How to get to Serengeti
If you are coming to Tanzania to visit its famous national parks, your journey will most likely begin from the city of Arusha. To know how to get to Arusha, click here. From Arusha you can either go by road (with safari landcruiser/guide) or fly to different parts of Serengeti. Depending on your itinerary, we can either directly drive from Arusha to Serengeti in the same day or we can cover other parks like Tarangire, Manyara, Ngorongoro either on the way to Serengeti or while coming back or perhaps both!
Another popular option is to directly fly to Serengeti one way and then on the way back, cover other parks like Ngorongoro, Manyara, Tarangire in multiple days depending on your itinerary.
Here is summary of how to reach different parts of Serengeti from different locations in Tanzania and also from Masai Mara in neighboring Kenya.
Here is a table showing drive timesfrom different points of interest to various parts of Serengeti.
Driving from Arusha to Serengeti
Arusha city center to gate of Serengeti (Naabi Hill Gate) takes about 6 hours to drive. Central Serengeti or Seronera where most of the accommodations are located would be a further 1 to 1.5 hours drive from the gate. So overall, you will take about 7+ hours to drive from Arusha to your accommodation in Central Serengeti. This drive passes through the towns of Mto Wa Mbu and Karatu, passes by lake Manyara and you're even inside Ngorongoro Conservation Area for about 2.5 hours!
Given the long drive from Arusha to Central Serengeti (about 6-7 hours), we recommend you to start by 8:00 AM or sooner. Your driver/guide will arrive at your accommodation in Arusha with packed lunch boxes at the agreed time to pick you up for your journey towards Serengeti. You will be transported in a comfortable and well-maintained Toyota Landcruiser, that is customized for safari with a pop-up roof.
How is the drive from Arusha to Serengeti?
The first 20-30 min of your journey will pass through the bustling Arusha city. Mornings are a bit busy in Arusha with traffic as people head to work and start their day. The roads are paved but might feel narrow and congested. You will find small shops, restaurants, residential buildings, commercial establishments dotting either side of the road.
As you begin to reach the outskirts of the city, the scenery will begin to change. The road will still be narrow and mostly smooth, but hills, farms and grassy fields will begin to dominate the background. Tanzania is a country with moderate climate so you can easily roll down the windows and enjoy the gentle breeze and enjoy the wide views through most of your journey.
After about 1 hr 45 min since starting from Arusha, you will reach the town of Mto Wa Mbu, which sits at the base of the Rift Valley escarpment, surrounded by lush vegetation, including banana and mango trees. The area is known for its diverse ethnic groups, including the Maasai, Iraqw, and Datoga, among others. This mix of cultures contributes to the town's vibrant atmosphere and unique character which if you have time, you can explore by taking a quick detour to its thriving market. In the markets you will find a wide range of local products, including fresh fruits and spices.
A few minutes past Mto Wa Mbu the road starts climbing the rift valley wall and passes by the view point for Lake Manyara. This is a good opportunity to step out of the vehicle to stretch your legs and enjoy the beautiful sceneries. Perched on top of the rift valley escarpment, this viewpoint gives great views of the blue lake and lush forests surrounding it.
After 40 min drive past Mto Wa Mbu we will enter Karatu town. Karatu is a vibrant farming town and the largest town in region. At its bustling city center you will find a blend of the old and the new, as safari jeeps, public buses, and vibrant tuk-tuks share the road with Maasai herders and ox-drawn carts. Karatu is also the gateway to Ngorongoro highlands.
From Karatu we make our way towards Lodoare gate, the entrance of Ngorongoro. By now, it would be about 3.5 hours since we started from Arusha. Your guide will sort the permits for Ngorongoro (we need to pay transit fees of USD 71 per adult to pass through Ngorongoro) and you can step out of the vehicle for a quick washroom break. As you drive through Ngorongoro highlands, you will start noticing the rainforests shrouded in mist and spot baboons on road side. If you are lucky, you might even get a glimpse of buffaloes or elephants in the dense undergrowth.
About 10 min after entering Ngorongoro, we stop at a view point from where you get panoramic views of Ngorongoro crater. Be prepared to be astounded by the size and beauty of Ngorongoro crater! If you have time and binoculars on hand and if its not foggy, you can try spotting animals on the crater floor from here. After a few quick photos, we continue our journey to Serengeti.
For the next 40 minutes, the road becomes bumpy as we continue driving north along the crater rim. You get occasional glimpses of the crater floor on the right. We then reach scenic Malanja depression which presents another photgraphy opportunity. Here you will also find a Masai village next to the road and if interested, you can do a Maasai village tour.
After Malanja depression, the road descends into vast dry plains of Ngorongoro. In sharp contrast to the green forests and pleasant weather you find on crater rim, the plains will be hot, dry and dusty! Bumpy tarmac road will turn into a dirt road with stones covering its margins. Wherever you see, you will find dust and open plains, dotted by Maasai villages or Maaasai men herding their cattle in the distance. Occasionally wildlife like ostrich or giraffes could be seen.
Around 30 min after we hit the dry plains of Ngorongoro, we reach Olduvai Gorge monument. From here, you may take a detour to Olduvai Gorge museum which will be about by 15 minutes away. If you are interested in learning about human evolution, archaeology or geology, you will most likely love this museum. It will cost USD 35 per person and will take about 1.5 hours extra. However, for someone interested in the story of our evolution, its absolutely worth the time and money. In addition, the views from the amphitheatre are amazing. the washrooms are clean and it can be a nice break in the otherwise dusty ride through Ngorongoro plains.
This stretch of drive for about 1 hour on this road, (starting shortly after Malanja depression till about 15 min before Serengeti entrance) could be the hardest part of the whole drive from Arusha to Serengeti. During the dry season from June to October, the dust is whipped up into the air by passing vehicles and often surrounds your vehicle. So you can barely open your windows because of the dust and given that there is no air-conditioning in the landcruiser and the road is bumpy, this stretch can feel hot and long.
Continuing from Olduvai Gorge monument, after about 50 minute drive, we finally reach our destination for the day - Serengeti National park. But before we enter Serengeti, we need to sort our permits and this happens at the Naabi Hill gate. This gate between Ngorongoro and Serengeti is a good place to stop and get out of the vehicle. There are well maintained washrooms, curio shops where you can also buy some snacks and drinks, and a picnic site to have your packed lunch. While the guide takes care of paperwork, you can also go for a small hike to the top of the Naabi hill from where you will see brightly colored Angama lizards, several birds and get beautiful views of vast serengeti plains. Between November to January, you might find yourself surrounded by vast wildebeest herds all around this place.
From the Naabi hill, which is part of South Serengeti plains, we continue driving towards Central Serengeti and the accommodations of Central Serengeti would be about 1 to 1.5 hour drive away from Naabi Hill. You will start finding a good amount of wildlife right next to the main road. Depending on your time of arrival and interest, we might either drive directly to your accommodation or might do enroute game drives and get to your accommodation towards end of the day.
So overall, the drive from Arusha to Serengeti Naabi hill gate is about 6 hours, and from Arusha till Seronera, the heart of Central Serengeti where we do game drives is about 7 to 7.5 hours. The scenery changes quite a bit throughout the drive and there are multiple breaks along the way with beautiful view points and activities to do. For the most part you can roll down your windows and enjoy the pleasant breeze except for about an hour in Ngorongoro plains, where it can get hot and dusty. The road is tarmac for over half of the drive, and gravelly and bumpy for the remaining part. But, your 4x4 safari landcruiser can easily tackle such driving conditions. Most clients handle this drive well and it is doable for almost everyone between 10 to 65 years and who are reasonably fit.
But if you wish to avoid this long transfer in single day it is easily doable by adding other parks before/after Serengeti.
Visiting Other Parks Before or After Serengeti
Almost all the itineraries that go to Serengeti also include Ngorongoro Crater. So in most itineraries we stop at Ngorongoro Conservation Area (or at Karatu depending on your accommodation choice), for a night either before or after serengeti, breaking the long drive between Arusha and Central Serengeti into 2 days.
Along with Serengeti and Ngorongoro, if your itinerary also includes parks like Tarangire or Manyara, we plan to cover these on your way to Serengeti (or on the way back). This way we avoid doing the long transfer between Arusha to Central serengeti in a single day in serengeti itineraries that also include Tarangire or Manyara along with Ngorongoro.
Drive Times to Central Serengeti:
Arusha to Central Serengeti: 7 hours
Tarangire to Central Serengeti: About 5.5 hours
Karatu to Central Serengeti: 4 hours
Mto Wa Mbu/Lake Manyara to Central Serengeti: About 4.5 hours
Driving to North Serengeti
Visiting Northern Serengeti might be a part of your itinerary if you are traveling between July to October and interested in seeing great migration. From the Seronera region in Central Serengeti(which is 7 hours from Arusha), it will take about 4 hours to get to the North. But since you are driving inside Serengeti, there will be wildlife viewing opportunities during this drive from central to North. In order to let you view the wildlife, we drive a bit slower so the drive can take over 5 hours often.
Central Serengeti has open grasslands studded with kopjes and acacias - the kind of landscape that has come to symbolise Serengeti. However, as you drive towards the North, you will notice a sudden shift in the landscape and topography. The region up in the north is more irregular and broken. It does have grasslands, kopjes, and acacias, but you will also find rolling hills, valleys and lush riverine areas in this region.
The roads leading to the north will be dirt roads, and you should expect to find some gravel and bumps. However, mostly they will be comfortable.
You can also reach North Serengeti by driving from Masai Mara (via Isebania border - takes about 8 hours) or via Lake Natron (via Kliens gate - takes about 5 hours). We do not recommend driving to North Serengeti from Ngorongoro or Karatu but it is possible if you are okay to drive for about 7-8 hours on gravel and bumpy roads.
