The Serengeti is ultimate wilderness. It's coarse, violent, and unbridled.
'The Endless Plains' stretch to the horizon, and at moments, you can even see the curvature of the Earth.
What makes a safari experience in the Serengeti so different from Botswana, the Maasai Mara in Kenya, South Africa, or even the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania is the sheer number wildlife.
Every year, the Serengeti is the setting for one of the greatest migrations. Around 1.7 wildebeest, 260,000 zebra, and 470,000 gazelles follow the trail of ripe grasslands in a wide circle within Tanzania and Kenya. They move from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania down to the Maasai Mara in Kenya.
In their wake, thousands of predators.
Their great numbers help support large populations of predators. Tanzania is known for the best lion-sighting safaris in the world. This is one of the few places on Earth where we can routinely find large lion prides.
We stayed in the banks of the Grumeti river, during mid-June when the migration stays for a whole month in the area. We had come from the Ngorongoro Crater, an idyllic, peaceful reservoir. There, we saw wildebeest and zebras grazing contently, almost carelessly-so.
Not so in Serengeti. Knowing that predators are following the ample supply of meat that is the migration, the prey animals are cautious. They are scared. You can feel it. They are skittish, always on the move. Any animal that has strayed from the herd knows he won't survive the night.
Even the baboons, usually so safe up on their trees, only dare cross the plains in troupes, with large males guarding the front and rear. They dash by fast, keeping an eye everywhere.
Of course, this makes for probably the best safari experience in the world. You won't go home disappointed that you didn't get to see a lion or cheetah. In fact, we were lucky to spot every single majestic beast we were hoping for, with one exception – the elusive leopard.
Luckily, we saw a beautiful female leopard a few days later in Kenya. The Serengeti is too open, too devoid of trees and shade for them. It's hard to track a leopard. Even more so when they're hiding from the lions following the migration.
As for lions, though, we experienced them in their full magnificence.
In three days, we must have seen at least 10 different lions.
Sometimes, in big prides.
Once, even with cubs!
(Forgive the bad picture, our camera betrayed us because it was growing dark)
Lions up on the trees...
Lions relaxing in the shade...
Sitting really really close to the jeep....
And, yes, sometimes eating the occasional unlucky wildebeest...
Meanwhile, at camp, our riverfront tent guaranteed front seats to the symphony of sleeping hippopotamus (they are incredibly noisy!)
Sometimes, the occasional elephant herd would come to bathe in the river.
But out in the heart of the Serengeti, even the elephants are wary. They travel in large herds and stay very close to each other when they have cubs.
The migration changes everything.
On our third day, we drove out to see it. We went to where we'd find the wildebeest in their largest numbers.
It's hard too explain. The herd stretches out into the horizon, seemingly unending. At its thickest, the herd can have up to a million wildebeest, accompanied by a couple of zebras, gazelles, and baboons sticking with the migration for safety. Pictures can't capture the sheer size.
Imagine this unending line stretching as far as the eye can see.
And here is a picture of the migration from the air (all those little black dots are wildebeest).