to its hype
Now that we know where the Serengeti is and where it came from, how did this endless savannah become so endlessly famous? Here are five reasons:
1. The drama of predator-prey relationship
The Serengeti earns its accolades because of the unparalleled predator-prey interactions that exist here, more than anywhere else on the planet. Ecologists agree that predator populations are critical in maintaining ecological vitality in a given habitat, (source) and all of my most indelible Serengeti memories came from watching this drama unfold: two leopards hunting a wounded eland; a young lion cub chasing warthogs; hyena packs slobbering over a herd of skittish wildebeest. These interactions are central to the Serengeti’s magic.
2. It's the size of Northern Ireland
All this predator-prey action has to unfold somewhere, and that somewhere is BIG. When you drive out onto the 5,695 square-mile Serengeti National Park for your first morning game drive, you’ll get a sense of how vast this place is. By design the expansive boundaries reduce habitat fragmentation and allow creatures ample acreage to migrate, swim, and fly, and move in herds, packs, and prides along the land. With 90,000 tourists visiting the park annually, there’s more than enough room for everyone in the Serengeti.
3. You can run alongside wildebeest
Well, not literally. But each year 2 million ungulates (read: hooved animals) begin their clockwise migration in search of fresh grasses and water. Their numbers swell as they follow the rain, mainly wildebeests but also 700,000 gazelles and 300,000 zebras. Go at the right time (When Is Best?) and you’ll witness this spectacle, one of the planet’s natural wonders. Easy Travel offers sunrise hot air balloon floats (!!!) to watch the drama from above.
5. The neighbors are nice
The Serengeti is part of Tanzania’s Northern Circuit, which means you can design your 5-6 days in the park alongside other adjacent experiences including the Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara, and cultural tours. If you’re feeling up for it, nothing spells relaxation better than going to the Serengeti after summiting Mount Kilimanjaro! Easy Travel can customize your safari to accommodate any other regional attractions.
Now’s the time. The extent to which you service your life’s bucket list is a reflection of how well you’ve lived your life. And to fall asleep within the comfort of your Serengeti bush accommodation, after a full day of game drives and wildlife encounters, is something any bucket list should require. So go now, lean into the wildness of the world.