Wild Meets Style in Serengeti National Park
Serengeti National Park surpasses any preconceived notions of it. Sweeping, rugged, dusty and lush, it renders the rest of life drab and humdrum by comparison, at least for a time.
But the Serengeti is far more than its vast, humbling landscapes, more even than its exotic creatures. It is everything the term “bucket-list” conjures up and then some.
And within it are hidden human-made gems, places where cool marble and hot showers add a welcomed touch of luxury to the experience, such as here at Four Seasons Serengeti where elephants regularly saunter by the pool.
Tanzania’s most popular national park is one place where you really can have it all.
Under African Skies
Surreal skies arc over evocative topography that transforms dramatically across the park’s 5,700 square miles. Everywhere, no matter how barren or lush the landscape appears, are creatures great and small that stop safari trucks in their dusty tracks.
Journey of Giraffes
Giraffes bring an elegance and grace to this place where life is harsh and unforgiving. The one-hour drive to the Four Seasons from Seronera Airstrip can take twice that long as wildlife poses beside the road, a harbinger of all that’s yet to come. Seasoned guides provide fascinating insights, such as this cool name for a group of giraffes.
Dazzle of Zebras
Is it a herd? A zeal? A dazzle? In fact, they’re all real names for a crowd of zebras, but dazzle has pizzazz and brilliantly captures the intensity of the geometric designs, sharp angles and striking contrasts when these boldly striped beasts gather.
AKA Black Death
African Buffalo aren’t nicknamed Black Death for nothing. They’re one of Africa’s so-called Big Five, along with elephants, lions, leopards and rhinos, and they’re seriously aggressive. Some say they’re even capable of revenge. Like rhinos, these behemoths have poor eyesight. When threatened they often move closer to potential danger to get a better look pre-attack. You don’t want that to be you.
Up in the Air
Floating over the park in a hot air balloon offers exquisite views of the Serengeti’s ecosystem and inhabitants. Balloons can soar up to 2,000 feet or hover just above the tall grass. High or low, it’s an African experience that holds its place in life’s long-remembered moments.
Dozens of hippos wallow year-round in this pool formed where the Seronera and Orangi rivers meet. It’s a primary stop for visitors to the central Serengeti. This is what hippos do most of the time. In other moments, they navigate the water with surprising, if comic, grace that belies their ferocious nature.
Lounging in the Leaves
It’s not easy to spot leopards from the road as they’re often hidden in distant trees. Thankfully, safari guides are practically genius in their ability to find them, and today’s powerful zooms, even in compact cameras, bring all the majesty of these elusive cats up close.
By Leaps & Bounds
Some 16 species of antelope gallop across park grasslands, including impalas like these, which can leap 10 feet in the air, bound 30-plus feet in distance and run up to 56 mph. Lions can hit 50 mph in short bursts, giving swift impalas a chance.
Giraffes on Parade
You’ll see dozens of giraffes on daily game drives in the Serengeti. Standing 15 to 18 feet tall, they exude model-like sophistication with their lanky necks, impossibly long eyelashes and seemingly dispassionate demeanor. And each one, like its fur pattern, is utterly unique.
Vultures are one of nature’s most efficient scavengers—far more efficient than hyenas or African wild dogs. That makes them critical to the ecosystem. In places where vultures have been “managed” via poison, the result was an increase in diseases due to carcasses left festering.
Like Sisyphus But Successful
Not every photo-worthy creature is big or beautiful. Four safari groups stopped to watch this uber-industrious dung beetle push a tennis-ball size of dung—irresistible to a lucky lady beetle in the future—across the road. Not one truck moved until he succeeded 15 minutes later.
Smart and quick, vervet monkeys often become pests when living near humans, eating crops and wreaking havoc. Unfortunately, that has led to their mass annual slaughter, especially by farmers. The African Wildlife Foundation is educating humans to better co-exist with monkeys. Who is educating the monkeys?
Angry Bird Model?
One surprising treasure of the Serengeti is the discovery of creatures you didn’t come for and didn’t know about before happening upon them. While exploring Gong Rock, a major Masai site in Moru Kopjes, this aptly named Superb Starling fluttered down to pose and show off his iridescent purple splendor.
Mother baboons carry newborn offspring in one arm. At about five weeks, babies ride on their mother’s back clinging with all fours, and later sit upright like a jockey. Between four and six months, young baboons begin spending most of their time with fellow juveniles.
It looks civilized but these males are honing their fight skills. They’re just two of 1.3 million wildebeests that migrate across the Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem. Wildebeests’ most remarkable trait: the ability to detect new grass following a rainfall from 60 miles away. Scientists still wonder how.
Skulking Spotted Hyena
It’s a face only a mother could love. Or are they so ugly they’re cute? You decide. While they’re primarily scavengers, hyenas are also skilled hunters and highly adaptable. They look similar to dogs but are actually more closely related to cats. Humans protecting livestock are their primary predator.
Elephant in Moru Kopjes
Moru Kopjes, in the south central Serengeti, offers the sweeping, evocative landscape that defines Africa for many, along with Big Five sightings and Masai cultural sites. It’s one of the park’s most beautiful areas with its breeze-riffled golden grasses, lakes, rivers, trees and dramatic rock outcroppings.
Picnic in the Wild
On a full-day game drive, Four Seasons Serengeti guests are treated to a luxury picnic in the wild, complete with fine wine and refreshing beer. Before and after, photo ops abound.
On a late afternoon in Moru Kopjes, this leopard dropped down from the tree on which dozens of binoculars and cameras had been trained for hours. While no hunting is allowed within the park, large crowds gathering to watch and photograph one animal may not be entirely benign, at least from the animal’s perspective.
Only a Few Black Rhinos
As many as 700 black rhinos once roamed the Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem, yet by the 1970s poaching had reduced the population to just 10. Black rhinos have been reintroduced to Moru Kopjes in recent years but they remain at risk. Consider yourself lucky to spot one.
Baby Elephant Crossing
This baby walked past safari trucks with barely a look as he hurried to catch up. Elephants are spotted almost everywhere in Serengeti National Park, often near the roads, leaving photographers to ponder, “Can one have too many elephant photos?” Nah….
Mother lions park their cubs in a safe place when they go off to hunt. When they reunite, these cats act like big kitties, bumping heads in sweet greeting whether the hunt was successful or not. The Serengeti is an unforgiving world, but for lions, failure doesn’t preclude love. These two cubs, about a year old, had to wait another day to feast.
A Face to Remember
The Serengeti offers up the chance to discover what wild unknown waits around the next bend and to look it in the eyes, literally. It offers thrills by day and luxury by night if that’s what travelers want. In the end, it gets to the very heart of what travel can be—a life lived with passion, intention and a spirit of adventure.
Author Bio: Christine Loomis is a longtime journalist who has covered travel and lifestyle topics for multiple print and online publications. She has been editor-in-chief of three magazines and regularly provides reviews, content and photo galleries for USA Today 10best. She serves on the board of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW).