Self drive Serengeti: everything you need to know
Planning to visit the Serengeti? Still figuring out whether to hire a car with Roadtrip Tanzania for a self-drive safari, or go with one of our driver-guides? Whatever you decide, it's good to bear in mind that the Serengeti national park is massive, and requires some logistics to be taken care of in advance. Before you travel, make sure you read our extensive practical guide and visit the Serengeti well prepared.
Covered in this guide to self-drive in the Serengeti:
- Can I explore the Serengeti on a self-drive safari?
- How much is the entrance fee for the Serengeti?
- How do I arrange the park permits for my self-drive safari in Tanzania?
- Timing your visit to the Serengeti with the annual wildlife migration
- Camping and affordable places to stay in the Serengeti
- Can Roadtrip Tanzania help me to book my special campsite in the Serengeti?
Can I explore the Serengeti on a self drive safari?
Yes, you certainly can! The Serengeti is probably the most rewarding game park in the world. However, it's also a park best enjoyed when you've prepared well in advance.
We allow self-drive safaris into the Serengeti with Roadtrip Tanzania vehicles, but only with a Land Cruiser. The main road running from Naabi Hill gate to Seronera, the center of action, and from Seronera radiating to the East and West, is notorious among tour guides in Tanzania for its rough driving conditions. It's a challenging road, with a rocky surface and washboard ribbons. Drive at limited speed (25 km/h), or else you'll lose control instantly, with a single vehicle rollover as a result - this is NOT covered by the insurance.
Serengeti National Park is part of a cross-border ecosystem including the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), the Masai Mara in Kenya, and a number of smaller game reserves. From Arusha, the most accessible parts of the Serengeti are its southern plains, comprising of Ndutu and Seronera. The western corridor and Lobo are rewarding to explore, but far out. If you want to explore lesser visited areas of the Serengeti, Roadtrip Tanzania highly recommends renting a car with a driver-guide. You can select this option when filling out our car rental bookings form.
Driving times to the Serengeti are as follows:
- Loduare Gate (Ngorongoro Conservation Area entrance) to Ngorongoro Crater entrance: 1.5 hours
- Ngorongoro Crater entrance to Naabi Hill Gate (Serengeti entrance): 2.5 hours
- Naabi Hill Gate to Seronera (public campsites): 1 hour
- Seronera to Lobo (public campsites in the North): 2 hours
- Arusha - Seronera: 9-10 hours
Best maps of the NCA and Serengeti:
- Harms Verlag (IC) Ngorongoro Conservation Area
- New Map of Serengeti National Park (pictured below). Guys sell them on the street in Arusha, at the clock tower right in the middle of town.
How much is the park entrance fee for the Serengeti?
Refer to the Tanzania Practical Information section, for an up to date overview of the entrance fees of all Tanzanian Parks.
A ranger to help with wildlife spotting costs $23.60 and can be arranged at the park gate. He joins you in your car but you will drive yourself. This is highly recommended, as the Serengeti is so vast.
As an individual traveller, you can't book a ranger for a guided walking safari as you can in the Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara and Tarangire. This has to be booked via a specialised company, such as Wayo Africa.
If you visit the Serengeti, you will transit through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area ( NCA) when coming from and returning to Arusha. The fee for the NCA is $70.80 per person per 24 hours, plus the vehicle fee. This is payable by all who enter the Conservation Area, even if you are only in transit to and from Serengeti National Park. Be aware that you will end up paying the NCA fee twice - once on your way to the Serengeti, and again on your return to Arusha. The only way to avoid paying the NCA fee twice is by exiting the Serengeti via Klein's Gate in the northeast of the park, on your way to Lake Natron. Bear in mind that it's a long and bumpy ride from Klein's Gate to Lake Natron - a solid 7-8 hour's drive through a remote area.
How do I arrange the Serengeti permits for my self-drive safari in Tanzania?
The permits for all TANAPA-managed parks are paid at the entrance gate by credit card (Visa or Mastercard). No prior reservations are needed. Cash is NOT accepted; neither are debit cards.
For the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, you will need to obtain an entrance quote first, before going to the gate to actually pay for park entry.The NCA office is based in Arusha and Karatu and open from Monday - Friday. You have to go there in person, it's not possible to obtain online. Roadtrip Tanzania can arrange the Ngorongoro quote on your behalf. This option you can select in the reservation form, when you book a car with us.