It is not possible to drive from Arusha to North Serengeti in same day and would require a stop over at Central Serengeti for a night.
Driving to Western Serengeti
Western Serengeti is at about 2 to 2.5 hour drive from Central Serengeti and we recommend visiting this part between May and June to see great Migration.
The Western region has two rivers, the Grumeti and Mbalgeti, and is close to Lake Victoria. You will find riverine forests or floodplains as you drive towards the Western region from the center. The roads that will take you to the west will be dirt roads with some bumps and gravel, but the ride will be comfortable enough.
It is also possible to drive directly from Mto Wa Mbu or Karatu or Ngorongoro to the Western corridor. It will take about 4.5-5.5 hours for you to get to the West from these locations. You will be passing through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area on your way to the Western Corridor.
Driving to Ndutu/South Serengeti
If you’re visiting between December to February, you might be visiting Ndutu/South Serengeti. Ndutu is about 5.5 to 6 hours from Arusha and is closer than all other parts of Serengeti from Arusha.
If your itinerary going to Ndutu also includes Central Serengeti, we usually cover Ndutu first and then proceed to Central Serengeti.
Flying to Serengeti
If you are short on time or if you think you cannot handle the long and often bumpy road transfers to Serengeti, flying to Serengeti is a good option. There are airstrips located in all the four regions - the Central, the North, the South (Ndutu), and the West.
Since most itineraries going to Serengeti also include Ngorongoro and other parks like Lake Manyara, Tarangire, which are all on the way (or close to the way) from Arusha to Serengeti. So we recommend clients to fly one way only (From Arusha to Serengeti airstrip or the other way) and drive the other way, covering other parks along the way in multiple days. This will transfer time for one way (as you are flying to Serengeti instead of driving) and divide the transfer time for other way over multiple days.
We recommend clients to fly into (or out of) the farthest point from Arusha and drive from (or till) there covering other parks along the way. So if your itinerary involves North or West Serengeti, we recommend you to fly here (or out of here). If you itinerary includes Ndutu and Central Serengeti, we recommend you to fly into(or out of) Central Serengeti.
Scheduled flights for either ways can be arranged from below cities to any part of Serengeti:
- Arusha Airport
- Kilimanjaro International Airport
- Abeid Amani Karume International Airport in Zanzibar
- Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salam
The aircrafts landing in Serengeti (or any other bush airstrip) will be smaller with a limited space. Therefore, there will be strict luggage restrictions. One person is allowed to carry up to 15kgs in a duffel or duffle-type bag as they will be easy to store. This 15kgs is inclusive of the camera equipment and hand luggage.
Further, the schedule of these flights can get affected by the local weather and the flight often has to make more than one stop en route to Serengeti.
Any of the regular itineraries that go to Serengeti by road from Arusha can be rerouted to include flight one way. If for example, your itinerary without flight follows this order:
Arusha -> Tarangire -> Central Serengeti -> North Serengeti -> Central Serengeti -> Ngorongoro -> Manyara -> Arusha
If you wish to add flight one way to this plan (lets say, you want to change to drive in and fly out plan), it will be rerouted like this:
Arusha-> Tarangire->Manyara->Ngorongoro->Central serengeti->North Serengeti->Fly to Arusha
Cost of Flying In And Out of Serengeti
Following costs will apply to fly (on top of costs involved in itinerary without flight)-
Flight price (can be anywhere from 180 to 500 USD per person)
Cost for sending landcruiser a day in advance (if you are landing in Serengeti in the morning, we send landcruiser the previous day from Arusha so it reaches airstrip by the time you arrive) - About 300 USD per vehicle
Differences in park fees if any, as required for rerouting the itinerary (park fees can be higher or lower than itinerary involving road transfers, depending on original itinerary, flight timings) Charges for transferring from city hotel to airport if required. - About 25 USD per vehicle.
To give you an idea, if you are in a party of 2, considering this (10 days safari to see migration in North Serengeti)[https://monkey.travel/tour/lake-manyara-central-north-serengeti-ngorongoro-crater-tarangire-10-days/?start=2023-08-16&adults=2], to add flight one way (from Arusha to North Serengeti), it will cost an additional USD 435 per person which includes all the factors mentioned above.
Or if you are in a party of 2, and considering this (10 days safari to see migration in Ndutu) [https://monkey.travel/tour/lake-manyara-ndutu-central-serengeti-ngorongoro-crater-tarangire-9-days/?start=2024-02-06&adults=2], to add flight one way (from Arusha to Central Serengeti), it will cost an additional USD 317 per person.
You can get to Serengeti by road or by flight. By road, you will be spending a significant amount of time but it will be cheaper and it can managed easily if your itinerary includes multiple parks. But if you have the budget to fly, you can consider flying one way and driving the other way.
If you need to inquire further, please contact us through your preferred mode of communication.
We look fordward to creating your perfect itinerary!