Planning to visit the Serengeti on a self-drive safari? Make sure you read this practical guide about when to go, migration patterns, how to obtain your Serengeti and Ngorongoro entrance permits, prices and road conditions.
Doubting whether you should hire a Roadtrip Tanzania car and go on a self drive safari, or rather explore the Serengeti with one of our driver - guides? Than read on.
Serengeti, where to go and when to go?
Serengeti National Park is part of a cross-border ecosystem that is twice as large, also including the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the Masaai Mara in Kenya and a number of smaller game reserves. The most accessible part of the Serengeti from Arusha are the southern plains, comprising of Ndutu and Seronera. Few safari companies make it to the far West (western corridor) and Northeast (Lobo), and for a reason. The reserve is massive, and the gravel roads are technical and challenging, making it a tiresome journey. These areas are very rewarding to explore, but only with a driver - guide who knows the region well. Contact Roadtrip Tanzania in advance if you want to explore lesser visited areas of the Serengeti.
The Serengeti is famous for its annual migration of millions of wildebeest and other plain grazers on the move to fresh grass and water, with predators like lions following in their footsteps. Whether it is worth planning your safari dates around the migration is a matter of choice. In our experience, the Serengeti offers suburb wildlife viewing year-round. Whilst with the best will in the world, you cannot be sure to coincide 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 so, watching the frantic herds of the wildebeest migration crossing the Grumeti and the Mara River is truly spectacular and a highlight of any safari. Roadtrip Tanzania has summarised the migration cycle, that, dictated by local rainfall patterns, does follow a pretty predictable pattern:
- December - May: 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 through January, February and March, with most wildebeest calves born in a short window 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. By which btens of thousands of wildebeest are congregated. 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…
How much is the entrance fee for the Serengeti and Ngorongoro?
The fees as of 2018 are $ 70.80 per person, per 24 hours per park. Even if you are only in transit to and from Serengeti National Park, you have to pay the fee for the Ngorongoro Conservation Area as well. Entry fee for your Roadtrip rental car is 23,600 TSH for the RAV4 ( appr $10 ) and 41,300 TSH ( appr $ 20) for the Landcruiser. This is a one time payment per park entrance, valid for multiple days. If you want to enter the crater, you have to pay the additional Crater Service Fee of $ 295 per vehicle each time you go down the crater. Public campsites which are managed by the park (TANAPA) costs $ 35.40 pp/pn. So-called special campsites, a concession given to a private safari outfitter to operate a mobile camp, costs $ 59 pp/pn. If you are staying in a private mobile camp, ask if TANAPA camping fees are included in the price.
How do I arrange my permits for my self-drive safari in Tanzania?
Permits for the Serengeti are paid at the entrance gate by credit card (Visa or Mastercard). Cash is NOT accepted, neither are debit cards. As for Ngorongoro Conservation Area, you need to obtain an entrance quote from the NCA office first, before you go to the gate to pay. The NCA office is based in Arusha and Karatu. Note that the Ngorongoro offices are closed on Saturday and Sundays.
Roadtrip Tanzania is happy to arrange the Ngorongoro quote on your behalf. Just let us know the amount of persons you’ll be travelling with and the dates you will be in transit (to and from the Serengeti) and/or the number of days you want to spend down the Crater. We charge a fee of $25 per person for this service. Contact Roadtrip Tanzania to get your Ngorongoro permit.
Where to stay & travel budget
Going on a safari in the Serengeti is expensive. The most budget option is camping at the public campsites. You pay for these campsites at the entrance gate, creditcard only. There are a cluster of seven campsites close to Seronera Wildlife Lodge, and a less visited one outside Lobo Wildlife Lodge. Bear in mind that the Seronera campsites lack 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 where the clients are "served". You will most likely share the campsite with at least 40 other campers travelling with a budget safari company, which gives it a bit of a mass tourism feel. Which we, luckily, did not experience in the other safari parks in Tanzania. Privacy and a genuine bush experience come at a price in the Serengeti.
If you stay in a lodge or Mobile Camp (a ''special campsite'' that follows the great migration), expect to pay the following prices:
Budget: $300 - $400 - Double / BB
Mid Range::$ 400-600 -Double / BB
Luxury: $ 600-800 - Double / BB
Your Bradt Travel Guide is a great source of information and lists numerous lodges. Roadtrip Tanzania has good experiences with WAYO Green Camps, and Serengeti View Camp and we offer a stay in these camps in our car rental & accommodation packages.
Can I explore the Serengeti on a self drive safari?
We do allow self-drive safaris into the Serengeti 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 all tour guides in Tanzania for its condition. It is a challenging road due to the rocky surface with washboard ribbons. Therefore drive at LIMITED SPEED (25 km /h), otherwise you lose control instantly with a single vehicle rollover as a result, which is NOT covered by the insurance.
Driving times to Serengeti are as follows:
- Loduare Gate (Ngorongoro entrance) to Ngorongoro Crater Road: 1.5 hours.
- Ngorongoro Crater Road to Naabi Hill Gate (Serengeti): 2.5 hours.
- Naabi Hill Gate to Seronera: 1 hour.
As the park is massive, the roads are challenging and it is not easy to find the nicest accommodation on your own - there is much to argue to go with a driver-guide, and/ or book an organised Serengeti add-on where you accommodation and permits are arranged by Roadtrip Tanzania.