Timing your visit to the Serengeti with the annual migration
The Serengeti is famous for its annual wildlife migration: millions of wildebeest and other plains grazers on the move to fresh grass and water, with predators such as lions following in their footsteps. Whether it's worth planning your safari dates around the migration is a matter of choice. In our experience, the Serengeti offers superb wildlife viewing year-round. With the best will in the world, you can never be sure of coinciding your few days in the Serengeti with the river crossing. Moreover, expect to pay exorbitant prices for the Mobile Camps that congregate near the river crossing, and to see plenty of other safari vehicles. Having said that, watching the frantic herds of the wildebeest migration crossing the Grumeti and the Mara River is truly spectacular, and the highlight of any safari.
Expert Africa is an excellent reference if you are having wildebeest migration location questions and they have visualised the migration in maps, which you can find here.
We've summarised the migration cycle below, which, being dictated by local rainfall patterns, does follow a fairly predictable pattern:
- December - May: the Southeast
The game movements are at their most predictable between December and April when the wildebeest and zebra congregate in Ndutu area to calf and foal. After the short rains of early November, the herds arrive on the short-grass plains feeding on the fresh, nutritious grasses. They stay here throughout January, February and March, with most wildebeest calves born in a short window of time (around February), and predator concentrations are at their peak.
- May - July: Western corridor
Game viewing is pretty good here throughout the year, but peaks from late May to July, when the migration usually passes through. Millions of wildebeest migrate to the North, in a braying column of up to 40 km long! The major obstacle faced by the wildebeest on this migration is the crossing of the crocodile-rich waters of the Grumeti River flowing through the Western corridor. The crossing typically occurs from June to early July and the first herd to cross are generally at greater risks. For this reason, it can take up to weeks from when the first wildebeest arrive at the southern banks of the river, for the actual crossing to begin. Tens of thousands of wildebeest congregate at the riverside. Watching the frantic herds of the wildebeest migration crossing the Grumeti and, later on, the Mara River can be truly spectacular; there are often scenes of great panic and confusion.
- July - September: Mara river.
Game viewing is excellent here throughout the year, but becomes mind-boggling between August and September when the herd crosses the Mara River, close to the Kenyan border.
- September - October: Lobo area.
By October, the wildebeest herds are migrating southwards again, back to the Serengeti heading to Lobo area and onwards. In December, it starts all over again…
Camping and affordable places to stay in the Serengeti
Going on a safari in the Serengeti is expensive. The most budget option is camping at the public campsites. There's a cluster of seven campsites close to Seronera Wildlife Lodge and one public campsite in the North, at Lobo area. During the migration, this is a good place to stay. It's around a two hour drive from Seronera to Lobo.
TANAPA camping fees are $35 per person/night. You pay for the public campsites at the gate, using credit card only. You don't need to book public campsites in advance.
The Seronera campsites lack a bit of character and are primarily set up to cater for budget group safari tours. There is a large fenced cooking area, the domain of the bush chefs of the tour operators, and a separate roofed dining area. Of course you as an independent traveller can use these facilities as well.You will most likely share the campsite with at least 40 other campers travelling with a budget safari company. Luckily, we did not experience this in the other safari parks in Tanzania.
If you stay in a lodge or Mobile Camp, expect to pay the following prices:
Budget: $300 - $400 - Double / B&B
Mid Range: $400-600 -Double / B&B
Luxury: $600-800 - Double / B&B
Your Bradt Travel Guide that comes with your Roadtrip rental car is a great source of information and lists numerous lodges and campsites. Roadtrip Tanzania has good experiences with WAYO Green Camps (high-end) and Serengeti View Camp (one of the more affordable lodges), but we don't know and/ or have visited all the camps in Serengeti, there are so any and new ones keep popping up. So also consult Tripadvisor and quality blogs. Also, check the camping section at our website, which has lots of tips and practical information to help you prepare for your camping safari in Tanzania.
Can Roadtrip Tanzania help me to book my special campsite in the Serengeti?
The so-called special campsites in the Serengeti are largely reserved by private safari companies, who bid on them for the season. As an individual traveller, you won't be able to stay there. The less interesting special campsites are not taken by the safari companies and are available to book by individual travellers.
It is not easy to secure a spot and these camping permits are more expensive, but you will enjoy a true wilderness experience, camping in an isolated location. Bring your own food supplies. There are no facilities, also no drop toilets or showers.
If you prefer to stay at a special campsite instead of staying at one of the public campsites, we advise you to spend a day in Arusha before your safari and go to the TANAPA and NCA head office in Arusha (open Monday - Friday), check out what is available and reserve a spot. It's not possible to organise your special campsite permit online. Roadtrip Tanzania does not assist in booking special campsites for its clients, apart from keeping the information on how to do it yourself up to date on this website. TANAPA special campsites cost $59 per person/night.
All pictures shown on our website were taken by ourselves or fellow Roadtrippers. All pictures shown in this post were taken in the Serengeti. Please share your Serengeti experience!