Accepted as a World Heritage Site in 1981, Tanzania's Serengeti National Park is undoubtedly the best-known wildlife sanctuary in the world, unequalled for its natural beauty, proliferation of animals and scientific value. With more than two million wildebeest, half a million Thomson's gazelle, and a quarter of a million zebra, it has the greatest concentration of plains game in Africa. The name 'Serengeti' comes from Maasai language and appropriately means an 'extended place'.
The National Park, with an area of 12,950 square kilometres, is as big as Northern Ireland, but its ecosystem, which includes the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the Maswa Game Reserve and the Maasai Mara Game reserve (located in Kenya), is roughly the size of Kuwait. It lies between the shores of Lake Victoria in the west, Lake Eyasi in the south, and the Great Rift Valley to the east. As such, it offers the most complex and least disturbed ecosystem on planet earth. The park has varied zones in which each ecosystem is subtly different. Maswa Game Reserve to the south offers a remote part of the park rewarding in its game-viewing and privacy, and Lobo near the Kenyan border offers a change to see plentiful game during the dry season. The Grumeti River in the Western Corridor is the location for the dramatic river crossing during the wildebeest migration. Seronera in the centre of the park is the most popular and most easily visited area.
Aside from traditional vehicle safaris, hot-air balloon riding over the Serengeti plains has become a safari rite-of-passage for travel enthusiasts. The flights depart at dawn over the plains and take passengers close over the awakening herds of wildebeest and zebra, gazelle and giraffe. The extra altitude allows guests to witness the striking stretches of plains punctuated only by kopjes.
Find out more about hot-air ballooning over the Serengeti.